In a time when it feels like our grasp on the world around us is precarious at best, and control slips from our fingers the minute we think we have some, it’s hard to stay sane. Even if you’ve managed to avoid the news and sign off social media, it’s easy to feel negative forces encroach on the safety bubble and boundaries you’ve worked tirelessly to construct.
It’s not even a matter of seeing who is willing to climb over the walls to save you; the walls have become tools of survival and self-preservation in a world that has gone mad and seems lonelier as the days progress. Because once we are permitted to venture out, we are soon forced back into hibernation until the next crisis or wave has passed.
So, it’s easy to feel like we are slogging through one abysmal pit of despair after another. And once we grab someone’s hand and there’s a glimmer of sunlight, a brief glimpse at hope, the dark feelings and distance return soon enough to have us pull away.
But, that’s the thing… even in the blackest of moments, we feel it. We won’t always feel so downtrodden and hopeless. Because for most of us, we’ve been there, and we’ve turned the corner to something better and brighter.
It’s the quiet voice that says “Tomorrow will be better.” The feeling when you first wake up that the day is full of opportunity. Or that first sip of coffee on your stoop before you start the workday; it smells and tastes like optimism. When you read a small piece of good news on the internet that makes all the bad stuff disappear, even if just for a few minutes. When a friend posts a video announcing she beat cancer. Or your boss calls you just to tell you you’re doing a good job. And there are so many other examples of bright, shiny occurrences that help pierce the gloom of everyday living.
Now, to be abundantly clear, I don’t ascribe to toxic positivity.
For example, when someone tells me someone dear to them has died, my response is some honest, candid form of that sucks. Because death sucks. Tragedy sucks. It just never felt right to cover my friends in cliché platitudes about their family member being in a better place or assuring them it will get easier or that it’s all part of some omniscient being’s plan to have us endure this bottomless suffering.
However, when they do need a hand to pull them out of dark despair, I will always offer mine, because hope can shatter the belief that we are completely alone in our suffering.
My life has not been easy and has come with a fair share of both trauma (which I’m working through) and loss in my family. But I also recognize there are people who have had it much worse. So, I’m not here to preach about rising above your circumstances, because that assumes we all have the same access to resources to do so. And there are people, maybe even you, dear reader, who are going through it right now (whatever it is), and it may seem impossible to believe there is a brighter tomorrow, because every time you think you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it just turns out to be the oncoming bus.
But, as someone who can still find a glimmer of hope even during the most horrific of personal situations, I present to you some things that have helped me get to the dawn that we’ve been promised after the darkest of times. Although they may be heavily reliant on cliché, they work for me.
Hope is available, even for a Dummy like me.
When’s the last time, right after waking up, you just stayed in bed and appreciated the sun streaming in through the window? The silence that is fleeting once you start your day? The softness of the pillow and the warmth of the comforter? I sometimes feel I need to wake up and immediately start being productive, but there’s beauty in the pause.
The notifications sitting on my phone can wait. I’ve woken up to face another day, which in and of itself is a privilege, and I feel hopeful when I enjoy the simple pleasures that come in the moments before reality sets in. The world, and the expectations it puts on us, can feel incredibly overwhelming if we let it consume our thoughts the minute we open our eyes. But, when I have taken well-deserved time to truly luxuriate in the glory of experiencing another morning, cocooned in the post-slumber glow, the rest of the day just lands differently. There is hope in the promise that those exultant morning feelings won’t be destroyed as I face the travails of the day.
No, I’m not talking about joining a friend from high school’s LuLaRoe, BeachBody, or doTerra pyramid scheme. But you better believe there are people in your circle who only want the best for you, and at times, they may recommend something because they think it will contribute positively to your mental health, physical well-being, or your overall existence on this planet.
In April of 2020, I bought a Peloton bike (and eventually bought a Peloton Tread + #notanad) because my dear friends knew how important fitness was to me and also understood I wouldn’t go to a gym in-person if I didn’t believe it could keep me safe during the pandemic. As case numbers have ebbed and flowed, as have my desires to drink and eat like an asshole, having at-home fitness equipment has been my savior, It has allowed me to reconnect with people I haven’t seen since college and fortified my belief that even though my body doesn’t look a certain way, I am still capable of challenging my own physical limits to perform as the athlete I know I am.
I also listen to friends’ recommendations on TV and movies. These past two years, I, like many people, have spent more time inside and on my couch than I ever thought possible. And even though we may feel out world is closing in on us, it’s reaffirming and reassuring to know there are still stories out there to be told. And that, to me, is hopeful.
I recently decided to watch Only Murders In the Building, and not only is it inexorably charming, I can’t tell you the last time a TV show actually made me feel genuine joy. Yes, it’s a show about a murder, but Steve Martin, Martin Short, and (yes!) Selena Gomez are so committed to making the audience laugh, that I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear and guffaw repeatedly at the wonderful humor interlaced throughout the story. It’s almost like the three leads (and the amazing supporting cast) understood that we were all having a shitty existence and committed to making it a bit brighter for all of us. And, when you boil it down, it’s a story about human connection – which I know I am craving more than ever – and it reminds us that if we let our guards down just a bit, we may find the connections and friendships we never knew we needed.
If your boss recommends you log off early for some self-care, do it. If your best friend encourages you to go for a walk to clear your mind, they probably know that they are talking about. If you need a night out, and your significant other offers to be the designated driver so you can enjoy one too many cocktails to just let your guard down for a night, go for it. And if your buddy offers you an edible because you’re so tense all the time, DO IT! Especially if it means crashing on the couch while watching the Christmas Party episode of The Office during an incredibly stressful holiday season.
My point is, we aren’t as alone as we convince ourselves we are. There are people who only want the best for us, and we should amplify their voices in our heads to combat any type of sabotage we try to pull on ourselves.
To the point of not being as alone as we think we are, there are valid arguments to be made that social media, as much as it is meant to connect us, only actually further disconnects us from each other. We are unable to genuinely connect because we truly believe that someone’s Facebook statuses encompass who they are as a person. Because we follow them on Twitter or Instagram, we are intrinsically connected to someone, even if it’s just because we observe their witty 140-character observations or their artistic pictures of cocktails in portrait mode.
But, during a unique time in history when we couldn’t connect with people in-person, there was power in being able to reconnect with them online. I found myself more willing to engage with strangers or faraway friends by responding encouragingly to an Instagram story or by commenting on their Facebook update with a motivational message.
I found solace and comfort bonding and rebuild genuine friendships with likeminded people who genuinely believe “we are all in this together.” And life didn’t stop just because the world seemed to. People are still having babies, getting promoted, starting new jobs, getting engaged, and passing major milestones. So, how amazing is it to be the person who reaches out via DM and says, “I see you. I’m here for you. I am celebrating you, even from afar”?
As the world reopens, and closes, and reopens again, I find I’m more willing to encourage others digitally. I want you to know that I’m cheering from you, through my screen, because we all need to know someone is in our corner.
When I can’t connect with communities in-person, my ability to share of myself‚—the food I cook, the donuts I bake, the candles I burn, the plants I grow—has engendered positive feelings across (I guess what we are calling) the Metaverse. I’m making plans to grab dinner with people I haven’t seen since undergrad. I have people who genuinely feel motivated to work out because I make it a point to let people know how I’m moving for the day. So, in a time when we are, by necessity, disconnected, I felt hope knowing we had the channels to remain connected. I have no doubt that those relationships will eventually carry over into flesh and blood interactions when the world evens out.
And it makes the times we can connect in person all the sweeter.
Soon after my Mom died, the local Houlihan’s closed. I remember bringing it up in therapy—how it hurt, and I felt like it was another loss in a series of losses. I expected my therapist to laugh at me. Instead, we talked about how though I was an introvert, I still liked being able to connect with people. And as much as I wore my status as a “loner” as a badge, I’m also the first person to befriend bartenders, not just because every now and then I like a discounted or free cocktail, but I love telling people my stories and hearing theirs.
Most recently, a new local bar opened down the street from me, and six months in, I’m considered a regular. I know the staff by first name, and although I wouldn’t as far to say we are friends, they are people with whom I feel connected. While establishing new connections is more challenging than maintaining and balancing the ones I currently have, wherever I go, I try to belong. I give people the space to be themselves; they deserve that much.
And not to get too meta, but I have never felt more hopeful about my writing ability because of the encouragement I get from the members of The Prompt writing community. Even before we were forced to go virtual, this writing community was, by necessity, virtual, as we all live in different corners of the world. Even as I begin to feel the Sunday Scaries creep into my psyche, the regular Sunday evening meetings really light my creative fire. And as much as I loathe being in front of a laptop screen more than I have to, I always close out of the Zoom meeting feeling inspired with my creative juices flowing, and I spend a few more minutes on my computer to just let the words flow.
There’s hope in creation.
With that being said, it’s been incredibly easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that I am only as good as the purpose I serve. I also get the overwhelming sense that society has become more utilitarian over the past two years. Through talking points and pundits and the weaponization of the specific careers and industries, you are only good if people can utilize you, and once enough people deem you unnecessary, you fade back into obscurity. Which is a shitty way to live. We weren’t put on this Earth just to work forty hours a week forever and then die when the Universe deems it appropriate.
And that’s where creating has helped me survive and fight the notion that I am only my career and what I do between 9 and 5 everyday. I am so much more—we are so much more—and our ability to create beautiful things adds so much more to the world than reports we run or meetings we hold.
When I feel myself bogged down with the mundanity of working in a capitalist society, I write. Then I share my writing with a community who gives me necessary feedback but also applauds me when something resonates with them.
I also find therapeutic benefit in the method and structure of creating my Hello Fresh dinners every night. Whoever thought that frying something in my Dutch oven for the first time would spark joy and make me feel like a culinary artist? When I’ve been lucky enough to feel safe and confident enough in my own health to spend holidays and weekends with friends, I pour my heart and soul into what I bake for them, because they are worth my creative energy. When a friend tells me they are hosting a party, I immediately start brainstorming on-theme charcuterie boards I can put together for their guest to feast on.
So, when it feels like your contribution to the world is only connected to what’s reflected on your W2, shut that noise out and discover the things that make your heart sing and energize your soul. I don’t care if it’s TikTok, finger painting, Lego, crochet, the list goes on and on! Pursue what helps you bring color and creativity to a world that is trying its hardest to turn us into bland, greyscale worker drones who are meant solely to serve “the man,” when instead we should be serving ourselves and doing the things that make us feel amazing.
Sensational headlines really started to get to me. They impacted my anxiety and my overall mental health. No matter the news organization, I became more and more convinced Earth was becoming an inhabitable, hellish landscape. It felt like for every person that was doing something to protect their neighbor, five more came out of the woodwork to undo all the good that had been done. Nothing was good enough. All my efforts to be a contributing member to a global society felt incredibly futile. So, to escape reality, I’d escape into my phone, and it was just more devastating clickbait, conflict, and signs that we were all crumbling under the weight of a society in conflict.
It’s easy to fall into that spiral. It took a lot for me to dig myself out. I deactivated my Facebook account for over a year. I don’t watch the news. I try to curate my Instagram explore feed so all I see is baked goods. When I see a clickbait headline, I block the account. I try not to share things just to get a rise out of people.
I, instead, have chosen to accept that idiots and conflict make for better news and help all the ad revenue driven news sites get the exposure they need to remain viable. And despite what we are bombarded with, there are incredibly good people in this world. It may require some digging beyond the front page, but those stories exist. Those are the stories that restore my faith and hope in humanity.
The people I surround myself with make me feel inexorably happy and—lucky us—we’re coexisting on this earthly plane together, fortifying each other simply by being present. I celebrated my 39th birthday with my closest friends, a cocktail, and a cupcake trailer. After a year of spending Christmas alone, I was welcomed with open arms at my chosen family’s Christmas. Our gym community went bowling together—more than 40 of us, in public—celebrating someone we all love, respect, and admire. Sure, it may have been the last time any of us felt comfortable doing that for a while, but for that moment, I had hope for the future.
Choosing hope is a conscious choice we need to make every single day, when we make the choice to bask in the morning sunshine. It is the active choice to not allow a tough 15 minutes of our workday ruin the whole day. It’s about choosing to take the time to create rather than chaining yourself to your laptop because of grind culture. It’s when we choose to reach out to a friend and offer our help when they’re having a bad day rather than retreating further into our own exile. It’s about accepting there is good in the world, even when the headlines, op eds, and talking heads want us to believe otherwise.