The Art of Navigating Despair

You wake up to another morning. You are reluctant to move your body, reluctant even to open your eyes. But you do. You lie motionless under the duvet, staring blankly at the ceiling. You are already weighed down by thoughts of emptiness, the void of human existence. These thoughts are a fine mist swirling atop the bland, grey fog of pointlessness.

This is grief.

You yawn and rub your eyes, think about making coffee. You wonder if you have the energy to walk to the kitchen. You do. You move the duvet off your body and lie there motionless for a moment, summoning up the necessary motivation to move. You stand up. Maybe you stretch. That feels good, despite your inner greyness. You walk to the kitchen, noticing how cold the floor feels in winter and switch the kettle on. Without conscious thought, you walk to the bathroom. You notice how cold the toilet seat is. You think about brushing your teeth. But you don’t.

This is unmet desire.

You turn on the radio, your playlist, a podcast. Any noise to bring you back to this present moment. Any noise to remind you that you are not alone. The kettle boils and you make a cup of coffee. You make breakfast and you leave it on the kitchen counter. You think about not eating because that requires too much energy and participation. But you do. You sit at the dining table, or you stand at the kitchen counter, sipping coffee and eating granola, with a Russell Brand podcast murmuring in the background. You look out the window. The sun is shining. Outside. Outside, the sun is shining.

This is disappointment.

You dress. You feed the cat. You pack lunch for the day. You unlock the front door but you pause before opening it. Your hand rests on the handle and you wonder what lies on the other side. You pray that you will not have to greet anyone as you walk to your car. You wonder how you will find the strength to smile at colleagues, to open emails, to answer the phone, to sit through a finance meeting, to drive home, to talk to your child, to make dinner, to shower. Then you take a breath and remind yourself that all you have to do right now is open the door and walk to your car. So you do.

This is fear.

You will want to isolate. Don’t.
You will want to neglect yourself. Don’t.
You will want to stay in your own thoughts. Don’t.
You will want to conserve all of your energy for yourself. Don’t
You will want to stop doing the things that work. Don’t.

Pray and meditate, even when you don’t want to. And you won’t want to. But keep at it.
Let someone know that today is a hard day, even when self-pity says that no one wants to hear about it.
Move your body, even though you won’t want to. At the very least, stretch.
Eat, even though you stare at the plate of food and wonder how you’ll have enough energy to lift the fork. The same goes for drinking water. The bottle will feel heavy but your body will be grateful.
Greet your co-workers. Ask how their day is going. Ask after their families. Make your colleague a cup of tea.
Offer to help someone, even though you don’t think you can. You can.

Feed the cat

And when you get home from work, you close the front door behind you and take a deep breath. You lean against the door and close your eyes. You made it. You put your bags down and hug your child. You look into her smiling face and feel your heart disintegrate with love.

You listen as she tells you about her day. Even though you don’t want to. Even though the grey mist is circling. Even though you would prefer to stay wrapped up in your own thoughts. You make dinner. You eat, perhaps without much effort. You think about taking a bath, about how much effort that requires. You think about how you don’t deserve the luxury of a bubble bath. You think about just going to bed. But you won’t. You think about how you didn’t brush your teeth this morning, and you recognize that this is not what you want. So you brush your teeth and run a bath. You let the warm water soften the stress and ease the tension you’ve been holding all day. You submerge yourself, muffling the outside world. You think about cleaning your body, and whether or not you deserve a clean body. But you know that is a slippery slope and so you clean yourself. Literally and metaphorically, you wash away the day.

This is grief. This is unmet desire. This is disappointment. This is fear.

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

You tuck your child into bed, snuggling her if she allows it. You sigh as you acknowledge how your relationship is changing as she grows up. You mourn the passing of her childishness, the widening gap between you that is necessary for her. You climb into your own bed, pulling the duvet around you. You read to distract you from yourself, to keep the grey fog at bay. And as you lean over to switch the bedside lamp off, you realise that you’re thankful for this day, for making it through. You whisper a thank you to God, the universe, Spirit. You close your eyes.

And when you wake up tomorrow morning despair may have passed, or it may still be there. And you’ll think about not getting up. But you will. And so you will the next day, and the next, and the next. Because it will change. Despair will lift. It will lift in the middle of a conversation with a colleague. It will lift as you reply to a friend’s message. It will begin to dissipate as you listen to your favourite song. It will ease as you bring yourself to be of service to someone else. It will evaporate as you sit with yourself, breathing, and being present, and inviting God into the greyness.

This is grief. This is unmet desire. This is disappointment. This is fear. This is not mental illness. This is despair. This is being human.

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