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When Hopelessness Enters the Equation

When Hopelessness Enters the Equation

I don’t want to be alone. I knew this most deeply when my marriage was breaking up and I was losing not only my best friend and wife, but my two young children as well. Oh, I knew I was in trouble. I struggled. In some ways I’m still struggling from that loss. My pain and hopelessness are a bit different these days, but carry the same trainwreck of an ending that always seems just around the corner. I’m anxious and depressed. I’m working my recovery program and using all of my mental health tools, and reminding myself to do self-care and eat well. And, I’m still in a bit of a dark place.

Alone.

That’s the darkest place. Being hopelessly depressed and alone. Or is it?

Perhaps alone is the better place for me to dig into what’s making me sad and hopeless. When I was in a relationship, my partner would suffer, to a lesser extent, right along with me, not knowing what they could do to help me. I recall one wonderful woman saying, “How can you be sad, you have me?” She was right. She was terrific. But my brain, and brain chemistry was out of whack. And in that state (this state I’m currently in) it is very hard to think clearly. So what’s to be done?

Pull apart some of the brightly colored fibers of a climbing rope and you will find many different threads. It’s the same way with depression. While the whole just feels like an enormous black burden, when you are able to pull apart some of the sadnesses, regrets, issues, fears, you can examine them more clearly. Unraveling my depression has been part of my recovery process for several years. It simply gives me a picture of what components of my life are causing me such unreasonable sadness.

Let me unpack a few of the threads of my depression today.

Deep Purple: Alone. Loneliness. There was a woman in my life when I rented this condo I live in. I always imagined us in this space together. And there are still a few of her things here and there around the house. Things that remind me, fondly on good days, and sorrowfully on bad days, of this lost relationship. I reached out to her several times over the last few months to check-in. “Are you sure you don’t want to restart our relationship?” And each time she was flattered and lovingly supportive of my efforts, but “No. We are not getting back together.” I think the third time I heard it, I began to believe her. I had just given my impassioned pitch and the answer was still, “I’m afraid to be with you. And the answer is no.” And that leaves this electrical bad taste in my mouth when I am experiencing loneliness. She is gone. And while I have not done much to begin the dating process over again, I still miss the closeness we shared. And lack of closeness, for someone who is touch-focused… Well, it’s hard.

Red/Yellow: Panic about a career. Freakout about money. What am I going to do with my life?

Green: Resentment and envy. I want a girlfriend. I want to take a vacation during spring break. I don’t want a desk job to support my lifestyle.

Blue: Sadness. Missing my children who I see so little of these days. I can’t afford a house that would give them each rooms so they stay with their mom full-time now and make dates with me. But if you can imagine making a date with your 18-yo son or 16-yo daughter, you know it’s not often enough. This is what I lost in the divorce. From the moment I walked out of the house, I lost a huge amount of time with my children. Today, it’s just exacerbated by my Red/Yellow panic above.

Grey: Just getting older. A bit more tired in the mornings. Less momentum to go out there and find another girl. How can I present my joy at going to a bar and drinking wine when that’s not really my thing?

So, yeah, when things get out of hand, as they are right now, all of these issues coil up together and form a heavy weight on my life. Everything suffers. My work suffers. (You’ll notice I haven’t been writing.) My creativity suffers. My overall joy is so much a part of my personality, and when that’s gone, and I don’t mean LOW, I mean GONE, I’m in a bad state.

But the core of the pain today is the loneliness. I don’t want to be alone. I thrive in the arms of a woman. I wither when wrapped around only pillows.

I love being in a relationship. And while things didn’t work out with my last girlfriend, we had a blast. We traveled some new roads of sensuality and passion. We pushed up against some of Brené Brown’s BRAVING ideas and failed. And we parted as friends. And then, months later, I can’t stop thinking about her.

Sure, some of it is pure loneliness. And some of it is missing touch. And some of it is wanting a teammate to work on things with, to reason things out with, to help and support and cheer on. And what I think she realized each time I was asking her to reconsider, is that I wanted a girlfriend. And that I was not necessarily wanting her and all the issues we had between us, but perhaps a respite from the sadness and empty bed.

And that’s not going to happen. And just yesterday a 5+ dating potential, who I met on Bumble, texted me that she was not getting what she was dreaming of in our relationship. And… aren’t we both glad we put sex off the table until we explored a bit more life together. Sex confuses everything. I have gotten into two relationships recently through hot sex. And here I am again, single, lonely, with a touch of hopelessness.

If you’re feeling hopeless take apart the heavy rope and look at what the parts of your depression are. I can work directly on some of my issues. I can write about some of the others. And still others: sadness at the massive amounts of my kid’s lives I’m missing. That’s real and that’s going to make me sad. I don’t have to dwell on it, but when it comes up I feel it, acknowledge it and thank my heart for feeling so strongly.

Does this post signal my breakout from a dark period of silence? I hope so. Do you have strategies you use to unpack sadness and loneliness? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

And I’ll close with a prayer that’s been keeping me out of the dark woods:

God, grant me the serenity,
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s the returning to spirituality that is helping me out at this moment. A woman can let me down, leave, or bolt. God and my higher power will never abandon me. Sometimes it’s hard to feel that love when I’m in my shame spiral. But I know the prayer and fellowship of others is the ladder back up to joyousness.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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