Overcoming Despair and Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” ~ Christopher Reeve

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, my mother passed away unexpectedly, and I was kicked out of college in my last semester. All within a few weeks of each other.

Losing my mom was incredibly hard. She had been my biggest supporter in life, the only person who always seemed to believe in me. And after she died, I didn’t take very good care of myself. I didn’t follow up on doctor visits, I didn’t go to class, and I didn’t pay bills.

After not following through on treatment for what would turn out to be a case of Hyperthyroidism so severe that textbooks hadn’t even documented anything quite as severe, my health deteriorated quickly.

Five months after I had first been diagnosed I had to be taken to the emergency room. The doctors and nurses read computer printouts and looked at me through wide eyes. They hooked me up to sensor after sensor, to IVs and monitors.

And then I started to drift away…

The next time I opened my eyes, two weeks had passed. I had lost about twenty percent of my body weight and found tubes coming out of everywhere. I didn’t know where I was or what had happened.

The nurses told me I had been in a coma and that I hadn’t been breathing on my own. They told me they had to perform CPR on me, twice, because I quit breathing completely.

They told me I was lucky to have woken up at all.

It took me weeks, first using a walker and with the help of those saintly nurses, to teach my legs how to walk again.

After coming out of the hospital I was utterly lost. A little bit of money came to me from my mother’s estate, but I didn’t have a clue what to do with it.

I felt empty, alone, and purposeless. So I spent the money. I had credit card debt and student loan debt that could have been almost completely wiped out. But that’s not where the money went.

It wasn’t long until I had two defaulted credit cards at a time when it should have been criminal to even give someone like me a credit card in the first place.

The only time the phone rang was from people calling to tell me I would be sued. They left hundreds of voicemails. I felt like a failure. I knew I was, told myself every day that I was a complete and utter mistake.

And then the hospital bills started rolling in…

Nothing took the pain away or brought me any joy except for the small fleeting sense of satisfaction when I came home with a new purchase. So I bought lots of worthless things to fill up the void.

I loaded my apartment from floor to ceiling with the Ikea catalog. I bought video game consoles, piles of games and DVDs, even a motorcycle. Anything that I thought would make me happy for a week, a day, or an afternoon.

None of it did of course. It all made the emptiness I felt seem even worse after the glow of newness faded away. Pretty soon the money was all gone.

I was lucky to be alive and I was miserable.

I couldn’t tell you where I first found the concept of minimalism or the idea that we can live happier without our hoards of stuff, but when I did, my life slowly changed.

I donated, gave away, and sold off the greater percentage of my stuff. I got out of debt and took better care of myself. I started writing more. And I made it through.

3 important lessons I learned from that time:

Be thankful for all the hurdles you’ve overcome to get here.

If you are here, you’ve gotten through some tough times.

I survived a very serious illness and hospitalization. That’s part of the story of me. I used to be embarrassed when I’d tell people about it, like I was explaining to them that I drove a beat-up car or something.

But I’m grateful for the experience now. Many have had to deal with worse. Maybe you’ve been sick, or lived through really painful experiences. But you’ve made it to now. And I think that’s awesome. I think you’re tough and you can make it.

This too, shall pass.

Don’t turn to stuff for happiness.

Consuming as a coping mechanism to sadness or pain in any circumstance will only make you feel worse and make things more difficult for you. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, buying stuff, or using other people, consuming to dull the ache of life will wreck you in the long run.

The only thing that can get us through difficult times in life and to flourish is creating and giving.

When you’re sad, write it down. Put it in a journal or start a blog. When you feel lonely, volunteer for a charitable organization or pass out sandwiches at a homeless shelter. When you feel hopeless, make someone laugh.

Know that you have unique value in the world and you belong here with us.

Remember this mantra, “make it, don’t take it,” when times are tough.

Start listening to your heart more.

You can feel it when you do something that isn’t right or healthy. Something inside tries to tell you, but we can be very good at not listening. Listen to that voice more. It won’t steer you wrong.

You know what dreams you have locked away in secret places. Some that you’ve never even dared to tell another soul because they’re so fragile they might melt away before your eyes if spoken aloud.

It’s time to start listening to those quiet wishes. We don’t deserve much in life, but we owe it to ourselves to try to be the kinds of people we would admire.

We need more dream-chasers in this world and you’re just what we’re looking for.

6 Responses to “Overcoming Despair and Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel

  • Thank you, James. Life has a funny way of showing things when they are many to be seen.

    Keep on keepin' on.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. I know it can be difficult to open up and share difficulties we have been through. Especially when we look back thinking we should have handled things differently. However, I tend to the think that people who have gone through difficult circumstances sometimes acquire a better outlook and understanding in life than those for whom things came easier. Sharing the things learned and the process gone through to learn them can help others to do the same.

    • Thanks for reading it, Amber. Definitely agree with what you said. Reading about people who have come out the other side of things you are in the middle of helps a lot. That has helped me more than all the "just be positive" type of stuff out there. I'm no flower child.

  • I'm shocked that tinybuddha didn't post this! Their articles are all about experiencing the difficulties of life, learning lessons and becoming stronger because of it. Thanks for sharing such a personal story, very well written.

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