“ACTION IS THE ANTIDOTE TO DESPAIR”
By: Lauren Anderson
I was recently helping a dear friend move out of their house.
The reason for the move was because of a divorce which resulted in a series of huge life changes.
Luckily my friend had enlisted quite a few other friends to help, so we able to adopt the very efficient “BUCKET BRIGADE” system! It was genius, because everyone was set up to do the least amount of steps as possible. We lined up from the basement to the truck and to put it plainly, those many hands made for very short labor.
And fortunately, this very efficient system allowed for a few points of rest. While we were waiting for the other part of the brigade to catch up to where we were, I leaned back on the rail of the stairway and I checked in with my friend. “Hey, how’s your heart doing today?”
“I feel okay today actually.” They answered.
“Good. I was wondering how this all might feel. Does it feel good to be nearing the final steps of this process?”
“Yes. It does. I thought I would be feeling a lot more right now, but I think I spent so much time with that house getting it ready to sell, ya know? Crying and painting and grieving, and cleaning, and crying some more, and eventually letting go… that today it just feels kinda good to move.”
I nodded. I know the feeling, very well.
* * *
When my brother died, we were all so numb for so long. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves.
I was living with my sister at the time, and while I had taken to sleeping all hours and binge-watching CW superhero shows to anesthetize some of my grief, my sister was just about jumping out of her skin.
Then one morning I woke up, and my sister had re-arranged all the furniture in the house and put up a winter’s wonderland full of decorations all before 10 am. Had it not been for my brother’s passing, it would’ve seemed like a Christmas miracle.
I stepped out into holiday decor, and saw her fluffing some garland. She stopped quick, as if I caught her, and just looked at me. “I know, it’s a lot.” She said, almost apologetically. “But I just couldn’t sit still anymore.”
I nodded. I knew the feeling.
We were grieving. And I know grief is healthy, and necessary, and in my opinion, an absolutely crucial part of our survival. But when grief gets restless, it can feel like despair.
And it’s important for me to remember that grief and despair are NOT the same.
Grief is useful, despair is not. I like to think of grief like penicillin. It’s a gross mold that nobody wants, but if you let it do it’s dirty work, it can help heal you.
But sometimes when you are in the throws of grief, you can start to teeter on despair.
And despair never did anyone any good. Despair plagues like a bacteria, and it can kill.
* * *
I like the word despair. I like it because it’s dramatic. It’s a word that really sounds like what it is.
The loss of hope.
I like the word, but the feeling of despair is the absolute worst.
In my life, whether due to depression or circumstance, I’ve known the feeling of despair more than I’d like to admit. And it’s almost scary. Because hopelessness only takes from you. It robs us of our very fundamental human need to push forward. It’s us at our darkest. It’s the lowest point.
It’s a dramatic word for a dramatic feeling.
I hate despair so much, I want to tell it to go take a long walk off a short bridge.
But because I can’t tell my feelings what to do, maybe I’ll just take my despair on a long walk instead?
Which is exactly what I did. Years ago when I was living with my boyfriend, we decided to call it quits. Even though we weren’t technically married, moving out of a shared home felt a lot like divorce. I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
So I just started to walk. I enlisted the companionship of a friend and their dog, and nearly every morning for the next year, we walked about 4 miles.
We talked too, but honestly? Mostly we just walked.
The walking allowed for me to grieve without it turning into despair. The walks saved me.
I could recognize my grief, and after awhile I could even start to see the break up was for the best. I knew in the back of my mind that this choice was the right one.
I don’t think I would’ve gotten there as quickly if I would’ve just chain-smoked and cried my way through that break up like I had in the past. I think the walking, the action, cured that intangible part of the pain.
I think the action was the antidote to the venom of my circumstance, until time and therapy could do the rest.
* * *
A few weeks after my sister re-decorated the house for xmas, I officially started at Solcana. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that going to the gym was my version of my sister’s North Pole make-over on the house.
I used the gym for the same reason. Every workout managed to keep the despair away. It allowed me to process my grief without my sadness consuming me.
It quite literally “gave me something to do” and something to look forward to. And if you are able to look forward, well, that’s where hope lives. Despair can’t go where there’s hope.
* * *
So the other day, I was deep into some You Tube watching, and I stumbled on the channel called “Yes Theory”. It’s this group of multi-cultural attractive young dudes who challenge themselves to “seek discomfort” in order to live their best lives.
They propose that when you do something that scares you, or makes you uncomfortable, or pushes you to be vulnerable, that is when you see the best of humanity, and discover the best parts of yourself. And every time you do this, you learn and you grow.
You can see why I got hooked. They do a lot of fun stuff, and there’s a lot of adventure, and hugging and tears. But most importantly (and surprisingly), they seem to be philosophically aligned with a lot of my same beliefs. That challenge of facing fears and making yourself vulnerable to grow is why I do improv, and why I love writing this blog.
In a recent video, they were doing a year round-up and sharing the “6 things they discovered”. One of the six lessons was the phrase, “Action is the Antidote to Despair.”
I was so taken by the phrasing of this, that I wrote it down. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
* * *
In our lives, we will lose people (and animals) we love–whether it’s by death or divorce or distance. We might lose jobs, health, money. Sometimes we might lose our way, our trust in democracy, or even our faith in humanity.
I believe it’s important to grieve the loss of these things. All of it. Not just the big stuff. I think allowing myself to properly grieve is the difference between surviving the loss, and thriving.
Because no matter how many times I’ve tried to rage against it, loss seems to be a part of life. It’s easy to get infected with despair. Like, why bother loving/doing/trying anything if you’re just going to lose it?
But maybe that’s where Action comes in. When I’m sick with despair, if I can remember I have an antidote that can save me– I can go for a walk. Or back to the gym. Or re-decorate the house. Or craft. Or bake. Or dance. Or paint. Or volunteer. Or help a friend move—
Maybe that’s just enough medicine to get me through to the next part… where hope lives.