Finding Your Way Out When Despair Takes You Down

Sep 30, 2019

My heart sank like a rock when I read the news. Another suicide. Another young life lost to despair.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I responded stories of suicide with a distant, judging indifference. How could someone do that? How could someone actually end their life?

I didn’t understand it, couldn’t make sense of it. “It’s selfish,” a close friend once remarked. And although his words sounded harsh, I tended to agree. Suicide appeared to be a self-driven decision, made completely without thought for the needs or pain of anyone else.

But that was before. Before I knew its pain firsthand. Before I understood how despair can drown even the strongest swimmers.

I curled up in the dark of our basement, far from the life I once lived upstairs.

 

God, oh God, where are you?

 

Like a girl looking at a picture of the sun but unable to feel its warmth, I could no longer
observe the beauty of life when I could experience none of it for myself. So, I buried myself in
the basement, my grave. The pain was too great. I was buried alive, trapped in a body that no
longer worked.

 

Looking for God but unable to find Him.

 

Death beat at my door. So be it. Hadn’t I endured enough? This was no way to live.  —Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves (Zondervan, November 12, 2019)

Three years ago I sat down at my laptop to put words to my battle, my struggle to trust a God I didn’t understand, a God who claimed to love me but didn’t always show Himself to me. I wasn’t sure the words would ever make it to print. It felt too personal, too raw, too vulnerable.

Now, here we are, three years later, and Relentless is about to release. And in the last few months, I’ve heard too many stories of former Christians who no longer claim the faith they once believed. Not to mention others who finally gave up the fight and took their own life. Some battle mental illness. Others, like me, have faced one too many impossible circumstances and ended up buried by suffering.

Pain has left its mark on us. And, in spite of our determination, some days it’s all we can do to not give up and go under.

We are at war, friends. And the battle we fight isn’t for the fulfillment of all our dreams and desires and a nice, easy life.

The battle we fight is for our faith. The kind of faith that stands in spite of pain’s every attempt to snuff it out.

Don’t be caught unaware: This is not a game. The risk is high, and the stakes even higher. There are men and women and children so marked by suffering that their pain is blinding them to the presence and affection of real God. This aloneness eclipses all light and leaves the sufferer looking for the fastest way out.

I know—I’ve been there.

I have no once-and-for-all solutions; to claim such would be arrogant and foolish. But over the last few years of fighting for my life and faith, I’ve learned five strategies that help me dig out when despair takes me under:

Acknowledge it. Pretending despair doesn’t exist does nothing to alleviate it. When emotions get overwhelming, stuffing, numbing, and ignoring doesn’t work. Internal pain must be honored just as physical pain. It’s a smoke detector, letting us know there’s a fire we need to put out. Thus, respect it by acknowledging it. This is as simple as saying, “Hello there, fear. Despair. Hopelessness. I see you. We’ve been here before.”

Share it with at least one trusted friend. When I’m struggling to find a rope of hope to hang on to, I have a very small, vetted group of safe friends who hold the other end of my lifeline. All I need to do is text one of them with the following words: “I’m not okay. I just needed someone to know. I’m safe, but I’m not okay.” Within minutes, they start to pray. Then they remind me: “I’m with you, no matter what.”

Move. Sometimes I need to physically interrupt the thought-loop and emotional deluge. Although I may not have the strength (or executive brain function) to go for a walk or run, I can take an easy first step: Play solitaire on my phone. Read an easy novel. Play fetch with the puppy in the back yard. Listen to music. The goal is simply to interrupt the loop, get my brain and body on better footing. Then I’ll have more strength to take another step forward.

Consider contributing factors. My extensive experience with PTSD, trauma and the biological response to suffering has taught me to pay close attention to my body. For example, I’ve noticed that certain times of day (or times of year) are harder than others. My mood dips when the sun sets and the temperature drops. In addition, I know if I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (the acronym H.A.L.T.), I’m not at my emotional best. Once I get past the immediate emotional crisis, I consider contributing factors. If I’m hungry, I eat. If I’m tired, I sleep. If it’s 8 pm, I remind myself that I will feel differently in the morning.

Remind yourself of Truth. Despair is a liar. It convinces you there is no hope, no possibility of better days, no light up ahead. Like a black sheet over all the windows, despair turns the lights off. So I’ve written a few Bible verses and truths on index cards stationed around my house. If despair is taking me down, these words remind me of the Truth. One of my favorites? Jesus’ words in John 14:18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” 

QUESTION: Have you ever felt buried by life circumstances such that you despaired of life? If you gain nothing else from this post, know this: you are not alone. Share your struggle in the comments, and today we will pray with you through it.

If you or someone you know is experiencing such despair right now, you are not alone. Please call 800-273-8255 or text HELP to 741-741.

27 Comments

  1. Penelope

    My twenty-year-old daughter is living with this sort of despair. It is heartbreaking to witness. We love her dearly; pray for her hourly (and sometimes more often than that). She has a good therapist, good friends. She has good moments. She still knows joy. But mostly, it is all such a struggle for her.

    Michele, thank you so much for writing and sharing as you do. It helps so much to know that we are not alone, doesn’t it!? Thank you. My prayers and peace to you.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I’m so sorry for what all of you are enduring, Penelope. Regardless of the source, that kind of sadness and despair can be debilitating. I’m so glad she is surrounded by good resources, friends, therapist, YOU, etc. Make sure you have good supports, too. Your life is just as valuable. xoxox

      Reply
    • Linda

      I lost all joy during a time I had to deal with the sexual abuse I suffered in my childhood. When I was in my forties I forgave my abuser on his death bed but now I had to deal with the despair and rage I was feeling and the lost of any joy in my life. I had a supported husband and two young sons and still felt very alone and very angry. I know the depth that physical and mental pain can throw you into. I’m 75 now and the physical pain is all consuming to the point of wanting to give up. God can be so silent to the point of me wondering where he is and if he knows if I’m still here. I could serve Him so much more if I wasn’t in so much pain. I look forward to finishing reading your book. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable. You will be helping so many people. God bless.

      Reply
  2. Jessica

    I still struggle with the after effects of my divorce . Most days I’d rather not leave the the apartment , watching my youngest son being shuffled weekly for “ parent time “ and my oldest struggling with anger and depression , knowing “ their affair “ led to marriage and our home is no longer “ my home “ , financial cares , Heath issues , some days it’s too much and I ask God where Is the light at the end of this tunnel ??

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      The impact of divorce is ongoing and longterm. And holidays, parenting schedules, hard emotions all remind you—on a daily basis—of what you lost. I get it. Been there. Although I know it seems like it will never end, there is hope. I believe it. Thank you for sharing honestly with us here. You’re not alone, Jessica.

      Reply
      • Mary Sharon Moriarty

        My middle child has severe mental illness and I have quit my teaching job to be her full-time caregiver and homeschool teacher. I am grieving for the happy, healthy child she once was, and for the normal family rhythms and routines we once had.

        Reply
  3. Jennifer McIlwain

    I had a stroke in May. I lost the left field of vision in both eyes. Everything every day is a fight. I fight to read. And I have always been an avid reader. I can’t drive. I struggle to prepare meals for my family.I deeply desire to see the faces of my family clearly. Tears are my food daily. Please pray for me.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Jesus, I pray for my sister, Jennifer. She’s endured so many losses. You know the pain of a body that doesn’t work, a life that looks different that what she dreamed. Please, Jesus, meet her there. Show her your presence with and deep affection for her in a tangible way today. Ease her suffering, comfort her heart. Give her a glimpse of your purpose and glory, even here.

      Reply
  4. ~anon today

    Live with this so much of the time. Then sometimes it is worse (10 days ago) Treatment-resistant MDD. So hard. 🙁 Hard to find a vetted, trusted friend.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      You aren’t alone, friend. Thank you for bravely sharing your hard place with us. You’re loved.

      Reply
  5. Sarah

    I’ve recently started struggling with extreme sadness – yes, despair. The email came through tonight and I was so glad to find actual actionable steps to help me. I have a doctor’s appointment this week that I hope will help me get some answers, or a plan, or something. One day at a time. One hour at a time some days.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Checking in the with doctor is very wise, Sarah. I learned a few years ago that part of my sadness during that season was a result of a thyroid that was no longer functioning and medication replacement that wasn’t working. Within two weeks of visiting the doctor and changing my thyroid med, I had a new perspective and fresh hope. I still have moments of struggle, but not nearly as bad as they were a few years ago.

      Press on, sister. One day, one hour, one minute at time. YOU are worth it. And He is with you.

      Reply
  6. Gwen

    I had a mentor and friend who would call or ask nearly every time we met, “how is your depression today?” She asked even when I looked good. She cared enough to know that I could be swallowed by the slimy pit of despair and was brave enough to face it head on … every single time. She has passed on, but that courage helped me develop the courage to find and tell others when I’m not okay. Satan loves our secrets and uses them to drag us away from truth and love. I’m so grateful for the love of my friend … and hope I can be that friend for someone else!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I LOVE THIS, Gwen. What your friend did for you was like saying, “I see you, exactly as you are. And I love you.” Often that’s what our hearts need to hear most! I have no doubt you offer the same gift to others, friend. Such a gift, birthed in a hard, dark place. THAT is God’s grace.

      Reply
      • Gwen

        Amen! The privilege of the pain … open doors through the suffering for his glory!

        Reply
  7. Julie

    Yes, Michele, the battle we fight is for our faith. The enemy is a liar, but our struggles in this life are real. I’m grateful that at my lowest point, though I quit going to church, I never stopped reading and spending time with God even though I was arguing with Him! ( At least on my end?) I pray your post helps many still struggling and leads them back to the truth.

    Reply
  8. Kendra Burrows

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this today, Michele. Thank you! I’m safe, but I’m not okay. And I’m going to bed even though all the things are not resolved. Because tired and overwhelmed won’t fix anything. Thank you, thank you! <3

    Reply
    • Sharon Paavola

      Praying for you, Kendra! I’ve been in that place too many times and am not far from it now. Stay safe. You can always let me know you’re not okay. We’ve been on several book groups together and my heart went out to you as I read your words. You are cared for and cared about, my friend. <3 Sharon

      Reply
      • Kendra Burrows

        Sharon!! Thank you, my friend. I’m sorry to hear you’re not far from this place, but I’m praying for you. Right back at ya — feel free to reach out! You are loved! <3

        Reply
  9. Deborah Duran

    I belong to Suicide Anonymous ( If there is such a thing.) Between the age of 25 and 32, I attempted suicide at least 5 times and came very close to succeeding twice. I have two daughters (who are now in their mid 40’s.) My first almost successful attempt was on my oldest 12th birthday. Whenever I had attempted suicide it was because I was just too tired. I suffered from mental illness (the doctors thought it was all the alcohol I drank.) I drank alcohol to feel better. Which actually made things worst. I couldn’t hold a job. I had no money and suffered from bi-polar and depression and ADD. Yes, my children suffered terribly. My mother could not understand. Today over 30 years later I am doing much better. I started getting well in my late 40’s. I truly understand what most of you are going through. Yes, suicide is a selfish act but at our moment of despair, We can only think of what we feel at that moment. If any of you wish to talk with my please feel free to contact me. I will be more than happy to talk to you. Today I carry my scars as reminders of my Saviours love for me. I live today because He first loved me.

    Reply
  10. Judi

    I have been through so much in the way of health issues in the last 7 years including a battle with breast cancer and Depression that put me into medical health facility. Several people know about this deep depression I had and yet it’s been totally forgotten. Sometimes I feel so desperately alone. I know Christ is there and reach out to Him constantly and yet there are still such dark days. I long to see the light and to feel joy again

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth

    I am trying to heal after getting out of an abusive relationship with my daughter’s father. The court process consumed me for over a year and now that it is done I am left with raw and confusing emotions.

    Reply
  12. Beverly Wiley

    I have tried to kill myself. Thoughts of killing myself come and go. The Holy Spirit has put a new song in my heart this year. I am battling an eating disorder and I must say the voices in our heads are sometimes louder than the voices in our heart that we know to be true. But I carry on each and everyday battling the voices. As I turned 60 a few days ago I decided to get a cross tattoo on my wrist where I tried to kill myself to remind myself that the cross covers everything. I am thankful for your raw emotions and sharing your heart with us. How encouraging are your words to us. Cannot wait for your book to come out.

    Reply
  13. David

    I am so broken with depression and anxiety and fear – job loss at age 55 – 6 years ago. Went into a ministry role helping high risk kids and working part time jobs. My wife continued her teaching job and silently resented me doing what I was doing until she unleashed it all. We are emotionally separated and it hurts so bad as I try to bring healing to our relationship. Anxiety and depression has gotten so bad meds don’t help and I am in despair as I seek God with every thing in me. Thank you for sharing your heart and the hope you have. Jesus is the Rescuer and I know eventually things will work out for my good.

    Reply
  14. Karen Goins

    Physical pain and functioning disabilities are ever present. But my God has brought me so very far from the worse. I know I am not alone. Ever.

    Reply
  15. Jaylene

    Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone in my despair. It’s easy to forget some days. I went through a divorce two years ago and it still feels like yesterday. My life, and my sons, was turned upside down and it’s been a battle ever since. There have been a lot of silver linings that I try to focus on, but then there are the days when I fall right back into that pit and can’t crawl out. I know He is with me, but here are so many days that I just don’t feel it. I feel as if I’m free falling. I’m not okay, even two years later, but I am safe in His arms.

    Reply
  16. Susan Sage

    I am 60 years old and about to share something I’ve never told another human being. When I was 19, I drove 10 miles down the highway every day to get to work. Tension and stress were so bad, for weeks, every. single. day. as I drove, I planned how I would pick up speed and drive myself straight into a pillar that held up an overcrossing. And each day, I would think about my brother having to find out…not my parents…not my other friends…my brother. I sensed God whispering that He wasn’t done with me here. Fear and lies played over in my mind for too long and almost won. One day, I actually checked that no one else would be injured when I drove into the pillar. I picked up speed and turned my steering wheel just enough to hit the far edge. I even figured that hitting it there wouldn’t cause the structure to collapse. No one was behind me. No one coming from the other direction. In the last possible moment, the steering wheel turned back in the proper direction. Tears filled my eyes and spilled down my face. As soon as possible, I pulled over and did some serious business with God. The next day as I came closer to that spot, it was not thoughts of killing myself that filled my mind, but rather that God had a reason for me to be here and He would give me all I needed to make it through the very difficult time I was going through. There was only one other time, three years later and in a different country, that the thought of suicide crept into the outer threads of my mind. But that day, once again, God intervened, called me out as His own, and never since then have I considered it even with all of the health issues, even with almost dying three times from those issues, even with anything else. Thank you for letting me share this secret in a safe place.

    Reply

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