Losing Hope

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I’ve suffered from major depression and chronic insomnia my entire life. What kept me going was the milestones and going through the motions. Even when it was at its worst I would make myself believe that it would get better after high school, that it would get better after college, that it would get better after I got my first job, etc. I’m running out of milestones and it’s been getting worse. I had to quit my job because I was constantly falling into major crying spells while at work. I can’t seem to do anything to distract myself anymore and have become entirely unmotivated and feel like I’ve pretty much given up. I’ve seen countless therapists and am currently in psychotherapy twice a week in addition to being medicated. What makes it worse is that I have a great family, parents who I know love me and would do anything for me. I feel so guilty that I can’t get better. I know how much they worry about me and I see how painful it is for them that I can’t shake this, and that there’s nothing they can do to make it better. I’ve alienated all of my friends (never had many) but it was my decision. The one friend I did sincerely care about has grown distant from me and who can blame him? I wouldn’t want to be around me either. Whenever I’m around people all I think about is how much I want to be alone so I could just cry in peace. I can’t even listen to people talk to me because I feel so awful all the time.

I often fantasize about dying or how I would kill myself. I used to think I would never kill myself because I couldn’t put my mother through that, it would destroy her. But lately it really seems like this is how it’s going to be forever and I have no reason to think differently. No matter how hard I’ve tried and gone through the motions and worked hard and pretended things were alright nothing has ever felt any better.

I’m in a lot of pain and at this point hearing people tell me “you can take control of your life, this is in your hands” infuriates me because it’s not in my hands. I would do anything for one day of happiness, to have this pain stop. Over the past few months it’s become increasingly difficult for me to talk to people. I find it hard to raise my voice loud enough so someone wouldn’t have to really concentrate on hearing me.

Really I don’t know what options I have left. I’ve tried a slew of antidepressants, I’ve tried various kinds of therapy, none of which have yielded any results.

I don’t want to give up but things just aren’t getting better. My depression started when I was in 3rd grade (I became very withdrawn and disinterested in academics, a social life, hobbies, and anything else). And it’s been about 16 painful years of my life.

I’m angry that this happened to me. I’m a good person and I don’t deserve this. I know life isn’t always fair, but for me it seems that it never is. I’m angry I can’t sleep at night like other people can. I’m just angry, and sad, and depressed, and losing hope. If you have any advice for me, anything at all, please…

A. I understand that you are ready to give up on life but please reconsider. I have witnessed many people who have wanted to end their lives but who were able to recover from their chronic depression. There is hope for you too.

I would strongly encourage you to read the New York Times article about individuals who attempted suicide and survived. The individuals featured in the article, like you, were at the point of no hope. They too believed that they could not continue living when they felt so much grief. They never thought that their lives would improve which lead them to attempt suicide. What is so remarkable about their stories is that they were thankful that they lived. Logically, you’d think that they’d be upset that they survived since their intention was to die. That was not the case. In addition, because they survived, many of them felt obligated to try to stop others from considering suicide.

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, shared a similar view of suicide. Like the individuals featured in the New York Times article, Dr. Frankl’s patients repeatedly told him how happy they were that they did not successfully end their lives. This seems to be a pattern.

Dr. Frankl also noticed that depressed people held the opinion that their lives were not going to improve. In fact, they were certain of it. This view did not square with logic. His work with suicide survivors showed that very often it turned out that there was a solution to the patient’s problem. There was not always an immediate solution but eventually their problems were solved. Their lives did improve. “Who can guarantee that in your case it will not happen one day, sooner or later?,” he’d often ask his patients. I hope you will consider this very question because it is a good one. Yes, things are not going well for you at this time but how can you be certain that in the future your life will not improve? The answer is you cannot know. “You have to survive in order to see that day dawn.”

You are assuming the worst outcome but you should also consider the fact that you may not be thinking clearly. Your judgment may be clouded by your depression. In fact, you share the same opinion that many of Dr. Frankl’s patients did. They were certain that their life would always be terrible but that was not true. Their judgment was incorrect. They were wrong. Why were they wrong? They were wrong because they were suffering from depression. They were close to losing their lives due to an error in judgment. Luckily, they averted tragedy.

Dr. Frankl also noticed, that among the individuals who suffered from depression, they lacked meaning and purpose in their lives. In other words, they had nothing to live for. Frederick Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher, may have also had a similar view when he said “he who has a why to live for can bear with any how.”

Three ways Dr. Frankl believes that an individual can create meaning and purpose in their life include: (1) helping others, (2) finding love (being loved or loving someone else) and (3) turning personal tragedy into triumph. The latter may be the most plausible in your situation because you’ve been suffering for many years. Maybe your suffering can be turned into something positive.

The aforementioned ways to improve your life should be attempted under the supervision of a mental health professional. I understand that you’ve been to many therapists and have also tried many different medications but I don’t think you should give up. Don’t stop trying until this problem is solved. Remission is possible but it’s going to require that you continue the effort to receive help. I know it is a difficult thing but this is your life and no one else can do it for you. There is a solution to your depression but it has yet to be uncovered.

Please consider returning to a therapist. The right therapist can make all the difference. I am not suggesting that therapy is the one and only way to recover from depression but if you were able to find a competent and seasoned therapist it could change your life dramatically. I hope you realize that there is hope for you.

If you are considering suicide then I strongly advise you to go to an emergency room immediately or to call 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. If you need help, please dial: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call that number if you are feeling upset or overwhelmed.

Thank you for your question. Please write back if you have any further questions. I wish you the best of luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Jan 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Losing Hope. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/01/05/losing-hope/