According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hope is: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” “a feeling of trust,” “want something to happen or be the case.”
When used to describe the sense of desire for recovery regarding mental health, it carries with it, the belief that some positive outcome can ensue, that things can improve and that symptoms can abate. When a person succumbs to the illness, often it is because he or she has relinquished the possibility of healing.
This month the suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain had many questioning whether they had given up hope. Often, when people are immersed in darkness, they can’t imagine coming through on the other side into the light, even if they have done so on multiple occasions. Call it psychological or spiritual amnesia that has them forgetting how resilient they can be. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, many are not comfortable talking about their emotional turmoil and the impact it has on their daily lives.
Charles Minguez, MA, has walked that path and emerged triumphant one day at a time. Struggling with depression and addiction, this resilient thriver has taken his experiences and used them to assist others in traversing the treacherous trails that can lead to a precipice. He has elected to remain on solid ground. His vulnerable sharing of his story is inspiring. When one has run out of hope, sometimes borrowing someone else’s is what is called for. Minguez has made it part of his purpose to do just that in his newsletter called Sharing Hope.
What experiences shaped the person you are now?
When I was about nine or ten, my parents split and shortly after, my mom began a long-term relationship with a man who was abusive. Having no real coping skills to deal with the violence in my home I turned towards alcohol and drugs.
Before the age of eighteen, I had been hospitalized three times, dropped out of school, and found myself with a diagnosis of major depression and schizoaffective disorder.
Then sometime in my early twenties I was introduced to yoga and had the opportunity to train with a fantastic teacher. The trajectory of my life changed.
How do you live with depression as an aspect of your life without it being your entire focus?
I’ve learned to befriend my depression as opposed to pushing it away. If I were to pretend that the illness was not there, I would probably be a much angrier person.
Unless people know you well, could they tell that it is part of your experience?
No. In fact, I’ve had conversations with people where mental illness/health has come up, and when I share my story with them, they’re often surprised, not only by my history but that depression is such a part of my day-to-day experience.
During the darkest times, what let you know that the light was there as well?
I’m not sure I have a great answer to this question. I just knew, deep down inside that, there had to be more to life than the pain I experienced in my youth.
Now when I’m feeling down, I can look back on those experiences remembering a promise I’ve made to help others find their way through the dark.
Who were your supports/cheerleaders who kept you afloat?
Unfortunately, when I was younger, I didn’t have much support. When you’re deep into addiction and depression, you tend to hurt a lot of people and push friends away.
Currently, my biggest cheerleaders are my wife and three children. I’m not sure that I could ever, indeed, convey just how powerful of a support system my family is and how they keep me motivated.
What toolkit do you use to keep on keeping on?
This is such a great question, and I love that you used the word “toolkit” because you need more than one tool to build a successful recovery. You can’t make a house with just a hammer. You’re going to need wrenches, drills, machinery and other raw materials to bring it all together.
I focus on seven different tools and try to give each of the seven a little love every day to keep them useful.
These seven tools are:
- Commit to open communication with a doctor
- Work with a counselor or therapist
- Exercise regularly
- Eat clean, fresh foods
- Get enough sleep
- Cultivate a meditation practice
- Join or build a community
Is hope an essential ingredient in recovery?
Hope is an essential ingredient in recovery. It sounds cliché, but without hope, it’s hard to believe that we can get out of the darkness to experience the light. Hope allows us to shift our mindset so that we can focus on, or look forward to, the good stuff.
I believe hope works best when it’s tied to some goal(s). If we can shift our mindset and then have an action plan, we can transform many obstacles and avoid feeling a false sense of hope.
How does your sense of spirituality assist you?
As a Buddhist, spiritual practice and spirituality make up a big part of my life. I meditate and often pray, daily if I can, and the practice of mindfulness has been monumental in my recovery.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness allows us to put some space between our thoughts and our self so that we can get a better understanding of how the mind works. Then when negative states of mind arise, it’s easier to understand how to dissolve them and cultivate a peaceful mind.
Minguez is writing a book about his experiences growing up with addiction and depression, but in the meantime, you can read more of his story on his blog.