Reader Asks: “How Do I Let Go of Despair?

Dear Neil: 10 years ago, I had a horrible bout of Stage 3 breast cancer. 5 years ago I divorced, leaving a 12 year marriage. Finally, I just turned 50, and that has really put a spin on what has become a downward spiral.

Today I’m cancer-free, but I’m left with both physical and emotional fallout, and I cannot step out of the dark place that cancer, divorce and turning 50 has left me.

I used to be a self-assured woman who knew who she was, but she is long gone, and I am constantly battling this dark cloud instead. How do I overcome the fears, resentments and feelings of hopelessness I now have? I do not want to look back only to regret wallowing in all of these emotions for so long.

Hopeless in Essex, Connecticut

Dear Hopeless: I will address your question, but first I would like to suggest that you get a complete physical with a doctor. It’s possible that you have anemia, a malfunctioning thyroid or some other medical condition that is dragging you down. You may want to consider antidepressant medication for a brief time until you feel better as well. And you might also consider entering psychotherapy for depression and low self-esteem.

But here’s some of what you can do on your own, so you can become the heroine of your own story:

  • What do you still want to accomplish or experience in your remaining years? What life, relationship or career goals do you have that remain unfulfilled? Regeneration begins with something you hope for, and it’s one of the the only things you need in order to bounce back. Given reality, what is it you hope for? Finding the answers to these questions will be a big step in you being able to get off of your inertia and jump-start your life again.
  • What or whom do you still have to forgive? What would you like to forgive yourself for? What would you like to be forgiven for by someone else? Forgiveness will help you break free from the hold that past events have on you.
  • Having fun helps people to lessen the despair they are feeling. So what are you doing in your life that is fun? How can you integrate more fun and playful activities in your life—say twice a week—especially those that include exercise? Do you like to dance? Play tennis? Take country hikes? How recently have you participated in a new sport or game? I trust you could find classes or groups that do these very things.
  • How could you invite new people into your life, as well as more meaningful relationships with others?
  • Don’t hang on so tightly to the way it’s “supposed” to be. Trust that whatever happens, you will be able to make lemonade from it.
  • See if you can find every single lesson that your misfortune has taught you. How are you richer, deeper, more compassionate, more understanding and wiser because of your adversity and bad luck? What have these experiences taught you?

Life is a do-it-yourself project. Regrets come from not giving your life your very best.

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