Feeling like you’re stuck on an island with no way off it? Jane Linley-Thomas and Jess Basson discuss three ways your choices can move you from helpless to hopeful.
Picture: Val Adamson
After torrential rain beat down on KwaZulu-Natal for the second time in a few short weeks, Jane found herself and her family on an island. They had joyously leapt at the opportunity to spend a weekend embracing nature, but as the waters rose around their quaint, stilted cottage, so did Jane’s anxiety. All night long, she was checking windows and water levels, waiting for morning to dawn.
What was the plan if the dam levels reached the house? Should they move the car to higher ground? Would they even be able to leave by car, or would someone have to rescue them by boat?
Fortunately, when the sun came out, they were able to leave across the little wooden bridge and head home following the rainbow that spanned the Durban skyline.
What should we do when we feel stranded on a desert island? It might be a relationship, or debt, or your mental health. It could be an addiction you can’t escape, or an opportunity you’re afraid to take.
Island life is when we feel there’s no way out and we’re surrounded by water. Island life can leave us feeling helpless, so how do we move from helpless to hopeful?
The good news is that hope is something available to all of us – no matter what we’ve been through. Hope is not the same as optimism and it’s not a denial of how real the struggle is. Hope is unique because it co-exists with suffering and pain.
Why? Because hope is not a feeling – it’s a choice. And no matter what is washed away or taken from us, we will always have choice, which means we will always have hope available to humanity.
Here are three ways your choices can help you move from helpless to hopeful.
1. Keep moving: Whether it’s a flood of water or a flood of emotions, one of the best things we can do when we’re feeling overwhelmed is to keep moving. Recently, Jess was chatting to a friend who is a psychologist who explained how after massive natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, the people who got up and physically started to help, repair, pull away debris or clean up would recover from their trauma quicker. Actual physical labour – whether it’s gardening or going for a run or cleaning out the cupboards – can help us get out of our heads. This is true not just for our bodies but for our hearts. Tough times will stir up all kinds of emotions – anger, guilt, despair, apathy. The key is to keep moving through the full range and not get stuck in only one of them.
After the anxiety of the heavy rains, there was a collective surge of hope when people headed outside into the sunshine. Even though the devastation and debris was all too visible, the simple beauty of a rainbow or clear blue sky introduced another emotion to our hearts – relief. If you’re feeling stuck on an island, what could you do to keep moving?
2. Build a bridge: There is a good chance you know someone who knows what it’s like to live on your lonely desert island. One of the most wonderful ways we can move from hopeless to helpful is by sharing our pain, our worries, our fears. Common ground is solid ground, and when we realise we are not alone, the world feels a little less scary. There are two ways to build bridges. One is to throw someone a rope by reaching out and asking how they are. The other is to make a fire on your island and send out some smoke signals – “SOS! Help! I need to chat.”
3. Create a circle of control: Picture a small island surrounded by water, and everything on the island is what you have control over. If it’s not on the island, it’s not yours to influence. You might even draw a circle on a blank page. If it’s outside the circle, it’s outside of your control. So many of us spend all our time and energy trying to influence things that are not under our control, wasting our time and energy standing on the shore waving frantically at the vast ocean. But if you were to write down all the things that actually are on the island with you, and focus on what you can do about those things, you may experience a new range of hopefulness. Noticing what is on the island with us can awaken gratitude, it can make us feel empowered, and it can free us from drowning in the big, blue expanse of what is outside of our control.