A Conversation on Hope and Hopelessness

By Maureen Horgan, Community Wellness Group

Adjusting to the changes COVID-19 has imposed has been very difficult for everyone. Some are navigating different layers of grief and loss. Many are feeling varying waves of hope and hopelessness. For those with mental health conditions, this time has been a continuation and possibly, an amplification of those thoughts and feelings. Mental health affects us all, and brings with it various challenges and concerns. If you or someone you know is in need of support, you are not alone. Support is available.

We talked with Diana Cortez Yanez, a King County resident who has lived with depression and found hope. She shares about her journey through feelings of despair and loneliness, reaching out for support, and the tools that helped her navigate this time. Content warning: Mentions of suicide and self-harm.

Public Health Insider: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about your experience of living with depression and thoughts of suicide.  What has helped you cope with depression, and what continues to help you in this time of COVID-19 restrictions?

Diana: It’s been a long winding road with many ups and downs, but from where I am now, it was all worth it. I was moved by desperation at first and eventually was able to get through it with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, learned skills for daily living, distraction and connection. One of the most important things I learned was that things don’t stay the same, things will change. This gave me hope.  These same things help me through any crisis.

Did you know you were depressed, or perhaps you used a different word for depression?

For me, I described my depression as always having a black cloud over my head.  I was disillusioned with life and had no hope for the future, even though I had no specific reason for this. No matter what I did to try to feel better, I still felt terrible. Eventually, nothing mattered. In a situation where most people would be sad, I would be devastated! I may not have thought of the word depression, when I thought of what I was going through, but I knew that what I was going through was not just sadness.  I didn’t know anyone else who was feeling the way I did. Nobody was talking about it. I felt alone and isolated.

Initially, did you find anything or any person who was helpful?

No, at first, no one seemed to understand me.  Not in my family or my social circle. I never had met or heard of anyone I knew that was suicidal. My family made many well intentioned, but non-helpful suggestions, such as, “think positive,” “get up, try to do more, exercise,” “eat healthier,” and friends would say things like “maybe if you tried harder,” “maybe if you had more faith in God.”  These comments just made me feel worse, especially when I did try with the little energy I had and still didn’t feel any better.

Did you ever feel so hopeless that you thought about suicide?  What helped most in times of despair?

When I didn’t find anything that helped or any support, I became hopeless. At that point, I believed that ending my life was the only way out of the excruciating emotional pain I was feeling. Eventually, I had several attempts. I would end up going to the hospital after each attempt, staying 2-3 weeks, and then coming right back out to the same situation that had taken me in there.

The last time I was hospitalized was different. I went to a hospital in a bigger city and they were using the evidence-based therapy DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). This is a therapy proven to help people who are suicidal. Everything they did was different then what I had experienced before! I felt heard, I was told that there was hope, and from what they were teaching, I believed it. I learned things that can help in times of the deepest despair, a time that can actually be short, but very intense. I learned that I had to have safety measures in place before I got in that situation, like a support circle of loved ones who understood my situation, and who I could reach out to when I was in crisis. And lastly, to remember that no matter how bad it felt, it would not last forever.

What was your depression like for the people around you?

Before I found help, it was really hard. They didn’t understand it. How could they? I didn’t. They were afraid to ask any questions, say anything, in fear that it could set me off and I would attempt again, or feel worse. Eventually, for some of them, after going through it several times and not understanding what was going on, their fear became anger. It was especially hard on the young ones who I had helped raise.

The DBT they taught me at the hospital was especially helpful in this area. They actually asked me who I felt supported by and they brought them in and we all talked about depression and suicidality. I was able to express myself about what I was going through, and them to me, and they now understood what about our interaction could help or not help. We actually felt closer than we’d ever been.

What words of comfort and suggestions do you have for others who may be feeling hopeless and depressed?

I understand you’re hurting. That it feels like things will never change. There is help. You won’t feel this way forever. No matter how bad you feel, or how dark it gets, reach out–any way you feel you can! And let others reach in! Let someone know how you are feeling. There are others out there that are feeling the same way. You are not alone! There are even those of us who have felt that way, and who now live, not only not wanting to die, but living a life we have created worth living. The same can be true for you!

Diana Cortez Yanez is an advocate and consultant working with Now Matters Now, providing  skills and support for coping with suicidal thoughts: www.nowmattersnow.org.

Originally published on September 18, 2020.