Nightmares always end, but when you’re in the middle of one, it seems as though it might last forever.
Last year was terrible for me. For several years, I’d been letting myself slide into a very deep hole. I was depressed. I was broke. I was alone. I was confused.
It was a nightmare that felt as though it would never end. In fact, I didn’t just slide into that deep hole. I fell into the hole and kept digging it deeper and deeper. It seemed as though nothing I could do was right. For the first time in my life, everything felt bleak and hopeless.
But I’ve finally dug my way out of the hole, even though I’ve not really recovered entirely. I’m not where I want to be in life. I don’t have the love or family I need. I haven’t achieved the things I want to achieve. I haven’t become the person I feel driven to become.
I sometimes complain about the things in my life that I’m still unhappy about, but then I see things in the lives of people I care about — and my troubles don’t seem as big as they had seemed before.
• Last weekend, the 16-year-old daughter of a friend in Washington state was riding in a car that was struck by a hit-and-run driver in a stolen car. The young woman suffered serious head injuries and might not make it. My friend has been traumatized, of course. Her daughter had brain surgery but there’s still been serious swelling and she’s remained unconscious. She’s on life support in critical condition. It’s impossible to tell what will happen, so my friend is living in limbo.
• The daughter of a friend in Oklahoma killed herself Thursday. The 43-year-old daughter had been with the same man since she was 17. They have three children together. But she found out he had been cheating on her. Then he suddenly left his family. In her despair and grief, she shot and killed herself. My friend was devastated, especially in light of the fact that another of her children had killed himself 20 years ago.
• A neighbor who I’ve come to love dearly is being evicted from her home. She’s a physician, but she had a car accident last year and couldn’t work for a long time. Because she was away from her practice for so long, she lost all her patients. She didn’t have insurance that replaced the missing income. Her bills piled up and she entered a cycle of debt and despair. Her power is turned off and she’s in the middle of losing her home. Bankruptcy lies ahead for her — and she feels as though recovery is almost impossible.
• Another friend lost her best friend Friday. Ever since her traumatic divorce, she felt as though the only thing she had to live for was her cat, Ruffus. When he died unexpectedly, it sent her into an emotional tailspin, because this feline had been the focus of her emotional survival after the loss of her husband. He was the only one who needed or wanted her. And now she’s truly alone.
I know that problems aren’t really relative in this way. There will always be people with problems worse than mine — no matter what — so I don’t mean to imply that those of us with less serious problems can’t lament our lives not being the way we want them to be.
I don’t mean to say that as long as there’s someone with worse problems, we can’t be hurt and disappointed by things in our own lives. I’m just saying that peeking into other people’s hurts can sometimes put my own problems into perspective.
My life certainly isn’t what I need it to be. But I can still change all of those things I’m unhappy about — and the loneliness and disappointment I feel now don’t begin to compare to the grief some of my friends are feeling tonight.
So while I’m lonely and I’m eager for change in various parts of my life, I’m grateful that things aren’t worse for me. I’m grateful that I’m no longer where I was last year. I’m grateful that I’ve seen such improvement toward getting myself back to where I was 10 years ago.
I’m grateful that I have hope.
Mostly, though, I have strong empathy for my friends, even though I can’t do anything about their pain.
I know their nightmares will end. I know it doesn’t feel that way to them right now. But I know from experience that the nightmare always ends — and the slow process of rebuilding lives can start.
There’s every reason to hope, even in the middle of a nightmare.