Quora answer: How to overcome a compulsive sense of despair?

Feb 18 2014

Despair is part of life. It cannot be escaped. Those who have not despaired of themselves have only tasted the surface of life. But I reckon that those are few. The only way to deal with despair is to despair fully and completely. The problem is not despair but the problem is the opposite, not despairing enough. When you are in despair anyone who tries to cheer you up seems so superficial because the person in despair realizes just how bad things really are, and they know it with their whole being, and the realization of that despair causes many times deep and profound changes in oneself. So I am not here to cheer you up.

Here is a reality. One of the sources of despair is when one loses a child of ones own who is young, or even if they are older, one always feels as if children should outlive their parents. In that situation the only ones whose words of condolence mean anything are others who have lost a child. Only they know what it is like. Only their words have any significance at all. The rest try to say something but their words are hollow, because they do not know the depths of despair that one is pushed into by the loss of a child. It is close to the ultimate in despair because we invest so much in our children and to us they are worth everything to us, and we would rather die than have them die, we would gladly give our lives for them, if they could only live. But they are taken from us, and it is impossible to understand why, and it shakes our belief in God or whatever ultimates we believe in if any. Our children’s lives are closer to the wellsprings of our lives then our own life itself. So when they are snatched from us, we go insane with grief if we loved them fully as all children should be loved by their parents. This is real dispair.

If you have not lost a child, then what ever else might have happened to you is really nothing compared with this ultimate loss which is even greater than one’s own death. So count yourself lucky, if that is not the source of your despair. All other troubles are really just surface phenomena. Thus use this measure. If you have lost a child then there is nothing that can heal that wound. If you have not lost a child then everything else has a cure. For instance, bad health has the cure of one’s own death. Poverty has the cure of one’s own death. Everything that you can imagine can be cured by your death, except the wound of the loss of a child of your own who you loved, or by extension some other loved one dear to one’s life, like a spouse. But ultimately all other deaths can be reconciled except for the death of a child of one’s own. This is because we give freely without expecting any return from our children. And the debt they have to their parents is infinite. The love of a parent for the child is infinite. If there is any love that goes beyond the grave it is the love of a parent for their child.

So this despair is the measure of all other despair. If you do not have this despair count yourself lucky and get on with your life. If you do have this despair then there is no cure for it, so all you can do is get on with your life. You cannot follow your child to the grave, so don’t even try. So many times the death of a child is the de facto end of the life of the parent because what they cared most about in life is gone, cannot be replaced, and is an absence that forever haunts them. Many cannot see their other loved ones anymore, but only see the absence of the one taken away suddenly without reason in an arbitrary decision of God, i.e. fate. If you avoid this pit and manage to live on with your silent wound then you are lucky. And if you have not lost a child you are even luckier. If you have children treasure every moment with them because it may be your last. If you have no children then you have nothing more precious than yourself to lose. Everything else is replaceable. Everything else is curable by your own death.

But now let us suppose that one is in such despair that one considers suicide. There is an interesting take on Suicide in Islam. In Islam the one who commits suicide actually experiences their suicide over and over again endlessly. That is the belief. Now this is the one explicit example of eternal return in Islam. The Maxim is do not commit suicide unless you want that suicide to be repeated endlessly. In other words the deterrent against suicide is what happens to the one who commits suicide after death forever. Suicide bombers are caught in that blast forever; there is no Garden for them even more so if they took innocents with them. So whether one believes in this or not Nietzsche says never do anything you cannot stand to repeat forever. Suicide is a bad trap to be in for ever. Suffering at least has an end in life. So if suicide is a bad option for the free spirit, think how much worse it would be if you believed religious mumbo jumbo. I don’t recommend it.

What I recommend is that you learn to live with your despair and get on with life whatever is the source of the despair. And then ask the Nietzchian question, do I want to spend forever in despair. I know from experience that the answer to that is NO. So the best we can do is immerse ourselves in life, do our best to generate meaning by our actions, intrinsic value for ourselves by cultivating virtue and self-worth for others and hope for the best.

Despair is a deep well, and out of it we can draw the waters of life, if we dare. Drink from those waters. Be healed by yourself from yourself by drinking those bitter waters that turn sweet in our mouths as we realize the profundity of life we have been given by some fluke in the nature of existence that gave us a singular opportunity to be the one who despairs and thus came to know ourselves in our roots, while others we meet normally only know the surface of life. Be happy for the depth you have been given access to in your life by the adversities that you have experienced. But don’t squander the opportunity. Remaining in despair over long when given the opportunity to move on is what squanders the opportunity to transform yourself in the face of your despair. If you do that then you deserve the suffering you bring down on yourself that is impossible to escape from. This state is called closed Yin, it is the nihilistic dual of Yang Splendor. Both of these states are to be avoided. See the Stone Monkey by Bruce Holbrook

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