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What is despair? What does it mean to experience despair? Is it just depression—or overwhelming sorrow? Or, to be more precise, is despair just insurmountable sadness and melancholy accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, the lack of belief in a promising future and in a future worth living for? Granted, the answer may vary somewhat from individual to individual, but one can safely and almost invariably say that despair in all its myriad forms almost always involves the sense of hopelessness and helplessness—of having no reason to live beyond the present.

Because we human beings are endowed with a soul that transcends our physical bodies, we need more than any other creature in the animal kingdom a reason to justify our existence beyond that of the mere need for food, or for self-preservation. Unlike animals, which live forever in the here and now, we need meaning and purpose to sustain us. When we lose our sense of meaning and purpose, is it no wonder then that we come to feel a strong sense of hopelessness? And because life is not simple, but a rather complex maze of extremes, like joy and sorrow, love and hate, and victory and defeat, with near-infinite degrees in between, we find ourselves in numerous emotional encounters (more than we care to experience) with despair and all of its painful ramifications. Needless to say, for human beings despair can thus assume infinite forms.

A cause for despair is different and varies from individual to individual. And what may be a source of despair for one person may be only a temporary setback for another, an obstacle to be overcome with the proper effort or resources. However, despair can be generalized into a handful of manifestations common to just about every normal human being. Everyone will at some point in life face the upsetting events of existence, such as the loss or death of a loved one; a reversal of fortune; defeat; failure; the end of a relationship; rejection; impoverishment; a disadvantaged existence; an unhappy childhood; the infirmities of old age; war; disease; natural disasters; being the victim of a violent crime, atrocity, or abuse; wrongful humiliation, shame, or disgrace; undesired and chronic isolation from others; and, not to be overlooked, chronic bad luck.

The above litany of potential causes for despair is by no means exhaustive, but should nevertheless give one a fair idea of the unwelcome and unexpected surprises that life can provide us with. Clearly, unless one lives in a bubble sheltered indiscriminately from both potentially good and bad one can see that facing some melancholy in life is not a matter of if, but is just a matter of when. Thus, it becomes increasingly imperative that people realize that it is not so much important what circumstances that life deals one with as it is how one chooses to respond to those undesirable circumstances. This conclusion sounds understandably clichéd and conventionally existential—that we humans are creatures of choice and are therefore responsible for those choices and their consequences. On the contrary, such a dismissive assumption could not be further from the truth, as one's desire to view one's life circumstances constructively and responsibly is practical and surprisingly empowering as well.

Regrettably, because no one ever guarantees us that life is fair, we have very few alternatives to pursue otherwise. But the up side is that choosing to respond to one's life challenges and hardships positively and constructively—rather than negatively and destructively—is practical and empowering; practical in that it helps us to realize that ultimately we and our destructive attitudes are the only real roadblocks to our solutions and to our successes; and empowering in that by changing our attitudes toward our difficulties in life we are released from a victim mentality which otherwise prevents us from seizing control and responsibility for our choices and our actions; from being passive to being pro-active about life; and, ultimately, from inability or unwillingness to realize that our choices and our attitudes really shape and determine our fate. In the treacherous game of life, taking charge and making choices based on a positive outlook cannot be overemphasized. After the individual in question has been given all the necessary tools to cope with the problems of despair (and debilitating depression), he or she must take the final and most difficult step of shedding his or her negative and self-destructive outlook for a fresher, healthier, and more accurate outlook on himself or herself and on his or her chances for a happier, completer, and more rewarding existence—one that he or she can come to classify as nothing short of "a life," one that is capable of near-infinite promise and fulfillment instead of a mere existence that is devoid of meaning, purpose and direction.


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The following comments are for "An Answer to the Existential Dilemma of Despair"
by Apple

I read first your "God So Loved", and intrigued, decided to look at some other of your offerings. I felt saddened that your God poem seemed to be met with a rather cynical response. Whether one believes in the entire story of Jesus or not, surely the content of that poem should inspire, at least it did me.
Here you speak of something of which I am fairly familiar, and I think your writing is intelligent and spot on.
Despair is a natural phenomenon. A "grace" of sorts, that brings one back to a reality of choice. Does one reside there, or simply visit? At times, through life's obstacles, it seems to me that despair is a natural place to go. Sometimes desparation is a catalyst, sometimes, a retreat, at other times a (needed?) excuse-
I don't know that it is a negative if viewed as a catalyst, but I do think that is a very hard place, when one finds themselves at the depths of the subject.
It is rather easy to analyze from this side, that of non-desperation. Of course to be able to even hold the subject fairly means we have been in that unfortunate situation, and I think your essay does a wonderful job of analysis.
What do I know? I am an eternal optimist and so even when faced with desparate circumstance I am able to hold my banner and know that all will be well. What of those who have no such faith? I think your essay would be good for them! -Life may not be fair, but choice allows even despair to have alternatives, right?

Thanks for an intelligent read... and I thought your "God So Loved", although a little too 'across the board' religious for my taste, was well written and lovely.

best to you-

( Posted by: emaks [Member] On: January 12, 2008 )

In regard to "Despair"
Thank you, Elizabeth, for such thoughtful and unique insights through your comments! Despair does seem to be a place, a destination of sorts, that all of us visit from time to time.

For practically all of us it is an unavoidable destination in life, for the majority of us it is a destination that we learn how to leave with repeated visits, and, sadly, for a minority of us it is a destination that some make their permanent home.

I was once the latter, but after a near life-time of hopeless depression--beginning at age 11--and subsequent, inward rebellion against my God as a young adult for my seemingly perpetual suffering, I finally realized that I was getting nowhere and that I was in fact getting worse for it. I then woke up and came to my senses and finally realized also that I had to desist in my rebellion against God and make a choice--to live either forever apart from Him (because of anger, bitternes, and resentment), or to submit to Him (despite my unhappy childhood and adulthood). It also finally dawned on me that all through my depressing existence--whether I was living for Him or against Him--that it had been all about Him! I realized that I had to renew my faith in Him, or else forever lead a miserable and defeated existence, or worse, end up as a suicide statistic eventually. Ever since that moment--a moment in my life that began approximately nine months ago--I have lived depression-and-bipolar disorder free (but subject now only to the normal cylces of the ups and downs in life).

It was at that time--and in that spirit of praise and thanksgiving--that I wrote the poem "God So Loved" (and three others like it already posted on this site)to celebrate my release and deliverance from depression and a rebellious and hopelessly negative outlook towards God and towards my life.

Now that I am finally free, I am slowly picking up the pieces in my life (for what good is life when your psyche--literally, your "soul"--is nothing but death?) Of course, not everyone who reads this post will agree with my testimony--and some may even find it personally offensive or off-putting--but I really do not care, because I am really writing this for an audience of one, and that is for you, Elizabeth. I do hope you get the chance to read this post, for I've tried my best to be thoughtful and sincere, even as your comments in regard to my essay have been thoughtful and sincere.

Yours truly and affectionately-

( Posted by: Apple [Member] On: January 12, 2008 )

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