Prescription for Despondency

The dictionary definition of “despondent” is this: feeling or showing extreme discouragement, dejection, or depression. Synonyms for despondent might be these: disheartened, forlorn, or hopeless.

We’ve all been there, from time to time. To start with, there’s COVID, then Vladamir Putin and the Ukraine, the stock market doldrums, children and teachers murdered in Buffalo and in Uvalde, conspiracy theories, and Roe vs Wade. I’ve noticed lately that I’ve felt despondent way more often. And I don’t like it one bit.

On top of it all, I’m 69 and my body is not what it used to be. I’ve become part of the club of arthritis sufferers who I’ve heard talk about how they have their good days and their bad days — inflammation and stiffness of joints that fluctuates with no rhyme or reason, or with the weather. Whatever! I do strength training, stretching, watch what I eat, and get plenty of sleep. But I’ve noticed that, when I’m near a crowd of people, the ones my eyes follow the most are the ones in wheelchairs. I wonder, “Will that be me someday?” I hope not, and I’m banking on knee replacement surgery to stem this tide of aging body parts. But who knows. So, I refuse to give up my bourbon. If one must go through this stuff, there still needs to be joy.

When you do a Google search on “despondency,” you get quotes like this one: “The greatest pride, or the greatest despondency, is the greatest ignorance of one’s self.” I don’t find this helpful. I’m already at odds with myself for being despondent. What am I supposed to do?

I’m nine years older than my wife, a very attractive, youthful, active, and fit person. As I have slowed down in my level of activity, I’ve noticed fragments of shame and guilt creeping into our relationship. I feel like I’m fighting off the gravitational pull towards becoming a grumpy, old man. When she invites me to go for a walk, instead of answering with an enthusiastic “Sure,” like I used to do, I experience a surge of anger at myself because I’d rather read a book or watch NBA basketball than drag my stiff joints through the neighborhood for a mile or so.

The other day I decided it was past time for me to lean into my shame. “Honey, I’ve got something to say,”

“What’s that?”

“I want you to know that just because I can’t keep up with you like I used to, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you like I used to. I’ve been feeling despondent about how I’m slowing down — not to mention all that’s going on in the world.”

“That’s ok. You don’t have to worry about that. I love you as much as ever.”

And then the best part of all. She came over, put her arms around me, and hugged me for longer than we usually hug. It was what I needed.

Interestingly, the next two days, the despondency disappeared. I’m sure it will come back, from time to time. But I had found something better than any drug or even knee replacement: self-acceptance, vulnerability, understanding, and compassion.

If you’ve been experiencing despondency, I recommend what I discovered in the refuge of my marriage. Maybe you will find it there, or with friends, a therapist, or your church. I hope so. But definitely skip the quotes on despondency. You can have your down times, and still cherish the beauty, joy, and wonders of being alive.

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