When lockdown saps our hope, we can start scheming like Tom Hanks in Castaway to flee this desert island

By Zac Seidler
‘We should not let the constriction of our movements, and by extension our world, to the insular radius surrounding our homes, bleed into the erasure of our future thinking and creativity.’
‘We should not let the constriction of our movements, and by extension our world, to the insular radius surrounding our homes, bleed into the erasure of our future thinking and creativity.’ Photograph: Marko Geber/Getty Images

As lockdowns drag on across much of Australia’s eastern seaboard, nerves fray, boredom and restlessness abound, and financial and housing insecurity grow for many. But there’s one essential resource once coveted in the early days of the pandemic that seems to have dried up: hope.

Even the thought of writing a piece about hope in the current climate fills me with dread, as if offering an aspirational message amid this stressful news landscape is tone-deaf and foolhardy. But Friday is World Suicide Prevention Day and so I’m proposing for that day at least, we do things a little differently, to shine a light into the dark.

Our present reality seems to be an endless energy vacuum, offering us up a dreary Groundhog Day that distracts us from remembering that, at the same time, the world can be filled with opportunity. Morning press briefings speak of an abstract future with blurry lines of freedom that often only inspire more uncertainty. We must find a way to hold two facts to be true in what’s known as a dialectic. Today can feel crap, and the future is bright.

We should all be scheming like Tom Hanks in Castaway, plotting and planning for our eventual departure off this desert island. Our politicians only speak of the economic “road to recovery”, but have done a dismal job at verbalising in actionable terms what we are supposed to do with our somewhat traumatised minds when we hit the coveted 80% and can all ascend into the warm rays of a new normal that actually feels normal. We don’t have to rely on brands like Qantas and their tearjerker ad campaigns with the promise of tomorrow to get us feeling something approaching hope.

The power of sourdough baking and Zoom trivia are wearing thin for many, and the “make the most of this time” narrative means little when “this time” feels boundless. We should not let the constriction of our movements, and by extension our world, to the insular radius surrounding our homes, bleed into the erasure of our future thinking and creativity. There’s been far too much attention devoted to what could have been, all that’s been lost, and it has stifled a natural human drive for dreaming of what could be.

A recent study out of the UK surveying respondents in the height of lockdown found a vast majority (88%) felt there were clear positives stemming from their time in isolation. Understandably, it often takes the benefit of hindsight to realise that the hardest times in our lives were actually opportunities for healthy change and transition. Post-traumatic growth is a concept that is gaining increasing attention in the pandemic parlance and suggests that re-evaluation of life priorities, empathy for others, gratitude, improved relationships and personal development are all par for the course, if we allow for it.

When my dad took his own life eight years ago, I was thrown into what felt like an impenetrable darkness. The message that this will get easier with time grated on me and finding an avenue for self-improvement in the wake of such devastation felt selfish and implausible. It was a discussion with a close friend at the time that still resonates today, where they told me to just hold on to a faint belief that change might be possible, that you will get through this, and use it to fuel the fire that today might offer some reprieve from yesterday.

Post-traumatic growth can be some of the most influential positive change in people’s lives – it’s what kickstarts thousands of charities worldwide. An example are the thousands of men I work on behalf of each year during Movember, who literally grow out of loss or despair, sporting an itchy upper lip, having overcome their own demons or buried a mate or a dad too soon. They believe that things can be different and actively seek out a new narrative, to change their story alongside their community.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, there has never been more need for us to go looking for hope, whether it’s for ourselves or others. It is the journey of exploring what comes next that allows people to overcome their darkest moments, to believe in a future they will live to see. We should be sharing our fantasies for 2022 and beyond, where we want to travel, the music we want to dance to, the food we can’t wait to taste that we haven’t cooked ourselves, the experiences we want our children to have.

The great sense of camaraderie that got us through 2020 is undoubtedly drying up, so maybe it’s time we find a sense of belonging in a future we want to build together. This means pulling along those most vulnerable for the ride, as levels of distress are high and rising in our community. We should create space for a phone call with a mate or family member you know is struggling and talk about a real, tangible future where you get to do what you love, together.

We shouldn’t just leave it to the kids to create make-believe worlds. The vaccination rates are on the up, spring has sprung and it’s time for overly saccharine, hope-filled discussion to find its way back into our lockdown lounge rooms.

• Dr Zac Seidler is a clinical psychologist, director of mental health training at Movember and research fellow with Orygen at the University of Melbourne

• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

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