Wouldn’t it be amazing if, during our darkest hour, we could reach under our bed and open up a box of hope? A “box of hope” could be a figurative thing that we reach inside ourselves or out to God to find. But sometimes you need something more. Sometimes you need a literal box of hope. And that is just what I created for myself during my darkest hour.
When I was 16 years old, during my senior year of high school, I was immersed in a deep and serious clinic depression. My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder had just been diagnosed but was not yet under control. I had constant intrusive thoughts of hurting myself – of ending my life.
Looking back I really had amazing self control on the whole. But I could only handle so much. The second time I caved in to the constant bombardment of intrusive images of self-harm, and I ended up cutting myself using razor blades my parents had forgotten to hide out in the garage.
Afterward I was on the phone with my therapist at the time. She was telling me I was at a crossroads… that if I chose to continue down this path of cutting I would probably end up in a hospital. I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying. Instead, I was transfixed by what was sitting on the desk in front of me – the candle-lighting piece my mom had made for my younger sister’s Bat Mitzvah. She had glued this tiny shells all over the outside of it go with my sister’s tropical theme. And it struck me then with incredible intensity how very beautiful those tiny shells were – how simply amazing it was that something SO tiny could be SO beautiful. And if something that tiny in life could be that beautiful… well all of life was beautiful and precious as well.
I rushed to get off the phone with my therapist. I knew that I had to find a way to hang onto this feeling. I had stumbled upon my internal box of hope! But I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to tap into again. I had to find a way to make it physical while it was fresh in my mind. I had to find a way to remind myself of this epiphany every day because I knew there would be many dark days ahead where I would desperately need to draw on my box of hope.
So I had my mom (who is good at crafty things) help me cover an old shoe box with some bright pretty wrapping paper. I wanted my box of hope to be private and inconspicuous on the outside. I didn’t tell her what it was for, but perhaps sensing my urgency she kindly helped me anyway. Then I took the box upstairs to my room and set to work.
Going through pictures and old magazines I decorated the inside of the box with things I wanted to do with my life, places I wanted to travel, people who cared about me, things that filled me with hope. I hadn’t yet found out if I had gotten into USC Film School (a few months later I did), so I put a picture of a director’s chair with “USC Alumni” written on it. I glued in some of the very shells that had led me to make the box to remind me of how beautiful life could be.
I put a picture of myself as a child to remind myself of happy memories of my childhood innocence. I was obsessed with The X-Files and desperately wanted to know how it would all end, so I put a picture of that as well.
Most importantly I wrote in large purple letters:
I CHOOSE TO CONTINUE LIVING
I WILL GET THROUGH THIS
Then it was time to fill the box. Inside I placed a smiling drama mask to remind me of my love of theater and the creative arts since creativity had always sustained me during dark times and given me something to look forward to.
Next went the rug I wove myself while learning about Native Americans in elementary school. I had always hated looking at it when I was younger because I hadn’t done it perfectly like my best friend Jennifer. But over time I came to love it for it’s imperfections. In the box, it reminded me that imperfection could be beautiful too!
I put in a bracelet I made when I was 11. All the beads were pretty by themselves but together well… it reminds me that you can have too much of a good thing. But also to have fun and to have a sense of humor in all things.
Second to last I put in a rope I tediously made myself during Outdoor Education in 5th grade. I spent over an hour with my hands going numb in an icy cold river laboriously pounding all the moisture out of a reed before braiding it into a rope. It reminds me of the power of hard work. And the rope itself, which could hold my whole body weight, reminds me to always be strong.
Finally I included a letter that saved my life one day. I was home alone after school and feeling very suicidal. I was searching for a knife to cut myself with. Suddenly, I had a prompting to go check the mail before I got any further. I almost never received any mail, but on that very day the following letter was there for me.
I cried when I read the letter. It quite possibly saved my life that day. I stopped looking for a knife and starting trying to figure out who could have sent it. I didn’t think about hurting myself at all for the rest of that day. The letter reminds me that I am loved even when I don’t realize it or it doesn’t feel that way, and that God is there working miracles in my life.
I looked at my box of hope every day for about a year. It got me through a lot of very dark hours and days and months. Then there came a time when I could carry my box of hope around with me in my heart, and I didn’t need to look at it so often.
Now it mostly sits in my closet, but I always know it is there if I need it. But today I was talking with a friend who is going through a very dark time in her life, and I told her about it. I offered to send her photos of it, but, I thought, why not go a step farther and share it here? Perhaps there is someone else who needed a little box of hope today.
I first published this post on my Box of Hope in 2010 on my now mostly retired blog, NovelPatient which chronicled my life with multiple chronic illnesses. At the time, I was surprised by how positively the post was received. I have since realized that everyone needs a box of hope to draw on in times of trouble. For most people that box is figurative. But for me… my hope is now something I can pull out of the closest whenever I need it. I can wrap myself in my blanky and see, feel, smell and touch the contents of box, encircled in eternal hope.
Has anyone else made a box of hope or something similar? Please share and post about it in the comments!