Reopening My Box of Hope

Reopening My Box of Hope

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.

IMG_1262Going 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:



IMG_1278Then 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.

IMG_1265I placed my childhood comfort animals – my blanky, kitty, and lamby – inside.  Though nubby and threadbare from a lifetime of being loved the went into the box to remind me to always feel safe.

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!


IMG_1277I 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.

IMG_1275Second 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!

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Life is a noisy place.  It often feels imposible to escape the noise of life. The traffic, the talking, the hum of electronic devices, cell phone rings, music blaring,  Aside from the noise pollution, there’s even light pollution   So many places there is so much ambient light that I can’t see the stars that surround me.  Of course there’s ways to get away from all those types of noise in my life, but there’s a type of noise that’s much harder to get away from.  The noise in my head.  How do I escape the constant noise contained within my brain?  Intrusions of thoughts and words and sounds and images that keep my mind so busy, that I it’s difficult to focus on what’s right in front of me.  Distraction.  Seemingly harmless most of the time, but in reality, potentially deviously dangerous. It’s scary to think what might be hiding amongst all the noise that’s right there, but, like the stars, just out of sight.

Girl With Stars

Sometimes I wonder if I keep all the noise there intentionally to prevent myself from discovering something about myself.  But this isn’t something I’ve done on purpose.  This is a coping mechanism.  NoiseKeep my mind busy at all times and I won’t have to think about things that are painful.  I won’t have to deal with the fact of having a chronic illness.  I won’t have to recall vivid memories of time spend in the hospital that resulted in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I won’t have to address ways I often feel inadequate or unworthy of being liked or loved by others.  I won’t have to be confronted by instances from my childhood.  Instead I can focus on the noise.   And in a way it works like a charm.  It works so well I can go for months or even years sometimes without addressing something that’s deeply troubling me directly.  But it comes out in other ways.  All sideways like.  But the noise is just a distraction.  And all distractions eventually come to an end.

And now that the magic of the distraction has been lifted, I don’t have to just stand here breathless with the rug pulled out from under me.  Starry Heart TreeThere are things I’m learning to do to help me dissipate the noise and deal with the underlying cause of that made me want to distract myself in the first place. With the help of a therapist I’ve been learning to process the emotions that led to the noise in the first place.  I’ve been learning to differentiate that I’m not the same entity as the noise.  Who I am is a divine child of Heavenly Father.  I am so much bigger than these disempowering distractions that got made up to keep me from dealing with my real emotions.  I’ve also been working on being present and getting in touch with how I am feeling in the moment.  It’s important to notice everything around me until my thoughts quiet down.  The thing that helps me the most is to turn in prayer to my Heavenly Father and ask for His help in dealing with everything I’m going through.  Once I’ve done that I can finally start to take action and make changes.

It’s a slow process for me, but it’s well worth it.  I’m tired of being distracted from what’s right in front of me and all around me.  I want to see my life for what it is.  All it’s blessings.  Especially the stars.

Starry Night

Mother’s Day Tribute

Mother’s Day Tribute

First Birthday

First Birthday!

I share a special relationship with my mom, but it hasn’t always been that way, and it hasn’t always been easy.

Growing up I didn’t feel I was loved unconditionally by either of my parents, but especially not by my mom.  It’s strange looking back at how I felt because it is so clear to me now that my mom completely adored me and doted upon me.  At the time though, I took her tendency to be critical to be a reflection on me when it was really just my mom’s struggle with anxiety showing itself.

My mom worked full time when I was very young, but she would come home from work and play with me for hours before I went to bed even though she must have been exhausted.  She read to me endlessly.  I attribute my love of reading and creative writing to all the hours I spent curled up in her lap as she read me picture books and eventually entire novels.

Car Trip

My mom, sister, and me on a car trip.

I consider myself so fortunate that she always was supportive of all my creative endeavors.  She praised my writing, drove me to all my theater rehearsals, and supported my decision to go to Film School.

My mom created amazing childhood memories for me from the little things like the home cooked meals we always shared to the family vacations we took.  We drove up the coast of California over two weeks, went to places like Mexico, New York, Hawaii, and Canada.  Every trip was a success because of my mom’s gift for planning.

I admire her other gifts as well.  She is an accomplished architect and an amazing crafter.  She paints, knits, crochets, and sews.  She painted me the most spectacular secretary desk.  It is one of my most favorite treasures.

Most of all I admire my mom’s strength and perseverance.  When my parent’s separated after over 25 years of marriage, she went back to work for the first time since my early childhood.  She also took on caring for me, her chronically ill daughter, both physically and financially.

26th Birthday

On my 26th Birthday.

I cannot count the hours she’s spent being there for me through the hospitalizations and other aspects of my illness.  It was rough on our relationship at first.  I had been a fiercely independent person and had a difficult time accepting help from her graciously.  She wasn’t used to giving up her freedom to be there for me constantly.  But in the end it brought us closer together as we grew to really value each others company and spending time together in every context.

I am so blessed and grateful for my mom!  I only hope that someday I can be as wonderful a mom to my children as she has been to me.