When life feels pointless, what should you do?

In the series finale of the show "This Is Us," these words said by the character Randall Pearson stuck with me: "A depressing thought for a depressing day: It all seems so pointless. ... Now she's gone, and yet the birds are chirping, and I'm aware that I'm hungry, and five minutes ago I thought about work. It all seems so pointless."

Randall was talking about how pointless life seems after someone dies. And these words hit home especially hard since, earlier that same day on Tuesday, May 24, an 18-year-old walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tx. and fatally shot 19 students and two teachers. Then, only eight days later, a gunman opened fire at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Okla. — killing two doctors, a receptionist, and a patient's husband. 

And it's hard to feel like anything matters when so many people with so much life left to live had their futures ripped away from them. Everyday life and all the stupid little worries that come with it — I couldn't help but think, "What's the point when life can abruptly end for absolutely no reason at all?"

So, how can you find joy or even want to leave the house when it seems like you just keep hearing bad news after bad news? Being prone to depression myself, it scares me when I start to think, "I don't want to live in a world where people treat each other like this," because this thought starts with the words, "I don't want to live..." 

First and foremost, pay attention if you have symptoms of depression — which are different than just feelings of sadness. Sadness is a natural human reaction to loss, but it is temporary and doesn't affect your daily life. Depression, on the other hand, lasts for at least two weeks and can continue for months and even years without treatment. 

Symptoms of depression include: Constant feelings of sadness and worthlessness, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, abnormal sleeping and eating patterns, feelings of unwarranted guilt, and difficulty concentrating. Depression can affect all aspects of your life — your relationships, your work and even your will to live. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental illness, talk to your primary care physician, who can treat mental health issues or refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist for additional help. You can also visit Psychology Today and click "Find a therapist" to find someone located within your zip code. If you are experiencing suicidal ideations, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available 24/7 by calling 800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat to chat online. 

Below are some other things you can do when life feels pointless. These suggestions are supplementary to therapy because, just like you can't treat diabetes or asthma or another physical illness on your own, you also can't treat depression without the help of a health professional. 

Make a list of the things you can control

Oftentimes, life feels pointless because so much of it feels out of our control. So, instead, focus on the things you can control and the goals you can work towards. You can't control how/when the people you love will die, but you can control the time you spend with them and the things you say to them today. You can't control how/when YOU will die, but you can control how you spend the time you have before that happens. You can't control how others treat you – but you can stop wasting your time on people who treat you poorly and less than you deserve. 

"Recognizing the control you do have over some things in your life might help you feel better. It might help to do what you can and surrender the rest," Edie Weinstein, a licensed social worker and journalist in Philadelphia, told PsychCentral

Do something good for someone else

One way to help make your life feel less meaningless is to do something that will help someone else. It's hard to feel like your life is pointless when something that you directly did made a difference or helped someone else feel better. That's why I'm writing this blog – because it makes things feel less pointless when I know I can help even one person who is feeling similar to the way I'm feeling.  

For you, maybe it's joining a cause that's important to you – like gun reform, in lieu of the recent tragedies (click here for some ideas of what you can do).  It could also mean volunteering somewhere or reaching out to someone you know who is struggling and asking "How can I help?" Or it could be something as simple as complimenting a stranger on their outfit, or seeing your child's face light up when you take them to get ice cream.

Get out of the house and engage in activities you used to enjoy

You may not feel like it – but do it anyway. Last Saturday, I spent all morning/early afternoon, in bed or on the couch, alternating between tears, anger and anxiety. Finally, I made myself get up, put on rainbow make-up, and go to the local Pride festival. Even though, at the time, I just wanted to stay at home in my pjs and not do anything, making myself get up and go somewhere that non-depressed me would have loved, it made me forget about my sadness and made me smile, at least for a few hours. 

For those who work at home, like me, it may be hard to escape your sadness and feel motivated when you're stuck inside the same four walls, alone, each day. I would suggest that you start working from a coffee shop or a library to get out of the house and experience a change of scenery. On a particularly hard day last week, I walked around downtown during my lunch break and then finished out the day at a nearby coffee shop, and it really helped.

If you can't find the motivation to leave the house or participate in activities, then find someone else to hold you accountable. Make plans with a friend to meet at the park or at the gym to exercise in the morning, RSVP "yes" to a friend's event instead of waiting until the last minute, join or start a book club, etc. 

Change your self-talk and focus on the things you like about yourself

I know that practicing positive self-talk is easier said than done because it often feels like we can't control the way we think. That evil little voice in your head that says, "Ugh I suck! I'm worthless!" seems to pop into your head without any warning. But, instead, when you find yourself thinking that way, force yourself to refocus your thoughts. Maybe it's taking out a pen and paper and writing all the things you do like about yourself. Maybe, after every negative thought, it's forcing yourself to repeat the words, "This is my depression talking. It's not true. I am a wonderful, bad-ass human being." 

Catherine Goldberg, contributor for the Greatist, wrote, "Recognizing and dispelling the 'Negativity Gnome' in your brain and replacing it with encouraging statements will start to reshape how you feel about the world. Try talking to yourself with compassion. For example, instead of telling yourself you’re not good enough, remind yourself that you are worthy of love and attention, or that it’s okay to make mistakes — we all do!"

Recognize your importance in the life of others

Your child wouldn't exist if it wasn't for you and relies on you to care for them. Or maybe it's your pet, who you gave a forever home and a better life.  Your family and friends would be devastated if you were no longer here. What greater proof that life is not pointless than recognizing the meaning your life holds for the people and animals in it. 

For Nic Sheff, producer of Netflix's "13 Reasons Why," he stopped his suicide attempt and made himself throw up the pills he consumed when he heard his dog scratching on the bathroom door.

"I opened it and saw the stray hound dog I’d recently found under a truck on the outskirts of town. She’d been close to death herself when I took her in. She cried and whined now, looking up at me. It was like she could sense she’d almost lost me. And I held on to her and cried," he said in a letter written for Vanity Fair

 "(I had) stopped just long enough to remember my dog in the other room—and to remember that if I can just hold on, and not give up, eventually, one day, it does get better. Every time."

Do something lighthearted

While I'm a big proponent for talking about your emotions, sometimes when you keep focusing on the sadness, it only makes things worse. For instance, when I'm having a panic attack, talking about my panic attack doesn't help. People fussing over me and asking me what's wrong, it only makes things worse. What does help is someone telling me a joke or talking to me about a TV show/movie, or literally anything but the panic attack. So ask your friend to text you a funny meme or gif. Turn off the news and, instead watch a funny TV show or your favorite comfort movie. Stop sitting in silence and turn on an upbeat song and dance like a crazy person around the house. 

Remember that you're not alone 

As they say in "High School Musical," we're all in this together! Life is hard. Really hard. And it's random. Oh god, life is so freaking random. But that doesn't mean it's pointless. 

According to an article on the United We Care mental health platform: "Life does not need to have a grand purpose. Individual human beings have to add smaller objectives and personal meanings to make life meaningful. The most valid reason for life not being pointless is the unique existence of every human being."

"There is so much to do if you look around. Humans have unique attributes to enjoy life more than any other life form. Life can be hardly pointless if one appreciates its little joys."

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