**RAW & REAL – SENSITIVE CONTENT WARNING**
Today I wanted to explore the notion of hope. It’s a simple word and yet can mean or be represented differently to so many people, particularly those going through a difficult time. It can mean the difference between hanging on and giving up.
For those of you who know my story and know why I do what I do will know that my back injury and subsequent chronic pain and PTSD came about as the result of saving the life of a teenage girl who attempted to end her life by hanging herself. My work with this girl focused a lot around trying to instill hope as she verbally and behaviourally expressed hopelessness, fear and despair, the opposite of hope. She told me a number of times that she had no hope and her fear and despair caused her to make choices and actions that were in line with this. Hope and fear are not merely words. They’re deeply felt stances about our current circumstances – stances that can alter our outlook, our actions, as well as our life paths unfolding before us.
We all know that life isn’t easy, and we experience problems and setbacks every day. Hope fuels our human spirit. Hope is that deep inner knowing that everything is going to be ok even if we don’t feel it right now. It’s a mindset that drives us forward, encourages us to overcome obstacles, and keeps us focused on achieving worthwhile goals, even if they are vague at the moment. It encourages imagination and positive risk-taking and can lead to positive transformations. Wishful thinking on the other hand I feel is about passively going through the motions, as if we in denial about our actual circumstances. To have hope we need to be realistic about what is possible. Wishful thinking can lead to false hope.
During our sessions we had lengthy conversations about hope, what she felt it meant to her and possible symbols of hope. She originally found all of this quite difficult to grasp. One day, without warning, she showed me a picture that she had drawn. It was her symbol of hope, a tattoo design that she was wanting to get inked on her shoulder one day. It included a feather and small frangipani flowers which signified her siblings which she was close to. She pinned it on her wall and looked at it frequently.
It was just over 2 years before life became too overwhelming and instead of continuing to face life and it’s struggles with a mindset of hope and stance of “this too shall pass and I will get through this”, she retreated, closed off the hurt, shut down all hope and ended her life. This time no one was able to save her. When we lose hope, we lose everything.
Fear and hopelessness close us down. Sustained fear and hopelessness can send us down a slippery slope to depression. It can pervade our self-talk with negativity and drive our decisions. Our miserable outlook bleeds into our interactions with family, friends, and colleagues, eroding any sense of safety or security not to mention our well-being and vitality.
Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinkers of fear and hopelessness and makes hardship less difficult to bear. Now hope is not your typical form of positivity. It’s generally not a form of positive thinking that we activate all the time. It comes into play when our circumstances are dire – things are not going well or there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. But even in the absence of hardship, hope is still needed, because as humans we yearn for positive change. It allows us to see the big picture, and this is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or difficult or uncertain things are, they can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in a better future sustains us.
Hope arises precisely within those moments when fear, hopelessness or despair can seem just as likely. What can make one person choose hope and the other choose fear and despair? And how do we experience hope without denying or escaping the pain?
Cultivating hope is like building a muscle, little by little, keep at it and it will get stronger. It can be about starting small and building it up. Cultivating hope is also about human connection.
Holocaust Survivor, Elie Wiesel tells us, “…Just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” In the face of life’s struggles it is very often another person who arouses and helps us to hold on to hope.
We need others to show us, believe in us, and tell us what is possible. Connecting through story and empathy, authenticity and kindness. Cultivating hope through connection might come from hearing the journey of someone who has suffered in a similar way giving a “if they can do it I can too” mindset. It may also be the connection to a mentor/therapist/trusted friend who holds space and hope for you on your journey.
For those who follow my Instagram account you will see the photos of me planting a tree on this day. A frangipani. The flower that was represented in the young girl’s symbol of hope. Today was meant to mark her 21st birthday and I have not forgotten. This tree in my garden and the beautiful flowers that it will bloom will not be anything else but a tree to those that visit, but to me it is about the sharing of her gifts in the world that she will no longer have a chance to do and it is my reminder of hope and why we need it and why I do what I do to help others and ensure that they too never lose their hope.
We all need hope and it makes a huge difference in lives. Does it take away our pain, our struggles, or our sorrows? – No, but it allows us to sit with the discomfort of our current lives with a deeper knowing that something better is always coming.
HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
Emily Dickinson (1830–86)
Part One: Life
HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
If you are feeling triggered by any part of this blog post please be sure to seek support.