Holding the Hope is the name of the second Recovery College course I went on last year, but instead of it being a half-day course, it lasted a whole day. I confess: I was a bit apprehensive about going – I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stay awake for the whole thing as I was still in the foggy-head-eyes-propped-open-with-toothpicks stage of recovery – but I did make it all the way through. One of the great things about Recovery College is that the courses are led by two people: one with professional experience of mental illness, and one with lived experience, so there’s always at least one facilitator who knows, first-hand, exactly how taxing just being in a room with other people can be. They make sure there are always plenty of breaks in which you can catch your breath.
Until taking this course, I’d never really thought about the role that hope plays in recovery from mental illness. The first activity we did was to think of something we enjoyed doing or that was meaningful to us. We then identified what it was about this thing that made us feel good, and what it was that enabled us to do it. This led us to thinking about hope … what is hope? If you click on the image above, you’ll be able to read some of the definitions we came up with. I particularly like the quote at the bottom as it acknowledges the difficulties we face:
Hope advises us to look squarely at the realities that confront us while remaining aware of the possibilities.
As we were talking about hope, one of the students asked a question: how is it that someone can lose hope to such an extent that they want to end their own life? This got me thinking because that was exactly what had happened to me. After a few moments, I answered her … I said something like this: when I had post-natal depression, back in 2005/6, I went to the doctor, received a few visits from a health visitor, spent six months on anti-depressants and gradually got better with only a few minor ups and downs along the way. This time when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I thought things would go pretty much the same way, but they didn’t. Every time my doctor upped my dose of antidepressant, my anxiety got worse, and as my anxiety got worse, I lost a little more hope, and eventually I became so detached from reality that I ended up in hospital because it wasn’t safe for me to be anywhere else. My loss of hope didn’t happen overnight; it was a slow, gradual erosion to nothing.
The rest of the course consisted of activities aimed at helping us further explore the concept of hope. We thought about what hope felt like, looked like, smelled like, tasted like, sounded like. For some of us it was coffee with friends. For others it was spring flowers. For others still is was sunrises, the dawn chorus, butterflies, the sound of the sea. We all managed to think of things that lifted our spirits and gave us that sense of positive expectation, of optimism of perseverance – things we could write on slips of paper and put in a Hope Bank; a box or jar we could dip into when we needed a dose of hope. Next, we talked about what a hopeful person is like and about the differences between hope and hopelessness. I’m going to write about the cycles of hope and hopelessness next week as they deserve a post of their own.
I came away from this course with a new understanding of hope and how it could help me recover. Last April, about six weeks after leaving hospital, was exactly the right time for me to start thinking about hope and to start looking for hopeful things in my life. Recovering from the catastrophic effects of severe mental illness isn’t as simple as ‘looking on the bright side’ or ‘staying positive’, but building into my daily routine activities that give me hope, and regularly reminding myself of the things I find hopeful has had a profound impact on me. I came away from this course with a bunch of quotes which I wrote down in my bullet journal and now know off by heart because I’ve referred to them so much:
A hopeful person surrounds herself with people, colour, sounds and work that nourish her.
Hope shines brightest in our darkest moments.
Hope is the small lump of coal that starts the fire burning again – even the smallest belief that we can get better can fuel the recovery process.
Hope shines brightest in our darkest moments.
Nearly a year on from attending this course, I’m still holding the hope. I watch the sunrise and the sunset with the confident expectation that as time passes, I will continue to recover. I see the daffodils in nextdoor’s garden standing tall again now that the snow has melted and smile as I think about how I am no longer cowed by depression. I watch the starlings nesting in the eaves of our roof and know that although each day brings new challenges, it also brings new joys, new blessings, and new opportunities. And everyday, I surround myself with people, colour, sounds and work that nourish me.
As I said above, next week I’m going to write about the cycles of hope and despair and after that there are a few more things I’d like to share, so please do come back for more posts on hope. In the mean time, I wish you every blessing.
Thanks for reading! Catch you soon. xxx
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.
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