In last week’s Mental Health Monday post, I began sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned about hope and its role in recovery, and I said that this week, I’d write about the cycles of hope and hopelessness. So, here goes …
Both hope and hopelessness can be viewed as cycles, or maybe spirals would be a better illustration. Hope can help us spiral upward, whereas hopelessness is a downward spiral.
Let’s look at hope first: when we have a sense of hope, we believe that change is possible, and this leads us to take responsibility for setting goals and for asking for support when we need it. As a consequence, we learn that we have a measure of control over our lives; we develop a sense of agency and feel empowered. Hope becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – positive change occurs, which in turn gives us an even greater sense of hope. We spiral upward.
Now, let’s look at hopelessness: when we lose hope, we believe that things are hopeless, that change isn’t possible. As a consequence, we abdicate responsibility and learn to be helpless. Hopelessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – nothing changes, or maybe things actually get worse. Our negative beliefs about ourselves and about our situations are reinforced and we become more hopeless. We spiral downward.
I know that before my admission to hospital, I was stuck in a downward spiral of hopelessness. I’d been hopeful when I’d first gone to my doctor, but that hope had been eroded by repeated set-backs. I wouldn’t say that I’d totally abdicated responsibility for my life, but I knew I’d reached the end of my own resources and needed serious help. Looking back, I realise that asking for that ‘serious help’ and agreeing to hospital admission was an act of hope. I guess that’s were I first started the long, slow spiral back up. Getting my medication right was a big part of the beginning of my recovery, as was knowing that I was in a safe place while the doctors tinkered with it, but another big part was the attitude of the health care support workers there. They were all convinced I’d get better and helped me to feel that I had some degree of control over my life, even in a mental hospital, even if it was only choosing what I wanted to eat, or whether to go to workshops or not, or what day to do my laundry. It was tiny things like these that kept me afloat, kept me moving. And then once I came out of hospital, my community support worker was relentlessly positive about my future, even when I hit a couple of bumps in the road. There was also the Recovery College – a whole organisation built on the premise of hope, that recovery is possible and probable – which gave me the knowledge and language I needed to take back full responsibility for my life. And through it all were my friends and family, holding the hope for me when I couldn’t hold it for myself.
So what’s to stop me flipping back into the downward spiral of hopelessness the next time I hit a bump in the road? Well, I think the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the last year has definitely made me stronger and more resilient. I know from first hand experience that it’s possible to return from rock-bottom, and from where I am now, I can look down into the darkness that once engulfed me and not be afraid. I might slip a bit once in a while, but I’m now equipped with improved skills and much better climbing gear than before. Plus I’ve come to recognise that I’m in a team of fellow climbers who are all willing to offer each other a leg-up when we need one.
Sorry if that climbing metaphor sounds a bit vague, neat or even twee! Next week, I’ll pick it apart a bit and talk in more concrete terms about how it manifests in my day-to-day life. See you then?
Thanks for reading! xxx
You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.
(Image Source: Pixabay)
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4 thoughts on “Mental Health Monday: Holding the Hope – Part Two”
Thank you for sharing Natalie. Would you mind if I shared this with the persons I work with please? You have encapsulated hope and recovery brilliantly.
Thanks, Brigitte. Feel free to share it. xxx
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