As I’m coming out of the darkest depressive episode I’ve had in a decade, I’m starting to reflect on my despair. I spent a long time staring out of windows and curling up in the fetal position this year.
For months I thought that perhaps I was going to be lost for good. I was frustrated with myself because I couldn’t make myself feel “hopeful”.
You see, most of my life I’ve been operating with an idea of hope based on cultural and religious ideals which are simply not mine — where anything can be overcome with enough positive thinking and inspirational quotes. Where Someone is coming to save you (if you pray hard enough); and where hope is an indicator of the strength of your faith.
I’d been indoctrinated from birth with the idea that hope is the one thing that can make you feel better when everything is at its worst. That hope is an emotion– uplifting and full of power.
A Shepard Fairey poster with Obama’s face staring ‘hopefully’ to the future; a greeting card featuring a scripture and an illustration of light breaking through the clouds; a shelter to rest in when you need to hide from the evil that you encounter in your life.
I thought I was hopeless, because for most of this year, I had no assurance that anything was going to improve. No reason to believe that I was going to come back out of the hole. I was sad. I was angry. I was desperate; and the weeks crept by, with no end in sight.
Was I hopeless? Turns out, I was not.
Hope, you see, is not a good feeling. Not for me, anyway.
Instead, I found that my hope comes in ugly, cracked and weird packages. It’s dreadfully imperfect (though is often exactly what I need in the moment) and it feels like hell.
My hope is not a reason. It’s the thing that keeps me going despite feeling like there is no reason to keep going.
My hope isn’t the erasure of fear, or sadness, or anger. Nor is it a safe space. It’s the little talisman I hold in my sweaty palm as I traverse unsafe spaces, and accept realities that terrify me.
My hope is a tiny foothold on the sheer face of a cliff— providing just enough room to risk taking another step.
Hope is a shitty little life raft that I cling to— the thing that keeps me afloat just long enough to send up a flare for the help I need.
Oh, I have hope. It doesn’t belong on inspirational posters, and it won’t give me strength and courage and the ability to defeat the armies of darkness.
What it will do, however, is keep me alive.
Despair isn’t a moral failing. Nor does it mean you have no real hope left in you. It means that you’re no longer placated with ideas and easy answers that have no basis in reality. It means you’re ready to work through some of the hard questions, and that you’re more interested in truth than comfort.
It may not sound that great, but in retrospect, I’ll take the harsh reality and function of true hope over the greeting-card-scripture-quote-fantasy-kind any day.
I hope you understand.