[A couple of weeks ago I was honoured and excited to find out that I had won a highly commended runners’ up place in the 2015 Mind Creative Writing Competition, in partnership with Penguin Random House UK. The theme for the competition was ‘Hope’, and an extract from an interview with the competition’s winner, Louise, was recently published on the Mind website. The full interview and her entry (on the subject of finding hope in the aftermath of her brother’s suicide), will be published in the January edition of Mind News.
My own entry follows below – those who have been reading my blog for a little while may recognise it as a re-worked version of an early blog post! Very many thanks to Mind and Penguin Random House UK for their kind and valuable feedback on this piece, and for the much appreciated prize – a box of goodies which turned out to be amazingly serendipitous!]
The rainbow of therapy
What is a rainbow? “Hope, shining upon the tears of grief” Robert Ingersoll
When we struggle with our mental health, hope can feel like such a precarious state. Any hint of it feels more like ‘hoping against hope’: hoping in the face of hopelessness; hoping even when one is abandoned by hope. We may be so aware of the shifting nature of our sense of self and the volatility of our emotions, that we cannot believe that hope will last. We may be so used to every positive situation being tinged with something dark, that sometimes hopefulness simply feels like misery in disguise.
I remember being asked by a therapist a couple of years ago, what I would want if she could just wave a magic wand and make anything at all happen. I sat there with tears rolling down my face, completely unable to think of anything to say. It wasn’t a case of not being able to decide, or not knowing what I wanted. It was the fact that the very concept of a future – any future, let alone one that was ‘better’ than the present – was completely unthinkable. I simply could not see beyond the present pain, and hadn’t been able to, for quite some time. The ‘future’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.
A few months later, a different therapist referred to the progress I had been making in one particular area, as ‘a success’. My resulting tears seemed to baffle her, but somehow I found it difficult and distressing to think of anything I had been doing, as ‘a success’. Success had always been so important to me – but having a reached a state in which I felt little control over my life, and had little self-esteem, the concept of succeeding at anything, was also unthinkable. It was too painful to be praised. ‘Success’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.
They say that hope sustains life – but it seems to me that love sustains life long enough to give birth to hope that that sustenance will continue. If I felt abandoned by hope, it was because I felt abandoned by love. Abandoned in the present, and in a way that I’m still trying to properly understand, abandoned in the past. I remember very clearly the strong desire, when growing up, to be loved unconditionally by someone who did not have the biological imperative to do so. I can see now that my thinking was rather confused: I thought that parents were programmed to love their offspring unconditionally, but this is a contradiction in terms. Love is not about programming but about acceptance – and while thinking that my parents loved me unconditionally, I was also very aware of the areas in which I ‘fell short’, did not meet expectations, or was something other than what I was desired to be. Hence the need to be loved by somebody who chose to love me – choice implied acceptance, something I did not feel I had.
I have been in therapy for a little while – long enough to see that it is making a difference, even when it feels as though it is two steps forward and a giant leap back. Long enough for that difference to lead to glimmers of hope. Not hope in the face of hopelessness, but hope in the face of possibility – the possibility of recovery, and the possibility of change. Sometimes I come away from therapy sessions hurting immensely. Incapable of asking for reassurance directly, I allow fears over lack of acceptance to spiral out of control, such that everything my therapist says (or doesn’t say) contributes to the excruciating sense that I am unwanted, disliked and uncared for. Sometimes I can barely speak, paralysed by fear of further hurt and an overwhelming desire to just shut down. I drift in and out of being emotionally present, but she reaches out to me, and gradually, we work through how I am feeling, and why.
Ultimately, it is this ‘working through’ that has given me a glimpse, more than anything, of the transformative power of the therapeutic relationship, and that glimpse has given me hope. I have realised that although it is easy for me to feel hurt, it is also easy for me to feel loved. My therapist’s words and actions show me that. That feeling is very hard to hold onto, and so I often bring those words, those actions, and that caring to mind, not just because they are the foundations of the trust that we have built, but also because they help to keep the whole edifice from crumbling when it is the subject of internal attack.
I have also realised, with amazement, that my therapist responds to my needs and has made a commitment to continue to do so. It’s hard to explain how deeply it touches me to know that someone is trying to meet me ‘where I am at’. To know that I have been heard and my viewpoint accepted; to know that I haven’t had to justify how I feel or to be ashamed of it; to know that it is possible for me to voice my feelings and my needs, and for something to change as a result. I find it hard to get my head around, and it feels truly humbling.
Finally, this ‘working through’ has also brought a revelation. Though on one level it seems so obvious, when the ‘lightbulb moment’ came, it seemed a beautifully simple and surprising idea. It was an emotional revelation, if not an intellectual one – I knew it because I felt it, and because I felt it, it gave me hope. Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. So often over the last few years, I have tried to derive comfort from things which were self-destructive; things which gave me the illusion of an all-enveloping hug, but which in reality were only hurting me further. It scares me to say it, but the comfort of this revelation felt better.
Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. It sends a shiver down my spine. I dare not hope.
But hope I do.