Hope and Recovery: Part 1Jun 30, 2012
Recently I was asked to write some quick reflections about hope and recovery for a German publication. To the question "Why is hope important to recovery?", I wrote:
Hope is important to recovery because hopelessness and biological life are incompatible (Seligman). When faced with adversity, human beings need hope in order to overcome. Mental health professionals can contribute to hopefulness for recovery or they can convey hopeless messages which are toxic and soul-killing.
When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 17, my psychiatrist told me that I had a disease called schizophrenia and that I would be sick for the rest of my life. He told me that I would have to take high dose haloperidol for the rest of my life. He said I should retire from life and avoid stress. I have come to call my psychiatrist's pronouncement a "prognosis of doom". He was condemning me to a life of handicaptivity wherein I was expected to take high dose neuroleptics, avoid stress, retire from life and I was not even 18 years old! My psychiatrist did not understand that boredom is stressful! A life devoid of meaning and purpose is stressful! A vegetative life is stressful. A life in handicaptivity, lived out within the confines of the human services landscape, where the only people who spend time with you, are people who are paid to be with you - that is stressful! Living on disability checks from the government is stressful.
When I was diagnosed I needed hopeful messages and role models. I needed to hear that there were pathways into a better future for me. I needed to connect with others who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and who had recovered lives of meaning and purpose. I needed to find others who had completed college and who had jobs and who got married and had families and had an apartment and a car.
Why is hope important to recovery? Because hope is the root of life's energy. In order to recover, I had to turn away from the wish that psychiatrists could fix me. I had to turn away from the myth that psychiatric treatments could cure me. Instead, I had to mobilize all of the energy I had. I had to become an active partner in my recovery. I had to learn to work collaboratively with my treatment team and to draw strength from the wisdom of my peers. I had to begin striving for my goals, not when I was "all better", but from day one. I had to believe that there was a life for me beyond the confines of the mental health system. That is hope. Hope is the tenacious pursuit of pathways to a better life, despite the odds. Without hope, there is no recovery.