Recently I was asked to give some brief comments for a German publication. I was asked: "Given that hope is an is an important aspect of recovery, how can professionals give hope. Have you experienced someone giving you hope? Do you remember a special situation?" I replied:
Professionals can't give hope. But they can be hopeful. They can root their work in hope. Hope is different than optimism. Optimism is shallow and trite. Optimism is false hope. Workers who are optimistic are like cheerleaders at a football match. They say shallow, unhelpful things like, "I just know you can recover. Everything will be all right. Tomorrow will be a better day." Optimists posit the future as something that is known. To live with a psychiatric disorder is to be uncertain about what the future will bring. Workers who are optimistic abandon the person with a psychiatric disorder because they race into a future which they claim is certain and good. Hope is different than that.
To be hopeful means to stand in the present moment and to embrace the uncertainty of the future. Not one can predict who will and will not recover. No one can posit a certain future because the future is, by definition, uncertain and ambiguous. All we can authentically do is to stand with two feet in the present and to face the ambiguous, uncertain future with hope. This is what is meant in Christian faith traditions when Paul says, "Hope is not hope if its object is known".
I remember my grandmother as a person who was filled with hope for me in the early days after I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was only 17 and had been discharged after my first hospitalization. I had collapsed under the weight of hopelessness and the prognoses of doom that surrounded me. I took medication as prescribed. I tried to avoid stress as recommend by my doctors. All I did was sit on a chair, smoke cigarettes and drink Coke Cola all day long. I call this the Coke and Smoke Syndrome.
I remember that my grandmother came into the room in which I sat in chair all day long. She only came into the room one time each day. She would come in and say, "Patricia, would you like to come food shopping". If she had come in the room more than once a day, that would have been nagging and harassing me. Each day it was as if she were saying, "Look over here Patricia. There is door. There is a door that can open. There is a door that opens onto the world. Together we can walk through that door if only you will step over the threshold with me." One day, months later, for reasons I cannot account for, I agreed to go food shopping with my grandmother. That was the first positive step I took in my recovery.
The journey of a thousand miles truly does begin with a single step. My grandmother was wise. She was filled with hope for me. She invited me to step across the threshold, to step into the world. She knew there was a pathway into a better future for me. She embraced the limits of her power but remained rooted in hope. She could not make me step over that threshold into the world, but she invited me to step over it with her. Each day she reminded that there was a door and she invited me to step through it into a new life.
Hope-filled professionals comport themselves like my grandmother. Each day, with each individual, they make an invitation. They can't do the work of recovery for a person but professionals can invite a person to step through a new door into a life in recovery.