Cautionary definition of hope

Still from A few Degrees Below Par Powerpoint 2

Still from 'A few Degrees Below Par' powerpoint

Hope. Hope is an essential component of many definitions of recovery. How does it feel when someone full of themselves, full of beans, stands up to give a lecture and tells you to have hope? That can be a real obstacle, and can give the message that somehow there is something wrong with you if you don't have hope. If they have hope and are standing there having a laugh and joke about things - why aren't you joining in? This can be quite inappropriate, especially when the speaker doesn't know the difference. It's ignorance of the fact that many people don't have hope right now, and it's doubly ignorant when the speaker has no answers to that, except for explicit or implied criticism of those without hope. It's a bad place to be when you have accepted limitations to preserve your wellbeing. You may be helped by medication which has a sedative effect, so you need recogniton by others that you will not always be exhuberant or the life and soul of some party.

Yes, I do have hope. But it's not about following any formula or prescription, some magic bullet that will cast open the clouds of gloom.

What can I say of hope at my age of early sixties (in 2013)? There is no hope that I can experience things that many have as essential parts of their lives. I have no identity that includes years of a lifetime that others have lived. The more I live, the more I realise that there are many like me, who have incomplete lives, lives that do not measure up to expectations that might go along with lifestyles and life achievements. This is for me one of the main areas where shades of grey prevail. Life is not black and white. An example of what that may mean from my life, is that I laboured hard for pocket money on my family's building sites. I played a part, some part, in creating detached four or five bedroom homes in places like Chislehurst and Sevenoaks. This was for other people to live in, and to enable my father and uncle, his partner, to drive expensive saloon cars they got new every two years. I never lived in or owned one of those properties I helped to build, as the oldest son of the family. I have not exchanged my car for a new luxury model every two years. In fact at one stage I spent five years homeless living rough. I only ever owned my own house once, for three or four years, a terrace house in a poor part of London that was doomed to be repossessed. So, now I am over 60, there is no hope for me that I will live a comfortable life in a posh suburb or country commuter town - that I can never do. Time has moved on. The time has passed. Even if I were to be given the keys to one of those houses, I have spent most of my life as part mental patient and part vagrant with no help from the resources of the building company, that life is over for me. Gone... Of recent times, there might be hope for expectations that again have not come about. My life has improved immeasurably with the closure of the asylums by Mrs Thatcher, and the implementation of support and care in the community since 1990. Since the mental institutions were closed, I have not been an inpatient and have lived a crime-free life. I have not taken street drugs, and I have not committed offences to do with vagrancy, for that I did while a revolving door asylum patient. That alone, one might think, would be a key to a fulfilling life with independence and respect. Add to that, that I passed a Bachelor's degree and then went on to get an MA, and one might have high expectations for a new life. That time for me, from age 40 onwards, could have led to being a fully paid-up member of the property-owning democracy. Indeed I read recently that six months after getting an MA, average salaries are about £30,000 a year. I spent all that time, yes admittedly free and in the community, but maintained on benefits. On the scrapheap. Why, some may ask, did I bother with the BA and the MA? What a waste of time they will say. I am an example of absolutely no hope whatsoever. Look man, why not lighten up, get some whizz or Ee's, hey man you can knock over Sainsbury's - all you'll get is maybe a warning and you could be high on an illicit bottle of Scotch if you're cool. Enjoy man, enjoy. So my 20 years in the community have been bliss compared to in and out of Hellingly and Oakwood asylums. But what actual hope can I give, can I have for myself, of those 20 years? As I say, I am more and more aware of folk who live in this grey state, this limbo, where the aspirational chances have gone and there are no aspirational chances coming up any time soon, any time at all. No-one is going to sort it out for you, no-one sorted it out in 1990 and they're not going to sort it out for you now. Condemn the system, yes, but for the individual it means it's very hard to justify hope. (But I will justify hope later on.)

So what hope means for me is not a deliberate trail to get to a goal that will justify hope in the first place. It doesn't work like that. To go on hoping and praying that you will, for example, become a probation officer, as I recall one fellow inmate pleading for in Hellingly asylum: Oh God, make me a probation officer, pleeeze! That will never work. You can't plan for something as unlikely as a lottery win. You can't pray for it. You can't have a strategy or a system that will get you what you hope for. You might be lucky in your mostly material hopes, you might be unlucky.

So what hope have I got despite years and years of underachievement, notwithstanding dilligence and perseverance? Hope is a place you are at. It's to be content with yourself. It's not to be eaten up by the injustice and the unfairness of life. For many people, they too will have the equivalent of watching the dad drive off to the pub in his Jaguar while they have the task of digging ditches so strangers can live in a luxury house they have helped to construct. Yet the thing is not to be consumed with rage and anger that this happened, and now you realise how wrong that exploitation was. I still have times when I get challenges, and I think as I try to sleep:- what was all that about? But mostly I have good times of contemplation and equilibrium. I strive to do what I know is possible in the face of slight, lack of cooperation, envy, and blind jealous ignorance. I have come to learn to deal with and recognise this. People are not fair and dilligent. There are many who are avaricious and devious. But to survive that and to be happy with one's lot, and to have that experience from time to time over a long period is hope for me. It's hope for some enjoyment. Hope is a state of mind, and in my experience that is separate from aspirational goals that we are sometimes indoctrinated with. We can have hope that we will come through the other side, that we will be free from coveting, and that for me is the personal effect, to come through the other side.

My main fulfillment is getting my brain to work again. I can say there is hope for that. Gordon McManus writes of something similar, that he has regained the power to think. You cannot plan for or have a certain way of reaching the return of the ability to think, it takes its own course. Obviously life events are not inconsequential. It is a handicap not to have a shared experience of relationships, family, homemaking, childrearing, and a working life. It is a difficulty that others may not understand what it means to have been an asylum inmate, long term and on the revolving door and experiencing homelessness and poverty. In many ways bcause I have not had an integrated life profile, I have always been treated as a mental defective. Low aspirations have always been assigned to me. I have always been treated as a no-hoper, even before my illness. My one element of pride has been that I could think analytically to a degree of depth and that I could get through academic tasks. This has to do with more than getting certificates. Good results signify aptitude. So with the return of my brain power I am able to perform tasks such as writing this script, and I am also able to appreciate the value of intellectual ideas, such as the social construct of reality which is my current favourite paradigm.  I can say there is hope that sufferers of mental health issues may emerge with intellectual capacity, no matter what travesties of care or severity of psychiatric symptoms they may go through. You can hope for that.