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When I Realized I Needed Hope in My Mental Illness Recovery

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There’s a little glimmer of warmth, burrowing into my chest. And a sliver of light, peeking into my spirit. If I listen carefully, I can almost hear a heart-warming song. It has taken me awhile to recognize it: the song of hope. Unfamiliar. Really scary. Really positive. Hope.

For me, hope has a few different acronyms:

Hold On Pain Ends.”

Have Only Positive Expectations.”

Help Open People’s Eyes.”

Hang On to Positive Expectations.”

But I think my favorite is, “Heart Open Please Enter.”

I have had years of being knocked over and having to pick myself up again. I’ve experienced grief after eight different family members died. Worry as my teenage boys dabbled in the risky behaviors so many indulge in as they grow into adulthood. Sorrow as my marriage started to crumble. Stress as my elderly grandmother became more and more dependent on me. Fear as my body aged and my youth disappeared. Pain as my back deteriorated.

Coupled with a lifetime of burying emotions and not dealing with personal issues as they arose, it became too much for me to cope with and I crumbled. Every time I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, I was wrong. Every time I tried to stand up and move on, another phone call came in. Someone needed me again. Someone wanted my help. Someone else had died. Another problem arose. Too much. Endlessly and relentlessly battering me to the ground, and in 51 years, I had never learned positive mechanisms to deal with stress. The past two years have been eye-opening and debilitating, and while I went a long way backwards, perhaps that is the direction I first needed to travel before I could embark upon a different path.

The past few days, I have felt hopeful. Every time I become aware of this sense of positivity — that I may have a future and  things will improve — I worry I’m going to be battered to the ground any minute. The phone will ring and I’ll be given bad news. Again. I’ll be needed. Again. The phone will ring and I’ll be forced to choose between doing the right thing by family or the right thing by work. I’ll be put in lose-lose situations. Again.

But you know what 2017 has shown me so far? Nothing but positivity. Sure, there are major stresses I’m still dealing with, but they are last years’ stresses and we’re working toward positive outcomes. My teenage boys have grown into beautiful young men. My marriage is receiving some tender care with tentative hope for the future. Nobody else has died. My grandmother is being cared for in the nursing home. I love my job. I love my friends and family. My physical health is good and my mental health has improved.

You know what else? I found myself singing in the car. Singing! I love singing and I’d stopped years ago. It is so good for the soul. I sing because I’m cheery. When I realized I was singing, I realized I must be cheery.

So it turns out I have hope. I am hopeful my beautiful boys will be OK. They will grow into the wonderful young men they are destined to be. They will experience love and happiness and success. They will contribute. They make me proud. I am hopeful our marriage will continue. Hovering on the brink of separation has taught us both we’re not ready to throw in the towel. We value what we have enough to put in the hard yards. I am hopeful my mental health will improve. My depression and anxiety are alleviating. I recognize them for what they are and have strategies in place to deal with signs and symptoms as they arise. I am hopeful my life will go on. My story isn’t over yet. I have the opportunity and means to contribute financially to our family and meaningfully to society. I have abandoned plans to end my life and instead accept I have a lot of time ahead of me. I am hopeful my elderly grandmother and aging father are in safe hands. Their health is good and they are well cared for. I also accept that yes, I will have to say farewell to them both in the future, but they have had wonderful, happy, long, productive lives and I have support to deal with the grief when it inevitably strikes. I am hopeful my back pain will go. I am thrilled about this in fact. I finally have a diagnosis and treatment plans and it is not major or degenerative so I will once again be able to exercise pain-free.

More significant than all of these put together however, I am starting to feel a small sense of hope my eating disorder will improve. I won’t say disappear, because I do not know the future. I would be glad if this happened, but because I am so early in the phase of recovery, I don’t want to jinx myself with unrealistic expectations.

You know what else? Without hope, I can’t recover. Without hope, recovery is just an intellectual exercise. Without hope, I won’t make the right choice when faced with a difficult situation. I will make the most familiar and immediately comforting choice, even if that decision leads to a poorer outcome. Because without hope, recovery is pointless for me. It feels temporary. Why would I make a good choice today if tomorrow it’s all going to fall apart anyway?

Recovery is reliant on hope. Recovery needs my heart to be receptive to hope – not just my head to be willing. So for today I want to say, my “Heart’s Open Please Enter.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

Originally published: April 13, 2017
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