Monday, March 31, 2014

An Argument For Hope

Late last year, I said you can get better. I argued this from a logical and evidential perspective. But I realize that such arguments alone can often be insufficient. Each of us views our situation as unique, because it is. When we are in the throes of depression or other mental health issues, we come up with our own, personal reasons for why statements like "you can get better" don't apply to us, that even the hardest of evidence cannot overcome.

I am not going to try to convince you out of that, because it is not a belief based in logic and evidence, so a logical and evidential response does nothing. Instead, I am going to argue why it is so necessary to believe that you can get better. At the end of this, I do not expect to convince you that you can get better. Believing that is your own choice.


At its core, recovery has a foundation of hope.

Hope is often viewed as a sketchy thing. It is, by definition, not based in a rational view of the world. Which is not to say that it is irrational, but that it has its domain in the realm of the future, whose outcome we do not know. We can guess what might happen, and sometimes those guesses can be very well-informed, but in the end, we're still at the mercy of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is the killer for many struggling with their mental health. Faced with a great unknown, our first instinct is to assume failure. We assume based on past experiences, past sufferings. We think to ourselves "things have been bad in the past, and things are bad now, so things will be bad in the future".

Recovery is about taking that line of thinking and rejecting it. It is about saying "things have been bad in the past, and things are bad now, but that does not mean they have to continue to be bad".

At any point in our life, misfortunes can occur. We can make mistakes. We can suffer tragedies through no fault of our own. We can face setbacks. At the same time, there is potential for our lives to improve. We may face an unexpected windfall. We may make the right decisions that pay off. We can better ourselves. Both outcomes are possible. They are not equally likely, but they are possible.

"You can get better" is a statement of faith. I say that not in a religious sense. I am not advocating for or against any belief system, save the one that says we can have a better life than the one we have at this moment. "You can get better" is making a statement about the future which we do not know, and cannot verify. It does not change the world. But it can change ourselves.

We can, if we so choose, believe that the worst outcomes will happen. We can believe that our lives will continue to stay bad, or get worse. If we do that, we run the risk of resigning ourselves to that outcome. If we believe that things will get worse, we deprive ourselves of motivation for trying to improve, because what is the point of trying to improve if things are only going to get worse? In that sense, believing things will get worse becomes a form of self-sabotage.

If, on the other hand, we believe that things can get better, we open ourselves to the possibility that they will. We direct our actions towards that possibility. Medication, therapy, improving our financial and social situation, these all become routes towards that possible bettering. They can help, because we believe that they can help.

Believing that things can get better does not mean that we are opening ourselves to false expectations. It does not mean that we are deluding ourselves that our outcome will be perfect, that we will achieve a utopian existence or some form of enlightenment. It doesn't mean that solutions will be easy. Such beliefs are as based in poor mental health and an irrational view of the world as the belief that we will only get worse, and is often the root of pseudosciences and scams that threaten to derail recovery attempts.

Recovery is long and it is onerous. It is not a straight road but a winding one full of potholes and detours and the risk of sudden mudslides. It involves trying out different medications and different therapists. It is about taking risks and taking the sometimes unpleasant results that come from those risks. It is about getting hurt, and moving on from that hurt.

If we go on that path, there is no guarantee that we will get better, because no guarantee exists. If we do not go on that path, however, we will most certainly not get better, because we did not even try.


So here is what I say:

I cannot make you believe that you can get better. There is no argument I can give that is so logically perfect that everyone will be convinced by it.

But I can say it, and you can choose to believe it.

There are no guarantees. There never are. Countless things can happen. But if you don't believe that things can get better, there is only one outcome.

But if you believe that things can get better, things can change. You open yourself up for the possibility of getting better.

I am talking about making a leap of faith. I am talking about putting your trust in a future you do not know. I am talking about believing in something even if you do not know that it is true. Not because it is true, but because you can gain so much by believing it.

I cannot say that you won't be hurt, because you will be. I cannot say you won't make mistakes, because you will. Life is hard. Life is full of struggles. This is as true for you as it is for everyone else.

What I say is that you can get better. You can still make it through.And you can choose to believe that.


Teaching Hope - A short overview of a Positive Psychology-based definition of hope and the benefits of health

The Wills And Ways Of Hope - A longer article describing hope and it's numerous benefits.

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