Hope is the thing with fangs in

During my last crisis, I read Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, because Josie Long said it was really good, and I think Josie Long is really good. It’s about all kinds of things, but a lot of it is about what my therapist would call radical acceptance: accepting awful political realities, and accepting that we don’t get to know before we act whether it’s going to make any difference at all, and acting anyway. She writes:

“To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous… hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed.”

I do not find hope easy. Solnit’s writing is about politics on all scales from the local to the international, but I think the shapes of her ideas apply to much of my experience of trying to get over my breakdown (unsurprising, what with the personal being political and all). Despair – political and personal – is fixed and familiar. When I give in to hopelessness and my old ways of coping, they are unpleasant in ways I understand and which I know intimately, and in ways that don’t mean changing everything. When I believe I am a terrible person who is nothing but a poisonous influence on others and a burden on the state, I understand my place in the world, even I believe the best place for me would be out of it; if I hope for a different version of myself, I have to work out what I want that to look like, and I don’t know what that would be. 

If hope is possibility and not guarantee, then it also brings the possibility of disappointment and failure, and whole new realms of unpleasantness which I have yet to discover. If I allow myself to hope for another way of being for myself or for the world, and it falls apart, it is more painful. Every time I am discharged from the crisis house, I convince myself that this time things will be different, that I will reach escape velocity from this cycle – and every time I go back in, I spend the first week or so spiralling further into despair by berating myself for readmission. This time last year I drew this:

I felt betrayed by hope. I will probably always struggle with it, with the uncertainty it brings; with the fact that the possibility of things being different means that my actions might have an effect on who I am, that I am not a fixed thing, that I have to make myself up as I go along, make decisions and want an outcome that might or might not happen, that I might not know the outcomes of my actions for years, that I might never know them. This is not an easy time of year to hope, personally or politically. But I am trying.

In which spirit: on Friday I will be helping drop a banner as part of Bridges Not Walls. If you are up for standing on a bridge over the Thames (or wherever you live, there’s events all over) at 7.30 in the morning, details of how to get involved are on the website. You’re especially welcome if you have solid knot-tying skills. I know it’s more symbolic than practical action, but it’s what I’m able to do right now, so it’s what I’m doing. With hope. Ish.


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