Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Arise the Revolution of Hope

Dear Hopeful Persons,

(What is written below is a component of my application for enrollment in an academic program.)

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Why do you do something even if it is hopeless, when you should rather stop if you are reasonable?
- Anonymous

I was formally diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 16 years old. At that time, this disease was considered "youth's greatest disabler." Schizophrenia is known to detrimentally affect an individual's natural trajectory of development, as it afflicts people in the prime of their lives, during the years where important decisions are being made about life course. The neurological symptoms associated with this disease make it difficult for young people to complete their interrupted schooling, acquire new skills, and to take on new responsibilities. The emotional, perceptual, and cognitive disturbances that the disease presents make it hard for the person to interact comfortably, and sometimes appropriately, in social settings. And those bizarre behaviours that manifest in one who is afflicted; the delusions, the hallucinations, and the interactions therein; affect how we as a society are able to relate to people who live with this neurobiological condition.

Having been presented with a set of life circumstances that is traditionally construed as hopeless, I would like to discuss what I call the doctrine of hope, because in many of the situations life has presented, I have noticed that it is hope that has propelled my action. Where I could not stand alone in a lamentable present, hope could stand with me to direct my gaze toward the future. Hope understands that present circumstances are temporary and faithfully believes that the future is mutable.

Hope, by definition, is a sentiment or a desire for a situation to have an optimal outcome. Although hope does not ensure what can be traditionally construed as a positive or good outcome; hope does reassure that whatever outcome arrives from the range of possibilities may be one that transpires for the benefit of the stakeholder(s). Notice that hope reassures; it does not ensure.

If we are to discuss hope, we need also to talk also about its absence, since the benefits of hope are elucidated by explaining the repercussions of its loss.

I have seen that the primary effect of hopelessness is inertia. Hopelessness is a place where subsistence and survival in the present become consuming and where propulsion toward a future becomes impossible. In hopelessness, a person is left to believe that he or she can only have influence over the circumstances of the present. The promise of hope, that the future is mutable, is lost when a person is locked inside a rapacious present.

The ultimate consequence of hopelessness is loss. If we are hopeless, we lose our ability to dream, since we cannot dawdle on wishes for the future in a demanding and expectant present. We lose our ability to act in our own best interests, since we cannot organize our thoughts to reconcile the present with the future in an effort to conceive of more than what we have and to build on the things we do have. Thus, if we cannot hope, we cannot dream of a future different from the present. If we cannot dream, we cannot act in the present for future intentions. If we cannot hope, we cannot act. Hopelessness robs individuals of their ability to act. Hopelessness infringes on self-direction. Hopelessness infringes on autonomy.

The doctrine of hope is presented here as a belief system. Since belief systems expect that thoughts are turned into reflective actions, a belief system that is integrated within the individual and their experience cannot, logically, exist in thought alone. A belief system must be expressed through acts. Therefore we must also expect that the doctrine of hope would express itself through the actions of its adherants.

It is likely that most of us can agree that due to life circumstances, it is possible, or even likely for some, that certain hopes cannot be achieved or even acted upon based on barriers such as access, economy, and the nature of the aspiration. My greatest concern, as a person who encourages social equality and justice for those who make up minority populations, is not that a person cannot act on his or her hopes due to some form of inequitability, but that a person is not encouraged to hope or provided the resources that may encourage them to aspire. My concern is that a person is not provided with equal opportunity to hope. Aspirations are an equalizing force. And so if one is discouraged from hoping, the likely result is deeper entrenchment of inequality and social injustice, since those hopeful thoughts that precede action are absent.

I discuss the doctrine of hope, because as an adherent, my beliefs have encouraged me to act so that I may achieve the optimal outcome that is reassured in the doctrine. Additionally, I write of the doctrine of hope, because of the injurious attempts that have almost thwarted my capacity to look beyond the circumstances of a needful and greedy present.

Up to 3% of Canadians will experience some form of psychosis in their lifetime. Most of these people are expected to recover and return to their "normal" daily life activities. (Up to 82% of persons diagnosed with psychosis and treated by early intervention programs are in remission at the end of 2 years. This figure is based on PEPP studies.)

Despite these large numbers of persons experiencing a major health event from which they are more likely than chance to recover, pervasive negative beliefs exist in the general population. (Recent CAMH studies report that 50% of Canadians believe that mental illness is an excuse for poor behaviour and personal failure. 25% of Canadians are afraid of being around a person with mental illness.) It is possible that negative beliefs themselves are not the issue. The problem occurs, however, when beliefs become acts. Since we have seen that "beliefs," like hope or faith can transpire to action, is it not possible then, that personal beliefs about mental illness can also propel a person to act? Moreover, if a belief is a negative and stereotyped belief, it begs the question: What kinds of consequences can we expect from these kinds of beliefs?

It is here where philosophy, politics, economics, and personal experience intersect and interact, and it is here where individual experience becomes a part of a larger sociopolitical experience: I have lived with the effects of negative stereotyped beliefs. Because of these privative beliefs, my culture, my society, and my political systems interact differently with me than they do with other Canadians.

The differential treatment I have experienced can be summarized like this:

I am not expected to be a contributor to my society. I am not expected to achive "normal" psychosocial milestones. I am not expected to have goals. If I do have goals, I'm certainly not expected to have the desire or motivation to achieve them.

It seems as though my childhood diagnosis was supposed to be the end of a life worth living. I guess I was supposed to give up on having plans and goals and the opportunity to hope for (or even to achieve) an enviable life.

Since nothing has been (or really is) expected of me, no one really sees any need to make any contributions to what is required to help me overcome my circumstances. My needs have centered around financial concerns, and securing a stable supply of medication. Achieving the latter is surprisingly difficult if you are "not sick enough" to receive social benefits. And achieving the former is even more difficult when you're not sick enough to receive charity, but you are impeded enough that conventional employment expectations interfere with your good health. Other needs focus on empowerment and autonomy, as experience has caused me to question my autonomy and my value to society.

I have no issues with accepting charity. I most certainly have no issues with asking for charity. As the child of a teenage mother with a father who suicided after wrestling his own demons with problems of mental health, my belly was filled by the generosity of Canadians. Thus I fully acknowledge that at certain times in my life, I may be especially vulnerable and so I may have needs that can only be met by the beneficience and graciousness of fellow Canadians.

Yet in light of my condition of mental health, multiple appeals for charity had and have gone unheeded. My appeals have taken the form of requests for academic scholarship, merit, social benefits, and humaneness. Paradoxically, these appeals have been denied most often due to my apparent good health, and my apparent lack of poor health.

I have had a hard time digesting the fact that if I were only a little more ill, I may be entitled to more support to access opportunity. It seems good health does have a cost, a cost that is counterintuitive in light of the gains our institutions, political systems, and social programs claim they strive to achieve; good health, autonomy, economic gain, and elevation of social status being among those things.

I have worked very hard, despite discernible odds, to become the person I am today and have achieved my personal milestones by clinging to that precious doctrine of hope and professing its power.

The experiences and perspectives I've shared with you here are not unique to me, and regretfully, due to constraints of space, they have been generalized to an extent that they have been reduced from concrete events to vague ideology.

I've done the work I can with the tools I have to promote the social changes that I thought were helpful for persons with a shared experience. I need additional tools of education and language so that I can effectively promote an agenda that I feel passionate and optimistic about; an agenda that would establish a precedent for reformation. I believe that the legal system is the ultimate form of advocacy, and I have a strong desire to contribute to that system.

I am asking for the opportunity to hope; this is the future to which hope has steered my gaze. This application is my act.

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Lotsa love (from a hungry hopeful),

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