By Suzanne Burnett Stewart
We all lose hope at some point in our lifetime or another. We get sad and start feeling hopeless when too many things happen all at once; that we consider to be “bad”, hurtful or depressing. We may start to feel overwhelmed and this causes some of us to lose hope. Sometimes it is the way we feel inside because of something or some “things” that others have said or done to us or said about us. Certain words or situations might hurt our feelings or even our ego possibly? The holidays seem to bring about an overabundance of feelings, situations and even hopelessness. At a time when Charles Dickens’ ghosts would be telling us that we need to learn from our past, live in the present and look forward to our futures. It’s not as easy as it seems. Even the Hallmark Christmas stories, have characters who, by the end of the story, are healthy, happy and hopeful. Those of us living with daily chronic pain are not immune to the difficult, hopeless feeling situations that actually multiply for us during the holidays. You see, we get these feelings on top of debilitating pain and most often, that brings with it, several illnesses and disabilities.
You might say to yourself, “What is she talking about? Why is she writing such a “downer” as this, during what most see as a happy time of year?” I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. It is this 4 letter word “HOPE”. It can be anything you make it, if you just think about it for a moment. People want “HOPE” to be brought to them. They want it as a “gift” from God. Some others think of it as a noun or a “thing” that we are entitled to. But in my lifetime I have come to love this sometimes mysterious 4 letter word. It intrigues me so much that I wear it on a chain around my neck. I have worn HOPE around my neck for years and years. It is my favorite of all words. I always thought that I’d get out of a bad situation if I just had “Hope”. Things will get better if I just keep “hoping”. I always thought that if I continue to wear my “Hope” necklace, then one day I will have “HOPE”; the noun, the “thing” that others seem to have.
But I did not “get” HOPE because you cannot wait for it, for the noun or the “thing” to come to you. I have learned that “HOPE” is a verb. A verb is an “action” word. I have found that HOPE is also an action word and you have to DO something in order to have and keep HOPE! If you keep waiting for it to come to you, that is when you will lose it. For example; as a chronic pain patient, in order to find a good Dr., one whom you trust and respect; you must continue to look. You can’t sit back and “HOPE” that others will find the Dr. for you. You must do the work of looking, hunting on the internet and reading the different reviews about many many physicians. You might have to do the tedious work of going to 3, 4 or even 5 different Dr’s before you find the right “fit” for you. But after you do the actions, then you can receive the “HOPE”. It will be rewarding to actively do the “work” or the job of looking for and getting what you want or need for yourself. Along with this comes the feeling of accomplishment and when you put those things together, you will feel more secure, happy and hopeful. See how it works? If you choose to do nothing, feel sorry for yourself most of the time, and let others do it all for you; then there cannot be much HOPE. If you try your best and keep making the end goal of having and keeping HOPE; making it a verb and doing the actions; I think you will be surprised at how much better you feel inside.I’m not saying that you can never feel sad, loss or grief. It is OK to feel sad sometimes, as long as you can get yourself back in time, before the loss of hope comes.
I have an example for you, and it just happened to me during these past few weeks. I was feeling sorry for myself and a bit hopeless. Silly as it seems, I had taken off my “HOPE” necklace and everything just appeared to be a bit bleak. I was experiencing higher pain levels because we live in Michigan and it’s been so very cold. I don’t like going out much or at all during this part of the year because of the higher pain levels along with extreme cold. But I do want to go out, because this is my favorite season of helping others, HOPEfulness and cheer. I love the lights, the music and the Christmas trees. I usually feel happier even when staying inside with my cat in my warm, cozy chair. I enjoy drinking something hot and watching the overly dramatic Christmas movies. But these past few weeks I had been feeling down and a bit hopeless. I was feeling that I was trying even when I didn’t feel good enough to try anymore. I continued “doing” when I didn’t feel well enough to do the things that I just wanted to do. But I was adamant about doing those things anyways. I realized that you must stop and take a time out, when you need one. It’s OK to be sad for awhile, but just when you feel that HOPE is lost, that is when you are keeping it as a noun and something that is given to you. But things will turn around when you remember to keep HOPE as a verb. Keep it as an action word and one in which you have to do something in order to have it. When you make HOPE a verb,something always happens to change the negative feelings in your life.
Just when my HOPE was draining, I received a large envelope in the mail. Inside was a blue folder with the seal of Michigan on it. When I opened it, I started to cry and I was ecstatic. What I held in my hands was a “Special Tribute” from the Michigan House of Representatives and from the Governor, Rick Snyder! I’ll Post a photo of the “Special Tribute” here so that you can read it. I have been rewarded when I have never asked for any rewards. I received a special tribute for the advocacy work that I do and my “compassion for others”. I don’t have any idea where it originated? I know who signed it and sent it to me; but what, how, why me? All I know is that I was feeling down and tired of constant pain, even though my pain is somewhat controlled. I was losing HOPE because I was waiting for someone to give it to me. I had to remember again, that it is an action of “doing something”. Though I did receive something in the mail that truly cheered up my spirits. In the end, I did something to make it happen.
Don’t lose hope because it’s not something you can “hold or touch”; it’s something that you “DO” or “act upon”. My hero was an Advocate, Helen Keller. She was blind and Deaf, but she never gave up. She was tenacious and I strive to be like her. Especially in that I’d gone to University to be an Interpreter for the Deaf and blind. I worked at a major Hospital as an Interpreter and at magnet schools for hearing impaired children. Then, in 2002, my car was hit by a man who ran through a red light. I won’t go into the multiple injuries and surgeries. But I will tell you how ironic it was/is that I am fluent in American Sign Language. Deaf culture & ASL have always been something that I love. As a result of the car accident, I also suffered a “Traumatic Brain Injury”. Part of that includes hearing loss and vision issues. I have a convergence insufficiency, chronic dry eye, my own hearing aids and prescription eye drops that I must use on a daily basis in order to keep from going blind.
Whenever I feel that I’m losing HOPE, I remember all that I have been through and all that I still CAN do. I try to remember to never stop doing the actions that keep my HOPE alive. Lack of action makes hope die and that is when I remember what my “hero”, Helen Keller, once said: “Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”
Suzanne suffers from full body CRPS and has lived in chronic pain since 1999. Before being disabled by chronic pain, she was an Interpreter for the Deaf at University of Michigan Hospitals and for several school districts, working with children. Today she is a patient Health Advocate, guest writer, blogger and fundraiser for RSDSA and an Ambassador for U.S. Pain Foundation and creates Advocacy videos, and writes in her own blog “Tears of Truth” (suzydukettes.wordpress.com).