Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding hope in despair

Before I learned that it was ok to embrace despair, ‘hope’ was my default, go-to word, which I used often to express my false optimism to friends, family and even with some professionals.  Eventually, I did improve my relationship with hope, but only after being honest with myself and seeing it for what it can be: a double-edge sword.

As I tried to make sense of special needs parenting, the meaning of ‘hopeful parent’ wasn’t easy. I can tell you that I do not qualify as “hopeful” 100 percent of the time. In fact, I’d say there have been many days where I’m less than 50 percent…but, I’ve become ok with it because it’s a journey that I think is worth sharing with you.

I had to become comfortable with all of my feelings of despair in order to allow hope into my life. I learned to let despair arrive when it wanted to, and I gave it the full attention it deserved. But only after spending time with this dark partner, did I invite the idea of hope to come over to visit.

Didn’t happen over night

I was afraid of becoming an overzealously hopeful parent who lets hope overshadow the quality of their child‘s life. I just knew that disappointment lurked around the corner and it would rush in if I became too hopeful.

Sure, I used to feel utterly guilty for not being as hopeful as all of our friends, therapists, teachers and, even some of the specialists (if you can believe it).
Occasionally, I’d realized that some of the professionals just had plain-old-occupational enthusiasm.  I  found it hard to get excited about all of the work that was ahead for me and my family.

False guilt

It’s amazing how guilt - false guilt - can cause you to project your feelings on to others. When you live inside all of the work it takes of raising our children, it’s quite easy for people to be overly hopeful about what your child can or will do some day. It feels as though they expect that same high level of enthusiasm from you, 100 percent of the time, which is impossible. And it took time for me to realize that.

Learning to understand my own feelings is a major task. They can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies that affect my perception of those trying to help my daughters achieve her full potential, an entirely different challenge. However, when I became comfortable with my feelings of despair,  I was able to let hopefulness eventually arrive.

Gaining hope’s trust

At first, hope would just visit every so often, like a an estranged friend, with the exception that you don’t really pick up where you left off because it’s a new relationship and there are trust issues with all of your feelings and expectations. I learned that I could trust my feelings of hope as long as I remained levelheaded about them.

That helped me feel joy when our children reached even the tiniest of milestones and goals. At the same time, I was not overly devastated about many of their shortcomings because I never let hope shade their quality of life - or mine, yet I always kept it within reach so it would be there when I really needed it.

As I my relationship with hope grew, I started having clarity about all of the hopeless moments, which in essence allowed me to be a parent and person, undefined by my medically fragile children. It is a process that I’m still working on, but I wouldn’t be this far if I wouldn’t have accepted those earlier dates with despair.

Tim Gort is a professional writer who writes about his personal challenges and triumphs of being a special needs father at the family’s bog: http://thegortfamily.blogspot.com


  1. Beautifully said. I think that's a much more realistic look at the wide gamut of emotions we experience and the fact that we can't shove some emotions down in favour of others. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the post....it is so true, our emotional understanding takes a little time to catch up with our rational thinking (I tend to camp out in the rational stuff until the emotional stuff creeps up and slaps me in the face!) It is so important to have others along the way going through similar experiences to help us realize that we're not crazy, and that we need to be good to ourselves (which means allowing ourselves to feel even the difficult things and be okay with them!).

  3. Hope for me, she's a tricky one, because I think for me hope and faith are a bit intertwined. I think for me trying to remain somewhere in the middle of highs and lows (hope and despair) is the best place for me.

  4. While I do understand that it's no good to stick your head in the sand and ignore your circumstances, I do not agree that it's ok to embrace despair.
    To embrace is to to take or receive gladly or eagerly (by definition)
    Despair by definition is to lose, give up, or be without hope. It suggests total loss of hope, which may be passive or may drive one to furious efforts, even if at random.
    I don't know about anyone else but that is NOT something I want to gladly receive. It's not healthy for me or for my child. Yes, there will be hard times. Yes, there will be times when you want to tear your hair out or scream or cry. But Embracing....despair? Not an option. Not for me. My little one is counting on me and yours is too.
    I don't mean to sound cold because I do understand what you are going through. Cerebral palsy is very trying on the parent and the child. I just think we need to be more clear with the words we use when expressing our feelings. I sometimes think that as caregivers, we use certain words interchangeably when they could be further from what we want to display.
    Apologies if I offended anyone. I'm just very passionate about this subject of having hope and in my opinion, you either choose one or the other (hope or despair).

  5. Mom who has been to the edge and looked over itOctober 27, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    I think just as raising different special needs children, is, well different, we still manage to find common ground. While some of us need to embrace despair to find hope, others can't even begin to go to that end of the spectrum. For me, I have truly embraced despair and let myself go into those dark spaces, and let it almost consume me to a point. I have let go of all hope even if for a few seconds. And inevitably, I am always pulled back, usually by my children, or husband, or even a story a stranger shares with me. Being so close to hopelessness has made the journey toward hope that much more meaningful to me. I am still on that journey but I am closer to hope. I admire you, Tim, for being so honest.