I attended a presentation at the 39th Annual Brain Injury Rehabilitation Conference in Williamsburg where Rick Parente, co-author of Retraining Cognition: Techniques and Applications with Douglas Herrmann, discussed his research and findings on cognitive rehabilitation methods that worked. At the end of his program, he talked about a new interest of his: training hope. Higher levels of hope, he said, related to the best health outcomes.
Hope is a word that is bantered about often in the world of brain injury. You have to have hope. You can’t give up hope. I’ve always thought that wishing and hoping is fun, but not all that realistic. It is what it is. You don’t have to mope about having a brain injury, in my opinion, but putting up a hopeful front always struck me as disingenuous. So I looked up Parente’s source (Snyder 1994, Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There) to figure out his research definition for hope. My rough translation: hope is a combination of 1) the ability to think about and plan hopeful solutions and 2) the ability to choose and act on a solution in order to reach a hoped for state.
I was thinking about hope as I planned an ice breaker for my brain injury survivors support group meeting today. I wanted to see how our members defined hope and find out if they considered themselves to be hopeful people. At the meeting I told them that I had trouble being hopeful sometimes. Perhaps it had to do with my perception of the word hope as too squishy and touchy-feely. So I asked one of them to start first. Answer this question: What gives you hope?
A hand shot up from one of our most optimistic members. He said that he had always liked to help others and worked as a tutor and in other helpful capacities before his injury. After his injury he realized that helping others improve gave him hope, and so he continues to help others in very different, but nonetheless helpful volunteer capacities today. It gives him hope to help others and to see that he can still be helpful. It gives him hope when others succeed because he helped them. I was blown away. This member had thought about a hopeful path and followed it, just as the researchers would have hoped!
Another member said that our support group gave her hope. For many years after her injury, she had been mad at the world and depressed. But when she found our group, she found people who were like her and who were making the best of it. Seeing that other people with brain injury lived hopefully changed her outlook on life. She is happier and more hopeful about the future now than she has been since the accident. She is moving on with her life and becoming more involved again. She looks toward the future with hope for finding a way to live with greater purpose.
One of our members is going on a bike ride across the United States to act out on his message of hope. He knows that he was diminished in one way, but not in all ways. He is moving forward with his ride to draw more attention to issues surrounding stroke and brain injury. Wow. Now that’s definitely planning and acting hopefully.
A caregiver of a group member told us that technology gives her hope. She is seeing things develop quickly in the brain injury field and she is hopefully that we will be recipients of help from new advances in medicine and therapies.
The woman sitting next to me said that watching her grandchildren gave her hope. They look forward to tomorrow and move on with more and better resources to help them reach their goals.
And now it was my turn and I had had time to take a deep breath. Over the last year, while writing my brain injury story, I had found hope, although I hadn’t necessarily thought of it that way. I said that the unconditional love I received from others gave me hope. In realizing love from my family and, of course, from my sweet dog, I have turned from a pessimistic and depressed person to one who is taking action to give back that love. I facilitate two support groups because I give and I feel the love. The presence of love makes me happy and hopeful. I see that love is a choice, and I choose to love.
The next member in our circle said that seeing other people in his brain injury clubhouse group succeed gives him hope. That success at seeing others overcome the odds is contagious too. When one person succeeds, so does another and another. He remembered how he was in the past and seeing how much better he is today gives him more hope. When a family member or friend tells him they see improvement, that gives him hope. Such comments spur him on to keep being hopeful and to keep working hard for more improvement.
A few more comments about hope closed out the round. Our speaker said that hearing our group talk about hope gave her hope. I agreed.
The comments gave me hope with a new definition too. Hope is no longer that squishy thing. When I hear the word hope from now on I will remember that hope is something solid. It isn’t merely wishful thinking. It is also the ability to take action to make wished for things happen. Hope without action has no meaning. Hope puts down roots when we make hope happen. Hope takes its meaning from meaningfully living.