HOPE: My New Favorite Four-Letter Word
Recently I was having a difficult day at work and my co-worker, who also happens to be one of my best friends, said to me, “There’s always hope.” I didn’t feel more hopeful after she said that, even though I think that is the intended purpose of that phrase. There’s always hope. I learned a lot about hope through the years; I’ve lost hope, questioned hope and have slowly come to the realization that despite my best efforts to not feel hope, it has been inside me all along.
Twenty-one years ago, I was a senior in high school and in hindsight, I suppose, a living model of what hope and promise looked like. Always a good student and someone who worked very hard, I had a bright future ahead of me. Then, one night, January 5th, 1998 to be exact, all that hope and promise was taken from me. I was sexually assaulted. I was 17. Hope was decimated that night, but it took awhile for the true devastation of the assault to seep in. I was in shock, my body and mind traumatized, and it was this combination that eventually gave way to depression. Now, if you have never experienced major clinical depression, let me tell you that it is something I would not wish on my worse enemy, or my attacker. Depression for me was like when you swim under water and you can see people above the surface and hear their muffled voices, but you’re under water, drowning really, so you can’t scream for help. Depression would trick my brain into believing that there was no hope and I would continue to suffer with bouts of clinical depression on and off through college, and then even into my thirties.
I’ve struggled with actively seeking out hope these last 21 years. Now that I am in a relatively stable and mentally healthy place, I can see that hope had not deserted me and that the truth of the matter is, I’ve consciously or subconsciously been searching for it all along. I have realized that hope is a tangible thing. Hope takes the form of a high school teacher who notices that you’re struggling and asks if you’re okay. And keeps asking until eventually you sit with him in silence and that’s enough because that’s all you can manage. Hope is continuing to reach out to that teacher because he has now become your big brother, mentor, and friend. Hope can be found in New York City in a room with 6 strangers who all share similar stories and struggles. Hope is found on road trips with the friend who has become more like a sister and who knows you better than you know yourself. Hope is there the moment it dawns on you that your boyfriend is touching your scars and when you freeze up, says, “It’s just skin.” Hope is there when you share your terrible, awful secrets to your best friends and you find out they still love you, not just the same, but maybe even a little more. Hope is there when it’s a dark day and you want to stay under your covers, but you get up and go to work because your students need you. Hope is there when you find a therapist you can trust and who not only supports you, but challenges you. Hope is your desire to run off with a purpose of seeing the world, instead of just trying to outrun yourself. Hope is continuing to reach out to people, sharing your story, and finding support and understanding you never once dreamed of finding. Hope is there when you’re still standing after 21 years. Hope has been there all along. Hope is my new favorite four-letter word.
— Diana, age 38