I’ve been recovering from ailments both mental (OCD) and physical (knee) for most of the past two years. During that time, as first my mind and then my body have been slowly nursed back to health, I’ve become increasingly convinced that a successful recovery lies at least partly in one’s ability to maintain an optimistic demeanor. I know that’s not always possible–believe me, I do. But you gotta try. You gotta try as though your life depends on it.
Because in a way, it does.
May 2012 was one of the lowest points of my life on this earth. OCD had attacked me completely unexpectedly and turned my entire existence upside down. In the midst of all this I was evicted–nothing scandalous: our house was sold, and we had to move–while a relationship I thought would be long-lasting was abruptly ending. One day, as I was driving to the storage unit where most of my worldly things were being kept, a song came on the radio. It was by Pearl Jam, and it was called “Hold On.”
I’m one of “those” Pearl Jam fans, the kind who follow the band on tour (thirty-eight shows and counting!) and name their dogs Eddie (I have a dog named Eddie). Yet while I’d heard “Hold On” before, I’d never really listened to it till that day in May. It was immediately followed by “Rearviewmirror,” which I’ve heard at exactly half the Pearl Jam shows I’ve seen. Together, the two songs made me feel hope, hope so real it was as though I could reach out and grab it, for the first time in what felt like forever. Later that year “Rocky Ground” by Bruce Springsteen had a similar, galvanizing effect.
Things actually got worse for me in 2012 before they got better, and in August I flew home to Toronto for what wound up being a two-month stay. There, as I waded into the cognitive behaviour therapy that would eventually turn my life around, I made the conscious decision to stay positive at all times, even when it was the last thing on earth I wanted to be. Some days I wanted to wallow in my illness; some days it felt like getting out of bed was a major victory, and it probably was. But on the better days I looked for hope everywhere, and eventually started finding it in music, morning cups of tea (I stopped drinking coffee during my recovery, which was almost as hard as the recovery itself: I love coffee), sunshine, walking Eddie, baseball games, reading, and friends. Whenever I’d find something that’d get my mind off the numbing routine of recovery and onto something else, something that pointed towards the existence of a better future, I’d cling to it like a drowning man to a life raft. Optimism isn’t necessarily engendered in all of us: it’s something that needs to be cultivated. But in the immortal words of Bruce Cockburn, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” Making the conscious decision to be positive during my journey through Hell is one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. The process itself wasn’t easy. But it was worth the fight.
You can’t wait for hope to find you: it’s something you’ve got to find for yourself, then work to cultivate. If you look hard enough you might start finding it in places you never even realized it could exist. Find it, then hold on. Because hope can literally make all the difference in the world.