Monday, September 03, 2012

The Insanity of Hope

I'm afraid this is one of those entries where I'm going to blather on and on, waxing philosophical. Sorry, but it's the part of my brain that still works.


I know the title of this post isn't going to earn me an invitation to the White House, but it's based less on a definition of "hope" as Einstein's definition of "insanity" – doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. In my work, that tactic at times pays off, as I can push through a computer bug or slightly change environmental variables without even realizing it.

In my personal life, however, that is just out-and-out out of touch with reality. Examples: asking the kids to keep stray toys off the floor, hoping that I will wake up miraculously whole.


I suppose hoping for the best is merely optimistic, although I've been struggling with that as well. As much as I do hope for the best, I certainly don't consider myself an optimist, as that term -- for me -- carries the stigma of unreasonably expecting the best possible outcome. I think I've made my views on expectations, assumptions, entitlements, and deservedness clear. I've been trying not to latch on to pessimism either, though I did wear that label with pride in my youth. It think I've landed on cynicism, which I've personally defined as hoping for the best but not being surprised when reality doesn't quite match those wishes. As much as I prepared for the worst prior to my brain surgery (drafting my will and Do Not Resuscitate order), I never truly believed I would need them. Perhaps that belief was enough to stave off the worst. I'm not willing to give up the ghost on that, but I've also become pretty disillusioned by the power of positive thinking and prayer (which I package together). I know of and I'm thankful for all the goodwill projected my way over the past two years. At the same time, it's hard not to wonder why it somewhat missed its mark and what the larger meaning and/or purpose is. Jamie asked the kids the other day how they would spend their perfect day. They (Wyatt, Gus, and Sam – my starter child-- who I've know and babysat  pretty much since he was born ten years ago) all said they would learn Spinjitzu and discover their true potential (thank you, marketing geniuses at Lego). I'm not so much looking toward Spinjitzuing anytime soon, but the latter sounds pretty good. I was considered a precocious child and struggled for a long time with the realization it would be very hard to live up to that potential, plus that I couldn't be precocious forever – much as having a stroke at 40 could be considered ahead of my time.


I don't know that there's an official ranking, but I would guess that the top two philosophical questions are:

  1. what's the meaning of life?
  2. Why do bad things happen to good people? Then again, why do good things happen to bad people?

I've always thought of myself as a relatively good person and not in particular need of being taught a lesson, but I've been dished out a doozy. Certainly makes one wonder what I may have done in a past life or whether I'm now free to plunder like a pirate.


One of the common themes of my psychotherapy has been that of "betrayal" (and not necessarily because I brought it up). I think many people who have struggled through health challenges like mine have felt betrayed by their bodies, as well as  by promises of the American dream and the belief that goodness renders reward. Although "promise" is another one of those words I find too extreme to accept blindly. Basically, nothing is a sure thing. My therapists and doctors have often seemed burdened by the fact that my sort of rehabilitation is not an exact science – there is no proven formula to success, only a formula for improvement, and even that improvement is graded on a curve of degrees and time. Sometimes that has been reassuring in and of itself – that as much as I want to work hard at recovery, it may be an effort of diminishing returns. Many people – friends and loved ones – have offered suggestions on what I "should" or "need" to do. I often rebuff that advice in exchange for what I can or want to do. I am fortunate enough to have what I truly need – food, clothing, shelter, and affection – I'd rather not dwell on some false idol of attainability.

I remember during the 1992 presidential campaign how Ross Perot lamented the fact that my generation would be the first to do worse financially than their parents (those themes are being repeated currently). Back then, while Readying for my college graduation and with the GenX, slacker, wind of Age 22 at my back, I found a level of solace in the fact that I could place some  blame for my own failure to find gainful employment in the man-made, cyclical, natural force that is our economy. Nevermind that a model which aspires to create an economic strata of the working class, the middle class, the upper-class, the Super-upper-class, and the Uber-upper class is unsustainable and clings far too desperately to an American Dream which never existed and which cannot exist for everyone. Unless Horatio Alger Inc. starts churning out 4G-capable titanium bootstraps(TM).


So it's not that I believe I should be able to hobble around the same track over and over again and see remarkable returns on that limited effort. But I also really would rather not have to work so hard that I'm miserable or that I kill myself trying to heal myself. I am willing to try new things. For instance, I've started seeing a new physical therapist who specializes in a technique called Feldenkrais. I also put some of my new strength into swimming this weekend and hauling myself (with assistance) on to a floating lake dock. I am also planning to start back on my morning, simple yoga routine, because my only real exercise right now is walking around the office hallways, and I find the simple fact and challenge of getting down on the floor and moving my body in less-familiar ways a good method of  re-training my brain and muscles. I'm still trying to work out other breaks in my routine which could lead to further independence and autonomy.


  1. I hate that you have to go through this. I hate that this happened. I hate having to watch you struggle to do things. But I love every inch of you. Jamie

  2. As hard as this was to read, it's only a fraction of how hard it must be to live all that you've written about. I'm glad you're finding ways to continue to retrain your brain--I think that continuing search makes you at least partially an optimist and I'm glad! It was great to have you up on the raft.
    love, Amy