1) I'm a psychotherapist. This will help you make sense of the rant below.
2) Propers: I was reminded of this post by a post on a similar theme on Dave Moulton's blog.
With that, here is the piece:
People who come to therapy of their own will are remarkable for at least one thing: No matter how hard their lives have gotten, no matter what dark clouds or violent storms befuddling them in doggedly the midst of their daily lives, no matter how drained or clueless they feel... they have hope.
It might be the finest silken thread, only seen when the light hits it at a certain angle. It might seem far too slight to hang a promise on, much less the prospect of a better life. But it's what gets them out of bed on the most ominous mornings, days when the only credible option seems to be inching further under the covers and giving in to the siren call of sleep -- "Sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care." But that thread is enough to encourage them to force themselves out of bed two full hours before they have to leave the house for their appointment, so they have enough time to patch themselves together, to steel themselves for that first frightening step out the door, that step into vulnerability, the unknown, the facing of oneself and one's most debilitating weaknesses.
On the way into work this morning, I was listening to recording of Paul Auster reading Brooklyn Follies, a book recommended to me by a kind and smart friend. The first 15 minutes were an oppressive, relentless torrent of depressive thoughts thinly disguised as humor, so bleak, bitter and hopeless that I felt like throwing the CD out of the moving car. I don't know where this book goes from here, but it had better be generally upward.
I find 90% of novels depressing. I don't understand when or how complaining or painting gorgeously detailed pictures of the random cruelty of life became the object of art. I don't need to be reminded of the astonishing cruelties of life. I've seen my own share, and I sit all day, every day, with people who have seen theirs. At least once a week, they manage to slough that mountain of crap off their heads, get their sorry, bruised souls out of bed, and make it all the way in to town to talk to me about what they can do to improve their experience of their own lives, no matter how overwhelming their circumstances. Many of them don't have the resources (or the right) to own a car. Some of them get on a borrowed bicycle and hump an hour and a half over serious hills just to get here, arriving red-faced and out of breath. Some of them walk six miles on the back roads and highways from their backwater town.
I'm not going to blame anyone who feels that there's no hope in their lives; I've been there. But I won't listen to it. It's pernicious, addictive -- moaning, praised as art or insight. It's not insight; it's a choice.
Narrative therapy holds that how I tell the story of my life changes my experience of it. This is nothing new; when I was in high school, my class read Hamlet, and I fell in love with the line, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." If I knew enough about the ancients, I'm sure I could quote some of them on the same idea.
How could an idea solid enough to have survived thousands of years still be so unpopular? How could people still be walking around thinking that their life is happening to them, that they have no say in the matter? Force of habit, I guess. Humans are the first species capable of reflecting on their own experience, and what a load of crap we have made out of it. How we have wasted that gorgeous gift.
I'm vividly aware of what it's like to try surveying the panorama of one's life, only to find three feet of visibility in an airless, murky morass. I also know that people who seem to have the fewest resources -- mental, material, or otherwise -- and the worst possible luck sometimes grab hold of that bare thread, only to find out that it has the tensile strength of steel, that it can hold the weight of their life and their dreams combined. With a little help (truthfully, very little), they pull themselves, hand over laborious hand, out of the murk and manage to build something real, something bright. They turn outward, to help someone, to fight back, to see the good in people -- to believe in life.
It's the single most daring act in a world chock-full with daring acts, and we make the choice every hour of every day.
Don't let a highly-praised book or movie drag your vision downward. Make your own choice.