The Necessary Precariousness of Hope

The Necessary Precariousness of Hope

It’s hard not to listen when the universe sends us its messages. When I hear on several occasions, “Where’s the hope in what you are saying?”, I can’t help but pay attention.

Here are a few recent examples: Last week on social media, several friends and I were exploring the intertwined history of constitutional rights and racism, when one person said, “I agree with what you are saying, but where is the hope?” The other day, a case conference facilitator suggested the same thing as my group gathered to hear notes from my colleague’s work: “Listen for the hope in this session.” And last week a patient said to me, “Your plants look so healthy; I kill all of mine.” When I responded to him about the way life and death seem so close together, something inside me felt like I missed something important. Later, I realized that I missed a chance to name his hope that I could help him become healthy, just like my plants. So, I am asking myself, where is the hope in my words, work, and actions; and what is hope, really?

In my work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist helping to unpack the deeper issues beyond behavior change, and as a person in society working toward uprooting and exposing white supremacy, I get down in the dirt quite often. To me, coming face to face with truths is a liberating and hopeful practice, even though this practice often feels painful and disorienting. Exposing something we wish to hide from ourselves that perpetuates destructive (and deadly) patterns is a powerful endeavor, which often feels terrible. After all, there are often several reasons we keep these truths inaccessible, including that we may discover we’re implicated in our own trauma and painful experiences, as well as the trauma and pain of others. Most of us are hardly ever sure we can bear knowing this kind of truth.

Even when we come into direct contact with the pain of being human, there is still room for hope. But it feels important to me to distinguish hope from something more like an idealistic optimism. Author Rebecca Solnit describes this well: She says that optimism and despair are two sides of the same, predictive coin. They both imply an expectation that we know how things will turn out: They will either be all good or all bad, without any room for uncertainty.

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The problems of suicide, and how Freud helps us think about depression.

The problems of suicide, and how Freud helps us think about depression.

I was featured today on a podcast with my colleague Rebecca Wong, where we journeyed together through a beautiful and winding conversation about politics, good-enough parents, historical and cultural trauma, loss, and the infancy of the internet. It was one of those conversations that felt like sitting in a cozy chair chatting with an old friend over a glass of strong whiskey in front of a crackling, warm fire. (If you’d like to listen, here is the link: https://www.practiceofbeingseen.com/episode/50)

As is often the case when listening back on a conversation that’s been recorded, when the episode aired today I had a chance to hear the person I was a month ago: what was on my mind, where both our minds took us, what was happening in the cultural milieu, and the ideas we were shaping together in that organic space and time. But today, I am a different person, of course; I have had new experiences, thought new thoughts, made new links, and have had time to let our conversation percolate. At the time, and today, our conversation about suicide left me with a strange feeling. I will try to articulate that feeling well enough here today.

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"Sunday Neurosis," or, What happens to us during the holidays?

"Sunday Neurosis," or, What happens to us during the holidays?

"Sunday neurosis" was a term coined by psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi to describe the anxiety and stress we feel on Sundays right before we have to go back to work on Monday. I hear a lot of people in my practice talk about this, and I'm not immune to it either – that feeling on Sunday nights of all the anticipated problems in the week ahead seeming to spiral towards you, as though Sisyphus has let go of that damn boulder once and for all and, whoops, looks like you're going to be the one carrying it now if it doesn't smash you first!

This feeling of anxiety and stress is true for so many of us who work the traditional Monday through Friday schedule. This is also something that happens to many of us during the holidays. Some people experience a "vacation brain" that can be blissful while it's happening, but excruciating to come back from. While Ferenczi didn't acknowledge that this same type of anxiety can happen the day before you start your working life after a long holiday, it is incredibly common.

So what can you do about it? 

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On Mass Shootings, Projection, and Owning Your Shit

On Mass Shootings, Projection, and Owning Your Shit

Another day in America. Another massacre. 27 worshippers at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas were gunned down by a white man during Sunday service. This on the heels of so many mass shootings in our country, and so very little actionable response on the part of our policy leaders and governance. It is frustrating, heartbreaking, and if you’re feeling helpless and despairing right now, you wouldn’t be the only one. It feels like we are all being forced to reckon with this chaotic, terrible violence that is so difficult to understand.

My heart is with the people who have survived the shooting, and who knew and loved those affected. Since I have the luck to have not been directly affected, what I can offer is an opportunity to think about what is happening in our country when it comes to guns, mass shootings, violence, and white men.

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