When Rage Eclipses Hope
As a suicide attempt survivor working in suicidology and crisis support, I frequently find myself in positions where I am “supposed” to talk about hope. Good suicide attempt survivors are hopeful; hope is what saves us. When I reflect on my experience, hope isn’t really part of the equation. Hopefulness is a façade that helps non-suicidal people feel better about their suicidal loved ones. It removes all the cultural nuances that define a world that drives people to suicide. It eliminates the dialectics of justice and gives us something that feels more innocuous to pursue. No one mentions the fact that hope is much more possible for white, straight, cis, middle-aged, sane, non-suicidal man.
I have been pushed and pulled to mold my story into a tale of “hope and recovery” with no regard for what I feel my story is about. SAMHSA has a handbook leading us to “health and hope after a suicide attempt.” I heard the message loud and clear, I knew what to do. I kept shoving my story into a narrative of hopefulness, and being stuck holding leftover pieces in my hands, feeling like there was so much more to tell. Hope and recovery began to take on this twisted undercurrent of shame. I was drowning in it, sucked into the undertow of shame while I smiled about my journey into wellness. What no one mentions as they tie your life up into a moment of darkness followed by a series of hopeful anecdotes and plop a bow on it, is that this narrative is only hopeful or helpful if it is real. And the reality for so many of us is that we have been churned through an ineffectual mental health system and come out the other side wanting more. But in the process we have learned how to behave and happily talk about recovery.
Telling people who have been marginalized that they have to be hopeful is a tool of oppression. It makes the people most harmed by the system complicit in affirming it. When an oppressive structure is operating at its peak, this is what happens. When we affirm the system that is harming us, our oppressors don’t even need to do the work anymore. When we get to the point that we will graciously accept treatment for disorders that have been created and codified by the people holding power over us, and then confirm that they worked because saying anything else would subject us to more mistreatment, we have been fully subjugated. This was the realization that brought me to rage.
Rage is something I can hold onto. It pushes back against the systems that have harmed me. It lets my voice loose to tell all of my story, not just the parts that preserve the status quo. Rage validates my experiences with oppression. It is easier to access and more readily available; I do not have to heal, or recover, or mold myself into anything else for rage to take up residence in my psyche. While hope keeps you stuck on a trajectory of submission, rage can take you anywhere. Hope is inspiration porn. It makes people feel sure that if they ever go mad they will not be stuck in that place. It reminds people that those people who haven’t “overcome” their circumstances just aren’t trying hard enough, aren’t committed enough to the gold star of recovery, and they would never be that person. If they can recover, it means they do not have to do anything different in their lives. Hope puts people on a pedestal without recognizing that the pedestal is in a hole.
My story is not a story about finding hope in darkness, but about fighting against the darkness of society. I do not want to leave the darkness behind me where my people may get lost and die. I want to drive the darkness out so we do not have to live in it anymore. In this fight, rage eclipses hope.