Clara Barnhurst

Hope bleeds the heart. It's what can keep us going but it's also an exhausting state to maintain. We can only hope so long before the hurt of the wish remaining ungranted forces us to let the wish go. Pragmatism wins over, and we survive by giving into despair. It’s an irony that in our attempt to escape the pain of keeping hope alive, we destroy ourselves another way.

Pragmatism is so useful. It lets us solve the problems of the now by essentially saying, “This is what I have to work with.” We discard what should be in favour of what is. We give up hope.

Some of this is sensible. We have to let go. When I was a teenager, I gave up the hope that my body would stop betraying me. I stopped trying to shave off the hair, I stopped trying to sing the things my voice wouldn't allow. I had to. I hated myself for it. I hated that I had to let my body win. I hated accepting that I was always going to be an outsider to the people I related to best. But my body wasn't going to stop and people weren't going to see me differently. I gave into despair. There was no alternative.

I worked with what I had. I killed a part of myself because I didn't have what I needed to be me. I gave into despair.

I met a girl through a friend. We hit it off and it cost me that friend, but we kept each other busy for five years. She dealt with my insecurity, I dealt with hers. We fought a lot. It kept me occupied. I cut my hair off for her. The hormone damage was clear so I never tried to grow it out again. I worked with what I had.

I fell out of her arms into the arms of another, with some intervening events. It was a quick changeover. On the rebound, my mum pointed out to the two of us: this girl was ending a relationship as well.

I always wanted someone to take care of me. I wanted the security, the safety, of someone looking out for me. I killed the part of myself that allowed me to look after myself. I wasn't good enough for me - there was no way I could be good enough for anyone else. I had no hope, but I saw an opportunity in love to maybe find contentment. I gave into despair and worked with what I thought I had.


This is the problem with pragmatism: you stop looking for more. You give up on what might be. Looking back, I understand that I had options but I didn't look for them. My mum told me that if she understood my situation, she would have helped me see those options. But she didn't, and I didn't believe I had a choice.

It's amazing what we put up with when we see no alternative. Even if it's slow death. The girl I married took care of me, in a sense, but she took control of my life. In a few short years, I was isolated from most of the world. I was allowed to be part of the world outside her house only as far as it helped her stay in her anxiety bubble. I got what I wanted, but it was costing me my life. I was alive. Functioning, but unable to leave the cage she created. Not really allowed to live.

I didn't notice. I was shutting myself down anyway; I didn't understand how tightly I was controlled until long after I left. It was other people who let that penny drop. I would share stories that I thought were a bit frustrating, a moan about an ex, and the reaction would be horror. It was what I had to work with.

By then, I finally saw an option for myself and allowed myself to have a rekindled hope. I let the part of me I shut away out and found that I am not so much an outsider as I thought. That I could stop this ongoing bodily betrayal and people would see me differently. I started taking care of myself: I was all of me.

Of course, the damage was done. The trauma of my confinement is not going to go away. My self repression hurt me in ways I still don't understand, but I saw no alternative. Hoping for the impossible nearly killed me, but so did giving up that hope. I did what I had to, but I shouldn't have stopped looking.

Resurrecting the part of me that let me value me for me keeps me from the abyss. I am capable of looking after myself now, but I have to learn how. I never learned.


I met a girl through a meet up. We didn't talk for months, but when we did I fell in love. We would see each other and wave, and now she takes care of me. She can do that because I’m learning to take care of myself. The people before didn't really have a chance; I wasn't able to take their help. I wasn't helping myself enough to accept what they offered. I wasn't able to defend myself when one of them reduced me to a commodity. Now that I am the whole me, I can have what I always wanted.

I have a lot to learn before I can claim what I want. My growth was stunted. I have no experience being a whole person. I don't know how to be an independently functional human. I’ll figure it out.

Sometimes we need to set hope aside and work with what we have. Hoping against hope is dangerous, but so is accepting despair. When we let hope go, we need to stop ourselves once in a while and ask if we have given up. Just as we set hope aside to stay alive, we must learn to set pragmatism aside to live life. Pragmatism lets us survive. Hope lets us thrive.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

I read this article with only mild interest. What I did not expect was how much it would resonate with me, personally. In January 2017, shortly after my 67th birthday, I experience a "tipping point". Like Clara, I had given up on hope and given in to pragmatism, back in the mid-1980's. I had married a second time in the early 1980's.. I had three children for whom I was responsible. I resigned myself to fulfilling the obligations I had created. So I attempted to save my marriage and I devoted myself to seeing my children to adulthood. The marriage failed. The last child left the home in 2006, just prior to my parents needing someone to be their caregiver, due to serious health issues. As their eldest child, I took on that responsibility. They died in 2008 and 2009. Then, I lived alone, working and living a life without hope. I only looked forward to the day on which I would go to sleep and not awaken. As Clara said so well, I had stopped looking for more. I had given up on what might be. I had accepted despair. It took me many months to understand what happened at that "tipping point", that point when I sought out a therapist who had the experience to help me transition to a new life. It's been 16 months. Life is new in many ways. I'm no longer perceived as the person I previously was. I'm accepted as a woman. I have a sense of peace and contentment I've never known before. Life is far from perfect. There has been pain and deep heartache. I yearn to be loved and be needed, yet I understand that may never come to be. "I'm so tired of being lonely ... I still have some love to give." I too have a lot to learn. I'm only now learning how to be a whole person. Now, Hope abounds.


I would love to hear more of your story, I feel like this and it does kill slowly.

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