Try as I might to live optimistically, to shit glitter and bask below rainbows, I have recently come to accept that it is pessimism that runs through my (probably crumbling) veins.
Pessimism that wins out during the imaginary scenarios that play at a million miles an hour in my mind. Pessimism and it’s sweet, consistent, morbid safety that I turn to when times are hard.
It is the comforting reliability that pessimism provides that catches me when I get carried away with thoughts and expectations that take me far above the grounds of reason. It is pessimism that cushions the blow when I come crashing back down to reality.
I am a pessimist.
A very happy pessimist.
Which is about as counterintuitive a sentence as I could have constructed, but here we are.
The Eeyor of most friendship groups, the pessimist exists seemingly just to poke holes in exciting, farfetched and whimsical plans, pointing out boring and mundane realities that her friends could really do without as their imaginations runs away with them.
She defends herself when pushed on it; I’m sorry! I’m just a realist. I know how these things work; I know that this mole will turn out to be cancer, your plane will crash and sulphuric acid will fall from the sky in the year 2026. I wish it weren’t the case either but it is and the sooner we come to accept that the happier we will all be.
She’s aware of the dreams folding and collapsing around her, and conscience too that often after she leaves, the deflated hopes of her peers rise once more like a Mr Blowy Man, enthusiastically directing people very far away from her bad vibe and general negativity and instead in the direction of a brighter and more hope filled future.
And that’s frustrating, and a little bit sad, but she could have predicted it: shitty things happen all the time, remember? That’s what she’s been saying all along. That’s the point.
But since the internal voice warning of disaster up ahead is as integral to my existence as my kneecaps, or my love of mango, it is something that I am trying to learn to love about myself.
Because for the most part, I am an overwhelmingly, intrinsically positive and happy person.
I am a walking, talking contradiction.
I am not, as is detailed by the pessimism definition on the internet, a very negative person. I do not think that evil will triumph and I don’t like to live my entire life looking for the bad in everything.
Rather, I do what I can to be as happy as I can, whilst simultaneously preparing for every single worst case scenario.
I am an example, I suppose, of what happens when anxiety crashes into the life of a person for whom it is fundamentally ~off brand~.
Because I do not have, or want to have, at any rate, a particularly anxious temperament and the symptoms experienced by those with anxiety are not traits fundamental to my character. In lots of ways anxiety is the antithesis of all that I am most days: a quite relaxed, what’ll be will be, usually running a few minutes late, having not given a huge amount of thought about what’s coming next type of person.
And yet it simultaneously envelops all of me, forming such an integral part I often struggle to distinguish between what is me and what is anxious-anne taking up residency in my brain. Such an integral part that actually one cannot exist without the other.
I am an over-thinking, over-sensitive, over-analysing person who is normally within arms reach of something worth worrying about.
For a long time I worried a lot about being negative. About choosing the wrong path and not making the most out of my life. I didn’t want to assume the worst. I wanted to be bright and breezy. More of a Hufflepuff than a Slytherin. I wanted the pink shit and the incessant joy. I wanted people to just love being around me because I was so relentlessly positive and I desperately needed for my eulogy to say something to the effect of: never seen without a smile, Emily never said a bad word about anyone. She was a joy to be around, she saw the best in every situation. She’d even forgive the axe wielding lunatic responsible for cutting her life so short. She was just so lovely.
I wanted to be a very bloody obvious optimist and I wanted to be celebrated for it.
Now, knowing very little about anxiety from any point of view other than my own, I’m not sure if I’m scientifically correct when I say this, but I do not believe that optimism and anxiety simply can coexist. Not in my life at any rate. I tried it. I failed at it.
It’s too annoying. And too tiring. And too relentlessly unrealistic.
Anxiety and my subsequent anxieties became a whole lot easier to manage when I was able to accept that pessimism was the one for me.
When I was able to stop trying to juggle two mindsets; the doe eyed, hopeful creature that thought a positive mental attitude would actually have some sort of baring on an outcome, and the overwhelmed, tightly strung worrier who could not conceive of the notion that the house hadn’t burned down and everything might just be alright.
Convincing yourself that there is nothing to worry about whilst simultaneously being unable to stop yourself from worrying about everything is exhausting.
Pessimism enabled me the chance to relax into my feelings, to trust my gut, let go of the guilt and feelings of failure and to live my life on a level that didn’t leave me feeling sea sick by the end of the day.
My pessimism, I think, was born out of a necessity.
And I’ve realised that actually, just because pessimism entertains bad thoughts doesn’t make it a BAD thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not the most desirable character trait, and I know that to admit to such an ugly characteristic is not probably advisable for a person who publicly lives her life trying to be as positive as possible.
Nor is it much fun for a person who spends an inordinate amount of time worried that she’s not very likeable. People don’t like pessimists. And of course I worry that as a result they won’t like me. An unthinkable notion for one so desperately in need of validation and approval.
But here we are, I’m a positive pessimist.
Optimism is the promise that everything is going to be okay.
And for the same reason that I was never convinced by tales a big bloke in the sky spending a productive week creating the universe with an abundance of power and kindness but for some reason very little regard for the deplorable levels of human suffering all over the world, I have been unable to just lean in to believing that the best will happen.
Because the best doesn’t always happen. I’ve lost all four grandparents, both of my glorious godmothers, watched my sister have a horrid accident, sat with my brother in hospital after he had one too, my parents split up and my childhood guiana pig did not in fact run away to a special guiana pig farm but was, in reality, rather messily mauled to death by foxes.
Shit does happen.
I spend more time than I probably should pondering what I want my future to look like: do I want to be burned to ashes or put into a body-sized box and left to spend an eternity six feet under the ground? Because I am hyper aware that those two TERRIBLE eventualities will, one day, become a reality. There is NO escaping it. That is the ultimate shit. And it will happen.
(Burn me, by the way, my crippling claustrophobia and disgust at the thought of worms actually makes the idea of being buried makes me want to die and never die simultaneously. Also, donate all of my organs – donate yours too, sign up here if you haven’t already. lol. cheery).
Optimism tired me.
I tried it, I really did, And it just didn’t work.
I could not continue to pick myself up after the bad things happened. I could not face the crushing heartbreak that would come when they happened again. I couldn’t allow myself to be let down by the universe because I did not know how capable I was going to be at putting myself back together again every time.
I love the idea of a positive mental attitude, but i found that all I was really doing by forcing that to be my default was asking the universe to do me a favour in return for a toothy grin. And I was acutely aware of the fact that too many times I was left smiling like a twat whilst the universe let me down on it’s side of the bargain.
This got a LOT heavier than I wanted it to. I did not realise how massively depressing life actually was. But I’ve started so I’ll attempt to claw my way back out of this miserable hole I have dragged us both into.
By so readily accepting pessimism, I am perhaps stopping my life from being as pink and glittery and perfect as it could be. In the place of the enormous and very instagrammable lollipop favoured by the optimists, I have a piece of string in my hand, attached to a cloud that I drag behind me wherever I go.
And I can understand that that doesn’t sound nice, or cheery, or like a very good way to spend your life.
But that cloud, really, makes me pretty happy.
Optimism and the positive mental attitude it required forced me to live in a climate that I wasn’t suited to, one that was blisteringly hot and beautiful, in which a thunderous storm could arrive any minute, without a moment’s notice. I never had an umbrella or any shelter and I’d spend the aftermath picking up all my shit that had been blown around and broken by the weather and rebuilding the house and smiling a lot, believing that it wouldn’t happen again. And then watching all my reorganised and rebuilt shit hit the metaphorical when it did.
It was too tumultuous. I quite simply could not hack it.
Pessimism for me means that I always have an umbrella in my bag, and a bit of charge in my phone, and a tiny sense of impending doom in my stomach.
Pessimism for me has allowed me to be happy.
To live my life with the: well I might bloody well be hit by a bus tomorrow so I better make the best out of today attitude that I always dreamed of having.
To spend more time pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed. Since I was unable to will things into existence, I decided instead to spend my time expecting the worse. Every day now is filled with lovely little moments of joy as I DO get the job I didn’t think I was good enough for, when I DON’T have to identify the bodies of all my nearest and dearest, as I find out that Waitrose haven’t stopped stocking my favourite granola after-all.
It sounds as if I live a gloomy life, lacking in ambition or joy. This is not true. I am very happy. Happier than I ever thought I could be. I am strategically optimistic, incredibly realistic and rarely without a backup plan.
I work hard to ensure that this divisive character trait does not become my identity; a reason that friends don’t invite me to stuff or ask me for advice, rather, I use it as a means of managing my own emotions.
It’s not my defining feature, but it has become an integral part of who I am: a fun and positive person who loves hard, loves life, trusts and adores, laughs and worries, dreams and hopes and is almost always capable of pulling herself through whatever comes next.
Pessimism made me stronger than I ever thought I could be.
And most importantly, pessimism taught me that shit happens, but to have fun anyway.