Confessions of a Pessimist

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I was born without two things: the ability to whistle and the hand-eye coordination required for playing any sport. I’m not sure which parent to blame for these genetic deficiencies, so I just rotate. I think the fact that my body rejects the idea of whistling is directly correlated to the fact that I’m not a sunshiny person. Sunshiny people, by definition, have to be able to whistle. They must also love mornings, birthdays and drinking half-full cups of coffee – all things that don’t agree with me. Along with the usual side effects of being a non-sunshiny person, I am what most would classify as a pessimist. But, can you humor me and use the term realist even though we both know it’s just a cop out? And speaking of what’s real, this is your six month reminder that Christmas shopping is right around the corner. You’re welcome.

Every year, right around November, I say something to the effect of: I sure won’t be sad to see this year end. I know – horrible, right? But I bet if I took a show of hands, I wouldn’t be the only who has ever said they are excited to see the year go bye-bye. This past spring, I started thinking about why we do this. After all, when a loved one is terminally ill, the one thing in the world we wish for is more time. I often hear empty nesters say how they wish they could go back to when their kids were little and freeze time. And the instant we discover our first gray hair, suddenly the days of an awkward, zit-faced teenager don’t look so bad. So why are we so excited to see each year come to an end?

Is it because long ago, someone, somewhere, brainwashed us to believe that we get a new start come January – when in reality, the only thing that gets a new start is the calendar? I hate to be the one to pop the sparkly balloon here, but your problems are still right there waiting for you when you wake up on January 1st. It’s not going to be any easier to put down the Oreos just because it’s a new year. The bill collectors aren’t going to lose your number in a freak accident. Your dog’s bladder won’t magically grow three sizes so that you won’t have to let him out at 5 a.m. anymore. If we all know these things are true, then why are we still so happy at the thought of a New Year?

As someone who has been living in constant anticipation of the New Year for about a decade, I can tell you it is because I have always felt stuck. Stuck in a cycle, living a depressed and pessimistic life, where I never thought any of it was going to change. That’s the real reason why we long for a New Year – because we are just hoping that something, anything, might change. But rarely, does it. Year after year, I would get so frustrated. It seemed like I couldn’t catch a break: layoffs, family problems, relationship drama, health scares and financial issues. You name it.

But this year, something did change. Finally.

Does that mean everything started going smoothly? If by smooth you mean awful, then yes. This year has been one of the hardest yet. It began with me in a nearly clinical level depression – the result of a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances; and culminated with me sitting in a room waiting to get a breast biopsy, which I couldn’t pay for, while contemplating all of my regrets and the mess that had become my personal life.

I realize this is the part where I’m supposed to say that being faced with the possibility of having cancer caused me to change my life, but it wasn’t. It was the fact that I was so sick of my life the way it was that death didn’t even scare me. It was the fact that all I could think about as I sat in that room was all of the time I’d wasted on sadness – something that most of us don’t contemplate until we discover that we might not have as much time as we had planned on. I thought about all of the years I had wished away because I was fed up with my life.

It never mattered how many times people told me to let go of the past since I couldn’t change it – I didn’t believe it. I knew they were right, and I would nod my head – but inside, I was full of doubt. Again, I blame this on my inability to whistle. There’s an old saying: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” I’ve never met a quote that held more truth.

I took some time to logically analyze my life. As it turns out, I was full of questions for myself. Am I happy the way I’m living? If I’m not happy, do I want to be? If so, then what needs to change? Am I choosing to stay in this cycle of depression because I feel it is a way of punishing myself for my wrong choices? If I find out I’m dying in a month, will I feel satisfied with how I have lived?

I had to make a conscious decision in that moment to change my way of thinking and to begin again. And the most important thing I had to do in order for that to happen was to make peace with myself, my mistakes and with others. I had to change the way I viewed the past decade of my life and start looking at all it had taught me – not what I had done wrong.

So, what about you? Maybe you took a road that led you nowhere. It was a beautiful road, paved with pretty flowers and good intentions but turned out nothing like you had hoped. Perhaps you invested thirty years into your spouse and they left you for someone else. Or maybe you were laid off from what you thought was a lifelong career. Or perhaps you were the best parent you could be, but your child hasn’t spoken to you in years. Maybe you broke someone’s heart and you hate yourself for it.

Begin again.

Take all of the wisdom that you can from the situation, stop beating yourself up, and begin again. Your life won’t change until you do.

A New Year can start at any moment.

Photo by Helga Weber