11Mar

Diagramming Pessimism

The other day at breakfast, Dan said something characteristically Dan-y, like “What great weather!” and I said something characteristically me-y, like “There’s probably a tornado hiding behind that sunbeam,” and then we spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to the girls what optimists and pessimists are and why it’s good to have one of each as a parent. (He plans camping trips in Ireland, I remember to pack the umbrellas. We work.)

Truth be told though, it’s very, very hard for me to believe my cranky pessimist personality has anything positive good to offer the world. Even as I was extolling my natural gift for predicting worst case vacation scenarios and assuring my serious older daughter that neither personality is better or worse than the other, my mind was making a liar out of me, contradicting every upbeat word that left my mouth. It rattled me as it always does to catch myself teaching what I don’t believe.

My personality has much to do with why this little corner of the Internet has been so silent lately. I’ve been sunk under three particular adjectives that have weighed down my heart and my bones as effectively as cinder blocks:

Hopeless.

Powerless.

Guilty.

I’ve been looking at different facets of my life and seeing portraits of black holes in their place. When trying to troubleshoot, I’ve been met with the overwhelming sense that there is nothing to hope for or move toward, that there is nothing I can do to change this, and that I should be ashamed of myself for wanting more, that my deep debt to happiness must now be paid in drudgery. It’s crushed me into my pillows in the morning and pricked me into tossing wakefulness at night.

And it’s untrue. I know that, even as I forget how to feel it. This lean toward depression, this willingness to lie under cinder blocks and accept a reality of cherry-picked discouragements, it is the dark side of my personality. There are other factors too, of course—stresses past and present that leech the color and gravitational pull from life—but pessimism is what turns dreary splotches into black holes. Pessimism is what turns uncertainty into hopelessness and challenge into powerlessness and restlessness into guilt.

Over the breakfast table the other day as I chirped about diversity this and beautiful-and-unique-snowflake that, I was really just thinking how f-ing tired I am of channeling Debbie Downer. Can’t a girl get a break from having to lug negativity around in her DNA? Doesn’t it qualify as a huge cosmic mistake that the thing I most often have to fight is the very thing draining the fight out of me? I would rather forget the umbrellas every single time than have my mind tuned as it is to the pulse of rain.

However, in the days since that falsely cheerful conversation, I’ve begun to realize that I don’t actually not-believe what I told my girls about personality neutrality. That is, I have trouble believing it when it comes to myself and the little black raincloud hanging over my head, but I cherish the difference in my daughters’ outlooks. I love the one’s habitual seriousness and the other’s innate silliness. I see how they form a beautiful Venn diagram of sisterhood, their personalities complementing and coloring each other’s, and I wouldn’t wish sameness on them for the world.

And perhaps the fact that I’m seeing it this way is proof of other Venn diagrams, ones forming behind the scenes of my marriage and my friendships, each one drawing my personality a little closer to balance. I’m never going to be Susie Sunshine; that would require complete genetic mutation and possibly narcotics. However, I’m seeing the Hopeless and Powerless and Guilty through more objective eyes this week—eyes that have spotted their reflection in my daughters’ beautiful faces, eyes that are noticing color again—and it seems that a girl can get the occasional break from channeling Debbie Downer after all.

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3 comments

  1. I sure understand this, dear Bethany. XO This weekend I was so sad and discouraged over my sensitivity, wishing beyond anything that I could be a rock instead of a sponge, soaking up all the feelings of the world. But, like you, I’m seeing that in all our struggles with ourselves, we are JUST what each other needs. I veer into Pollyanna territory with my personality, and I treasure the grounding friends like you provide. I’d be off in lala-land without your type of person, and perhaps you would be down in the dark depths without my/your hubby type of person to lift you up to the heights now and then. You are needed and loved and just perfect. XO

  2. Oh, I LOVE me a Venn’s diagram. I am glad you are feeling a bit better. I hate that you have to struggle with this. Hate. Why can’t Debbie Downer just leave you the hell alone! Sending you a great BIG hug and LOTS of love! xoxoxo

  3. Krista – I would be a rock over a sponge in a heartbeat as well, but I wouldn’t wish you any different. I need every one of the Polyannas in my life! xo

    Megsie – I have to admit, Debbie Downer never sticks around long after one of your comments. Much love to you too.

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