Monday, April 18, 2016

Death by Optimism

Five years ago, I wrote what turned out to be an extremely popular post.Viewed over 1700 times, thanks mostly to being listed on my front page as one of my most viewed posts, making me an unwilling part of social media’s popularity breeding popularity quagmire, but don’t let’s go there today, this bit of  therapeutic writing explained what it meant to be a Disillusioned Optimist, my gmail handle for a number of years and lifestyle for many more. Just thought I’d check back in to answer any queries as to how that’s working out for me with a resounding not so great turns out, but could be worse, which is to say, the disillusioned optimism is still strong in me, there is no cure, and I think it’s going to be the death of me, on which day I will still be telling myself if I just wait and see things can only get better.

In fact, things don’t get better, they just find other ways of doing me in. It’s like crop rotation, or some cosmic changing of the guard, or cross-training, the way those three metaphors will serve the same purpose but distract you from their redundancy by requiring slightly different imaginative skills. I release one frustration by some custom made combination of effort and attitude, but here comes another one to assess, address and resolve not so much because any real solution was enjoyed, but because I either gave in, gave up, or moved on, or it did. All this moving on I do, you’d think I would get somewhere. But here I am still, nowhere. 

Yet something has changed. I’m still an optimist, but upgraded – or downgraded? – from disillusioned to besieged. It’s not a philosophical exercise anymore, it’s war. Every day. Out there and in here, a war to defend the same little piece of land that is less and less worth the trouble. By the time it’s secure, there won’t be anything left of it. In case you prefer the direct approach, it’s my heart we’re talking about, or my hopes, or the very best part of me that still believes in truth, happiness, love, all of that. It’s not a golden meadow, if it ever was. It’s a battlefield.  One upon which the enemies being rejected from one corner, other enemies arrive in another corner. Or as Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna famously concluded: it’s always something. 


I’m having yet another year that could be worse. I know this because every day I find the strength to face the day by listing all the things for which I am grateful that could be worse and aren’t, to keep myself from looking at the things that either haven’t gotten any better or are indeed worse. I thought 2015 had its rank secured as the worst ever, due to its spectacular opening salvo of my mother’s death, a loss that may feel less acute over time, but an absence that will never get any better. Surely 2016 would be an improvement. You’d think.

Kinda not. If I try really hard I can point to things that aren’t as bad as last year. But it’s a little troubling to lean on “my mother didn’t die today” for comfort. Or “I’m still alone but at least I’m not in an unhealthy relationship.” Or “I’m a huge traveling shit show of interweaving intermittent physical and emotional symptoms thanks to menopause but I can still function.” Maybe I need to change that to Desperate Optimist. When you join that bitter little club, membership comes with a tiny rubber stamp bearing the words “at least,” which can be affixed to just about any miserable circumstance. I haven’t had a single night of sleep not interrupted by multiple wakings, often in a lather, nor a single day without sweat and tears in four, maybe five months. But at least. I’m here. I have hope. I have my mind. I am resourceful, stubborn, and determined not to be broken by what I simply must believe is temporary, or transitory, with something better just around the corner.

Thing is, my life is half over. And thus far, it has been not much more than waiting out one allegedly temporary or transitory set of vexatious obstacles and losses after another. The wiggle room, not to mention the enthusiasm and energy, for amazing turnarounds grows smaller every year as more years are behind me than ahead of me. This year I had high hopes. I had a good talk with myself and decided to perform one of those classic Gabriella self-rescues in which I create a beautiful net of time-tested positive attitudes, activities and pursuits that do not depend on other persons or conventional measures of happiness and success, and basically distract myself into a state that is less miserable, less frustrated, less meaningless. At least.


And this year, the ironic development is that the enemies have emerged from within. It’s my body, the one ally you’d think I could count on, turned traitor. Insomnia undermines everything. I make plans. I make lists. I set goals. And then I begin the day in such a compromised state I feel accomplished if I just don’t fall too far behind on basic responsibilities. Even for a veteran procrastinator, I find myself doing everything later than I had planned, in a less satisfactory way than I had hoped, or not at all. A lot of my plans age past their relevance, timeliness or interest. Oh well, guess I’m not doing that then. But I keep making plans. As if I were my own personal assistant, scheduling appearances and activities of which I myself am incapable. I get to the designated day, and I get out the eraser. My 2016 calendar is covered in the ghostly tracks of things delayed, deferred and abandoned.  And it’s already April.

Or only April. I had great plans for this as a kind of turnaround month. I won’t even report on them here because they may not happen and then I’ll have to add perpetual embarrassment to my list of symptoms. I haven’t exactly changed direction, but neither have I continued down the road from bad to worse. At least. In fact, I may actually be back out at the crossroads on the verge of an entirely new journey down a road that goes from “not bad” to “better” to “what is this strange feeling, is this what the others mean when they use the word good?” Because it’s going to be the death of me, but damnit I’m still an optimist.