Troubled times make it hard to be an optimist. But I don’t plan to stop | Mary Elizabeth Williams

Optimists like me read the news and know all the dire things happening in the world. But we also get up each day determined not to accept a bad fate

Heres what nobody ever tells you about being an optimist: its not as much fun as it looks. Especially lately.

I do not come from a happy tribe. I come from depressed Irish people who have anxiety disorders and substance abuse issues. Yet somehow, when they were handing out brain chemistry, I dodged that particular familial bullet.

My glass-half-full tendencies have served me well throughout my life. Theyre my survival mechanism. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had friends show up at my door in tears, and I was the one who comforted them. As my disease progressed and until I was cancer free my then 11-year-old daughter had to frequently remind me to cool it with the little pep talk.

So, as this past year has taken an unfathomable number of dark turns and bleak headlines, I have in my typical way resolutely soldiered on, determined to keep my chin up. (If youd like some insight into the optimist experience, I recommend the film Happy Go Lucky and the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, two very warm and funny portrayals of women who pretty much dont know what the hell else one would ever do with lemons but make lemonade.)

Ive reached the point where I wont stand for anybody who undermines my idealism. I wont listen to anyone who insists that if this year was bad, next year will be worse. Go be a nihilist somewhere else. I said I was an optimist; I didnt say I was indulgent. Or, for that matter, especially nice.

Ive unfollowed a lot of people on Twitter who cant stop saying were all just doomed. Ive hidden some of my friends Facebook feeds for mostly the same reason. I wont hang with people who just want to complain.

Its not that optimists are out of touch. We read the news. We live in the real world. We get discouraged and scared about genuinely threatening things too. I was scared when I had cancer. I was scared when my daughter had a life-threatening infection this past winter. I am scared right now, about the safety and security of people I love, and a nation I love. I also get that I am also supremely lucky that I can still somehow function and even sometimes smile and appreciate the beauty in the world in the midst of all of this.

Yet lately, I think a lot about a conversation I had several months ago with a friend whos clinically depressed. We talked about how difficult it is for him, having a condition that sometimes makes him unable to get out of bed in the morning.

I know and love enough depressed people to have infinite respect for that experience. But as I told my friend that day, it can also be really hard to be the person who does get out of bed. It can be hard for those of us who always keep going, because theres always so much work to be done.

As another friend, who knows sudden grief and trauma very well, observed recently, some days, you just dont want to hear other people say they cant even, when there you are, trudging along with your stubborn need to keep going no matter what. I know some very productive pessimists, but progress is usually a function of first believing that things can be better.

But if you cant even and I will try to understand if youre not there and maybe never can be Id like to ask you to have some empathy and understanding for the ones who give the pep talks or use smiley face emojis. Id like you to not be dismissive or call us naive or dumb. Id like you to know that we get angry and we grieve and cry and scream about things too. Id like you to know that rage and pain come for us all, we just dont all deal with them in the same ways.

I am uncoordinated, and Im bad at math. My sole talent is hope. Like any talent, I cultivate it. I work hard at it and I practice it every day, even the days its so hard that Id rather use that time instead to lie motionless on the floor listening to Joy Division.

A natural aptitude is not the same as a well honed skill. My optimism is a thing I was born with; my ability to get up every day and find the good in the worst situations is my achievement. If you think hope is easy, I dare you to try it.

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