In times of trouble, Carrie Fisher comes to me speaking words of wisdom. Here are today’s words:
I can’t focus on the good things. There are good things going on all around me, but I don’t trust them. I can’t make use of them, don’t have the time for them; I’m too preoccupied with my precious panic. It seems to be demanding almost all of my attention. My own personal private collection of panic.”
When I tell people I am a pessimist, they are often surprised. “But you’re always so upbeat!” they say. “You’re so supportive and build everyone up! How can you be a pessimist?”
We could probably chalk it up to a lifetime of managing (sometimes badly, sometimes spectacularly well) anxiety and depression. Even as a child, I distrusted happiness; I knew that something terrible always happened after something good, so why invest in euphoria? If everything was going to be bad anyway, why even try for something good? Though nowadays my moods are a little more stable and predictable thanks to therapy and a couple years of medication, I’ll readily admit that “hopeful” is still not my default state. For me, hope is effort.
This year has made it hard to be hopeful and very easy to be a pessimist.
Global pandemic. Blatant transphobia by once-admired celebrities. Past and present incidences of police brutality and systemic violence against POC. Politicians so hateful that I’ve felt my blood pressure skyrocket every time I’ve read the news. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The U.S. Presidential Election. And that isn’t counting all of my personal life pessimism that lives rent-free in my brain.
So, like Carrie Fisher in The Princess Diarist, I’m having trouble looking for good things and instead find myself dwelling on the panic. Panic and pessimism, after all, are old, familiar friends.
But…something interesting has been happening with pessimism this year. Instead of surrendering to pessimism, people have been galvanized into action. The death of George Floyd has sparked protests against police brutality, and the lack of justice for Breonna Taylor has made people demand judicial reform. The way politicians have handled COVID-19 in America has brought forth waves of activism, community support, and determination that things cannot continue this way. A funeral for Ruth Bader Ginsburg resulted in a crowd of thousands booing Donald Trump and driving him away from what he would have used as a political set piece. Instead of panic, the people have chosen action.
Even while I think of Carrie and her pessimism, I think of her as Princess Leia. She sent the plans for the Death Star out into the galaxy with R2-D2, a droid and a being that isn’t even considered a lifeform in Star Wars, hoping against all odds that her choice would make a difference. I think of how she trusted Luke Skywalker, an unskilled farmboy from a backwater planet, and Han Solo, a smuggler who claimed to be in it just for the money, to help her complete her work. I think of her fighting, again and again and again, against the evil she saw in the galaxy even as she must have felt like everything was falling apart around her. Leia had hope in spite of everything, and her hope was rewarded, even if her work was never done.
Despite her pessimism, Carrie moved forward as well. Her struggles with alcohol and substance abuse were well-documented (mostly by her), but she didn’t surrender to them. Though she was manic-depressive, she sought treatment and continued to speak openly about her problems. She had a daughter whom she loved fiercely, and a family that, despite their foibles, she spoke of with love and affection. There are so many times she could have surrendered to her “precious panic” and instead she fought against it.
Pessimism is my natural state, but maybe if I dig down just a bit deeper, I’ll find hope there, too. In the meantime, I’ll keep fighting.
I hope you will, too.
 Fisher, Carrie. The Princess Diarist. (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2016), 126.