The Natural State: Opti-Pessimism


Yes. I will be better tomorrow.  Or maybe not.  Being bipolar is to me the most complex of states of being; there is always a chance for good, a chance for bad, but confusion will almost certainly occur.

Many people simply don’t understand mood swings and how they work.  For those of us that live with our bipolarity on a daily basis there’s a certain expectation of change, a certain acceptance of the inevitable.  It’s no different for anyone else, really, but it certainly is different in degree, in how the mood is expressed.  This is no simple thing.  I speak of how these expressions can alter even the most fundamental actions in a day-to-day life.

“Optimism – the doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly.”

– Ambrose Bearce

In a frankly difficult and strange way, I appreciate having to sort out my mood on a moment-to-moment basis.  Defining what caused the mood to be thus is often a trap, and a dangerous one at that.  For me, asking the why can mean obsessing over that why.  But in accepting the mood for what it is at the moment, I can choose to change it.  Radical Acceptance tells us to let go of fighting reality and to ‘turn the mind’, meaning to refocus attention to the task at hand, which is the change needed.  It also tells us to make the commitment to accept reality as it is and to reiterate that commitment as many times as it takes.  Success isn’t measured by immediate result and for someone who can obsess over the whys, that can be hard to take.

Won't Hurt - Nurse Shot

Another thing that can get in the way of successfully changing your mood for the better is the ever-present ‘things we tell ourselves’ approach.  We tell ourselves that if we can just ignore our bad mood it will simply go away on its own.  That’s wishful thinking.  It doesn’t solve a problem when you choose to ignore it and frankly, lying to yourself doesn’t work at all: when you do that you know in the back of your mind what you have done and are doing.  You can’t escape that fact.  Better to deal with it right away rather than suffer the added guilt and shame that are sure to follow.  It’s not easy to be a realist when it comes to change because we’re told by others and by our own minds that all we need to do is smile and everything will be better.  How wonderful if that were only the truth.  But it is not truth.

Sometimes you can’t smile until the disagreeable mood is conquered, and that takes whatever time is necessary.

“The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”

– Oscar Wilde

I love this quote.  Indeed, it takes seeing the disaster in your life to become an optimist; how would you recognize a positive possibility unless you understand what you’re up against, how dangerous the situation is and what’s needed to overcome it?


I once considered myself an optimist in the truest sense.  Everything I did was effused with it: each and every project, every performance, everything I ever worked on or with was covered in my optimism.  When disaster struck and that optimism was destroyed I was never to be an optimist again.  I cannot say I am an optimist now, not in the way I was.  I think now I realize the importance of balance when it comes to optimism.  We can be hopeful, yes, but hope is not necessarily optimism.  We can believe that change will come to us but that isn’t optimism, either.

Optimism is when you work at a thing and the result makes change; that feeling you have of accomplishment, of satisfaction, these are the cores that drive optimism.  Optimism is not only a passive state, it is an operative one.

“I am not a pessimist; to perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism.”

– Roberto Rossellini

At the very least, optimism and pessimism are more effective in changing mood than the term ‘cautiously optimistic’, which to me is a ‘fence-sitter’ position.  I’ll be an optimist if it all works out; I’ll be a pessimist if it fails.  I hate describing myself as cautiously optimistic but I have no better way of expressing it.  Being bipolar, for me anyway, has made me very cautious indeed.

But rather than assign an outcome as black and white, and though it is a ‘fence-sitter’ position to take, I have to consider myself thus, like it or lump it.

Some believe that caution is the best approach to take and others believe that you have to declare where you stand, for good or bad.  I’m moving away from those declarations and more often than not there’s a good reason for my stand-offish stance.  I am working toward change; optimism and pessimism both demand a certain outcome whereas I am only certain of one thing: I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out.


There’s nothing like uncertainty to screw up success.  Like it or not, I have to consider all the possibilities without obsessing over them.  I have to take a realistic attitude, work on forward momentum based on facts as they come about and see the future as a mass of improbability.

When working to change my mood from bad to good there’s only one thing that’s a sure-fire way to make that change and that’s to go through the problem to come out at the other end.

Optimism - Medical Book Girl

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