In Defence Of Pessimism

What Needs To Be Stressed

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I am not the ‘glass is half full’ type. Nor am I the ‘glass is half empty’ type. In fact, I am the “have we a spare glass in case it breaks” type. The ancient Stoics practised a technique called Negative Visualisation in response to the vagaries of their lives. Basically, they would imagine all the things that they took for granted being taken from them. By doing this they were tapping into the wisdom of gratitude and being appreciative of the good things in their lives. They were reflecting on their circumstances not from a point of view of lack but in terms of how much they would miss it if all they took for granted was swiped from under their feet. How wise the Stoics were. I don’t agree with everything they preached but we are singing off the same hymn sheet here when I consider my own life experiences.

Unbeknownst to myself, I have been practising Negative Visualisation all my life and particularly in recent years. If you have been reading my blogs, you will be aware that I talk a lot about my youngest son’s harrowing experience of chronic kidney failure and also the enormous stress that it caused in my family. However, looking back it seems to me that my pessimism was an optimistic response to a pessimistic situation. Please allow me to explain.

Having spent weeks in the hospital learning the complexities of home dialysis, the time had come to send us home and do it for real. When we finally got home my mind began to ponder the worst. At that time my son hadn’t any kidneys and was reliant on twelve-hour nightly dialysis to stay alive. Going forward, we would be doing all the dialysis at home. On top of this, he had a seriously depleted immune system, an enlarged heart and a whole plethora of other dangerous complications that, looking back, simply boggles the mind.

My brain began to work over-time and I was envisaging all sorts of catastrophes. Yet here is the thing: My pessimism galvanised me to take action. So I went about fitting an electricity back-up generator to prepare for power-cuts because we live in an area very prone to power outages. My pessimism galvanised me to prepare for a possible cardiac event by hiding a defibrillator under my bed and other ancillary equipment. My pessimism insisted that we ring the hospital every single day to check in with them even though we didn’t have to. (They were happy with once per week) My pessimism turned me into a cleaning freak where I did my very best to reduce the chance of infection in the dialysis system. My pessimism stirred up my creativity to prepare for the worst case scenarios as much as I hated thinking about them. I kept asking myself what is the worst that can happen and then went about putting a plan into action. How wise pessimism is. How creative pessimism is. If I went to a therapist I would probably have been advised to stop thinking so negatively and instead to visualise positive outcomes.

And so my pessimistic attitude stood to me in the end. The power did fail when my son was connected to the machine but pessimism had a generator in place. My son developed a highly dangerous infection that was potentially fatal but pessimism had us on high alert for it and we spotted it very early. To our utter horror, the dreaded disease relapsed in the transplanted kidney yet my pessimism about that happening took the edge off the blow when it inevitably arrived.

If you are prone to negative visualisation then give yourself a pat on the back. Protective pessimism is creative and wise. It lessens the blow when it comes. Contrary to common belief, it is not a form of worry as such. In fact, it is a form of contemplation. If worry is emotional then contemplation is logical. If you are stressed over something, why not contemplate rather than worry and ask yourself what needs to be stressed? Asking that question is probably the wisest question that you can pose to yourself when the proverbial hits the fan.

There will be certain things that we can’t do anything about so why bother worrying about them? Contemplate instead on the stuff that you can do something about and you will be putting your pessimism to good use. Visualise the worst case scenario and if there is anything, absolutely anything that you can do to prepare yourself for it, then do it. Pessimism and optimism are neither good nor bad. They just are what they are and behind these seeming diametric opposites abides the wisdom of the self.

Are you an inveterate pessimist? Can you see the creativity of pessimism and how it serves you well?

It’s food 4 thought,


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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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