Sometimes I think that I'm a perpetually dissatisfied person, and that I hate more things than I love. My list of dislikes includes: the cold and the heat, socializing and being alone, the internet and not-being-on-the-internet. I detest my anxiety, but I think I would feel amiss without it. And I dislike Jeremy Clarkson and motoring shows, but I'm probably still going to watch his new Amazon Prime series because why not.
A therapist once called me a perpetual malcontent. He told me that I will always find reasons to feel miserable, even when everything is going well on paper. Once, he rhetorically asked me: "So you moved back to a city you love, you work in an office full of inspiring women doing a job you love, you are close to the family who (most of the time) you love, you live with your partner in a house that you love, but you're still depressed, right?" Right.
Of course, depression and anxiety aren't always logical. Nothing about mental health is. But even when I'm not feeling especially depressed or anxious, I'm rarely all that happy. My base state is discomfort.
Most of the time, I can embrace this part of myself: I've told myself that without my sadness, I wouldn't be me. But as I find myself preparing for motherhood (I'm expecting my first child in just a few short weeks), I worry that my chronic cynicism will prevent me from becoming the mom I want to be. I want to be the kind of mom who inspires joy and excitement and joie de vivre in her kid, rather than grimness and misery. And I'm worried that because of my depression and anxiety, I might not be able to do that.
For whatever reason, I have always found comfort in people and things that are filled with darkness. For instance, I have always been drawn to people who, like myself, were branded as "unstable," and when I first watched the movie Lars and the Real Girl, which tells the story of a lonely young man who finds love and solace with a blow-up sex doll, I laughed more than I had in years.
I hope my daughter can find more joy in things than I usually do. I hope both the rain and sunshine will delight her, and that the smiles on the faces of people she loves are enough to make her smile, too.
It was clear that the narrative was meant to be troubling, uncomfortable, and somewhat sad. But the movie helped remind me that not everything makes me miserable. I can find beauty and joy in plenty of things. They just aren't always the expected things. Sometimes they are dark comedy or awkward storylines. Sometimes they are characters who make me feel less weird or messed up, thanks to their own weirdness and messed-up-ness. Generally speaking, I have a knack for finding beauty in the things we're taught to think of as ugly.
My fear is that I don't know how all of this will translate into raising a child. I hope my daughter can find more joy in things than I usually do. I hope both the rain and sunshine will delight her, and that the smiles on the faces of people she loves are enough to make her smile, too. I hope she will find beauty not only in darkness or awkwardness, but also in the things that typically make children feel happy or at ease.
I don't want to rob my daughter of the excitements of childhood, when everything is new and fascinating. But what if my cynicism and dissatisfaction rub off on her? What happens if she sees an opportunity for sledding and building snow angels, where I see only frostbite and the discomfort of soggy, frozen buttocks? Or if she listens to a pop song on a top 40 list and wants to dance, but all I can think about is how pitch corrected the musician probably is?
But I also wonder how the whole perpetual malcontent thing will make me feel about parenting. I cannot imagine that changing dirty diapers or being woken up several times a night or coping with the sound of a wailing mini-human are things anyone enjoys, per se. But I bet that for a lot of folks, it all feels like part of a bigger package. They can see that these moments are worth it, in the long run, and that probably makes coping with them in-the-moment a hell of a lot easier.
If anything, thinking that the world is far too full of darkness, misery, and pain might mean that I'm more able to see just how beautiful the experience of having a kid can be.
However, if I struggle to find joy in the things that seem to breed happiness for most people (margaritas with friends, dancing at the club, going to a Drake concert, trick-or-treating), will I be able to find joy in all the messiness that comes with parenting? I don't necessarily expect to find baby poop patrol incredibly spiritually fulfilling, but I do want to be able to see it for what it is: Just one of the many aspects of caring for this new person I've created and who I'm ultimately thrilled to have in my life.
Even though I often feel sad, cynical, or dissatisfied, I'm trying to tell myself that these emotions won't undermine the potential joys of motherhood. If anything, thinking that the world is far too full of darkness, misery, and pain might mean that I'm more able to see just how beautiful the experience of having a kid can be.
Since the Nov. 8 election, for example, I've been feeling especially cynical: My suspicions about the United States being more filled with sexist, xenophobic, and racist-fueled intolerance than understanding and progressiveness have been proven very true. I'm afraid for the futures of the most vulnerable and marginalized among us, and like many parents, I'm afraid of raising a daughter in the current political climate.
But, perhaps somewhat selfishly, I also find myself thankful to be having a daughter now. When the country's future is in such a state of flux and disarray — when there is so much genuine ugliness to be found all around us — I do not doubt that the beauty of her existence will be enough to make me feel hopeful and happy. She will be like a metaphor for a fresh start; a new generation with new potential, a new spark, and a new willingness to fight for good. And who knows? The clean slate that she represents might just be enough to turn this cynic into a (very cautious) optimist.