Content warning: mentions of depression
I hate surprises. When I tell people this, they say, “What about good surprises? Do you hate good surprises?” I startle when someone turns on the coffee maker. What do you think?
Even when a suprise is a good thing, the brief joy I get from realizing this wonderful thing I hadn’t anticipated is happening is nice, but in the grand scheme of things, the feeling is relatively insignificant. See, whatever I’m feeling at any given moment — be it on top of the world or like I will never experience joy again in my life — feels permanent. When I experience post-concert euphoria, I wonder how I ever could have thought I was too depressed to be saved, how I could have ever thought things were so terrible. Conversely, when I’m down, I wonder how I ever managed to convince myself that I was okay. I’m sure to my core that nothing will ever be good again. Why I’m always convinced that a new apocalypse is in my future but happiness is somehow unattainable, I’m still working out. Something about having hope is … utterly terrifying.
Arguably, hopelessness is scarier. And I’ve reached new levels of hopelessness at certain points in the last few years — I remember I was going through a rough time right before the pandemic hit and thought to myself as I walked absentmindedly through traffic, “Well, the world definitely isn’t going to stop turning. I’ll still get up and go to school tomorrow, and the next month and the month after that.” When I learned that even that which I was sure would continue could be ripped away at any moment, I suppose I learned that if I expected the worst, I could never be surprised that way again.
So as I’ve aged by decades over the course of the last five years, hopelessness has sometimes swallowed me whole, and I let it, because as awful as it feels, it feels safer than hope. But I digress — if you surprise me by visiting me on a random Tuesday, it brings me a fleeting moment of happiness when I realize what’s happening, but that’s nothing in comparison to the stability I can get by looking forward to it. Because the only way to stop myself from being lost in this hopelessness permanently is by clinging to something to look forward to. For the entire month of February, I gripped the idea of Spring Break so tightly — I held onto it for dear life — so much so that when it finally arrived, I had built it up so much I didn’t even know what to do with myself. I felt so betrayed when I found out that it was, but for a few adjustments, just a week like any other and couldn’t make me invincible to this ever-present hopelessness always breathing down the back of my neck. As you can imagine, things took a turn for the worse when I realized I didn’t have anything to plug the hole Spring Break had left. The hopelessness wasn’t only not banished, but widening its jaw in anticipation of a full meal — with me as the sole menu item. I had nothing to tie my sanity to and stared deep into the abyss, sure I would never leave.
I hyperventilated in bed that Saturday night as my loved ones looked on with worry in their eyes — worse still, with a hint of disappointment. All I could think was that the only things I knew for sure were coming next were things that scared me and that the idea of anything positive happening in the near future felt absolutely preposterous. In the days since, I’ve gone out to breakfast for the first time in years, given and received hugs, eaten cupcakes, shared playlists and played games with my closest friends and seen Billie Eilish perform live. All of these things were surprises — good surprises — that I enjoyed immensely. But had I been able to see them coming, the despair never would have felt so complete to begin with. It’s clear that my prediction that only darkness awaited me couldn’t have been more wrong, but for me it never feels like enough to just be sure that good things will happen soon, without any clear indicator of what they might be or when they might happen. Of course, even when I cling to these “good things” to come, there’s a question in the back of my mind as to whether they will truly come to pass, but it’s not a question I can afford to indulge. It’s a flawed system, admittedly, but the disappointment of canceled plans hardly compares to the complete and utter hopelessness I feel when I’m convinced nothing good is ahead at all.
When time and time again my certainty of impending doom is proven wrong, you’d think I might learn that there’s no need for such intense hopelessness. For whatever reason, I haven’t managed to convince myself of that quite yet. Until then, I hate surprises.
TV Beat Editor Emmy Snyder can be reached at email@example.com.