I recently heard a friend using a word I’d never heard of: anticipointment. It’s a great new word for me, one which encapsulates that crazy cocktail of anticipation followed by disappointment that we’ve all experienced for the last two years. Postponed, re-arranged, reconfigured, and cancelled events have been the legacy of a country in the grips of an ever-evolving medical emergency.
For me, the latest in a list of anticipointments is the conference I was going to attend in Melbourne on hallucinogenics. Although the conference is still running, it’s being offered in a reduced online form which is not the original ticket I signed up for. I wanted the buzz of the crowd, the intellectual stimulation of the pre-and post-conference dialogue, the atmosphere of a cutting edge – and kind of edgy – conference of health professionals looking to push the boundaries of mental health practice. So even though I was the one who cancelled, I have that taste of disappointment in my mouth.
But the experience also shines a light on those two states – anticipation and disappointment.
Anticipation is a natural consequence of being able to plan. Few other animals experience it except as a response to immediate potential; for example, dogs know the sound of a can being opened and may anticipate being fed. The higher apes, elephants, dolphins and whales, and even some birds show an understanding of the future and the ability to plan for it, but we do it best. But the human capacity to imagine states and events in both near and far futures has cultivated in us a matching feeling – a feeling which can manifest as a little smile or a full-bodied, jumping-up-and-down ecstasy. And of course, we anticipate negative futures too – from butterflies in the stomach to full-blown panic attacks. Our ability to engage with the future is a double-edged sword.
Disappointment is the felt emotion of the end of a potential future, a future that will no longer occur. It is also experienced on a spectrum, from a mild ‘oh well’ moment through to a crushing sense of defeat. It is the death of a possibility, and we mourn it as a real loss. Disappointment triggers many of our weaker tendencies such as lashing out and self-medicating and may create a real sense of hopelessness.
That’s what makes ‘anticipointment’ such a great portmanteau. It’s real, but interestingly it is based in a combination of future and past, not ‘present’ in any real sense.
I’ve written on presence before, and it seems that the antidote to anticipointment is staying present and keeping the event in perspective. My partner had to cancel his 50th during the throes of the most recent lockdown, and although he’s had a few moments of disappointment, he’s managed to keep it in perspective. We’ll get to his birthday early this month, but we’re not planning much and we’ll let the day unfold. It will be a lovely day regardless of what does or doesn’t happen, if we approach it gently and with an open heart.
It will take us all a while to get back into the swing of planning without the added worry of COVID’s disruptions. Just remember – any plan has the potential to fall through, but that shouldn’t stop us from being excited about what the future holds.