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Imagine this scenario: you go to a doctor for a routine checkup and it turns out you only have six months left to live. After the initial shock, you come to grips with that reality and try to make the best of it. You constantly think about how it would be to die, and in a strange way, you kinda look forward to finally having that question answered when the time comes. Meanwhile, you do all the things you always wanted to do, all while your incoming death looms over your head constantly.

Then the doctor calls you, on the supposed last month of your life, and tells you it was a misdiagnosis and that you're actually fine, all while apologizing profusely. Everyone around you is happy that you don't get to die (yet), and you yourself are also happy of course. But part of you isn't. Part of you actually feels kinda bummed because of how you mentally prepared yourself for the worst, because the worst seemed inevitable, and now suddenly it's gone. You had the wind taken out of your sails of your supposedly sinking ship, so to speak. You're unsure of how to feel or even react to that.

How would this feeling be best described? Are there specific words for this kind of situation and the feeling that comes afterwards?

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  • Wow, talk about getting Freudian, part of you wants to die. I have to say I struggle with the idea of getting news that you're NOT going to die and having any negative feelings about it.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 21:09

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When you have certain expectations, and you pin your thoughts and feelings on having something happen, if events don't turn out the way you believed they would, you can feel cheated or disappointed. Or, more generally, let down.

In the article "Living without Expectations," Jason Fries says this:

When you don’t have expectations, you experience things objectively rather than tinted with presupposition. Then if you do happen to be disappointed, it’s only because the experience wasn’t good, not that you thought it was going to be INSANELY GREAT and then only ended up as GOOD. A good experience should always leave you smiling, rather than disappointed because it didn’t measure up to a story you made up.

Leaving expectations out of it makes everything more direct. It’s simply how you feel about something rather than how you feel colored by how you thought you were going to feel.

To put it another way, not having expectations means you can’t be let down. Being let down means something didn’t measure up to what you expected. So instead of being let down about something, I’d just be unsatisfied with the outcome. That may sound subtle, but it has a distinctly different emotional impact.

Expectations are what let you down, not outcomes. Outcomes just are. I’ll evaluate those rather than how they measured up to some artificial line in the mental sand.

Note that in your scenario, which has a good outcome, the person still feels oddly let down at the same time as relieved and happy. The positive feelings come from the outcome; the negative from the unfulfilled expectations (even if they were unwanted).

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Survivor's guilt is not the term for the feeling you describe, but the feeling you describe does account at least partly for survivor's guilt.

As for the terms you want, I suspect it has something to do with existentialism. You go from So this is how it ends (which at least is an answer of sorts) back to the great question of What are we (or I) doing here (or supposed to be doing here)? So ironic as it may seem, it is a renewed acquaintance with existential angst.

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