I was listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text on the Victoria Line, a podcast that was suggested by a good friend of mine who knows a) how much I love Harry Potter b) that I’ve been having a hard time with my mental health recently. The podcast is really beautiful; the concept, to those of your who don’t know, is that they read HP as though it’s a sacred text, and use it to draw spiritual conclusions such as how we can handle fear and live more mindfully.
The episode I was listening to focused on the theme of expectation, and one of the hosts mentioned an Anne Lamott quote: “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”
This resonated with me on a few levels. The first is the conversation I seem to be having, over and over, with my twenty-something friends lately, about their feelings of anxiety and stress. Many of my friends feel like there is something else they should be doing. They measure themselves against each other, celebrities, siblings, parents. After university ended, it’s as though they decided in the absence of any official quizzes or exams to test their progress they were just going to assume, from here on out, that they’re making bad decisions that will inevitably ruin their lives.
I feel that stress a lot. I changed careers in December, after two years in the workforce, and though it’s hardly the proverbial quarter-life crisis the fact remains that it provides ample food for my anxiety.
Am I working hard enough? I’ll ask myself, if I take an hour for lunch. Does everyone hate me? When will I be promoted? Should I know more by now? How can I progress when I can’t bear networking events?
I have a lot of expectations of myself, and recently – as my mental illness has forced me to acknowledge how damaged my psychological defences really are – I’ve realised that expectations aren’t helping me. It’s fine to have goals, but these aren’t goals. I have an internalised overbearing parent (whom I know is imaginary, because my own parents are soft, fluffy kittens who are baffled, saddened and endlessly patient in the face of my mental illness). It doesn’t matter if these expectations are realistic or not, right now they are not helpful. They just stress me out and make me resent myself for failing to have the energy to achieve them.
That said, I expect a few things with resolute, optimistic faith, and I think those expectations are helpful. I expect that someday, I’ll feel better. I expect I’ll get engaged, sometime soon, and will have the huge pleasure of putting my Pinterest boards to good use and looking at wedding magazines with my baby sister. I expect myself to write, every day, and run, whenever I can fit it into my schedule.
The knack is, I think, in avoiding that resentment. If (touch wood!) I don’t feel better, that’s not a reason to punish myself or spiral – it’s another insight into my illness, and something to take to my doctor. If my relationship goes through a rocky patch, I can’t resent my outbursts or my partner’s reactions – it happens to everyone, and I know we’re strong enough to work with each other and find a solution. If I don’t feel like writing or running, I can have a bit of self-empathy and accept that sometimes, I need to put my mental health first and my productivity second.
It’s not an easy practice, but that’s why they call it practice. You keep trying, and every time you fail it’s a chance to adjust your approach. It can be painful and intense to keep yourself open to change, particularly when you’re mentally unwell and you just want to cling to the expectations, of yourself and of the future, that have served you well in the past.
I know it’s hard, but I’m right there with you, and I have faith in us both.
With love, always,
Remember to like, share and comment! What expectations have you been struggling with lately?