I’m sure some of you know of my penchant for writing long things. Some of you may view these sudden, large blocks of text with anxiety, and with just cause. Well, I told myself I would keep this short and to the point, but the words kept coming.
I am not writing it for you, I am writing it for me. I get to be selfish sometimes.
You are welcome to read it all, but you are by no means expected to read it all. Take it or leave it.
You can go through life being pleasantly surprised or constantly disappointed. This choice is available to everybody. You may not understand that you’ve made this choice; I think there are probably a lot of people like that.
Here’s the secret: it all depends on your expectations.
Specifically, your expectations of people, or events, or even the world around you. If you expect everybody to believe the same things you do, then you will be disappointed when you encounter someone who doesn’t. If you expect everybody to believe whatever they feel like, then you will be pleasantly surprised when you meet someone who shares your own views. It’s a sliding scale.
To hold an expectation of somebody is to say to them, “You must act/think this way, or else you’re worthless.” Most people don’t come right out and say it like that, but think about what that means. Isn’t that an awful thing to do to someone? Particularly someone you care about? And yet, people you care about are often the subjects of more expectations than anyone or anything else.
We justify holding expectations of others by saying to ourselves, “It’s for their sake. I only want what’s best for them.” Still, who is the one who is disappointed, and who is the one that feels small if that expectation is not met?
“But it’s only reasonable to expect—” No. It’s not reasonable to expect of a person, period. That doesn’t mean expectations have no place, it only means that you should know exactly what you are doing and be okay with it. Expecting a child to behave morally, for example, is quite fair. A person should feel awful for behaving awfully. At the same time, you must know that the disappointment you feel belongs to you. The disappointment comes from holding that expectation and not having it met.
For a long, long time, I have labored under many expectations. The expectations of people around me, sure, but most of all my own expectations of myself. I have held so many expectations of myself that I could never hope to meet even a fraction of them. I am constantly disappointed in myself for not being better than I am. At the same time, I have put everybody else before me. If I was dying of hunger, I’d feel guilty asking for a slice of bread. I’m fairly certain that’s not an exaggeration, either.
I don’t think that’s how a person should live, how a person should believe. I don’t think the complete opposite is fair either – self-centeredness at the expense of everyone around you. I am, however, on one extreme of the scale. Out of balance, you might say.
If you know me well enough, you know how it is with puzzles. I like to solve them, but more than that I want to understand them. It’s not really solved for me unless I can encompass the whole of the solution in my mind, all at once. I’ve solved a whole lot of puzzles very quickly in my time even by that criteria, but there’s one that I’ve never solved: the puzzle of my own thoughts and actions.
When I solve a puzzle, I seek first to understand it. When I understand it, the solution is obvious. This is how it has always been.
Many years ago, I believed that if I could just understand what was going on in my head, the answer would be apparent. That I would smack my forehead and think, wow, that was so obvious! And finally, I believed that once I had that moment of insight, I would be “better”. Somehow, that understanding would allow me to change, just like that, because I would suddenly understand that I’d been acting a fool all this time.
When I was searching, I seized on some things. I know that if I don’t act now I won’t act later. In my search, I flailed around a bit and I hurt some people that I never meant to hurt. I was just trying to understand better. Those people know who they are.
Due to the nature of things, I made very slow progress. There is a blog post about depression that is both entertaining and accurate. If you don’t understand why it’s hard to break out of that mentality, that post may give you a better idea. Anyway, the point is that I never had my epiphany. I’ve picked up enough bits and pieces along the way that I don’t really believe in it anymore. I think that the only way up is hard and uncomfortable and there’s no help for it.
When I moved to Olympia, it was almost a whim. I didn’t put any thought or planning into the decision, I just decided one day to do it, since that is how I get big things done. I didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time I knew logically that it was very unlikely to be any worse than my current life. I felt pretty bad about leaving my job, but six months or so has dulled that particular pain.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you or to myself that I didn’t really change much. I still fell into the same routines, struggled with the same things, woke up and went to bed in the same moods as before. I never really did find a place for myself at Click2Rank, but that turned out for the best. Living with Kris has been… an experience, you might say. We seem to be polar opposites in almost every way, but we get along well enough. It’s strange to me that we got along as well as ever pretty much from day one. I’ve let many friendships slip away over the years, and this, I had thought, was one of them – it’s kind of a surprise to me to find otherwise.
When we left C2R to do our own thing, I was still rather out of place. I didn’t feel any more committed to this new venture than to any of my previous jobs. (Committed – not responsible.) I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of the bargain if I was working from home, and that might have been true, but I decided at the time to try medication again. I reasoned that I needed all the help I could get, and I’d be no worse off. It turns out that maybe the stuff works a little. Either that or this new freedom that I have grown into has helped. The trouble is I have no control (in the scientific sense of the word), and I have no intention of mixing it up now – that will have to wait until things are much more mature.
Some months after I moved down here, I kind of settled in. It happened gradually enough that I didn’t catch the transition, but I can honestly say now that I don’t worry very much about not working enough, and I’m not very concerned about being unable to contribute. Kris has said that I “work my ass off” but I don’t quite believe him…
My mood has been better as well. That may be directly attributable to antidepressants. Again, I’m not going to try and find out! I’m better when I wake up than I have usually been, which leads to being able to, well, get out of bed more easily. My sleep hours are all over the map, but it doesn’t matter too much. A month or so ago I had a period of two or three weeks where I was excited, engaged, and generally happy. I didn’t really realize what was going on at first, and then I was cautiously hopeful. Was this how some people feel all the time? Were the drugs lifting me high enough to reach the ledge and climb up?
I guess not. But it’s not as depressing as it sounds to write that. In fact, I wrote this post shortly after that time, partly because I felt like writing it and partly because I was hoping I could “fake it to make it” and keep things moving. It didn’t really work out that way, but I’m still better off than I have been in the past. What I felt then was… fragile. Like a butterfly had landed on my hand and I didn’t want to move for fear of scaring it off again. I still feel that way.
It was for this reason that I decided to take the month off, Christmas and all. Some people get festive around the holidays; I just get anxious. There are so many expectations of associated with holidays and birthdays for me that, while I do like to spend time with my family, I rarely feel comfortable. People expect you to show your happiness when you receive a gift. That’s hard to do when you’re not happy. It’s not your fault that I’m not happy. But you are more important than me, so I try to pretend. People expect you to give them something that will make them happy. I’m not good at that. I don’t produce well on demand, under pressure, for many and varied reasons. It’s a deer-in-the-headlights kind of thing. It’s not that I hate you, or think you don’t deserve presents. It’s that I freeze up. I expect more of myself than you do of me, and there’s nothing I can possibly get anyone as a present that lives up to my own expectations of what would make a “good gift”.
What’s the big deal about timed present-giving anyway? I’d much rather give a gift when I think of it than try to think of it in preparation for a set date. That makes it genuine to me. When I notice that somebody needs a thing or could benefit from it, I like to just do it for them, buy it for them, whatever. That probably isn’t as frequent as Christmases or birthdays. It’s not because I hate your guts. It’s because I don’t know you very well. I’ve spent more time around my family than anybody else in my life, but I’ve never really become friends with most of you. I don’t know well enough what’s going on in your lives to recognize things that you would appreciate. I haven’t shared much of myself (save certain extreme instances, or perhaps when I was very drunk). It’s my fault. That’s not the cynicism speaking; I mean it: I have closed myself off from people for so long that I don’t know how to relate anymore. I don’t know what’s normal between people who have real lasting relationships.
I want to be a person who knows that stuff. I want to be a person who goes through life keeping tabs on his friends and family, knows what’s going on and cares. I’m just not really capable of it yet. It’s awkward and uncomfortable to me. It’s worse that I try and pretend in order to meet people’s expectations. How can I take an interest in your life when I don’t even take an interest in my own? I don’t begrudge any of you a desire to know me or talk to me or any of that. I welcome it. But here’s the deal.
Here’s what I want for Christmas.
Don’t expect of me.
I will do my very best to return the favor. I will buy you presents when I think of something good. I will come visit when I can. I will at the very least try to post a message on your damn Facebook page on your birthday. But I am not going to expect of myself that I succeed at any of these things. I will try my very hardest to relax the stranglehold that I have kept on my psyche, and it will no doubt be very difficult. You might think it’s rude of me to not feel awful if I don’t make you happy on your birthday. I direct you to the top of this post.
I love you all very much. If you’re uncertain of that after all this time, there’s certainly nothing I can do about it. You can always call on me, and I will do everything I can to help you when you are in need. But I am not going to spend another 15 years beating myself up morning and night if I fail. After much consideration, I have decided that that is not a reasonable response.
I am not “breaking up” with you. I am formalizing my intent.
If you genuinely want to be informed about my life, you know how to get ahold of me. E-mail is best. If you don’t, that’s great! The point of all this is that it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be my BFF to care about me, and vice versa. I’m not going to relegate your picture to a bag full of poop and light it on fire if you don’t suddenly start talking to me every day after all this.
It will probably take me a long time to get past my own inhibitions and reach out more often and more naturally to people. Once again, this is not because I hate you. It is another expectation I’ve held of myself, and I release it now. I will talk to who I feel like when I feel like it, and if I don’t want to talk to anybody for a whole year, that’s okay too. Whatever comes will come, and it will be just fine.
p.s. – I have one pending birthday promise and I intend to keep it. Other than that, I’m not going to sweat it. If you require gifts as a demonstration of my affection, please notify me in advance by e-mail of how much money and/or what present you require, and send a UPS call tag to my address. I will have a box ready – or not. Do you really want to find out?
p.p.s – I’m going to save this for after New Year’s. I seem to have extremely bad timing, doing stuff like this right when someone is trying to celebrate something.