New Year, New Expectations

January 8, 2021 8:47 am Published by Dave Scholes

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I’m Louise and I previously introduced myself via my first blog for Mindsight, in November Loving a Legacy.  However, if you are short of time, I shall introduce myself again in a nutshell. I am a nurse, a mother and a wife, as well as a user of mental health services and a survivor of bereavement by suicide.  My big brother Ian, who took his own life in 2011, was one of the best friends of Mindsight founder Dave.  Mental health, mental illness and everything within that spectrum is now a huge (and sometimes unwelcome) part of my life.

2020…What a year!!!

Lockdown.  Herd immunity.  Unprecedented.  Zoom.  Sanitizer.

These are all words which, 365 days ago, we barely had occasion to use, but which have become an  enormous part of each and every one of our lives.  Who could possible have known, as we celebrated on New Year’s Eve 2019, the way our lives would be forced to change in the coming 12 months.  Every plan we might have had, at least from March onwards, needed to be doctored or scrapped and we were forced to live in a much more day by day, adaptive way.  We were forced to accept that all of our expectations needed to be modified.  If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that is sometimes not possible to control our lives and the world, and that sometimes our hopes and dreams are not going to be able to come true in the time frame we would like, or (dare I say it), ever.  Sometimes, there is such a word as ‘can’t’.

I find New Year resolutions to be a mixed bag.  While, of course, there is nothing wrong with having goals and wanting to maximise opportunities and life experiences, it seems that many resolutions just set us up to fail.  It’s is one thing thinking ‘in 2021 I am going to go for that promotion at work / decorate the living room / go vegan…’ These are all tangible, SMART goals (excuse the jargon) which we can actively work towards, incorporating realism, external factors and the absolutely acceptable prospect of not achieving them fully.  What I find slightly more worrying is the ‘New Year, New Me’ idea – that we are going to be able to alter our character, suddenly change ingrained behaviours and personality traits, or subscribe to the belief that this year will be ‘MY YEAR’.  I find it quite wearing.  The pressure of all that expectation is just too much.  Personally, I am content with thinking that I have no idea what this year will bring me, that a lot of this will be beyond my control and that I trust myself to be able to adapt and respond when events – positive or negative – happen.  I, and others around me, may adapt and respond badly or we may adapt and respond well, and I believe that is a) OK and b) often beyond our control.

Somewhat controversially, I also do not subscribe to the belief that I can achieve anything I want to by working hard, or that the only limitation to my success is my mindset.  I had to work really really hard to pass my biosciences exam when I was doing my nurse training.  I do not have a scientist’s brain, so even with all the will, hard work and determination in the world, I will never be an astronaut.  I am not capable of that.  I am human and my expectations of myself, my loved ones and the world have boundaries, and that too is OK.  We cannot all be astronauts or X Factor finalists, as some of the narrative would have us believe.  Some of you may be dying to challenge me at this point, and say that if I changed my mindset then I would believe I could achieve more and therefore this would lead to me being able to achieve more.  Again, I feel this comes back to an inaccurate flippancy within the belief that changing a mindset, a behaviour or a subconscious response is straightforward or simple.  Of course over a long period of time and with extensive support and psychological input, behaviours and mindsets can change, but I feel it can be dangerous to underestimate just how challenging this is.

My apologies if this all sounds a bit defeatist and negative, and if it counters the inspirational discourse which screams so loudly in our society.  As my husband always says, a pessimist is never disappointed!  My aim is not to burst the bubble of hope or to piss on the bonfire of excitement about a new year – I just would like to balance some of the narrative around change and goal setting and expectation with some grounded realism, and encourage people to believe that they are OK just as they are; right here, right now, no matter what the date is.

My thoughts, as is the case a large majority of the time, have been shaped by the life and the death of Ian.  One of the things which he really struggled with throughout adulthood was expectation.  These were not external expectations which were placed on him by any one individual, but were societal expectations which in turn affected his own personal expectations, and meant that he was always falling short of where he felt he should be.  If I say that he was a qualified OT working in the NHS, that his friends and family adored him, that he made people howl with laughter, that he was in good health and enjoyed cycling and walking, that he was a talented drummer (…I could go on…), you might think he was doing pretty well – certainly enough to feel that he was achieving; that he was doing OK; that he had purpose and meaning in his life.  However, at work, in relationships, in the monetary and material sense, in his mind he was failing.

All. The. Time.

He would receive a wedding invitation from a friend, and alongside a feeling of happiness for his pal would be a voice which crucified him for not being in a position to get married himself.  He would hear about a relative’s pregnancy and while looking forward to meeting the new baby, he would immediately feel angrily certain that he would ever have a child.  He would listen while I told him about my new job and would think to himself that things always came so easily to other people, and that he was just a failure.  I wish with all my heart that he had been able to just accept himself and his situation as being good enough – that he had been able to celebrate his achievements and not measure himself against anyone else – and that he could just have been happy and content without constantly searching to change things.

So my resolutions this year are very simple… to wait and see what happens and to deal with it when it does; to be content, to enjoy being content and to look at what I can change if I stop feeling content; to accept that I am OK as I am.*

Phew.  It feels quite a relief to express such modest hopes!

I hope that you all have a happy an acceptable 2021 x

*whilst losing 2 stone, of course… J

Louise x

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