I Have No Expectations

Call me pessimistic, but I have no expectations — or, at least, I try not to have any. I don’t expect things to go well, and I don’t expect things to go poorly. I just try not to expect anything at all.

I didn’t used to be this way. I used to be filled to the brim with hope! I used to be, dare I say, an idealist. And I might still be one, just in a different way.
I want things to get better; I want life to go a little easier on everyone. I just don’t expect it will happen, and that has been the key to happiness for me. I think there is a difference between pursuing a better life for all and the futile act of just hoping and expecting that everything will be alright. We can work together to make a more just and peaceful society, but we shouldn’t expect our actions to match the glorious visions we create in our minds. The fact of the matter is: our minds do a downright terrible job of predicting the future. Our thoughts can try to make sense of our experiences, but, at the end of the day, what we think is not what we actually experience.

I have dealt with anxiety since as long as I can remember, and now that I have the benefit of age and increased foresight to know better, I understand that I was always using my mind to try to create my reality. I thought that, if life ever got too difficult, I could always work out a solution with my mind. The problem with that theory is that, sometimes, when things get really bad, the mind short circuits in its effort to make sense of traumatic experiences. I know now that when the rug gets pulled out from under you, the best thing to do is to go with that experience, to really feel what is happening to you in the moment.

What’s your reality when the proverbial rug gets pulled out? Your feet were on the carpet, and now your face is on the linoleum. The world was soft and comfortable beneath your feet, but now your face is cold and firmly pressed to the floor. It doesn’t feel very good. When this happens, our tendency is to overthink it.

Why am I on the floor? Who did this to me? Did someone pull the rug out from under me? I am going to figure out who did that! It is really uncomfortable on this floor. My life is so unfair.

But, again, what is your reality? Your reality is: you were upright, but now you are not. You are a body on a floor, nothing else.

I think it took the rug getting pulled out from under my feet enough times to realize that there is a better way to deal with life’s challenges. I learned that, for as much as I think that I will always remain upright, on solid ground, striding comfortably over the carpeted path that I have laid for myself, life has other plans.

The key to resilience is not tightening your grip, desperately trying to control an outcome; the key is letting go and acknowledging that you have no control whatsoever over any outcome. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? No one controls anything. Sometimes, you fall and break your leg. Sometimes your coffee spills down your brand-new dress shirt. And sometimes, your cat eats her food too quickly and pukes on your pillow. It’s just how it is. It’s the thoughts that we assign to the puke-on-the-pillow moments of our lives that make us uncomfortable.

I see it every time that I run a NAMI Family-to-Family class or support group; newcomers come in expecting to find that one phrase, practice, or piece of wisdom that will make their lives easier. They enter this unfamiliar space with good intentions; their family members are very ill, and they are looking for ways to help them cope with mental illness, after all. But, after time, they learn that mental illness cannot be fixed. Instead, it is they who must learn to adapt and to cope. They learn that the more work they put into themselves, the easier their lives become. Instead of operating from a place of fear and control, they educate themselves and act from a place of compassion.
There’s an axiom I share with others, an adage I first heard when I was on the other side of the struggle, desperately trying to help a family member by attending the Family-to-Family class as a participant. The class teacher said: “All expectation is premeditated resentment.”

The words have remained with me to this day.

If you think about it, when you expect something, you are really just setting yourself up for failure; you are ensuring that you will be miserable and disappointed. When we flip the narrative and our approach to life, we prepare ourselves the best we can, but we know that nothing is certain. We can endeavor to lead healthy lives, but we know that our own physical and mental health can wax and wane from time to time. We can aggressively react to the cat-puke moments of our lives, or we can gently respond to the cat-puke moments of our lives. One places blame and judgement, the other just sees it for what it is.

So, if you are on the frigid linoleum floor, you are on the frigid linoleum floor. The carpet is still within your grasp. Stay down there, give yourself some time to rest, and take a deep breath. Then, reach over, unfurl the carpet, and put it back under your feet. Then, dust yourself off and keep walking, one step at a time.

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