Hi team. This blog will be about expectations and the role they play in mental health struggles. Hopefully this will help give insight into the Hard Times of mental health, both by helping those with mental health problems manage their expectations, and by giving others a realistic idea about what these things are like. Expectations play a critical role in everything from marital relationships to having a terrible day because all your Pokémon were killed by some random trainer who wasn’t even that good (what is the point of having a Mewtwo if he dies in one hit?!?!?). Finally keep an eye out for my Dickensian Jokes.
I had to split this into two sections because of length. Don’t forget to read part two, which is split into two sections. The first is for people who want to help those with depression/anxiety. The second section will be for those struggling with it. Hopefully those tips can help.
In my third last year at school I was playing in the Rift Valley Academy’s second XV, or as it was known there our junior varsity rugby team. Part of what we got to do was go into Nairobi and play at the biggest school’s day tournament in East Africa. Occasionally there would be team competing from Uganda or Tanzania, but Kenya was the powerhouse of rugby in that part of the world. What this meant is that the tournament was quite competitive. You were put in a group with two other teams. The first place team would progress to the knockout rounds, the second place team into a bowl knockout round, and the third place team into the plate bracket.
My first ever rugby match
It was a very competitive atmosphere. One bad game could leave you in an undesirable bracket. In addition to the challenging format, lots of the players who have played at this tournament in the past have gone on to play professionally. It isn’t uncommon to recognize players we played against playing at the Olympics or on the 7’s circuit in future years.
With all that in mind it should be easy to see why our school’s second team were not favourites. Despite the pedigree of our first team (won it more than any other school) we were expected to be no more than passengers. Our challenge was only enhanced when we arrived to be put in a pool with two other schools who were all first team players. In addition one of the teams, Lenana, was in the highest division with our first team, so no pushovers. Our second team had never made it past the group stages into the highest bracket, so we were hoping to finish second to have a successful day.
Needless to say we lost the first game to a poor mistake which the older team punished. We were performing as expected. The final game was against Lenana, a team renowned for its dirty play. Even in the highest division they had a bad reputation as physically dodgy. I was 15 playing against a bunch of 19 year olds (although may have been older given that Lenana cheated all the time). Despite the odds being stacked against us we played an uncompromising game and didn’t make any mistakes. We managed to punish one of theirs with a kick and win the game.
We were ecstatic. We didn’t imagine we could top the group against three first teams, particularly one rated so highly as Lenana. Our school’s second team had never made it this far and we were proud of it. In the next round we were matched against one of the favourites of the tournament, Strathmore’s first team. They duly gave us a whipping, outplaying us in all areas. Despite the heavy loss our mood wasn’t damped. We were proud of what we had achieved. By comprehensively exceeding all expectations that were placed upon us we felt heroic. It hurt to breathe after my ribs were crushed by a player twice my size, but I felt like the day could not have gone better because of what we had achieved.
The second time I played at the tournament was in very different circumstances. The first difference was that I was now playing for the first team. My older brother had graduated leaving me to step in for his position. One of the other notable differences was that both of my feet were broken. I had broken both of them simultaneously whilst recovering from a knee operation. Living in a school that was on a hill meant wheelchairs were not possible and crutches offered no solution. I was in a lot of pain every step I took. Despite that, the other player on our team who played my position was injured and couldn’t play meaning that we were short changed for that position. So the day before I went to the tournament I saw the sports doctor. He said I could play, but it would mean I would have to start the healing process over again. I did also get fair warning that it would hurt, a lot. It didn’t help that as the main kicker I would be making contact with the bones which I had broken deliberately as part of the game.
On the day of the tournament my feet were causing a lot of pain. Any instant I wasn’t playing or warming up I would collapse on the ground and ice my feet, but the rugby was much more important to me than my own comfort. We were at the tournament as one of the favourites. The schools heritage paired with recent successes meant that other teams wanted to avoid us. We were expected to do well.
This year we were placed in a much easier group. As one of the seeded teams we were matched against the lower ranked teams, ones in the lower division who posed very little threat to us. After getting through the group we were matched against Hillcrest school’s first team. They were not great and were also in the division below us in the league. It was a relatively easy draw.
However, the great weakness of our team that year was our mentality. We could never play or think as a team and didn’t approach training, teamwork, or games as we should have. This game was no exception. Despite a lot of mistakes we got very unlucky. At one point we thought we had scored a try, but the groundsmen hadn’t drawn the try line straight, so the ball wasn’t on the line, even though it would have been on the other side of the posts. However, they scored a late try and edged the close encounter which was probably deserved given how poor we were on the day. Their inside center chipped a clever kick over to their winger after our lines positioning was misjudged.
We were devastated. We had let the school down. Our school’s rich history seemed in stark contrast the exhausted and broken figures on the pitch. For me personally it was a tragic end to the tournament. First of all, I had given up a lot to play in the tournament. I was in excruciating pain from start to finish because I was playing with two broken feet. Secondly, my older brothers had done well at the tournament, with one of them winning it. I would do anything to live up to them and put immense pressure on myself to be like them.
Here we have two situations where I was playing for my school’s rugby team. Both situations were at the same tournament, I got the same amount of playing time, and made it to the same knockout stage in both years. However, the critical difference was in the expectation that I and others had placed on the tournament. One year the expectations were relatively low. By surpassing them we became exuberant. The second year the expectations were high. By not living up to the standard which had been placed upon us we were forlorn. I was angry, frustrated, distraught, and bitterly disappointed.
Hopefully that story showed how expectations play a key role in our lives. This was an example of sport, but it could apply to academia, artistic expression, familial relationships, romantic relationships, religious experiences. Having the proper expectations helps us properly approach, think about, plan for, execute, respond to, and enjoy all situations. Coming to University I wasn’t sure what was to come, so I would say that I didn’t have expectations. What I meant is that I had limited expectations. I expected Scotland to have worse weather than I was used to and I didn’t expect a horde of velociraptors to be unleashed on students who turned in work late. Both of these were accurate.
Everything I have talked about so far has nothing in particular to do with mental health. The stories I told above were prior to me struggling with mental health problems. However, given the significance that expectations play in our lives it is crucial that they are given close attention when trying to deal with something as complicated and difficult as mental health.
In 2015 I survived my first assassination attempt, although it was accidental. My ‘loving’ flatmates had bought me an electric blanket for my birthday. It was a great present. I could put it on fifteen minutes before I went to bed and it felt like a bed sized hot water bottle. It was also a type which you could leave on all night safely (theoretically). It was a very thoughtful gift as well because unlike Elsa from Frozen, the cold does bother me, a lot.
However, come 4:30 in the morning in February I wake up with my room a haze. I couldn’t see the other wall properly which gave me a hint that something was wrong. I quickly leapt out of bed and dashed out of my room to catch my bearings. I realised that that was smoke, and that my room was filled with it. I put a shirt round my head and peered into my room quickly locating the source of the fire. My electric blanket had set my quilt on fire. I quickly grabbed all the bedding on fire and put it in the bathtub and then patted out the rest. Next I opened my window and all the ones downstairs to try and ventilate the place.
After taking stock of the situation I decided that even though I felt fine it would be unwise to go to sleep. Thus, I took the opportunity to play xbox until my flatmates woke up. When my flatmate Lewis went into the bathroom in the morning and found a my bed sheets covered in a brown murky water he was a bit more concerned about my digestive tract, but found me happily playing xbox downstairs with a successfully functioning bowl. The doctor diagnosed me with carbon Dioxide poisoning and I felt quite ill for a couple of days.
I was very lucky to be alive (there is a really cool story about why I survived, so feel free to ask about it!). When you are asleep in a small enclosed space and it is filled with smoke you don’t wake up, you suffocate in your sleep. The doctor said I was lucky, my friend said I was lucky, my minister said I was lucky, but I didn’t feel lucky. Along with my depression came a pervasive indifference. I didn’t care that I had almost died. Death didn’t bother me, at times it seemed the preferred option.
However, this created a very difficult situation for me. Whenever this came up in conversation I had very different expectations to what others had. Other people expected me to be jubilant that I had been spared. They expected me to be happy or relieved. They expected me to be scared of the near death experience. But they never expected the honest reaction when I rarely gave it. I didn’t care about life in that way, so a near death experience didn’t bother me. I didn’t care about life enough to celebrate its continuation. If I was feeling energetic I could muster up a “I guess God wants me knocking about a bit longer.”
However the expectations of other people started to take their toll. I started to hate talking about it because people’s reactions to my expectations were making me feel bad. The expectation to behave a certain way or to care about certain things were putting pressure on me because I was unable to experience the things expected of me. This made me start to feel guilty and bitter. I started to become dismissive of people’s concerned responses because to me they represented misunderstanding. I couldn’t even have a near death experience without people ruining it for me.
Their expectations put pressure on me. I became frustrated when talking about it and annoyed that people didn’t understand my situation. Depression is a very complicated matter, but at the time I was angry that no one seemed bothered enough to understand where I was coming from. Although I did learn my lesson. Always do the dishes if your flatmates ask you to, or else…
The stigma is real
Dealing with other people’s difficult expectations is something that happens every day for people with depression or mental health orders. Depression falls into a unique category of medical illness where people can’t see it, but it can still be crippling. When I was on crutches people were really good about not walking too quickly when with me (British people tend to all be professional speed walkers compared to me at the best of times). However, when I am struggling to walk with my mental disability people subconsciously walk at a rate which I struggle to keep up with. They expect me to keep up (usually subconsciously or unintentionally). Experiences like these are remarkably patronizing and invalidating for us. I understand it is very hard to understand what exactly needs to be done to support people who are ill with depression, but that may be why you are reading this blog.
I have heard, both in my life and stories from others, many tales of people with mental health illnesses being derided for being lazy. People with depression or anxiety often struggle to walk because of energy levels being totally depleted or physical symptoms. This semester I virtually didn’t leave my brother’s house for 10 days because I was struggling to walk. I actually left the house once but had to turn back 20 yards out. Was this me being lazy? No. Was it a cry for attention? No. It was a terrible experience, something I never want to go through again.
There is still a lot of stigma that exists against mental health problems. A big part of this is that ignorance leads people to place unrealistic expectations on people suffering with illness. They expect us to be able to do the same things that other people can do and so place similar expectations. They think that we are just being mopey, negative, struggling emotionally, or being lazy. These are all things I have heard. This is not the case.
We need a lot of grace and compassion as we struggle through a tough time. We are not trying to be difficult. In fact, we are usually trying very hard.
Hopefully this has given some insight into what life with depression is like. As always please let me know about your tips and stories. We are in this together. If you have any questions I would love to help or be helped by you. Please share this with your family and friends, you never know who it might help.
Don’t forget to read part two, which is split into two sections. The first is for people who want to help those with depression/anxiety. The second section will be for those struggling with it. Hopefully those tips can help.