This year did not go as I expected it to, despite the fact that I like to pretend I am a person who carries no expectations. If I’m honest, I don’t do well with disappointment; as a kid I used to cry and scream “I wish I were dead!” when I didn’t get my way. I often think I deserve the things I ask for just because I try my best to be a decent human. My therapist cautions against using the word “deserve,” it implies a sense of entitlement. I am annoyed that she is right but, as my friend Gayle put it, “You don’t deserve the pain but you don’t deserve the love either. But there are things that are there that you can have. There is a life in front of you that is there for the taking.”
My grandma held a deep love for and belief in people. She is the only person I have ever believed when she told me I was special. She sought out the light in people, allowed them to be just who they were and was accepting of their failings. As someone at her memorial said, “She trusted in you more than you could trust yourself.” I just have to trust in myself enough for the both of us, now that she is gone.
My mother is an angel. She tries harder than anyone I know to make the least amount of negative impact on the world, with no expectation of reward (were she to be rewarded, she wouldn’t accept it). My grandma, an atheist, was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. So I don’t know where I inherited this idea that if I am “good” and experience a certain amount of suffering and sacrifice, it means I’ve earned an equal amount of joy. Neither my happiness nor suffering is guaranteed. I don’t “deserve” anything. It’s all neutral. It means I don’t have to try so hard to be good just for the sake of karma, or prolong my suffering in order to earn my future happiness. I now understand that these two women were teaching me to be kind just for kindness’s sake. Perhaps the act is the reward itself.
I’ve spent a lot of this year trying to re-adjust my expectations, trying to understand that my joy and pain aren’t earned or deserved, they just are. I am learning to accept that despite my lack of control when it comes to the circumstances of this year, I am still in charge of my own happiness. It is terrifying and I feel like a big baby. What if I fail? What if I can’t find a job? What if everyone figures out I am not as good as I pretend to be? What if I ask for too much? What if I am just a big disappointment to everyone? What if I’m selfish? What if my anxiety destroys me?
But you know what, fuck that. What if I find the perfect job? What if my vulnerable state allows me to let new people in? What if people forgive me for all my failures? What if I forgive myself? What if I get better at living with my anxiety and quit letting it make decisions for me? What if I fight for happiness? What if I learn to let go and allow my softness to return to me?
I am exhausted from being sad and angry, from clenching my teeth in my sleep, from the unwarranted sense of injustice I feel because the events of this year took the wind out of me. I am not as wise or centered as I thought I was. I am not always as gracious as I pretend to be. Sometimes I am moody and incapable of seeing beyond my own feelings. Sometimes I do things for the wrong reasons. Sometimes my wounds allow me to be selfish and angry. Sometimes I am defensive and like to pretend I am blameless. None of these things are good. But they are OK.
This year was hard for everyone, not just for me. It feels like everything is in upheaval. It’s scary. But maybe when everything is scary it is easier to stop making fear-based choices. Maybe I’m being selfish now so I can be selfless in the future. Maybe growing up requires acknowledging the young, underdeveloped, wounded parts of us and allowing them to come to the surface. Maybe I’m just learning to stand for myself, to plant my feet in the ground right beneath me. So what if I wobble?