For reasons that seem hard to put into words, the Holidays have always been a challenging time for me. I find that each day Christmas gets a little closer, the greater my anxiety increases. In the end, it’s like I’m in survival mode – just trying to remain sane and “with it” until it passes. It’s not until December 26th do I finally feel that weight slowly start to lessen and my nerves go back to their proper levels. I can breathe again.
Why? Why is this an issue? Why do I hear so many similar stories that resemble mine?
It’s actually kind of sad, living in eager expectation for beautiful moments to pass, just to get on the other side in order to get a semblance of peace. But I want to pause and first talk about this word: expectation.
This is a tricky word. Packed with deeper meaning than it lets on. Why do our expectations make or break our situations? How do we fix this? Why are they dangerous?
As I’ve grown older throughout the years, I find that when beautiful and exciting moments come to pass, my anxiety tends to spike out of control. And Christmas just tends to be that iconic “beautiful merriment and exciting time of the year where everyone is always happy and smiling their ears off.” For me, the problem lies in the fact that I have a hard time believing good things can last. I always assume they have a time stamp and that the worst case scenario will inevitably occur.
I’ve grown up in an incredibly loving Christian household, with amazing parents and brothers. I have never been lacking in bare necessities, praise the Lord, and my parents have always been able to provide and give us the best life possible. I am forever grateful for that. It’s just unfortunate that somewhere down the road I started to believe the lies that good things can’t last, won’t last, and that I’m the one who is going to mess it all up anyways.
To understand a bit more, I have OCD when it comes to my thought life. So if I think something, anything, I struggle with its validity. My mind: “If I think this, then it must be true, or why else would this thought have even come in my head in the first place?” Hence, the lifelong struggle of learning to let things go and simply move on. It’s hard, but not impossible.
Dealing with deep anxiety around Christmas isn’t fun, but I’ve almost expected it to come every year. I’ve expected to have my joy depleted just to make room for irrational fears and depression. Perhaps it’s the dichotomy of having so much joy amidst all the universal suffering that leaves my heart feeling extra broken and uncomfortable. As mentioned before, I’ve never grown up lacking in bare necessities, and just knowing that there are countless individuals struggling to find a day’s meal, let alone three, is too much to digest. Why am I so privileged?
The thought bothers me some. I struggle with holding all these blessings while simultaneously wanting to let them go. But does that seem ungrateful? Probably, but I’m not trying to be. I don’t really want to let them go, but I want to use what I’ve been given in order to bless others. But that’s a lot harder to do when a heaping weight of anxiety is festering on your back like a hungry wound. Something needs to give.
And that leads me back to expectations. This is a very dangerous thing. Everyone has expectations, whether we know it or not. We wake up with expectations for the sun to rise and shine, we have expectations for a good commute into work, we have expectations for our cars to start, for our coffee to brew, and for our food to be handed through the drive-thru window in under 1 minute. We have a lot of expectations, and if they fail to be met, these little scenarios have the potential to throw our entire days off.
Recently, I’ve been struggling with expectations in regards to Zac. Getting closer to our wedding day, the weight of everything just seems a bit more real. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super excited, but I can get overwhelmed just thinking about all that remains to be done and for all the changes that are going to happen within the next couple months. And like any relationship, it’s easy to put expectations on someone. This, my friends, is very dangerous and just so happened to kick-start a lot of my Holiday anxiety.
Expectations, whether we are aware of them or not, are always present. And for me, a lot of my expectations stemmed from a very selfish mindset. Over the past couple of months, I’ve found myself getting more and more disagreeable, moody, and frustrated. The things I wanted to see get done or the feelings in my heart that I wanted to be coddled and or comforted – it all felt ignored and unmet. For example, I’d think: “Okay, when Zac comes to pick me up, he’ll comment on what I’m wearing and say I look nice, or perhaps he’s going to surprise me with something really thoughtful,” etc, etc, etc. Can you guess how this ended?
I’d grow resentful for my unmet expectations. I’d grow upset and irritable, both frustrated with myself and Zac for not giving me what I wanted. (Wow, writing all this down just makes me sound like a monster hah, but it’s real. So bear with me). In the end, I was a heaping mass of smoldering emotions, set off by the slightest remark or lack there of. I was on edge, seeking comfort yet resisting it all at once. I was an internal mess.
Fast forward to Christmas break, I got a severe wave of anxiety and realized that something wasn’t quite right. All of these pent up emotions from unmet expectations and my already existing fears around the Holidays all culminated into one mass of pulsating angst, that I finally got to my breaking point. I was ready to talk and strip myself bare, so to speak.
I was completely unaware of all the turmoil in my heart. I was completely blinded by my own selfishness and ridiculous expectations. I had no clue. And that’s why I write this post, to stir up some hope and bring to light a lot of the things we often bury deep within ourselves. Not all expectations are bad, but a lot of them are misplaced and unfair. What I’m learning, is that it’s okay to be broken and messy, it’s okay to fall short and cause some accidental chaos, but it’s resisting the need to change that can be the problem.
When stuck in a pattern of selfish thinking, it’s hard to see ourselves as the problem. The finger is always pointed at someone else. Whether in friendships, work relationships, dating or marriage relationships, sacrificing our own wants and needs on behalf of others is what love is all about. And hopefully, the other person is doing the same back, so then the relationship/friendship is an actual two-way street. Above all, good communication is crucial to a successful friendship/marriage.
(*PSA: If there is abuse of any kind, please know this does not mean to just sit and take it – no. Please, leave if you can or call someone to get help. There is a huge difference between sacrificing ourselves on behalf of others versus taking abuse because the other person/people are dealing with their own selfishness. It is not your fault and you deserve better. Please reach out if this is you <3).
Through all of this, Zac has been a true MVP. He has graciously walked beside me, forgiving me and giving me the space to work all this inner turmoil out. He has never stopped loving me unconditionally like our Heavenly Father does so well. He has stated over and over again that no matter how messy we get, we get through it together. And that, my friends, is what love is all about. (He is also really thoughtful, but when you’re in the crux of being selfish, it’s easy to forget everyone’s good qualities).
If you’ve been struggling with unmet expectations and deep rooted anxiety, I challenge you to think about where your heart is. Mine wasn’t in the right place for quite some time, but through prayer and forgiveness, I’ve come to see just how wrong I was. I encourage you to check where you place your expectations and to not assume the worst case scenario will always happen. Most often times, everything turns out great. You can save yourself a lot of heartache by simply trusting and learning to let go of the need for situational control.
One more thing, when our minds are off ourselves, we are therefore able to love those around us better. To be blessings to those in need or to those who live in the same houses as us. The world becomes a more beautiful place the less you make it about yourself.
Sometimes the best expectations are having none at all. So here’s to 2019, walking in with no expectations, just trusting that the Lord will make it all beautiful in His timing.
Be blessed & go hug your loved ones extra tight!