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  • Writer's pictureHayden Purcell

Expectations & Why They Break Me

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

This will be my first Christmas and New Year single in almost 10 years.

This is the worst time of year for me anyway, and this year, I feel I have nobody to sound off on. Nobody who understands why I get so worked up this time of year. Nobody who gets what I mean when I say the closer to Christmas it gets, the more intense my 'low level PTSD' becomes.

This is not a rocking back and forth, sleeping on a hard floor, having night terrors because of being in an explosive warzone kind of PTSD. This is purely anxiety based, influenced by a fear of things going wrong, and worsened by, well, things continuously going wrong.

I was 19, and so looking forward to Christmas 2009. My brother and his then wife were coming to spend it with our parents and I, and I hadn't seen him in about a year.

My brother left home when I was 16 I think, for the big old US of A. We never really gelled as kids; he's 6 years older than me, so whilst I was a brat, he was an adolescent discovering himself, finding that his maturity fit better with people a bit older than him at the time.

In the 6 months to a year building up to him departing, he and I began to find the formations of a bond. The textbook sibling rivalry, had finally started to show hope of brotherhood...And then he left.

When we did see each other after this, we found we got on much better. Whilst we still speak somewhat infrequently now because of circumstance, I feel we actually have proper open and honest communication.

These prospects, are why I was so looking forward to Christmas 2009. It was going to be like when I was a kid, but better, because we actually got on now.

My depression was really starting to blossom that year, and take on a whole new form of its own, constantly spiralling out of control, and that Christmas, and prospects of family festivity, gave me a focal point to feel optimistic and hopeful about. All of the failed relationship endeavours of the previous year could finally take a back seat. All the struggles of my mental health that I didn't understand or talk about, could take a little break, whilst I revel in spending some quality time with a brother who I could finally call a friend.

And then I got sick.

Really sick.

And I will never forget, this one single moment, that has ruined my sense of expectations forever.

December 18th 2009.

My Dad had left that morning for Heathrow Airport to pick up my brother and his wife. I was playing videogames. My local GP who I had seen the day before, who incidentally was an old family friend from being the father of a musician in one of my brothers bands some years before, came to my house unannounced. To discuss some results of tests I'd had the day before, in person, because he knew us.

I overheard him speaking to my mum in the kitchen, but either didn't make out, or perhaps blocked out what he was saying. The sheer fact he was there, having a sit down chat with my mum first, when he could have spoken to me over the phone, told me everything I needed to know; This Was Bad.

They came to get me, and explained what was going on, and that they needed to call a blue light ambulance for me to take me to the nearest specialist hospital.

The ambulance arrived. They did some basic paperwork inside the house.

They escorted me out the front door, at the exact moment, my brother had arrived. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for us to literally pass each other in the doorway as I was being escorted to an ambulance.

"Hi." "Bye."

All that build up, all that hope, all the optimism, all that expectation. Crushed, in an instant. Thrown away. Destroyed. Demolished.

I'm not quite ready to detail the intricacies of what followed whilst at hospital. Those who know, know, but as far as public domain is concerned, there's a lot to unpack that in typing this I've realised, whilst I have accepted it within myself (as much as I feel I can at this point), I clearly still have a lot of mixed feelings towards my own thoughts about it all. Or rather, that I'm concerned how they'd be received. I want this blog to be an honesty dump, and despite a consciousness that this to me is essentially an online "diary" that nobody will read...Well, you've stumbled across it.

Anyway, everything that followed this single moment, has culminated in an inability to become excited about things. Exasperated by continuous proof throughout my life of when I do look forward to things, or plan things, things always go wrong, or not as expected, and I just can't deal with that.

What's worse, is that this feeling has worsened with age and time, to the point where the smallest variations in plans feels cataclysmic if I'm anticipating them, and ever more so in the lead up to Christmas. So I have conditioned myself to not 'look forward to' or anticipate anything with a feeling of excitement, because when I do, there is no joy there, only pure unadulterated tremor inducing, sleep depriving, anxiety.

I have yet to find anyone who actually understands this, instead people try to encourage me to get excited, completely ignoring the physical and emotional conflict and agony doing so actually causes as a by product. Or perhaps they are just unaware because I never really speak about it. It feels impossible to explain, and in trying to express it, it usually comes out as outbursts. So I just paraphrase the whole experience as "I hate Christmas", and then get called 'Grinch' and 'Scrooge' for the entirety of December.

When I was a sales assistant in retail, they had "red weeks" that you weren't allowed to book holiday on, and it was always difficult to rearrange shifts or request specific days off around Christmas.

I typically didn't, and still don't, care about working Christmas bank holidays. I have Christmas Eve off this year, only because my Assistant Manager and my Team Leader at work told me it was only fair I have one, and they would share one of the days so I could have at least one, despite me initially marking myself down to work all of them. Which is a testament to the management team at work that support me, and they really are wonderful people for the gesture of doing that. It works in my favour, because I've been invited to a little soiree at a friends house, where I fully intend on getting shit faced.

But in 2016, when working retail, some friends wanted to do a "friendsmas" which I was fully onboard for, and said yes to immediately. But the day they chose, I had to work, and I said I would arrive after. They tried to encourage me to ask for the day off, or swap shifts, or call in sick, to which I refused.

At the time, I didn't fully understand that what I was dealing with, was a mild form of PTSD, but I was aware that I felt notably more stressed around Christmas time. I didn't want to do anything that might heighten my anxiety, it was like, my brain was automatically responding to avoiding triggers at the mere suggestion of asking my manager for time off. Realistically the worst that could happen was I ask, and they say no. But the cogs in my brain were working overtime in the background, catastrophising, but it was like background noise, subconscious, and my gut reaction was avoidance. Like, my body was telling me to keep things simple. Stick to a routine, and do what you're told. Some kind of fucked up survival mode I guess?

The more I was pushed about it, the more worked up I got, but they didn't really know how fucked up I was at the time, so I was having to mask it. But they pushed, until I snapped, and had an outburst about things always going wrong at Christmas.

There was an awkward silence, and they left it alone.

But every Christmas for the past 10 years, I have been in a relationship, or the formations of one, and I think I realise now, it potentially served as some form of distraction. It was either early days that it gave focus and incentive to hide my trepidations and anxieties around the festive period. Or, I'd let them in enough to be able to show some of my anxieties without fear of judgement.

This year however, I am alone. I feel alone. And dealing with a work situation that funnily enough, keeps going wrong, and it is just adding fuel to the fire. Each time I plan my rotas at work, organise my teams, and set something up that works, something goes wrong, and I have to change shit.

I have had to reorder my Christmas rotas for myself and my team today for the 3rd or 4th time over the past 2 weeks, and each day lately seems to bring a new problem and a new nightmare to deal with.

There is a positive that it is distracting me massively from romantic endeavours, which are arguably more problematic for me, as I seek to try to become comfortable with the idea of being single. Also a plus in terms of career aspects, and pushing my capabilities within my role.

The downside is, I had a plan in my head over a month ago. I was determined, because of how shit my work life was last Christmas, that I was going to have a good working Christmas this year. I had enough people recruited and was actively training my new staff so I could run effectively through peak trade.

I had communicated wearing my metaphorical mask, the optimistic views of this years peak trade, and how it will be a good one, and I am doing everything I can to ensure that my team doesn't struggle, whilst I have been beckoned to support another store within our chain, that is somewhat on its knees.

Career wise, this is great, and if it were anytime other than peak Christmas trade, I think I would be mentally handling this very differently. But right now, with where my head is at in terms of loneliness and heightened seasonal anxieties. It's really fucking me up. I always have this predisposition of expecting the next bad thing to happen, which again, intensifies this time of year. But I am really starting to wonder if I can cope with it this year.

I have some great friends, lately, one in particular I feel more comfortable with to just dump my thoughts and feelings on, because he does the same with me, but it's not the same as certain freedoms I felt within my previous relationships. Or that I was able to detach a little from some of these insecurities whilst with my partner, and instead focus on my time with them.

My best coping mechanism this time of year is routine. Just keep my head down, and get through it day by day. I don't plan things myself socially at the best of times, but it's definitely even worse now; and if anything I find I tend to retreat more into myself. As if I'm trying to hide from everything, so the universe can't hurt me again if it can't see me or something.

I'm certain that sounds incredibly pathetic.

This was something that got brought up during my last breakup. I remember some key phrases like "I want you to get excited about our wedding if it happens" or "If we have a kid, I want you to be excited and happy that it's coming". But I had to be honest "That's just not me". The more I have tried in the past to enable myself to find some sense of joy in anticipation, it is just imbalanced with overwhelming anxiety overtaking it. So I default to one way of thinking; prepare for the worst, expect nothing.

This works for pretty much everything in my life, the downside is, I don't get a lot of enjoyment out of things. I will be present and engaged in social situations, and have a good time and a good laugh, and even come away from it with fond memories, but there's that crucial element missing. The sense of satisfaction from having looked forward to something, and seeing it through. A sense of satisfaction that comes when your mental preparation comes to fruition, something that I feel like, I never get. Maybe I'm just unlucky, or maybe I am looking at it completely wrong?

But then we come to situations of lust, and my emotional attachments, where I have discovered I seem to be incapable of utilising my habits of deflecting expectation, because my sense of "need" for emotional attachment takes to the foreground, bringing with it these obsessive imaginations and fantasies. My brain starts to imagine things going my way, I get lost and daydream about what it would be like to have something go right with the object of my affections, and visualise an idealistic happy relationship based off a handful of interactions.

In of itself, I don't think it's wrong, a small element of that is what encourages us to make certain moves and gestures towards the people we want to get to know better in that way, and sometimes it works out, and I'll admit, sometimes, for me it has worked out. But more often than not, it doesn't. The fantasies and daydreams start to actually make me feel a sense of happiness, until I snap back to reality and realise there is no joy here, everything I'm thinking is imaginary, and it just makes me feel like I don't deserve to feel good like that.

When I was a teenager I used to get so lost in these fantasies over my crushes, that I would almost desperately try to make them come true, and instead become the overbearing weirdo who people would need to detach themselves from because I was likely coming across as creepy, or unwelcomingly affectionate out of perceptively nowhere from their point of view.

The constant rejections of which in my youth, whilst leading to a great sense of self awareness about this, has also led to a great lack of self awareness about how I am actually coming across in these situations. Making any and all potential romantic endeavours intensely stressful from the very point of the ideas inception.

A combination of inability to deal with my own expectations, fear of rejection, issues with an innate necessity for emotional attachments all feed into this over encompassing worry that I am just not coming across as normal and sane, and therefore someone that shouldn't be welcomed into another's life romantically. I do not like these aspects about myself, and this feeds in to part of the reasoning as to why I think "loving yourself before you love another" is a misnomer that shouldn't be taken literally. Although, maybe I am wrong, because evidence of all my failed relationships potentially proves the antithesis of what I believe? I understand these parts of myself, and I accept them for what they are, and for the most part I can explain where they come from, peppering in some theories within myself on the elements I can't fully explain or trace back, because maybe some of it is in my DNA and like everyone, perhaps I just sit at a particular spot on an autistic spectrum that makes some things more difficult to deal with than others. Something, I will likely not bother to get diagnosed, because I refuse to misguide myself into a false sense of acceptance if there is something I medically cannot change. I think real acceptance comes from making an effort to self educate and attempt to enact change within yourself, and working out if it actually fits for you, and if not, at least you tried, and can recognise that actually, the thing you tried to change is your nature. I would rather get there on my own, than have a doctor tell me my brain is fucked, because I mean realistically, I already know it is.


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