Adjusting expectations

I have a volunteer gig with a local community services agency doing presentations to high school students on suicide awareness.  There’s a pretty standardized format for these workshops, and they are usually done for various grade 9 classes a few times a semester.  I started doing this about a year ago to try to give myself more of a sense of purpose and hopefully aid in my recovery from depression.  I’ve done public speaking about mental health in the past related to my work as a nurse, and it was something that I typically enjoyed and didn’t get overly nervous about.  I’m not sure why I thought that ease of public speaking when well would translate into some degree of ease when depressed, because that has definitely not been the case.

Luckily anxiety hasn’t been too much of an issue; it helps that I know the subject matter well and it’s essentially the same spiel each time.  My feelings leading up to these presentations have been a strange mix of antipathy and forced pseudo-excitement.  I want to feel good about speaking to youth on suicide prevention.  It’s certainly a topic that matters to me and that fits with my desire to combat stigma, but wanting to care and wanting to be excited aren’t translating into actually caring and being excited, no matter how hard I try to convince myself.  I post about it on Twitter in an attempt to stir up some advocative fire, but it only fuels my apathy.  That in and of itself bothers me; I want to be able to feel corresponding emotions to things that are important to me in a cognitive sense.  It’s just not working out that way, though.

I did a presentation yesterday morning to a class of grade 9’s, and the kids were ok; not great about participating, but not terrible.  Once again I disappointed myself with my own performance; it was ok, but not what I would have expected of myself under normal circumstances.  My thinking is slow, and it’s hard to be spontaneous.  There were times when I lost my train of thought or stopped to search for words that I just weren’t coming.  I’ve noticed for some time now that in many situations when I’m having to think hard about what I’m saying, I look up at the ceiling as I speak.  This isn’t something I do consciously, and I’m guessing I do it to minimize visual stimulation in order to focus better.  Normally it’s just a quirk of depressed Ashley, but while speaking in front of a class of kids it certainly doesn’t add to my effectiveness as a presenter.

I’ve had to come to terms with having my level of functioning impaired by depression across multiple contexts, but it seems just a little bit harder when it comes to something like this that I want to be passionate about.  I feel like in a sense I’m letting down my values and ideals.  I’m fully aware that this idea is ridiculous, but there you have it.

I was able to give myself some credit, though, for an email I received yesterday morning from the editor-in-chief at the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing.  The email invited me to apply to be a member of their editorial board.  I’m fairly certain that this was a form letter sent out to anyone that has had a paper published in journal over the last while, but I still thought it was pretty cool.  That’s not to say I’m actually going to apply; without a PhD I’m not properly qualified, plus the workload would be more than I’d be prepared to take on.  Still, I have to remind myself not to discount the positive when I find it.  The email triggered a glimmer of an idea for a new research project looking at mental health blogging; I’ll have to give it some more thought and evaluate whether I have the energy for it or if I’d just be setting myself up for failure, but if I decide to go ahead with I’ll be asking fellow bloggers to get involved.

No matter what it is I’m doing I try to adjust my expectations based on what my illness will or will not allow at the time.  Sometimes I’m able to do that without too much difficulty, and in other situations it can be a real struggle. I guess what’s most important, though, is that I’m attributing my limitations to my illness rather than a fundamental flaw in myself, so it’s a dynamic work in progress.  And as Marsha Linehan would remind me in her DBT assumptions, I’m doing the best I can.

31 thoughts on “Adjusting expectations

  1. Barb says:

    I think it’s great that you’re advocating for mental health. As for the lack of passion, I’m glad you realize that it’s you’re depression. I’m also learning to adjust my expectations, which I find difficult. And although you don’t think you’ll do it, congratulations on being asked to apply to be a member of the editorial board!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Meg says:

    No, you are doing GREAT WORK!!! Good for you!!! Those kids know how much you care and how badly you want them to feel like it’s okay to ask for help!! You are being way too hard on yourself. They’re probably thinking, “Wow, this person cares enough to come and give us options for when life is horrid.” Keep up the good work!!

    ~When Bad Advice Happens blogger.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Marie Abanga says:

    I also wanted to add that as much as I am adjusting my expectations, as much as I wish others could adjust their expectations of me given all the word I put out, and not cloak stigma in a brighter gown: Developing a thicker skin is also reviewing my expectation of my reaction to their reaction when they think/say “you are way below expectations these past years” etc

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Missing In Sight says:

    Wow. What a great post! I applaud you for attributing your limitations to your illness instead of you as a person. I do the latter, and it has broken my spirit and sabotaged the things I love doing. If I don’t meet my expectations, then I feel like it’s my fault. For example, when I’m writing, if it doesn’t come out perfectly and eloquently, I blame myself for being inept rather than my illness for making me disconnected and fuzzy headed. Your post has given me permission to assess the reality of me being a loser or is it that my illness just won’t let me function that day. You wrote a great post. I am bookmarking it, so I can refer to it again and again. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ashley says:

    You are so brave, Ashley! I think there is space for you to work toward what you want before you feel you’re quite ready – sometimes a good option is to take the leap of faith and trust that you can do it!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Alex Sarll says:

    Hi, I just found your blog and it’s great, a really interesting read! I know now, after fourteen years with a mental health diagnosis that I must always attribute my limitations to my illness (unless I’m just being particularly lazy!). This illness seems to knock me in the moments when I want to feel most excited or happy, and makes me feel terrible instead. The frustration which builds up after that can be debilitating. I’d be interested in getting involved in any collaborative projects you came up with, let me know if you go ahead with any kind of research projects relating to mental health blogging. Good to read you!

    Liked by 1 person

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