Nick Mercer: Impromptu Expectations

28 Mar

The thing about expectations is that they presume a certain course of events. In July 2003, I assumed that I would start my co-op job in Ottawa in September and I based my expectations for the coming years on that presumption – my previous post, Finding yourself after a brain injury. First step: Recon. Brain injuries themselves are unexpected, so you don’t know what presumptions to make that will allow you to generate expectations. You’re already starting off on the wrong foot. It’s not so much the issue of living up to, not meeting, or exceeding expectations, it’s more about the expectations themselves that I will write about.

After considering a patient’s health/medical history, age, other essential factors and the severity of most injuries, conditions, or diseases, doctors can only base their ultimate prognosis on probabilities. This is where expectations begin to go awry. Not to get into statistics or anything, but if the probability of surviving a coma of a certain length and severity is low, it’s because it hasn’t happened very much, therefore there will be few cases upon which to build expectations. The fewer cases, the fewer reliable prognoses can be made, hence few, if any expectations.

Those are for others to make. The most important expectations are the ones you make for yourself. I had been making those ever since
I can remember. When I was a kid and used to catch insects, I had a book that told me all about them, where they lived, what they ate, and I would set my expectations on catching an exotic scorpion or centipede that only lived in the tropics. To me though, there was always a chance that I’d find one here, on a rock in the north Atlantic. Then, I started a new hobby, tree climbing. Those expectations were limited by the tree height and when they became easily attainable I started dreaming about becoming an astronaut. I read a lot of books about being an astronaut and I was  always looking for more. After one of the first books I read, I found out that to actually fly a shuttle, you had to have been a pilot in the U.S . military. So, that wasn’t happening. Nevertheless, I wanted to read more about becoming an astronaut.

That was a dream more than an expectation, but I’ve never been good at discerning dreams from expectations. I think that’s because I’m too literal and I like being right. What I expect to happen is usually fairly boring and doesn’t show much faith in other people (family and friends excluded). Too often I try to match the answer of ‘what will happen?’ to ‘what do you expect to happen?’ It was probably this same attitude that has allowed me to be successful in my rehabilitation and recovery, but it is also this attitude that gets me angry or frustrated. Anyway, the sort of path my expectations follow is not necessarily on the route to reality.

As of August 1, 2003, the way I made expectations changed. Through stubbornness or ignorance, I simply expected that I would get back to my pre-brain injury level of energy and physicality. Honestly, I was confused with any congratulations I received during my rehab.  I was comparing my new physical self to my old physical self, as though time would stand still while I recovered and rehabilitated. I was really annoyed by the patronizing way people would give me encouragements. Like before, my expectations were made and a plan was developed to get me there. Now, however, I didn’t make my plan, or necessarily know what the plan was. Nor were my expectations the same or even in the same area. At first, of course, my expectations and plans were centered around my physical rehabilitation. Once I had accepted how long and difficult it would be, I realized that I could control that part of my recovery. Then, my mind went to other expectations, long-term expectations. Obviously, those were tougher to control and, like many of my erstwhile expectations, very malleable. Malleable to the point that I realized expectations have their place. In rehab and recovery they were goals and good motivation, they gave a structure to that experience that made it feel more like training/practice than something annoying or disheartening.

Maybe it’s my overly literal self writing again, but I think ‘making an expectation for yourself’ and ‘expecting something of yourself’ are two different scenarios. I expect a lot from myself, but I am getting away from really making expectations. I don’t know if that clears it up or not? I make it sound like an inner search in which I am examining my soul, while in reality, my family and friends are the ones who gave me such incredible support that all I needed to do was focus and work hard.

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