Para Pam was a nickname once coined to me by a friend in my very early twenties, around the time my anxiety most likely started, although back then, I didn’t actually know that was what it was. It would take me a few years, before I sat down in a doctors office (after much persuasion by my mum after losing a lot of weight), with a questionnaire in front of me asking a series of questions that had to be rated:
- Not at all
- Several days
- More than half the days
- Nearly every day
And what a relief it was, seeing those little questions on that sheet of paper, and knowing that I was not alone inside my head – that other people felt like this; that this was such a common thing that doctors had even devised a checklist to diagnose it.
One of the things the therapist asked me, was how do you relax? Relax? Was she for real? To this day, I cannot respond to the question, because I do not know how to relax. How exactly do you make your shoulders go nice and spongey? How can people just sit and watch back to back boxsets when there are just SO MANY OTHER THINGS THAT NEED DONE.*
If I don’t have a plan, or a list of the things that I need to do that day – I feel stressed not maximising my day’s potential. Even in the clutches of a hangover, I force myself to get up and continue through my day as if my head isn’t thumping and I don’t feel sick. In doing this, I feel like my days have a sense of purpose. I did the most things that I could do with my day.
BUT THEN, every now and again, I have this crashing panic, that I haven’t been doing enough. Even worse are the days when I realise some people haven’t spoken to me in a while, and surely the reason for this is that they secretly do not like me. I must have offended them in such a huge way that they don’t want to talk to me or be my friend anymore. It’s not that they have been busy (which lets face it, is the most likely scenario), no – it must be that they have been avoiding me. And so I begin to replay our last conversation and start to dissect everything I have ever said to them. In doing so, all of the evidence points to, ‘they do not like me’. And upon this revelation, I have to turn off my phone and not speak to anyone. By the time I do resurface, I can feel myself holding back from everyone, and acting stand offish.
Other times, I agree to plans that I know are too tight. I spread myself too thinly so to speak, and I run myself ragged, trying to see everyone while also frantically trying to tick things off of my to-do list. On the days like these, I sometimes end up cancelling plans or letting people down last minute due to lack of time or exhaustion, only for me to worry incessantly that my friends will be annoyed at my flakiness. And so begins another vicious cycle, where even though I am in the wrong, I will avoid the person or be standoffish for fear that they don’t like me anymore.
Then there are the times where people tell me, “Relax! Just wait and see what happens.” or, “See how it goes.” I feel like saying to them, “Are you out of your mind???” Because in my mind, I have already come up with one hundred thousand alternative ways where this ‘thing’ could go, (the good, the bad and the ugly) and as a result, I am worrying about every single one of them simultaneously.
The worst part of all in this, is that I know this behaviour is selfish, and absolutely not logical. I KNOW that. I just don’t know how to stop it. It is impossible to get everything done. People get busy and take a while to reply to you. Sometimes people forget to invite you to things or their plans change last minute. In fact, I personally am the worst at replying. Sometimes, I’ll get a voice note or message of epic proportions that deserves an epic reply. It pings through right when I am on my way to a long shift at work, or out with friends, and I put it to the side telling myself, “I’ll reply when I get a spare few minutes.” Fast forward to a week later, all of a sudden like a lightbulb I’ll remember that I haven’t yet replied.
Why do I allow these things affect me so much? Like Dita Von Teese said, “You can be the ripest juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” My worth should only depend on how I see myself, wether or not I like myself – not if someone else likes me or not! I should just not care, but somehow a bit like the being unable to relax thing, I lack the skills required to not give a fuck.
With me, it’s not the earth shattering things in life that throw me off guard. I have a theory that this is because I have worried about every single massive eventuality in my head so much, that by the time it happens, I already feel a little mentally prepared. So, it’s not the things like, “Your mum has been diagnosed with cancer.” or, “You have a week to move house” that throw me so much as the culmination of several things all at once, (such as the washing machine flooding) that send me into a serious meltdown. I am coping with everything the best way I can, and then something as insignificant as a broken washing machine (which is so easily repairable) ends up being the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.
I am currently reading a book by Bryony Gordon, a British journalist for The Telegraph who talks openly about her battle with mental health, and it is so liberating to read how normal stuff like this is. But my question is, if it’s so common, then why do we never talk about it? Why is there such a stigma attached to mental health? If it was any other organ malfunctioning other than our brain, there’d be a team of doctors prescribing medications or suggesting surgeries. There’s so much help available to cure us, but such a lack of accessiblity and a huge stigma attached to mental problems, particularly in Dubai. Why is it for the most part, unacceptable to call sick to work because, “I cannot face the world today.”
So while you might read this and think that I am a little bit psychotic, thats ok, because there will be someone else saying, “Me too!” and for the ones that can relate, here are a list of some things that genuinely have helped me over the past few years.
- Talking about things – it helps to even have one person you can confide in, and seriously consider speaking to a therapist. CBT arms you with practical tools that can help you when you feel anxious.
- Eating – eating well always gives me a sense of control. Nurture your body with good home-made foods and healthy things. And if you eat rubbish for a while, that’s okay too – but just remember to eat.
- Exercising – even if you think you’re unfit, or you don’t know where to start, just START! Go to a gym class, or ask to tag along on a gym-bunny-friend’s workout to see what he or she does at the gym. Don’t feel insecure about people watching you in the gym or judging you, because everyone has to start somewhere and they’re probably feeling too insecure about their own bodies to even notice yours.
- Having a pet – a pet gives you a reason to get out of bed and also some company. If you have no-one to talk to, you can talk to your pet because your pet is never going to judge you.
- Ditch social media. Social media is the thief of joy – it drains your time, your phone battery, and your ability to live in the moment. You can end up comparing yourself to others as well, and when you do so, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually comparing your side reel to someone else’s best bits. It is UNREALISTIC. If you can’t ditch it, add a time constraint to limit the amount of times a day you check it.
- Make a happy playlist and play it while you’re having breakfast/in the shower/going to work – DO NOT LISTEN TO SAD SONGS.
- Before you’re going to sleep, think about five things that day you have to be grateful for. Sometimes these things will be a little harder to think of than other days, but there will always be something.
- No matter how rubbish you feel, get up and have a shower. Even if all you do afterwards is put on clean PJs. You will feel a million times better after a shower.
*FYI. This is probably the real reason for why I didn’t own a TV for the last 7 years…