On the way for coffee this morning a colleague and friend of mine suddenly froze and burst into tears. I could see the terror in her eyes as she shook her head rapidly and clenched her fists. Once in the safety of the toilets she sobbed and I held her tightly in my arms.
I’m not coping Claire, I can’t do this. I just can’t. It’s too much. Lucy has been suffering with health issues for some time. Nothing life threatening thank goodness, but it certainly makes her days that little bit harder. The stress has caused her to develop Health Anxiety and she battles to keep it at bay and remain positive. Lucy of course, feeling embarrassed and not wanting to upset anyone kept her anxiety a secret, and true to anxiety’s brutal nature, it eventually reared its ugly head this morning.
This raises my first question. When did it become unacceptable to not be OK? Why do we have to be fine and positive all of the time? This isn’t natural and it certainly isn’t achievable. If we’re unable to think positively then we punish ourselves with self-loathing and criticism, which increases the feeling of anxiety.
Humans are complex creatures. Sometimes we feel unhappy, overwhelmed and fed up. But a society obsessed with success and achieving the ‘full package’ forces us to repress such negative emotions. Signs of weakness are not acceptable and unhappiness is often considered to be a character flaw. In a nutshell; beliefs such as these cause nervous breakdowns. I should know. Repression can be a very dangerous thing and the brain will eventually rebel.
As Lucy calmed down I managed to cheer her up with one of my own experiences. Don’t feel embarrassed I had a melt-down in Topshop the other week. Right near the shoes. The poor security guard was desperately trying to comfort me with sweets. He thought I’d been dumped and I didn’t correct him because I wanted the sweets!
Tears are as natural a reaction as sneezing, and like sneezing they relieve pressure. So why are we so ashamed of them? Here’s a mantra that I would like to circulate in 2014: IT’S OK TO FEEL SHIT. Feel free to help me spread that message.. I’m thinking T’shirts?
If you feel afraid, that’s ok.. if you feel unhappy, that’s ok… If you feel anxious, that’s ok… if you feel horny, that’s ok (although I’d rather not hear about that one.)
Let’s work on being more honest about the way we feel.
In complete contrast I will now seem like a hypocrite, so please stay with me.
Lucy mentioned that she had recently visited some online health forums; I read so many stories from people who said that the condition has ruined their lives. It was so horrible. How am I supposed to deal with this?
I have a huge issue with online forums, because I believe that they do more harm than good. As an outlet it’s good to give like-minded people a place to communicate with one another. However, in my experience they tend to be very negative and evolve into competitions of; ‘who has it worse.’ How are these stories helpful to anyone?
Such tales are also massively unreliable because they depict ONE moment in time with the presumption that life will never change. The man who wrote; It ruined my life – might’ve been going through a particularly bad period. But who knows how he feels today. Will he go back and correct this statement when he’s having a good day? No, of course not, because he’s too busy living his life. This is a major problem because his words will and have had an impact on other people.
When I was very ill last January I was advised to visit a few anxiety forums to ‘learn how other people cope with it.’ What I did learn however, was just how fast a website can scare me shitless. For example, here’s a statement that I read only five minutes ago; I have to take Valium every day just to get through and I never leave my house. I’ll never meet a man. You have no idea how miserable my life is. I wish I could kill myself. – HOW IS THIS HELPFUL?????!!! As much as I respect this woman’s right to express herself, and sympathise with her plight, I think that her actions were misguided and reckless. Write these terrifying thoughts in a diary, don’t plaster them on the internet for other vulnerable people to read. Ring/email Anxiety UK if you need someone to talk to. The helpline is free and staffed with volunteers who have experienced anxiety themselves. They can listen and offer valid advice.
In my opinion, certain health forums signify the blind leading the blind and should be moderated.
So yes, as I mentioned above I sound like a complete hypocrite… but it comes from a good place I assure you!
To finish, here’s a semi humorous story. On Saturday a friend and I decided to try some wine tasting (as you do.) Now, as someone who cringes under human scrutiny, I was quite nervous about approaching the assistant for his advice. Turns out that I was right to feel nervous, as this guy was a complete wanker. I explained that I was looking to buy a nice bottle of red to take to a party and that I wasn’t looking to pay any more than £12 (I’m not made of money!) The gentleman looked at me as though I’d requested a bottle of cat’s piss and start rummaging through bottles.
I sat down at the table and promptly knocked over a display of plastic grapes (good start,) why on earth was that on the table anyway?! As he poured the wine and glared at me I instinctively knocked the contents of the glass down my throat.. I blame the pressure. I’m fairly certain that wine tasting requires a little more skill… but I panicked. You didn’t see that judgemental look in his eye!! I belong in a hole, not at a wine tasting table!! (That’s a rational thought right?) After the fourth glass had been drained I was naturally quite tipsy, and by the fifth I was well on my way to being drunk. However, on this occasion it gave me the strength to stand up to injustice in the form of the judgement wine man. My heart raced as I stood up and decided to act; This wine tastes like liquorice and I do not care for it.. so I’ll be leaving now without buying anything. Good afternoon! I then grabbed hold of my friend and we legged it out of the shop. Ahhh the small victories in life… Although I’ll probably never be able to set foot in Laithwaites again.
IT’S OK TO FEEL SHIT.