Thursday, 14 August 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy

"I'm so stressed!"
That sentence is uttered so often, it's ceased to lose meaning. If overheard coffee-shop conversations and Facebook status updates are to be believed, it seems there is no end to the buffet of stress on offer in our modern lives.
While I don't doubt that bad traffic or spilling coffee on your pristine white shirt is mildly irritating, the impact of these events is minimal. There are people who just love to state how stressful their lives are every chance they get. I'm never quite sure if it's because they find the expectations of daily life (I've to go to work AND clean my car) that taxing, or if it's because they need to inflate their own self-importance.
Either way, at some point this century, in between career-ladder climbing and getting engaged before you're 30, shouting about how stressed and frazzled one is became vogue. How terribly middle-class, darlings.
So it came as some surprise on Tuesday when a doctor informed me that of the three possible issues plaguing my physical health, they all relate back to stress.
After a number of weeks of symptoms I will not bore you with, I finally went to get checked out. I've to go back next week for more tests, but of the three culprits the medical man suspects, all are connected to stress. Quite literally, my body is reacting to long-term stress. The source of this, be it thyroid, hormones or other, has, most likely, been triggered by stress.
I must admit, I was rather taken aback by this. While I give consideration to the affect stress can have on my mental health, I naively didn't think of the physical strain it might cause. It's not that I wasn't aware stress can cause physical damage, it was more that I figured I was too young to worry about it.
Next month, I'll turn 24. It seems a bit premature to be at a point in my life where I've made myself ill due to stress. Talking it over with my Mum, my shock at my predicament was evident. "If this is happening now, what will happen to me in ten, twenty years time?"
It's rather scary to feel like one is not in control of ones body. It's a sensation I've experienced before, but I can say that it's not one which improves with time.
I brooded for the rest of the day about it. After doing so, I talked to my Mum. Frustration and worry spilled out of me in the form of fat tears and a pensive tone. It dawned on me that I have operated and lived in an intense, high-pressured world for so long - between one thing and another - that when I was told to spend my day off  relaxing, the practicality of how to do so alluded me.
I couldn't remember the last time I had done something just for me - without spending time with someone, calling someone, arranging to see someone, working on something, researching something, minding someone, sorting something.
While I'm aware that makes me sound like a bit of a martyr (which I'm not), upon reflection, it lessened the surprise of my current health problems. If you push enough water against a dam, it will crack and break - no matter how strong it is.
But while my brooding had brought me to base, it took the insight of an Irish Mammy to bring me home. "You do such a good job of managing everything that people forget you need a break too" she says, sitting on the end of my bed, as I shiver beneath a blanket (battling a cold on top of everything else).
"You're one of those few people who excels in high-pressured situation, you fix things" she adds - but that I can't do it to the detriment of my health. It's a frank, helpful conversation that gives me a lot to think about and assists me into action.
For the first time in... I don't know how long, I have a day to myself. I don't go near my phone or social media. I spend a day doing things that I exclusively want to do. The activities are hampered a little by my ill health but by the evening, I can feel the difference in my tension levels.
It dawns on me that it's not selfish to do this. I don't always have to be available to everybody, and for everything. I think about things I want to do, just for me. Because I can. Because I'm young, and free, and owe my own happiness to myself.
I'm going to book a 2-night visit to Berlin in December to see the Christmas markets. I'm giving myself one day a month where I take time, just for me, to go do whatever I feel like. I've a list of places in Ireland I want to go see because I've never been. I want to have a go on a Hovercraft, and go to as many things as I can on Culture Night, and spend a weekend doing nothing but baking and reading and relaxing.
I want to know what it is to not always have a problem that needs solving, a person that needs attention, an event that demands my attendance.
And more than wanting to know,  I'm determined to find out.
Mucho Love,
Vicky xoxo

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