And I spend most of my days doing things I don't enjoy much (such as data analysis, document review and questionnaire design). Sometimes it feels like all I do is sleep, work and drive to and from work.
So, today, in the car (to work), out of the blue, I thought: "When will I get a chance to live?"
And from the furthest corner of my mind a little voice replied: "You are living. Now."
It was a much-needed reminder of the importance of living in the present. Because the present moment is all we have.
The past is gone, nothing but scattered memories and emotions we cling on to. And our future is fiction, a movie of the mind. A mere projection fed by past experiences, fears and worries. But none of it real.
So, we can only live in the moment. We can only be happy right here. Right now.
And it’s the present where we ARE 100% worth. Let me explain.
[MY FIRST EVER VIDEO POST] We’ve all experienced emotional pain.
Acute agony such as grief, disappointment, rage. They arise from a specific traumatic experience, are reactions to devastating loss, betrayal, injustice.
They have a clear trigger. And they subside again after a while. When life moves on.
And we with it.
But what about the emotional pain that never leaves? The chronic torture that remains with us every hour of every day. For no apparent reason.
When emotional pain becomes chronic, we feel like we want to crawl out of our skin. Run away from it all. Just make it stop.
So, we try to numb the pain. With medication, alcohol, drugs, food. We try to distract ourselves by working all hours, shopping, partying. We become addicts, alcoholics, workaholics, chocaholics, shopaholics.
All to make the pain bearable. Before it destroys us.
But numbing the pain is not the solution. We need to eradicate it. Eliminate it altogether.
At the age of 25, I should have been socialising, meeting friends, enjoying myself. Travel, start a promising career, go on dates. Have fun, be daring and outgoing, open to new experiences, challenges and adventures.
I should have been happy.
But instead, I was scared. Terrified of facing the threats of a dangerous world. So, I sat at home, a hostage of my anxiety.
At night, my heart raced and I choked at every unfamiliar sound. During the day, I avoided meeting new people. Sweating and panicking at the mere thought of the humiliation, rejection and self-flagellation that would inevitably follow.
I functioned at work. But it took all my strength to appear normal. To hide the unbearable state of terror that was my life. To pretend that I was calm and collected while anxiety was ripping my body apart.
Fear destroyed my life, ruined my happiness. I felt stressed, lonely, paralysed. Trapped in a puny comfort zone that had become a nightmare.
I was desperate to transform my life. And yet, somehow, I remained stuck.
Because I feared one thing more than anything. I just didn’t know it yet.
Last week, I had to give a presentation about rapid cancer diagnosis services at a conference.
As you may know, I managed to overcome my severe generalised anxiety about 10 years ago. But the thought of standing in front of hundreds of people presenting my work still triggers a hefty fear response.
Whenever I thought of it, my stomach knotted and an icy steel hand attempted to crush my throat.
For two weeks, I woke up at 3 am, endless thoughts whirling in my mind like deck-chairs in a hurricane.
What if I go blank and embarrass myself? Will more qualified people question my methods and I won’t have the answers? Will the audience discover that I don’t really know what I’m doing? And what if I burp? Or fall off the podium?
All hope for a restful night’s sleep was wrecked by my unproductive rumination. And my days grew darker as the incessant worries fed my apprehension. Mutating a simple 10-minute presentation into a confidence-eating, mood-killing monstrosity, out to destroy me.
The right partner? With shared interests, passions and world views? Undying love, commitment, trust? Faithfulness, honesty, equality? The ability to communicate, overcome conflict and grow together?
All of the above? Or something else altogether?
The more people you ask, the more you’ll realise that the number of potential ingredients for a happy relationship is infinite. And none of us knows the definitive recipe for relationship bliss.
So, finding that one person to love, becomes a matter of trial and error. Mere luck at best and impossible at worst.
But still we search. Anxious to be loved, to become one with another. Find our other half, to finally be whole. And happy.
So, we stumble from one partner to the next. Trying to unearth that top-secret recipe to our “happily ever after”, we bend, distort, please. Compromise, put up, tolerate. Battling rejection, heart-ache and disappointment on the way.
Until we become disillusioned by our inability to make it work. Frustrated by our failures, furious with ourselves and the world. And we start to doubt.
Are we impossible to love? Are we destined to roam this Earth alone? Doomed to a half-life of solitude, longing and misery?
We blame our unlovable nature and incompatible partners for our unhappiness. And hate ourselves for our incompetence.
Because, despite all our struggles and sacrifices, the true recipe for a happy relationship still eludes us.
When, in fact, we are only missing 3 essential ingredients.
When I was 12 years old, the entire ensemble of my female classmates sat me down during recess and unanimously rejected me as a friend.
I had always known that I wasn’t the most popular girl in class. But in that very moment I became an exile. Persona non grata. Outcast, unwanted, unacceptable. And the reason they gave was simple.
I was too arrogant. Thought I was better than they were. Looked down on them.
Which left me puzzled, shocked and confused. All my life I had struggled with low self-worth, considered myself inferior to others. Irrelevant, not good enough. A lesser human being.
How could anybody believe I was arrogant? How could I look down on others from my lowly position amidst a world of superiors?
For years, the accusation haunted me. Stopped me from increasing my self-worth and improving my confidence. For fear I would be rejected once more for my alleged arrogance.
And still sometimes today, when I feel particularly good about myself, I tend to caution myself not to show it. I conceal the fact that I feel worthy, strong and confident. So, I won’t appear arrogant.
Because I suspect that, all those years ago, my classmates’ charges might have been justified.
For me, as a highly sensitive, introvert empath, High School was hell. I enjoyed reading books more than trips to the shopping mall. Preferred gardening to “meeting up with the boys”, actually loved learning and detested the obligatory Saturday night partying.
I was a geek, a teacher’s pet with uncool hobbies, unexciting interests and oddball opinions. But still, I wanted to be accepted. Be part of the popular crowd.
So, throughout my school years, it seemed like I only had two options:
Be true to my authentic Self and face rejection, bullying and loneliness. Or deny my true nature, renounce my interests and adapt my personality to fit in and avoid social isolation.
And both of these options meant suffering. But there was a third option. It was right in front of me all the time. I just never allowed myself to see it.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the simple reason why you never get what you want. It was based on the premise that the Universe loves us. Every one of us. It wants us to be happy and yearns to provide all that we need to live an abundant and fulfilling life.
This is something I deeply and truly believe in.
But yesterday, I received this message about my article:
“What a load of crap! The universe doesn’t give you what you want, since what you want usually involves other people or something else, and that is what we don’t have control of. Not everybody gets what they want no matter what they do. In my opinion, the Universe is cruel and evil.”
It broke my heart to read this message. Not for my sake (I’ve been immune to criticism for quite a while now). But for hers!
I can empathise with all the anger and frustration that result from a life that feels unfair. From having your dreams and hopes crushed every time you try. From having to resign yourself to the suffering and misery of a life you didn’t want. Where everything seems to go wrong all the time.
But the Universe doesn’t hate you! It didn’t deal you a bad hand out of spite. And it certainly doesn’t trip you up through sheer vindictiveness.
Your negative experiences and unhappy circumstances are not the Universe’s fault. They all just boil down to one word:
Yesterday I had a meeting at a hospital about an hour away from home. And I had to drive there!
If you’ve been reading my blog posts for a while, you know that I suffered from colossal driving anxiety only a few years ago. And I didn’t get my first car (a funky orange Ford Fiesta called Cecil), until I was 28 years old.
I now believe myself to be a competent drive. However, going somewhere I’ve never been before still makes me nervous. But with the mantra "feel the fear and do it anyway", I set off. And all went well.
Until I arrived at the hospital and the Satnav told me to turn left. Which I did.
A bit too early.
Finding myself in the "Strictly for ambulances only" entrance of the hospital. In a slight panic, I searched for a way out, while the SatNav blared "Perform a U-turn when possible". As if to mock me in my distress.
I ended up turning around in front of the emergency department entrance. Hanging my head in shame as patients, paramedics and doctors witnessed me blocking the ambulance access.
I escaped eventually and found my way into the main patient and visitor car park.
And as I sat in my car, breathing a big sigh of relief, I realised something astonishing.
Let me ask you a question. Do you brush your teeth? Every day?
Because it’s imperative for your dental health, right? If you don’t brush your teeth caries will accumulate, erode your enamel and cause excruciating pain. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that?!
And we are well equipped. Our parents taught us an effective dental hygiene routine as soon as our first teeth emerged. Our schools reinforced the essential message and we visited the dentist regularly to maintain healthy teeth.
Most adults will brush their teeth diligently and consistently once or twice a day. It’s part of our daily hygiene. And we don’t think much about it. Knowing that, if we neglect it, we will suffer the painful consequences.
I am sure you do the same, don’t you? It’s important after all!
But what do you do to prevent emotional pain? To avoid and eradicate anxiety and depression? What does your daily emotional hygiene routine look like?