Posts Tagged anxiety
‘Stop looking at your face in the mirror. It’s unsettling,’ Laila murmured to herself as she tried to ignore her unruly eyebrows, the grey roots of her hair and her puffy eyes. But it wasn’t unsettling because of the unease it made her feel at her appearance at this time of day, it was unsettling because of a lingering feeling she always had that there was another being of some form that followed her everywhere around the house. Looking at the mirror almost brought her face to face with that mysterious being. It shook her. In fact, it wasn’t only about her face, it was also about her eyes. When her eyes met her own on that specific moment she shuddered, like a faint wave of fear rushing quickly right through her. She recalled one time years before when she had been washing her face and the minute she had looked up she had thought she had seen in the mirror a black shadow rush right behind her. She hadn’t been sure if it was what she thought it was or if it was merely a strand of her hair. The only thing she was certain of, averting her own gaze in the mirror, was that if her son was still with her none of those beings would have dared to harass her.
When she was a little girl and had her night terrors her mother would bring her a small mirror and put it in front of her face, tracing her perfectly round cheeks and small, pointed chin with the tip of her fingers and pointing to the freckles on her face. “See how beautiful you are?” She would speak to her softly, “No ghost can prey on a beautiful smart girl like you. Ghosts are for lonely old women to worry about.” But she never relented to Laila’s pleads to stay with her in bed. She would insist that Laila had to put herself back to sleep, and if Laila persisted, she would lose her temper and slam the door, leaving her alone in the room with only the faint light of her small night lamp.
Through many nights alone in that dark room Laila taught herself strength and grew up a proud, upright woman, happy with her accomplishment. She taught Arabic at a mediocre primary school. Her stiff posture and sharp voice intimidated her students, and she often surprised herself by losing her temper with many of them. Laila was convinced that the ghosts never left her, that they showed up in her life in different ways to defy her. And whenever a little girl from her students talked back to her, she would think her ghosts hid in the little girl’s challenging look, until one day she slapped one girl so hard she dislocated her jaw. The girl’s parents saw to it that Laila never went back to teaching.
After that her only solace became her son, whenever she was with him her ghosts seemed to disappear. But one morning, on his sixteenth birthday, she woke up and found a note on his bed; he had gone off to fight in Syria. One week later she received news of his death.
She stood at the sink and focused on the water as it slithered through the protruding veins of her hands, filled her palms and splashed her face. She was unsure if the distant ticking she could hear outside was only of the wall clock in the hallway, and as she raised her head she wasn’t sure if the soft brush on the back of her neck was a stray strand of hair. She turned from the sink and reached for the towel. As she patted her face she could hear her own murmur repeated to her from the direction of the mirror. She resisted the urge to look back and carefully walked to the door and stepped out of the bathroom.
“When I’m idle, my mind tends to stray and to turn little worries into issues of international importance.”
That’s what my best friend wrote yesterday on her blog. She has taken her bike and started a solo two month journey across Europe and I think about her everyday. She now has a problem with her bike and can’t find anyone to fix it until she’s on the road again, so she realized that she has no choice but to take a chance and hope for the best, hope that the bike will hold until she’s reached her destination or managed somehow to find a place that can help her with it. That is no easy exercise for her but, like I said, she has no other choice.
It’s the need to get going and continue, that constant dynamic movement that pushes us forward, whether literal towards a certain destination or metaphorical towards a dream in our lives, that makes it hard to think of too many options. It narrows everything down to the need to keep going with the hope that things will figure themselves out later. That’s what focusing is all about. It forces us to take the first choice we have, and we realize that if we don’t take it, we’d be forever caught in an abyss of blurry possibilities that don’t really have all the answers. Like she said in her blogpost, it’s the idleness that turns little thoughts and concerns into larger issues.
That is precisely my problem. Except that they don’t only turn into “issues of international importance,” they turn into melodramatic, scifi, crime and horror scenarios and they drive away my sleep.
I’ve always had this problem, but recently it’s been so powerful it’s turned into full anxiety fits that led me to finally admit that I have a condition. Once a thought or fear hits me it doesn’t matter how many people I’m with or how much fun I’m having. I lose the ability to interact and I’m suddenly surrounded by an invisible dome of doom that lands on top of me with a loud thump, encapsulating me in its walls. I stop hearing anything outside my head. I don’t even see anything I’m looking at.
I’ve had this condition for over a year now, and I’ve had it over the most trivial things and the not so trivial things. Generally it has taught me that no amount of thinking, anticipating, or fearing anything can solve potential trouble, because things – either problems or their solutions – can come to you from the least expected direction. Systematic planning beforehand and doing things the right way should suffice, because really, none of the little frogs that leap around in my brain are in any way legitimate concerns that can actually shield me from problems if I were to pay attention to them. I need to teach myself to just do what I gotta do and move on, just like my friend did this morning. She’s on the road right now as I write this and I really pray things turn out OK for her. I know they will, because she decided to handle this the right way.
The amusing part is what happens in the long run after you’ve been subjecting yourself to these frogs for long. I feel that the universe begins to mock me, because there’s no better way of reminding me that I have no control over everything except with humor. Here’s an example: Recently I decided to go on a trip near the red sea and take my cat. I’m staying in a nice place with a little garden and I know that my cat loves the outdoors. I always obsess whenever he’s not confined within the safety of his home that something might strike him; a snake, a dog, another cat, a car. Yet I let him out into the open anyway because I know how much he loves it and he was so happy, sniffing one tree and rubbing himself in the sand under another. Then guess where the danger comes from? The sky. Two crows decided to hover above him like they just found a feast. So I grabbed him as fast as I could and went inside.
I’ve been worried too much from things on the ground I didn’t see danger coming from the sky. I found myself spending a good part of my trip – both me and my niece – researching and discussing the mysterious life of crows, how intelligent they are and why they would wanna take a bash at a poor cat that only wants to rub itself in sand and chase flies. The conversation for a good part of the trip has, of course, been mostly about crows. I definitely never thought crows would grab my attention at any point in my life, let alone take my horrified imagination to terrifying scenes of two crows grabbing my kitty by the collar and flying away with him while I scream and run hysterically after them to no avail when suddenly, to my ultimate terror, they drop him to the lagoon when they realize he’s too heavy and my voice chokes while I swim and swim and fail to save him. My mind started racing with thoughts on what to do. Take away his collar is something I actually considered.
Apart from that, there’s also the mush my brain becomes from all the over leaping the frogs do. Here’s another embarrassing example: Because my cat is old, I find myself watching him very closely for any signs of health problems. Two days ago while I was clearing his litter I reassured myself that his feces is a beautiful shade of brown. “Beautiful.” I actually said that my cat’s poop is a “beautiful” brown. Oh the things I catch myself saying in my head! And by the way I’m clearly not a doctor, so I have no way of knowing what shade of brown exactly should a cat’s poop be for me to call it beautiful (not that a sane doctor would say “beautiful as opposed to, say, “healthy”?) I have no knowledge and no means to apply that knowledge. I just have little frogs that leap around in my head.
And yes of course, I have been idle. I haven’t been working for the past four years and I’ve been spending too much time on my own. It’s no surprise that I turn into this.
I walked out of the bathroom thinking, wow how would a normal person react? I’d say the first thing they’d say is thank God she has no children. There’s a reason for everything and this definitely is it. I couldn’t possibly bring up a human into this world if I were to go in after they’re done with their business and check out the color of their stuff in the toilet.
So I clearly need to snap out of this. I need to be a normal person again that assigns just the right amount of concern or emotion to each problem. Actually I need to be a person that knows how to identify an actual problem as opposed to a minute earth vibration caused by a frog’s happy landing after a not so welcome leap.
Each time I travel I keep thinking of the distance from the place and the people I leave. I actually watch it happen from the minute I walk out the door to the moment I reach the clouds and go above them to wherever lies ahead. I sit in the plane, I look at the flight monitor and I think of the actual physical miles that start adding up by the minute. And upon my arrival it blows my mind how many oceans and continents have now come to divide us. I silently thank God that I live in an age where my loved ones are just a click away. I can always talk to them and see them on my little gadgets. I don’t have to write a letter and wait for three weeks or more to get a response. When my brother went to study in America in 1977 I was a four year old and I don’t remember much, but the sight of my mother’s tears pouring down her face all through the flight back to Cairo stayed with me until today. She helplessly waited for his letters and couldn’t call him except through a switchboard and a very, very poor connection they’d both be yelling to the receivers to hear each other across continents.
Now I’m about her age at that time and I don’t have to go through any of that hassle. It’s ironic how these gadgets have come to work in my life. At times they’re the cloak I hide behind and talk to everyone through when I’m depressed, a cloak that soon turns into thick, brass walls that trap me inside and echo my own thoughts and obsessions and so add to my misery. Yet at other times they’re simply the only window to the faraway world I think about while I’m away.
And it’s funny how the people in my life are constantly shifting from the flesh and blood real to the voice and text virtual. I’ve spent all of my life with my heart cut in half between the here and there. The accessible near and the dreamy far–a far that is often entangled in longing, worry, and much, much anxiety. I have very close friends that live in two different continents, none of them my own, and I have a whole half of my family, with cousins I grew up with, living in a fourth continent. Heck I’ve even fallen in love across continents! That never lasted, of course.
With all of these people, sometimes we would meet and talk about everything on these little gadgets and it feels good to think we’re close. But we know we never actually are. Nothing compares to the physical nearness of a person you care about.
And just as we happen to be scattered all over the world, some of us end up in countries with much turmoil, tearing at the hearts of those faraway from them. Phone calls after phone calls run back and forth to reassure each other that we’re OK, until we finally get together and try to will time to stand still and hold the moment for as long as it can, but it can only hold it for as long as a human can hold a breath. Eventually it lets go–as it probably must. But then I try to hold on to the moment in my head for as long as I can too but it brings no comfort to me to think of a moment I’m not living anymore. Eventually I let go and I find that it’s actually a relief. Each time I say goodbye to a close one as they leave – or as I leave – knowing that our paths would cross again gives a temporary soothing numbness that takes me on to the next moment, and the next, and the next.
The uncertainty and the disenchantment of living in Egypt right now does not make separation easy, whether I was the one leaving or the one left behind. Egypt, where I stayed and continue to stay, used to be the hub for everyone I knew. Everyone used to come back and stay and they would be willing the moment to stand still, wishing with all their might to come back. My mind races with thoughts on my future and the future of my family. Is this going to pass soon or will we all be strangled in a limbo? We’re living our everyday quite normally but there’s an overarching feeling of depression residing in the air. The economy is down and there’s little or no tourists walking around (it’s actually strange how the sight of tourists in Cairo’s streets was so characteristic it feels almost unrecognizable without them now). I can’t stop asking when will this nation pick itself up again and I know the answer is not soon, because right now it’s still busy dismantling itself into scattered pieces and there are some who are actually trying to turn the pieces into lots of even smaller ones.
But it doesn’t do any good for me to think too much. I’m just a dot in history. I’m neither judge nor God to know fate; I’m only a passing witness so small and tiny for the universe to see with the naked eye. So much has happened over the seven thousand year old history of my home country that I can never know what is going to happen. But I know that it all comes in cycles and that it will pick itself up again, though probably not in my lifetime.
I think that what I’m trying to say is that as seemingly exciting and rich a traveler’s life can be, with friends and loved ones in every continent, when the ground they once stood so solidly on – that anchor point they always came back to – suddenly begins to shake, all they can think about is how much they long for bringing everyone they love together and staying put with them in one reliably solid, safe place where no one can ever get hurt and no one ever has to say goodbye. I’d give up all my traveling and all my flying around for just this and the peace of mind that comes with it. That’s just the way I feel.