When I was in year 8, we did this activity in Health and Human Education where we each had an envelope with our name written on the front. The envelopes sat on our desks and we walked around the classroom writing descriptive words about each other on little slips of paper that we placed in the envelopes.
About 60% of the words I got were: Quiet. The other 40% of the words I got were: Happy.
Quiet, I understood. I’ve always been quiet. It’s the word people have always called me. For the most part, I like being quiet. I love thinking, listening, observing, dreaming, and I’m always analysing.
But happy? This surprised me. I’d never thought of myself as happy. Not because I thought I was unhappy, but because happiness didn’t really cross my mind.
But seeing all those words in the envelope made me question: Am I happy?
This is what ran through my mind: I don’t think so. I always thought I was stressed.
For as far back as I could remember, that’s how I saw my state of being: stressed. About fifteen years later and it’s the same story.
I never thought there was something wrong with this until this week when I thought about how this year my stress has gotten out of control.
Stress has always been part of me so I thought it was normal, and maybe I was even weirdly proud of my stress because it meant I cared and it drove me to action. Stress has been my best motivator, almost like a helpful friend.
But this year the stress moved from just being in my head to my body. This is what it feels like: My neck, shoulders and back go tense to the point where I sometimes feel pain. My stomach feels nauseous. My chest feels tight and my heart feels like it’s racing and thumping to the point where it hurts sometimes.
And what I’ve noticed is that even when I’m not stressed about anything in particular and even when I know there’s no reason to be stressed, there’s nothing I can do to control how my body feels. It’s horrible. I want it to stop, but I can’t stop it.
For a while now I’ve been feeling tense all the time in my mind and my body. And often it’s the tenseness in my body that makes my mind tense.
Maybe I have anxiety. Maybe I need outside help. Maybe I need to look at my stress in a new way because for the first time I can say it isn’t good for me.