It’s amazing what stress can do to
your body. For some six months I have had the taste of apple cider in my
mouth. Doesn’t sound bad for a few minutes, but on a prolonged basis it can
drive you crazy.
I’ve had every test done. Scans
everywhere. Nothing showed up.
“Let’s put it this way,” said one
doctor. “You are an A-type person. You are always wound up.” That explained
the acidity, he said.
Bizarrely, when I was looking
outwards to the world, I never felt it. When I was socialising I forgot
about it. I felt it in most acutely the quietest moments. Before falling
asleep. Driving. Working.
“I don’t feel I am stressed,” I told
“But your body does,” he replied.
Around that time I began hearing all
kinds of stories surrounding stress. One woman went totally bald after her
divorce while still in her 20s. Another woman, not yet 30, lost all her
She woke up one morning and they
fell out. Another was convinced, given the ferocity of her headaches, that
she had a deadly brain tumour, to discover that “all” she had was stress.
The doctor asked me what I was
stressed about. Nothing, I said. I am in my final year of law. “Ah,” he
said. “I treat most lawyers and many judges with acid reflux.”
I was astonished. We were all
stressed and didn’t know it. Our bodies did.
People tell me to take deep breaths,
to do yoga, to meditate. I am sure all these activities have their place.
But they don’t work for me. As a “doer,” I cannot be still and kept asking
myself why, why, why?
I realised then how important it is
not to shove issues under the carpet. They fester and grow there and emerge
as unrecognisable physical symptoms.
I found some answers and made a few
major changes in my life, really hard ones. The biggest change was learning
to let go, of children, and letting them be, to allow them to make their own
mistakes; to let go my parents, and letting them be as well.
I couldn’t follow my diabetic mother
around, lecturing her all day about how this one had to have a leg
amputated, that one had to go on dialysis, this one had a stroke, all
because they didn’t have the self-control to ensure low sugar levels in this
very preventable lifestyle disease.
My fear of flying was irrational. I
really couldn’t do anything about the turbulence. I would rather boil my
head than stop travelling. I had to let that go as well.
I have never been a great believer
of organised religion, and new-age philosophy mostly fills me with horror.
I am, in short, a cynic, but a
fraudulent cynic, because despite the madness of our age, the stuff of epic
movies, the crashing of Wall Street, the daily rat-a-tat of terrorist
attacks, of crazed men going amok shooting wildly at students in schools, in
the USA, in Europe.
I believe in destiny. I hold the
highly irrational belief that every step I choose to take, every door I open
is taking me towards my destiny. I choose my destiny every day.
So, that day when I went to the
doctor with an ear that was buzzing (another manifestation of stress?), I
was told that I had a highly-treatable, but uncommon, condition in my inner
ear that would require an operation.
Must let go
If I left it alone, it would
eventually damage my brain or paralyse my face. So here I am, in New York,
waiting to do this surgery that I’m told will take four hours, next Tuesday.
Should I be thanking all the people
and events that stressed me out, leading me, eventually, to the doctor who
diagnosed my condition?
Yes! Because this inner ear
infection has been festering in me since my childhood and has no symptoms.
I went to the doctor for something
else. Have I also been destined due to this to watch close up, in New York,
what greed, speculation, living on credit beyond one’s means can do to
hundreds of thousands of people?
Maybe because I am seeing the human
faces of the Wall Street crash, that led to the domino crashes in banks in
Europe, that led Ireland to take the extraordinary measures of guaranteeing
capital in their banks.
I’m seeing friends having to pack up
and leave New York, no longer able to afford the big rents, no longer
eligible to stay. They are applying for jobs in Singapore, Hong Kong,
anywhere a job takes them, shocked at the upheaval.
When I was disembarking at Kennedy
Airport, I heard one American woman who had obviously had a hard time in
“Whew! No more kidnapping threats,
no more being afraid to walk on the streets, no more dead bodies in the
front pages of the papers.”
Sadly, the voices calling for
focusing on education, prudent spending, self-reliance, diversifying,
developing a work ethic that doesn’t create a red army of puppets are
getting weaker, knowing no one is listening.
Perhaps, I think, it’s time to let go. Maybe we, like
America, like the stressed out people in the world, need to fail badly in
order to do some real soul-searching, which will eventually lead to our