Imagine you’re out walking. It’s a lovely sunny day. Most of the time. There are intermittent showers, but that’s ok. You’re humming along, enjoying the smells of freshly washed leaves. It’s not like you don’t have a care in the world. That’s not a thing. But you’re dealing with your cares quite well at the moment. You have been dealing with them just fine throughout your 40s. You think, “I have finally reached the age of maturity. The age of wisdom. I know nothing. And I know that I know nothing. I have dealt with the traumas of my past. I can now look forward to a future of (somewhat) inner peace.”
And as you’re walking, you see in front of you a gelatinous wall that extends across your path as far as the eye can see. “Huh,” you think. “That’s strange. I won’t be able to walk around this one. I’ll just have to walk through it until I reach the other side.”
You’re used to gelatinous walls crossing your path. You’ve dealt with them before. You have years of gelatinous wall experience in your pocket. So you don’t really think much of having to go through yet another one.
You start moving forward. The gelatinous wall is nice and soft. It allows you in immediately. It’s difficult to see but you keep moving. At first, you’re able to keep a steady pace. But as you move deeper and deeper into the wall, the gelatin becomes less forgiving. It becomes more difficult to hold onto your ‘age of wisdom’ attitude about the situation. You can’t walk. You can’t see. You can’t move. You can’t breathe. You can’t THINK. “At least give me that, you horrible wall!” you scream. “At least leave me my ability to think!!”
Two weeks ago, an American friend posted an appeal saying there was urgent need for volunteers in Medyka, a small village on the Polish border with Ukraine. A few days later, my husband Colin and I were on a plane to Poland. I had decided that I was not going to have expectations. I was going into the unknown. I don’t really know much about the history, politics or culture of the region. I don’t know anything about war beyond what I’ve seen in the media. I have never done relief work. But if someone thought I could be helpful, I really wanted to help.
The following 11 days were an enlightening experience, more regarding the functionings of relief agencies than anything else. By the time we arrived at the camp in Medyka, the movement of refugees out of Ukraine through Poland had slowed. By the time we left 11 days later, there appeared to be more Ukrainians returning home through that specific border (there are others) than there were leaving it.
Many of my conversations with friends and work colleagues over the past few months have revolved around the seemingly out-of-reach concept of work-life balance. This has become ever more so important during the pandemic, with people in some jobs working more than they normally would and with boundaries between our work and personal environments becoming almost non-existent.
I have a tendency to feel personally offended when I find people close to me overloaded with work to the point of burn out. Do line managers not realize that an employee on the edge of burn out will be significantly less productive? Where is the business sense in overloading people to that extent? Also, how much of burn out is down to the employer and how much of it is down to the employee themself? Am I overloading myself with too much work because I feel that’s the only way I can prove myself? Is it a personality thing? Is it an ambition thing? Or is it a cultural thing? I’m convinced that part of it is that we now live in an era where we’re told we need to be super successful; we have to be extra unique. Normal or average is no longer acceptable. We have to fulfil our full potentials. And so we think we have a duty to push ourselves more and more and more.
I’ve been working hard for many years to make sure I balance the work and personal aspects of my life. I think I’m successful most of the time. So I thought I’d share some of my experience with this.
I don’t know what it is or how long it will last, but I’ve been dealing with adversity much better than I had been in recent years.
Is it the therapy sessions I’ve been having? Has my anxiety been reduced because of the hormone replacement patches I’ve been wearing for the past few months? Or do I finally just get it: that I won’t always have control over my circumstances and that sometimes it’s better to just be accepting and to roll with it.
I’ve been in hotel quarantine now in the UK for about a week; I arrived last Sunday. The first couple of days were a bit of a shock to the system, but I’ve eased into it quite well. I have my own little routine and I’ve been able to build little things into my day and week to look forward to. It really is the little things that make all the difference. I go on three walks a day round and round and round the hotel car park. I love those walks now. When I saw our hotel car park that first morning I was really disappointed. The space is so small. Its perimeter is only 180 meters long. But I now love going on my runs and walks around it. I enjoy watching other people as I go round and round. I love seeing the little kiddies play. I wonder where that person is from and what brought that person back to the UK.
I’m going to need to make a mindshift happen that I think I’m going to find very difficult.
I don’t feel like I belong. Anywhere.
I know that I felt this as a kid growing up. But it wasn’t a problem then. I didn’t need to feel that I belonged. I was fine with how things were. I grew up in America. My Egyptian father made a point of letting it be known that I was not American; I was not one of “them”, even though I was. I didn’t know anything else other than what I was told. It had no real meaning to me anyway. I was a child. Things were simple.
I need to find a way to get my brain to think that way again.
I’ve been going through perimenopause for God only knows how long. I’ve been surprised about how little I understand about this process despite having a medical degree and considering myself generally well read on the topic. I wanted to know what to expect when the time came. So I thought I was going to be prepared.
I have experienced symptoms for years that I’ve thought might be because of changing hormones. But then, when it comes to things like anxiety or restless nights, how do you know if it’s down to a hormone imbalance or if life and its stresses are just fucking you up?
I’ve been complaining about anxiety for several years. I’ve told my doctors, I’ve gone through therapy, I’ve learned coping strategies. If someone were to tell me that the anxiety that I developed in my thirties was down to life’s fuck-ups, I can believe them. But the anxiety I developed later on in my late 40s/early 50s felt different. Sure, life’s fuck-ups are still there and probably still need to be dealt with. I swear to God I’m working on it as best I can. But I can tell there’s something else. I know there’s something else.
You know what upsets me? It’s how difficult it is to get someone to listen. You go to the doctor as a lady in your late 40s and tell her time and again that you have anxiety, and you’re told to try to get in touch with a counsellor or, “Here. Take this pill that will give you the worst brain fog you’ve experienced in your whole life and fuck being able to work.” You mention potential symptoms of perimenopause and you’re met with a blank stare.
I had a most interesting conversation yesterday that really resonated with me. It’s given me much food for thought.
Mahmoud is a fellow Egyptian revolutionary who has also found himself going through difficult times while based in Berlin, Germany. I first got to know him in 2009, in those early days when there was only a handful of Egyptians posting on Twitter. We had a little community of Egyptian bloggers/micro-bloggers going for ourselves. Twitter had given us space to make our voices heard. We had a lot to say. And, for the most part, we felt we had a lot in common. Someone organized a couple of tweet-ups for Egyptian tweeters, which I joined. That was probably how I met Mahmoud first in real life. We stayed in touch over the years the way people do through social media. And our paths crossed a few times in Tahrir Square during those fateful days in 2011.
Mahmoud read my previous blog post where I was expressing confusion about what to do next in life. He wrote me a comment on Facebook saying that we had to talk. We eventually caught up with each other yesterday on a phone call.
“We’re misplaced gods,” he explained to me. “We’re misplaced gods stuck in mediocre places with mediocre people who don’t appreciate who we are. And it’s affected the way we see ourselves.”
For most of my life, I was certain I’d have shit figured out by the time I reached my 50s. The older generations always appeared to have their shit together in my eyes. Now I realize that they were either great actors and wanted to protect us younger folk from the realities of life, or I was just extremely naïve. It was probably both.
What am I doing in my 50s without the slightest idea about what I want to do when I grow up, who I want to be, or where I want to live? This can’t be normal. Oh, but it is, the wiser, less naïve version of myself responds.
I’ve long felt that my father, in his final years, felt disappointed with how his life turned out. There was a look in his eyes that I felt I could read. He was thinking, “This is it? This is all I will ever be? All I will ever accomplish?” I think, in many ways, he was heartbroken. My father was an academic. He was a professor of kinetic chemistry. He loved his job and he loved his students. He also loved research, something he wasn’t able to do much of once he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he spent some 30 years of his academic career. My father knew his own potential. It was thwarted and he knew it.
In some ways I find myself with similar thoughts about my own life. This is it? This is all I will ever accomplish? All I will ever be? I know I have accomplished some things in life. I realize that I have lived a rich life, full of adventure, love, loss and achievement. I know that. But there’s a weird feeling residing inside of me. I’m conflicted. I want to be more. I want to do more. At the same time, I’m tired. I just want to settle down and get out of the way of other humans. I’m tired of being rebellious and wanting to change the world. And I’m upset that I don’t have the energy anymore to be rebellious and want to change the world.
I’ve had anxiety for many years. For a long time, I thought I was managing it, until one of those perfect life storms hit me and it erupted completely out of control.
I knew I needed help at that point. I did what I needed to do and got it. After ten months of therapy, my therapist told me she thought I could manage on my own. I thought I probably could too. It’s been a few months now since therapy stopped. It’s not been easy. There was no magic cure. I wasn’t suddenly anxiety-free because of the therapy. I had learned enough to know it would be an ongoing process. But I’m seeing improvements.
I’ve been surprising myself. The anxiety comes. But it also goes. (more…)
Yesterday, for example, I pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.
As if pledging allegiance to a single human being, a non-elected monarch at that, wasn’t enough, to become a British citizen I also had to pledge allegiance to Charles.
I had to pledge allegiance to all of Elizabeth’s successors and heirs. No matter how horrible or evil they might turn out?? Some of you might like that Meghan Markle, but I’m keeping a close eye on that one and her progeny.
Am I the only person who sees something terribly wrong about all this?
Not that I didn’t do it. I did it. I pledged my allegiance. And, as I explained to my personal trainer this morning in the midst of all my moaning and groaning—because of the heavy lifting but more because I was explaining the process of becoming a British citizen to my now fellow Brit—my word is my honor. I mean honour. (more…)