I will always remember the first and only time I told my dad I was stressed. I was 13, and I had quite a bit of homework to do, a friendship group that thrived on its members saying “No offence, but…” and a sneaking suspicion that I would die alone surrounded by cats.
My dad laughed, then looked like he was going to cry. I could see his twelve-hour day flash before his eyes. “You’re… you’re STRESSED?” he spluttered. “S-stressed?” He was trying to work out how to respond. In the end he sighed and he said “You don’t know stress.”
I was angry. I do know stress, I thought. It’s just different to yours.
The funny thing about stress is that people seem to associate it with HAVING RESPONSIBILITY AND A LOT TO DO. It can be easy to look at someone who tries to express their feelings of ‘I am overwhelmed / I am overwhelmed / I am overwhelmed’ and sniff, because they’re not as busy as you.
Sniff. I do it too. When I hear people complain about being SWAMPED while working a part-time job and spending the rest of their days watching Netflix, I want to scream. I picture myself drowning in an actual swamp while they paint their nails on the grass next to it and say “Onto season 3 now! Might write a blog post next! Such a productive day!” When Instagram acquaintances who still live at home and don’t have to cook or clean for themselves say they’re “really stressed right now”, I have to hold back from tapping an obscene message of indignance.
But if you view things in that way, doesn’t it mean I could never compare to a working mum with three children under six at home? Or that someone in my situation who has a more time-consuming or intense job could just tell me to STFU when I say how pooped I am on a Friday night? YOU’RE HOME FOR 6PM EVERY DAY, SOPHIE. GET OVER YOURSELF. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW MY DAILY TURMOIL.
Who says stress isn’t legit? At what point in a person’s life can they sit back and think “Wow. I’m really allowed to complain now, cos stuff is busy and awful and THIS TIME FOR REAL!”?
People can only deal with what they know. At 16, I didn’t think: “Well, this would all be very stressful if I wasn’t able to consider how shit things will be in the future. This school work is way too much for me right now but IMAGINE HOW MUCH WORSE A JOB WILL BE! Better hold off on the stress.” When I worked eight hours a week that didn’t mean I was any less emotionally fragile at times. If anything, I felt more anxious and tense than I do now because I had nothing to distract me from my worries.
There have perhaps only been two or three times in my life when I’d say I dealt with acute stress. One of these times was when I was in an abusive relationship and I shook every time my phone buzzed. I threw up anxiety and never slept well because I was afraid of what might happen while I was lifeless. I never thought of what I was experiencing as S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L because I was 17 and I thought I couldn’t complain until I owned a car and understood what a mortgage was. But if I think back across all my days at work, I know it’s nothing compared to 2007 and never will be. I’m not sure anything else could be. If I think about it, I feel like being ‘stressed’ is more than being ‘jealous and tired and over 20’. But what do I know. I don’t have kids to take to dance class.