By Debbie Olujobi

A scene in an American television series caught my attention a few weeks ago. A couple of years ago I had taken a fancy to the series “Soul Food” and I had religiously watched on television every Sunday at 6pm till it was abruptly yanked off the air. When I had come across the DVD boxed set of the entire series I had bought with glee.

It was the story of the Joseph family; made up of 3 sisters; Maxine, Bird and Terry, two husbands and whoever was Terry’s beau. Like all families, the ties that held them ran deep and love reigned as well as pain and betrayal. Terry was the oldest and had divorced her husband who had been caught cheating on her with her cousin! Maxine was the wife of Kenny, a young black entrepreneur who ran a towing business, Bird was the baby of the family who ran a successful hair salon and had married an ex-convict, while Terry was the successful lawyer who was the pride of the family. The series began with the death of their mother and it follows how they struggle to stay a family despite fights, jealousies and even resentment; a typical family like any other!

I kind of identified with the character of Terry, I am the eldest girl in my family, can lay claim to success, plus a few other heart breaking similarities. Terry does very well and in spite of a few emotional setbacks seems to have everything under control or so it seems. What the world doesn’t know is that Terry is buckling under the weight of responsibilities she is carrying for everyone.

The obligations of being there for everyone, being the best at her job all the while trying to find love again have reduced her to an almost nervous wreck which had manifested in an almost debilitating mental disease! Terry developed panic attacks or what some call anxiety disorders and it seemed to be getting progressively worse till she comes across a psychiatrist who is the best at treating it and the scene that caught my attention was the eye opener that inspired today’s column! In one of their sessions which took place in a park the psychiatrist points out to Terry the root cause of her panic!

“You don’t think you are good enough to deserve to be loved just the way you are!! You think that you have to earn it by being everything to everyone; you can’t cope and are overwhelmed by it all,” he said gently.

Terry herself is stunned into silence as she can hardly deny such a profound truth and after a while feebly points out that she has a duty and an obligation of care towards her family. The Psychiatrist gently disagrees and says perhaps Terry’s feeling of insecurity is why she is carrying the weight of everybody’s expectations and running herself ragged just to keep up.

He once again reminds her that love is not earned or deserved and that we have a right to be loved for who we are not for what we able to do or be to those who love us! In trying to be worthy of love Terry had reduced herself to a state where her anxiety had degenerated into a disease. A panic attack is a condition that mimics a heart attack; it is painful and the sufferer is convinced that they are going to die, the heart beats like a bird that is trapped in a leather sac and breathing is impossible. Your mouth is dry and sweat begins to ooze out of every pore, the chest cavity feels like it is gripped by a suffocating choke hold and the pain is not child’s play! If you are wondering why my description is so vivid, it’s because I used to have them in what seems like a life time ago.

A panic attack is more common than most of us think and it can affect anyone. Anyone of us can feel so overwhelmed that it seems the walls are closing in and unlike Terry I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist to get mine under control I simply learnt to “Cast my Care” and trust God more. I mean what is the point of praying if my every waking moment is consumed with worry?

It all boils down to stress management and just admitting to everyone around me that I didn’t have all the answers and even solutions to all of life’s conundrums! I also learnt to use a word that had never been in my dictionary hitherto!! I learnt how to say NO!! I developed enough confidence in people’s love for me to say no and not fear that I would lose their love and respect! Even better still I learnt how to ask for help. By trying to be everything to everyone I had not put myself in a position where they could be something to me! Everyone assumed I was superwoman and didn’t need help from time to time.

Are we all programmed to crave the validation that love gives us? What is it about humanity and the need to feed off the admiration of others? Lately I can lay claim to some maturity and perhaps say that I no longer live off the admiration and validation of others but I would be lying if I said I didn’t just love the commendation and appreciation of my loved ones. While I don’t run myself ragged anymore I still put myself out to please those I love and in return I am plastered with affection. Thankfully the days of panic attacks for me are long gone; I have made peace with all that I am and all that I am not. That peace means I am a lot easier to love as I accept and give love in equal measure. Maturity is accepting that I cant be everything to and for everyone and even more importantly, my money or substance doesn’t guarantee me a place in anyone’s heart.

So welcome to 2015, For a change I don’t have a resolution though I do know that this is not the year to suffer fools. The past years have taught me not to trade my peace at the altar of vain validation. Not everyone has to like me, truth be told I don’t like everyone. I pray for us all that this will be the year of peace, a year to live unfettered; to accept all that we are and are not and be enough for those we love.


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