Coping: Learn to laugh maniacally in the face of stress
My usually optimistic partner is feeling the pressure – but it hasn’t completely changed him
A distinct change in atmosphere has fallen upon our house. Usually I am the one who suddenly gets anxious at 7pm because I realise how many tax returns I will have to file if I live out my expected lifespan. I am the one who staggers out of bed at 3am and sits on the loo in a semiconscious state, worrying vaguely about the future.
Lately, however, there has been a shift. My partner is the one showing signs of stress. This is out of character. He is usually one of those remarkable creatures – an optimist.
A cynical barnacle
I clamp on to his optimism like a sort of cynical barnacle who says useless things such as “That idea will probably never work”. When he contradicts me with a sincere and upbeat retort, I jut out my feathery barnacle-feeding appendages, soak up the optimism and become a slightly better human being.
When my brother met my partner, Jules, for the first time, he was shocked. When I asked later what he thought of my choice, he said something along the lines of, “Well . . . I mean. He’s enormous, isn’t he? I like him, but he’s not who I thought you’d end up with.”
I asked why.
“I mean, I thought you’d end up with an octogenarian poet. The sort of person who was so old and miserable that you’d have to wheel them about and try to find a publisher for their shite poetry.”
“Right,” I said.
“But Jules is very big and very loud. He laughs all the time and has a girl’s name, and when we went for a walk earlier he hid behind a parked car. I had no idea where he’d gone. I eventually found him hunched behind an old Peugeot, giggling to himself. He’s like an enormous child; far too upbeat for you, I would have thought.”
I bristled. “Firstly, it’s not a girl’s name. It’s French. Not that that matters. And secondly, obviously I agree with you. I think he’s good for me, though.”
My brother agreed, perhaps surprised to find that I now know what’s good for me.
Now Jules is coping with finishing his PhD thesis, which is due to be submitted in just under 13 weeks.
It is the culmination of years of work, and the pressure is immense. I’m coping with the sudden shifts in mood around the house.
One moment, he will be his normal, jolly self. Then he will turn to me with the spooked demeanour of a wild horse being forcibly shod, and shakily say something like, “I just realised I might be a fraud”. I’ll remind him that every single person working on a PhD has imposter syndrome, and he’s not a fraud but in fact very good at what he does, and then I’ll make tea.
We must win
Edward Gibbon, who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in a pocket-friendly six volumes, said: “We improve ourselves by victories over ourselves. There must be contests, and we must win.”
We all know this, I suppose. It’s only by pushing ourselves into realms of deep discomfort that we develop.
That knowledge isn’t much comfort, though, when you live with a deeply stressed man who is staring at his laptop, wearing nothing but a pair of underpants and an open dressing gown, shouting “I’ve lost all today’s work; this arsing machine!”
Beneath the stress, however, he is his old self. Yesterday he was completing a job application while clicking his tongue.
“Why are you making dinosaur noises?” I asked.
He looked at me seriously. “Those aren’t dinosaur noises. These are”– he let out a screech – “know your noises, Laura, before you start accusing people of making errant noises.” And he laughed for a full three minutes.