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The World is Falling Apart, But At Least I Have My Cat

Nasri Atallah By Nasri Atallah Published on June 16, 2016
This article was updated on December 6, 2016

Sometimes it feels like life is just one long, sustained panic attack. Anxiety is the disease of our age, and it feels like recently I have been anxious all the time. All the fucking time. 

Not sometimes. 

Not occasionally. 

I wake up anxious and I got to bed anxious.

The worst part is, I know why I am anxious. I am too connected — through no ones fault but my own — to a world that seems to be falling apart. Through my phone, through the screen I am writing this on, through the social media channels I help pollute. If you don't take control of it, it is all too much to bear sometimes.

I’ll give you a snapshot of my Facebook feed just at this very moment: there is a pastor reveling in the death of LGBT clubgoers in Orlando because he hates gays, an article by a nativist xenophobe about why Britain should leave the EU (spoiler: something incoherent about Johnny Foreigner), a soul-destroying video of England football fans in Lille throwing coins at Syrian refugee children, a video on mass surveillance. All of this is punctuated by the odd recap of a Game of Thrones episode or James fucking Corden carpooling with someone annoying.

It would appear that we are living in the dystopian future we have been threatened with for so long.

Of course there are incremental changes you can make to preserve your sanity. I have made some of them. I have no notifications on my phone, example. I am its master rather than the other way around. Nothing enters my life without me seeking it out. Not a WhatsApp conversation, not an email. Nothing. I seek them out on my terms. I have removed pretty much all social apps from my phone, avoiding the compulsive need to check them any time there is a lull in my surroundings. 

I listen to fewer podcasts and less music when I walk. The mere thought of forgetting my earphones at home when I had a commute ahead of me used to plunge me into a panic. Not anymore. I have learnt to enjoy the sound of my surroundings again. I am trying as best I can to have delayed opinions to ongoing events. I'm re-introducing time for introspection into my routine, taking the time to read the opinions of others and digest them rather than partake in the bulimia of contemporary opinion-sharing.

Don't get me wrong. I am no luddite. I love technology, I love access to information and to voices from all over the world. I personally spend the better part of my day working on helping spread that technology and that access to information and culture every day. 

What I am saying is that there is room for us each to manage how and when we get that information. I think we need to figure out where the boundaries of our own anxiety reside. How much information is too much. How much are you doing with that information that merits the erosion of your soul. Like that video of football fans making fun of Syrian refugees in Lille, besides breaking my heart, what does it force me to do in its aftermath?

Luckily, I have some respite from information-fueled anxiety: my wife’s dimpled smile and our cat Margo’s purring, stretching, hunting, and so on. 

I’ve never actually had a pet before. But for the past few years I’ve been feeling a connection with all of my friend’s pets, taking their dogs for walks, visiting their flats under the guise of a social visit with no intention to do anything besides play with their kittens. So a few months ago, we decided to adopt a cat. Before heading to the shelter, I asked a friend “How do you pick a cat?” She said "Just stand still and the one that comes to you will be the right one". And that was Margo. The second she shoved her face into my outstretched hand and purred, I was in love.

Sometimes I drop everything at home and just look at her pace around the living room. I watch her climb onto a red art deco chair that used to sit in my grandparents living room. When she jumps on me and kneads against my doughy, ever-expanding stomach and purrs, I fall in love all over again. I read a study that mentioned that feline purring helps cats regenerate their bones, and potentially those of humans around them. What it really does for me is bring down my consciousness. My awareness settles down somewhat. I’ve tried every mindfulness app (oxymoronic, I know), but nothing is quite as soothing as this.

There is a reason we listen to birdsong or the sound of waves crashing to bring us focus and comfort. We are so removed from the sounds of the world we’re supposed to inhabit, but they are still the sounds our primordial brain seeks out for reassurance. We drown ourselves in stimuli that are not anchored in the world around us. As I grow older, and more anxious, reconnecting with an open park, a cat, a blossoming plant, a human being on a bus, a book read in a comfortable chair, reading a blistering piece of beautiful writing (including online), these are all the things that make me happy.

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t just take everything that’s coming your way like some form of masochistic punishment. Pick and choose the people and the publications you let into your life. Try widening the mix of what you let in, and try letting in more things that allow you to grow and contemplate. You will be happier. I promise. 

We adopted Margo from Animals Lebanon, they're great. If you want to get a cat, please make sure to adopt or foster rather than buy, there are great shelters all around the world. 

British-Lebanese author and media entrepreneur. Author of Our Man in Beirut (2012) and currently working on a crime novel at the acclaimed Faber Academy. My writing has appeared in The ... Show More


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