Divorce, Anxiety and Brent Crude

With family in the oil industry, having lived in Aberdeen in the 1970’s, and with my family all back there now, I notice the price per barrel of Brent Crude (I am also great fun at dinner parties). When I went to bed last night it was $25.5 a barrel and as I type this, it’s under $20, with the trajectory continuing downwards.

I am no scientist and I won’t start opining about storage capacity for West Texas Intermediate or the differences between oil from the US and elsewhere. But, here’s the thing- even though I know virtually nothing about the substance of the stuff, the pricing of it, or the impact of its pricing, reading the news last night that the price per barrel for WTI had totally collapsed, made me feel anxious.

To be fair to myself, that wasn’t a completely irrational response- those of us who are in the service industry in Scotland are never too far from the oil industry: we act for people who live and work in Aberdeen, and who don’t want a local family lawyer in Aberdeen. Or for people who don’t live in Scotland but who can divorce here (in which case, the divorce has to be in the Court of Session in Edinburgh)- many of those ‘ex-pat’, domicile-based, divorce cases are oil industry folk and there’s been many a Dutch (Shell) pension in my professional life. When the oil industry is in the doldrums, all of Scotland feels it, and family lawyers are no different.

When I said I felt anxious, it was a low-grade, prickle of generalised worry. Not enough to prevent me from sleeping, or enough to make me feel sick, jittery or short tempered, but enough to distract me this morning on a couple of occasions, to check the price. And that observation- that I was experiencing even a mild physical reaction to news about something that I have no control over, combined with various family lawyer chats in recent days about the extent to which clients are generally more anxious since lockdown, led to me scribbling this as I had lunch

At the best of times, a lot of the clients who we work with experience profound anxiety as they navigate divorce- not just the slightly distracted sensation I was experiencing, but crippling, debilitating anxiety. Having a feeling of things being out of control, uncertain and an all-consuming sense of dread pervading their existence. Most of the time this is driven by how someone feels, rather than it being a response to real danger, but that doesn’t make the physical (and mental) consequnces any less real. 

I suppose the purpose of this quick ramble is to provide some (family lawyer) reassurance to people who are experiencing anxiety:

  • Having a response to anxiety is normal, and, indeed, ‘silly things’ can still provoke an anxiety response (and this works in all directions, so be generous to yourself and the other person: You may feel that your spouse is over-reacting; they may be feeling that about your response, and don’t beat yourself up, if you are anxious);

  • Divorce is an anxiety producing exercise. If you are worrying about things like whether your children will be ok, where you will live, how much money you will have, whether you were passed over because you were so unlovable and unattractive, and so on, that is reasonable and rational;
  • It will become less bad. At the beginning of a divorce things are uncertain- quite apart from the outcome, you don’t know how long it will take and how much it will cost, and that makes for anxiety. As things progress you will feel less uncertain, and even if this was not where you wanted to be, it does get better and you are able to start to plan for what the future is going to look like.

If you can, speak to someone- that might be a wise friend or family member, or someone who is trained to support you as you are dealing with whatever the external stressor is (some people find ‘therapy’ or speaking with a psychologist hard, and it’s not for them at all, or not at this stage in their life, but I’ve never met anyone who has regretted learning CBT techniques). Articulating the anxiety you are feeling, or even just having the space to recognise and acknowledge that you are having a response to anxiety, will likely diminish its power over you.

And finally, apologies if you landed here because you thought I had something useful to say about the price of Brent Crude in the oil markets, that is very much beyond my pay-grade.