STRESSED OUT: The Gift of What Just Might Kill Us

clara-bow

Clara Bow — Silent Film and Talkies Star –1920s — She was the inspiration for Betty Boop.  She also suffered with mental health issues due to stress.

 

Stress. We all carry it. Like interest on a credit card, it compounds. Quickly.

We are living in extreme days.  Our country is polarized, and some of us, perhaps many of us feel like we are hanging on by a thread.

Our daily responsibilities exceed the available time to accomplish them. I’m talking only about the things on our “MUST DO” list. Forget totally about our “HOPE TO DO” and “WANT TO DO” list.

Then, predictably so, like a promise that arrives early, a CRISIS OF EPIC PROPORTIONS lands in your lap exactly as your energy levels drop below zero. Couple this with your due date for everything urgent was expected yesterday and before, and your list of what you have to post pone due to emergency, is stretched to indefinite, if not infinity and beyond.   Generally, this will happen when you don’t have the following to cope:

  • money to pay for it
  • time to absorb it
  • energy/resources to fix it

Everything from demanding jobs, to family crisis, to health crisis, to a death in the family, or news that feels like a “sentence” feel like they are going to pull us under the waves.  Up to now we were at least managing our overwhelm, however precariously, as we bobbed between the waves of life’s stormy seas.

Here’s the hardest truth of our lives: Sometimes it sucks. I mean that literally. The challenge of just getting to the next day seems near impossible, because TODAY feels like it is vacuuming every last ounce of our energy, time, and resources to simply deal.

We can’t take ONE. MORE. THING. And then…..

BOOM!

The unthinkable. The unimaginable. The unbearable.

Like it or not. It’s here. How now will you get through it?

I’m not a doctor or scientist or even theologian who claims to know. I’m just a girl who’s been around the block a few times. And each successive lap does get harder, but……

it’s true—that which does NOT kill us, really does make us stronger.

My Christian faith has comforted my heart, and my mind knows many of God’s promises. But that never negates the reality of what is, and the pain/frustration/fear one goes through when one is on overload. The feelings are real, even if our analysis of what’s happening doesn’t agree with others’ perspectives. The truth is: We feel what we feel.

So, how to deal?

Something I learned a long time ago at church. Our wise pastor told us:

You are going to suffer in life. That you don’t get to choose.

The only thing you get to choose is HOW YOU SUFFER.

Will you waste your suffering?

Or will it be redemptive?

I have never forgotten that lesson. I mean I have in terms of application sometimes:

  • I get negative ( I whine to others.)
  • I forget to pray. I forget to be still.  (I’m SO busy!)
  • I complain. (As if stating the problem a dozen different ways will somehow change it.)
  • I avoid reality, or at least dream of it. (I think I will hide under my blankets and pet the cats and just listen to music all day. Yeah right.  )

And then: I remember another profound truth:

IT IS WHAT IT IS

 Seriously, reality always wins.

 I pause.

 I remember.

I get to choose my suffering.   I. Me. No one else.   Other people or life situations—they may overwhelm, even slay me. But I CHOOSE how I deal. Or die. Or live. That is my power. And no one and nothing can take THAT away from me! No one can take the power that I believe God has already put in me, unless I give it to them.

There’s a lot of anger out there these days. The election comes to mind. I get the disappointment and anger. I really do. But seriously, how much power are YOU going to allow someone else to have over your lives?   What changes can you make?  More importantly, WHO will you CHOOSE to be?

We don’t get to change our circumstances much of the time. The only thing available for us to change is: OUR PERSPECTIVE

Stress can BE our friend.   We can “reframe” our situation.

These things I’ve learned for sure, especially in crisis mode:

We can only solve one problem at a time. Tackle your tasks and finish them one by one. It may mean going off-line, off-grid, turning your phone off. That’s okay.   People will live without you for a few days. But you won’t live without you.

If other people can’t understand your limitations sometimes, that is their problem, not yours. Is it good to care what other’s think of us?  Sure.  But our health, our life comes first.

“No” is a complete sentence. This is a biggie, especially for women. We want to give and help so much, we can give ourselves away sometimes. But say no sometimes. Even if it’s just to practice for a real emergency. It’s so freeing. The relief that comes from knowing you don’t have to be responsible for everything just because someone thought you were the most capable to do it.

Get enough rest. No matter what. No good decision is ever decided when running on fumes.   Which brings me to: Delay big decisions until you have had at least one good night’s sleep.

Ask for help. And then don’t be ashamed. Be it tasks or an understanding ear, reach out to others. Please. Other friends don’t always know when we struggle. They are stressed too.

Daily Quiet Time. (DQT) Prayer. Meditation.   Simple solitude where you simply empty your mind of all thoughts, if only for ten minutes. This is absolutely essential if you are on overload. Practice this now. Make this your habit, so you won’t forget in emergencies.

Breathe. Just breathe. Slowly. Take it all in, understanding you don’t have all the answers. Remember? You can’t control it all.

Consciously choose to accept with grace, to the extent that you are able, what is happening now. I recently read a wonderful quote by Corrie Ten Boom:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow
It only empties today of it’s strength.

For those of you suffering severe stress right now, I encourage you to watch this amazing TED talk by Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend. I found just taking the time, all precious 15 minutes or so, recharged me. It reminded me why we are gifted with our present. We have this beautiful opportunity to be brave as we rise to the occasion of our challenges.

You WILL suffer.

You WILL have to make a choice (even not choosing is still a choice).

Be brave.  And may you choose well.

 

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Close your eyes. Just listen to some pop pscyhology. There. Did your demons float away if only for a few minutes?

Nothing Lasts Forever

tooth

It’s easy to write about overcoming adversity and relying on faith and keeping a positive perspective.  Oh sure!  It’s a cake walk, when it’s just me and my fingers playing footsie with the QWERTY board.  But when the rubber meets the road, when I actually get stuck in the middle of a trial, or a good three or more simultaneously, well then that’s when the:

  • whiner
  • baby girl
  • pity party planner
  • driveling doubter

comes to the surface, faster than Michael Phelps comes up for air while butterfly-swimming towards another gold medal.

That’s when I’ve been known to mumble or even yell out the obvious:

  • This sucks!
  • We’ll never get ahead!
  • Great!  When it rains, it pours!
  • Fantastic!  What could possibly be next?  (Don’t ever be tempted to ask this.  You will get an answer!)

Yesterday, I had to have a tooth extracted.  This is my 2nd tooth I’ve lost in my 40s.  This, after having already poured a small fortune into trying to save it, and all of its companions.

I don’t have the greatest teeth.  Week enamel.  Eroding gums.  Lack of bone mass in the jawbone. Lots of melted silver and even some cadaver bone bind what’s left of them together.  I brush and floss regularly, don’t smoke cigarettes or meth or even drink sodas and still I can’t seem to save them.  It’s not fair.

Yeah, like I was supposed to get the exemption to the “Unfairness of Life” principal.

So when I sat in the dentist chair I was given what in medical terms can be described as two bad options and one so-so option. With no time to mentally prepare, I had two minutes to decide to remove the tooth now, or go home and stew and cry some more and come back later and do it.  Pragmatism trumped emotion for once:  just do it….now!

1,2,3,4:  In went the shots of Novocaine.   My body never seems to “goes to sleep” without a fight it seems, so I usually get double the anesthesia,  just enough to feel like your heart is going to jump right out of your chest.  Speed now,  knowing the impending physical exhaustion awaits after an hour drive home in traffic.

Five minutes after the xray results are in, I’m already under the knife.  All is still.  And then it happens:

TEARS.

Not just a few, but giant sobbing tears.  I didn’t want to choke with instruments and a a wedge in my mouth while 2 surgical mask-encased faces in protective eye wear peer down at me.

“Are you okay?” the kind gentleman dentist asks?  “Are you in any pain?” the nice female dental assistant asks.

“I’h fiiii!” I lie.  (I”m fine.)

“I’h shuz rewy rewy saa!”  (Translation for those of you who don’t speak dental jumble:  “I’m just really really sad!”

“I know!” they both say in unison. They’re good at dental speak. “But it’s all going to be okay!” the good dentist says.  All I see are his deep brown eyes looking at me warmly.  Compassionate eyes.  It helps a little.  I begin to breathe almost normal again.  But still the tears keep sliding out both eyes.

The forcible pulling of something from me and intense pressure starts.

And then the real hurt.

It’s not the pull and pressure that hurts.  It’s my heart.  It’s this knowing I’m saying good-bye to something forever, even if it’s only a tooth.

But this tooth was a good tooth I think.  I kissed my first crush with that tooth in my mouth.  I’ve kissed my babies and my hubby with that tooth.  I used that tooth to shout out all the obscenities I’m ashamed to admit I’ve ever said; still it helped form those bullets I can’t take back now.  Hopefully some encouraging and kind words rolled off my tongue with that tooth over the years too.   That tooth tasted so much deliciousness for the better part of four decades.  It was both utilitarian for speaking and eating, but also vanity of vanities, a part of my smile, it was part of what makes me…..well, me!

Pride.

It goes before a fall.  Or an extraction. A removal of something.

As I sat there, I mentally murmured a prayer of thanks to God for allowing me to have the tooth as long as I did.  Even though I didn’t get to keep it my whole life.

And then I remembered some people I love so much:

So many friends that had to say good-bye to their hair, their ovaries, their breasts, all the things that made them feel womanly because they had cancer.  That wasn’t fair either.

I thought of my friends that have had to say good-bye to a spouse,a parent, or both parents, or a brother or sister.  They weren’t asked in advance if they were strong enough.  They simply were.

And hardest of all, most recently, watching someone I love so deeply face the long-term reality of facing every day with courage and grace despite having suddenly lost their son.  That’s not just loss; that’s major open heart surgery.  It’s having the biggest part of you forcibly, permanently severed without presentation of alternatives or forms of consent requested.

We are all terminal here.

I don’t know what movie or book I heard that in, but I know it stuck with me.

Nothing lasts forever.  We keep getting these opportunities to practice saying good bye to things until we learn to get it right :

  • Dreams
  • Opportunities
  • Complete control of our life
  • Options

And last of all, most important, most beloved:

  •   PEOPLE

I know in everything there is a lesson.  And I know even when I embrace it reluctantly, mine is this:  Be grateful in good things; more so in hard things!

This moment, this thing is the gift, the real present. And though we don’t get to keep any of our earthly possessions or earthly wardrobe (ourselves), we do get to choose which gifts to leave behind.  Memories, a loving heart, a giving spirit, a gratitude for even having had the chance to live at all.  These best things which can’t be extracted from those we love.

PHOTO CREDIT: chasing-skye @ tumblr