Thursday, September 30, 2010

I stress, I stress not,...

Isaiah called me from work that day.  He was having chest pains.  By afternoon, he was asking me to meet him at the emergency room. Now, for another person, this might be no big thing, but I knew it was serious.  This was Jamaica in 1995.  Emergency rooms are not fun places.  This hospital had great doctors, but was not always well staffed so...anyway, even more telling than all that is the fact that Isaiah does not go to the doctor.  He is the self proclaimed never sick person.  I hurried to meet him a the ER when he called.  I also called a mutual friend who was a consultant at the hospital to, hopefully, expedite the process.  After several hours and tests, the diagnosis was stress.


The diagnosis was reasonable.  Jaedon was 4 weeks old.  His birth was the end of 8 weeks in and out of the hospital with several overnight stays.  I think my blood pressure was still high 4 weeks postpartum.  Neither of us were sleeping in the nights (thought he was getting more sleep than I was!).  Stress made sense.


Stress is one of the most common diagnoses around.  Anything from chest pains, heart burn, eczema and the like are said to be symptoms of stress.  Wikipedia made an interesting comment when defining stress: Physiologists define stress as how the body reacts to a stressor, real or imagined, a stimulus that causes stress.  In other words, the stressor doesn't cause stress, but it's what our bodies do with the stressor that causes the stress response.  Wiki commented that the issue is the body's response to a perceived threat, real or imagined.  


I've been feeling stressed a lot recently.  Most of my reactiveness has been around the day to day activities with the kids.  Mrs Hyde puts in an appearance often.  When I think about it, my stress response is pretty similar to that of a child with autism.  Many kids with ASD are in a high alert state, ready for something to go wrong.  Often, the things that actually go wrong have to do with a bigger/not typical response to some stimulus.  So a leaf blows in the wind, Jaedon sees it and bolts into the street.  Now we really have something going wrong.  The perceived threat has a less than expected risk-of-harm factor associated with it, but the response creates a situation with a larger risk-of-harm factor.


So I'm paying attention to myself to answer the question What do I think the threat is?  or perhaps What am I afraid I will lose?  Loss suggests that something is being taken away.  It has two parts: the perception that I 'had' something, then the perception that something external was removing that thing from my possession.  So the first question is really Do I have the thing that I'm afraid of losing?


Time to get specific.  I came home from running an errand and it's after the scheduled shower time.  When I get home, the children have destroyed results of the extensive cleanup activity we all participated in earlier.  They are happily playing in a pile of toys in the dining room.  Isaiah is restringing the guitar.  I decided that stress was an appropriate response.  Mrs Hyde was shouting in my head as I quickly organized the children and started the shower routine.  I was afraid of losing the perfectly organized and disciplined adults my children were going to grow up to become.  It did not take much examination to unveil the fallacy: I own the perfect children in the same way I own the Tooth Fairy, only in my mind.  Interestingly, Mrs Hyde vanished as soon as I focussed on being generous giver with no strings attached, instead of someone in a contractual arrangement that was being cheated.


I am thinking about Teflon's comment "there's nothing inherently draining about any challenge."  I think life is what it is. A challenge is just a thing, it's really neutral. We find it challenging because of what we think about it.  I'm not addressing big issues like tyranny and world hunger.  I'm working on how I respond to the 'little' stressors because then I might have a model I can scale up to those other issues.  What I do know is that life is not a contract. I'm not guaranteed an outcome because of what I do.  I want my actions to be based on the validity I have given to them.  When I act as if life is a contract, and I don't get that preferred result, I respond as if someone hasn't fulfilled their part of the deal; I live a very stressful life.  My stress responses create even more harm, and create some real threats.


So I'm ripping up the contracts.... didn't I do that before?  I must have missed some.... I'm ripping them up and choosing generous, non-contractual responses for myself.  They are definitely not draining, actually, they are actually quite invigorating!

1 comment:

  1. Every time a someone speaks to stress, I'm reminded it is a substitute word for all the subtitles that define FEAR. BW

    ReplyDelete

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