My third & last post in May for “Stroke Awareness Month”
A therapist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face she inquired: ”How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
*(borrowed from “A Truly Helpful Stress Management Tool” by Karen Salmansohn, notsalmon.com)
If you’ve found a way to eliminate “the stresses and worries” in your life then reach back and give yourself a satisfied pat…you’re either very lucky or very unique, or maybe you’re just more evolved and enlightened than the rest of us.
Or perhaps you’re a child. In the beginning they have this down, but life usually finds a way to change that. Monks, maybe they are stress-free…if they’ve attained nirvāṇa?
I haven’t been stress-free much more than a day since about age sixteen, and certainly not since I became a mother. I begrudgingly admit it, I have control issues; in that I want to manage everyone’s everything and keep it all under control, so that we’re all happy and healthy, always.
I mean we just cannot expect to juggle 263 balls. It’s simply not possible. Yes, we have responsibilities; this is why I chose age sixteen for myself and stress to have begun our “relationship”, because that is when I got my first j-o-b.
I had to be there at a certain time, accomplish a number of tasks and cooperate with several different types of personalities: from bosses to co-workers to customers.
Hmmmm, that sounds so familiar.
And of course as most of us know, motherhood (and fatherhood) is a twenty-four hours seven days a week thing, with pockets of downtime (hopefully) and time spent sleeping (if you’re lucky)…and maybe even a break here and there (again, if you’re lucky).
Stress can make everything harder. I repeat stress can make everything harder. See I mentioned motherhood because I’ve been participating in it all of my adult life. And jobs, the employee who goes into work and also receives a pay check kind, I’ve had a bunch of those, too.
I have a wonderful friend who it takes a lot to rattle. It’s possible, I’ve seen it, but she just doesn’t usually sweat the “small stuff”. I really admire her ability to do this. I’ve tried to emulate. I’ve both marginally succeeded and spectacularly failed. I’m okay with that.
The “small stuff” comes and goes, and always will.
Personally I believe that our well-being, which pretty much sums up all the conditions that we’re in, and covers all states of being, hinges on how we are both physically and mentally.
What I’m getting at here is that along with things that happen in or to our bodies, like health, genetics that we don’t have much control over and the actual physical environmental factors all around us, there are all the things that affect our psyches, too. And I believe in turn our psyches directly affect the rest of our well-being.
I was reading an article last night titled, “Why You Shouldn’t Wait For a Health Scare to Reduce Your Stress”, and I wished that I didn’t already know the answer.
Granted most everyone understands where that article was going, I guarantee it hits you differently after you’ve been sick, and maybe especially so once you’ve faced death, or your recovery included dealing with loss, etc.
Mostly we think that we’re invincible…until we’re not.
Hand in hand with what is happening to us physically might be that the things from our past: the hurts, the slights, the wounds that we have not healed from, can weigh on us much more heavily than we realize. And if they’re not the cause of illness, they might be the catalyst.
Okay folks, I’m just going to be blunt here: it took having a stroke, or aneurysm, for me to let go of some specific and particularly painful past traumas that I’ve been carrying around like that glass of water mentioned above. It took facing losing everything, because it could and would take my life, for me to realize that none of it matters now. That I have to let…it…go.
As I was being wheeled out of my sweet little house I don’t recall much but I clearly remember thinking, “I’m not finished living here.”
Later, as I awaited tests, CT scans, and countless consultations, I was terrified and I just kept thinking about my family and how scary this must be. How at least it was happening to me, and not them. How terrible I felt when my husband left my side to go call my parents. How much I didn’t want to leave them all.
All I could think about were the people I loved. My family and how much I wanted to have a future with them…
I didn’t think about how much money I had in the bank, or what kind of car I drove, and I wasn’t disappointed about one thing that I’d never owned. I love to travel, but I wasn’t thinking about the places I hadn’t been yet.
What mattered was and will always be love.
I know it sounds corny or saccharine; like I’m getting all sentimental on you. But all my thoughts were about people (and animals), not one thought about our bills, the state of our driveway, if and why anyone didn’t like me, how much I weighed, how bad my hair looked, or if I’d volunteered enough at the schools.
And lo and behold, as I lay there in the ICU hooked up to beeping machines and multiple IVs I didn’t once think of any transgressions, or even perceived transgressions, from my past.
Of course this is all being said in retrospect, but realizing this has changed me profoundly. I’m certainly not suggesting I don’t have stress anymore, but it’s less frequent and usually not as intense, if I can help it.
Looking back I think that the deep seeded negative emotions associated with the “baggage” that I had lugged around year after year, pushed me to a place where illness could get a foot in the door.
And because I had an unknown and untreated genetic medical condition that could lead to an even more serious medical emergency or death, the energy I was expending on coping took its toll on my health, not to mention my well-being.
Not to say that I hadn’t been trying for many years to put the past to rest, because I had tried many times and I was ashamed, not only of it, but also that it was still affecting me. So I’m not trying to suggest that cutting stress down or out of your life is easy. It wasn’t for me.
And I’m not trying to blame my stroke on my past, or tell you that it was brought on by emotional damage, I know that it resulted from high blood pressure. I didn’t understand that because it was in my family history that I might be genetically predetermined to develop it, nor that left untreated it would lead to stroke. For many people it obviously does not.
I’ve since learned that my father’s BP was high even when he was a marathon runner, and some other friends have had it since they were quite young, or are finding out they have it now. It can affect all different types of people and at different ages.
What I am trying to do is echo the meaning from the analogy about the water glass. Maybe you have something, or many things, that you carry around that you need to let go. Or maybe you think that you thrive on stress because it keeps you on your toes, but it’s taking a toll on your health.
If you can find ways to help lighten the negative energy from your life before it bites you, I know you won’t regret it…and likewise if you don’t and it does, it’s hard not to regret.
Part of the idea that love is what matters is loving where you are and what you’re doing, at least some if not most of the time. If you can’t say you do, can you fix that?
Ask for help when you need it, don’t try to do too much, or to do everything alone. Don’t stress about not doing, having, being enough. Lighten your load. Help others do the same. Life can get so serious at times, go in search of fun. Enjoy something. Play! Seriously, find time to act like a kid again. Or even just go to your happy place, be that literally or figuratively! Change your perspective ―
Having a stroke has forced me to slow down, to ask for help, and to re-access.
Whenever you can…put down the glass…or just let someone else carry it for a while.
― Raina K Morton, May 27 2014