Stress. Are we all stressed out? If so, why? If not, why do we love saying, “I am stressed”…”it’s just a little stress”…”don’t stress the small stuff”, which happens to be my favorite as it implies that we should stress the BIG stuff. I believe stress is a relative mind state that we all own in our own unique way. It is almost the American Way. Think about it for a second…did you feel stress today?…and are your stressed right now? I have friends who think anyone without constant stress must be a lazy, apathetic, terrible person. “Why is he so happy and carefree?” If you are stressed, it is always nice to know that others are stressed as well, and it feels even better when someone is even more stressed than you. It is often our first excuse or self-reasoning too. “He is just stressed.”, “I didn’t mean it, I am stressed out!”
In late Summer in 2011, I heard, “it’s probably just stress” a lot. I heard it enough that I wanted to believe it, because what else good it be? In the early Summer of 2010, my father was diagnosed with cancer and given nine months to live. It turns out that estimate was more accurate than I wanted to believe. In the Spring of 2011, after one of the most dignified, awe-inspiring, courageous efforts I have yet to witness, my father passed away as I was by his side in his hospice bed.
I had witnessed cancer transform my idol from a strong, funny, passionate person to someone I physically did not recognize, but somehow admired even more at the end of his life on this planet. What I had learned was terrible, enraging, sad, and soul crushing. Little did I know, it was my father’s final gift and offer of wisdom to me. I learned more in those nine months about grace, patience, and love that I can ever show of my appreciation. My dad prepared me for what would be a fight for my own life; with the same enemy inhabiting a different part of my body.
Stress. Could this experience be something that was stressing my mind and body later that Summer? Sure. I also was working unconscionable hours as a lawyer in a corporate law firm in Washington, DC. So, maybe, just perhaps, if you really think about it, that could have been impacting my health. But, through all of the thoughts, of colleagues, friends and family, I couldn’t accept that I was merely stressed. My colleagues were working those hours, my mom was grieving for her husband, and my friends were busy with work and parenthood, yet none of them were experiencing the same physical demise. I would self-reflect and question myself as to what I could do better to improve my life. I questioned my purpose, how good of a person I was, and all and any thoughts to discover why these symptoms were impacting me.
I was in good shape, I would run, go to the gym, meditate, eat a vegan diet, and generally be a positive person. I was not the poster child for STRESS. I imagine some hair-pulling, screaming, tired, moody person with 20 cups of coffee on their desk to be the marketing campaign for STRESS. I was not that.
As late Summer turned to early Fall, my symptoms were only getting worse. I had a constant headache. This headache was a combination of street construction and a clinching vice and the two worked in unison. Every sound was amplified as if through concert speakers and then subsequently squeezed until there was only pulp remaining. So, if turning up your headphones and chugging OJ is your thing, you missed one hell of a party! As much as my head hurt, my eyes were working against me. Nothing was clear…glasses on, glasses off…blurred is blurred.
When you have problems like this, it can drive you mad. I would test myself on everything…”what does that sign read in the distance?”, “maybe squinting will help align the letters and numbers”, “maybe I just need eye drops”…yet everything revolved around the same sphere of hopeful denial. I hoped I would wake one morning and everything would be back to where it was mere weeks ago. What was the sudden change? “Are they right?…I am just stressed?” I hope…I hope…I hope it is stress.