I feel the stress. It is of course a mental, emotional sensation, but it also is physical. Repeatedly, I am reminded that I have experienced several of life’s major stressors—death of a loved one, the emergence of a romantic relationship, the merger of two households, the purchase of a house, etc. And I am about to experience another—the sale of a house and a physical move to another one. Those stressors often are associated with various and sundry physical ailments and emergencies. Heartburn, headaches, heart attacks, stroke.
Knowing these things, one would think, should lead a person to do whatever is necessary to lessen their impact. But being in the midst of a stress-storm tends to cloud one’s ability to reliably monitor and modify one’s own thoughts. Chaos breeds chaos, it seems. Uncertainty reinforces it.
Several months before my wife died, I described the effects I felt from the stresses associated with her illness. I realized that those stressors bred others that encircled me. Tentacles of worry wrapped themselves around me until they became a monster with a powerful grip, prompting an internal emotional firestorm.
At some point, the stress becomes noticeable; not so much to others, but to oneself. Enthusiasm ebbs, leaving in its place flashes of dysphoria. A harsh, dry cloud of discontent settles over one’s thoughts like volcanic ash, sucking oxygen out of the lungs and replacing it with chalk. Nonspecific anger increasingly bubbles to the surface, touching everyone and everything in one’s path.
Though rather dramatic, the description is accurate. Though not as acute today as it was then, I feel the physical effects of that firestorm. Aching muscles in my neck and shoulders and lower back. Headaches. Chronic tiredness.
Neither the mental nor the physical aspects of the stresses are constant. They are cyclical, going up and down, hour-by-hour, like the repeated wavy lines of an oscilloscope. Those ups and downs are predictable. And when the downs take hold, the fact that peaks will follow soon enough is enough to enable me to tolerate the valleys.
Inside my head there’s a constant longing for relaxation. A period void of obligations, schedules, appointments. A time when I need not worry about anything other than enjoying the present. I keep coming back to opportunities to eliminate, or at least minimize, stress. I think I’ll pursue them with fervor, once the sale of the house and the move to the new one is complete. I’ll call that pursuit of being stress-free the 3M process. Massage. Meditation. Marijuana.
But today, I will wade through the stresses of uncertainty and obligation. I will take a Motrin to alleviate a fraction of the pain. I will “soldier on,” knowing there soon will be a time when everything is all right.
Yeah. Everything is all right.