My struggle with stress

The familiar heart pounding experience sets in. My whole body tenses. I have a slight shake, and I kind of feel like I’m slightly rocking back and forth in the upper part of my body. My temples tense and kind of pulsate. Fear grips me. A slight bit of heat overcomes me. My body is in full on fight or flight mode. One would think I see a tiger that is about to eat me and I need to make a quick life saving decision. But the truth of the matter is all that I’m doing is checking my work email right now.

I feel like I’m doing too many things. In general. I feel stressed. Like all the time. Today is Wednesday, April 20th. I just came back from a most awesome yet very demanding week of visiting colleges with my husband and daughter. I was pretty relaxed all week. It is an unusual feeling for me. The noise in my head was shut down a few times. Totally quiet. Usually there is a myriad of several demanding things competing for my attention. And even on the rare occasions when there isn’t such as when I’m driving, getting ready to go to bed or uncommonly watching tv, there is still a background static of things I should be doing, forgot about, am worried about, want to look up… the list goes on.

This week it was mostly quiet in my head. It felt great. Maybe what normal non-stressed, anxiety ridden people feel like. Perhaps I’m changing I foolishly think to myself. That thought was shattered yesterday when my flight was delayed in Dallas. It was just me and Gabby coming home with many things to do as soon as we got home. First the connection was tight. I started to tense up then when I realized this only after the plane landed and I looked down at the next boarding pass. I mentally started to plot the route out of the deplaning process to the next gate. I watch with increasing frustration as people move out ever so so slowly. Stopping as they are pulling down their overhead luggage and talking to another passenger as if they cannot do two things at once and suddenly this very trivial conversation about the weather outside is more important. People with wheelchairs and strollers seem to just jump in our way, getting in as if they have all the time in the world. Stopping to laugh and admire the child who is running off and not getting in the stroller while blocking a plane full of people behind them. Gabby and I finally make it into the terminal only to realize we are in terminal A and need to be in terminal C. We are both starving. We stop at Starbucks knowing we will be a few minutes late to the start of boarding time, but agree it’s more important to grab food since we didn’t have time for breakfast and it was almost noon. Starbucks is painstakingly slow too. The girl making my smoothie is moving at molasses pace and kept stopping to flirt with an American Airlines employee who is leaning over the counter to talk to her. She doesn’t even look at me when she hands me the drink and says “have a nice day”. My blood started completely racing. We book on out of there and rush to the gate only to see there is a 10-minute delay. My mind starts mentally calculating what a 10-minute delay will do when we get home. I find that we can still be 45 minutes late and will have plenty of time to pick up the dog from where he is being boarded. Gabby and I find a seat quite far from the gate and take a moment to breath. I return a phone call to the dentist, write a thank you to the friends we just stayed with, and wrote a restaurant review. 15 minutes pass. Then 20. Radio silence from the airline. Only 10 minutes more. Then 10 more. Then it’s unknown. The stress really sets in. I call Koji’s boarding place to add another night. I go through all my work email. I start to mentally plot how to best carry in the bags, go through the mail, scrape cat litter, get the laundry rolling and shower before work tomorrow. I have a grocery delivery coming that will likely also get delayed if this plane doesn’t take off soon. My mind is racing. I can’t read or meditate or do any of the things that one would do to chill. Suddenly I get the idea to calculate whether or not I want to “waste” another vacation day tomorrow. As I weigh the options I notice my muscles and jaw relax at the thought. I text my boss and start to unwind just a bit. I will be ok. I’m still stressed but at a lower level. Gabby is stressed and has all her homework pulled out in the terminal and is balancing it on her legs. She later tells me she was on the verge of tears. My real life starts to set back into my thoughts. The quiet is gone. I’m back to my normal stressed baseline.

Life right? Most people have similar experiences or far worse. First world problems. They are so silly in comparison to disease and starvation. I struggle to realize this. Telling myself this doesn’t quiet the noise in my head. My husband and I are both outside of the home for work at least 11+ hours per day. We have 4 kids between the two of us. One is at college now and is a huge help when home. Another drives which made life so much easier. The 3 living at home are in 3 different schools. 2 of the schools are 30 minutes away in the opposite direction from each other and without transportation services for the two younger kids that don’t drive. One of the kids is in hockey at least 4 days a week and anyone familiar with the sport knows it’s actually a lifestyle. The other two play sports and one still needs rides quite often. We have 3 cats, a dog and 3 fish. We have ex-spouses with complicated schedules and arguments over legal issues. My husband’s ex travels quite often and doesn’t communicate well. She lives ½ hour away and the kids often forget things they absolutely need in either house. My ex recently moved over an hour away out of state and insists my 16-year old daughter drive herself up there every other weekend as if he still lived down the road. It makes me nervous for her to drive so far and on highways with a new license. She stresses about her homework and not being able to see friends when she goes up there. Weekends are filled with trips to these schools, sports and friends all in towns quite far from our home; prepping food, taking care of the lawn and garden, trying to squeeze in some personal exercise, getting the dog out of the house to burn out some of his high energy, maintaining the home and fixing whatever needs fixing. If we use a weekend to get away or visit the older one in college we need to squeeze this other stuff in elsewhere during the week between concerts, sports practice, dinner meetings, after work medical, dental, and veterinary appointments. Not to mention during the week there is getting dinner on the table, laundry, homework, lunch prepping, mail, phone messages, some crisis to avert or bill to straighten out or package to pack up and squeeze in sending out or returning. Every new thing elevates my stress just a little more. I mostly capitalize on it to plot the next course of action in the most effective streamlined possible way. Work is the same. As new emails pop in, calendar items are added, thoughts to explore from my well meaning co-workers and superiors are piled on; my heart pounds, I tense, and I breath erratically. I try to avoid people in the halls or in my suite who want to chat or connect over something mutual because I don’t have the time. I’m thinking 20 steps ahead at how I’m going to accomplish it all and stopping to smell the roses and have human interaction wasn’t part of the plan. I feel like I must look like a walking lunatic; however I’m always surprised to hear that people think I’m friendly and outgoing, seem to have all the time in the world and pull it all together so seamlessly.

I am so ingrained in this system that when I have a few minutes to read at night before bed or a moment to catch my breath and enjoy an afternoon out on the weekend or time with friends that I feel like I must be crazy to think I have a hectic life because look I have time now and I’m not stressed. All in all, that is probably like 5% of my life. It’s so enjoyable that it keeps me going the other crazy 95%. 95% of the time I’m in fight or flight mode.

Thanks to my decision to take today off to unwind and catch up, this morning I woke up softly and did not have to rush. I felt relaxed and well rested. I had coffee, checked Facebook, and responded to my texts with time, attention and enjoyment. When I left to pick up the dog I had the most lovely 9-minute ride. I felt the sun on my skin, the air coming through the window. I looked at the trees and bushes. I heard other people’s music. I was SO in the moment. I was not rushed, sort of like the people getting off the plane yesterday. While I waited for the dog and saw people dropping off their pets for daycare in a rush and in tights, heels, and neck hugging ties all stressed out that it was taking so long I felt thankful that wasn’t me today. Koji and I drove home in peace. We had nowhere to be. He oscillated between having his head out the window and coming over to me to give doggie love. We got home. I fed him and enjoyed watching him enjoying being home. We went upstairs to keep the laundry moving. He sat at my feet while I folded the big, messy, unruly pile into nice neat beautifully folded laundry. My bedroom windows were open. The sun was shining in. I folded the laundry with love. Looking at my clothes, the stitching, the lace… I never noticed these things before. My husband’s shirt he wore on Friday, his running clothes. I thought about him in them and how much I love him. When I went to put the towels away in the bathroom I noticed the pictures on the wall. I hardly see them. I remember the day Daren and I bought them in Marshalls a few years ago. They are pictures of tranquil beach scenes from a porch front. They match the blue and white walls and trim. My bathroom looked picturesque itself this morning with the sun shining in the windows. The plants on the window sills were sitting there alongside the candles. I hardly ever notice them. We rushedly water them every week as we cross off a chore on the list. We don’t lite those candles, but gosh they are pretty. We don’t have time. I want that time. I put away the laundry and feel inspired to write about this. I feel good, calm, peaceful, happy.

I walk downstairs and pull out my computer. I look at my to do list I made for today. I took the day off to catch up so there is quite a bit to do. The list starts to make my heart pound. I pull up my work email to put on my out of office and decide to go through all the new emails that arrived since the airport yesterday since it will make my job of going back to work easier tomorrow. I look at my calendar too for tomorrow. I have back-to-back meetings ALL day except for 2 hours. There were things to prep for that I should be doing. There is an email string with some friends of mine from work about a happy hour that keeps interrupting me in a good way but an interruption none-the-less. I start to stress. And then I stopped. I stopped and starting writing. It’s what my heart wants to do.

This is how I live. I thought it was normal to feel like this all of the time. For the past 4-5 years I have been telling my husband how stressed I feel. As I started to discover spirituality and yoga I felt the intense need to slow down. As I started to realize how incongruent most of my day is in comparison to what my heart wants to do I started to feel more stress ironically. I began reading up on things where I feel a natural call like helping those less fortunate, fighting for womens and minority rights, animal rights, educating our society on thinking of others, the homeless… Not doing these things felt wrong as I got in my car everyday to start my soul sucking commute to work. I make a salary I’m proud of and have a job that helps society, but the money made gets poured right back into the society I’m not sure I believe in any longer and “bettering” the kids. I had to start wondering all what for. What are the kids getting better at? Learning how to run around like crazy lunatics in the hope for “success”? 2 of them are seriously stressed as young teenagers already. What is success? Is it making a lot of money and doing the same for your offspring? Spending so much time feeling like you do a good job at work that enjoying life, human interaction, the family & pets are the last thing you have time for? Because we are so busy we use a grocery delivery service, a maid service and our dog goes to daycare. We order everything online. I don’t see my house and my belongings as I wipe the dust from a scenic picture I picked out. I don’t see the joy in my dog’s face as he runs free with other dogs. I’m not the one playing catch with him, I’m only reading about how much fun he had on the report card I get from his daycare. I’m watching the kid’s sporting events mentally calculating the time and how I’m going to get everything crammed in. When I fall down in an exhausted heap at the end of the night on the couch to watch tv for a few moments before I know I will drift off and a cat immediately jumps on me to sit in view of the tv, and starts purring; I am slightly annoyed rather than overjoyed that this little bundle of love wants anything to do with me after feeding them twice that day and scraping their litter was nothing more than another chore to cross off the to-do list.

I enjoy very little of what I work for anymore. I’m stressed all the time. I wake up many mornings already in fight or flight as soon as my eyes open. Daren will ask me what is wrong and I’ll tell him I’m stressed and anxious. I go downstairs to squeeze in my daily exercise at 4:45 am and try to enjoy a cup of coffee, but I feel like a beast and try not to snap at my well meaning family as they seemingly pile more information and requests on me.

As I said, I thought it was normal. It all came to a head a few weeks ago though. While driving to New York city after a long Saturday afternoon of running the kids around, watching Gabby’s fencing match, and knowing she is driving to Massachusetts alone; Daren and I had some time to catch up on home business we needed to exchange. A few disturbing conversations with the kids, I had slight worry from a semi-argument I had with Tommy earlier that week, and there was the possibility of another pending lawsuit with Daren’s ex. To boot we were running late to catch our show at the Opera and I wasn’t sure we would even have time to eat before the show. I felt the old familiar pangs of stress. But often times I don’t have time to address them so I ignore them. This particular night I didn’t want to engage in these conversations. Daren passed them along to me as one might pass along information at a meeting to their employees that they needed to know. I just listened and stared out the window trying to control my breathing and thinking about how to deal with all of this tomorrow after we come home from the city. Well at 2am I woke up in a panic. I often do. I put all the worries aside for the evening and they woke me up. Luckily this time I fell back to sleep. At 7am Daren and I both woke up. I had one of those mornings where I had the fight or flight feeling as soon as I opened my eyes. Daren was trying to have a nice sunny conversation that I was ignoring as I tried to understand why I felt so stinking anxious. He asks me what is wrong. I tell him I’m anxious. He tells me I’m always anxious. He doesn’t understand this and this is normal dialogue for us. Only that day something different happened. Because there was no house to take care of and place to rush off to, as we got ready to leave without too much distraction I started to get more and more anxious. It got so bad I had a panic attack. It was the first time I had one. I wasn’t scared, I knew exactly what I was. I rode it out. It passed but I had an unsettled feeling for the whole ride home and cried most of the way. Daren could not understand what was wrong. All I could explain is that I was anxious. He asked about what. I tell him about the various things and he says that is just life. I don’t want this to be my life. We have choices about how to live. I live how I’ve been told we should live and I’ve been confused ever since I started questioning this. Two days later while driving to work I started to feel myself working up to a panic attack again while thinking about the upcoming day. I kept control of it. I walked up the stairs to work and the act of being slightly breathless put me right into another panic attack. No one was at work yet so I went right into my office, pulled the curtain and closed the door. I rocked myself back to a normal state after about 10 minutes of hyperventilating and crying. Two days later the same thing happened again. And then it happened the next night, and then the morning after. The next Wednesday evening after Date Night and Daren and I sat in the car outside of the restaurant, I thought about how the night went so fast and I never had time to talk to him about how we can possibly change our lifestyle to ease up on life on the sooner side rather than waiting until the youngest kid graduates in 5+ years… I had the worst panic attack yet. 3 of the kids were home. We were late. I didn’t want them to see me such a wreck. I wasn’t sure what to do.

I knew I had to take the next day off and go to the doctor. I didn’t want drugs. I can control this. I’ll do more yoga, try to actually meditate before bed every night and not just once a week. I’ll start a regular pranayama practice. I’ll figure out later where to squeeze it in. While I’m off I might as well book the hotels for Gabby’s college search week, set up my new phone because the screen cracked on my old one, and do the 90 other things I never get around to do. I took the next day off too for two more needed appointments including having my dental bondings replaced. I felt like I was able to get stuff done and catch up. I knew I’d be fine if I could only catch up. I was a new woman. We had no kids that weekend but still did quite a bit of game visiting and kid shuffling. I also had my monthly yoga teacher training. None-the-less I was fairly relaxed and felt caught up. Daren barely recognized the nice, funny, chill girl he met and fell in love with. Monday the stress began again. Another panic attack. Tuesday I went to my PCP and decided I need help. I did not want anti-anxiety drugs but at this point I felt it could possibly be the only way out. I strategically scheduled this appointment to coincide with Gabby’s annual physical to take the least amount of time off from work as humanly possible. As I waited for her to come out, I started reading about Lexapro. I panicked even more seeing that it could cause weight gain and doesn’t always work. I waited days before starting. I was so afraid. I had an official diagnosis now and was so embarrassed by this. I could never let anyone know, they wouldn’t understand. What would the kids or our exes think? My in-laws? People at work? What if I gain weight? What if it I become dependent? I was having anxiety about taking an anti-anxiety drug.

What helped me come to a decision was the VERY few people online who said it worked. The ones who said they had no sexual side effects, no weight gain and that they can’t believe they suffered so long while this was an option to feel normal again. Some posted about how they came off the meds and learned to better manage their lives while on it a few months. They were my inspiration. I wanted that too. After much hesitation I took my first pill. I started to journal about my experience. It has been a rollercoaster. I did have some side effects but they are starting to get under control. It’s only been 5 weeks, and I’m kind of starting to feel better. I still feel my body in fight or flight, but my mind isn’t following as much of the time. It has less of a stigma to me now and I’m less afraid to tell people about my struggle. I’ve since learned that 1 in 3 people suffer from anxiety. We are out of balance because our world is out of balance. It’s a choice about whether or not to participate in this out of balance world. I need to start working in the lifestyle changes now and making different decisions. Today was a start by deciding not to try to cram in going to work, getting my sweet dog and not having him spend another day at the kennel, and taking the time to write about my experience and not just get on with my to do list. I would like to evaluate all the choices I make and how I spend my time. I want to enjoy my life. See the beauty in my pets and home. Be able to talk to humans that reach out to my without thinking about what I’m not doing. Notice the sun and how it falls upon the trees far more often. I want to be contributing to the world in a new way that doesn’t include being a part of the problem of rushing to the next thing to make money that you need to spend just to keep up with your life.

I feel a call to change and contribute my talents and passions in a new way. I’m not sure how yet. I’m not sure I want to share this but I probably will. Hopefully this is the start of a new journey. I feel peace and love right now. The stress I had when I started writing has lifted. I am home with my very happy doggie. I want to flip the current status and feel peace 95% of the time and stress for 5% of it. I want others to have that too. The world would be such a better place if we did that, and we all pitched in to help the world to do that. I know it’s possible, it just has to be. Namaste.

Koji enjoying being home:

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