Last Thursday I was eating my lunch when I heard a horrible crunching sound in my mouth. I pulled out a small piece of white porcelain, confirming that yes, I had just broken the crown with which I had so much trouble two years ago.
I spent some time shining a flashlight in my mouth and staring at the damage, followed by some aimless wandering around muttering “Okay” at periodic intervals. After calling the dentist and making an appointment, I ended up laying on my study floor with Nala and staring at the tree outside the window.
I wanted to lay there looking at that tree forever.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he didn’t seem to have energy to do even simple tasks, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t depressed. I suggested it could be related to anxiety. I was speaking from personal experience.
The last two months have been among the most stressful of my life, coming at the end of perhaps the most stressful year of my life. And it turns out the symptoms of high stress that you hear about are actually true. They include:
1. general fatigue/exhaustion (I was so tired on Friday, I got lost in a familiar part of town.)
2. lack of ability to focus (my speed of reading has fallen drastically)
3. muscle tension (in my case, particularly in the back, shoulders, and neck)
4. less effective immune system (I’ve had the flu twice in the last three and a half months)
6. memory loss/unreliable memory (Two weeks ago I double booked myself. I still can’t believe that happened. I am usually a scheduling goddess.)
7. easily overwhelmed
8. tension headaches
9. appetite changes
10. easily triggered fears/worries
I haven’t wanted to write about any of this for a number of reasons. But on Thursday, I felt like breaking my crown was too much; it was the last straw. I considered lying there and contemplating the tree forever. It seemed like a pretty good idea, until the thought wiggled its way into my consciousness that I should write about this. And eventually, buoyed up by this thought, I got up.
As a child, I was taught to try to be as perfect as possible. If I was going through a hard time, I was supposed to hide it.
But this belief contributes to the problem. Not only is it isolating, but it strengthens the idea that if we don’t handle everything perfectly, we are failures, when in reality we’re just the same as everyone else. Everyone has struggles. Everyone goes through hard times. Everyone has moments when they stare at a tree (or the road or the ceiling or the screen or their feet or the dark when they can’t sleep) and want all the difficult things to go away because they seem like too much.
So I’m going to be honest. I’m tired all the time. I prioritize my to do list carefully every day because I can’t get as much done as normal. Nala is always at the very top of that list, and everything else comes after. Sometimes it takes me an hour or more to figure out how to respond to a typical situation or request. I can’t always be there for my friends the way I want to be, and sometimes I have to cancel plans.
I’m not depressed. I love life, I love the world, and I am optimistic about my future. I have so many projects I want to work on, so many books I want to write, and so many people I want to spend time with, some of whom I haven’t even met yet. I get frustrated by my energy levels because I still want to do all the things.
But realistically, there is only a certain amount of stress any of us can handle before it begins to affect things. And I am past that amount. I look forward to a time when that’s no longer true. Hopefully it will be here soon.
And in the meantime, sometimes I will spend some time staring at my tree.