Archives for posts with tag: stress management

I haven’t been writing as often or as regularly. Are you missing me? I’m sorry. It’s Spring, you see, and this new job… life feels quite busy. Filled with tasks, meetings, conversations with my Traveling Partner about the perfect placement of “bass traps” and how best to fill the house with beautiful music. There are flowers blooming. There are others yet to be planted. Time ticks quickly by without me noticing, and days have gone by, again. 🙂

Primroses in the garden.

Maybe this is simply another step on this long journey? I sip my coffee and look around my studio, here, at home. It’s also my office, and the work day will begin shortly. I feel safe and content in this place – the space, yes, but also this time in my life. How odd. When did this contentment arrive? This odd little “oh, hey, yes, this is who I am” sort of feeling that also feels… okay? When did I find this loving good humor with which to face my relationships? This sense of loving kindness that says “it’s okay that we’re cross with each other right now – it hardly matters because there’s just so much love to be shared” feels new and enduring… has it always been within reach? Is it fragile or likely to fade in some moment of impatience? There’s part of me that wonders how one could ever be cross in the context of this much love… and I smile, remembering that “cross” isn’t really a “state of being” so much as a feeling. Emotional weather, not emotional climate – at least for me, personally, here, now.

…How much have I changed? How is it I still recognize myself at all? (And, how is it I can still make a cup of coffee this damned bad??? LOL)

I sip my coffee and sit with this contentment… contentedly. 🙂

Life is still pretty real. There is no “perfect” to attain. No A+ report card to receive. No ideal state of ease that never demands more of me. Shit breaks. Things need to be maintained. There’s always housekeeping to stay caught up on. Details. In fact, my Traveling Partner sticks his head in the door and gently pleads for assurance that I will “take care of the aquarium today, please?”; the pump is being a bit noisy, and one of the intakes is a bit blocked. I didn’t do my best work with upkeep tasks yesterday, sort of rushing through it between meetings during the work day. I assure him I’ll take care of it on my first break from work this morning; I know that sound grates on his nerves, and I also know that my fish rely on my attention to enjoy a good quality of life. So. No perfect here – and there’s always something that needs doing.

…It’s still important to take breaks, get rest, enjoy leisure, and really savor every lovely pleasant moment life and love offer. It’s a bit like an emotional savings account that is there for me “in case of emergencies” – funding, in a sense, the continued contentment and resilience when things do go sideways – and they will. I’m still very human. I don’t expect that to change.

It’s an utterly ordinary Thursday morning on a work day. This is a fairly ordinary suburban life in a small town in 21st century America. Nonetheless… there is much to do with the day ahead, and it wants a beginning. 🙂 Am I ready? Does that even matter? 😉 If I’m not – I can begin again.

Yesterday got off to a lovely start, wobbled a bit with a moment of consequence stemming, most likely, from a miscommunication or misunderstanding. I got past it, but the day built on that with small details, snatches of over-heard conversations that had nothing to do with me, and a few interactions with strangers, that amounted to a busy, fairly purposeful, intended to be very fun day that turned out to be just filled with anxiety, and triggers. Well, shit.

By the time I crossed town to spend time with a dear friend I hadn’t hung out with in while, catch up, and see his “new place” (he’s been there a year), my hands were… sort of torn up. Yeah. I pick at my cuticles when stressed, and don’t realize I’m doing it, generally. “Nervous habit” doesn’t cover it, and managing it is impaired by my fucking TBI. So, by the end of the afternoon, my finger tips were bleeding in places, from torn cuticles, tugged at hang nails, and I was feeling both uncomfortable and self-conscious, on top of the anxiety.

I was also early. Shit.

I was sitting in a parking lot, just a shopping center away from my friend’s address, in a neighborhood I once called home. Familiar territory. I strolled through a couple specialty shops with Giftmas on my mind. I kept catching myself still tearing at my poor suffering innocent cuticles. I finally had a “fuck this dumb shit” moment, when I spotted the cheery neon “Open” sign of a nail salon right there. I looked at the time. We’d been firm, in our plans, on “not earlier than”, and even so, I had plenty of time yet ahead of me – I’d been planning to grab a bite. I was not at all hungry, though, and every ounce of my being was yearning for actual self-care. So… Nails? Nails. I mean… if they turned out to have a walk in opening, at all. It’s the weekend before the weekend of Giftmas! (What was I thinking??)

It had been awhile since I’d been to this nail salon. Could I do a ten minute wait, the receptionist asks me politely, glancing at my hands with a frown. The place was packed. She called one of the manicurists over, who asked to also see my hands. She looked at me sternly, and spoke to the receptionist in Vietnamese, and briskly returned to the sea of manicurists’ stations. The receptionist said, firmly, “please take a seat, 10 minutes” and hands me a quantity of color samples, “choose color”. She returns to the phone. Two or three women were waiting ahead of me, another came in with a scheduled appointment. All the stations were entirely full. No way this is going to be 10 minutes, I thought, rather stoically. Still, I felt that I was in the place I needed to be in the moment, taking care of an important bit of self-care; the worse my fingers were chewed on, ragged, and picked at, the worse they were going to become; it’s the snags that grab my attention in the background, when I’m “not looking”. It was becoming actually painful at that point.

I sat quietly, breathing the fumes commonplace in nail salons and amused myself with thoughts of the Oracle of Delphi. Time passes.

A customer leaves. Then another. And another. 10 minutes passes quickly, and it really was all I had to wait. The next 45 minutes passed so gently, and I felt so cared for. Hell… I relaxed and allowed experiences – new experiences – I would not have known how to actually ask for, because I simply put myself (and my hands) in the care of someone expert.

On my way to be seated, I managed to actually break a nail – into the quick – but did not allow myself to tear it off. She fixed that. (I did not know that was a thing.) She put tiny tips on my chronically bitten to the quick pinky nails, making them appear utterly ordinary alongside the others. She looked carefully at where the worst damage was and as she trimmed and removed damaged bits, reminded me to moisturize my hands to limit snags and keep my cuticles supple. “More moisture.” She repeated it several times, over the course of the work she was doing, pointing out exactly where it matters most. Tense? She used a lavender massage lotion for the hand massage. I felt my stress melting away. I walked away with nearly indestructible (gel) nails for the holiday ahead, and feeling far more relaxed and comfortable with my body.

I had a great time hanging out with my friend. The day was, although busy, well-spent. I feel ready for the holiday ahead, and eager to spend that time with my Traveling Partner. Today, I’ve got a gentle day of housekeeping, and gift-wrapping, and a trip to the market planned. A nice Sunday. Laundry and cartoons? I think so. A good beginning on a new week.

I’ll go get started on that. 🙂 I won’t be changing the world in any noteworthy way, but maintaining the kindness, order, contentment, and sanity in my own wee corner at least serves to help, in some very small way. 🙂

Early evening, in autumn, golden sunlight filtering through the vertical blinds over the patio door, me fussing a bit, somewhat uneasy, headache-y, annoyed. I am not sipping coffee; it is too late in the day for that, unless I’m planning to be awake all night. This is a fairly noisy time of day, here, even in the relative quiet of my comfortable space. I can nearly always hear the traffic on the commuter thoroughfare 100 yards away (ish).  Today the background noise isn’t in the background at all. Contractors are using power saws, hammers, drills, pry bars, and talking loudly all around the outside of my apartment. The noise is well-beyond what could be considered comfortable without hearing protection.

I came home from work to finish the workday in a quieter space; I’m feeling irritable, a tad stressed, and extremely sound-sensitive. There is no quiet to be had here, and the headache I arrived home with, hoping to feel dissipate quickly upon arrival in this chill safe space, now commands my attention from my lower back, on up across my shoulders, up my neck and over my skull, coming to rest as a sensation of tightness in my head, and teeth clenched, neck aching. I am numb to most of anything else going on just at the moment, wanting only to alleviate the pain in my spine, my neck, my head. My tender heart finds its own way to misery; I kick myself while I’m down, resenting the attention I am giving to my physical pain, when there are tears lurking so near to my eyes, waiting to spill out. I suspect my heart doesn’t quite understand that there’s nothing really wrong, I just hurt, and the noise is hard to bear. I promise myself that once the contractors are gone, I will soak in a long hot Epsom salt bath, then linger in a luxurious shower, indulging myself with the sensuous pleasure to be had in hair washing, and the simple sensations of warm water and lovely scents, listening to music I enjoy. It’s not ‘everything’ – how much ever is? It is, perhaps, enough – and enough will do nicely.

How 'real' is all this stress? What's it really made of?

How ‘real’ is all this stress? What’s it really made of?

So much for a change of perspective! In the moments when I hurt most, the practices that sooth me best can seem subtly out of reach. That’s very frustrating, and sometimes even ‘unreasonably difficult’. The noise is very nearly unbearable, and it is a physical feeling of its own. Hard to describe. Painful. Enraging. It’s quieter now, and later. I’ve taken time for a chat with my traveling partner. Had a bite of dinner. Did what I could to care for this fragile vessel in any way I can…any way that isn’t dependent on quiet, I mean. Quiet is just not available at the moment, even with ear plugs in.

I’ve gotten past the anger, frustration, disappointment, and yes even emotional hurt of getting home to find, instead of a quiet sanctuary, noise. A lot of noise. Irritating, ceaseless… wait… That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? This is the hard part. The part where practice shows off what has been built over time? This isn’t a drill, people!! It’s doesn’t matter what I expect. Preparation helps – but the map is not the world. The plan is not the experience. What I think is not to be confused with what is.  Learning the distinction between acceptance and futility has been a difficult bit of life’s curriculum for me. I hurt so much right now, there is real effort in refusing to yield to anguish, in drawing in line in the behavioral sand, so to speak, and finding the balance between taking care of me devotedly, and simply taking care, graciously, compassionately, understanding with some perspective that we all suffer with things like noise. I still hurt – but I haven’t lashed out at any of the carpenters, or my landlady, or the neighbor’s well-meaning child, or …well… you get my point. There’s no ‘easy’ to this piece of the journey, I do hurt, and the noise is making me just fucking crazy with irritation. I still have choices; focusing on the easy ones and excluding the difficult ones also limits my outcomes.

I take time to do some yoga. I breathe. I meditate with a warm cup of chamomile tea in my hands, warming my fingers and soothing me, enjoying the fragrant steam rising up from the mug.

Perspective matters. What I see is colored by my experience.

Perspective matters. What I see is colored by my experience.

There are moments beyond the noise. I can reach them; there are verbs involved. Not easy? No. Not easy. Still worth it. Still practicing.

There are all sorts of details I could have handled better today – but I handled things well enough, and I’ve taken care of me generally, and done so pretty well. I’ve taken care of the things most needing my attention, and I’ve put off some things that can comfortably wait for me to get to them another time. Success isn’t always obvious, or profitable, or heroic – sometimes it’s measured as ‘enough’. I’m okay with that – and I’m okay right now.

I struggled with a bad bit yesterday. It was the first significant experience with loss of balance, volatility, and my chaos and damage since I moved. The lovely morning began to slide sideways fairly early in the day, as I reacted to fairly commonplace work stress while also struggling with my hormones. I made choices that caused both to be more serious challenges than they might otherwise have been.

I realized where my state of being was taking me around mid-day, and made the choice to start the holiday weekend early. A hot day, no clear agenda, enough background stress to repeatedly find myself clenching my jaw…I followed up my early departure from work with the choice to head to the nearby mall…an odd choice for me these days, but I found myself wanting to window shop and consider my quality of life ‘to do list’ for home and hearth, and enjoy the colder a/c for a time.

Choices matter. This choice was not ideal for me, fortunately I still have free will.

Choices matter. This choice was not ideal for me, fortunately I still have free will.

Clenched jaw. Headache. Irritability. Backache. A persistent feeling of frustrated anger simmering in the background. Feeling disconnected – and unable to connect. I felt very aware that the issue was my own, and not something anyone else was causing. As I wandered the aisles of ‘retail paradise’ I repeatedly pulled my focus back to ‘now’, working to maintain awareness, and presence in the moment. I was not expecting to find myself unable to find joy in the varied colorful displays of merchandise offered for my consideration; “retail therapy” used to be something I could easily rely on for a diversion, if nothing else. It was not working yesterday; I am not the person I once was.

I got an icy cold creamy chocolate-y coffee beverage ‘for medicinal purposes’ (yes, in my experience the combination of chocolate and coffee does help with hormone challenges). I sampled some fruit teas, and bought a nice one for iced tea for the weekend. The mall had nothing else to offer [for me], unless perhaps I had a much bigger kitchen, and an unlimited budget for high-end kitchen gear – neither of which are the state of things. I felt irritated with the noise – I went to the mall while I was struggling with noise sensitivity, too? What was I thinking? I headed for home feeling pretty low, and rather dismally disconnected from self.  The heat of the day contributed to being so cross by the time I got home that I was near tears. I sent my traveling partner a heads up that I was dropping offline for a while to take care of me, and that I was not at risk of self-harm; worrying loved ones doesn’t help with longer term stress management.

As soon as I got home I reached for the checklist. Mine is personalized with some additions that are specific to my own needs. First things first – I went down the list and checked off what I knew I had already managed and discovered something I wasn’t fully aware of; there were some significant misses. I set the check list aside, and in a ‘first things first’ sort of way, had a leisurely shower to rinse off the stickiness of sweat and the heat of the day, and changed into ‘comfy clothes’ [for me that’s yoga pants and a loose tank top]. At that point I put down everything else – including my concerns, doubts, stress, and emotional weirdness – and took time to meditate, no timer. It was a struggle. My mind wandered, again and again, fussy over nothing, irritated with minutiae, distracted and out of focus, and feeling vaguely sad. Each time I came back to my breath it got a little easier, and I felt a little more calm. My headache began to ease. My clenched jaw finally relaxed.

Another look at the checklist, and I began working my way down the list item by item…a healthy meal…some exercise…music, dance, yoga…I picked up and completed a couple small projects, and planned the weekend around taking care of me, and enjoying some leisure time. I stayed away from social media, and video brain candy. I looked into the face of my anxiety fearlessly, and allowed myself to consider that I might go completely to pieces that evening and find myself in crisis management mode, and affectionately accepted that I have challenges to deal with, even now, and that life isn’t about ‘perfect’ or ‘happily ever after’ and that the variability and intensity of my emotional life is also part of how I feel the intensity of the love, passion, and delight that I do in other moments. I reminded myself this would all pass, as things typically do; the intensity is not really sustainable.

The hormone piece is a real bad-ass as challenges go; I’ve passed menopause, and the tendency is to think this means I am done with complicated mood swings and whatnot resulting from the reproductive hormone cycle, but that’s a gross oversimplification, and this week I had screwed up the timing on my HRT – which means hormones became a factor that needed acknowledgement, attention, and self-compassion. The disinhibiting qualities of my TBI contribute to my volatility; I have trouble managing intense emotions, however fleeting, and the stress caused by my fears that I may ‘lose my shit’ unexpectedly and lash out in a socially inappropriate way doesn’t make it any easier.

Over the next few hours of taking care of me with my whole attention, and nothing else on my mind, I managed to find my way to a more comfortable place. I didn’t stop when I got there, and enjoyed several more opportunities to meditate, to treat myself with compassion and tenderness, and to restore order to my thinking through the living metaphor of restoring order to my experience, and my environment.

This morning I woke at the usual time, without the alarm, and got up long enough to take my medication on time, and return to sleep for a delicious additional 2 and half hours. I woke easily, feeling content and comfortable in my skin, and in my head. I overslept my original plans, but didn’t feel disappointed; I have a plan B. I enjoyed a few minutes of conversation with my traveling partner, in the digital world, and made coffee. I took time to enjoy my coffee without distraction, feet up, listening to music. Meditation, yoga, and dancing got my on my feet and enjoying the pleasure of movement. I took on a couple small household projects, like reorganizing the pantry for the shelves that will arrive next week, and making a home for the bin in which my journals remain packed (I once needed to see them displayed all around me to feel secure). The additional living space and order feel very good, and I recognize that the lack of order was causing me stress; these were details that felt very much that I wasn’t finished moving in.

Blooming in my own time, when conditions are right; I am learning to tend the garden of my heart more skillfully.

Blooming in my own time, when conditions are right; I am learning to tend the garden of my heart more skillfully.

It is one truth that I will face my demons until they are vanquished. It is another truth that although I have taken many steps, there are many more ahead of me. It is yet another truth that I am okay right now, and right now that’s enough.