How do you know when you’re hitting maximum stress load? What are your warning signs? I mean, short of just dropping dead from a heart attack.
I have two flashing stress lights that warn me that I’m on the teetering edge of losing control over my time. The first is making stupid mistakes. Really stupid mistakes. And I realize there’s some self-flagellation in there, because they aren’t truly stupid mistakes, like calling Los Angeles the capitol of California (and all the SoCal folks in the room are scratching their pretty heads and wondering why that’s a mistake), or putting the milk carton in the oven, or furiously clicking the car remote at the front door and cursing it for not working.
Ok, that last one… guilty. And not just once. But that’s not truly stupid. It’s either the ultimate stress overload warning or pre-dementia. Mostly likely, the former, because I still understand what the car remote is for. It just slipped my mind momentarily.
Isn’t midlife fun?
So. Stupid mistakes. They’re not truly a marker of intelligence, or lack thereof, but occur mainly when life is flying at me like the deck of cards flew at Alice and, silly me, I keep trying to catch them politely and place them in a neat stack, rather than grabbing some scissors and hacking them to bits.
Violent urges? Also a sign of stress.
My most recent stress warning in the form of stupid mistakes happened while typing up an engagement announcement for the Express, timed for Valentine’s Day, sweet and adorable as a baby’s cheek. Except, in the fretful flurry of my daily routine, with 16 people demanding my attention at any given moment, I mixed up the bride’s name with the groom’s mother’s.
When the distraught mother of the groom called, explaining her dismay over the whole Oedipal mess, there wasn’t anything I could do to fix it. It’s a newspaper. You can’t unprint it. You can’t run around after the paperboys and scoop them all up and start over. All you can do is agree that it’s a total disaster, apologize, sigh, and run it again, hopefully without any incestuous undertones.
On the heels of this editorial collapse, my other warning light began flashing. I missed an appointment. I never miss appointments. It’s one of my more functional OCD-ish traits. But that particular day, when my appointment book was scribbled with ink, I just blithely went about my afternoon until I got the phone call: “Debra… weren’t you supposed to be somewhere?”
Like an awakening from mini-amnesia, the memory of that appointment an hour earlier materialized, bright and clear. And, as with the poor mother outed for marrying her son, what can you do but just acknowledge your failures, apologize and start over.
So very sorry I kept you all waiting for your photo appointment in the cold wind during your lunch hour. Might we reschedule?
Sigh. Just… sigh.
It’s indisputable. I need to prune things out of my life to just make space to move around. But what? Work? No, must pay the bills. Massage business? Ditto, bills. Chamber of Commerce duties? I tried to escape, but they jumped me back in like a street gang. iPinion Syndicate? Every time I think about bowing out, one of the writers tells me how deeply they appreciate being part of the team, and what a joy it is, and… how am I supposed to walk away from that? It’d be like punching Bambi in the eye. However, it also reminds me that the joy of writing is being eclipsed by the job of writing.
Can I just sigh some more? It beats curling into a fetal position and weeping softly in the corner. At least I’m breathing.
So, I thought I had only two flashing stress-warning lights, but last week, discovered a third: No time for friends. Two friends wanted to chat on the phone with me, on the same day, but just picking up the phone was an impossibility. I had to actually schedule time to talk, and the schedule wasn’t open for several days. I squeezed one in at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, and the other the following day.
Wow. I don’t even have time to talk to my friends.
And I forgot about the Tuesday appointment until Thursday.
Flash, flash, flash …
However, on the Wednesday call, my friend Amy and I were lamenting our respective threadbare exhaustion, and as we chatted, I looked around the living room, as if for the first time. In every corner, on every horizontal surface — stacks of unread newspapers and magazines … books yearning to be read, cobwebs on the ceiling, shoes in this corner, shopping bags in that, a lone Christmas ornament that still hasn’t made it into the storage box, dust settling on the piano that hasn’t been played in months. Or is it years?
Everywhere my gaze fell, it found a pile of neglect and regret … sad, sagging reminders of my lack of control over my time. My life. In every spot, there was something that made me feel tired, overwhelmed and inadequate. How long does it take to put an ornament away? Moreover, why can’t I find that much time to do it?
And that was just one room.
And then, the epiphany: a cluttered exterior reflects a cluttered interior. I can literally see my own stress, right there in the stacks and piles. I can trace it in the dust with my finger.
In feng shui, it’s said that clutter in the house depletes “chi” or life energy. I get it now. I can see it. Worse yet, I can feel it. But I’m realizing that clutter in your head — and your time — depletes chi too.
Something’s got to change. Or, rather, someone’s got to change it. That someone would be me. And maybe not just make time to dust the piano, but sit down and play it, too.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com