Monday, October 14, 2019

Stress spillage.

"You and Wade just need to relax."

I've heard the words echoing in my ears for years now. They weren't spoken in a "take a spa day" way. Rather they were spoken in a "You are over-reacting" manner and the message was loud and clear.

So clear as a matter of fact that they have haunted me. I have given no small amount of thought to them, dissecting the meaning, analyzing our behavior, fretting over interactions, and frankly putting a lot of energy into NOT being uptight, NOT over-reacting. It is all exhausting.

So when my friend Carrie sent me her slides for our mutual presentation on "Special Needs Caregivers and Stress" one slide in particular spoke to me...even now I feel a sense of peace just thinking about Carrie's wisdom:

"Stress can pile up -- a family's adjustment can reach its limit, causing stress to spill over.
Families with high baseline stress levels "catastrophize" small stressors." (Carrie Sewell-Roberts, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Nemours Cerebral Palsy Center)

Can you walk with me through this?

Catastrophize means to view or talk about an event or situation as worse than it actually is. And in the context of Carrie's course, it means to feel an event or situation as worse than it actually is. I can identify.

The year Benjamin had wrist surgery, then spine surgery, then eye surgery -- every single thing was a crisis. Relationships suffered that year -- some have never recovered sadly. And let me be clear, we weren't imagining that all the surgeries would be worse than they actually were. They were terrible for my amazing wonderful son. We knew they would be hard and we hurt and we ached. Rather for us in that season, the catastrophizing was in how acutely we felt every thing. I can close my eyes and feel the warmth of friends who brought (or mailed) movies for us to watch while we were stranded at home, I can feel the hugs of my friend who delayed her move to sit with us during that hard season, I can smell the delicious meals prepared and delivered to care for us. And I can feel the physical pain of the phone call accusing me of not being a good family member. I can feel the shame of not speaking kindly to a friend who failed to meet my lofty expectations.

Our adjustment had reached its limit and our stress just spilled over onto every service, emotion, relationship in its path.

More recently, the year Wade and I had to make the long commute between states work, saw more than its share of catastrophic. Each stage of the house-finding felt super intense, life-or-death, as if huge consequences were hanging in the balance. We knew we needed a house to safely meet Benjamin's needs, and a home where we could gather our loved ones. As month of looking turned into year, we were stressed. It absolutely felt like each failed offer and lost contract was a catastrophe.

And sometimes, it has been as inconsequential as rushing to an appointment after getting Benjamin dressed and ready only to find all the accessible parking spaces taken -- or the ramp blocked -- and I am left feeling like the world is condemned and life as we know it is over. 

So the affirmation that this isn't a Carol and Wade problem was enormous. The in-my-face-type on that slide was exactly what I needed -- and have needed for years -- to give my own family, and our reactions,  a bit of grace.

And because I am a glass-half-full kind of gal, I have to maintain that though all of this is true and we do have stressors that loom and days where they spill over, we also know how to make the most of the moments that DON'T seem overwhelming.

Maybe it is because we are so aware of the catastrophes, that we work twice as hard to make the good. Maybe the silly wonderful laugh-until-you-hurt tradition of riding River Rapids at Disneyland as many times as we can in the cold, wet of night and then running back to photograph the silly, drink cocoa and dry off in our condo only happens because we know we need those fantastic over-the-top moments to survive the hard. Maybe we decorate big for every holiday because we understand that when the season IS NOT stressful, then there already is a reason to celebrate and we should go all out! And when hard happens to fall in a holiday season? Well, then perhaps we cling to the over-the-top decor more than ever.

Maybe it is exactly this high baseline of stress that prompts me to open our doors and welcome as many in who will come. Because I know gathering my people to me is the best, most sure-fire way to make the most of the moments where life isn't overwhelming to us.

Come to think of it, gathering my people makes the most of life even when it is overwhelming, just don't mind the spillage.

Carol - The Blessings Counter