The Effects of Self-Imposed Stress

Note: this blog was written right before my awareness there was a  pandemic looming in February 2020. At the time I felt it was insensitive to write about my ‘self-imposed’ stress. Now, sixteen months later, I resurrected it from my drafts.


Last week I suffered the effects of self-imposed stress. Just thinking about it sends chills down my spine.

Some part of me knew I’d let my activities and choices get out of hand. However, it was more obvious to my husband and mother, who live with me. During the previous month, I had whittled away the major contributor, giving away my time and energy to aid causes more than myself. Yes, I resigned my last job as a volunteer. I thought that was enough. It wasn’t.

Stress Manifests in My Life

First, I noticed a small headache, off and on for a few days. Then exhaustion hit me about midday on day one, Friday. Although unusual for me, I took a nap, a two hour nap. Meanwhile, my plan to cook an elaborate dinner with the chops I’d purchased, evaporated. I found some hot dogs in the back of the meat drawer. It sounded appetizing with the leftover, homemade macaroni and cheese. After serving up the Cleveland Red Beet Kraut, I found a spurt of energy, looking at the colorful shades of red and yellow food choices.

I went to bed early and slept over seven hours, meeting my Fitbit sleep goal. Yeah!

Day Two Starts a Little Better

My usual routine in the morning included a breakfast of carefully measured oatmeal, chopped apple, crystallized ginger, and a boiled egg for added protein. I logged it, just as I’ve done for the last three months.

Essential items were getting low; milk, half and half, peanut butter, bananas, and I needed apples for the Waldorf salad I planned to make. As I finally left for town it was close to lunchtime. I opted for the cafe in Bok Tower Gardens and one of my favorite wraps, Buffalo Chicken. Afterward I went for a fifteen minute stroll.

I was feeling unusually tired from my little walk, but there were still groceries to buy. Arriving home, I carried the groceries and headed for the stairs to the kitchen. My legs seemed so heavy. I took each step slowly, first the left foot, then the right, resting the grocery bags on the steps above.

As soon as I put the milk away, I fell into bed, noticing I had two hours before a group coaching call with Connie Chapman. Just twenty minutes before the call, I awoke and hurried to my downstairs office.  As usual, my Internet was too weak for Zoom in my office, too far from the signal. I went outside and sat in the carport, directly below the WiFi modem.

A Release Valve

The positive energy of the call with women around the world, left me feeling energized as I walked to the back door. It was locked. I had no key. I carefully placed my iPad on the washing machine and phoned my husband. No answer. I lost it. I pounded my fists on the door, and let out a blood-curdling scream. There were no words in the scream, just a huge release.

My mother, who lives downstairs, opened the door with a look of surprise.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m much better now,” I calmly replied.

Even though late in the day, it was much easier navigating the stairs, until the last four steps when exhaustion set in again. As I headed toward the bedroom, I told Wayne I couldn’t prepare supper, and fell into bed. I slept a few hours, ate a banana smeared with peanut butter, and returned to bed and my usual restlessness.

Day Three Looms

Waking up early, I felt better. However, some of the activities I had accepted as normal the week before, seemed out of place or needed adjustment. Shortly after sitting on the pew in church with my mother on Sunday morning, I felt woozy.

“I’m going to sit a spell in the Ladies Lounge, Mom. I’ll make sure I come back during the recessional.”

“Okay,” she replied.

Sitting nearly alone in the quiet of the supportive, yet comfortable chair, felt like a perfect solution to my ‘spell’. I rested, meditated, and felt somewhat refreshed as the time drew close to my scheduled return to the sanctuary.

I was mildly concerned that my ninety-one-year-old mother might have had some difficulty as I steadily walked down the aisle by the modern, stain-glass windows. However, there she was, turning slowly as the cross held high, went past her pew. I slipped in and found my absence had the benefit of offering up my unused bulletin to a late comer. They had underestimated the number of people coming to worship.

Driving home was uneventful. It was somewhat difficult to get out of the car, but my legs seemed fine, that is, until it was time to climb the stairs. At first, I wasn’t sure I could make it. But I stood tall and willed my legs up each step.

The Next 18 Hours

I slept. Eighteen hours were spent in and out of bed; sometimes tossing, sometimes thoughts invading, sometimes restful.

A New Day Dawns

There was no doubt in my mind I’d had a wake up call. I was a different, calmer person who knew what to do and felt no emotion as I started the routine of my Monday. With my cup of coffee resting on the table, I took my iPhone and started making methodical changes. Notifications were the first cut. Then the Group Memberships on Facebook dissolved. Next I made the decision to quit logging my food, moving the app to a less visible screen. By the time I’d finished my coffee, I felt lighter, calmer, and refreshed.

Right now, however, in my new way of being, I’m feeling the need to sit and stare at the lakeshore, waiting for the resident white egret.

To be continued…

Was Stress the Only Factor?

Now, in hindsight, I realize through my over zealous activity, I’ve been avoiding the one thing I fear most, writing my stories in a book, a memoir. This physical breakdown was like a door that allowed me to walk through to the other side, where my destiny awaits. I invite you to sign up for my newsletter, where I’ll bring you farther into my world of writing.


How I Worked Through Anxiety at 1 am

I had a rough night last night. I’m at my husband’s hunting camp in Middle Georgia. We have a nice roomy travel trailer. The weather is nice, mid-80’s and then 50’s at night, comfortable sleeping weather. So why did I wake up just past midnight with leg cramps and extreme restlessness?

Taking the youngest dog, 15 month-old Sugar, for her middle-of-the-night stroll, gave me relief from the cramps, but the restlessness was just as bad when I returned to our queen-size trailer bed. No, it was something else bothering me.

I learned long ago sleep would elude me until I felt I’d accomplished a task I had put off or faced the fear staring me in the face.

Asking Myself the Hard Quesitons

”What is it?” I asked myself. “Why am I so uncomfortable here?” Having three dogs that need walking several times a day keeps me active, perhaps too active, explaining the leg cramps. But what else is nagging me?

The memory of a panic attack in a mummy sleeping bag, inside a dome tent thirty years ago, held the answer. My claustrophobia had reared it’s ugly head. But I don’t have issues with crowded elevators or long airplane flights, well, no pressing issues.

Taking the Initiative to Find Answers

In the dark, laying in bed, I reach for my iPhone and Googled ‘claustrophobia’. There are a couple types, but the fear of being trapped seems to fit my situation. At home, I can’t even allow the folded comforter at the foot of the bed to weigh down my feet in bed. I have to push it over the railing of the four poster bed. And sleeping with dogs is not my thing. As long as Sugar is near the center of the foot of the bed, I’m okay, but don’t get between me and the edge where I swing my legs over to get up. Don’t do that!

Reading further about the cause of claustrophobia, it can usually be traced back to some childhood trauma where the sufferer was put in a dark closet or box, or just felt confined and unable to get out. I rack my brain to remember anything like that in my own past and there it is.

Making the Connection

When I was about 9, my sister and I were playing at her friend’s house. There was a rope swing hanging from a chinaberry tree. It was along the embankment leading down to a railroad track. We had lifted up a railroad tie to see is any cool bugs were lurking beneath. The tie had sunk into soft red clay that now was hard, leaving behind a perfect, narrow trough.

As I swung out, I let go with the intention of landing on my feet, knees bent to soften the impact. But somehow I landed on my butt, legs extended out, straight into the trough. The wind was knocked out of me and I panicked, trapped in the hard clay. My sister and her friend came to my rescue, pulling me out.

Realizing the source of my anxiety, helped me understand situations where I feel uncomfortable:

    • A preference eating on the open porch rather than our usual location at the bar off the kitchen, the upper cabinet over my head
    • Feeling closed in unless the blinds are open during the day, no valence or draperies on my windows, ever
    • Choosing seats on trains, buses, or automobiles where I can look out both sides or even better, three sides
    • Always preferring outside to inside, even if it’s cold, rainy, or hot

Learning How to Make My Life Better

Thinking about all this calmed me considerably and I was able to fall asleep. Even better, this morning I opened all the blinds, shared my insights with my husband and now I feel like I’ve opened a window where I can breathe into myself. It’s another brick removed from the wall of protection I’ve created.

Sugar Among the Posies