Sometimes, people who are under a lot of stress think that they are handling it well, and think that they appear all calm and normal on the façade. Sometimes stressed-out people don’t even realize they ARE stressed until someone else points out that they seem different from their usual demander – maybe quieter, maybe louder, or more snappish, or angry, or sullen, or locked into a permanent scowl.
Other people (or the same person at a different time) are fully aware they are stressed. They wave the stress flag, stomp around, and let everyone in a five mile radius (or greater) know that they are stressed. Kind of a “Yup, I’m stressed, I know it and I am not even going to try and hide it” theatrical production of Broadway caliber.
I have partied in both of these camps.
Many moons ago, while deep in the cesspool of a divorce, I thought I was holding myself and my situation together pretty well. I was (I thought) keeping my personal life out of the office. Sure, I would burst into tears on the way to and/or from work most days. Yeah, my neck and back hurt all the time. There was the teeth grinding and the insomnia and the lovely accompanying dark under-eye circles and the weight loss. But a little concealer cream, a touch up of the tear-smeared mascara, a tinier suit and pair of jeans charged to the already overburdened credit card and I was fine. Right? Yeah, right.
There was the argument with my doctor about being stressed when she wanted to write me a prescription for something I didn’t want to take. When a co-worker proclaimed me “the angriest person [she] ever met,” I wrote it off to her being a stuck-up bitch. When another member of the gym I belonged to said I was “always so intense” I figured he was probably just a wuss.
In retrospect, I finally recognized that I was a walking a disaster. It took a while. Months. Years even.
I lived in one city, worked a full-time corporate finance job in another city 45 minutes away, worked a part-time job waiting tables at a ski lodge between the two, attended grad school one night a week in a city 40 miles in yet another direction, took a photography class one night a week, and somehow had a semblance of a social life. Any tiny spaces in my life were filled with the noise of television or music. I did this for several years. Looking back, I am shocked my head didn’t explode, and more shocked I somehow had friends who actually wanted to spend time with me. Or maybe they were just too afraid to say ‘no.’
I did a similar routine after another breakup. I had finished grad school by then, so that time, I worked 50 hours a week at my job, took random classes like acting, inline skating, portrait photography, ballet, flamenco dancing and kickboxing. I trained for a 250 mile bike ride. I drank lots of coffee and Diet Coke to fight off the fatigue from not sleeping. Even though I burst into tears a lot, I thought I seemed like I was okay. I finally snapped out of it.
And here I am again. Based on my long history in (mis)handling stress, and the current manner in which I have deliberately overcrowded my life, it is brilliantly obvious that I am stressed. All the markers are there. The tightly-packed activity schedule. The spontaneous tears. The short fuse. The sullenness. The screwy appetite. The anger. The difference this time is that I am not even trying to hide it. In fact, about the only thing missing is a neon sign over my head flashing the message “stressed out bitch here” with an arrow pointing to me.
If you have any doubt about this (and I am sure there may be one or two doubters sporting the rose-colored glasses out there) I invite you to ask the office production manager how our morning was. But first, in my own defense, I am compelled to open my confession by saying that I had not yet had sufficient coffee intake. My caffeine-addicted brethren and sisters will understand. That part anyway.
In any event, she asked me a question first thing this morning, and I nearly tore her head off. Not in a direct personal attack against her kind of way, more in the indirect “I’m so aggravated with everything and you happen to be here in front of me so you are stuck with it” kind of way. Right before declaring (i.e., launching into a dramatic tirade) how stressed I am. You know, in case she couldn’t tell, based on my slightly vocal whining about it all week. Okay, maybe louder than "slightly vocal whining" and probably more like all year.
On the bright side (if there is one), at least I am not in denial. Acceptance is the first step to healing, is it not?