Tuesday, December 24, 2013
It seems like everyone's talking about stress lately. As a society, we have encouraged people to fill every bit of free time with something productive, to skip out on sleep in exchange for coffee so we can work more hours in a day, to just keep going and going with no chance to stop and 'smell the flowers'. (What's so great about flowers, anyway? They just smell like plants to me.) And more and more, we're paying the price. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorders, autoimmune conditions - there is a long list of conditions that are caused or exacerbated by stress. We ignore stress at our peril.
Stress has also been a big part of my life. When I was 10 months old, my parents became foster parents to two very disturbed, abusive children. For the next four years, I experienced stress far above what most people will ever experience, to the point where the stress literally rewired my brain, causing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When my foster siblings were out of my home, my stress continued. Now, it was a school that expected a normal, compliant child, and got a quirky, imaginative and traumatized child instead. Instead of showing sympathy and understanding, they put more pressure on me, assuming I'd bend before I broke. I didn't - I couldn't - and my PTSD got worse.
My peers joined in on it, too. For whatever reason, schools seem to breed a desire to single out one child for torment, and that child was usually me. Every school day was just something to survive as best as I could, desperately shoring up my wall as they tore it down.
By the time my parents decided to homeschool me, I knew all about stress. I knew that enough stress could tear me apart, and any coping measure could eventually be worn down. I knew that stress could eventually kill a person. But now, I finally had the chance to avoid stress altogether.
And I did. For the next three years, I stuck to my safety zone - my family, my interests, my reading. I learnt a lot of facts, but faced few challenges. I played it safe, and that gave me space to heal.
But I have big dreams, and I believe I can make a difference. So I cautiously stepped back into the world of stress. I've tried things I was afraid to try. Some have turned out badly, others much better than I expected. I've grown a lot in the past few years.
But I know better than to ignore stress. I'm still too wounded to cope with very much of it, and even if I could, it would cause damage that is harder to see, like it does for many 'normal' people. So I move carefully, looking ahead at my goal, but also watching my stress level. If it gets too high, I take a break.
I'm forced to pay attention to stress. When I ignore it, I end up crying and screaming, lost in the depths of terror and despair. But maybe, my inability to cope with stress has a bright side as well. I know better than to push past my limits - something most 'normal' people seem oblivious to.