Stress

When I was maybe 10 years old, I was having a wretched day. School was beginning to take its toll on me, with bad grades piling up and the subsequent negative reactions to my grades at home, I was staring down repeating the 4th grade. I felt like a failure, a disappointment, an embarrassment, and that I had let everybody down, especially my family. My friends would all abandon me, moving on to a higher grade in a new school across town, and since I was held back I would be a pariah. In short, I viewed my young life as shit.

I was walking home from elementary school, the tan brick building just down the hill, when I felt this overwhelming desire to die. I felt like it would be easy, and sort of deserved to simply lay down in the middle of the street, hope that a car would run me over and end my misery. There weren’t even tears, just a deep, sickening weight in my abdomen that my life was about to fall to pieces, and it was all my fault.

I didn’t lay down in the road, though. I sat near the sidewalk for a bit, then walked home, maybe a bit slower than normal. I don’t recall the fallout, but I somehow passed the 4th grade, and the stress/drama over school and my grades never once left me. It was only when I graduated from my local university that the crushing expectations and anxiety over school was retired, replaced instead with “what are you doing with your life” and “you’re just another loser” forms of stress.

Now in my mid-30’s, stress is altogether a different animal. Perspective and maturity have refined the scope of anxiety into targeting more isolated categories: Finances, marriage, and pride. Do I make enough money? Am I letting down my wife and loved ones? Am I who I want to be? Talking to a professional and getting medications have helped me get to this stage, where anxiety can be managed and assessed properly, with the ultimate goal never to let it own me.

Money is perhaps the most frequent of these assailants. I have been extremely fortunate – and I can’t stress that enough – to have parents who supported me through all of my endeavors, while not always agreeing with me on many things, they’ve had my back, they’ve shown me love, and put up with my adventures in questionable decision-making. My college degree has only somewhat translated into my current career, and even though I’ve been at my current workplace for a number of years, there’s not a week that goes by where I don’t feel the tinge that the rug could be pulled out from under my feet. I’m sure most people feel this way about their jobs.

All it takes is one bad day, and I’ve had a few that have definitely placed me on a shitlist or two, but I’ve turned things into chicken salad to the best of my ability. The pay is good, and my finances are in order, but that’s not something that happened overnight or of my own doing. A lot of it has to do with the second part of anxiety – love.

It’s hard to put into words just how much my wife has changed about who I am and who I have become, but part of what’s made us click is that we are each other’s support system. She is a firm believer in organizing, structuring, managing, and making the calls you need to make (as in calling up our cable provider to argue over billing, something which I rarely do, as I am a pushover). She has shown me how do-able and relatively easy it is to manage personal finances, share financial information between us, and understand debt and debt management.

Her parents have been incredibly helpful, patient, and informative in this regard. As somebody who has precisely zero passion for personal finance, talking with my father-in-law about a subject I typically loathe has become far less intimidating. To say I married well would be a vast understatement.

Beyond that, we truly are a team. We share each other’s ups and downs, pretty and ugly bits, confront the ugly feelings, we listen and work through the anxieties, and sometimes we have to cry. We digest our feelings openly, and transparency is an incredible antiseptic. We’re developing our innate ability to read moods, facial expressions, demeanor, posture, and vocabulary to diagnose when something’s amiss. We hug all the time. We genuinely like spending time with one another. Anxiety is never absent from life, but thankfully with my wife by my side, we can outduel any of it, so long as we have each other.

Also Culver’s. Culver’s helps a lot, too.

Loving myself is vital as well. Being okay with who I am, and not disparaging myself too harshly for who I was, things I’ve done that I’m ashamed or embarrassed of, and recognizing that I have value. Giving oneself credit is something not done often enough, in my opinion, but sometimes it’s hard to do that when the chips feel like they’re down.

I recall a scene from the TV series “LOST” where one of the main characters, a surgeon, talks about giving into his fear and anxiety while performing surgery. In order to conquer it, he lets the terror take over for 5 seconds, but no more.

I believe there’s something to that when it comes to dealing with stress. It’s healthy to give it some time, to acknowledge it, to study how it makes me feel. It’s recognition and acceptance, that it’s something unavoidable and something that doesn’t need to get more time than necessary.

I’m far removed from being a 4th grader who wanted to lay down in the street. I can still feel that cold weight in my gut if I remember really hard, but I like me now. I like how things have turned out. Things are pretty great.

Especially Culver’s. God, I love Culver’s.

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