In the spring and summer of 2009, I was writing my master's thesis and thought I knew what stress was. I was eating poorly and sleeping less than I would have liked; I had lots of weird dreams; I had hot flashes during the night a few times; my eye tic returned; I stopped having my period for 3 or 4 months. To me, that is what stress should physically look like.
In the fall of 2010, I started having weird feelings in my chest and ended up at the doctor's office, where I was given a variety of tests and some beta blockers. I finally landed in the offices of a cardiologist and a gastroenterologist. Even after all the poking and prodding, the only thing that came up was gastritis and H. pylori. After I was done going nuclear on the H. pylori, I discovered that I had a lot more energy, but the weird chest feeling was still there.
When I ran out of beta blockers, I went back to the doctor, but this time I saw someone else in the same practice. This was in the run-up to xmas, and I had been having a hard time emotionally. I cried baking cookies. I cried listening to Abba. I cried washing the dishes. At that point, I had spent a little time each day that week crying, often in the shower so I wouldn't upset my family. I felt like I needed a way to get the sadness out of me, and since do-it-yourself primal scream therapy probably wouldn't win me any friends in our 4-family house, crying seemed like the best approach.
The doctor's office was the emptiest I had ever seen it, so I guess that is why the doc spent so much time talking to me--there was no one else waiting. I had a hard time keeping it together in her office, and she gave me a prescription for St. John's wort. She said it would give me a bit of distance from the emotional problems. It has worked as promised in that respect, but I have to say, I was not expecting to suddenly feel more mentally alert or sharp than I had in a long time. That's not to say that I've been feeling stupid, but suddenly I was able to take all my post-antibiotic newfound energy and direct it in a way I hadn't been able to for a while. Like I told John, if that is what St. John's wort does, I am never going to stop taking it. I wonder if I could plant it in my flower boxes...
I also mentioned at that visit that the weird chest sensation (palpitation-like) had been more or less replaced by a kind of muscle-burning sensation that goes from my sternum to my back, but she thought that was a back/posture problem and suggested a physical therapy course just for strengthening your back muscles. I found several courses through the city's web site, but I just missed the enrollment dates, and they were all offered on the opposite side of town from where we live. It would have taken 45-60 minutes to get there by bus. So using my newly sharpened mind and my reignited sense of direction, I went into town on a whirlwind shopping spree that included buying a balance board for our Wii and a Wii Fit Plus game (used, so it was only 15 bucks--woo hoo!). I've been doing 30 minutes on it every day this week but haven't noticed any difference in the burning sensation, except that it is stronger when I am tired. I'll mention that when I see the doc again next week.
After I had been at the doctor's office, I was working on a translation about job burnout and came across this online stress test:
"The Life Stress Test, also known as the Holmes and Rahe test, was first created in 1967."
It has events that could occur in 8 different areas of life (finances, living conditions, etc.), and you are supposed to check off how many of them occurred to you in the last year.
"If your score totals 150 or more: You have a 50-50 chance of developing an illness."
"If your score totals 300 or more: You have a 90 percent chance of developing an illness."
My score was 257.
I was floored, because I hadn't experienced the same kind of physical response to stress in 2010 that I had in 2009. (Of course, once I started a "real" period this month, I realized that I had been having a "barely there" period all fall, which I had wanted to attribute to changes in my hormone levels as I am getting older interacting with the Mirena IUD I still have.)
I had also been discounting stressors that I had not viewed in a negative light, like finishing my degree (after months of antsy waiting for my results) and starting up my freelance business. Those things, on top of losing my grandmother in March (which was not unexpected, but still...), John's uncle in July (he was only 58 and had a series of heart attacks), and Shannon in September, apparently were enough to push me into the danger zone as far as my own health goes.
I know that time heals all wounds, and eventually I will get there, but I am trying to just take things one day at a time, to be productive, eat better, exercise every day. Not to take my friends and family for granted and remember to tell them I love them every chance I get.