For eight years during my late wife’s cancer treatment stress was a constant companion. If it wasn’t her direct health at risk, it was the side effects. Then there were insurance and financial issues as we tried to recover from the expense and byproducts of each round of treatment.
Dealing with the stress of that took a lot of fortitude, prayer and creativity. There were times when overcoming the stress on my own was just not possible. That meant anti-anxiety drugs in small doses to get me through the night. But when it came time to wean off that medicine, it took time. It was hard to separate the controllable stress from that which could not be controlled.
As a person pre-disposed to anxiety and its pursuant dark buddy depression, there were plenty of times when stress worked like the devil in a triangulating relationship. I was also caregiver to a father who is a stroke victim. There were relational issues afoot there too.
So I went and got counseling, because sorting all that stuff out on your own is not easy. The most interesting thing the counselor said to me was simple: “You seem to be good at forgiving others. How are you at forgiving yourself.”
And that, to me, was the key to unlocking the mystery of so much stress. If you’re constantly blaming yourself for the problems you face in life, there is no way out of the stress zone holding you in a locked battle with fear, anxiety and depression.
During all those years the running and riding were vital to keeping sane. I came to appreciate that from a very young age, physical activity was my savior. That’s true from grade school on up through college. I didn’t just crave sports. I needed them. It helped me process both emotional and mental perspectives. It helped me overcome attention difficulties brought on by a creative and active mind. It did not matter whether I was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or not. We all have to deal with our ability to focus in some way. It’s harder of course when you have anxiety or other challenges working on your mind. You have to struggle just to maintain what other people feel as normal.
The running and riding and a multitude of other sports have always helped me wick off stress and get back to a state of mind where I can write it all down and get things done. That’s the ticket to true stress relief. It’s not just relief you need to achieve. You also need to develop solutions.
The challenge during all those years dealing with my wife’s cancer is that between the stress and the drugs to treat uncontrolled stress there were definite difficulties attaining levels of basic athletic performance that once came so easily to me. Riding with the group on Saturday mornings became a struggle similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. I had no appetite for clinging to the back of a group of other cyclists flying down the road. The stress of that was too much some days.
So I dropped sometimes. And my buddies credited it to my general moodiness at times. But it was impossible to explain in any relatable terms. I recall one week where a new rider showed up though. 40 miles into the ride when I’d hung on for that long at a 20mph average I just needed to fade back and gather my wits. Ride my own pace. Not be pressured. He asked my buds what was up with me and when they explained my situation he turned to them and said, “What are you doing up here then?”
Recently I’ve had some interesting stress in my life to do with business. I’m thankful for the running and riding and swimming because it still helps me gain perspective and a fresh outlook. But I’ve also learned to forgive myself at some point if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned. I can handle stress with the best of them. That much I know. But whether that’s what we really should do at times in life is the real question we should be asking ourselves.
Because there’s always a message in stress. Figuring that message out is the most important thing you can do sometimes. Then move on down the road.