Free Web Counter
Web Counters

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Breaking radio silence...

Life gets in the way of life sometimes. The last 4 months have been the busiest and most challenging professionally in my career. At one point back in March, within the span of about 15 minutes, I got the news that an important ally in my work was leaving her position the end of April and I dropped my laptop, scrambling my hard drive and leaving me computerless and unable to access many files. It was the worst possible time to deal with either piece of news. I tried to get the laptop fixed as quickly as possible by going to a local store and as a result, stretched the whole process out 3 weeks until I finally had to box the whole thing up and send it back to the manufacturer. In the mean time, I felt like someone had cut off one of my limbs or turned off a hemisphere of my brain.

Somewhere in this period, my stress level kept ratcheting up and up until my stomach felt like it was digesting itself, my chest felt constantly restricted and my sleep was fairly well decimated. I felt like I was out in the midst of a great ocean and the only thing I had to cling to was a giant slippery rubber ball about 5 feet in diameter. It kept me from drowning, but was constantly spinning out from under me, dunking me in the water and keeping me continuously off balance.

Turning on the TV one evening looking for a welcome distraction, I saw part of a program on PBS about the impact of stress on our bodies (as if I didn't need something else to worry about). The program showed footage of a group of monkeys (is that called a herd?) and talked about the stress in the lives of all but the most dominant monkey. They checked out the arteries of these critters and found that the stress of being someone other than the chief banana was restricting the blood vessels of the lesser monkeys and shortening their life span. I identified with them.

But as I heard a high school teacher say once, "normality will return..." I don't know if that is actually true in one sense, but no matter how dramatically your circumstances change, I have learned that your new reality will become your new normal. Thankfully, things began to settle down. I got my computer back. I was able to prepare for and get through a key conference. Several big ticket items on my "to do" list were checked off. Looking back, I realize the biggest issue in all this was more about my response to all this stuff than it was about the stuff itself. That was where I found the formation of my own character was more important than any skills I could develop. I tried to discipline my mind, I'd read a novel to get sleepy enough to drift off, I tried to fit some exercise into my too busy schedule. Ultimately, life became a crucible that changed me, maybe just a little. Others around me may not see dramatic changes, but I feel I've grown more this last year than I have in a while. And it's because of the challenges.

Back to the monkey documentary, they said stress hormones up to a certain level improve your immune system, prepare you for dealing with threats, etc. If it get's to a chronic level, then it damages your immune system and your health. I was wondering why, in a new job, under a lot of stress, in a household with small children (affectionately known as little petri dishes), in a work environment where I am constantly in crowded situations, I didn't get sick this winter. Maybe I was getting the right amount of stress hormones. I don't want to live continuously the way I felt back in March clinging to that giant rubber ball in rough seas. On the other hand, I don't want to live a life of no challenges.