Chronic stress nearly destroyed my life before I became aware of its presence and started taking steps to remove it from my life. It has been two years and one month since I started the recovery process, and I’m getting better little-by-little, day-by-day, but I still have a long road of recovery ahead of me.
I wish I had known what chronic stress was and how destructive it would be on my mind, body, and spirit before I allowed it to take possession of my life. Had I known, I might have built a great battlement around me and stood guard at the gate with a shield in one hand and a flaming sword in the other, barring Stress from entering.
Tap here to read more about what chronic stress is, what it does to your health, and how to get it under control.
But I didn’t know, so I didn’t notice when Stress snuck in uninvited and took a seat at the foot of my table. By the time I finally took notice, Stress had snaked his way to the head of the table, evicting me from my own place.
And by then, it was too late. I had lost control of myself and watched helplessly as Stress invited all of his friends to sit with him at the table: Fear, Panic, Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue, Insomnia, Pain, Anger, Irritability, Sadness, Loneliness, Despair, Misery, and many other friends.
These friends of Stress had an insatiable appetite for all manner of unhealthy things: sweet, salty, and high carb foods; procrastination; Netflix binges; horror novels; alcohol; caffeine; spending money unnecessarily; and hoarding material possessions.
But no matter what they consumed, it was never enough. They always wanted more.
After a while, my body began to shut down. Stress, like a parasite, was killing me—and I’m not exaggerating when I say this.
My brain became so clouded by fog that one day as I stood on the curb across the street from my workplace, I nearly stepped out in front of a speeding bus.
Let me get the record straight: I wasn’t suicidal, at least not intentionally. But the brain fog was so bad that I was hardly even aware I had nearly killed myself. I was in a catatonic state, much like a zombie, barely responsive to my surroundings.
I had been standing on the street corner, waiting for the “Do Not Walk” light to change so I could cross the street. I saw the opposite traffic light change from green to yellow and took a step forward. I had been so focused on the traffic light that I didn’t see the bus speeding through the yellow light.
I stood at the edge of the curb as it blew past me. It was so close that I could have reached out and touched it. Had my steps been a second or two quicker, I would have stepped right in front of the bus and not even known it. It was like a scene in a Final Destination horror movie where a character steps in front of a speeding bus without being aware of it.
My brain didn’t register what had nearly happened until seconds later. When the realization hit, I began to shake all over, and all I could think was, Oh my, God, Oh, my God, I could’ve died! What the hell is wrong with me?
That day was the first day I finally acknowledged something was severely wrong and I realized I needed to book an appointment with my doctor.
So how did I get to this point where I was standing at the curb with my foot ready to step out in front of a bus?
It took years of unresolved stress to reach this point. I wasn’t even aware of its presence at first. It crept in little-by-little, one incident at a time. With each incident, my stress levels would spike and my panic brain would react, but then I would come down and things would go back to normal. Or so I thought.
What I defined as “things going back to normal” was actually me pretending it didn’t happen and trying to forget about it. But no matter how hard I tried to forget, I couldn’t stop the constant replay of intense feelings and traumatic memories. The event may have long passed, but its after-effects were still fresh and real within my body and mind.
That’s when fear began to creep in and wreak havoc in my brain. It was especially bad around Christmas time when the demands of my job and life in general became hectic and unreasonable.
I worked in business finance and, like any other job in this industry, my position involved high volumes, fast-pace, and tight deadlines. It was stressful at times, but overall, the stress was manageable and the job rewarding.
Except when Christmas rolled around, seventy-five percent of the department went on holidays, which doubled or tripled the workload for those of us left behind. Add to that the crunch of yearend financing needs for the businesses we served and financial reporting we had to complete to meet our own company’s yearend requirements.
Squashed somewhere within my already hectic schedule were the expected Christmas parties, family gatherings, Christmas shopping, Christmas baking, and whatever else that was expected to be done in December.
So it was no surprise when I began to dread December. Dread soon progressed into fear and, by December of 2017, fear progressed into crippling anxiety and depression. That’s when I began to have what I called meltdowns but later learned were actually panic attacks.
When I couldn’t meet the demands of my job within regular working hours, I started working overtime nearly every day, skipped lunches, stopped drinking water, and didn’t take bathroom breaks. I ate and drank large amounts of sugar and caffeine to keep myself alert and to increase my performance.
In the evenings when I wasn’t working or doing Christmas activities, I binge watched Netflix, ate comfort foods, and sometimes drank wine to excess. I did whatever I felt would help me survive the month.
In prior years, work in my department usually slowed to a standstill in the months of January and February before it picked up again in spring and summer, which gave my colleagues and I much needed reprieve after the craziness of December.
But in January of 2018, the work didn’t slow down on my desk. The tight deadlines kept pouring in and my volumes increased. Since this was unusual, I assumed it would come to an end in February, so I hunkered down and worked even harder, if that was even possible.
But the work didn’t slow down.
I put my work ahead of my husband, my family and myself because I was afraid that if I didn’t meet my workplace’s expectations, I would be fired. I wanted to prove to my bosses that I was indispensible, but what I didn’t realize was that, by making myself indispensible to my workplace, I had made myself dispensable in all other areas of my life.
By March, the deadlines on my desk were unreasonable and cruel. I withdrew from my colleagues, putting in ear buds and listening to music so I couldn’t hear anyone around me. I cried at my desk as I worked.
At home, I would crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head as huge racking sobs reverberated throughout my body. I binged on Netflix shows and Stephen King horror novels.
I never felt more alone in my life. I felt like nobody cared about me—not my bosses, not my colleagues, and not my husband or my family.
I wanted to drink away my sorrows, but my husband wouldn’t let me. He knew there was a history of alcoholism in my family and he was afraid I would stumble down that path if he allowed me to drink. He was probably right, but at the time, I was furious with him for not allowing me to drink.
As things went on like this for TEN months, my mental, physical and spiritual well-being continued to plummet into a chasm of darkness.
I slept for longer periods on my days off, often for twelve hours at a time. I stopped taking care of things around the house, letting dishes pile up and not tidying up after making messes. Sometimes I couldn’t manage to cook a simple meal without getting frustrated or angry.
By the time October came around, I felt disconnected from my body. It was as if a hazy screen had been placed in front of my eyes and I could only see through a dense fog.
That’s what I felt the day I nearly stepped out in front of a speeding bus.
Even after two years of recovery, it’s still difficult for me to share this story. The feelings I felt then still feel raw and my body continues to respond by triggering the pain sensors in my nerves and muscles. I also can’t help the tears that flow as I remember just how helpless and hopeless I felt.
But after I nearly stepped out in front of that speeding bus, I finally woke up to what was going on inside of my mind and body. And that’s when I decided I could no longer tolerate my situation at work, so I finally threatened my bosses that I would go on stress leave if I didn’t receive immediate support.
However, by the time I decided to take action, stress had already caused serious mental, emotional, and physical ailments that would take years for me to heal and recover from.
When I finally went to my doctor in November of 2018, she pinched her lips in disapproval as I described the page-long list of symptoms that I had been experiencing. She wrote prescriptions to treat my anxiety, depression and panic attacks; ordered me to exercise daily for thirty minutes, book an appointment for counseling; and go to the lab for blood tests.
Then my doctor surprised me when she gave me a note excusing my absence from work. I hadn’t asked to go on stress leave, but she gave it to me anyway with the express order to not do any work while I was off, not even housework.
I didn’t realize how serious chronic stress is and how much of my life it would destroy. For over a year, stress kept me prisoner on a nightmare merry-go-round with anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain as my company.
When I finally became aware of what was happening to my mind and body, I knew I had to get off the merry-go-round and take back my life before stress could destroy me completely.
So how did I take back my life?
I started by talking to my doctor, listening to her advice, and taking the medication she had prescribed. Then I went to a counselor to talk about the things that had been keeping me on the nightmare merry-go-round.
It was during counseling when I learned that my work environment was not healthy because, not only did it tolerate abuse between colleagues, but my employer was actually taking advantage of my willingness to bend myself backwards to get the job done at whatever cost.
So I quit my job.
I have been spending the last two years of my life in recovery and self-discovery. In this timeframe, I have learned that rest is vital to a healthy life, and that it’s important to establish clear boundaries that give priority to my health and well-being.
In addition, I have also been building the walls of a fortress that will surround me and protect me from future stress attacks. From here on forward, I will stand guard at the gate with a shield in one hand and a flaming sword in the other, barring entry to anything that seeks to harm me.
Never again will I allow my health and well-being to take last place in my list of priorities.
Tap here to find out how you, too, can break the chronic stress cycle and take back your own life.
Does this post resonate with you? If yes, comment below and share where you’re at in your own stress journey.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy these posts about stress:
- Chronic Stress: What It Does to Your Health and How to Get It under Control
- 5 Tips to Eat Healthier When Life is Stressful
- 50+ Quotes to Live By When You are Feeling Stressed
- The Stress Monster: When Stress Has a Chokehold on Your Life
- Stuck on a Crazy Train
- Choosing to Live a Contemplative Lifestyle
- Be Still: Finding Peace in Times of Trouble
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.