The Deadly Stress

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There’s never a dull moment, never a down time in my life, it seems. We have been in Hilton Head, SC for about five weeks now, and as it often happens, my health takes a nosedive as soon as I stop to rest.

After a month of December with stressful events at my church I was left quite drained and unmotivated, depressed actually. I did manage to get my mojo going again a couple of days before all the family arrived for Christmas celebrations, and then I sped into high gear.

I don’t know why I still think I have to be supermom, the Christmas fairy and Martha Stewart all rolled into one, but that’s what I attempt when my grown children come home for Christmas. The food traditions, the stocking traditions, the drawing on the revered tablecloth, I did it all and barely lived to tell the tale. This, coupled with four 2 ½ hour round  trips back and forth from the airport in some intense weather, all on the heels of December’s earlier events became more than I could handle. I mean, I handled it on the outside and thought I was doing pretty well. But inside I was not handling it. Don’t get me wrong- I loved every moment with my family. I think I just need to tone things down a bit and be easier on myself.

I am 64, not 44 or 34, but I keep thinking I can do everything I always did. Was I in for a rude awakening!

We took the last bunch to the airport on December 29th and then rushed home to shut down the house, pack the suitcases and car, clean out the fridge, clean the bathrooms, change beds and in general, get ready to drive three days to Hilton Head Island for three months. At 5AM on December 30 we left, in sub zero temperatures.

Once we arrived and settled in to the condo that has become our second home, bought the first grocery order and let everyone know we had arrived safely, the two of us collapsed. And about a week later I got sick.

What do you know; I had these suspiciously familiar symptoms with accompanying rash that a trip to the doctor confirmed as shingles…again. I had shingles three years ago as a result of intense stress in my life, and I swore that it would never happen again.

Well it did.

Compounding the distress was another rash all over my body that was not shingles. Two trips to the doctor never did give me an explanation of what it was. Probably more evidence of my body just telling me to rest and stop taking on things that I’m not able to handle any more, and to stop taking myself so seriously. A series of Prednisone and cortisone cream helped to finally get things under control after several days.

This latest illness is a warning but also a signpost for me to take stock of my life and what’s left of it.

So when people ask me if Dave and I are enjoying our ‘vacation’ in South Carolina, I have to qualify that it is not a ‘vacation’. We are living in SC for three months. And then I have to say that I have been sick once again, kicking myself in the a$$ once again for letting it happen. I am finally learning that I have to pull back and say ‘no’ to things that drag me down, stress me and make me sick.

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Clearing The Stash – The Summer I Knit

It has been a wonderful summer of R&R here in Nova Scotia!

For the first time in my adult life I find myself pretty much alone for the whole two months. No children at home, no visitors and no summertime travel. Added to that, my husband is now working full time, which makes us both very happy: him, because he has something to do every day and he gets paid to do it; and me because this gives me some much needed time alone to de-stress and think about ‘things’.

I have jealously guarded my time alone and stayed pretty much in the house and yard, gardening, reading, working on my Health Coaching course and knitting.

I have had a couple of health problems that needed to be addressed in a quiet and reflective way, and being alone was the way to do it. Last years stress with my mother’s illness and death gave way to a couple of other major stressors through the fall, and you could say things came to a head with the onset of my shingles diagnosis a couple of months later. I have since learned that shingles rears its ugly head at times of stress, decreased immunity or both.

That was a wake up call!

And a lesson learned. It’s taken a long time but I have realized that I need to find a way to manage stress; to not let things get under my skin; to act on my intuitions, and to learn to say ‘no’ when the need arises.

So as I have been working on my inner self, I have been de cluttering the house of things that we’re not using anymore. Out went shoes, clothing, dishes, books, you know, the things that take up space and you get tired of looking at.

But then I came to my stash of yarn.

So many colors, so much yarn, bought at sales at Michael’s and sitting there in my craft room in the basement…

I decided to use up as much of the yarn as I could and I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any more until I had made a substantial dent in my stash. And then I saw a pattern for a colourful blanket online that would use the kind of yarn I had.

They say there is something meditative about knitting, the repetition and rhythm of the stitches, the sheer mindlessness of it. As I sat in front of the window and knit, day after day, I managed to sort out and classify several things in my mind.

Things like worrying about my kids, the future, what people think of me and whether or not I would participate in several craft shows this year.

Things like what made me sick last winter, why I have IBS and how those things might be connected to how I see and relate to my world.

And finally, today, my stash of yarn is relatively cleared, my blanket is finished, and I can start to see a little more clearly.

This is what I made!

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My Mystery Illness

We’re spending two months in Hilton Head, SC for what are probably the worst two months of winter in Nova Scotia. Yeah! We escape the snow for two whole months! We have a great condo on the beach and the area is just gorgeous. We wake up each morning to a beautiful sunrise over the ocean. Such a lovely place to slow down the pace and recoup from a busy fall.

When we arrived in Hilton Head on January 1st I had visions of walking on the beach, shopping, doing a lot of writing, reading the stack of books I had brought and even going for a weekend visit to an old friend in Atlanta GA. I had planned to lose ten lbs during the two months we were here.

I was going to bicycle all over Hilton Head Island.

I had plans to get my body healthy, detoxify, get my mind free of all the stresses of 2014, and to find some peace in my heart, mind and soul.

But then I got sick. I guess Hilton Head is as good a place as any to get sick!

It started with back pain that I thought came from slouching on the couch. So I bought a down filled pillow to lean back on. That didn’t help much, and nothing else I did brought relief. The back pain was followed by vise grip headaches and pain deep inside my chest, accompanied by a fever that left me horizontal. Then came the rash: large red welts on my back.

I thought I was dying.

We called our insurance provider back home and I was authorized to go to a doctor here. Now I would get a glimpse of the American medical system. Off we went to Doctor’s Care, a walk in clinic right here in Hilton Head. I was told I would be seeing Dr. Coswell, a young and vibrant Southern lady, complete with “the twang”.

As soon as I told her about the symptoms I was having, she asked to see my rash. Immediately she said, “Ma’am, you have shingles.”

What the hell? Me? Shingles?

She told me that it is the same virus as chicken pox that stays in the body and manifests itself as shingles at stressful times of life, or when the immune system is compromised, and especially in older people.

Well I am older, and I have had a lot of stress in the past year.

Actually, when Dr. Coswell told me I had shingles I could have kissed her. That was much preferable to what I thought I had, which was brain cancer, heart attack, acid reflux, you name it.

So for the past couple of weeks that have felt like forever, I have been managing my pain, taking antiviral medication and coping as best I can. Having a positive attitude has been paramount.

I’m over the worst of it now and have even had a couple of walks on my beloved beach.

And now I can add to my ‘compassion list’; those things I have experienced in life that will help me to understand others when they are going through them.