Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stress, Sofa Tables and Personal Choice

The brown sofa table, not a white bookcase. Boo.

I’ve been in stressful situations. I’ve played in sports games, taken standardized tests, went through finals week, introduced Senior Vice Presidents to 60 of my peers. I’ve presented to senior management, I’ve answered to Corporate finance on budget issues, worked with local businesses to plan literacy events and flew back from a conference only to immediately move into a new apartment across town. I’ve been a bridesmaid, another bridesmaid and stood by family members as they’ve struggled and peacefully passed.

Stress is a part of life and normally I am very aware of the control that it has on me, both mentally and physically. I manage to alleviate stress by running it out, drawing it out, writing, cooking, etc. Finding what stress release is suited for the situation.

So for the past three months the fact that I haven’t felt well could only lead to one conclusion: Sickness. Clearly it was the flu… since everyone around me was getting sick and it was holidays. Illness is expected.

Until one day one when my boyfriend, Joe, grabbed the keys to my car and brought up the bookcase I had been asking him to ensemble for months. I had dreams of what my lovely Vegan cooking books would look like behind the glass. Knowing I was moving apartments, I kept the pieces in the back of my car until finally I could have it constructed!

Fledging through the door, Joe placed the brown cardboard box on the ground.

Joe: You know this isn’t a bookcase right?
Me: Yes it is. It’s a lovely white bookcase.
Joe: No, it’s not a bookcase. It’s a sofa table.
(I look down at the box)
Me: A what? What the hell is a sofa table? What I am going to do with a sofa table?

As he sat there becoming frustrated with the piece of furniture that I didn’t want, nor buy in my mind, I still didn’t feel well. I was starting to get worried. It had been weeks, maybe a month or two.  I mean it had been stressful at work and the holidays, but I’m young, I can handle it, clearly it was this sickness going around.

Joe finished putting together my new dazzling sofa table that I couldn’t return for lack of receipt, said goodnight and drove back across town. I went to sleep early, as it would be the first day back in the office after the holiday rush.

The next morning I pleaded with the universe, searched under every plastic bag, every book, through the closets and all of my bags and I couldn’t find my keys.
I called Joe he didn’t have them. Oh no,“I might have left them in the front door of your apartment building.” What?! I called the management company, I searched my car but couldn’t drive it. I was late for work after a week of vacation.

Joe drove me to work but I didn’t feel right. My keys were gone. Someone had them. My boyfriend felt awful. I was late. I had things I needed to catch up on at the office. I ate lunch and my stomach twisted and turned in knots. Not unusual these days because of that stupid flu.

I took my laptop and headed back to my apartment mid-afternoon via my mother, feeling more like a child being picked up from the nurses office rather than a mid twenties professional. What is my life? I got home and searched some more, thinking I need to figure out a plan.

So I called Joe one last time as he was leaving the office, “I need you to go home and just check through your stuff one more time before I start calling the dealership, locksmith, and the management company, who will need to hire someone to literally remove the metal portion of my mailbox…”

As I waited and typed company e-mails, my stomach twisted and turned and wouldn’t stop until I got a phone call with a voice and the first thing I heard was, “I’m an idiot, I must have grabbed them. I’m bringing them over now.”

A wave of relief swallowed me and it was the first time I realized all of those lovely flu symptoms were actually due to stress. It was like I needed this one condensed concrete incident to realize the last four months were not my imagination, yes they were actually crazy. Crazy enough to wear on my mental and physical health. Before Joe even dropped off my keys I knew this would have to change.

I gave myself a little pep-talk, and it went something like this:

“Ok, Number 1: You don’t have the flu, so stop blaming your cousins and their defenseless babies for magically giving you something at Christmastime – it’s bad Karma. Number 2: You have choices. I know you’re young and willing to work pretty much all the time, if not all of the time. But sacrificing your mental and physical health is not worth it. Number 3: Get it together (at least you're having a good hair day). Number 4: You should probably do yoga.”

So the lesson in all of this is: Stress is what you make it out to be. I’m a perfectionist, that’s a fact. I’ve stopped denying it. But sometimes you have to take what you’ve been given and make it work, like the sofa table incident. It’s clearly not my bookcase, but I can make it work in the space.

Your situation may not be the most ideal. It may not allow you to go into work at 9:00am and leave at 5:00pm with a one-hour lunch break and a chance to do office yoga, only to return home with dinner on the table and three lovely children smiling at the very sight of your face. You may not be able to make it for your run every night of the week or get to every soccer game your child is playing in. However, you do need to make time for you at some point, for the sake of your sanity and the people that love you. Making time for you is important and great employers know that it’s important. 

My advice is plan accordingly and be willing to stick up for yourself when it comes to personal time. Your work may actually benefit from your rest.


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