Of Stress And Gratitude

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My sophomore year in college, I entered my first flute competition. As the fall wore on, I found myself lying awake at night, exhausted yet sleepless, every breath an effort. It took me a ridiculously long time to piece it together. One day the light bulb went on. “Oh!” I said. “I’m stressed!”

And then, unfortunately, I stopped digging, assuming it would go away after the competition.

Which it did.

A week after that, I felt the pain in the backs of my hands and went, “Um… this is not right. Um… come to think of it, this has been going on for quite a while. How did I not notice this sooner?”

That was in the fall of 1993. Today I am still dealing with the hand/arm/neck/back issues I caused that semester by an excess of poor usage. I still have to be aware all the time of tendinitis flareups and the potential for recurrent carpal tunnel. If you ever see me doing repeated weird head motions, it’s because my neck stretches are crucial to my daily functioning.

I’m thinking about this these days because I am now experiencing the reality I’ve heard about for years in the writing community: preparing for a book release is wonderful… and stressful! Don’t get me wrong, it’s good stress. So is the stress of juggling kids’ activities, writing another book, writing music, and making plans and preparations for summer travel, both professional and personal. Plus planning date nights with my husband—because we finally can!

That’s an amazing list. I am so blessed. But it’s a lot.

Stress these days manifests in things falling out of my brain. Missed appointments, things misremembered, leading to minor embarrassments, because I am not that person! I am the uber-competent person you can always count on. Always. I’m that person who GETS THINGS DONE.

Stress also meant, for a few days, some really profound crankiness.

It’s all quite humbling, which, in the big picture, is no bad thing. Years ago, I prayed that God would make me humble. Even then, I knew I wouldn’t like the process. So sometimes I can be philosophical, i.e., grateful for personal growth. But other times, all rational thought flees and my insides writhe for days, viewing my minor mistakes on slow-mo replay.

I realized quite recently that unlike the stress of that college competition, this stress has no expiration date. Book promotion is part of my new reality. So that means I have to figure out how to mitigate it, or at least, deal with it in a healthier way. Maybe when when kids stop having revolving-door days off school and it stops raining every other day (six inches this week = trails too muddy for biking) and the weather warms up enough to use my new kayak, I’ll find that time outdoors will provide the equilibrium and mental stillness I need.

In the meantime, I’m reminding myself to be grateful for this stress: it is a sign of a rich life and a huge forward leap in my career as a writer. But on top of that, it’s an opportunity for growth. Existential light bulb moments always spark spiritual exploration, which is always something to be grateful for. And hey, conveniently, it’s Lent–a time designed for self-reflection! Woo-hoo!

But also, I kinda wish it would just go away.