Monday, November 8, 2010

The Stress of Mass Distraction

Tomorrow, I will mark off 8 weeks from baseline. Week 8 involves a visit to K where joint assessments, blood tests, and ever-laughable surveys will be involved so I will be posting a progress report regarding all that later this week.

Today I wish to talk about stress.

Those that know me will probably nod their heads in agreement when I suggest that I am a person who would rather be busy than not. Whether it is my work, my volunteering, contributing to the projects of friends or colleagues, writing, my adventures, or <insert any one of the many things I may be occupied with here>, I am always dancing precariously on that thin line that separates ‘too much’ from ‘seriously too much’. Thanks to my propensity for the tango reasonable doses of positive pushing-thy-boundaries stress are not foreign to me and not entirely unwanted. All else being equal, this is when I’m at my best both analytically when working, and creatively when I am not. The hardest part for me is getting the balance right and being wiser than I used to be in accurately determining what I can achieve and can’t achieve.

During October and early November, stress is inevitable. Early November is the time when I sit my end of year exams. My work projects are always at a point of criticality before the Christmas slow down. My projects of love are either kicking off or drawing to a conclusion. I am busier than all other times of the year. Bloody Nora, if I didn’t feel pressured or stressed at this time of year I would think there would be something quite wrong with me. Before my diagnosis and commencing on Salazopyrin it manifested itself with sustained and painful Uvetits. It has been this way every year since 1995 when I came up with the bright idea that I should head to University and add a 25 hour weekly study workload to my already jam-packed life without taking much else away.

What’s different about this year is the fact that I don’t have a graph plane large enough, a hole deep enough, a tape measure long enough to measure the sheer intensity of the stress that I have been inflicted with. It was genuinely awful.

I don’t know about you, but the first sign that I am really stressed, either positively or negatively, is being unable to sleep. When the going gets tough, really tough, the mind gets going. It will churn over, and over, and over, and over again the matter that matters and at these times I find it impossible to put the thoughts away when I want to. When I need to sleep on it you will find me on the couch at 3am trying to distract myself into slumber. As long as it is a temporary issue, and is almost always is, it does not bother me too much that I sometimes feel this way. It is simply a pathway to the outcome I either hope for, or which I am destined for. I’m sure you know how this feels. I’m sure everyone on the planet feels this way sometimes. In these situations, only two things are certain. Firstly, time will take care of what you can’t and there’s just no point worrying about things you can’t control or influence. Two, time will not be forced.

What is not normal, and what I am not used to at all, is being unable to focus on anything at all. All week my mind has been less like Usain Bolt running the 100m in world record time and more like Usain Bolt jumping around incessantly on a pogo stick and refusing to get off.

On the good side, I did get sleep. On the bad side, I got sleep only because I exhausted myself so much I literally passed out the moment my head hit my pillow. I also felt so worked up to the point of nausea. The very thought of eating was enough to bring on the nausea when there was none. The filthy headache I mentioned last Monday hung around all week and was joined with a moderate amount of backache. The back pain was thanks to the incredibly uncomfortable chair in my study I keep meaning to replace any my choosing to skip a Chiro appointment two weeks ago. The pain I was experiencing wasn’t related to SpA but just like when the SpA gets nasty, I pushed down an endless supply of Ibuprofen and Codeine down my throat and washed it down with coffee. Naturally, the results of self-medicating like this was even more nausea and general discomfort.

I can only imagine the hideous sight I must have been on Thursday as I contained myself to my study while I attempted to force my focus on nothing but Friday’s exam and failing miserably. On Friday morning I couldn’t even swallow my morning Salazopyrin tablets. The result is that I now weight a little over a kilo less this week. For someone in a 5 foot 3 inch (160cm), 55kg (now 54kg) frame, this is not a good thing.

Since Friday, I have calmed down considerably although I still feel I have a little way to go before I am back to my normal self. I imagine a good massage followed by a glass or two of De Bortoli will take care of the rest. Oh, and time. I forgot time.

The reason I have chosen to document my stress here is fairly simple. Stress is natural and like all things natural we should not be afraid of it. Nor should we be afraid to talk about it or admit it when it happens. Just as importantly, I feel that charting only my arthritis symptoms in terms of pain and swelling is akin to peeling the skin from an apple, putting the skin into a display case and saying ‘this is an apple’. It is simply not true to suggest that one’s feelings and in particular one’s stress levels, can or should be consigned to the archives of irrelevance or ignored. SpA is an auto-immune disease and deseases that affect systems of the body can be altered fairly easily by changes to one’s psychological state. Just like the apple and its skin, my body and my mind can’t be separated and still called whole. It would simply be just another misrepresentation.


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