Dec 7, 2013

Stress & Judgment

Before I begin this post I'm going to just say that I've recently become aware that some of the members of my ward/stake read this blog. That has never happened to me before; for eight years this has been a blog that has had few visitors, and almost none that I knew in real life. My family, for instance, never read my blog for the first five or so years I wrote it. So I got used to using this as a space to air feelings, to explore them without worrying about others' judgment or concern. Now that I *know* people read this blog, I'm still going to do this, but I'll be working hard on making sure I don't write too much about people around me, stuff around me, and if I do, that it can't be misinterpreted as directed at someone in particular. I had a sad incident like that this week :/ I never want people to feel that I use this space as a way to be vindictive or to spread stuff around. I'm not that kind of person.

OK. Disclaimer over with.

Today I drove 40 minutes to get groceries. Chumba and Loli were with me. We got through one store all right, then the second. Then when I tried to start our little Honda Civic, I realized I'd killed the battery, because I'd left the headlights on the whole time we were in the store.

I hate moments like that. You're sitting there, forehead resting on the steering wheel, trunk full of groceries, 40 minutes from home. & you know the next move is to step out of the car in the driving snow and ask the guys who just pulled up in their giant pickup who don't speak a lot of English if they can help you jumpstart your car. I'm pretty independent. And I hate talking to strangers. And in stressful circumstances, I tend to make poor, impulsive choices. Either that or I shut down entirely and don't even realize I'm making choices... exceedingly poor ones.

I have gotten into these states at times where I'm so completely stressed out, it's like I'm in another world. My physical body may be in this one, but the world's just sort of blurring by and I'm just shut inside my own fear/worries/or even blankness, because that's what happens when things get really bad--it's like I'm a brain who thinks, but not a body who feels or really exists in the real world. Do you know what I'm talking about?

I had a flashback today as I was driving home--thinking of the time just after everything happened with my first husband. Loli was about a year old, and I was 22. My life at that time was go to work, go to church, pick up kid, try to make stuff happen at home. I was, I think for about six months, a body-less brain. My movements were sluggish and clumsy. I broke stuff. I forgot stuff. I made stupid mistakes, like the time I drove the dodge pointiac up to Squaw Peak (the lookout over Provo) because that's where my car wanted to go and there were hymns playing and they were making me feel good and I just wanted to see the sunset and the city from above but I didn't notice the oil was completely empty and I didn't even notice how badly the engine was smoking until somebody in the same parking lot up at Squaw Peak came and banged on my window and told me I broke my car.

That resulted in some serious, long-lasting damage to a vehicle I couldn't do without. It cost several hundreds of dollars to fix, and later, continue to fix.

There was the time I was going to therapy and after I sat for an hour on that couch, watching Loli and kind of talking and sort of listening but not feeling, I walked back out to my car with the baby carrier over my arm (Loli was too big for it, she needed a real carseat, but I wasn't aware of details like that at the time) and then stared through the driver's-side window at the keys hanging from the ignition.

All doors locked. Windows closed.

I was already in a state of blankness. I didn't feel. I just walked myself back into that office, knocked on the door (she was with another client) and said, "I locked my keys in my car." As if she was supposed to tell me what to do.

She kind of stared back at me for a minute. Like, you're an adult. Why are you asking me?

"Well, honey, you can try calling the police. Use the phone right there." She gave a kindly nod in the direction of the phone on the desk in the lobby.

I did. The dispatcher asked if my child was *in* the car, I said no. The dispatcher informed me that what I needed was a tow truck.

I thumbed through the phone book. It took me a while to find where I'd find a tow truck. I didn't bother to compare prices--too much thinking. The first guy I called came and opened my door, handed me my keys and then asked for 45 dollars. I remember driving home in the snow in a state of numbness, feeling utterly useless and helpless.

I drive really poorly when I'm under a lot of stress. Paul drove us everywhere when we were married. When he fell out of the picture it was back to me again. I'd never really driven in congested traffic; where I grew up and learned how to drive was mostly rural roads. NOt a lot of stop-and-go-city-driving.

I remember feeling petrified. That was a feeling I felt, in spite of brain-disconnectedness. I remember being honked at a lot. I remember driving into intersections to take a left turn & then panicking because I wasn't sure when I was supposed to turn, and being flipped off.

It is really hard to walk around with your brain disconnected. It was even harder to drive.

Just this last year, something really stressful happened. Immediately afterward I was driving in town at about 9:00 at night. I was completely dead to the world. I was not thinking or feeling. I was completely doped up on whatever fight-or-flight stress hormones turn you into a zombie who is just doing things out of habit, and not doing them very emphatically or intentionally. I didn't realize until a cop pulled me over (and it took me a while to notice the cop, too) that i'd been driving 20 mph in a 45 mph zone, and I'd run two stops. One of them a stoplight.

Stress, guys. It's serious business. I was basically driving under the heavy influence of the drugs of my own hormones.

It's tough, being in that state. I guess one would call it fight-or-flight. I never went to war, but I can understand how people come home so troubled.

The thing is, after going through some recovery, I can now identify when I am feeling that way, and *not* drive. (Or more often, stop driving because when I realize I'm driving badly I'm already driving.) Sometimes, with that awareness I have now, I can force myself out of my brain stem and back into the real world until I get somewhere.

I wonder. How many people that we see walking around making poor decisions are doing so because of their state of extreme stress?

It makes me wonder about the poor, specifically. People call them lazy. They say stuff about them not being willing to work, or not being intelligent, or not having ambition. The thing is, in an extreme state of stress, you're not thinking very much at all. You're just... there. Sort of.

And Maslow's Hierarchy of needs theory thing points out that, when we're missing the basics (safety, security) we turn to the basics as well--food, shelter. We just don't think. We react with our brainstems.

I think, when one gets into that stressed-out-state, sometimes the world seems to narrow and become cold and accusing. YOu're trying... or, not really trying, you're existing. And people are upset at you for existing, because you're making life inconvenient for them, or annoying them, with your poor choices.

Know what the answer has been for me?


Some kind attention or piece of service.

I can't tell you how much it helped to have a friend come over that one day, just after Paul had run off, and mop my kitchen floor, while I sat, staring blankly at her, sitting in a kitchen chair, not even thinking "I ought to get up and help her. I ought to clean something. Here she is, just cleaning my floor, and here I am doing nothing." Thoughts like that just don't cross your mind in that state. But she didn't mind, or accuse, or judge me at all. She cleaned my floor and then was my friend. And with the warmth of that friendship, I was able to get a bit of inertia going and try to take my life back in my hands. I called people. I made sure my baby was OK.

I guess the real message of this kind of rambling post is, don't judge-- serve. Always. You never know what sort of burden somebody is operating under. If you see they're struggling to do something, the thing to do is step in and help. Not make life harder by accusing, punishing, or talking about their ineffectiveness to others.

I think that, if we're living full lives, we're all under stress. Every single one of us. I doubt that the guy who cut you off in the road really meant it as a personal slight--he's just under some stress. In most cases, he didn't mean to do it. Does leaning on your horn help? Does it do something for you to get angry about it? Because if not, I have a better idea--maybe think about the times in your life you wished someone had sympathized with you instead of judged you (we've all had those times) and allow your heart to soften. Allow yourself to realize that person is someone just like you. And give them an opportunity to be loved and forgiven by you.

I was really grateful to the guys who helped me jumpstart my car today. Without them, my day would have turned out pretty miserable. I hope we are all ready with jumper-cables to restart people's hearts and feelings, to reach out to them in times of stress and bring them back to the reality of a world full of goodness, kindness, and warmth.


Emma Tank said...

You made me tear up a bit. It doesn't help that I have Christmas music going on in the background as I was reading. Thank you for not giving up. You are an incredible person and this world would be much less without you in it.

Sarah Dunster said...

Thanks, Emma Tank.

The world is a great place. You & your family are awesome at that--restarting people rather than judging them. I admire the lot of you :)