A good number of people are stressed, burnt out and in dire need of a break. It manifests little by little – our body tells us, then as the signs accumulate, we experience chronic stress and some people never recover from it. At this time, immunity is weakened and this could easily culminate in chronic or terminal illnesses. It creeps on you slowly and then spirals out of control.
In the bid to be great at what we do, we sometimes lose ourselves or forget to pay attention to ourselves. Being overworked or stressed these days also seems to come with a badge of honour. Sometimes, I wonder why we glorify stress.
Life is tough and sometimes, we get to the point where we can no longer go on, or days when it all seems too much and one would like the world to pause for just one minute. But you realise in horror that the world can be cruel and life just seems to go on. The realisation of being dispensable hits differently, and it’s easy for you to fall apart.
My friend, who is a nurse and lives in the US, found a lump in her breast, which was taken out. She had been overworked, stressed, and bitter about so many things in her life for a long time. Another one showed up a few months later. One of the doctors had to ask if there were unresolved issues in her life. Medical practitioners recognise that one’s mental state is directly linked to the body and the hormones that are produced. At first, she dismissed it, but eventually had to pay attention to it. The second lump was taken out, and she had to come to terms with her emotional state and deal with things. It took her a while, but she is in a good place now and falls ill far less than she used to.
I, on the other hand, tried to speak up when the signs started manifesting but instead of people listening, I constantly got the “you are strong, you’ll be fine” reply. That certainly was not helping so I stopped speaking up. I internalised things; I was not sleeping well, I was dreaming of everything. I am quite analytical so I was thinking constantly. Then I went quiet. With some people, I communicated less. With others, I stopped communicating. I moved away from social media, news – anything that could provoke me.
I wasn’t sleeping well, and my body continued giving me signs. I had constant headaches, I could not digest food properly, and I was always bloated. According to a doctor, I was not eating enough and my body was producing excess acid so I could taste bile in my mouth every now and then. I constantly felt stressed. The signs are internal as well as eternal, so my skin looked dry and my hair started thinning. My hair is still yet to get its normal volume back.
I was on holiday for a while, so I stayed home. Through that time, I watched my family try to rescue me in vain, because no matter how hard people try, you are the only one who knows exactly how you are feeling. I basked in the tight hugs, the looks of sympathy and understanding of “I know it is hard for you,” the prayers for my well being, cooking to ensure I stayed fed. Everyone contributed in their little way to make it easier.
I spoke to a coach and a shrink but realised that it was simply an outlet for me, and I needed more than that. The part where shrinks just listen and do not give recommendations does not work for me. She asked questions to draw out my feelings and for me to try to find the answers myself but it was not enough. So I stopped going.
It took another three months for me to start to feel like myself again. My healing came from isolation. I was alone with my thoughts, I felt every emotion and some were so intense. I cried a lot, I exercised, I prayed and sometimes I slept. I was mostly tired and I had little energy for anything. At some point, I had to pick myself up and move on. This is not the case for everyone: some are unable to pick themselves up and may need professional help.
During this period, I read a number of stress and burn-out related posts. The one thing that was clear to me was that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling stress or burn out. Some people wiggle their way out in two weeks, while it could take some others up to a year or even longer to recover. I was sure that I didn’t want to be the person who let herself go and couldn’t find her way back. There is so much to do while I’m alive so I make efforts not to let myself get to that point ever again.
In the bid to make a living, to prove yourself, to be the best, don’t forget to take care of yourself. For some like me, my experience was a wake up call and a reminder that I am responsible for my well being.
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