I've been a firm believer that stress = impending sickness. For most of my life, whenever I've been "burning the candle at both ends," sickness awaits me at end of the wick.
So when all you-know-what broke loose a few weeks ago, I kept bracing for the oogies. My best friend decided to move to Europe, I needed to find a new apartment, my college semester was ending, and I lost my kitty, Dante, to a chest infection right after getting Diddy's asthma stabilized. I was stretched thin, and rest was nowhere in sight.
Apartment hunting, something I usually enjoy, felt like a drag. I dreaded appointments to see new places and felt discouraged even looking online. I attributed my lack of enthusiasm to stress, but I knew something else was up when I found the perfect place and felt panic, not relief, every time I started the application.
See, I'm the poster child of easygoing, all the way down my "happy feet," so I was intrigued by this panic. Then I woke up with unwelcome tightness in my throat announcing enemy takeover. I felt I was being slowly strangled from the inside and braced for the sickness I'd learned to associated with stress.
Before I went home, tail between my legs, I started exploring with a friend what might be going on with the apartment application panic. Practically dictated I just fill out the application and get on with it. I didn't want to keep looking and this was a golden opportunity. However, something I had not confessed, even to myself, was that I didn't want to stay in Utah. When I started talking, words came like "Seattle" and "I just can't see staying here, even if it seems rash." The more I talked, the more I realized I was being strangled -- not just by germs, but by my unwillingness to acknowledge my feelings.
Interestingly, I had just been reading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, who writes that often the most significant moments are those we can't explain and may make no sense whatsoever to anyone, even us. Perhaps that passage gave me a little more courage to explore what was actually going on and not just chalk it up to general stress. It was stress all right, but most of the stress was caused by my not wanting to acknowledge what was actually inside clammoring to get out.
The more I talked about what I saw for myself in Seattle (community, holistic learning, a culture that supports integrative health strongly, the ocean, etc.), the easier I could breathe. The tightness that had gripped my entire day was nearly gone, and a big smile had crept onto my face. I never did end up getting sick, and my energy surged back in a way that shocked me. Here I was actually taking on more, and feeling energized, not depleted.
One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, writes, "The antidote to exhaustion is not rest, but wholeheartedness." When I look back at the times stress actually did take me down, not only do I see an overall weaker immune system, I see how I felt there was no way out. I didn't know how to listen to myself, and I would push myself until my body forced my hand. Poor bodies, so easy to ignore sometimes. Not this time, thankfully!
So I'm off to Seattle in less than three weeks with a full heart. I couldn't wait to get apartment hunting, and I found myself an apartment overlooking Puget Sound. I'll be spending time with the naturopaths at Bastyr University, the integrative medicine students at the University of Washington, and our integrative pharmacist friend, Mike Ciell, who travels to Seattle regularly. Note to self to keep exploring the wisdom of stress.