I started noticing some physical effects of the stress around August 2011. Motivation sometimes escaped me. That had never happened before. Ever. Joel was gone for 10 days, then home for about 3 days, then gone again for 24 days around that same time. The kids were ages 7, 6, 4, and 3. We were in Brazil...where everything has to be made from scratch, there are no dishwashers, there are no dryers.
We had also been in the states in June for 2 weeks, went back to Brazil and my brother visited for 3 weeks, and then he and Joel left the same day. The weeks of fun were over...and I was all alone.
I just chalked up my lack of energy to all of those things combined. And it wasn't horrible...it was just something new and different that I noticed. But, the lack of motivation wasn't so bad...and I rested on days I needed to and pushed through on the other days.
That fall (2011) was busy with visitors and teaching childbirth classes and doula-ing for a childbirth and wondering about/looking for alternate housing since we were being told we might have to vacate our rental house, plus normal things like homeschooling and taking care of my kids and home, etc. Things were busy and I had started recognizing it as stressful. But, I just dealt with it.
Christmas was hard. The baby we had lost that Spring had been due the first part of December. And I was just tired.
Still, I pushed through. It wasn't a huge deal yet.
But then 2012 arrived and proved to be very, very difficult from the beginning. There were great highlights, but even those highlights produced stress, partly because of all the other things going on. We had visitors, we took a trip up to the Amazon...and we also got news of a huge, devastating schedule conflict (although it turned out to be much more devastating than I ever imagined) and very seriously thought we might adopt 3 siblings after traveling to southern Brazil to meet them, but it didn't work out; all of this within the months of January, February, and March 2012.
After the huge blow of the adoption not working out, I was in full-blown grief. About many things. So...I grieved. I was exhausted by it all. Just exhausted. We were already planning to take a trip back to the states that summer...and that was just what I needed. I knew that not only emotionally and spiritually and mentally I needed to retreat, I needed rest and time to heal physically from the stress that had been ever-present since the summer before.
The same amount of stressful situations had been present since we had gotten married really. We had been 'on the move' our whole marriage. By the time we moved into this house we're in now, we had set up house 18 times in 11 years and travelled sooooo much. But, in the middle of all of those moves and travel, I also had 4 babies in 4 years...and within those 4 years of babies, we moved 11 times, including a huge international move.
Honestly...I'm kind of in awe that I never felt the effects of all of this before I did.
But, by Spring 2012, I felt it and knew it was there...it was all catching up to me physically.
We bought airline tickets at the end of March to head back to the states at the end of May. I cannot tell you just how in need of rest I was. So, I pushed through and even set goals to keep me going and pushing before we left Brazil. At the end of April, I ran a 5K. And then my next goal and focus was just packing up our things and our house to leave. All for 'the joy set before me'...that rest I'd get when we got back to the states.
As you all know, the rest never came. Instead, more stress. And because of that, more symptoms of physical effects.
In August 2012, three months after we got back to the states (a year in to the peak stressful time), I noticed my hair thinning. When I saw that, I knew what was happening. It scared me greatly...but there was nothing I could do but just hang on and hope that it would be over soon.
As time went on and I was still denied rest...only more stress...I developed acid reflux, sleep apnea, skin problems, 'foggy' thinking/memory at times, major fatigue (so exhausted always), TMJ, headaches, and major weight gain.
You can tell many of these things by just looking at me. I am a totally different person physically than I was even when we got here in May 2012.
Here's a comparison picture of me. The one on the left is taken in June 2011...about a month before the really stressful situations started coming. The picture on the right was taken just last month.
What a difference a few stressful years make!! The picture on the left shows healthy skin, healthy hair, a healthy weight, a healthy glow. The picture on the right shows all of those things gone.
There is a scale that counselors and social workers use...it is called The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. It is a survey that one answers in order to gauge the amount of risk of illness in their lives. If you score 11-150, you have a low to moderate risk of illness in the near future. If you score 151-299, you have a moderate to high risk of illness in the near future. And if you score 300-600, you have a high to very high risk of illness in the near future.
A friend who was very concerned for me told me about this scale last spring. I answered the survey going back and answering for each of the past three years.
What I found was scary, but not surprising to me.
For each of the past three years, I have consistently scored 845.
Is it any wonder that physically I was now at the point of basically dying a slow death?
Stress produces stress hormones...cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. I've said it before, but I've been swimming in a sea of stress hormones all of these years...and literally almost drowning.
What do those hormones do? Can chronic stress really cause hair loss, acid reflux, sleep apnea, skin problems, 'foggy' thinking/memory, major fatigue, TMJ, headaches, and major weight gain?
About weight gain in particular, which can also lead to/exacerbate other problems, many who are under chronic stress struggle and beat themselves up about it. They don't realize that it's not about a lack of discipline. It's chemical and physiological...it's survival. For instance, I never had a weight issue until all of this started happening. I would gain a few pounds when we traveled, as most do. But, when we 'landed' somewhere again, those pounds would quickly disappear. Why? Because I know how to be healthy.
This? This is much, much different.
Every time you have a mental or emotional stress, it’s causing chemistry in your body. Real chemistry. And when that chemistry is the same chemistry as a famine, your body is going to want to gain weight. It’s trying to protect you from the stresses in your life. It doesn’t know what to do. We’re living in a world where it’s so different from the way it was thousands of years ago where all we had to worry about was not being eaten by a tiger and where our next meal was coming from. Now we’ve gotta worry about how we’re going to pay our mortgage, or our credit card, or if our kids are going to go to school, or if the world’s gonna get blown up. And all these stresses are causing chemistry and our bodies are trying to protect us. And people get so mad…we get so mad at our bodies…you know, we hate our bodies because we think that our bodies are trying to sabotage us or are out to get us. No…it’s a protection mechanism! it’s nothing more.
-John GabrielI'll stop here for today...and will continue this part of the story very soon. Unrelenting stress doesn't just affect your mental, emotional, and spiritual health...it is detrimental to your physical health too. It's basic chemistry and physiology. It's scary what unrelenting, chronic stress can do.
We'll talk more, next time.