Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Taking My Life Back

Last week something happened that made me take stock of my life good and hard. On Tuesday morning I wound up in the ER with chest pains. They had occurred before, in fact almost daily for the past few weeks, but not nearly as intense. I pushed through them because I had so much to do and people were depending on me. But on Tuesday the pain was severe and after two hours did not go away. I called my doctor and was told to call 9-1-1. I didn't. Instead, I hopped into an Uber and went to the ER at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, where they immediately hooked me up to an EKG and slapped me into a bed. There was even more concern when they learned that my mother had died at 52 from heart disease. (Yes, I know I should have dialed 9-1-1 instead of taking Uber. I have been lectured about that, believe me.)

Nine hours later, after several EKG's, blood tests, a CT, and some meds, it was declared that my heart was fine, great, in fact. There was no sign of a heart attack, or heart disease, blockage, or heart damage of any kind. My lungs, another possible cause of chest pains, were also fine. So was my blood pressure. In the end, the pain was declared caused by stress.

Stresssssssssss

Stress is a killer, the doctors informed me. Stress can lead to heart attacks and strokes, I was told. It can affect your immune system, leading to other illnesses. It was the same song my GP had been singing to me for years. I needed to manage the stress in my life before it caused permanent damage. BTW, I already have vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that attacks pigmentation of the skin, which in my case is believed to be triggered by numerous bouts of stress-caused hives on my neck and throat.

For over fifteen years I've been juggling a full-time job, writing 2-3 novels a year, and many other responsibilities and concerns that go back even before then. The only responsibility I didn't have was a family. Year after year, the signs of stress were there: depression, binge eating, aches and pains. I managed them all as best I could and met every obligation. Come to think of it, I can barely remember a time in my life without a lot of stress.

Well that shit's over.

Generally, I have a great attitude about life, and it has helped me immensely in tough times. But now it needs a boost from these other things I can do to make the quality of my life better. I've always been a glass half full person. Now I need to be a glass FULL person.

In about 30 or so days, I will be turning in my last contracted manuscript. I won't be giving up writing, but I will be writing on my timeline, not a publisher's. That should help my stress level considerably, as well as not having to deal with the politics and BS of publishers, and working LONG-ASS HOURS for almost no money.  I will be commander of my own ship. I may do better. I may do worse. But no one will have control over my time and efforts but me.

The day job must continue, and in the past year they have given me more responsibilities. The job can be stressful, but I work for nice people who understand.  I can also lighten my load elsewhere so that what stress I have at my job can be managed better. And in under two years I will be retiring.

Learning to say NO. I love volunteering for good causes. And I will continue doing that, but on a smaller scale. I'm currently on the board of a writers group and enjoy it very much. But all other requests for my time are being turned away and some are being let go.

Taking better care of myself. In the past six months I've been neglecting my diet and exercise routine, saying I didn't have time. I've started that up again and I've declared war on binge eating and junk food. Exercise is one of the best stress reducers, but for me it's the first thing to get pushed aside. And one weekend a month I'm setting aside everything for a few hours and going hiking ... outside ... in the sunshine ... in fresh air. Something I used to do and haven't done for years. I even bought some hiking poles to help my fat ass. And I've booked a couple of real vacations.

Sleep is a wondrous thing. When I'm on book deadlines, I usually only get about five hours of sleep a night. Sometimes less. I'm now committed to seven a night minimum. It's amazing what that extra sleep has done for me already.

Readjusting my future goals. In May I was disappointed when I was turned down for financing for my RV van. I had pushed up my timeline to get the van because I'd gotten a great deal and thought maybe the van would help me de-stress. In all honesty, pushing up my deadline only added more stress. Being turned down last month helped me in the long run, like cosmic brakes. So now I'm looking to order the van in 2018, closer to my retirement date. In the meantime, I can downsize my belongings and acquire the things I need for my retirement at a slower pace.

Years ago my doctor offered me anti-depressants to manage my stress. He didn't push them, as some doctors do, but let me know that they were available if I wanted to go that route. I chose not to. I still choose not to go down that path. I believe I can handle this if I'm smart and committed to my own well-being.

We live in stressful times. Everything moves faster. People expect more of us. People are fired up in negative ways and acting out against their fellow human beings. I can't change the world, but I can change my little patch of it. I can be a better me.

As most of you know, I have an elderly cat named B. I adore that animal. I care for her best I can, giving her all the love and support she needs to have a quality life.  Maybe it's time I took care of myself as well as I do my cat.

2 comments:

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

Thanks. I needed to hear this today. I'm in a closely related place these days.

Doug Pearson said...

The advice you are giving yourself is good advice for all. Thank you, and please following your own advice.

Doug