It’s been a wild week. Just living in times like these brings a certain amount of cray-cray by nature, but these last few days were a doozy. All of the work of a five-day week got crammed into three because of the calendar (MLK day) and the weather (Austin doesn’t do well with sleet and freezing rain). The work I had on my plate probably could have filled two or even three normal weeks. So “wild” as a descriptor doesn’t really do my week justice.
I’m intensely aware of how off-kilter this week was because I’m trying very hard to be intentional about putting myself on the priority list these days. In the final months of 2017, I fell off the self-care cliff into a hole of mental and physical exhaustion, and I already have that t-shirt so I have no desire to go back. I’ve put in place a few key strategies, most of which didn’t hold up well under the stress of the last few days. That’s alarming enough. But at least I have a plan to return to, a target to keep aiming at.
What I noticed this week, in addition to missing the self-care mark, were some warning signs that an un-sustainable level of stress had stretched its tendrils into my life once again. I now have a few things I can raise as red flags and know that I’m wandering into the danger zone.
For example, the number of empty diet coke cans in the passenger-side floor board of my car. I often drink my bubbles and caffeine on the way to work, so having one or two down there after I’ve filled the front two cupholders isn’t all that unusual. By then, I’ve noticed the cans clanking around as I drive and take the time to get those babies to the recycling bin. As I sit here now, I know there are at least six of ‘em rolling around in my car. That means I’ve been chain coke-ing and relying too heavily on a quick caffeine fix to get me going, and I’ve been too distracted in my brain to do anything about the empty cans when I get to work or when I get home. I just take an empty one out of the cupholder, toss it down with the rest of the soda carcasses, and go back the noise in my head. So anyone who wants to know what kind of week it is for me, just peek in the passenger side window and count the cans.
Things are even worse if the cans are joined by fast-food receipts crumpled and tossed to the side. That means I haven’t planned ahead for my lunches, haven’t been home to eat real food with my family, and I’m just grabbing what’s quick and cheap to keep me going. No intentionality. No doing what’s best for my health. Just eat something and keep moving. A very bad sign indeed. It’s even worse if it’s not just the receipt on the floor but the empty bag with all the food wrappers and a few lonely french fries in the bottom.
My husband and I have long known that my sleep patterns closely connect with my stress level. The more I have on my mind when I go to bed, the more talking in my sleep I do. Or singing. Or walking. Once I get to the walking-in-my-sleep stage, we implement the de-stress protocols immediately - extra sleep, time off from work, bubble baths, whatever we can manage. Because the next stage of Stressed Sleep Syndrome involves physical violence against my bed-mate. I’ve only reached that stage twice, and the last time, I punched my hubby between his shoulder blades hard enough to bruise - he had to pin me to the bed to get me to stop, and I had absolutely no recollection of it in morning. Scary stuff.
So yeah, along with my specific strategies for self-care these days, I’m making a list of warning signs that I’m doing actual damage to myself and those around me. Having no care for my immediate surroundings, like my car, and disturbing or even hurting those I love when I’m completely unaware and out of control.
I wonder if sometimes the strange or even disturbing behavior of people around me might be their warning signs of excessive stress and a need for more care - not less. What I mean is that if I notice my friend with extra debris in her life, whether it’s coke cans or nagging worries or stuff she’s dragging around from her past, she may not be lazy or a slob - she just might have too much on her mind and on her plate. And if her behavior seems odd or even destructive, she may need a de-stress protocol pronto instead of a judging attitude from me.
What if we all knew what our own warning signs were and actually paid attention to them before we begin hurting ourselves and others? What if we knew what each other’s warning signs were so we could help each other out instead of piling relational stress onto an already burdened heart and mind? I guess what I’m longing for is more intentionality and grace in the way I see us caring for ourselves and each other.
Wild weeks are going to happen. When wild weeks turn into months and then lifestyles, we’re all in big trouble.
Let’s get real here. Jesus took a lot of time to pull away and pray by Himself. He didn’t allow the monumental task and pressure of. oh, let’s say, SAVING THE WORLD push Him into a place of self-destruction. And He never allowed whatever stress He felt to negatively impact those around Him. I think He knew how important it is to keep things in perspective, do the things He needed to do so that His body and mind were ready for the task at hand. He didn’t rely on props like caffeine and fast food to get the job done. I don’t think He decked Peter in His sleep either. And if the disciples got stressed out and weird on Him, I don’t think He added to their burden with emotional distance or judgment. I’m sure He called them out on it - the Bible says so in a few places, like that stormy sea when they were stressing instead of trusting. But I believe He helped them de-escalate the blood pressure. Remain calm. Know that He is God. Slow down. Be intentional and thoughtful about the here and now. Take care of the body and life God gives so that they - that I - can do the tasks He gives us, too.
So I’m keeping track of what my warning signs are, and I’m working to pay attention when they pop up. My life is too wacked out to think I’ll never go off the rails again. It’s only taken me three weeks in 2018 to take my first steps in the wrong direction. If I really want to live with intention and purpose, then I’d better take notice and take action.
With that said, I’m off to take a nice long soaking bath, followed by an evening on the couch with my kitty. That should take the stress levels down a notch or two. And I’m planning for a few shorter days at work this week and some extra time with my family. I’m also recommitting to my self-care strategies in the hopes they will soon become habits.
Because if I ignore the warning signs, I’ll be in bad shape, useless, and even dangerous. No good to myself. No good to my family. No good to God.
What are your warning signs? Why don’t you take a little time to notice them, even jot them down? If you’re not sure, you can ask the folks closest to you, especially the ones you live with. They know, I guarantee it. And then you and I can make an agreement with each other. Let’s take note of those warning signs and respond with the care and concern for ourselves and each other that children of God deserve.