Saturday, January 9, 2010

managing stress

It's first thing on a super quiet Saturday morning. The sky is such a bright blue you can almost feel the chill in it's crisp edges. Somehow the cold is muffling the traffic outside. As I walked into my silent living room, Iz was already up, deep in concentration, happily at her laptop. I said good morning and that we needed to talk about the weekend, what we had to do and how homework would fit in.


Peace and quiet shattered as she harshly told me to stop. It was the first time in weeks she'd been relaxed and she refused to talk about homework. When I mentioned we'd just gotten back from more than a week away, she told me much of the vacation was stressful for her, that she hadn't come back relaxed, that she was overwhelmed and overloaded and needed time to chill.

She's amazing at putting feelings into words, and has an awareness of her experience on this planet that's far greater than most people I know. For her, it really was a trip full of anxiety. She's so like me, I shouldn't have needed to be reminded of it. And she (and I) is so the opposite of Jack and Jon, it's hard to imagine one family living through the same experiences from opposite extremes. I can sum it all up with the zipline in Honduras. For my boys, it was just about the thrill of a lifetime. Flying across treetops, branches and leaves barely touching toes, rain pouring so hard you could barely see, soaked to the bone and shivering from the downpour, yet excited, exhilarated, hearts pumping every moment. For Iz, it was her worst nightmare. Hundreds of feet in the air. Hanging precariously from a thin steel cable, dangling so far above the trees you often couldn't see the ground, not knowing what came next, knowing her panic was visible for all to see, realizing there was no way out. Her shaking was pure terror. I would have been with her, she needed me to be her strength, her courage, her savior, so I had to force my own panic deep down and take care of her.

I told her that night that she was my hero, that her making it through to the bottom was a feat of pure bravery. When someone suffers from anxiety, the simplest things most people take for granted, can be huge accomplishments. Of all the traits she's inherited, I only wish I could zap that proneness to panic from her make-up. It's debilitating and exhausting in a way that's impossible to comprehend unless you suffer from it.

The most I can help her do is learn to manage it. That's why I practice yoga—not for the spirituality, or the crunchier granola parts, but to keep my head clear, and my breath even and steady. Years on the mat have taken the edge off a bit. Writing gives me a way of letting emotion out instead of it spinning, like an out of control washing maching, in my head. And the perspective of age is a tremendous help. But she can't see that yet.

Someone gave me this analogy that felt so right I share it with her whenever she gets stuck in the swirl. Life is like an ocean and you just have to ride the waves. Sometimes the water's mellow. Sometimes it stormy with high swells. Sometimes you'll be up on a crest, sometimes you'll be down, not able to see what's coming. But each will pass and if you find a way to know that change is always on its way, that nothing is forever, that if you can let them wash over you, knowing the low points are only temporary, while appreciating the highs as they happen, all will be fine in the end.

Day six is sitting in stillness, knowing drama is right around the corner. But that there will be quiet mixed in too.

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