Take My Advice—I’m Not Using It

“Take my advice—I’m not using it.” I can tell you to keep calm. At my worst, I might insist that you keep calm. But as someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, sweetly innocuous, and even some of the more pleasant experiences in life, when I am confronted with the parts of life that others find truly stressful, I hunker down and find the effort deep inside myself to make them yet more stressful.

In one of my lesser achievements in the field of stress management, I gave myself a black eye while tying my shoes. These were boots with leather laces (I am not a cowboy) and such laces take a little effort to yank into position. While securing my “half-knot” on my right shoe, the length of lace in my left hand broke and I clocked myself in the right eye. At the time, I was 34 years old, not 11.

One of my co-workers asked, “I’m not sure I ought to say anything, but are you okay?”

“With what?”

“You look like you were in a fight or something.”

“Heh. Funny story, I did this to myself this morning. Heh.” Embarrassed, I mumbled a series of words that had no real connections between them in order to sound like I was speaking a sentence or two: (Mumbling.) “New laces. Not leather ones. Store tonight. Need some.” (Attempted grin to communicate something like, “We’ve all been there, right?”) Because I lived alone at the time and was nominally an adult, my friend did not call child protective services against me on my behalf.

But I was perpetually stressed out by that job, a completely stress-less employment (technical writer) in a stressful environment (it was a job, and thus all jobs can be stressful). I was a contract employee who had been taught that, for us contractors at least, “The last one hired is the first one fired,” and I was the last one hired in this office. Twice, a contractor was hired in my department (making this person the “New Guy”), which afforded me the brief comfort of being the Not Last One Hired, but both times, the individual quit within days, which restored me to my place as Most Worried. Further, the head of the department who had gone on the hiring spree that had led directly to my employment was herself fired in front of us less than a year after I moved to the job. Under these circumstances, in which every week at work was “grueling,” you’d give yourself a black eye tying your boots, too.

In RealityLand, also known as HereandNow, it is usually the employee who can not relax who finds him or herself let go. It amazes me how much one can accomplish with almost no confidence in oneself. I held that job for more than four years, but it felt just like more than four years.

In those years, I believe I was addicted to being in perpetual and slight fear all the time, because I had a method for relieving stress that I trusted above all others, which presented a feeling of relief that sat on the pleasant side of the scale far more heavily than any stress sat on its side of the scale. The method is called vodka, and has not been a part of my world for four years and eleven months as of today.

I have friends who were police officers and friends who were firefighters, friends who served in the military and even fought in hand-to-hand combat with enemies, and they report that when a person leaps from one serotonin-soaked event to another, one acquires an either/or outlook on life. They describe post-war life as one in which the soldier will either perceive everyone as an enemy, including the guy taking too long pouring himself coffee at the Qwik-Stop-‘n’-Go, or one in which he loves everyone and sees every human being as a fellow traveler on this big blue marble of ours. That’s the vet who hands the half-and-half to you at the coffee counter and then lets you step in front of him or her at the register.

So I am a stress-filled person, certainly not a soldier returning from a war zone, except, perhaps, the one in myself, but life presents me with obstacles and challenges like work, life, relationships, life, long journeys, life, ongoing tests, life. And life. Life is the one situation we never come back from.

I am, as I am with much else in life, an uneasy flyer. I am the airline passenger across the aisle from you with white knuckles and a clenched jaw. The only plane trips that have been not stressful for me have been the ones in which I struck up a conversation with my seat mate. The ones I remember most fondly are those in which I made a temporary best friend: A flight to Chicago in which my seat was switched on the plane from a seat surrounded by a family with three kids (making me the fourth) to a seat next to a woman who was also doing a crossword puzzle. A flight after 9/11 in which the entire plane got involved in a conversation about coming home to upstate New York and what we missed about living there. This approach to life works well on planes, in waiting rooms, on the coffee line. This approach to life works well in life.

When I remember I am a human being, I do not need to do anything to unwind or remind myself that I am human or to feel human. When I don’t, life is a grueling week of work spent on a plane flying me to a final exam that I have not studied for. It’s one broken shoelace after another.

* * * *
Much of this appeared in a column from 2014, “Stress” and in 2015.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for February 12 asks, “You’ve been asked to speak at your high school alma mater—about the path of life. (Whoa.) Draft the speech.”

* * * *
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  1. terryb · February 12, 2016

    Keeping stress at bay is a constant struggle, and one excellent way to cope is as you suggest, by connecting with others. In that connection I sometimes find support and a sympathetic ear and at other times I am offered a fresh perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Life With Jess · February 12, 2016

    I love the reality in this! Can totally relate!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wscottling · February 12, 2016

    To kinda quote Alice from Alice in Wonderland (the Disney version): “I often give myself very good advice, but I very rarely follow it.” Ha! I only give advice if I’m directly asked for it, otherwise, I keep my opinion to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · February 12, 2016

      Comments from you always make me smile.

      Liked by 1 person

      • wscottling · February 15, 2016

        That comment gives me the warm fuzzies. ^_^


  4. Suze · February 12, 2016

    “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway”.
    John Steinbeck

    just keep saying “stress is good, it means I am still alive”…………lol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aruna @RipplesnReflections · February 12, 2016

    That’s Cool Advice !! Well expressed ….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. rogershipp · February 13, 2016

    “But as someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, sweetly innocuous, and even some of the more pleasant experiences in life, when I am confronted with the parts of life that others find truly stressful, I hunker down and find the effort deep inside myself to make them yet more stressful.” What a great skill to have to keep one on his toes! I seem to sometimes have this lovely skill as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. abodyofhope · February 23, 2016

    “Certainly not a soldier returning from a war zone, except, perhaps, the one in myself” << Well said! Congratulations on your commitment!
    I have a similar story to your shoe laces which you inspired me to write about today. I am sharing it this morning along with your blog. Thank you for the inspiration. I hope it makes you smile like yours made me smile 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · February 25, 2016

      Unrelated to this, I want you to know I’m rooting very hard for you going to your sister’s wedding. I hope you have a grand ol’ time. Much love from here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • abodyofhope · February 26, 2016

        That means so much to me, Mark. Thank you for cheering for me! I’ll take your encouragement along with me.
        Praying fot comfort and strength for you and Jen xo

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The secret to longevity is…don’t vacuum | aBodyofHope

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