The WordPress Daily Prompt for July 29 asks: “After an especially long and exhausting drive or flight, a grueling week at work, or a mind-numbing exam period—what’s the one thing you do to feel human again?”
Historically, I have been a great example of the mock dictum “Take my advice—I’m not using it.” I am someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, innocuous, and even pleasant experiences in life, so sometimes the parts of life that others find stressful, I hunker down and find the effort inside myself to make them 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 was not a cowboy) and such laces take 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. I was 34-35 years old at the time, not eleven.
One of my co-workers asked, “I’m not sure I ought to say anything, but are you okay?”
“You look like you were in a fight or something.”
“Heh. Funny story, I did this this morning. Heh.” Embarrassed, I mumbled a series of words without connections between them to sound like a sentence or two: New laces. Need. Not leather. Store tonight. Because I lived alone and was ostensibly an adult, my friend did not call protective services on my behalf.
But I was perpetually stressed out by that job, a completely stress-less employment (technical writer in a factory) in a stressful environment (it was a job, and jobs are stressful). I was a contract employee who had been taught that, for contractors, “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 (the “New Guy”), which afforded me the 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 to my employment was 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.
It amazes me how much one can accomplish with no confidence in oneself. I held that job for four years, but it felt like twelve.
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 it is no longer a part of my world. So what do I do now?
The question implies that during a stressful period one is not human and needs to be restored to a natural state of calm serenity and continuous need-meeting, but only when you have needs, mind you. When you have no needs, there is no need-meeting, which is perfection. All things in moderation, except moderation.
I have friends from the military, friends who have 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, or they return home to a world in which he loves everyone and sees every human being as a fellow traveler on this big blue marble of ours. He’s the vet who hands the half-and-half to you on line and then lets you step in front of him at the counter.
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. The only plane trips that have been successfully not stressful for me have been the ones in which I struck up a conversation with my seat mate. I am, as I am with much else in life, an uneasy flyer. I am the passenger across the aisle from you with white knuckles and clenched jaw. The trips that I remember most fondly are the ones 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 the 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.
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.