I Make Myself Sick!

No, this isn't some self-defamatory post about how I disgust myself for some reason or another. I literally make myself sick. See, I have a stress-handling problem. As anyone I'm sure couldn't fail to notice this past week or so, I've been stressed recently. Unfortunately I don't handle stress well. I take life, and probably myself, way too seriously and I end up making myself sick over it, literally. It always seems that after the climax of the stress is over that is when it all hits me physically and it makes me ill. I am now accustomed to getting horrible migraines after a period of stress, being physically nauseated and light-headed as if I have the flu, and the worse, I gave myself Shingles from stress. Yes, Shingles. That adult version of chicken pox that is deadly to and normally only gotten by the elderly. I got Shingles the day after my last final exam my Junior year of college - my most challenging year of college - and my doctor told me that people at my age who get Shingles get it from extreme stress and are prone to getting it chronically when they are stressed. Luckily I have yet to get it again since it's quite uncomfortable and there's no real treatment, just a medication that "quickens" it through your system, so that my poxes would burn intensely for an hour after I took the medication.

So I have a problem and I'm home sick today from work because I took my GRE on Saturday, nearly threw up during it and ended up doing horrible on the second half of it because of it, and nearly threw up and passed out this morning. What the heck's wrong with me? I'm sure I've made myself sick again. I need to change, I know this, but I'm not sure how. I always set very high standards for myself and detest failing, actually am scared to death of failing. I rarely have not gotten what I want, I've gotten the scholarships I wanted, the research projects in college I wanted, gotten into the school I wanted, got the job I thought I wanted (now I hate it), got the hubby I wanted (you betcha, I asked Him out). I'm a pretty determined gal and am very aggressive in going after what I want, but I stress the hell outta myself in the process. The only thing that I truly feel like a failure in is getting published, which I have yet to accomplish, to the extent that it almost stresses me out to write now when writing used to relieve my stress. I know, I shouldn't worry about getting published and just write because I love it and because I'd write anyways even if I never got published, and that's probably true. But I'm such a goddamn perfectionist I can't help myself. And I'm so obsessed with achievements that I can't stop focusing on that. How do I know that I'm getting better at writing if I have nothing to measure it by? No publications or reviews?

I've always known that I was ambitious, but I never realized how stressful it is to be ambitious. I'm the type of person who wants to change the world, and actually believes that I can! I worry my mother sick with my dreams of working with refugees in war zones, and I probably stress my husband out with my ideas of trips to war zones for untold months living with the refugees so I can really understand their needs. And the thing is, if I want to do these things, I know I will. My mom and hubby also know that I will, because that's the type of person I am. But it's hard being this way. How do I relax and let go of all my ambition and perfectionism? How do I Enjoy life more and not be so tense all the time? Okay, how do I do it other than just consuming alcohol, we don't want me to become an alcoholic here! I know I need help and I need to change the way I live life somehow without losing that ambition and drive that I truly do love about myself. But I burn myself out too quickly and put too much of myself into everything I do, I just can't help myself. Anyone else this crazy? Anyone have any suggestions?


Brett Battles said...

First. Breath. Deeply.

I think I am probably the exact opposite of you. I do get stress at times, but I just as quickly shake it off. Not sure how I do it, perhaps it's hardwired in my brain.

For you, though, you have these fantastic dreams and ideas, ones you will probably fulfill. Your drive is a huge asset to you, but don't forget you'll get more out of these things if you focus on the task at hand. One thing at a time, step by step. If you really want to achieve all that you have before you, you need to be around to achieve. It's a matter of you controlling your life, not the stress. Of course, that's easy to say, but it's also true.

And as for publishing - specifically if you want to publish a novel - the typical novelist has been trying to get published for 10 years and has written at least 3 novels. Me, it was more like 15 years and 4 novels. There are some things you can't set the time table for, you can only do your best work and keep moving forward. It's all about perseverance, not beating yourself over the head because of a manmade deadline.

mai wen said...

Thanks Brett, I think you hit something right on the money. I'm always about fifty steps ahead of myself, drives my husband nuts! He sounds very much like you, very laid back, doesn't let much get to him, very patient. Yeah, I'm just about the opposite.

Thanks so much for your comments and encouragement! I'm definitely going to have to learn to live in the moment more. That's hard for a writer! Well, at least that'll be my excuse, though it's a weak one since you seem to be doing great at it and you're a writer too. Damn.

Brett Battles said...

Just remember that stress equals illness, and illness often means a shorter life...I'm sure there are some people (your husband specifically) who'd like you to hang around. Sometimes that's hard to remember when we are still relatively young.

Okay...that was a bit on the morbid side, but you get my meaning...

Mas said...

Hi mai wen, I'm a friend of Amra's IRL, I've liked your comments on her blog, was a bit bored this morning so followed the link to your blog. Okay, that's introductions out of the way.

I can really relate to what you're saying about the links between stress, mental health and physical health. I did the GRE a couple of years ago and found the whole thing really stressful. At the end of the exam, I said to myself 'I could throw up on this keyboard, right here and now'. (I didn't, thankfully!) It was difficult because I didn't have a benchmark to aim for: the 2 universities I was applying to made it clear they wanted to know my GRE scores, but they wouldn't say what kind of scores they wanted to see! I was applying in the humanities, so I hoped they just cared about the English side, and not the maths. (Again, they didn't make that clear.) As it turned out, I did amazingly well on the GRE, and was accepted by both universities. Here's hoping you get a great outcome too.

(I didn't end up coming to the U.S. to study as I couldn't afford it, even taking into account the scholarships I was offered. Ouch. But that's a sob story for another day!)

One of my stress-management strategies is to be clear about when I'm 'on' or 'off'. If I've hit the on-switch, I'm working hard and focused on what I'm doing. Then, when I hit the off-switch, I'm on my downtime, and if I start thinking or worrying about anything, I tell myself sternly to stop and get back to what I'm enjoying. This worked really well for me when I was writing my Master's thesis.

Good luck with it all anyway, and let us know if you find a strategy that works for you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I share that problem, Mai Wen.

And I love what you did with your blog! Damn, I wish I could do something fancy with mine! I'm inept!!!!!

Brett Battles said...

What? Sandra? You're like that? I would have never known ;-)

Renée Robinson said...

Firstly, great new blog template, Mai!
And I loved reading this post because it made me look at how I manage stress. One word: Avoidance. Which is not the way to go, that's for sure. Actually, I usually 'avoid' by getting back to nature (going for long hikes, camping or lots of long walks), until perspective kicks in and I feel I can cope again.
I haven't seriously written for about a year because I think I burned out. I had three kicks in the teeth in a row: a rejection on a full ms, advice from an author I really admire that my voice is too dark for the romance books I've been writing (and I know she's right but wasn't ready to hear it), and splitting from my critique group for various reasons. I still intend to get back into it, but each time I try I lapse back into avoidance. Last night I decided I was going to do the nanowrimo again in November to force myself to write, ready or not.
I loved what Brett wrote about not being able to set time tables for some things. It's so true. Sometimes we need to go hard, and sometimes we need to step back and rest for a bit, ready for the next push.
Good luck.

mai wen said...

Brett, seriously, you are right on point! Last night my hubby and I were just talking about my health. When I'm stressed I drop all of my healthy things I do for myself, like work out and eat healthy. Either I just eat nothing because I have no appetite or I eat only junk food cuz it's easy and quick. But I always feel like an old lady when I'm stressed, I'm all tense and stiff, I feel slow and tired and I have physical issues that pop up that could become long term issues. Okay, fine, I'm not shy, I become constipated (sorry for those who are shy), which actually is a serious issue and I know could lead to serious problems in the future. For the last two-three days, my heart has just been going and going non-stop, like I'm hyped up on caffeine pills or something (which I'm not, I haven't even had Any caffeine the last couple of days), I'm just begging for heart problems. I read somewhere that people with Type A personalities are more likely to have heart attacks. Yeah, all that freaks me out. I need to change for sure, I can't handle this, I can't even begin to imagine how much it would drive my future children crazy! OMG, i feel sorry for them already and they aren't even conceived yet!!

Mas, thanks so much for the encouragement! I'll definitely keep you updated on my grad school status, I'm praying I get into this one that required it, it's my dream program, location, everything! But we'll see, it's mostly out of my hands now, I just have to write a dynamite essay now!!! I really like your turning it on and off idea a lot! I Really need that. Um, you know that story about how women often are thinking about their grocery list while having sex with their husbands... yeah, I've done that before. Damn, I'm ashamed. I have a really hard time turning it off, the constant chatter of "To Dos", but I've never really thought of having a mental on and off switch. As silly as this sounds, I think the visual image of a light switch will help me and remind me that there is a time and a place to think of things and this is not that time or place. I like the idea of scheduling time to worry about something and then when that time is up, just turn it off. I'm definitely going to try it. Thanks so much for the advice!!

OMG, Sandra, actually I totally got this blog template indirectly through you! I was reading the comments in Amra's blog and you commented how much you liked her blog and then she put the link of where she got it.. I just went there, literally got the exact same template as Amra's changed the colors by going to this website for color schemes and codes (http://wellstyled.com/tools/colorscheme2/index-en.html) and then voila!! So thanks to you I have my new blog template with my lovely double sidebars, which I Love!!!! Which reminds me, I need to drop by Amra's and thank her for the link, I'm super excited about the new template!

Renee, I think sometimes avoidance in the way you handle it, with a walk in the woods, etc. sounds wonderful because it just takes you way, forces you to focus on the "now" because you're doing something physically demanding and can really just relieve a lot of that stress and clutter in your brain. I used to rock climb like crazy, and honestly, I don't remember ever being super stressed around the period of time when I rock climbed a lot. First of all, rock climbing is sometimes like figuring out a puzzle, and it's never the same solution for each person because of size, strength and flexibility differences. That sort of puzzle solving is satisfying, tough and immediate. You're on the wall, you have to figure out how to get up following a certain route. And then when you go outdoors, there's nothing like being at the top looking out over the tops of trees and feeling that gritty rock surface grind away at your fingers. It's just so relaxing. I really need to get back into it, but then I have anxiety of being horrible since I havne't gone in forever and damn, I'm back where I started. I totally understand the difficulty of getting back into things after being away from it for a while. My husband last night was trying to talk to me about taking better care of myself and getting back into a work out routine and I just got anxiety because it's been a while since I've worked out and trying to get back into it is hard. I just try to remind myself of the laws of physics, if you throw yourself into motion (not literally, but metaphorically) then it's easier to stay in motion, isn't that the law of perpetual motion or something? Continuous motion maybe? I suck at science, sorry. Anyways, I just try to tell myself that I don't need to have a stellar work out or climb as well as I did back in the day, just go and do it once, and then do it again, and keep doing it and then it'll come. So, it hasn't worked yet, but I'll let you know if it ends up working! :)

Thanks everyone so much for your insight and thoughts! This has been very theraputic!!

Hubby said...

Sweet Ass bitchin' Blog template!!!! Weeehooo! Hope you didn't stress yourself out over this one. I think you did a bit.

Mas said...

I'd forgotten about the essay part until you mentioned it. Ooof: in a way that's harder than the GRE, because what on earth are you meant to write about? I had no idea. This is quite therapeutic for me, actually, to read of your struggles with the grad school application process. When I applied I thought it would just be torturous for non-Americans, and that Americans would automatically 'know' how it all works. Hah!

And I'm delighted you find my on/off concept helpful. At least it acknowledges our stress-head nature and gives us a time and place to indulge it.

anne frasier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anne frasier said...

oh my god. you sound so much like me. i actually have a scar on my chin because i passed out in a bathroom before i was supposed to speak on a panel. i was so stressed that i ended up with a migraine. normally i would just go to bed in a dark room, but i had to keep going because of the conference. a bloody mess. :D

but i can say i think i've gotten better about stress as i've gotten older. but i still have a huge problem with anything that is a break from my normal pattern. even if it's something fun, i can end up sick to my stomach with a migraine and a bucket by the bed. i KEEP a bucket in my bedroom!! haha! i used to have headaches every saturday -- because saturday was different from the other days of the week.

anne frasier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mai wen said...

OMG Anne, that sooo sounds like me. I really have issues when things are different and with change. I think I get panic attacks and if my schedule's thrown off at all I'm a total mess and feel physically ill too. I think it's probably because I'm a control freak, even though I hate to admit that about myself. :-\

Is there something you did to help deal with your stress? Any tricks of the trade you'd like to share?

anne frasier said...

bogger is making me look like a crazy!! :D

i really haven't found anything that helps in a big way. i do seem to have certain food triggers that when combined with stress can really make things worse. those normal migraine triggers like wine, cheese, also for me onions and garlic and anything spicy. some food additives.

it tends to annoy people because they'll be in party food mode and i'll just have a scone and fruit. something light.

one thing i do notice that is completely unintentional is i'm sometimes able to put myself in a calm state. it's just some mental thing -- and i have no idea how it happens. but it's definitely gotten me through some tough situations.


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