Coffee heat rising

Stress Management Redux

One of this blog’s founding tenets was stress control: Money management hand-in-hand with stress management, as it were. At the time FaM came into being, I was fully employed but tended to obsess over money, constantly worrying about whether there would be enough. And a neighbor situation had led to $10,000 worth of vandalism, probably not optimal for one’s peace of mind.

In retrospect, the money matter looks pretty silly: trying to live on Social Security and adjunct teaching makes the challenge of scraping by on $60,000 look hilarious. But the stress thing? Not so silly.

I made a little discovery a few days ago: Benadryl works a miracle cure on GERD. Why? Because the bellyache evidently correlates directly with stress. And I’ve been enjoying plenty of that, some of it self-inflicted and some not.

Like most old ladies, I don’t sleep well. Older women, and to a lesser extent older men, wake up in the wee hours typically around 4:00 a.m. It’s like an alarm goes off, and you have exactly zero desire to go back to sleep. The solution to the sleep deprivation issue, then, is to go to bed earlier. If you hit the sack at 9:00 p.m., you get the ideal seven hours of snooze time. No matter when you get to sleep, you’re going to wake up at the same time, so if you linger abroad with the younger people, you can expect to pack in many fewer hours of sleep than is good for you.

This works, I guess. Except that lately, I’ve been popping awake earlier. And of course some nights I have so much work that I have to keep at it until 10 or 11 p.m. The other day I woke up at 1:15 a.m., after having gone to bed around 10 o’clock.

After a day of wandering around in a haze of exhaustion, I decided to drop a fake Benadryl, available in army-sized supplies from our favorite purveyor of such goods, Costco. The stuff is counterindicated for the elderly, because it can cause cognitive disfunction, especially when used as a sleeping pill. So ordinarily I resist taking it except for noticeable allergic reactions, and when in extremis. Well, the other day I was unmistakably in extremis after three hours of sleep and a full day of bellyache.

So, consider:

I knock myself into the middle of next week by dropping an antihistamine that reliably puts me into a stupor. I fall into the sack before 10 p.m. and I sleep like the proverbial rock, all the way through until 6:00 a.m. And WTF? When I wake up the next morning, I don’t feel good…I feel great!!!

I’ve been off the omeprazole for a week, with no noticeable difference in the bellyache department. By this point, that drug has pretty well cleared itself out of my system, and the GERD or whatever is no worse, no better. Except that after a full night’s sleep, there’s not so much as a twinge from the gut.

Not only that, but I stay feeling great all day!

Better living through chemicals…

Interesting. What could this mean? If anything?

Reflecting on that question, it dawned on me that the most recent flare-ups—the ones I have some record of, because I’ve been keeping a symptom diary so as to report to the doc’ what’s working and what’s not working—have occurred when I’ve felt very stressed, and that the most recent immediate short-term stresses are overlaid atop some chronic stresses that take the form of long-term pain and long-term unhappiness with the way I’m diddling my life away.

On the day I woke up at 1:15 in the morning for example:

At 1:15 a.m., anticipating another horrid day:

The pointless class at the impossible hour
Another confrontation with another idiot student
A race to Scottsdale to meet a client
Then another race to north Scottsdale to a Chamber of Commerce meeting.

I hate teaching and I hate driving around this accursed city and I hate trying to find places where I’ve never been. Last CofC meeting took me almost as long to find the damn restaurant as it did to traipse to Scottsdale. One of the projects I’m working on gives me some ethical pause; another is just annoying.

4:00 a.m.

Have to deal with a failing student
Have to file 45th-day grades but couldn’t get into the effing system to do so because it’s down in the wee hours
Have to be up and running by 6 a.m.
Realize I will net all of $170 for two weeks’ worth of substitute teaching

 4:00 p.m. Bilious and heartburny while running around. But by the time I get home and unwind, am feeling OK.

Next day:

6:00 a.m. Drugging myself so I’d sleep worked. Awake at 6 and loaf until it’s getting late, and so…

Have to fly around like a rocket to get out the door in time for my 9:30 appointment in hideous suburban Tempe
Because of rush-hour no-left-turn rules, have to wend my way through three neighborhoods before I can turn east to reach the freeway.
Traffic on the freeway exceeds hideous.

Feel OK in the late afternoon…again, after the worst of the running around is over and the back and foot pain subside a bit.

And the next day:

Feeling pretty good despite having been jolted awake at 4:00 a.m. by the alarming sound of shattering glass. No burglar: frame fell off the wall and broke apart with a loud crash. Enjoyed spending half an hour vacuuming up shards of glass and, as long as the damn vacuum was plugged in, vacuuming up a houseful of dog hair.

Nearly got hit by a semi-truck & trailer as the driver changed lanes when he didn’t see me.
Traffic on the 10 was horrific. My stomach was tense when I got to the client’s.
Client is not a native speaker, and there’s a cultural divide. He claimed that he hadn’t asked me to do the large job I performed but only wanted a couple of pages revised. Thus $621 worth of work went out the window.  He gave me a check for $315, about half of what I billed.

I seem to feel stress in my gut. The prospect of having to get back on those gawdawful freeways to drive home elicited a sensation that felt like a squirt of acid in the stomach. Uncomfortable and weird.

§ § §

Felt pretty good for a couple of days after sleeping through the nights. But then had to work late one evening; didn’t notice the time and so had to fix dinner at 9:30. Fell asleep shortly after that: highly ill-advised. Next day was truly miserable, lots of pain and discomfort. Resisted going back on the omeprazole; the following day, that flare-up settled down.

Observing that I seem to feel better late in the afternoon, I realized this is when the things that stress me out the most are past. Also, reviewing the garbage above and much more along the same lines, I could see that in many instances—near-death experiences on the freeway, for example…or just the intense annoyance of dealing with fractious students—an almost immediate reaction occurs in the gut. And that anticipation of an unpleasant day, of which there are altogether too many, seems to coincide with early-morning belly misery.

Where is all this stress coming from? Do I really hate adjunct teaching so much it’s making me sick? It never made me sick before…

§ § §

I went to Young Dr. Kildare early in August. By then I’d been suffering with the bellyache, the backache, and the plantar fasciitis for quite some time. I’d gone to the Mayo about two weeks before deciding to find a doctor that would accepted Medicare for the expensive tests the Mayo doctor proposed and a week or two before that was in the ER a week having chest pain diagnosed as dyspepsia.

Therefore, the cause of the stress can not be this semester’s ridiculous class schedule, because it started long before classes began.

However, I in fact was very stressed throughout the process of applying for the AAME program, and the disappointment and anger engendered by the AAME board’s offensive remarks and turn-down were pretty extreme. It’s reasonable to think that episode might have kicked off this flare-up.

From the AAME fiasco I went directly to the start of this semester, which student-wise and work-wise hasn’t been too bad, except for the frustration and annoyance of having to put in four and a half days of unpaid time in course prep. What has been difficult has been the schedule:

four days on campus, a commute that consumes gas, doubles my fuel bill, and wastes incalculable amounts of time;
two days a week having to get there and start the performance at 7:30 in the morning, which I truly hate;
a third day each week of racing to Scottsdale by 7:15 in the morning;
two other days a week in which three hours of productive time are ripped out of the middle of my day.

And trying to focus on an organized plan to move The Copyeditor’s Desk into the realm of credible business while dealing with the distractions of running these courses at exceptionally inconvenient hours has been especially annoying and difficult. The effect has been gestalt—I can’t focus on anything long enough to get through a single task in any coherent way.

Right now I have four clients’ projects in hand, and I need to be able to work on those projects without having to drop everything and go entertain a bunch of 19-year-olds for three hours, four times a week. Just thinking about this right now is causing an uncomfortable sensation in the gut!

Add to that my having focused sharply enough on my dislike of teaching composition to make the decision that I will quit teaching at the end of this semester, and the devil take the hindmost. In the first place, contemplating how much you hate something that you have to attend to every day is stressful enough. In the second, we have the question of what will happen when I start to draw down savings to live on. And in the third, we also have the uncertainty of whether CED will earn enough to supplement Social Security and drawdowns to keep me from going broke.

These worries entail some very scary prospects.

In addition, pain is another source of stress on an organism. I’ve been suffering plantar fasciitis and back pain for weeks. More weeks than I can count.

Summarize the stress points:

Chronic physical pain since last June: back and foot
Commuting to campus, to meetings, and to Tempe client
Awaking at 4 in the morning; because of workload, not getting to bed early enough to sleep 7 hours before then
Therefore, insufficient sleep
Early morning class and business meetings
Church’s decision to move senior choir to early service once a month, adding yet another predawn wake-up and early race-around to a week with three pre-existing unpleasantly early race-arounds
Conflict between class meetings and client work
Low pay for teaching
Negative outcome of AAME project
Conflict between teaching workload and large amount of work required in getting the business on its feet
Two challenging clients
Chronic worry about money
Lack of exercise
Heartfelt dislike of teaching freshman comp
Difficult student who had to be dragged to the chair of the department for talking-to
Because of time conflicts, inability to meet weekly goals no matter how hard I try
Inability to even clean the damn house because of workload and time conflicts
Sense that things are only marginally under control—and sometimes out of control—because of heavy workload and time conflicts that make it difficult to handle the work
Concern about relationship with son; worry about son’s unhappiness and future
Workman waltz, things that have broken, borer infestation of magnificent tree, and endless large unplanned expenses during the summer when I had almost no income; these have drawn down survival savings to barely enough to last through fourth-quarter 2012.

 Twenty sources of chronic stress???? Holy mackerel! No wonder my stomach hurts!

What am I doing to deal with this?

1. Made decision to quit teaching
2. Made appointment for physical therapy
3. Drugged self to sleep all night – this, unfortunately, cannot continue
4. As weather cools, trying to bicycle when possible
5. Made plan for survival without teaching income

 What else could I do?

Possibly bow out of early-morning choir.
Deal with most challenging client issues first and head-on. (Mary Kay Ashe: Always take on the difficult stuff first thing in the morning!)
Shift some editorial work to Tina.
Schedule specific blocks of time for e-mail, blogging, and CED work around the periods lost to teaching.
Try to stop thinking about how much I hate teaching; find something else to think about!
Get up and leave the computer when I’m not focusing on productive things.

Well. It looks sort of like a plan.

I told the chair this afternoon, just three hours ago, that I would not be back to teach face-to-face sections again. He said keeping the online magazine writing course would be no problem, and even suggested (contrary to what he’s said before) that a fully online comp course might be available. I’d druther not, I expect…but in fact, if I could create a really streamlined comp course that was not bogged down with having to find things to fill 32 ninety-minute class meetings, that might be OK. The online course, once it’s up and running, is really very easy to handle. A little bit of student nuttiness comes through the digital ether, but at tolerable levels. If I didn’t have to physically go out there and kill time…maybe. And it would be that much income that CED wouldn’t have to earn.

On the other hand, maybe not, too…

Yesterday I started physical therapy for the back and foot. The therapist thinks I’m going to entertain myself with stretching exercises six times a day. As you can see, I have tons of time to spare at three therapy sessions a week plus six at-home sessions every day.

I dealt with the most difficult client issue a couple of days ago; haven’t heard back from that one. Need to send him a new bill.

And indeed I did foist a bunch of complicated ditz onto Tina last night. In the overworked department, she was as usual parked in front of her computer.

As for the early morning Sunday services…hm. I hate to cop out of those. In the first place, I like singing in choir, and there are only so many opportunities to do so. And it the second place, it seems kind of lâche: wah! I’m too lazy to get out of the sack at 5 a.m. on Sunday! Since they only happen once a month, there are only three more of them between now and the end of the semester. Can I really not live through three wee-hour wake-ups on Sunday?

Oh well. It’s after 6:00 p.m. I’ve spent too long on this. Gotta go read some copy.

5 thoughts on “Stress Management Redux”

  1. Funny,

    I don’t want to presume about your relationship with your son, but I’m 63 and raised two sons myself. In the last two years my relationship with both of them has gone severely south. Not coincidentally after both of them married in their thirties.

    I can’t tell you the shock and disappointment that I have experienced at the feeling of being “thrown away” by both of them. I have coped by lowering my expectations, to almost zero, in fact.

    It sounds like a joke, but it gets me through the night, as they used to say.

    • @ E. Murphy: I think that’s not an uncommon feeling among American women — it has to do with the social expectations laid on men, and the expectations they have for themselves. I can remember my mother-in-law weeping and saying the same thing.

      For that matter, I also can recall my mother remarking that a daughter stays your daughter all her life, but a son becomes a stranger as soon as he goes out the door.

      It’s very hard. A young man feels he should be totally independent of his parents, and that they should be independent of him. This cultural attitude unfortunately flies in the face of reality: as we get enter old age, we inevitably become increasingly dependent. And if there’s no one to depend on, then what is to become of us?

      I’ve been trying to convince my son, by word thought and deed, that we should regard each other as friends now, not as relatives who would not have elected to be related had we been given a choice in the matter. That, however, is an alien concept to a son or daughter, adult or no.

      It might be worth discussing the issue with your sons (and new daughters), if you can do so rationally. Don’t weep, though. It gets the kids’ attention, but it lays a guilt trip on them that they won’t forget and will always resent. Depending on the young people’s mentality, though, it might be worth chatting with them and saying overtly that you’d like your relationship to change from parent/child to friend/friend, that you’ll always respect their autonomy, and that it’s OK by you if they choose to live their lives differently, in small ways or large, from the way you live your life. If you can pull it off… 😉

  2. Yet another good insight into why you need to take a different approach to your work life! Keep it going and hopefully you’ll get to a good balance soon.

  3. I got tired just reading about your schedule. For the sake of your health and overall well-being, it will be a fine day when you can bid adieu and good riddance to the adjunct gig.

  4. Adjunct teaching, driving here and there, pool: these seem to be your stress areas.

    Oh, I hope things work out with and for your son. My children are about 10 years younger than your son–and, so far, so good–but the future is a scary thought.

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