By Kourtney Meldrum
Stress is normal; an unavoidable part of life- a lot of times it can even be healthy. All this being said, stress can also be unwarranted, it can be dangerous, it can consume our lives, and in many ways, it can harm us.
In September of 2018, my health started to turn. It still unclear to this day what happened, but suddenly I was exhausted beyond belief, I had no appetite, and the migraines I had been plagued with my whole life had been joined by a constant dull head pain that clung to my skull and refused to leave.
My usually packed schedule and active lifestyle was no longer an option. There were days I couldn’t stay awake for more than a few hours and would have to nap before continuing with my day.
I didn’t feel like myself.
Previously, my life had revolved around adding more things to my plate, always challenging myself, and continually searching for a new goal to conquer. Suddenly, everything I was working on and working towards was put to a halting stop. I physically couldn’t keep up. I was mentally exhausted. I was stressed.
I was stressed because I couldn’t keep up. I was stressed because I was in pain. I was stressed because I was too exhausted to fight through it. I was stressed because I was falling behind. I was stressed because I knew I could never keep up. I was stressed because I felt like a failure.
This was not me. To say no to opportunities, to miss deadlines, to forget to reply to emails, to stop chasing dreams, skip classes, nap instead of going to the gym, to give up.
I felt like, if I wasn’t the person who could do it all and take everything on, then who was I?
I was having an identity crisis with no energy to find my way back, and I was stressing TF out.
The word failure consumed my life. It flashed across my brain like a news headline, and I couldn’t escape it. It defined me, and I wrestled with it. Over and over again I would tell myself that I wasn’t a failure, but deep down I felt like one, and it was a pain I couldn’t let go of.
Since September I had taken on big projects, had stressful school classes, experienced the death of a friend, and felt isolated in a city that months before had felt like home. Stress and anxiety had become uncomfortably comfortable and built themselves a little house to stay. The stressors in my life had been given so much energy that they had grown into nasty beasts that reared their heads in the forms of panic attacks that hit me harder than I’ve ever experienced in my life- on the streetcar, in Ubers, on the sidewalk, in my bed, in coffee shops, in school hallways- I’d hyperventilate and try to count my breaths. Sometimes I’d catch myself being so lost in my streams of thoughts that I would forget to breathe.
When I went to my doctor back home in December, I had been dealing with this pain for over three months there were still no clear answers. One of the suggested reasons for my new head pain was tension headaches. These tension headaches, my doctor recommended, had been brought on by stress.
This hurt. The realization that I had made myself so stressed, that I had become so incredibly sick broke my own heart.
Beyond feeling like a failure for the past four months, I felt I had truly failed myself. I had done this to myself in many ways.
While this does not solve the entire puzzle of me feeling unwell, my constant stress and anxiety put a considerable amount of pressure on my physical health.
Following this conversation with my doctor, I went on a month long vacation with my family to Hawaii. I took the time to recharge. I knew it was vital for my health and wellbeing. I left Calgary on December 17th as the most broken down, worn out, anxiety-filled, stressed out, and exhausted version of myself I have ever been. I took the month to disconnect from my life in Toronto, to spend real and meaningful time with my family, to be outside, to reevaluate my priorities, and in many ways decide what I want from life.
For a majority of people taking a month-long vacation is not an option but I'm grateful that I could. I still came back home with stress, the same problems, and new hurdles, but at least I had had some distance and a fresh perspective.
My priority is my health right now. Both finding answers for my physical health and making sure I’m taking care of my mental health. Everything else comes second to that.
The past sixth months have felt like the worst in many ways, but have also taught me incredibly significant lessons.
My idea of failure and success is distorted. Living my life in a state of being constantly busy is not healthy or sustainable. Sometimes I go for things to prove I can; not because I want them.
Both my pain and my stress are real, and it is okay to feel them.
All of my ‘failures’ built my greatest successes. Being able to recognize my pain and put my health first is the biggest win, even though it meant saying no and letting things go - ‘failing’ in many ways. But I have come to recognize that this isn’t failing: This is learning to win in the ways that matter.
Stress is unavoidable in life. Stress can also kill you. I allowed so much stress and anxiety to fill my life that I made myself incredibly sick.
I will leave you with this.
We live in a culture where being consistently on the go is idealized and where stress, never-stopping, never-sleeping, and working yourself to the limit, is put on a pedestal. It is not a healthy way of life. It is toxic, and it physically and mentally tears you down.
You know your limits, listen to them.
You know who your support system is, so lean on them.
You know when you don’t feel your best, pick up on those clues and patterns.
Where do you find the light, the love, and the joy in your life?
(Everything else has a way of figuring itself out)