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Archive for January, 2012

I’ve been studying a packet my grandmother gave me a few years ago by Chuck Swindoll about the classic bible verse Proverbs 3:5-6.  (Trust in the Lord your God and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.)

The first thing that jumped out at me was his exposition of the story of Mary and Martha.  In the text, Jesus visits Mary and Martha. Mary sits at his feet and soaks up everything he has to say, but Martha runs around in the kitchen trying to cook for all the disciples who randomly showed up and gets angry at Mary for not helping.  She complains to Jesus and he tells her that Mary is doing what she needed to do – what was important for her to do.  Martha is not stressed out because Mary is shirking her duties – Martha is stressed out because she has decided that the most important thing is to live up to her own expectations of being a hostess.  She assumed that responsibility herself when it was not actually the priority at that moment.  Chuck Swindoll brings up this story because he is trying to point out that you should not blame other people for your stress – you may be accepting worry for things that are unnecessary.

I manage complex research projects and I feel angry at people who have easy projects.  I feel angry at the woman in my office who has one project and rolls into work at 10:30 AM and leaves at 4:30 PM because she’s (presumably) a nitwit and can’t be given complicated projects, while I have three projects and I work from 8:30 AM until 6:30 or 8:30 at night, and on weekends.  I think “angry” is an understatement – I hate her with the fire of a thousand suns.  I hate my clients who make me do stupid things to data.  They are arbitrary and they don’t understand research methodology and it toasts me that I spend so much time catering to their misguided whims.

When I read that exposition on the story of Mary and Martha, it occurred to me that I am not stressed out because my clients are crazy or my coworker is lazy.  I am stressed out because I internalize the crazy demands my clients make and the obvious injustice of my coworker’s schedule.  I still think my clients are crazy sadists, but it was enlightening to realize that their madness does not automatically deserve my stress.  I don’t not have to take that inside of me – I can choose not to internalize their agenda.

Today I learned that they want me to make extensive changes to a research project that is in the field.  I am so proud that my very first thought was, You do not deserve my cortisol.  Each time my body makes cortisol it shortens my life expectancy and I will be damned if I do that over your stupid changes.  My life is not about making these changes happen tonight (or about being someone’s idea of a perfect hostess).  You cannot force me to feel that unrelenting responsibility that threatens my sanity – I refuse to take it up as my burden.  Fuck you.

I think that’s what Jesus meant, and that’s why religion is helping me.  (Clearly it’s not helping me avoid words like “hate” and “nitwit” and “fuck,” but we can deal with the plank in my eye on another post.)

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I suffer from anxiety.  I don’t just have anxiety – I suffer from it.  In the past I have taken medicine to help control my anxiety, but currently I’m wandering around au naturale – I’m like an organic crazy person.  Being on anxiety medication actually caused me to have anxiety; I was disturbed by the fact that it was a Class C drug and I could accidentally get pregnant and have a flipper baby.

People who don’t have anxiety confuse it with normal worry and stress.  For instance, my job is very stressful, and I often come home from work very tense.  In fact, I wake up a few times a night thinking about work.  It’s as though even while sleeping my mind is gnawing on my work problems and will periodically wake me up because that demented corner of my psyche that never sleeps has just realized something that I should remember to do tomorrow.   My husband confuses my inability to relax with everyday stress and tells me to just leave work at work, but it’s not that simple for me.  My mind races and I physically feel different in my viscera – it’s a feeling in my throat and my chest and my belly.  If I could “just leave work at work”, believe me: I would do it.

I’m telling you this because if you feel tense, you should really consider adopting a religion.  I’m hanging onto sanity by my fingernails and I think I maintain that precarious perch through medication or religion.  I was not religious until I was 18, so I have a good basis for comparison.  To my way of thinking, it doesn’t even matter if there is a God.  So what if religion is a fantasy that people use as a crutch or a coping mechanism?  If you’re coping, I say forget reality.  And if there actually is a God, so much the better.

I’ve been doing an extensive study on a bible verse relating to anxiety this week and I’ve discovered a few things that have been helping me to get off that merry-go-round of compulsive thinking.  My biggest hope tonight is that if you also suffer from craziness, you will find some relief in science or religion or love.

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