Stressing Out

By Ann O’Malley

I feel like I’ve aged ten years in the last twelve months.  I’m tired.  My brain isn’t working right.
I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep until the pandemic ends.

I miss the comfort of my old routines.  I used to be able to plan each day with the idea that there weren’t likely to be any surprises in the next 24 hours.  But nothing is predictable during these difficult times.

Twice I’ve driven to the local library on a Saturday, only to be reminded by the empty parking lot that it’s now closed on weekends.  Each time I go to the grocery store, I wonder if I’ll find everything on my list.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  After I bought a car from a friend last year, I checked online to see when the office would be open to go in and apply for the new title.  Answer: By appointment only.  I called to make an appointment.  Message: There are more than three hundred people in line ahead of you.  Nothing is easy anymore.

I know that changing routines is good for the brain. It’s a simple reminder of Romans 8:28, of how God brings good (new neural connections) out of situations that Satan wants to use to destroy me (the stress of change).  But right now I feel like I need a break from all the challenges.

When I’m feeling frustrated by my difficulty thinking I wonder, is it my age?  Am I hitting the dreaded days of dementia?  Or am I being lazy?  Do I just need to try a little harder?  The stress increases as I struggle with fear and self-condemnation.

Then I read online or hear on the radio (I don’t recall which, even though it was just a week or so ago; sorry I can’t provide a reference) about the effects of stress on the brain.  When we’re under pressure, our bodies produce certain chemicals in larger doses to help us face the threat.  Some of those chemicals are in the brain.  One natural effect of their increased numbers is a reduction in our ability to think clearly and to form new memories.

That explains it!  I’m not losing my mind or my motivation.  I know I’ve heard this before, but thank You, Lord, for bringing it to my attention again just when I need it.

A few days later, I wake up with a stomach bug. Nauseous. Unable to tolerate anything but bland foods.  Long after it should have been over, I still can’t handle the stuff I usually eat.  What’s going on?

I know I’ve been pushing myself a little harder for the last month or two.  I have a hunch that it’s not good for me, but I’m tired of spending so many hours each day getting the rest that I crave. (Greater stress is creating a need for increased rest.)  The usual signals urging me to slow down are there, but they’re not as bad as they used to be, so I’ve been ignoring them.

And I’ve developed an acid stomach. (Maybe a result of overdoing?)  I rarely take any medications because of my sensitivity to side effects.  Maybe I’ve let the acid build up to a dangerous level.  Maybe a bleeding ulcer is triggering the nausea.

Does that mean that I’ve failed as a Christian?  Should I be so filled with Jesus’ love, peace, and joy that I will never be susceptible to stress-related health problems, like ulcers or high blood pressure?  Should I be able to give it all to Him, especially after fifty years of practice?

Or should I look at my stomach problem another way?  A way that would make me feel like a better believer.  Should I wear it as a badge of honor?  Look how much I’m suffering for the sake of others.  Look how much I’m sacrificing.  God must be really proud of me.  I’m giving up my own health to serve my church, my family, my community.  If the Christian life is supposed to be one of self-sacrifice, I could be the poster child.

But then the Holy Spirit reminds me that He’s been prompting me for years to listen to my body, to take care of myself so that I’m better able to care for others.  He’s shown me the fruit of that approach many times.  A sacrificial life doesn’t necessarily mean a self-destructive life.  A big part of my desire to push myself beyond my limits (while claiming that I’m acting in faith that God will provide the strength that I need) is my pride and impatience.  Not exactly Christian virtues.

The perpetual fog in my brain and fatigue in my body aren’t just from external stresses.  They’re also from my own foolishness in challenging God to give me more strength and energy, rather than humbly accepting the limitations that He’s placed on me.  In the end,
I take the ulcer scare as an indication that He wants me to slow down, to trust Him to accomplish His will through me in His own way, instead of feeling like I’m wasting precious time meeting my physical needs.

 

About the author:

Ann O’Malley is the pseudonym of a new author seeking a publisher for her memoir of suicidal depression.  Her pen name comes from “anomaly,” that feeling of being different, of not really belonging, which plagues so many of those who suffer from depression.  For more of her writing, check out her blog, “Those Who Weep: Not-Quite-Evangelically-Correct Thoughts on Suffering,” at https://thosewhoweep.blogspot.com.

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