When major stress comes on fast and hard, self-care is often the first thing that gets dropped. Our bodies’ stress response maximizes our ability to think quickly and move fast, as stress was often a life-threatening and immediate need as humans came into being. It helped us stay alive and thrive.
We are still programmed and designed to react to stress in the same way. And a body in stress mode is not digesting, repairing, detoxifying or handling all of the critical functions it needs to operate at optimal capacity in order to stay healthy over time.
When stress is short term and recovery is allowed, the stress response is typically well tolerated in a healthy body. But when it continues for an extended period of time, you can really get into trouble. The more stress you have, or the more frequent your stressful experiences are, the more likely your body is to suffer. And if you drop your self-care when you’re stressed, you’ve just added yet another obstacle for your body to deal with! You can easily experience a breakdown in your physical, mental or emotional health along the way.
The story I’m about to share is much longer than my typical posts. Normally I try to get to my point as quickly as possible, without missing any important details. But I’m sharing more today because life often happens in a more complex, layered scenario. And as a society we view the first layer as the most significant, dismissing how damaging what comes after can be, especially when viewed cumulatively, which is how stress can overrun your system.
My husband’s recent stroke sent me into immediate, sky-high stress. I was in with a client when my son called me after finding him on the floor at home. I wrapped up with my client and got back on the phone with my son, who was now trying to answer the paramedic’s questions. I helped him answer their questions, went out to the waiting area and sent my next client home, found out which hospital my husband was being taken to, and called my other son to let him know what was going on. I called my remaining clients for the evening and cleared my schedule, closed up my office, then headed to the hospital with my son. Thankfully he was near my office when I called him, so he picked me up on the way. What a blessing since I was shaking so badly (stress hormones in action)!
The ER team and surgical staff were amazing. They quickly assessed what was happening, patiently and simply explained everything to us, answered our questions and allowed us to be in agreement before quickly moving him into surgery. While we waited, I cleared my schedule for the next day and made calls to other family members. The shaking subsided and my head was clear, but my belly was completely upside down. Words cannot even express the importance and comfort of having my sons with me the entire time.
Fortunately, the surgery went well and we then had a much clearer understanding of what had actually happened. The inside wall of a major vessel on the right side of Jack’s brain had collapsed inward, creating a partial blockage of blood flow. A stent was placed via his groin and he was sent to recovery. The type of stroke he had, called a dissection, is very rare and accounts for only about 2% of all strokes. The reasons behind it are not well understood, so we may never know why it happened.
While in recovery, he appeared to have significant weakness on the left side of his body from the waist up. We were told he had an excellent chance of recovering fully, and felt relieved and grateful. I was not comfortable leaving his side yet and stayed overnight in the ICU with him. There was a chair with a foot rest in his room that I curled up in. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it could have been much worse. My sister-in-law found me extra blankets and pillows (she’s a nurse at the hospital), which helped tremendously. It was freezing in the ICU and the pillows provided some extra padding in that hard chair. We didn’t get much sleep, but at least I had the comfort of seeing how he was doing.
The next day was encouraging as he was already starting to gain some strength on his left side. I had my son bring some healthy, organic food from home so I could attempt to get something into my stomach after 24 hours of no food and a very upset belly. I couldn’t manage much, but at least it was clean and without ingredients that would further stress my system. By the afternoon, I was comfortable enough with his condition to go home to shower and nap.
I slept at home each night after that, but had my cell phone on and right next to my bed for many days before I was comfortable enough to turn it off. The EMF’s (electromagnetic frequencies) from cell phones and other wireless technology are a serious health risk, but so is not getting any sleep. Leaving it on and near me was a temporary compromise.
I had late night conversations with my kids to process my emotions, sort through everything we were being told at the hospital and clear my head so I could sleep. I survived on organic rice crackers and organic brown rice noodles with olive oil and sea salt for days. I just couldn’t handle anything more than that. I drank as much clean water as I could manage, but wasn’t drinking anywhere near what I usually consume.
A few days in, I had a difficult night. My chest was burning, which made it difficult to sleep and also felt like anxiety. My practitioner brain started to kick in and I remembered that when your body is in stress mode, it’s not in digestion mode. Thankfully, I always have digestive enzymes on hand as I never go out to dinner or travel without them. As soon as I thought to start taking those, my belly calmed down and the burning in my chest went away along with the feeling of anxiety. That confirmed that I had been experiencing severe indigestion and acid reflux.
Jack’s strength was better every day, even without any therapy, and we were feeling very hopeful for an excellent recovery. I went back to work and started spending more time at home to keep up with life tasks like laundry and other chores. I thought things would start to feel somewhat normal again soon and was more relaxed.
Acute in-patient therapy was recommended for Jack to work on gaining the strength on his left side back. Our insurance provider approved his stay for up to 30 days right away, and we thought we were just waiting for the paperwork to go through before he would be transferred from the hospital to the rehab facility.
By Friday afternoon, after several phone calls, it became apparent that our provider and the rehab facility were engaged in a financial negotiation. I was beyond frustrated and angry to find that my husband was not their priority and was instead left waiting in the hospital while they worked out an agreement. And since the insurance company is closed over the weekend, there was no hope of resolving this issue until Monday morning. Jack wasn’t allowed to get out of bed on his own and they wouldn’t release him without a transfer to rehab, so he was stuck in bed wasting time that could have been spent getting him home.
I spent most of Monday and Tuesday on the phone with our insurance provider and the rehab facility. I was led to believe the negotiation was still ongoing and felt hopeful that it would resolve soon. To say that I was stressed beyond belief is an understatement. I was actively working to be polite and diplomatic on the phone, but was seething inside. I lost it on Tuesday morning and just sobbed uncontrollably from all the frustration and pent up emotions.
By Wednesday it became clear that there was no give on either side, and little hope for any agreement. I won’t even get into the details of how ridiculous and counterproductive the whole situation was, especially from a money saving perspective, as my husband remained stuck in the hospital racking up bills. At that point, our insurance provider decided to find another rehab facility that accepted their reimbursement rate right away. It didn’t provide the same daily hours of therapy, but given how well my husband was already doing, I wasn’t concerned that it would interfere with his progress.
The paperwork and contracts were going back and forth but hit a snag somewhere along the way. It was down to the close of the business day on Wednesday when a last-minute, frantic phone call from me, pushed everyone to quickly finalize it all. He was transferred an hour later, much to our relief, after almost a full week of working towards that!
We joined him at rehab to get him settled in. The facility is an older building which is also part nursing home, so the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. But they got him into therapy the next day and it quickly became clear that none of the different therapists were seeing any significant strength or mobility issues. After the weekend, and hearing multiple reports of how impressed the therapists were, I started working on getting him home. There wasn’t any fighting or bureaucratic details to struggle with this time. He just needed to wait for the doctor to see him and sign off on his release. He had arrived on a Wednesday evening and I brought him home the following Thursday afternoon.
And that’s where you would think the happy ending would start, right?
His first day at home went well. He went out to a few stores on Friday morning and spent some time on the computer catching up on his favorite pastimes in the afternoon. He was in good spirits but really tired by the time I got home from work in the early evening.
Friday night or Saturday morning, his right hand became very swollen, itchy and painful. He was incredibly fatigued and unable to do much of anything. The hand pain interfered with his sleep and all of it made him miserable. It appeared that he was having a reaction to the medications he’d recently been prescribed. He was afraid to take the meds and stopped for two days, knowing we had a follow up with his primary on Monday morning.
We restarted one of the medications and that has been going well. The second medication was added in a few days ago at one quarter the original dose and is going okay so far. His fatigue is still debilitating. We’ll discuss all of it with the neurologist in a few days.
That weekend, once again I thought we were moving on. My kids were resuming more normal schedules and were out and about, so I was mostly on my own at home trying to catch up. By Sunday afternoon I was exhausted, even though I hadn’t been pushing myself or neglecting my self-care. We were in need of groceries, so I headed out to the store with a cup of organic green tea in hand. I figured I was just having an afternoon slump that would pass. By the time I got home, I was an irritated and exhausted mess. In hindsight, it would have been better to reschedule my plans and have stayed home and rested. Several days later, I was struck with a cold – ugh, more stress!
The cold was no surprise. I’ve experienced this in the past and know that it’s typical to get sick after dealing with significant stress. But it adds even more stress to life and I’m more than ready for the cycle to break!! Life happens and some stressors are unavoidable. The way you take care of yourself during a crisis can make all the difference in how you get through it all.
Here are some important things to focus on:
- Eat clean and healthy
- Stay hydrated
- Don’t neglect sleep and rest
- Accept support
- Process your emotions
- Minimize any non-essential tasks
- Minimize contact people who add stress
- Indulge yourself if you can
Monthly massages and periodic organic facials are currently part of my self-care regimen. I maintained those appointments and they helped SO much! I treated myself to a yoga class, an infrared sauna session and a salt room session, all of which I had Groupons for that were just waiting to be used. I tend to hold my stress physically and get really uncomfortable, so these extra self-care steps helped tremendously (and felt like a luxurious treat at the same time).
Self-care is not selfish, it’s smart. You need you, and so does everyone else. Don’t let yourself fall apart. Take care of yourself and get the support you need. You deserve it!