When the Effects of My Chronic Stress Could No Longer Be Ignored

Stress is an oft-forgotten factor in the equation to good health. Sometimes the tolerance for it is even glorified. More emphasis is placed on diet, exercise and sleep, with stress relief as a byproduct or afterthought.

Why? Is it because these factors are more tangible and easily measured or monitored, while stress is a variable that differs for every individual? And if that is so, then is stress just “all in the mind”?

Well for me, too much stress actually does yield a tangible feedback. This is reflected in my blood tests on a micro level and pain on a larger scale. It is something that touches me physically — something I not only can feel, but see. My joints start swelling up, or my muscles become so inflamed to the point where even medication does not ease the pain.

The emergency alarms of my body are all broken and wailing as it tries to dispose of the intruders, except for the fact that there is no intruder — it is attacking itself in the confusion.

Where do the sources of my stress come from? One of the main factors, as I am sure it is so with many people, comes from work. How did I find out? I was driven to a point of desperation in my first job, where working past midnight on a daily basis was the norm. An accumulation of taxi fares and dinners amounting to hundreds of dollars were often a badge of pride as to who the hardest worker was.

But my red blood cell count had dropped to the point where I was only surviving on half of what was required to function, and as my doctor put it best, “as if you were on a mountaintop with very little oxygen. Yet you are not out of breath because your body has acclimatized to it.”

Who would have thought, me, a Sherpa in the tropics at ground zero. That was the first thought that popped into my head, at least.

I had no other choice; I requested three months of unpaid leave to rest and plan my next step. To my ignorant surprise, my blood count started to improve a little. After it was over, I knew what I had to do and tendered my resignation letter.

That isn’t to say I lived happily ever after, but the increased amount of rest I got, simple as that, did wonders for me.

Many times we ignore the effects of stress because we think it isn’t an acceptable excuse or there isn’t a choice. It doesn’t help that there is nothing to measure it against.

I want this story to serve as a reminder that stress is a big factor in relation to good health, and for people with chronic illnesses whose immune systems have already been compromised from the get go, it might just be the one of the biggest factors of all.

Follow this journey on A Chronic Voice.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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