Tag Archives: Frustration

Coping with Distress

Today has already been what some might call distressing.

I spent my morning in the ER. Again. I thought, perhaps, it was a continuation of one of the two problems I’ve had within the past two weeks: either another kidney stone or another small-bowel obstruction. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how one looks at it) it was neither of those things. Instead, it was a condition called inflammatory colitis – in other words, an infection inside or outside the small bowel causing inflammation, pain, nausea, etc. To me, the symptoms were very difficult to distinguish from the feel  caused by a kidney stone or a bowel obstruction. There was a slight variance in severity and location of the pain, and the level of physiological distress (I separate this from pain because for me, it is a separate issue) which is a term I have invented for that feeling of intense frustration and anxiety that occurs when one has a medical condition or illness (or even a psychiatric or psychosocial issue) that is continuing to reoccur or worsen despite your best efforts. It is that feeling inside your head that makes you crazy: you start to wonder if perhaps there is no cure, no treatment, no solution that will be effective for you. It starts to seem like no matter what you do, you will always have pain, always be depressed, always have difficulty meeting people or with the opposite sex, or perhaps that you will always be estranged from a friend or family member whom you love.

I may have invented the term “physiological distress”, but I’m betting I’m not the only one to have experienced it. Like pain, or anxiety, this type of distress defies external measurement. It is subjective. In fact, in my experience, it is so subjective as to be unpredictable even to one who has experienced it multiple times in multiple situations. For example, I have had abdominal pain and nausea more times than I can count in my short life. And yet, there is no predictability in the way each iteration of these symptoms will cause physiological distress. Last Thursday I was feeling possibly the worst pain and worst nausea out of the last two weeks. Yet I proceeded to drive myself to the hospital and wait in the ER and explain everything to the nurse who commented: “you seem incredibly calm for someone experiencing the symptoms you are experiencing”. And yet, when went to the ER this morning, I was so anxious and upset that I took the wrong freeway exit, then misspelled my name, then nearly missed the gurney as I tried to sit down. I could barely get the gown on, and for those who have ever put one of them on, they are about the simplest garment one could imagine: there are two holes for your arms in the upper portion of the gown. That is it. Sure, it has a place to tie in the back, but no one expects you to tie it yourself.

I guess this post is really about this idea that the frustration in dealing with chronic or reoccurring problems in my life can actually become a significant, separate issue that may not really coincide with the severity of the inciting incident.

That is really easy to demonstrate, given that today, I was not actively passing a kidney stone, nor had I passed one (at least to my knowledge) in the past several days. A kidney stone SHOULD produce a significantly higher level of distress than a simple inflammation of the intestinal tract. And yet, possibly because it seemed to be a reoccurrence of an incurable and unpredictable problem, today’s pain and nausea (most likely lower in severity than that of a few days ago) produced a much higher distress level.

I honestly don’t know what the application would be. Perhaps all of this just means I need some more psychiatric and psychological help. (that is probably a fact rather than a supposition, whether for this type of distress or for one of the other myriad of mental absurdities my brain and body put me through on a daily basis) Perhaps it just means I am spending more time than I should using my brain to watch my body and using my brain to watch itself – we typically call this “introspection” or something like that, but I find that term to be rather one dimensional as it primarily refers to using one’s brain to ruminate on past actions, behavior, thoughts, and responses rather than focusing one’s attention on what one is thinking NOW, or a combination of those things, or even what one is feeling emotionally and physically combined with what one is thinking at any given point in time.

Enough with the terminology.

My question to myself and to all of you, in light of the distress I was feeling this morning, is this: if and when you are feeling physiological distress, what methods are available to deal with it, and which ones are the most effective? Which ones are healthiest? Which ones support your personal wellness and lifestyle goals?

For example, one way many of use deal with our distress is to eat. Yet for many, that is a destructive way of dealing with distress, and might even wind up causing distress in the future. Another method for dealing with distress is recreational drug use. But if you don’t know from personal experience, then take a leaf out of my book: this is NOT the way to deal with your distress. It ultimately causes a significantly higher level of distress in all areas of life, rather than a single source of distress that may have triggered the drug use originally.

But there are healthy ways to deal with what distresses you. One thing I can almost always count on to alleviate my distress is to act. To DO something that addresses whatever is causing me to feel the way I do. So today, that action was to go to the hospital. Something that, even as frustrating and anxiety producing as it was, was actually less frustrating than sitting at home hurting and anxious.

I wish I could tell you that because I am aware of this dynamic in my life I always choose the healthy ways to combat my distress. In fact, it is probably the opposite: even though I am aware of this dynamic, I still often choose unhealthy coping methods.

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences. Have you felt “physiological distress”? If so, what does it feel like to you, personally? What methods, healthy or not, have you employed to cope? What works best, and what just doesn’t work at all?

Thank you for reading. I wish you a distress-free Sunday!

Peace to you,

-Nathan

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My Own Way (Getting Out of It)

I feel out of sorts today. I’ve been thinking about this since early this afternoon, and I can’t quite pinpoint the feeling (if there is a specific feeling) or problem (if there is one). I feel like there was something I was supposed to do that didn’t get done, but I have checked and re-checked the list, and even gone above and beyond what I expected of myself today.

So I know I didn’t forget anything. So that’s off the list. Now, did anything odd happen to be today? Let’s see….I had a pretty normal morning, and I even ran a bit further today than I have been. Everything went pretty smoothly…ok well, not everything. I guess I had a moment where my aunt was trying to help me with something (no details, the situation is too complicated) that I was already trying to take care of. She wasn’t giving me a hard time at all. But something about the situation reminded me of what things used to be like when I lived at my parents’ house.

Instead of me initiating things, my parents would have to constantly push me. I would procrastinate, avoid, and flat out ignore requests from them, even if it was something completely reasonable that aligned with my goals. I don’t know if it was just leftover teenage-rebellion or what. But it seemed like when I lived with my folks I never got anything done, or if I did, I couldn’t maintain any sort of commitment or long term effort.

For a long time I thought that it was just me. That it was who I was. That I was just a person who was incapable of consistency and hard work. I thought I was just lazy and, frankly, good for nothing. It didn’t help that by this point my parents and I were so at odds that they just confirmed my own opinion of my worthlessness by reiterating it to me every time I screwed up (which was often).

I hope it doesn’t sound like I am blaming them for anything or accusing them of doing something wrong. All I am saying is that the person I was at that time seemed to be incapable of change and incapable of moving forward.

I tried, and failed. Tried, and failed. Over and over and over again. Sometimes I would make a little progress. Sometimes I might even make a lot. But every time, something would happen (usually I would end up sick and in the hospital) and I would fall right back to where I’d begun, or sometimes even end up further back than I started.

I guess something today in that interchange with my aunt was similar enough to some of the conversations that I had with my parents during the time I was describing above that it triggered some latent fear, sadness, anxiety, frustration, and even anger.

I almost snapped at her, and all she was trying to do was suggest an option that she wasn’t sure if I had thought of yet. It was a thoughtful gesture on her part, and fortunately the part of me that has been in control of my mind and body was able to cut myself off before I made a harsh or angry comment.

After this, I went downstairs and meditated, even though I had already done my meditation. I could just feel the negative energy welling up inside me and I knew that if I didn’t find a way to let it out safely that it would turn inwards and wreak havoc inside me.  I have been so peaceful and centered lately that I had almost forgotten what it is like to be upset and frustrated to the point that I want to throw up my hands and give up. Today, I just felt frustrated and clouded and purposeless. I felt like a chicken without a head. And to be honest, I still don’t really know why. My reaction to my aunt brought these feelings to the surface, but they were there, bubbling up, from the minute I awoke today.

Ok, so I am coming back to this post after a couple of hours. I stopped to eat dinner, and during dinner I had a conversation with my uncle about what my day has been like. As I was expressing what has been going on, I had a sudden realization that there isn’t actually a problem at all. There may have been something going on with me when I woke up this morning, but by the late-morning or afternoon, the only problem was that I was continuing to look for a problem.

It is so easy to convince myself that there is something wrong. All I have to do is spend hours feeling mildly irritated and anxious, and expend vast amounts of energy trying to “fix” it.

I remembered one of my NVC (Non-Violent Communication) principles just now that I wish I would have thought of earlier today: I don’t need to have a “problem” or even a “reason” to feel something. Sure, it is okay for me to analyze the perceived cause of a specific emotion. But a majority of the time, the best, healthiest thing for me to do is to remind myself that whatever I am feeling is okay, and that I don’t have to analyze it, and that, most of all, I don’t need to judge it. So when I was feeling anxious and irritated earlier, the best thing for me to do would have been to take that feeling, sit with it, and remind myself, “there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. It is okay to sometimes feel anxious and frustrated. I am not wrong to feel this emotion. It isn’t bad. It just is.”

Accepting who I am right this moment, and realizing that this person I am now is really not that closely related to the person I was two minutes ago…well, yeah, it is hard. Accepting that uncomfortable feelings like anger, fear, anxiety or frustration are not bad or wrong…that’s a tough one too.

There have been many times that I have tried really hard to live these principles, but just ended up thinking them. That is the hardest part. They can’t help you if you just think about them. They only work if you really apply them, but that sure is easier said than done.

But even after a day that I would categorize as “sub-par”,  during which I had many emotions and thoughts which were negative and uncomfortable…even after that, the best part is that I have a choice.

I can choose to let the day’s frustrations influence me now. I could have stayed anxious. But instead I chose to say, ok, that was how I felt earlier. But there is no reason why I have to feel that way now. In fact, I am feeling peaceful and at ease now. I am choosing to be the version of myself that both accepts what truly IS and has the power to change the parts of my reality that are malleable.

I think I worded that poorly. What I was meaning to say was that I am trying to live in a world of acceptance while still acknowledging my own power. Because acceptance, when taken too far, can become self-victimization. And too far the other direction can lead to a desire to control everything, and to make everything fit into the way you want it to be. And either extreme is harmful to yourself and the others around you. So I think yet again, what I am really talking about here is balance. And the great thing about balance is that it’s not something you either do or do not have. It is an inherent part of your being. Your self – body, mind, and spirit/energy – is constantly trying to attain or maintain what a biologist would call “homeostasis” or the state of having all the forces acting on you in balance with one another. In physics terms, the ideal is to have the net force acting on you equal to zero. What is wonderful about the human experience is that our whole beings are constantly trying to balance themselves regardless of what we do. The problem comes when we push them too far one way or another. Our system then tries to compensate, and often sends us even further out of whack.

I am asking myself what I can do to help my system do its job. For me, after today’s experience, I am thinking that (at least in situations like this one) the best thing for me to do is stay out of my own way. If I had just let things go and stopped trying to figure out the “problem” so that I could “fix” it, I would have had a much more productive, less frustrating day.

What about you? What happens inside when you are having a bad day? Do you look for the problem and overanalyze how you feel, the way I did today? Do you freeze, curl up and hide from whatever the perceived issue is? Do you take it head on, trying to just willpower your way through it? Do you pray or meditate or talk to a friend? Do you just avoid what is bothering you and hope it goes away?

You know what’s amazing? None of the options I just mentioned are right or wrong, bad or good. I choose instead to label them in a way that I find non-judgmental. I would say the strategies above are either effective or ineffective in a given situation. Sometimes you need to try several things. Or sometimes you have to just get out of your own way and let things be the way they want to be (which is what I will do next time I am in a situation similar to the one I was in this morning and afternoon).

I am already getting tired. I got up early yesterday and today, and I am going to try and continue that trend by getting to bed earlier as well.

So thank you for reading, and I hope you found something in this post that will support you on your own journey.

Life is an adventure as my great-aunt Gladys used to say. Every day is a new way to explore the experience of being you.

Peace to you all, and goodnight,

-Nathan