At 27, I was stressed. My allergies were so severe I would break out into hives every day. I had eczema so bad I avoided exercise because sweating was so painful with the rashes I would cry. My body was so inflamed I felt like scratching my skin off most days. Once I allowed myself to do it and rubbed my face so vigorously that it swelled up and when I went to the ER they brought in a team of residents to observe me because “my case” was apparently incredibly medically interesting.
To outsiders, I was living the “American Dream,” my boyfriend was a Harvard trained doctor trying to be supportive but was so caught up in his career he only made me worry more about my condition by smothering me with all the diagnostic possibilities and every treatment under the sun. Obsessive and stressed himself, he was fearful of me trying any topical ointments, fervently detailing all of the possible side effects. Putting stock in his recommendations, I was convinced to try an experimental drug that I was actually allergic to and made things worse.
I was depressed, stressed, and working 60 hours a week (not including the two and half hour daily commute) at a job in business development at a startup company in Los Angeles that I knew wasn’t aligned with my true calling. I knew I had to make a change but had no idea where to begin. I was in total fight or flight most of the time – nothing but survival mode.
In the meantime, still treating the symptoms of my condition, my doctor put me on an antidepressant and steroids, which helped a bit but caused about twenty pounds of weight gain, which caused my teenage body image issues to resurface. I became more depressed and self-deprecating than ever as the writing was all over the walls revealing how my life was slipping away.
I also had to get rid of my cat that I’d developed allergies to. Any fermented foods would give me a rash and hives immediately. I had to leave several work functions because my ears would get hot and red. I became used to the idea that this was going to be my life forever – overweight, sick, and stressed in the rat race of L.A. Even though to the outside world I had a “great job,” “great boyfriend” and life was good.
Firmly entrenched in the misery of my world, I had no idea how immersed I was in the cascade of stress and disease. It took my mother one night on the phone to give me perspective. In tears, she quietly said “Amy, you don’t even sound like YOU. There’s no joy in your voice. You’re so far from who you are. Something needs to change.”
Her sadness for me sent my mind working frantically, trying to remember my life before this horrifying chapter, but all I saw was the infinite darkness in front of me. I couldn’t even remember happiness at the time because I was struggling so badly. It’s like the analogy “A fish doesn’t know it’s swimming in water” because it’s all it knows! I was swimming in a sea of stress and ill health and was so caught up in the muck I had no idea I used to feel differently.
I was in a tunnel and couldn’t see the light. I had to learn how to trust that the tunnel was not infinite. How long it was and how long I stayed in it, depended on me.
My entire body was in a state of inflammation, including my nose, which hindered my breathing and made life generally miserable. My doctor suggested a turbinectomy (a surgery in which nasal tissue is removed to help with breathing). I reluctantly agreed. But even with the surgery, my body stayed inflamed and my allergies were worse than ever so when I went back to my doctor. Unbelievably (to me), he recommended more surgery. He wanted to keep treating the symptoms of the systemic stress that was slowly killing me. The best prognosis he saw for me was to “cope” with the effects rather than remove the cause.
Needless to say, I went in a different direction. I treated my stress. When I went back to that doctor he examined me, specifically my nasal passages, and with a look of amazement said, “This is looking great. What have you been doing?”
So I told him…
He smiled the way you smile at a child when they misunderstand an adult topic of conversation and said, “No, I meant – what MEDICATIONS did you take?”
I replied, “None.”
Looking back, I now realize THIS was the earliest beginning of the paradigm shift I will be introducing you to in my upcoming book The Stress Switch: The Truth About Stress and How to Short Circuit It. The shift from “coping with” chronic stress – from believing that we have no other choice – to finding a CURE.
What would you do with a life without excess stress? What could you accomplish? Who would you BE without your stress?