Reaction to Stress Over Time

Each day Corey has been gone, things have gotten exponentially more difficult. The reactions I was having to things last night were certainly far out of the realm of normal, but it got me thinking about how things have progressed the last 8 days.

So I made a visual aid.

I’m the sort of person who loves visual aids, charts, graphs, you name it. I swear that if I got dumped and the person dumping me used visual aids, I’d probably come out of it thinking, “wow, that was a stellar presentation. You know, they have a point.” You can imagine that I could completely identify with Marshal from the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother, when he develops an addiction to using visual aids in every-day situations. Thank god I don’t work at kinkos, or everyone would be begging me to stop.

Anyway, what we have here is an exponential graph showing how my reaction to stress (the Y axis) is compounded by the number of days (the X axis) Corey is out of town.

The first few days, there isn’t a huge leap in the graph, it is pretty steady. This lead-up portion where I can hold things together while he’s gone increases each time he is away. Kind of like building up an immunity to the stress that initially happens.

However, as you can see, by the 4th day the curve begins to make its ascent. On the 4th and 5th day, my reactions in stressful situations begin to become more exaggerated, but are probably still within the realm of reasonable/tolerable by others. By day 6, people are noticing and tend to be a little dumbfounded by my reactions, and by 7 I’m off the chart.

When I become super sensitive to stress right around day 6 and 7, it is not readily apparent to me that I am overreacting to things. Instead, what I feel inwardly is an immediate sense of being overwhelmed.

For me, feeling exceptionally overwhelmed is usually the staging area for depression. The more I continue in stressful situations, the worse the depressive episode will be.

Just because I’ve had two or three days of feeling overwhelmed doesn’t mean I am expecting a huge depressive episode. I do expect somewhat of a depressive swing, but those big, hospitalizing episodes of depression usually require months of feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. The trouble in the past was that with a full time job, I wasn’t able to take enough time to relax and let myself come out of it. That usually compounds everything even further.

As I mentioned, I don’t always notice that I am overreacting to things, and that’s why I tend to respond to that feeling of being overwhelmed in the following way:

I feel the intense urge to sever all ties with people, the internet, and the outside world. I can still cook or read or work on projects, as long as there is no human contact. The instant I am having to communicate I feel completely overwhelmed again.

To some, that might seem like an overreaction, but I almost think there is something of self-preservation in there. There is red-alert in my brain, a switch gets thrown, and I go into seclusion mode in an attempt to reverse the stress that is being caused by communication.

That was what happened last night, and though I didn’t take any particular action, all I could think about was distancing myself from the rest of the world.

This has been the pattern for as long as I remember, even if I didn’t identify it until last night. And now that I’m looking at it, I can’t say that either way has worked for me. If I trudge on through the stress and keep trudging, I’ve seen the outcome, and it is basically the worst case scenario. If I withdraw, wont I be inviting depression just as equally as if I remained in the stressful situation?

I’m certain there is a secret answer number 3, but I don’t know what it is. If you have any ideas, feel free! I’m going to give my doctor a call, and hopefully Corey’s return today will help restore some of the balance.

8 responses to “Reaction to Stress Over Time

  1. Hang in there sarah. All of us in group care about you. Don’t forget about the support list although that sounds like the opposite of what you want. A real catch 22. I’m available by phone or power point. Or even in person. :)

    • Thanks David, I know. Sometimes I just need to take a step back from things to get a better grip on what is going on… I’ve always really appreciated your support though, so thank you!

  2. OMFG, I love this!

    I was just hinking the other day that I would like to have an online timeline (and not that damned facebook one) that when you remember events you can add them and then go back and write about them later. I think it would be a very interesting project if you had a program to do it.

    • I’ve actually been planning on doing that sort of in reverse, I have a good 10 years worth of journals that I’ve been thinking about going through and making a mood-chart timeline so I can get a sense for how things have changed (or if they have) over the last 10 years. Obviously a program would make that much easier, but I don’t know that there is anything good out there to use for that?

  3. You do *exactly* what I do whenever my husband has to go out of town. He traveled for the Evil SW Empire for 5 years and it almost ruined our marriage, I was so jacked up by the time he got back. I wish I had some words of wisdom, but the truth is the only thing that even remotely helped was taking a Xanax and giving in to the urge to hibernate until his return. Seriously, if you find a better way to cope, I’d love to hear form you. DH has just informed me that with the new job he will have to travel a bit again. Sigh.

    • Best case scenario? I am never alone for more than two days again. Of course, I know that wont happen.

      I’m going to need to come up with *some* kind of coping mechanism that doesn’t leave me as vulnerable because I am expecting several more rounds of him being out of town. I’m working on talking to a number of people about it, but if I find anything helpful out I’ll hit you up!

  4. Wow! You have an amazing ability to put into words all the stuff that just swirls around inside. I wish I could separate, identify and work towards understanding it the way you can.
    My father is Bi-Polar but has never accepted it, which makes it very difficult to know how to deal with him. Both my parents are mentally unstable and the result of this for me is Borderline Personality Disorder and all it’s accompaniments.
    I will be reading your blog in an effort to understand myself and my father a little better

  5. Pingback: So far, so… good? | bi[polar] curious

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