When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.
Self-improvement books? I read them. Breathing exercises? I did them. Morning lists? I hear you! The result? A big fat chunky zero. Every day I am tangled in family commitments. Being the eldest sister in an Arab family, having lived between Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Egypt, I am always cast as “responsible” for my parents’ marital life and my brother and sister’s well being.
I am an excellent listener, by the way. I can spend hours and even days helping a friend through a break up, a job loss or bout of depression. I don’t just listen and wish them luck — I keep contemplating the best ways out of their situation, and I accompany them through it, until the black cloud is fully squashed out, and the sun rises up again upon them.
Do they do the same? Well, I have always had a huge problem with expressing myself. When it gets so cloudy that I can no longer see the palm of my hand, I just lock myself in my room until I am capable of facing the world on my own again.
On countless encounters, I would just wish that someone would help me out. That someone would understand that I am too weak to speak and to express how I feel.
I just feel overwhelmed by my situation. To those of you who are already beginning to Dr. Phil me, please keep your words of wisdom to yourselves. I don’t need to be lectured on how I have victimized myself through the years. I know that I have put myself last on my list, behind family, career, friends and even my dog.
Looking back at my teen years, I had many big dreams. I was even bold enough to write my Oscars acceptance speech, and another one for my Nobel Prize for my novel! I wrote a list of people I would want to interview on my show, when I host a show just like Larry King, who was, and still is, my TV idol.
When I reached my twenties, in addition to my broadcast dreams, like any girl, I had a dream to meet someone whose looks fell somewhere between Richard Gere, Hugh Grant, famous Arab singer Amr Diab, Edward Norton, Clive Owen and Ryan Gosling. I would meet someone who would love me, just the way I am. We would manage to be friends inside a relationship, understand and support each other, through thick and thin. I would accept his flaws like he would accept mine, together we would build a life and work it out through disagreements. We would have an adequate house and raise our five children. Was this too much to ask for?
I turned 34 last week. I am a freelance writer now. I am more single than Adam was before he met Eve.
Looking back at my life, I can clearly see how stress and fear have accompanied me since I moved from Saudi to the American University in Cairo to pursue my ambition in broadcast media, and to become the independent girl I always wanted to be.
My wakeup call was after I finished a professional acting course I took in Cairo. I had taken this course to find myself a new identity that did not suffer from loneliness, who was capable of dealing with rejection, a happy, confident new me. My acting coach, Marwa Gabriel, helped me break the shell I was hiding behind. She helped see myself through a whole different perspective.
It is ironic how most of us can communicate with others but are deaf and mute when it comes to communicating with ourselves. At the beginning, I was terrified to know what a wreck I had become. How I stressed myself throughout the years and was left with emptiness and fear.
I had to learn to first accept and forgive myself for my weakness and flaws. I had to learn that it was only human to fear. I had to confront myself to realize that ambition is supposed to build you up with positivity, instead of destroy you with harmful experiences.
I became comfortable enough to draw a line between friendship and emotional abuse. I set limits for those who use the argument “we go way back together,” which no longer paid the bills of my patience.
I have not reached my ambition, but one day my dream will come true. It is hard to get used to the lifestyle of Saudi Arabia, especially after getting used to the “full menu” lifestyles that Cairo offers you.
I haven’t been able to finish the book that I keep saying I will publish, but I won’t be going to that cave of stress again.
Stress is a personal trait that some of us will have to learn how to deal with. I do put myself under a lot of pressure as that is my nature. But after the acting course I learned how to communicate with myself better. I learned how to listen to myself and say stop.
I still get hit by my lonesome like a truck crashes into a gas station and it devastates me for days. I am still working on ranking myself higher on my list. I am trying to draw the line between obligations and what I owe to myself. I know it will take some time, but rushing myself will only add stress.
Is there a moment you hit a stress breaking point and knew you needed to change your life? If you’d like to share your story, please send personal essays under 1200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in this series.