By Erickka Sy Savané
4:37 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I'm sitting on the toilet, trying to pee. It’s my third attempt in 60 minutes and try as I might, nothing’s coming out. My bladder feels tight like a balloon filled with water, but somehow my body’s not getting the memo because it just won’t release. Jumping jacks, dancing, nothing has worked so far. Panic is setting in. What if I can’t pee? Two hours later, I'm lying down on a bed in the emergency room at the hospital.
“Your bladder is full,” says the doctor, “This is the only way we can help you pee.” He inserts a catheter into my vagina and my body drifts off into euphoria. Finally. By evening, I'm home and peeing has resumed to normal.
Five days later, I'm back at the hospital. This time, peeing doesn’t resume and this catheter becomes my constant companion for the next week. Ever go to the park with your kid with a catheter strapped to your leg? I see specialists, but no one can help. Apparently, it’s one of those fluke things that can happen like running into an elephant on the highway. At one point, I decide to find my own answer and it becomes crystal clear. The problem is stress.
My mom, love her with all my heart, knows stress like she knows her own name. Growing up, there were times when she couldn’t breathe. Times when she, a single mom, was taking care of me and my brother, and going to school full time, walking 45 minutes there and back each day, once in the morning and back again at night. At one point, sores started forming on her scalp, and thick liquid would ooze down her neck. Doctors tried to help, giving her ointments and shampoos, but nothing worked. Finally, it became clear to her too. Stress was eating her alive.
In my case, the answer didn’t come until I did something that should have been done a long time ago, and that was move. Move my body, as in exercise, because the truth is I’d stopped exercising after my second child. The second was move location. I was living in a city that I despised like cockroaches. Everyday was a constant reminder of how much I hated my life. It’s no wonder my body turned on me. How could it function under such circumstances? Once I moved to a city I liked, peeing became as natural as water flowing down a stream. Does water ever have an issue flowing downstream? For my mom, relief came when she decided to settle down, and that meant literally reminding herself to breathe.
So knowing that stress can be ruthless in its ability to cripple us, what are some things we can do to combat it?
I pose the question to Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Isaiah B. Pickens, and he says that first it’s important to notice signs that indicate that we are becoming stressed. “If activities and people that you used to enjoy irritate or anger you, this is a sign of both stress and possibly depression. Constantly feeling a cloud over your head (or in your head) that makes you say more often than not, “I don’t feel like myself,” is usually a sign that stress is becoming overwhelming.” He further adds that the stigma around mental health issues and the push to create super-moms can make many reluctant to admit these difficulties.
When it comes to doing something about it, he advises practicing daily check-ins.
“Sometimes our days can move so quickly taking care of children and dealing with our work/home related duties, that we forget to do an inventory for what is stressing us out and how much it is stressing us out. Taking a moment in the morning to meditate or pray, journaling in the evening, or simply having quiets breaks during the day can go a long way to increase our awareness of stressors.”It’s true because another factor that helped kick my stalled bladder in motion was that I started writing again. Before that, five years went by and I could barely write my name. Perhaps stress is just another name for mess; the messier, the stressier. But somehow knowing that I was able to pull myself out of it gives me hope. Especially, even now when it starts creeping up on me masked as excess weight or even pimples that make me look like I'm going through puberty all over again. At the end of the day, there’s always hope.
Have you ever dealt with debilitating stress?