My 11 year old dog Dax had developed what we are hoping is just an urinary tract infection yesterday.

I did not deal with it well. Automatically I felt my body tense up and my heart became heavy in my chest. I became worried. Stressed. And at once I was grateful to have my girlfriend, who I knew would deal with Dax, and make sure he got to a vet and was treated. I knew I didn’t want to. I would if there was no other choice, but the idea of taking him to the vet became so overwhelming, that I was glad she was there for us both.

“I didn’t used to be like this.” I thought to myself quietly.

I’ve had a lot of stressful events in my life. From dealing with an absent father who only came around while he was high on pain killers up until I was 10 and I told him I didn’t want to see him again if he was going to be like that, to getting bullied and having to learn to fight at an early age. Then at 14 my grandfather dies, and my mother attempts suicide. All while I’m being told by my mother and family since I was 5 that there was something wrong with me because I had ADHD and if I didn’t behave I would become so much trouble, that no one would want me around. Let’s not even get into the toxic dynamics of my mothers side of the family who used verbal abuse as a motivator, or a family that pretended to be loyal to each other but then secretly talked shit behind each others backs.

I had a nervous breakdown at 15 and was hospitalized for 3 months.

That was just my childhood.

My adult life was simply a continuation of that stress. I did a 2 yr mission for my church at 19 in the Dakotas just to get away from my family and because it was expected of me. Before I came back home I was so stressed that I was defecating at sonic speeds. When I got home my room had been taken over by someone else and I was forced to sleep on the floor.

The next 20 years was a whirlwind of stress. I jumped from job to job only being able to hold one for 4 to 6 months at a time. I took care of my ageing grandmother who was showing signs of Alzheimer’s but no one believed me. She was mean and cruel and had become worse since my grandfather had died. After 10 years I stopped looking after her and told the rest of my family that she was their responsibility. They put her in a nursing home within the first year. At the same time I had married my girlfriend and got her pregnant by accident. I wasn’t ready to be a father, but it was happening. My girlfriends father gave us a house that we couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage of, and yelled at us every month for not paying it. I stayed home with our daughter and my wife continued her career as a pet groomer.

My marriage wasn’t going well. We were growing apart from each other and fighting more. Because I didn’t have a job I felt as many women out there have felt time and time again. Stuck. I felt that I had nothing, no one to help and to fall back on when times were hard. I drank alcohol a LOT and smoked cannabis A LOT to try and make it thru my days. I neglected my daughters education, we struggled to make ends meet, and I felt responsible as the “man of the house” for it all. So I began to shut down inside and stuff my feelings of self hatred, anger, and disappointment in myself, so that I didn’t break down every single day.

Then one day someone gave me some MDMA otherwise known as Molly or Ecstasy for the second week in a row. MDMA is a drug that is supposed to over stimulate the dopamine and serotonin receptors in your brain creating a feeling of euphoria. When I first took it, I felt everything that you were supposed to feel on the drug. The second time a week later however, lead to a huge panic attack. Something that’s not supposed to be able to happen. I became white as a ghost. I couldn’t move. The only feeling that I had was INTENSE fear. I was frozen. I couldn’t respond to anyone.

It was the first in MANY anxiety/panic attacks to come. I would learn later through therapy that this was my bodies way of telling me “enough”. It couldn’t deal with the decades of stress that I was constantly sweeping under the rug and ignoring. It had built up to such a degree, that I had normalized it and couldn’t recognize it. That’s when I decided to go to therapy. Within that first year of therapy, my wife and I separated. I had to leave my daughter behind with a cruel mother who never respected her autonomy and constantly put her down. It was hard to do, but I had to because I couldn’t afford to bring her with me, as much as I so deeply wanted too, and I needed to heal.

Fortunately this was when things started to get better. I found my now girlfriend of the last 10 years, and it became the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had in my life. My daughter eventually moved in with us. I continued therapy and learned to deal with a lot of personal issues.

Back to last night…

“I didn’t used to be like this.” I thought to myself quietly. I wondered why I had such a hard time holding my emotions back when I was stressed? I used to be stoic and tough. Now I was feeling weak and overwhelmed.

And then I realized something. An epiphany or sorts.

I realized that although I had dealt with my stress in therapy and how to deal with what had happened. I never learned to deal with stress in a healthy way while it was happening. I had only learned how to deal with it afterwards. I realized that my life had been full of stress. From a young age onwards. I had normalized stress in my life and had only learned to push it down and deal with it afterwards.

I felt like an old rusty bucket that couldn’t hold the sands of stress anymore. That over time, I had filled and dumped and filled that bucket with stress so many times, that it had weakened it to the point that it couldn’t hold the sand any longer.

I told my girlfriend this and she said something very wise, “Isn’t is a good thing that you can’t push it down and hide it anymore?”

She’s right. That is a good thing.

So now I’m considering going back to therapy to learn to deal with stress as it’s happening. Something I’ve avoided my entire life.

Life is a journey of self discovery. Some discoveries take us our whole lives to learn. There’s so much emphasis on “moving forward”, and being “productive”, that more often then not, we race past the lessons that we need to learn to be healthy individuals.

I never learned to deal with stress as it’s happening. I don’t think it’s too late now.

It’s never too late. Is it?

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