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.
There I sat on the edge of the examining table, feeling a breeze on my backside as I waited for the doctor. I was extremely nervous and thought that I should have made this appointment long ago. The door knob turned, and the moment I saw my doctor's comforting smile, I broke down and sobbed.
I was bloated and waking up suddenly with stomach pains and diarrhea. I was heavier than ever and I lacked the energy to do something about it. I couldn't sleep through the night and my hair was falling out in chunks.
Even before I shared these symptoms, my naturopath took both of my hands in hers and said, "Tell me what's going on." Those five words gave me permission to open the flood gates that had been holding back my extreme stress. My sobbing continued, until I could finally choked out the words to explain why I was there.
I was worried for my son. He was exhibiting extreme behavior problems at school and at home. Things were quickly going from bad to worse! Although I was an experienced teacher, I didn't know how to help him.
My naturopath listened while I shared my darkest fears and then she gave me some great advice. "The first thing you must do is to help yourself! Remember, you aren't any good to him if you are broken."
As most parents, I was used to being stressed. I was working fulltime and trying to be the best parent that I could be. I had experienced the loss of a pet, family health scares, and endured a tumultuous adoption where for eight months; we lived in complete uncertainty. All of these experiences had been terrible, but this was different.
Along with the physical symptoms, it was clear that my emotional state was off. I knew it wasn't normal to break down if the dishwasher was full of clean dishes when I wanted to load all the dirty ones.
After a long appointment, I walked out of the office with a plan. First, I needed blood work done to confirm the deficiencies that my doctor predicted. Then, I needed to find a qualified family therapist.
As expected, my test results showed that I was lacking in vitamins B12 and D and that my thyroid was out of whack. After reviewing the numbers, my doctor was shocked that I was functioning as well as I had been. Once I started the supplements, I started to feel human again. I had forgotten the "real me" buried under all the emotions and anxiety.
Not long after, we found a wonderful therapist that helped tremendously. We learned strategies that would help our family communicate better and that gave my son skills for uncomfortable situations at school. It took a great deal of cooperation and educating but finally, the school staff began to see my son not for his past mistakes, but his new potential!
In addition to the family therapist, I scoured the internet looking for blogs or parenting books that could provide additional insight. During my search, I stumbled upon a book (Bright Not Broken by Diane Kennedy and Rebecca Banks) that finally explained my son's struggles. We learned that my son was twice-exceptional. This meant that his very high IQ leads to boredom at school, and his equally extreme low social skills and sensory issues only make the problem worse.
This information helped me realize that it truly was harder to parent my son! It wasn't my imagination and it certainly wasn't because I was a terrible mother. Looking back, I wouldn't have been able to search for answers on the internet, if I hadn't figured out my medical issues that got in the way.
It's been almost two years since that doctor's appointment. I continue to take my supplements and monitor my own stress level. We saw the family therapist until this fall and then stopped because most of our "issues" had disappeared; however, we still use her strategies on the toughest days. Overall, my son had a great year at school!
Another success that came out of this struggle was my blog. I now write about the unique challenges of parenting a twice-exceptional child. This has provided me with a tremendous outlet and a sense of community that I didn't know was present in the blogosphere.
What would I have done differently? I wished that I had asked for help sooner!
To all of you that add more to your "to do" list than anyone can humanly handle, give yourself a break! At some point, it might be time to throw your hands up in the air and shout, "I give up! I can't do it all!" If you suspect that your stress is not "normal", please call your doctor.
Here's what I know now: we all feel better when we manage our stress. When I take my supplements, I can focus on the positive things in my life, the same way that I want my son to approach his day. We have learned to schedule less on the weekends and we turn off the tv while we eat dinner so that we can share the struggles and the celebrations of our day.
So I ask you: What do you do, so that you aren't broken?
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.