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Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP Headshot

Stress -- Do You See It?

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Stress is all around you. Can you see it?

Or is stress all around you because you see it?

I ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and when I tell people I ride a motorcycle, they often want to tell me about someone they know who died on a motorcycle.

That's not something I really want to think about -- especially when I'm riding down the highway.

But people do this a lot. They choose to see the negative angle within any given set of circumstances rather than seeing the positive.

When it comes to managing stress, I believe there is more to the situation than meets the eye -- if we can just see it.

Two years ago, I was riding my Harley down four-lane divided highway when a man driving a pickup truck pulled out in front of me.

Instantly, because of my speed, I only saw two options. Option one, I could hit the truck. I determined that wasn't the preferred option. Option two, I could try to miss the truck by going around it and off the highway. I chose option two.

At 60 mph, I locked up both brakes and steered my skidding bike around the front end of the truck and onto the narrow shoulder of grass and gravel.

So far, so good, I remember thinking.

Then, I hit a thick patch of gravel and my front wheel turned sharply to the left. My bike flew off to the right without me on it. I kept going forward. I remembered my high school physics teacher talking about this law of physics but at the time, I couldn't recall the specifics. In fact, once I took flight, I didn't recall much of anything for a few seconds. Apparently, and I know this based on my research on AnybodyCanBeADoctor.com, when your mind thinks you're about to go through something it would rather not experience, it may just check out on you. Mine checked out.

I awoke a few seconds later sliding in the gravel. Lucky for me, I eventually stopped sliding. Unluckily, it was my face that stopped me. I jumped up to survey my injuries. Everything seemed to be still attached, thank goodness, but I suspected that my face was not in good shape. Some might argue that it wasn't in good shape before the accident but I'm referring to my physical injuries not my leading-man features, or lack thereof.

I had a large gash on my chin that would later require ten stitches, a pretty serious case of road rash on the rest of my face, and some wicked bruises on my shoulders and knees. I was definitely banged up. But I didn't die.

And this is where the critical mental choices came into play that helped me cope with the stress of the accident, a trip to the hospital, and both the mental and emotional recovery process.

I could have chosen to see the worst case scenario and to go to a dark place where I only focused on the fact that I almost died.

Or, I could choose to see another perspective.

I chose the latter and started looking for the bright spots amongst the dark spots. More specifically, I looked for funny things because, as a humorist, that's how my mind works.

The first thing I saw was that my motorcycle landed in front of a towing company. There was one less problem -- no towing charges.

The next thing I saw was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) who just happened to be standing in front of the towing company when the accident occurred.

He ran over to me and said, "Are you OK? What's your name? What day is it?"

It was an odd series of questions but I knew from my healthcare experience that he was trying to determine if I had a head injury.

I said, "Dude, my name is Ron and look at my chin (which was bleeding profusely). This gash doesn't really matter if it's Wednesday or Thursday."

I was actually quite proud of my quick retort.

Apparently, however, sarcasm is a sign of head trauma, because right after my comment, he made me lie down.

The ambulance eventually arrived and took me to the hospital. When the physician made his way to the exam room, he looked at me and said, "How's it going?"

I thought this was odd, considering it was an emergency room and my face looked like a Halloween mask.

I said, "Well, now I see how wise my father was when he used to tell me, 'Keep your chin up.'"

The doctor turned and left the room without even a raised eyebrow to acknowledge my perfectly timed bit of humor.

It was a setback, but I persevered.

Later when the nurse was cleaning my chin with sterile saline and what I believe was #4 sandpaper, I said, "After the facial, do you think I could get a pedicure?"

She laughed. The physician assistant laughed. And finally, the mood in my little corner of the ER changed as the fun banter began.

An hour or so later, I left the hospital sore, stitched up, and medicated. But one thing's for sure. I wasn't in a dark place.

Oh sure, deep down, I knew I almost died. And I had some pretty specific existential questions for my pastor a few days later. But overall, I was in a much better place than I could have been.

I believe it was a choice. And I believe we all have that choice.

There is stress all around us. And most of us see it. But I can't help wonder if there isn't something better to look at.