Western medicine loves to change its mind from day to day about what's good for us and what's not, as if health were a spring fashion line. However, there's one item that has always consistently gotten the thumbs down. Stress has always been seen as something that will do in our quantity and quality of life.
I get that now.
There was an infamous visit to a holistic doctor a few years back that involved a test of my adrenal glands and the amount of stress I was experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. I remember something about an assistant swabbing my abdomen with some yellow stuff, and a timer to see how long before the smear disappeared. The absorption rate was an indication of how hard the adrenals were working and the norm was somewhere around a couple of minutes.
My belly was back to pale pink in under ten seconds. I still remember the look of astonishment on the doctor's face, and how normally she had such a blank expression. "Is this good or bad?" I asked. "Let's put it this way," she said, "most people who have overworked adrenal glands think that danger is around every corner. You see the tiger right in your face."
She was not the first person to point this out. Back then, I thought life was a constant set of problems to micromanage to avoid bigger problems that grew far-reaching roots. Good stuff happened in the middle of the crises. Frankly, when I hit a good spot where my brain was shut off and I could actually be fully present, I was surprised, and it never, ever lasted more than a day. Even then, I thought it was some special gift. It didn't enter my crowded thinking that anyone actually lived with peace on a regular basis.
I had lived my entire life like that and really didn't know what any other way felt like. I was way too busy trying to anticipate the future and then manipulating what might happen. Imagine how much angst can be created trying to cover the future. That doctor's visit was the beginning of some real change for me. I started with self-help seminars and books, which was a great gateway but really, I was still trying to fix the future like some kind of psychic super woman. If I kept searching, I just knew the solution for a permanent kind of peace was out there.
OK, so I was right, just not in the way I had predicted.
Eventually, the search wore me out as well. I wasn't quite as stressed out but I wasn't really making progress, either. In my attempts to get what I wanted when I wanted, and insure I didn't lose anything in the meantime, I had left everyone else out of the process. I wasn't very good at asking for help, much less using it, and I was even worse at being humble.
Finally, after trying every kind of guru and self-help idea out there, I stopped searching for a quick fix and gave in to the idea of prayer. Not begging, pleading or demanding, which isn't prayer, but prayer as a way to remind myself that God is present and I can be of service.
For months, my anxiety levels remained near my hair line because I wasn't practicing any of my old behaviors to try and control a situation. And, not everything was going the way I thought it should, which only increased my angst. But, I kept taking a moment to pray whenever it all got to be too much. I mean, it's free, it's simple and it was worth a try.
Over time, things actually started to get better in every area of my life and in ways I could not have forced into place. I was able to not only see opportunities but let go of what didn't work out with grace and ease. I stopped believing life was happening to me, and was able to be present till I woke up one morning and realized I had nothing left to complain about in my life. I'm not saying everything is hunky dory, just that I'm OK, and I know it. I can see my life for what it is and be grateful, instead of trying to make it into something else.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.