Dan was a succcess in every sense of the word. To the average observer this young man had already achieved everything most people think they might want: comfortable home, loving wife, some modest investments that were starting to work — all neatly wrapped in an obsessive, insatiable need to work ten to twelve hours a day in a job where he listened to people spill their guts, share their dreams, confess their iniquities, and plead for his help. Dan was good at providing that help — that was the problem. He was, perhaps, too good.
Perhaps it’s best to let Dan tell the story in his own words:
“I was strong physically and mentally. I knew I was pushing the envelope with the intensity of my work, but I was confident that I could make a success of it, even though I was counseling people with the same tendencies toward burning the candle at both ends while I looked for creative ways to burn it in the middle also. I lived in full denial that I, too, might have a problem.
“Then, as it happens with so many people, I crossed that invisible line between living a whole, healthy life and what I would probably now call ‘temporary insanity.’ Not in the clinical sense, perhaps, but certainly a life that was out of control to the point of not knowing who I was, where I was, or what I was doing.
“I started drinking on weekends. Not much at first; just enough to take away the tension. The alcohol numbed my hurts, even as it numbed my spirit. I had crossed the line.
“I became hypervigilant — a time bomb ticking off the minutes until it explodes. I couldn’t concentrate, and that’s when the depression began to set in. Everything about my life became distorted: I evaluated things as either completely good or totally bad and would either magnify or minimize the significance of an event. Perspective and a sense of balance had gone out the window.
“We no longer invited friends over to visit. Our once active social life went to zero. All the time, I kept drinking — not just on weekends, but now every night. Still, I was able to maintain the same hectic schedule of seeing people with similar problems. In a crazy sort of way I was probably even more effective in helping them through their challenges. After all, I could relate.
“However, I was becoming more isolated and aloof. I certainly wanted to escape, but I didn’t know how. I was slowly deteriorating in body and soul, perched on the precarious edge of emotional exhaustion. My marriage stayed together because my wife never left me, although it was an option she had many reasons to choose. We were two well-educated, sincere young people who were putting ourselves through a refining, fiery furnace of chaos that would ultimately help shape us into the persons were were designed by God to be. But burning out the dross, the misplaced ego, and my desire to be a little god was difficult and painful. There were times when I feared the anger of my wife toward me — and God — would push her over the edge. Thank God that didn’t happen. But it was a close call.”
Can you relate to the stress and the denial of stress about which Dan has been talking? Do you sometimes feel that you must manage it all, feel it all, be responsible for it all, and out-perform others as you do it all? At times do you isolate yourself from others and engage in activities such as drinking, overeating, or overshopping that keep you separate, alone, and aloof from friends, colleagues, and people who honestly care about you? Is it becoming harder for you to get up in the morning? Do you frequently burst into tears, not knowing why? Do you feel there’s never enough time to finish your work?
If your answer is yes to some of these questions, you are not alone. Millions suffer from ulcers,high blood pressure, tension, and addictions brought on by an inability to work through stress and recognize burnout before it starts to take its terrible toll on their lives.
You don’t have to be an air-traffic controller, lawyer, NFL football coach, cop on the beat, or the President of the United States to have stress. We all have it. But stress isn’t what hurts, maims,and kills; it’s how you and I handle it — before it becomes exhaustion. And that’s what this book is all about.
Next Tuesday — Part II of Dan’s story.
SOURCE: Chapter 1: “Coming Apart at the Seams” in How to De-Stress Your Life by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.