In a world where being calm is rated as the 10 of psychological beauty, I might be about a 2. Maybe a 3 when I have a fever. It’s not that I’m normally frantic, but I need some combination of action and expression to feel my own version of relaxed. I discovered many years ago that “trying to be calm” actually makes me physically ill. I know there are diagnoses for this, and probably medication. Isn’t there a diagnosis for every personality type? I would prefer to work with the dynamics of my personality and not let others define me.
When I say I got ill, I mean I developed severe abdominal pain that left me incapacitated. This sometimes involved writhing in agony and significant nausea. It didn’t start happening until my college days, when I moved away from home. At such times of life, there is a confusing swirl of new environments, new independence, and new social interactions. It was not clear if I was succumbing to germs, stretching my body’s limits, or needed to avoid the school cafeteria. Well, I’m pretty sure I needed to avoid the cafeteria, regardless, but that turned out not to be the main problem.
The problem was that God did not have zen calm in mind when He made me. Trying to ignore my sense of energy to get things done, or my drive to express what I am experiencing was like trying to bottle up a volcano. A fairly small volcano, but it left a fire in the pit of my stomach nonetheless.
Recognizing that I did not need to feel guilty for living life with intensity was the first step in healing. Next, I had to figure out how to channel my intensity into worthwhile outlets. It wasn’t a matter of needing or wanting to yell at people, you know, “to express myself.” That is overrated, destructive, and unfulfilling past the initial scream.
It also was not a desire for chaotic motion or frenzied activity. In order for the flow of energy to be pain free, it had to be directed. And by me. I had to not only take the tiger by the tail, so to speak, but tame it and ride it.
By now, you may be getting a mental picture of a squirrel on caffeine, but I can assure you that I avoid caffeine! And I rarely throw nuts at anyone. I do even regularly sit and concentrate for time periods on a variety of projects, like sewing or writing. However, one reason I can do it is that I enjoy the intensity of concentration, interspersed, of course, with satisfying interludes of motion to do anything from cleaning the house to running a few miles to pulling weeds. I actually really like pulling weeds.
I only very rarely have these episodes of abdominal pain now. When I do, I just need to take a few moments to identify what factors in my life I am attempting to sublimate, or have somehow missed as needing expression. Sometimes it is something I had not consciously been aware I was concerned about. It is noteworthy that I did not have any of this trouble when one of our daughters was sick with what turned out to be terminal cancer. I knew exactly how to channel my energy into that.
Fittingly with my self-diagnosis, the problem has never been that I am trying to do “too much,” or that I need “less stress” in my life. Who knows what that really means, anyway? Life IS stress, by definition. The problem has always been when I am trying to be someone else’s version of calm or relaxed. I NEED to crochet while I watch TV to relax. I NEED to play my flute and express my heart through music to unwind. I NEED to dance with abandon to express my joy. I NEED to put in words the things swirling in my mind, no matter if anyone else reads them or not.
Fortunately, my zen calm husband can work with this. He knows that I will take about 3 activity bags on a long drive. He will tolerate me turning on the light a couple times at night to write down those last thoughts that are bouncing in my skull. He does sometimes need to ask me to go back and complete the last three sentences, because they interrupted one another and I am sliding through different subjects in my head faster than I am adequately communicating. But, then, sometimes I need to ask him to talk at least some. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Once I drain those last words out of my head at night, or trick my brain by listening to an audio book, I usually sleep quite soundly. I do not have trouble sleeping, which is more evidence that this is not an issue of being “stressed with life.” Unless you ask me to be some cardboard version of calm, I can be quite relaxed while actively engaging in the rigors of life.