She sighed heavily and leaned into a splayed stack of junk mail on my kitchen countertop. “I can’t.” The words drifted wearily —in a flat line with no inflection.
The past months —years really— had included law suits, mental health issues, family division, death and a steady deadening of her marriage. She was taking in more nicotine than calories, and the constant stress had etched a pattern of pain across her attractive features, drawing the edges of her mouth into a perpetual frown.
“I just can’t.”
“You have to. When did you last see your doctor?”
She shrugged. “Need to, I know.” She coughed again. All ninety pounds of her. “My arm has been getting numb again.”
I felt angry. Sad. “You have to. For your little girls.”
But we both knew a doctor visit was unlikely to land on her schedule. Acting proactively required energy she could no longer access. She had been worn down to “reaction” mode —and it would take a small emergency.
“You’re getting buffeted by all this. The constant stress is like treading water in a choppy ocean. You have to either float over it all or find a place you can plant your feet.”
She looked at me. Defeated. “I can’t.”
“You have a choice.”
When you’re out of breath, it’s far easier to react to your environment than actively change it. And yet, often, we have to move to access the oxygen essential to fueling our future.
Stress —often a juxtaposition of expectation versus reality— is a given. None of us can predict the acts of others, circumstance, or even our own future feelings. But how we react to stress… that’s a choice. We can dog-paddle, tread water and gulp for air. We can float over it for a while —ignoring what isn’t truly critical. We can —at some point— stroke our way to where we can plant our feet and begin a redesign.
Choosing to choose is what move us from being observers of what happens in our life to actively participating in the direction it will take.
Floating (temporarily) can be a good choice. Planting your feet can be an excellent choice. Reacting to situations like a fishing bobber or swimmer treading water will exhaust, consume and deplete.