Most of us don’t know how to manage our stress. My tools from early high school were positive thinking and just being tough. With these, I thought that I could do whatever I set out to do and get through any difficult circumstance. I would not allow myself to get angry. I did not even know what anxiety was. No one could hurt me. Or so I thought.
My first wife, who I started dating in medical school, used to refer to me as “the brick.” I could put a wall around anything. From her perspective, it was not complimentary. However, I took it as a compliment, as perverse as that seems now.
When I was in medical school, my summers and breaks would be spent working construction. Most of this consisted of framing, pouring, and finishing concrete slabs as well as doing some finish carpentry. One summer afternoon, I was framing on a hot day in Napa valley. I had not gotten much sleep the night before. It was one on my personal goals to consistently sink a 16-penny nail with two swings of the hammer and occasionally one. While I was bent over holding a stud against the floor plate, I took a full swing with my 28-ounce framing hammer. On the way down, it glanced off an upright piece of plastic plumbing. The hammer landed squarely on my left thumb. My boss was standing about ten feet to my right. The pain was so intense I almost passed out. I stood up, looked at my mangled thumb from the serrations on the hammer, wrapped it up in a rag, and went back to work without a word. My boss thought I was out of my mind. In retrospect, I probably was. In my mind at the time, I was really tough.
Being tough, however, in the big picture of life, does not yield a fully satisfying life; there is a price to pay. Being tough is actually a variant of positive thinking. Positive thinking is not a good solution to life’s stresses. It is akin to pushing a rock up an endless hill. Eventually, you just get worn out. It is particularly true in the presence of chronic pain.
With the combination of positive thinking, suppressing negative thinking, and being programmed that material possessions will make us happy, we become focused on the positive side of stress management. We either don’t or choose not to look at the open drain of anxiety and anger.
In 1988, I started to go into a depression, although I did not recognize it at the time. By 1990, I started to develop severe anxiety reactions that progressed into full-blown panic attacks. I partially pulled out of it around 1993, but under severe stress, I relapsed around early 1996. By 1997, I had progressed into full obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is the ultimate anxiety disorder. By 2001, I was seriously suicidal. My darkness was complete. I had two physician friends whose fathers had committed suicide during their teenage years, and the son’s lives were severely impacted. I simply made a decision not to abandon my son. By 2003, I had pulled out of it in a dramatic way, and I have been given a second chance at a life at a level that I could not visualize prior to that time. Everything I am sharing with you I have learned through an extremely harsh experience.
I feel strongly that if I had been taught these stress management principles in high school or college, my life would have been dramatically different. These tools will give you a dramatic paradigm shift, and I am committed to helping you make that transition.