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Stress: The Silent Killer

Sitting on my couch, with my pooch, a hot cuppa tea and phone to ear is my new norm. Sounds great right? Yup! It is. But, this isn’t how it’s always been. In fact, only 12 months ago, my life looked very different.

12 months ago I was in a terrible place; lost, angry, just been prescribed mild anti-depressants to deal with anxiety and breakdowns (with was very new to me), stressed beyond words, and barely recognised the person I was becoming. I was in a toxic environment that was destroying me; literally. I knew something had to give, but I couldn’t catch a break.

So, in October last year, after a lengthy consultation with my doctor, I took a week stress leave from work. I never thought I would be that person, but I finally decided that my health came before how I thought I would be treated because of it. Plus, I’d kind of given up caring by this point. It didn’t fix anything, but it gave me a week away to regroup and try and figure out my next step. It wouldn’t have been two weeks later that I was called in for an interview for a new role. I was nervous beyond nervous because so much was riding on me getting this job; to the point of being an absolute mess the morning of.

But, three interviews later and countless prayers to the big guy upstairs, I caught my break. I was offered the job.. on my birthday no less. Best. Present. EVER. 

For the first time in ages I felt like I could breathe again. Until I resigned the following week and I realised the enormity of the stress I’d been harbouring for the last nine or so months. Two days after resignation, it hit me like a bus. I was so sick I could barely move. I spent seven hours of the first day on the shower floor, because I simply could not lift my head or move and the hot water was my only saving grace. On top of that, my heart rate was all over the place, my temperature didn’t know whether it was Arthur or Martha, and I was so physically sick that I was drinking more water than one person should in a day (yes, I drank 9L – eek) because I constantly thirsty. Early evening that same day, I called for an SOS; and my beautiful friends came running with powerade, hydralites and bread (not that I could keep anything down).

The following day I was somewhat better, so thought I should try and log in and get some work done, while still lying in bed, but I felt so bad because I only had a week to sort everything out before leaving. But by mid-afternoon, it all come crashing down again. Back to the shower floor I go. By 3am the next morning I couldn’t take it, I was so tired, so sick and every part of my body (inside and out) was physically aching. So, I tried to call for a house doctor, which I was politely told there wasn’t one on call in my area – typical. By 6am, I knew something was really wrong so called a friend to take me down to the ED. Luckily for me, there was no one else waiting so I was admitted straight away. After hours of being poked and prodded, hooked up to machines, put through an MRI, and explaining my symptoms to four different doctors and countless nurses; I finally had some answers. I had a severe urinary tract infection, had completely flushed my body of sodium, magnesium and potassium, had a viral infection and somehow severally dehydrated myself (despite the amount of water I’d consumed days earlier) to the point I had acute kidney damage.

16 hours later, litres upon litres of drips, antibiotics and a couple of hours sleep; I almost felt like a normal person and for the first time in three days I was able to keep a sandwich down; at which time I was allowed to go home (on doctors orders that I picked up some salty McDonalds chips on my way home; to start rebuilding my sodium levels – no joke!). It took another trip to the ED a couple of days later, but I go there (kind of) in the end, just in time for a major surgery I had booked in the following week – completely unrelated to the previous week. Yup! When it rains it pours.

When I look back at this experience, it makes me realise just how damaging ongoing stress can be and how much of a toll a toxic environment takes on our bodies (and minds). It turns out i’m not the invincible being I thought I was – who knew?! From then on, I vowed that I would never let myself get to this point again and have had to make a conscience effort every day to follow through on this promise to myself.

So, when I decided I was going to go out on my own and work for myself; this was in the back of my mind constantly. I knew I wouldn’t be in a toxic environment anymore, but I didn’t want to fall back into old habits. But, working for myself has actually opened a whole new level to life I never knew existed. The freedom and flexibility it has provided me has not only improved my mental and physical health three fold, but I can honestly say that in this moment I am the happiest, and healthiest, I have been in a very long time. The best part is, I’ve learnt more in the past 4 months than I have in the past 4 years. I’ve always loved what I do, but now I LOVE what I do… with a lot less stress in my life.

It’s inevitable that we will all have some level of stress in our lives; it’s learning to manage that stress and not let it take hold of you and your life is the important take away. If you are struggling, please remember to stop, breathe and reach out and talk to someone; whether it be a friend, family member or professional. My door (and inbox) is always open. Remember it’s ok not to be ok. And more importantly, it’s ok to talk about it.