I’m back. I think. I am plotting my return from a self-imposed writing hiatus brought to yours truly by something more debilitating than plain-Jane writer’s block; word block. I am no stranger to this odd communication phenomenon. It is so familiar I can tell the signs of its impending arrival much like a tickle in the throat sends us to the pharmacy for some vitamin C and cold medicine. My mind goes blank in mid-conversation, I can’t remember simple words like “dog,” “car, or “beer.” The names of people I see everyday become completely foreign. Simple conversation becomes painful as I struggle to find not just the right words, but any word. I develop a stutter and shut down to hide this inarticulate stranger I become. My most recent struggle with word block was especially painful because I thought I was doing a good job managing what brings about these symptoms, stress, but apparently was not doing as well as I thought.
For most Americans stress-management is as foreign as eating sushi for breakfast; it’s just not done here. Americans could easily be categorized as stress-junkies. Our culture pushes people to take on more; more responsibilities, more debt, more projects, more stuff. It is common-place for people to brag about how busy they are, as if who can fit more into a single day is the ultimate badge of honor. Enjoying a lazy day of doing nothing is tantamount to treason. Who is putting in more hours at work? Who is skipping on vacations and time with family and friends because there is far too much to get done? Who is over-volunteering for a club, a charity, or organization when they barely have time for themselves?
The word block freight train signals that some stressor in my life needs to be dealt with. Addressing the cause of my communication issues often eliminates the block altogether but this time was different. There was nothing I could pinpoint as causing my block. All the things that historically kept me from reaching my upper-stress limits were actively in place; regular workouts, time to read, quality time with people I love, and red wine. Although I was actively engaged in de-stressors, some stress caused me to lose my normally eloquent self.
Eventually I was able to pinpoint what the cause of my stress was; the world around me. Sure, that might seem like a generalistic copout but you can’t turn on the TV, radio, or computer without hearing about the difficult time we live in. Skyrocketing unemployment, plummeting home values, and raging wars caused me to stress out through some type of media osmosis. Reading the paper, watching the news, sympathizing with out of work friends brought on survivors guilt. I still (as of “print” time) have my job. I still have my home. I still have 3 meals a day. I still have healthcare. I still have stability in a world where increasing numbers of people don’t.
Survivor’s guilt is not the only reason for stress. As many corporate survivors will tell you after a layoff, there is incredible pressure to take on more, do more, and demonstrate more value. Employers demand that “survivors” pick up the slack so they can squeeze more out of a smaller workforce, using tough economic times to get more for less. We are told repeatedly that we are lucky to have our jobs, even if those jobs are no longer what we “signed-up” for. Too many find themselves overworked and under appreciated yet unable to express those feelings for fear of losing our jobs.
To weather my stress storm it is important to keep reminding myself that my life isn’t as bad as the media wants me to believe. My home value is in the toilet but we aren’t planning to sell anytime soon. My 401K is shot but I am decades away from retirement. The industry I work for might change dramatically in the upcoming years but the skillset I have translates well to any and all industries. There are many things I could lose if the economy keeps plummeting, but in the grand scheme of things it is those things that I can never lose that are most important to me; the love of my family, my close friends, my education, and my life experiences.