Last weekend, I was feeling wonderful, and I was marveling that so many areas of my life were in the place I wanted them to be. My career has had some major recent breakthroughs in long-desired areas, my hobbies have begun to rear their heads more often in my busy life, my friendships are rewarding and pervasive, and my children are happy and healthy, weathering life’s storms in the ways I have hoped they would — for the most part.
Then my oldest son totaled his car on Sunday morning, with my two younger children with him at the time. The accident was completely his fault, and he managed to also take out another car that was towed away, with — luckily — no injuries to the three lovely women in that car who were headed to church.Although very angry, I managed to note that I was exceptionally grateful that no one had been injured. However, the scene of the accident began to overtake my thinking after my initial gratitude. In fact, pieces of my son’s car are still on the busy intersection where he took a badly-judged left turn into oncoming traffic. I couldn’t shop for groceries this week without encountering the site and asking myself, “What if he’d killed one of his siblings — his best friends?” “What if he’d killed someone else, and was facing manslaughter charges today instead of packing for college?” “What if I’d lost every one of my children in the blink of an eye?” I didn’t sleep for the next 24 hours, while we worked out a punishment to fit the crime of immaturity, recklessness and bad judgment.
Then my son graduated from high school on Tuesday night.
I was elated despite my mood and his shifting moods, because it was an important and well-earned milestone in his life, and we celebrated until almost midnight at a steak house. That late night crept into my exhaustion, though, and I slept through another scheduled swim practice, which I desperately need for emotional equilibrium. Within another 48 hours, my son was in trouble again, and came home in the middle of the night with a badly-sprained ankle that could jeopardize his swimming scholarship, which he has spent nine years pursuing with intensity bordering on insanity. He’d gotten the injury by being careless while stealing traffic cones and street signs with his best friend. The cones have all been returned, but it was another indicator of bad judgment, and my anger escalated again. The punishment quadrupled, and so did my bad mood.
My perceived quality of life had plummeted within five days from excellent to dismal, and I did what any self-respecting, cortisol-ridden, furious parent would do. I escaped. Facing writing deadlines for my upcoming book, “I’m Still Caroline” (Gurze 2008), I did a Priceline bid and got a lovely hotel room fifteen minutes from my house for a song where I’m happily ensconced while calming down, reframing my life, forgiving my son, doing yoga, and bringing balance back into my life. My children are being well-cared for by their dad, who admits that he’s not on the parenting front lines like I am, and everyone is much happier as a result.
Why am I writing about this topic?
Because I rank creativity, love, relationships with children and health very highly in my own life, I felt a huge drop in my quality of life this week. Every one of these areas was seriously impacted by the series of accidents and arguments we had, and my self-care deteriorated. With proper self-care — such as rest, exercise, proper nutrition, prayer, and adherence to familiar routines, we can better find happiness and bring it to others. Ethical lapses tend to occur when a clinician’s self-care was particularly poor.
A fascinating article in last weekend’s Sunday New York Times “Play” magazine, which is devoted to the topics of sports, noted that something called, “Fatigue Factor” is the “single strongest statistical finding” ever found to explain how throwing too many pitches can destroy a young pitcher’s arm. In fact, a study by the American Sports Medicine Institute shows that pitchers between the ages of 16 and 20 who often throw with arm fatigue are 36 times more likely to be seriously injured than those who do not.”
Fatigue Factor is something that must be addressed whether you are a pitcher or a working mom who has simply gone beyond her limits in terms of stress. If you want to have happiness, you must take steps to care for yourself in some type of immediate way, whether it’s a $41 night at a hotel, an emergency call to a set of best friends, a timeout from a relationship, or something else.
As I write this, I’m feeling better. I’m back in touch with more compassion, zest, perspective and joy than I had 24 hours ago. I will make progress towards valued goals this weekend instead of feeling exhausted, demoralized, and overwhelmed. I will make a comprehensive list of goals for next week and will be realistic about the fact that stress will probably return in a variety of ways, but that I have tools in my toolbox to address them.
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