Today, I was in a meeting, and an 88 year old man was talking about the stressors in his life and how he has managed to handle them. In the process of sharing he said something like, “Stress will get you pain; stress will get you cancer; and stress will get you dead.” On a day like today, when I was feeling a considerable amount of stress about some of the changes that are in the very near future, I was reminded of the seriousness of stress. Being a black woman, who is threatened everyday with harmful expressions (particularly of maleness and whiteness), I know that notwithstanding those threats, stress can be just as deadly, if not more.
Of course, I have carried my share of of stress in my lifetime. However, I have suffered the worst when I have taken on the stress of others, specifically when I took on other peoples’ pain. On the one hand, it is good to have compassion for others, and it is good to be there in times of need. On the other hand, I also know people who are going through stress because of self-destructive thinking and behaviors. Indeed, my upbringing has taught me to be there for others and to show empathy. But, when I show more care and compassion for those who are not willing or able to take care of themselves (and with a little honesty and effort on their part they could or should be able to take care of themselves), then I suffer from their stress, while meanwhile they seem to go along as if nothing is wrong. It is hard to see others’ struggle, but it is even harder to watch someone who is under considerable stress and in denial.
I was grateful to be reminded today that “stress will get you dead” by someone who has lived through more than eight decades of stress. I appreciated his honesty and his vulnerability, and his ability to tell those of us who are younger that it shouldn’t take eighty plus years to learn how to handle stress. Stress is an everyday part of life, and I am willing to take on my stress, the stress that belongs to me. But, what I have to remember is that I do not have to take on any body else’s stress, and especially not when they are not able or conscious enough to admit that they are in trouble and suffering with their own stressors. Taking on their stress when for one reason or another they are inept or unable to even name their stress is, in fact, something that will get me dead; and it is a stress that I simply cannot afford.
© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.