I went to a dentist in February for the first time in I don’t even know how many years. It’s ridiculous, really. I’ve had dental insurance for over a year and a half, but I was scared of what they would say to me, so I kept putting it off. When I finally went, the news wasn’t as bad as I expected: only three cavities, and those pretty minor. My wisdom teeth will be coming out next week, but at least they didn’t take one look and say, “Call the surgeon, stat! We’ve got a rotten tooth about to turn into a brain infection here.” The wisdom teeth thing is an unfinished saga, so I’ll save that for another day, but the cavities I had done in short order after my exam and there’s an amusing story in there.
Maybe three or four days after having my cavities drilled and filled, I woke up to discover that the tip of my tongue had gone numb, almost as if I had burned it. It wasn’t painful, exactly but certainly disconcerting.
I think I’ve been a bit stressed of late. I mean, I know I’ve been stressed. I more or less abandoned a blog that I’ve been intrepidly plugging away at in spite of a low readership for more than two years, and believe it or not, I love obsessing about my life and attempting to spin the details into stories that will garner a chuckle or two from my grandmother and mother-in-law. I’ve hardly touched my guitar in three months, and I haven’t even pulled my ukulele out of the case in six. My sourdough is more sour than usual because I haven’t been working with it on a regular basis. All of these things I love, I’ve put aside because one person can only do so much, and I just haven’t had the will or the energy.
I had forgotten, however, just how different stress feels from not-stress. Stress is one of those things that changes your quality of life in slow, subtle ways, like putting a frog in a pot of comfortable water and putting it on to boil at a low heat. You don’t notice the incremental changes in your well-being until they’ve transformed you from a banjo-strumming green nudist into Doc Hopper’s French-fried dinner.
Last week I had the first real vacation I’ve had in a long time. My program schedule is tied to the school schedule, so of course I get Monday holidays and in-service days off, and I have more vacations in a year than most people would know what to do with, but in all that alleged time off, I have had Stuff To do for Other People (questionably by appropriately acronymized, STOP). Not unpleasant stuff, really, and not so much from anyone person that their desire to borrow my time could be questioned, but enough from enough people that my vacations have felt claustrophobic. When I have had time, it’s been so cold and dreary that I didn’t want to go anywhere, which led to a claustrophobic vacation of my own making that did not do its job. If you never vacate your apartment, it’s not really a vacation, is it?
But last week, the weather was warm and inviting. The grass was green. My obligations to others were so minimal as to be all but nonexistent. I didn’t even have the pressures of my book hanging over my head because I just finished a major rewrite and the book is now locked away until July so I can get some distance and perspective on it. I literally had nothing to do except walk in the park, read, pick away at some short stories I had relegated to the back burner, and generally relish the sense of being unfettered for a week. I didn’t even make myself exercise, beyond those gorgeous park walks, or do housework. I just plain chilled until I was on that pleasant edge of boredom where you haven’t yet crossed into despair at your own uselessness. It was marvelous. Monday morning came, and for the first time since September, I woke up before my alarm feeling rested and not miserable at getting up at such an unholy hour.
Driving home on Monday, I noticed something. My left eye was twitching. I frowned and considered the past week. The eye twitching thing has been intermittent most of my life, and in the last year or so it’s become much more regular. During my vacation, however, the eye twitching hadn’t made a single appearance. Yesterday, as I was driving to a meeting, I noticed that the tip of my tongue was feeling a bit numb and sore. This too, has become a regular occurrence over the past three months, but I had chalked it up to some weird reaction my mouth was having to the new topography of my teeth-after-three-fillings. Again, however, during my vacation my tongue felt good and normal and whole.
Apparently, stress is also a wolf lurking at the edge’s of the campfire’s light, ready to pounce on that pot of boiling frog the second the illumination of rest starts to fade. One day back at work, and my nervous ticks that I hadn’t even registered as nervous ticks before were back in full force.
All I can say to this is (1) it’s a shame I’m not really able to tell the short and squeaky sources of my stress what they’re doing to me, for fear of giving them long-term anxiety issues and (2) I am really looking forward to June 21st. Part-time employment may not be a permanently sustainable situation, but I am going to rock it while I can.