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Stress Management, A Memoir

The daily challenges of life can always cause one to encounter stress. You name it, between bills, maintaining a household, if you have children and their schedule, the daily grind at work, your boss and/or co-workers, maintaining your own sanity in that business setting and then carrying it at home, there’s plenty of reasons as to why stress takes over our lives. This is why stress management is entirely crucial.

My story with stress management isn’t a simple one, it’s rather dynamic, extensive, and rough. It started in the spring of 2006. It was my siblings (three of them), my parents, and I. Mom had news that she had just visited her primary care physician, stated they did blood-work only to find that she had been diagnosed with a type of leukemia called Chronic Mylogenous Leukemia. Now, with this blood disease, it’s caused by a mutation in the Philadelphia chromosome within your genetic code. Usually, symptoms of this disease don’t develop later in life which happen to mimic flu-like symptoms, but they’re consistent like allergies. Usually goes hand-in-hand with being immunodeficient so most patients are extremely cautious as to where they go and what they do.
Throughout my high school career, a normal week for me was attending school at 7:25 am through 2:16pm, Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s were usually two-a-day swim practices, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s were somewhat of a break. However, throw in some trips to The Rogel Cancer Center at The University of Michigan’s Medical Center, with Mom, on those days, then come home around 6/7pm, eat dinner, study until 11pm, then start the whole vicious cycle all over again. Most days, I had the worst time getting out of bed but fussed through it. I would find time in the middle of classes, if I was caught up in my coursework, to go brush my teeth in the bathroom and get some deodorant on. I was suffering from depression and exhaustion from 15-18 years old. To say I was a non-traditional high school student is an understatement.

I had graduated high school and then was graciously accepted by The University of Michigan, had a very successful freshman year and loved everything I was learning. It wasn’t until the following year, two weeks into my sophomore year, getting ready to crank out the 18 credits I had signed up for, Mom had been airlifted from a hospital in Flint to Ann Arbor, placed in their ICU and within 48 hours had died.
She had caught pneumonia and that’s all it took.
At 19 years old, the walls that I classified as my safety net completely fell around me and I became lost. The world immediately became this dark, unknown, place, that I had started to exist in. The process of grief brings on a lot of stress, as a whole. There are multiple different phases that I went through; most people go through similar phases if not the exact same ones. I had made the hard decision to drop out of school, come and be with the family. It’s taken me about 5 years to go through the process of grief, as a whole. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the amount of resilience I have built up over the years. Just when you think you don’t have the strength to be strong, life has a way of proving that you can.

My successes in stress management started with identifying the stressor. Where did it stem from? What caused it to be present? Elimination was the second step; a bit more challenging but manageable nonetheless. If I knew anything well in this world, it was that my time is precious and that energy spent on things that weren’t worth it, in the end, had to be eliminated from my thoughts and my life. If a stressor became too consuming, I’d take a step back, breathe deep, and then let it go. I found this to be important because it can manifest itself on a physical level. It can range anywhere from headaches, heart palpitations, restless sleep, fatigue, and similar symptoms. I certainly experienced these and it was entirely debilitating. If I had an enemy, I wouldn’t remotely wish them this kind of pain.

I firmly believe negativity doesn’t need to fill one’s space and time. Thirdly, the best thing I chose to do was to involve the things I loved into my life. The way I dealt with my mother’s passing was to involve myself with the cancer community. I had been surrounded by it for so long, it became an environment that I was extremely familiar with. Eventually, I had a meeting with Mom’s doctor, asked if I could shadow/intern with him for a time, I was given the green light, and in turn, learned so much more about oncology, as a whole, than I could have ever dreamed of. To this day, those experiences I carry with me everywhere. These skills are very much so present in my day-to-day life.
When it comes to stress, you are what you make of it. Mountains to mole hills, flames to ash, conquer it and never let it conquer you.

Written by: A. Joyner