In as terse a way as possible, I would define stress as an inability to cope.
With this definition in mind it appears that I’ve not been looking after myself for the past 18 months, and my body is trying to tell me something.
This week, from last Sunday, I’ve come down with shingles. This is on top of the bout of hives that I’m still taking a daily cocktail of antihistamines (6 a day for the last 15 months or so) to defeat. The images accompanying this article are of me at my hivey height: at its very worst in June 2015, about a month after its initial onset. Fortunately, due to the medication, I haven’t had a single red-ring appear since April 2016, and once the prescribed course of tablets finish in April 2017 I’m hoping to remain red-ring free from then on.
Other than these two afflictions I’m in robust health; I am not immunocompromised, I exercise regularly, I eat a healthy diet. The doctors I’ve visited have pinned the onset of these irritants on one thing: stress.
If I skip back a decade, as a 23 year old I could cope with multiple conflicting priorities much better than I can now. I could context switch from one activity to another with relative ease, with little in the way of additional cognitive load. The tasks and projects didn’t even need to be connected: I could juggle a couple of software development projects alongside some video editing, alongside some sound editing, alongside attending training courses and alongside managing multiple projects at my day job. Sometimes I might have gotten a little bit anxious about my workload, but I never felt my capacity was anywhere near full or overflowing.
Today, this isn’t the case. As the years have whistled passed I’ve come to the conclusion that my golden number is two: that is, in a perfect world, I am permitted two projects, each of corresponding weight that form a conclusive whole. Any other projects vying for my attention should be shelved, delayed, delegated or abolished.
At the moment I’m over this target. I’m probably running at 5, maybe 6. I’ve got a mobile phone app I’m working on, that’s probably 50% of my work day, followed by adding ad hoc finishing touches to RopeWeaver’s new SaaS system at 40%. Having sold a chunk of my TuitionKit shareholding I’m now more of a backseat partner, but it still requires some day-to-day involvement, so that’s perhaps 5% of each day. I’m currently sat in a makeshift home-office in what should be my lounge, as my the constant disruption of my top-to-bottom house refurbishment is about to enter it’s 7th month (with at least another 7 to go), managing that takes at least 10% of the day, along with the financial planning. That totals 105%, and I’ve not even bothered totalising the other random projects I allow myself to get roped into. I’m an enabler: I allow myself to get stressed, by putting myself into situations that encourage it.
On the surface I don’t feel any burden – I don’t sit at my desk hyper-ventilating, in a panic at how I’m going to get everything done. I’d describe the load as more of a tension; something pulling on me. It isn’t a tension you actually notice, but subconsciously your body is constantly under strain, holding itself in position, resisting the impulse to fall. Even if you don’t notice it every day over time this tension aggregates.
My hives are on the mend, and in a few weeks the shingles will pass too. Will I make any changes to my lifestyle to stop things like this from occurring? I don’t know. I won’t say I can’t, because I’m the one in the driving seat: if I choose to sever ties with certain things I am in the privileged position to be able to, but there’s some things that I simply must finish. Let’s hope I’m not doing myself any lasting damage.