A Few Thoughts on Stress

Two years ago, in the mad rush of pre-Christmas activities, I found myself unexpectedly in hospital diagnosed with acute pulmonary embolism.

It all happened very suddenly; I’d gone to bed the night before feeling fine, yet woke up the next morning with what seemed like a bronchial cough. Thanks to a very perceptive GP, I was sent to the accident and emergency department at my local hospital where a CT scan confirmed I had three blood clots in my lungs.

The diagnosis came as a shock. I’ve been on blood-thinning medication for many years, since having a series of mini-strokes in my 30s, but I didn’t know that my medication only protected me against clots in the brain, and not in the lungs.

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Following a 6-month course of Warfarin, I made a decent recovery from my embolism, but even two years later, I can sometimes feel the effects of it. I don’t have the same energy as I did before my illness, and to my great frustration, I find that too much of everyday stress takes a toll on my body and at times I am forced to rest in bed for days to recover from exhaustion.

Last week I had a particularly bad patch with fatigue and shortness of breath, so I made an appointment with my GP who arranged for me to have some blood tests taken.

The other evening, I’d just come back from doing the school run, and I was in the kitchen preparing dinner for my daughters when the GP called.

“I’m afraid you need to be seen at the hospital ASAP,” she said. One of my blood tests had come back positive, which could be an indicator of new blood clots.

Five hours later, and following more blood tests and a CT scan of my lungs that thankfully showed no signs of new blood clots, I was allowed to go home, enormously relieved but also shaken up by the experience.

In spite of recurring episodes of abnormal blood clotting, I’ve always tested negative for every conceivable disorder that would explain my strokes and embolism.

“You’re a medical mystery,” my neurologist once exclaimed in exasperation before discharging me.

But to me, it’s no mystery, because the main reason for my medical emergencies is staring right at me: STRESS.

Every episode of stroke, TIA and embolism, has been immediately preceded by an abnormal amount of emotional and physical stress. Even in the absence of an actual medical emergency, too much stress sometimes causes my body to mimic the symptoms of stroke or pulmonary embolism.

I am also beginning to wonder if the dozens of surgeries I’ve undergone in my lifetime – the first one when I was only a few hours old – have left me living in a traumatised body, thus making me particularly vulnerable to stress?

If so, the single most important way for me to support my long-term health is to devise strategies for managing my stress levels.

But what do you do when learning to manage your stress becomes yet another stressful item on your ever-expanding to-do list?

Perhaps the solution is to throw the whole to-do list in the bin and learn the fine art of not giving a f*ck!

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