Stress has a purpose. Nature, or the fanciful creator-myth you find most favour with, put it there for a reason. It enhances the fight or flight response, sharpening your senses and reflexes, loosening your muscles, generally preparing you for the big, scary thing that’s seconds into your future. It’s your body’s equivalent of gulping down a double espresso to shock your system into being a fraction more responsive than it usually would be.
Much like a large ingestion of caffeine, stress comes with a price, useful though it can be at the time.
Many people talk of two types of stress, and they make a false assumption when they do so. Rather, there are two types of stressful situation. In one, you have the power to do something, and I work rather well under that form of stress, if I do say so myself. While my usual responses are hardly the equivalent of beating an unexpectedly encountered sabre-toothed tiger to death with a tree branch, I nevertheless put the stress to good use in dealing with whatever problem is facing me.
The second type of stressful situation, unique to our evolved intellects as human beings, is that which we have no control over. There is no action to take, despite our knowledge of the problem. The situation remains bad, and the stress floods through your body. However, because you have no power to do anything, it just sits there, wondering what to do with itself, and playing strange games with your mind and body to keep itself occupied in the interim. That’s when you feel tired, sick, shaky, tight in the chest, and so forth. Stress is not designed to sit in your system for weeks on end, going nowhere. It’s a quick fix solution, and your body can’t really cope with it over the long haul.
Over the last few weeks, one particular circumstance has hung over me like a guillotine. The guillotine isn’t moving. In fact, there isn’t even a hangman appointed to operate it yet, but it’s still sitting there, drooling with inevitably. I can’t really tell how it’s lined up, whether I’m going to be carrying my head around in a basket when it falls, or simply be sporting a dashing new haircut.
At the same time, thanks to an unrelated matter, a firing squad is cleaning its weapons across the square. I don’t know if it’s here for me, although the square is suspicious devoid of other targets. They don’t seem in a hurry. I don’t have the faintest idea whether they’re dead-eye sharpshooters, or hungover recruits with little chance of actually hitting me. What I do know is that, at some point soon, I’m going to find out one way or another.
Which is why metaphors are so useful. While it wouldn’t be a great idea for me to write about either circumstance which is causing me to spend half of my time stressed out of my mind on a journal like this, I can happily witter away about firing squads and guillotines, and leave you with a vague impression of how I’m feeling at the moment. The stress has been sitting there for weeks now, getting grumpy that I’m not doing anything with it, and taking its frustrations out on my own body and mind. It wants me to fight, or take flight.
Launching myself at the guillotine and attempting to beat it into submission might be amusing, but it isn’t very practical. I certainly can’t run, because I’m trussed up like a chicken.
As for firing squadâ€¦ well, it’s a big square, but there are no exits. If I wasn’t trussed up under this bloody guillotine, I would be able to run around in big circles until I was exhausted, but that would just make me an easy target. The marksmen would still be there, preparing their weapons. As for attacking? Well, there are more of them than me, and they’ve got guns, and I don’t. Not great odds.
So I lie here, sort of waiting for other people to make up their minds what they’re going to do, and hoping for the best. The longer it goes on, the worse that stress makes me feel.
Something will break soon. Let us hope it is not the rope keeping the guillotine up above my neck.