Monday, August 15, 2011

Considering The Virtues Of Stress



"You need to act as though you're allergic to stress," the nurse said. "Like a peanut allergy."

For those who might be stumbling onto the site for the first time, this was said to me last winter when I'd been told to go to a psychiatric health center by some emergency room... well. You know. Like that. It's one of those stories.

Anyway, I agreed with the nurse. And that's how I've tried to live my life. Minimalization. Cut back on the input. Don't get involved. Don't get political. Don't get into hassles.

Right. If stress is such a toxin to me, then why have I had the habit of stalking the rough parts of the Oakland/Berkeley border looking for trouble when I'm emotionally distraught? Why is a public exchange of hostilities with a street crazy something that brightens me up for days?

If I'm allergic to stress, then why did I cheer up and start eating and sleeping when we had a series of shootings in our neighborhood a few years back? Why do I sooth myself with things like dangling from heights and cutting?

I don't even have to get as far as cutting most of the time. Simple negligence of low-level physical safety means that I've never had a moment in my life when I didn't have half-a-dozen little scrapes, bruises, cuts, and dings healing. I never thought to ask about that until just a couple of days ago, and the missus was horrified.

When I moved from Richmond to Santa Cruz, what did I say? I feel like I been drug up from the depths and my swim bladder's coming out my mouth.

Let's put this in another context. What about the reading on Friday? I loved that. But let's consider this.

How do I feel about crowds?

One of the most uncomfortable conversations I have ever endured in my life was one where my wife was on one side of me, my first girlfriend on the other, both making physical claims on my person while discussing my shortcomings. Thank God for open bars.

Anyway, one subject that came up was crowds. It turns out that what I perceived as the occasional dry witticism was actually a steadily muttered series of descriptions of mass murder, including specific details I will not print here because they would work. And that every time I was in a crowd in either of their companies, I'd begin emitting this at some point.

Ew. I stopped doing that.

But I didn't stop thinking it. I hate crowds, I hate large groups, they frighten and anger me. I have been attacked by crowds. I have been surrounded by crowds and forced to fight people one by one.

And I adore standing up in front of crowds. Love it.

Here's what I think now.

I think I need stress. Lots of it, on a regular basis.

I think that growing up the way I did left me needing stress. When I collapse it's because of a lack of concrete demands as much as anything else.

But I think I need stress applied under circumstances where I have control. Where I am confident and active and functional. And there are places in the world where this happens. I need to place myself in situations where my strengths are the strengths that apply.

These circumstances alter the proportions of stress hormones released under stress. There are two types of stress reaction -- prepare for performance, and prepare for a beating. I need to train myself to respond to stress with a performance-enhancing mix. Let me tell you, that is a serious cocktail.

Honestly? If I wasn't fucked up physically, I'd start checking out martial arts and danger sports, but my back is too vulnerable. So that leaves me with one arena in which to exercise this particular peccadillo.

The arts.

The most stressful situations for me are social ones, especially dealing with strangers. But the world of the arts is partially a meritocracy, and I do well there. The long-dreaded, long-avoided task of putting myself out into the world has proven to be very different than what I've been led to suspect.

People tend to react well to me. I get some hassles, I'm dorky and awkward at points, but I've got something going here. I'm being not simply received by the world, but welcomed. I may as well see if I can get some mileage out of it.

So I'm going to engage in human society.

If only for therapeutic reasons.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sean!! Is that you???? The same Sean that I lived with when we went to UC Santa Cruz and you turned me on to X-Men, Grimjack????? God I hope so!!!

Its me - Dan. Remember living on Dufour St?

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818-312-0637