I’m not really sure what this blog post will turn out like, but I figured I’ll just give it a go anyway. Sometimes, when an idea or main topic doesn’t strike me immediately, I get a little frustrated. It’s like a mini writer’s block settles in, and my mind starts to go in circles in an attempt to come up with the best and most interesting blog post ever. Now that can get a little stressful and take away from the fun, so I’m leaving those thoughts behind me right now. We’re having an unusually slow Sunday morning today, Mike and I (this post has taken me some time to write, so this very part was typed down last weekend). We ran a 50k race yesterday and are feeling a little achy here and there, and are enjoying just taking it easy for a bit. We both had oatmeal when we woke up, and Mike has since then transitioned to doing some school work (he’s taking Swedish and a photo editing class this semester, all online). I’ve been folding laundry and taking care of our plant “babies” (aka seedlings and teenage seedlings), moving some of them outside to get them used to the great outdoors. You know, a morning of this and that.
We’ve had really cold weather for the past week, with the nighttime temperatures hovering around freezing, but last night should have been the last one with frost risk. The sky is crystal clear today, the air nice and crisp, and with some warmer weather and sunshine on top of the rain we got last week… it’ll be greenery extraordinaire with flowers left, right and center very soon. The most beautiful, magical time of the year for sure. Having the time to appreciate it all and witnessing all the changes means the world to me. I used to always feel sad during the spring because all the prettiness happens so quickly, and I never felt as if I had time to notice it all. A few long days at work and you’d realize the apple blossoms had already come and gone, without a chance for me to stand below a tree, taking in the most exquisite scents ever and feeling in love with nature itself. All of that means a lot to me. I really can’t live in a fast-paced world, I’m realizing.
And speaking of that, you guys. I think I’ve come to the conclusion I’m allergic to stress. I never want to live with stress in my life ever again. Short-time, sure. But that suffocating feeling of having too many musts and too little time? I can’t do it. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? I entered my first “bubble of stress” when I started upper secondary school (Swedish: gymnasiet). I went to a pretty prestigious school and immediately felt completely stressed out by the competitive nature of this new environment. For a 16-year-old with low self-esteem and an overwhelming desire to perform well and be a good girl, it was never an option to take a step back and analyze the situation. There was no time to say hey, am I feeling ok here? There was no time to say hey, is this really healthy? Instead, I dove right into the textbooks, studied hard, achieved what was expected and lost myself entirely along the way. Three years later, upon graduation, it felt like life essentially spat me out on the other side, drool and all. About to break in half, literally and figuratively, I landed with a giant smack. Heavily burdened by an eating disorder, every cell in my body dripping of sadness and anxiety, mind spinning out of control. But in my hand, a brightly shining grade report showing no signs of any struggles. No, no, because I was lucky. I was lucky to possess an academic talent, to be a quick learner, to have an easy time in school.
I think I’ve come to the conclusion I’m allergic to stress. I never want to live with stress in my life ever again.
I remember a moment that spring, right before graduation, when I was smelling the apple trees (yes, they’re my favorite). I remember tears filling my eyes, because it was a moment that I should have cherished so much. It was a moment that should have felt joyous and prosperous and endlessly fun. Final exams were done. Graduation was around the corner. Apple trees were in bloom. But I was so unhappy my bones ached. In the end, I knew I wasn’t crying because I was unhappy. I was crying because I wasn’t happy when I should have been. What was wrong with me? I remember feeling scared of myself, in my lack of… joy.
After graduation, my original plan was to go straight to university, but I couldn’t. One gap year turned into many more, as I traveled a lot and tried to find myself again. When I went to New York in January 2013, I did so with the intention of going on one more adventure before going to law school back in Stockholm that upcoming fall. It took a guy in a Yankees hat shaking my hand to throw those plans out the window, and you all are aware of the big picture stuff ever since then. But a lot happened between Mike and I meeting that first time and us moving to Sweden in 2017. We like to just refer to this period as one of limited time to spend together in a loud, fast-paced environment, but if my time in upper secondary school was my first of intense stress, managing life in New York was my second (and hopefully final). Living in Manhattan is ridiculously expensive, especially for a 25-year-old student. I lived by myself for one year before moving in with Mike, paying a whopping $2000 in rent every month. While I did have some savings and very nice parents to help me get through it, the first few years in America meant an insane work load on my behalf (and that description doesn’t even do it justice). See, I had to study two full-time college programs at the same time to make ends meet. I got my BA in English literature and linguistics through Mid Sweden University, taking the whole program online, and then I went to college in New York in order to maintain my student visa status. When you’re on a student visa, however, you can only engage in campus work in order to make money. Hence, I started tutoring (Swedish: studiehjälp/läxläsning på högre nivå) my fellow classmates and could thus bring in some money. It was very important to me that Mike wouldn’t think of me as a burden, or someone who he would have to support. Someone he’d have to be responsible for or take care of. I chose to settle down in New York, no one forced me. So I kept most of my struggles to myself (except the constant venting my mom had to listen to) and put my head down more than I ever had. I had problems with my sleep, I couldn’t get my head to stop spinning, I felt completely drained all the time. But I pushed through, and got my two diplomas in June 2016. That was one heck of a happy day, let me tell you. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in many years. After that, I worked for one year in New York, and then we moved here.
I know that if I had taken a moment to think about my situation back then, I would have broken down. I knew what had to be done in order for me to achieve my dream – which was being able to move to New York, fend for myself and see where our relationship would go – so I did. In all honesty, I’m incredibly proud of myself for being able to do what I did. And I would do it all over again, no hesitation whatsoever. But am I happy to be done with it and moved on to a different lifestyle? Hell yes. And this brings me back to that initial statement of mine: I think I’m allergic to stress. When Mike signed up for those online classes this spring, I thought to myself “hm, maybe I’ll take one myself” and signed up for an online sports nutrition class. It didn’t take many days until I could feel the stress creeping in – and this was a month before the class was even going to start. The idea of having deadlines and being graded was simply to much for me, and thankfully, I’ve learned to pull the e-break on myself. So I did. I cancelled my application and felt an immediate sense of calm settling in.
I think in pushing my boundaries farther and farther, I damaged my ability to handle stress. And that’s ok. Frankly, I think it’s good. The fact that I’m now so sensitive and downright unable to ignore it protects me from diving into things that wouldn’t serve me. I can do a lot. I do a lot. I rarely sit still and those around me are mesmerized by the speed I get things done at. But I have to be in charge of my own time. I need to have several hours of relaxing time in the evenings. I can’t run from one place to another with the clock ticking right next to my ear. Then I panic.
So I guess this blog post did find its topic, after all. Stress. Such a complex yet simple phenomenon, in the end. I know I want to live a life as free of stress as I possibly can. Stress and I don’t get along that well, and it tends to remove all the fun for me. I’ve been stressing to get straight A’s, to be super thin, to have perfect skin, to be the best girlfriend and wife. I’ve been stressing to get others’ validation, to be cool, to be liked by everyone. And I’ve been stressing to be happy. Some of these were achieved, some not even remotely. None made me truly happy.
Dropping the expectations, accepting my flaws and choosing a life that I sincerely love, those have been the key factors in reducing my stress. Allowing time to just be, to work with my hands and to live in a quiet, peaceful place has gotten me even further. I’m a sensitive character, always existing in close contact with emotions high and low, and I lived my first 30 years as if I were made of concrete. And while I’d like to think I have a strong platform and some super powers up my sleeve, I’m finally coming around to the fact that I’m a softie.
Having lots of things to do and a jam-packed agenda is a status-symbol in this day and age. We’re taught that busy equals successful, that no time to just be means lots of time to make money. I was never equipped for that race. The career, the cash, the polished surface. My greatest achievement in my life is that I (we) chose to opt out. That we were sensible enough to acknowledge our individual needs and wants, and choose what does us good. Now, we’re all different. Our way isn’t everyone’s way. And for the record, I admire those how can handle high pressure jobs and stay sane at the same time. I just hope that our future will see a little more nuance to the “accepted” life choices out there, and broaden the idea of success just a tad.
And speaking of how success should be a broader term – we’re experimenting with growing corn this year, and the plants look great so far! The joy I get from seeing them grow is borderline silly, but who in the world is going to come tell me that’s not allowed?
Wishing everyone a life with just the perfect amount of stress for you. For me, it’s nada. Love to you all 🙂
PS. Being able to talk about emotional stress and sharing when we’re not feeling great on the inside are two very important things to me. I want people to become more comfortable venting and talking about their feelings, and I’m convinced we’d all do much better if we did. But I think a lot of us are scared of being looked as unstable, unhappy and depressed if we do. And that bothers me. Not that people fear it – because that’s understandable – but that we tend to view someone sharing something they struggle with as someone who has completely lost it all. And while that might be true in some cases, I want to say hey, it’s by sharing we stay sane. Happy emotions can exist side-by-side with unhappy ones. Struggling in one area doesn’t mean we’re sitting a corner, unable to move and enjoy other parts of life. Those years in New York were some of my very happiest. I was madly in love, over the moon happy to live in what I thought was the coolest place in world. I felt a completely renewed sense of self-confidence and self-esteem, I met new friends and felt more “right” than I ever had previously in my life. But I was also insanely stressed and had no time to unwind. Thinking that life is a one-dimensional emotional experience will only set us up for confusion. It’s the most overwhelming and multi-faceted thing there is, and I firmly believe that upon realizing many emotions can exist at the same time, we’ll be less inclined to judge – both ourselves and others. I hope that I’ll get to live the rest of my life with an overall happy foundation to rest upon. But I’m totally cool with some areas feeling better and happier than others at times. And being able to talk about what doesn’t feel great is by far my preferred way of letting go of worries and fear. When shared, the burden naturally gets lighter to carry. Right?