stressed out by kortini.

Perfect photo by kortini; creative commons license


I’ve been stress-free for four years.  Okay, not ENTIRELY stress-free.  There have been a few particularly stressful times—like the business-destroying rumor a year ago or a major family health issue or a sudden break-up of a promising new relationship.  But those are just spikes on the stress meter.  They are not a constant steady HIGH plateau, which is how life used to be for me.  And by comparison, that feels stress-free to me.

I’m still in the same high-stress, high-stakes, sometimes-life-or-death job I was then, and with less likelihood of being able to leave it right now, thanks to the economy, college tuition, and property insurance.  If anything, I should have more stress, judging by additional responsibilities I have at home and that I’m the sole breadwinner now.  But I look back now and see that my stress was mainly what I put on myself or allowed to be put on me by others, and that the bulk of my stress was “relationship stress” that I put on myself by trying to fit my three-dimensional trapezoidal peg into a round hole.  It’s incredibly hard to live the life someone else wants you to live and try to be happy not being yourself.

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When that relationship ended, people began to comment to me about how much younger I looked.  Like most people who have been out of a bad relationship for a few years, I didn’t realize how bad things had been until I could actually lift my head and look around.  I felt younger and freer, and it showed in my less restricted movements  and expressions.                I can look in the mirror now and tell the effects of the years—certainly when I remember my 20’s–but it’s years I’m seeing and not stress.  It’s not very different from the way I looked 10 years ago, and when I look at some of my photographs from that era, I certainly looked older than my years—if not by crinkles, then by the despair in my eyes.

I recently saw current photographs of two men I haven’t seen in a while.   I didn’t recognize either of them. I had to be told who they were.  That’s what stress—and lack of it—did to these men.

The first of these two men with similar high-stress careers looked as if he was aging at a ratio of 7 years to every 1 he lived.  The deep frown, the graying hair. The transformation was extraordinary. It was heart-breaking.   All it took was one glance at his photo to know this man’s personal life is pure hell.  When I think of him now, I get a flash of insight–I see him as a beautiful, jewel-colored, green locust that sings to the heavens until some type of animal picks him from the tree he clings to and swats him into the creature’s mouth and the animal sucks all the life out of him, leaving only a dried husk where a vibrant being once was.  That him, now.  A husk of his former self.

As for the other photo, the second man seems to have reversed his age by a decade.  He still has those mid-40’s crinkles at the corners of his eyes, but other than that, I didn’t recognize him.  The transformation was extraordinary.  The last time I saw him in person, he’d been beaten down, tired-looking, wondering aloud if life would get any better—though to outsiders, he had it all.  In a recent email from him, he told me he’s now divorced after a long and unhappy marriage and the burden he’s been carrying has been lifted.  I don’t doubt him—the change he’s made is visible.

For women out there who are so afraid of aging, never underestimate the effect of stress.  And it saps not just your looks, but also your energy and life force.


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