Once More Unto the Breach, or Type A Rears Its Ugly Head Again

Hey cats and kitties.

You might remember my very vague post about guts last week. So, here’s what we got. After the colonoscopy, which is, by the way a great way to lose about 4 pounds overnight. Scratch that. It’s actually a really horrible way to lose 4 pounds overnight. Well, after the colonoscopy, we discovered that I have a tiny ulcer in my intestines. These are usually caused by foreign bacteria (Vietnam?), and this one is already healing, thanks probably to the foresight of Dr. Banks and some antibiotics. Several biopsies were taken, and we’ll see if the weird bacteria needs another kick in the teeth. All is well. I see Dr. Qiao again in December to see how I’m doing.

So…cool. Contrary to popular belief, ulcers are not caused by stress. Which was my first fear. BUT there is this–the digestive difficulties I’ve been having should not have been caused by this teeny microscopic ulcer. The bacteria could play a role, if we find it. But stress does affect that sort of thing.

It occurs to me that around the stressful times of the semester (beginning and end) I have suffered some sort of digestive issues or breathing issues or anxiety issues for the last, oh five years. Not to over-dramatize (would I do that to you?), but the problems seem to be getting worse, not better. Pills manage anxiety, increased medication manages heartburn, and other issues of digestive function we sort of live with until they go away. This was by far one of the most stressful periods of beginning a semester, with new college rules and regulations. I cannot detach like I would hope, and I stay wound up, and ta-da! issues.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m going to cut this, because you know, maybe TMI or disinterest on your part.

As you know, I am a type A personality. I battle this with the zeal only a type A personality can muster. I am also a former star child, and my way of dealing with dysfunction in my life is to paste a calm exterior on the outside and push all the stress inside. This apparently has been affecting me in minor ways, and increasingly major ways for the last few years, until I begin to manifest physical. Nothing life threatening here, but I get the feeling that I am killing myself slowly, nibbling away at my health little by little until I retire and I am left with poor health and poor strategies to get healthy.

This must stop.

I do not blame my job. It is a difficult, demanding job, and it takes a lot out of me. But it wouldn’t take a lot out of everyone. I choose to deal with the work in problematic ways. I do not take lunch breaks. I don’t get away from the stress. I take my work home with me and let it brew and stew. I sink myself too much into institutions and others because I am essentially rootless, and I am looking for a place to belong, and then the opinions of others in those institutions becomes more important than it needs to be. I have trouble with barriers.

I expect too much of myself. Rather than what is, I expect what should be. I wonder why I am not published at this age, or why there are still tasks I can’t get to at work, no matter how hard I work, and I go through periods where intellectually I understand rules, rhymes, reasons, controlling what I can and can’t, but always, always, physiologically, I’m choosing to actively ignore that shit, and just not releasing the stress.

As if the placid ocean does not mean that there are killer sharks in the waters, I press on.

Then in times of super stress, the teapot blows steam somewhere, and I end up with heartburn, or I burp like a Biergarten patron at Oktoberfest, or we have manifestations of the super gross kind I had last week. And then there’s the snappiness and the stress, for which I feel inevitably guilty, which leads to more physiological stress. Yay.

After the stress dies down, I realize what’s going on, and then I put this all away until the next stressful time. Well, this time, the side effects were so bad that I realize I have to do something. I can’t just put this on a shelf until November, when we do it all over again. This time I realize I must change. If I can’t change, if I can’t leave this job behind me at the end of the day, and relax and deal well with stress, well, I must truly leave this job behind.

I love teaching, and I would be happy to return there. But I also love this job, and I am good at it. The boss accommodates my writing time. They are very good to me here. My boss is supporting me in this journey of self discovery and is willing to, say, let me have a walk or a yoga class in the middle of the day if I need it. The limitations on the change are myself. I worry that I can’t make these changes.

I have given myself this year to do it. There are two teaching jobs available this spring. If I can’t get the stress under control, and behave kindly to myself in this position, I will take one of them. I feel like this is stepping backwards rather than forwards, and I can’t forgive myself for, say not being able to manage this job, my attempts at a writing career, and all the other things I put on myself, and not have health issues. Because my precious, precious perfection!

This is totally irrational, and that’s what I need to work on. I feel like I’m letting people down, and I have been assured I am not, and that I am the important person to look after. Intellectually I get it. But damn, the habits of a lifetime are hard, so hard to break. And after all, I am so not worth looking after, right? Yeah, I am a bit fucked up there.

What does this mean for my writing? I don’t know. I’m putting everything on the table and looking it over. Screwed by my childhood I may be, but this is where I am. I would like to win over my limitations, but I do need to stop ignoring what I’m doing to myself. Publishing books is no more worth the issues I’ve been having any more than helping students is. If I’m going to keep doing this, I’ve got to get the emphasis off where I think I should be, same as work.

All I want is to be happy and healthy. I have this idea in my head of what it means to be worth something. That’s probably the thing I need to look at the most, because the pressure of that preconceived notion is pressing me flat. I’m not the star. I’m not the smartest or most talented kid on the block. I don’t suck, and I do have a great deal of talent and skill. But I’ve got to stop making myself sick by not measuring up to some impossible ideas that I set up for myself. Boy, am I hard on myself.

I’m not going to stop dreaming, or doing things I want to do. But the key is perhaps I have to find a way to get into a place that says it’s okay to take care of myself at the expense of accomplishment. I know that doesn’t define me, but I sure don’t act like it doesn’t. I need to do what I want, for me, because I enjoy it. And this needs to be the truth, so my body isn’t attacking me to tell me that I’m lying to myself.

Off to see David again, for the first time in five years, on Friday. Well, that’s what he’s there for. I’m sure he was getting bored without me. We’ll be working on making peace with myself and relaxation and anti-stress techniques. Everyone say “ohm” with me now.

Thank you for listening. Please return to your usual geeky and/or artistic pursuits.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

3 thoughts on “Once More Unto the Breach, or Type A Rears Its Ugly Head Again”

  1. Hey, Catherine, I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through this. I will say that I’ve wrestled with the issue of perfectionism in my own way. Living with taste, ethics, and other preferences as directions in which to move, or as a basis for decision making, has proved more comfortable for me than treating everything in an absolute fashion.

    But I’m finding learning to rest is very difficult…

  2. Good on you for taking care of yourself. I grok. We should have a relaxing lunch sometime and discuss meditation.

  3. Glad to hear the gastric issues aren’t something more serious (though sorry you have to go through them at all).

    It sounds like you’re making all the right choices. More money simply isn’t worth it if you’re losing your health in the process. I hope the rest of the year is kinder to you.

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