Next Thing Stress – How I Heart Attacked Myself, the story of my latest drama, begins quite undramatically, with me sitting in my office, making a list. I can’t remember what the list was specifically, and I’ve not been able to find it to satisfy my curiosity. What I do know is that, out of the blue, with my pen poised over the page, I had a heart attack. How do I know it was a heart attack? Let me tell you another story of another drama, this time from long ago.
I was nineteen and pregnant, and I had worries, as you might imagine, but one of these out-worried the rest. What if I had a labor pain and didn’t recognize it? What if I was in the aisle at the supermarket and, while contemplating the latest ground beef bargain, I missed the crucial twinge signal and delivered right there, between the produce bins and the dairy cooler? Every time I encountered a woman who had already reproduced, I would ask the same question.
“How will I know when I have a labor pain?”
Each of those women, all blessedly over nineteen, gave the same answer with the same kindly look in her eyes. “You will know,” they said.
My answer echoes theirs when it comes to suffering a heart attack. “You will know.” Like a labor pain, the sensation is unmistakable. I was sitting in my office, and I knew.
The more complicated question has to do with why it happened, and the answers are several and equally complicated. The one answer I’m truly certain of is this. I heart attacked myself by living, altogether consciously, under a load of Next Thing Stress. I may not remember what list I was making on that fateful evening, but if I were forced to guess its identity, I’d put my money on it being a To Do List. A compilation of the tasks I considered imperative to be completed because, as had been the case most evenings of my life, I had “miles to go before I’d sleep.”
For as long as I can remember, I’d been subject to the Tyranny of the To Do List. I kept daily To Do Lists and weekly To Do Lists, even annual To Do Lists plotted out each New Year’s season. They reminded me of everything I had on my plate, and my plate was always impossibly full. In workshops I had led and articles I had written, I’d long preached about how important it is to keep your psyche on your side and, also, to make sure your To Do List is on your side.
“That list is the monster you create for yourself all by yourself,” I would say. Yet, I’d allowed the same monster to consume me with Next Thing Stress. I hadn’t listened to my own advice.
Next Thing Stress. What is that anyway? In a clam shell (I choose this container because it is cramped and restrictive), Next Thing Stress is created by the mindset which tells us we must always be moving on to the Next Thing. You could also call it the Power Through Principle. When you complete a given item on your To Do List, you are admonished to continue immediately to the following item, the Next Thing. Even if you are tired, physically or mentally or both, even if you’re exhausted, you are expected to power through.
The Power Through Principle had governed my life for what felt like forever, and I prided myself on the productive result. Then I had the heart attack, just over a month ago, which brought Darly, the occupational therapist, into my life. Darly is firm in her convictions, and they carry the ring of authenticity when she passes them on, as she did to me. She is also wise, and presents those convictions as suggestions rather than ultimatums, definitely the better way to go with me.
“Activity, rest, activity, rest,” she said. “Activity, activity, activity creates too much stress.”
She was talking about pace, just like with storytelling. In a well-told tale, there are breaks, moderations of pace that allow what is happening to sink in and resonate. Tension, tension, tension exhausts the reader. According to wise Darly, this pacing principle applies to real life as well. Like with your reader, it is a bad idea to subject yourself to Next Thing Stress. In the wake of Darly’s words, another favorite workshop quip of mine returned to haunt me, as my most self-confident (as in know-it-all) assertions can sometimes do.
“We’re all destined to drop dead in the middle of our To Do Lists.”
It was a line that got a laugh, albeit a nervous one. I’ll say just about anything to get a laugh from an audience, but I’m not laughing now. I am aware that eliminating, or even diminishing, Next Time Stress will require a down-to-the-ground life change for me. The sound of which rings a bell in my own authenticity place and sets me thinking I might rest and allow this revolutionary (for me at least) concept to sink in and resonate. In fact, maybe that’s the Next Thing I will do.
Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.
– R|R –
What readers are saying about A Time of Fear & Loving. “I never want an Alice Orr book to end.” “Alice Orr is the queen of ramped-up stakes and page-turning suspense.” “Warning. Don’t read before bed. You won’t want to sleep.” “The tension in this novel was through the roof.”
“A budding romance that sizzles in the background until it ignites with passion.”
“The best one yet, Alice!”