I believe every person is allotted an amount of stress that they are able to cope with. It might be higher for some people, and lower for others, but I think that everyone has their own stress threshold. The stresses of normal life - a critical remark from a co-worker or a piece of technology not performing properly - these stresses are manageable, and do not become catastrophic. We manage stress by rewarding ourselves, taking breaks, going to sleep early, and generally just by taking care of ourselves. But, when a person is thrust into a serious situation where every moment of time is used up, the normal stress coping mechanisms go out the window. Without taking the normal breaks and time for oneself, stress can build up to a boiling point very quickly if left un-managed. Unfortunately for me, I experienced a great deal of stress in a few days in a hospital last month, and my own means of coping with stress disappeared, as did my ability to take care of myself. There was no option to put myself or the person in need first - obviously I would eat when my help was no longer needed, or take a seat when the chance arose. At that time, it was more important to do everything I could to help that person get better.
Now that she is back to normal, and beginning life as a new mom, I am happy to see the pictures she sends of her new baby. I am happy for her life, and the way our relationship has become so enriched by this bonding experience. I am also happy for her relationship with her fiance, as I saw firsthand how deeply he cares for her, and how much he was willing to sacrifice for her well-being. I am happy that their lives have become normal, and the stresses they face are now the common experiences among all first-time parents.
One thing that has impressed me in this experience is the great effect that one person's life can have on another person's life. When I went to the hospital to help out, I never thought that I would be forced to change so much of my life. I'm supposed to be studying in New York, right now, but I had to cancel that study program. Instead of spending the summer studying in a cubby hole in the New York Public Library, I'm taking a semester off. I'm supposed to be moving back to Korea in August, but I missed my opportunity to apply for jobs and now feel wiser and slightly wary of my dream-like state of life there. I'm supposed to be living my own life fully, and in many ways I am not yet able to do that. And, ironically, now I'm the one who is taking the medicine.
"What does not destroy me makes me stronger"
I've always believed the above quotation, and had applied it to the difficult times I had experienced in my life. Before this trauma, my most difficult times were break-ups and travel horrors - but these difficulties don't compare to staring death in the face and singing someone to sleep not knowing if they would awaken. They don't compare to feeling like the outside world is a dream, and the only reality is you and a hospital monitor that beeps every second. When you cry because you hear the songs of birds for the first time in 3 days and realize the outdoor soundtrack you've taken for granted all your life. When you don't want to talk to anyone, or be talked to by anyone, and miss the opportunity to spend an afternoon alone. When every phone call is needy, and every minute demands a new task. When all people within arms reach are asking for you, wanting your time, needing answers, and haphazardly offering suggestions to you. When all your muscles ache but you didn't notice until that moment in the shower. When your brain betrays you, and won't allow sleep when it knows you've been up for days. When you feel wrinkles burrowing into your skin and long for the morning routine of grooming yourself. When you consume nothing but tea and muffins courtesy of someone else, and seek only a moment to sneak down to the hospital food court and order your own take away meal. When every eventual morsel of food you eat is the best you've ever had. When you think just a second anonymity would mend you. When every part of your body and mind feels like it can't keep going.
Something inside of me kept pushing me forward, onto the next step. Something told me to keep going, to keep moving, to keep walking.
During my worst moments, I felt nearly clairvoyant. I had the ability to x-ray anyone around me and determine if they were mentally well or in need of professional help. I felt lifetimes smarter than everyone else, and I felt ecstatic to finally see my whole life through a crystal clear rear view lens. A natural analyzer, I examined all of my friendships to determine who was safe for me to be around. I examined every person that I knew, and decided whether they were healthy or not. Now that I am returning to my quotidian life, I feel that my emotional intelligence will be better than it has been. I also think I will be able to take care of myself better, and be able to recognize when I am giving too much.
"Time heals all wounds"
It's not true that time heals all wounds, because every wound is different. Some wounds might never heal, and perhaps the inevitable distance of time from an unhealed wound is all the healing one can wish for. I certainly feel that the distance in time since this trauma to now - over 5 weeks - is helping me to heal. With each passing day, I feel closer to me. Closer to what I know to be me.
With persistence, professional help, and a lot of hard work and self reflection, I want to come out of this stronger and wiser, with the ability to take better care of myself.