Fearlessly make a stress inventory and face it


I realized that I’ve been living in a very tightly wound knot, and I’m making myself aware of how often I need to relax my shoulders and breathe.

Stress has the potential to further affect my health, even as far as accelerating my death, and exposing me to not very pleasant forms of that.

Normally, I’m a calm person, but the past couple of years, continuing chronic illness (ME/CFS), the debilitating back pain I will find a surgeon for once we’re settled (maybe), plus new health challenges give me a resting platform that would be too much for anyone not used to it (or who has a choice).

But I didn’t realize how MUCH stress

I’m laughing at myself (laughter at self, good) because I recently identified that my assistant, who works for me part-time, was carrying way too much stress from her other, real, job, and family circumstances, and I wisely gave her one of the stress inventories available online, suggested she fill it out, and she did, and she discussed it with her doctor WITH her parents present – and I think it helped.

So I was primed – and knowledgeable – and still to clueless to realize I had an awful lot of extra stress this past year.

Fear for your life is big stress –

but you can’t think about that every minute. Not unless there’s something you need to be doing.

Including coming up this Feb. 21 on the one year anniversary of the stent debacle last year (from Feb. 6 to 22, IIRC), where it took the (?) cardiologists three heart catheterizations, 4 hospital admissions in two hospitals in different states, a nuclear stress test, and luck – before they found the place (on the third stent) which was going to cause a nice heart attack as soon as it closed up a bit more. Don’t ignore chest pain, folks.

Two more days, and all I’ll have left is the medical PTSD (keeps biting at odd times); the memory of the horrible side effects of the drugs, all of which I dumped; the possibility of more drugs if the flu (yup, I’m getting over the flu, too, and yes, I had the shot) after-effects don’t go away.

I hate turning into a hypochondriac, so I ignore anything that isn’t severe – while remembering that doctors sent me home from the first catheterization with chest pain – and a clean bill of health.

So, facing the stress requires listing all the possible sources

Very partial list:

Moving: We’ve lived in this house, only the second one we’ve ever owned, since 1981. On March 5th it will have been 37 years. I’m pretty useless around the house any more, so all the fixing will have to be done through intermediaries, which means finding, making decisions, following up on, paying strangers wandering through my house. And making the decisions (and expenditures) necessary to sell a house in good enough condition to attract a decent buyer.

Dejunking: With each assistant, I’ve been dealing with the stuff which accumulates in a house with five people and the mother ill. For literally YEARS. With no false sense of keeping it all forever. To show a house, it must be tidy, the closets must feel airy and large, and the storage spaces should appear ample. Do you have any idea how many coats I’ve given away? How many remain? And how many are not mine?

Finding our forever home: I’m not doing this again, so we have to pick a place to live, with our diminishing energy for the task and before other people have to do it for us, that we will die in. I’ve written about Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), and we’ll be visiting California to pick one, knowing it’s intended to be a permanent move.

Kids: I will point out that any good parent of adult children worries like crazy about everything (and ours are doing well), by definition.

Family: How to see our far-flung offspring, and arranging the once-a-year vacation, with activities at all levels from zero (me) to healthy young adult. We weren’t doing the ‘visit Mom and Dad for the holidays’ thing anyway (they no longer really fit here, and there’s nothing to do, especially nothing I can participate in).

Finances: Goes without saying, even if you have savings – plus there’s that pesky bit about spending after you’ve spent your entire adult life (especially since disability meant I would not be earning again) NOT-spending. They want how much for a two-bedroom apartment at the CCRC?

Gizzy: A big problem. Rodents are not welcome at all CCRCs, chinchillas are long-lived, and she’s been a bit spoiled. It would be better for her to have a younger owner. Define ‘better.’ And how to find one, and hand her over safely. I will take her with us if I have to, but I’m coming to the realization that this may not be the best solution for either of us. Love the little gray furball.

You get the idea.

There are actually many many more, and some of them are connected with writing.

Slow writers have a problem in that the possible feedback from self-publishing (not even going anywhere near what writers who are not established enough to call the shots go through with traditional publishing) is slow. Unless the writer does all the things successful indies do – promotion, newsletters and mailing lists, interviews, keyword ads – the best help is the next book, and Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD will probably not be finished this year, not at the current rate. It goes well – the advantage of a writing system like mine is the ability to work on a manageable piece at a time – but slower than usual.

Benefits of dealing rather than slogging on

The payback for doing the move should be the ability to dump a lot of the above stresses, and get back to a writing schedule which doesn’t keep getting interrupted.

Okay, those of you laughing in the back: I know it doesn’t work that easily.

But I do have the fact behind me that when I finished my parents’ final tax returns, and mailed them to the IRS, that stress just stopped. Hard. I worried for a day or two I might have done something incorrect – and cut that out. The paperwork supported the returns I mailed in – and that’s that. I have a nice plastic box an inch thick only with everything I might need if audited. Done.

I have started

I sent my assistant to the basement with my iPhone to take pictures of the information on the tile boxes. I checked out that the tile store I bought the front hall and bathroom tile from are still in business. Closed, by the time I checked, but open tomorrow.

I called the recommended mason. Yes, he does chimneys on roofs! Sent him pictures I finally extracted from the husband’s OneDrive. He is coming by tomorrow to take a look. Yes!

Oh, and I finished the last beat of the last scene of the next chapter – and listened to it in the robot voice – and it’s fine. I think I’m writing cleaner and sparer as I go (but it could just be this scene).

I firmly believe there are a finite number of steps necessary to get a house ready for market. I am determined to direct the efforts. I talked to someone who will call me back tomorrow about staging (yay cellphones – she was half a country away on a trip).

The flu will go away. I will find something to eat, and watch Olympics, and try to get some sleep.

And go back to whatever I can do tomorrow.

Did it help to list the stressors?

Yes, but the danger there is that listing is not reducing. Only reducing is helpful in the long run. Had we any intention to stay here when I started nagging several years ago, they’re gone. The movement is forward, interrupted by everything.

It’s keep moving – or literally die trying.

If I could finish my writing first, please?

12 thoughts on “Fearlessly make a stress inventory and face it

  1. sunshinysa

    Alicia, I thought I was a busy bee and here you are doing all of this AND with medical issues. We renovated, uncluttered and there is STILL SO MUCH that I need to re-distribute, re-allocate or just bin. Still sentimental and holding on!
    Husband is fed up of the work that comes with having a property. I am fed up of nagging. Looks like we have to “call the guy” to fix things… More bills. Ugh.
    I feel your pain.
    I too, would rather just sit and write.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Welcome to Liebjabberings, Kavita.

      You don’t realize two things are going on simultaneously: stuff accumulates AND you are getting older.

      We have owned two houses in our soon-to-be 43 years of marriage: the first one in Maryland for three years, and this one in suburban New Jersey for thirty-seven! Since I’ve had ME/CFS for 28+ years, and even though every assistant I’ve had has helped dejunk, there hasn’t really been a functioning ‘lady of the house’ for a very long time. I’m paying for that now!

      But it is easier to make decisions when you know/plan that whatever length of time you have left on Earth, it’s going to be in the two-bedroom apartment you are trying to pick (and then in smaller places, if you live long enough and frailty happens), it makes a lot of the decisions – which were pending because you MIGHT use something again – a lot easier.

      I am proud of myself for not being attached to most of our stuff. It’s been wonderful, and serviceable, and never worth any great amount of money, and I can let it go to a new home or the garbage dump with no great sense of loss. My kids and husband are what has always been important, but material possessions haven’t dogged my heels. Most of what’s going with us are souvenirs hand-made in Mexico that we have bought on trips. Things like a baking dish, or a pitcher, or a vase that we love. The rest – even some lovely wedding presents – is not coming.

      I had the home movies digitized, and the CDs, and will take a couple boxes of pre-digital photos (to be processed later), and that’s it!

      Weird feeling, but freeing. Sentimentality for me has always been about people and places, not things. Thank God!


      1. sunshinysa

        Well you have just helped put things into perspective. All those Winnie the pooh and Barney stuffed toys are going to be machine washed and sent off to the children’s home. It will help bring smiles to deserving eyes.my daughter has just agreed with me.
        A house for 37 years? I’m in mine for 19 years. Still have to do the grandchildren route. In the interim, the kitties gets the run of the garden. ♡♡♡


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Please check first. In the States, no one will take stuffed animals, even if they’ve been washed. My youngest daughter has a ton of them – now she will have to decide what to do with them!

          It’s just like books: the places in the world which could use old chemistry textbooks are prohibitive to ship to. At least most of the information is on the internet – for those with access. And chemistry doesn’t change much (they just add the newer topics). Breaks my heart to tear up what were expensive textbooks – which we will never open again.

          The world has changed SO much, even just since 1975 when we got married.


  2. Janna G. Noelle

    I wasn’t aware that there are stress inventories available online. I’m now sitting here wondering what I should do with this information. Part of me feels like becoming more aware of the extent of my stress could actually have the opposite effect (I say with tongue at least partially in cheek).

    I’m trying to do better with managing my stress this year. One of my resolutions for 2018 was to maintain a better balance between working (both my day job and personal pursuits) and not working. I’ve said no to a few things I might have otherwise done in order to have fewer total things on my plate. Honestly, it’s too early in the year to say how I’m doing. It’s usually closer to November-December that I really start to feel unravelled. Wishing you well with managing/reducing your own stress.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Type ‘stress inventory’ into Google – there are many. The one I found for my assistant was what I remembered from having filled one out years ago: it assigns a point value to such life events, positive and negative, as marriage, divorce, losing a job, finishing a degree, and gives you some guidance on what to do depending on your total stress.

      IIRC, 300 points meant you were going to have a major illness if you didn’t cut that down, 100 was fairly normal, 200 was watch it territory. My assistant had way over 300 points (not my fault). Lovely girl. Her doctor talked to her parents about it.

      I don’t dare find one and tote up the balance. And I’m looking to reduce every single entry in the list. Sometimes it helps to know – and people decide to postpone a joyous – but stressful – addition (don’t buy the puppy). Stress is neither good nor bad, and is also not avoidable, but it needs to be managed if you’re in the red zone.

      Usually you have to remove a LOT more than you think you do. Younger, healthier people get away with a lot for a long time. But it can ambush.

      Good luck – priorities help sort out what you want to accept. I deal with it continuously now.


  3. marianallen

    Listing stressors IS useful! So is listing depressors. When you’re naturally anxious/depressive (as I am), it’s easy to fall into the list and say, “Naturally, I’m anxious/depressed — with good reason. See all my reasons?” But, as you say and/or imply by how you deal with your list, the list(s) is(are) useful if one takes each item, faces it, and either deals with it or prioritizes it for later dealing. How do you eat an elephant, right? Well, of course you don’t, if you’re a vegetarian, but you know what I mean!!! Wish I could take Gizzy, but I think our cat would traumatize her, poor li’l fing.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I think every single thing that causes me stress also depresses me – I fight that one every day, it seems. Sometimes it’s a quick, “Oh. I remember you. Begone.” Other times it’s sitting there like a gargoyle on a dirty Paris building, waiting to let the rain out through its mouth.

      But I remind myself that there is gold in stress and depression if I will but look. It is human to succumb, superhuman to become self-aware and USE it. I aim to be aware. I think that’s one of the writer’s natural tasks.

      Thanks for even THINKING about Gizzy. So many things I need to do there! I have initiated some, need to keep completing the next step. I know they have intelligence and long memories – she remembers my youngest and behaves better for her!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Latest stressor: Amazon deletes two reviews. I’ve been sitting at 32 for weeks, waiting for a few more bloggers who might write one, and suddenly it’s down to 30!

      All of these things are impossibly time-consuming for someone like me: I either stress about them; or try to figure out which were deleted, and why, and persuade the powers that be to restore them. When marketing is a background task (okay, I’m doing nothing right now but a few Amazon ads sitting on their rear ends), it would be nice to see an occasional bump in the RIGHT direction! I laugh at myself, tell myself to ignore it, and add ‘worrying about reviews being kidnapped in the night’ to the list.

      If I weren’t so positive traditional publishing wouldn’t have worked better, I’d be wondering.

      I need FEWER (not LESS) stressors; not MORE. Ever the nitpicker.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          We’re of the last few people who CARE, and we will go to our ultimate end upholding the standards, grocery stores notwithstanding!

          I find it, however, a useful distinction: if someone doesn care about and used language properly, they’re probably not in my tribe.

          Don’t worry – there are MILLIONS of us.

          Liked by 1 person

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