Trouble with a Capital T…

I mentioned in the comments a week or so ago that according to my brother Tom (to whom Louisa’s book is dedicated), he knows something is a problem when… it regularly interferes with his sleep.

snuggly child and kittenWhether it’s his job, his finances, his right hip, or his teenage son, Tom knows he needs to take a situation seriously when it consistently steals his sleep.

Tom’s rule of thumb got me to thinking about many of the foster children I represent. One of the ways we know they’ve been through significant trauma, even if they’re too young or limited to talk about it, is if they’ve lost the ability to connect things like, “If I’m hungry, I should eat. If I’m tired I should sleep. If I’m full, I should stop eating. If I need to use the facilities, I should find a bathroom.”

These kids have endured environments where nobody took their most basic needs seriously, or where the sense of danger was so pervasive, it wasn’t safe to turn their focus inward even for a few minutes at a time. They have a lot in common with combat vets and those afflicted with severe mental illness.

I don’t live in that sort of environment, thank heavens! But I have my sources of stress, too. One of my “warning lights” that I’m not managing that stress very well has gone dark in the past few years, in that I no longer get many migraine headaches. Time was, if I was too tired, too anxious, too thirsty, too hot, too hungry, around too much pollen… I’d get a headache, and though it might start out as an allergy headache or a tension headache, it would soon morph into a migraine.

snuggly kittenAvoiding those three day splitting headaches became a priority, and because a zillion medications had no effect on them (except to add to my symptoms), I became zealous about avoiding the triggers. And—what a coincidence!—life is better if I get enough sleep, regular food and drink, some relaxation and so forth.

For my dad and grandma, the headaches disappeared with increasing age, the theory being that a bit of hardening of the arteries provides protection from the migraine. I don’t want the headaches back, but I do need to identify my warning lights more effectively now that my headaches are gone.

Tom’s rule is a good one for me too, but so are these: If I go a week without writing a new scene, I might be in trouble. If I go a month without a social outing, I might be in trouble. If I drive past my turn off, especially on the way home, I might be in trouble. If I bounce a check and had no idea I was flirting with insolvency, I’m in trouble.

pleased wiff myselfThese are small troubles, but if I pay attention to them, they’re a lot less likely to build into big troubles, and life is more likely to remain sweet–so in a way, I’m grateful for them.

What are your warning lights? What sets them off that surprises you?

To three commenters, I’ll send a $15 Amazon gift certificate (which ought to be enough to cover even a print version of “Nicholas” due out on May 6.)

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37 comments on “Trouble with a Capital T…

  1. My biggest warning light would have to getting snippy with all my boys, husband included. I spent a couple of very miserable years of my life being angry and yelling at just about everything at home, which if you know me went against everything about me. I finally got help and have been my fairly calm self for over 5 years now, but I know when I need to have some alone time or let me husband take over something because I find myself getting upset over the slightest things. I also know I am running on empty when the short term memory goes. I may have an astounding long term memory but there are days when I am very forgetful and then I know I need some rest.
    I don’t know if there is anything surprising that sets them off, just the busyness of life.

    Oh and now I am singing “Ya Got Trouble” but that is okay as it is from one of my most favorite musicals of all time and it’s a song I sing a lot anyway. I may have to watch it later today as it’s been a while since I have seen it.

    • I’m stuck with “Gary, Indiana,” Sarah, and it’s not one of my favorite musicals. My memory doesn’t exactly give out when I’m stressed, but I have more of that, I know it, but it’s just out of reach, gimme a minute… before I can get my hands on the information I need. Not such a good idea when you’re a courtroom attorney…

  2. Those kids come from horrifying places and all they want is to go home. I think I’m slightly scarred by a few of the stories I heard. Sadly, I was glad to see that group home get in trouble and those kids sent to another school. It was too much stress for me.

    My warning that it (meaning everything) is getting to be too much is the eye twitch. When my eyelid begins to twitch, I know I’m not sleeping enough. That’s a head up to let some of it go. It will all get done. Maybe not as quickly as I (or the principal) would like, but it will get done.

    April/May is the usual time for the eye twitch. One year it had started by late August. It was a rough year.

    • Sabrina, that urge to re-unite with the progenitors who failed to protect us is baffling and well documented. Nature in this case seems to favor the organism that’s reached reproductive age over the survival of the young. Nature is really stupid sometimes.
      Do you think year round school with more good size breaks, would help with teacher stress?

      • I’m on a more traditional calendar now. For 8 years I was one what is called “year long”; we went 9 weeks and then had a 2 week break and about 6 weeks in the summer. I can’t say that I was less stressed. The lowest elementary teachers were not the biggest fans of that calendar because they had to do quite a bit of reteaching after a two week break.

        In education, if you are stressed it is either self inflicted (because you’re stressing over kids who don’t care) or it is coming from a governments at wants results like Japan’s without culling the nuts. Either way, you have to learn to let it go (or at least take a mental health day off).

  3. I wish I had an easy to identify warning sign of troubles. Being a little more easily irritated or obsessing over extraneous details are my warning signs. So I am left asking myself, “Was my level of irritation in line with the problem or is there something else eating at me?” “Am I just really interested in the details or am avoiding something else that really needs my attention?”

    • I have a theory, Nicole, that at a certain time of the month when women are supposedly more cranky and irritable, that’s how cranky and irritable we’re entitled to be, and the other three weeks, we’re nice-nice, tolerant, and good girl to keep the peace. That one week of the month, that’s the real me, and that was scary sometimes.

  4. I am an avid reader. It is not uncommon for me to devour a 350-400 page book in a day. When things are out of whack for me, I become apathetic and cannot focus. The explosions in Boston this past Monday have preyed on my mind. I have been there, staying at Copley place, walking the Freedom Trail. I know some of the people who were barricaded in their homes. We are only a little over 100 miles from Boston. This hit home. I know I can not focus when I started and could not read more than 30 pages in any of the books I picked up this week. Friday I picked up Lady Sophie for the nth time and read halfway through it.I finished yesterday. With the capture of the second suspect and finishing my book, I feel as if I have turned the corner today.

    • Martha, I was in Denver during the Aurora shootings, and my daughter had gone to see a premier of the Dark Knight, and often chose the Aurora theaters for her movie night. For some reason, her boyfriend suggested they go somewhere a bit more upscale that night, and…

      EVERYBODY in that town had the thousand mile stare the next morning. The hotel clerks, the Starbucks barristas, the moms with their kids in the grocery stores… I cried halfway across Utah when I left Denver, and I’m not even sure I can tell you why.

      What strikes me, though, is that much of the world has been living with this level of violence and unpredictability for a long time. Makes me appreciate the peace and community what we do have, and makes me determined to do what I can to preserve it.

  5. My warning lights — sometimes a whole dashboard of them — were much more obvious when I worked outside the home. A key one was trying to do so much that I felt frantic. (I used to joke that I was much like the quirky old clock on the mantel — as it wound down, it would actually speed up and run fast.) Another was feeling like I was on the verge of tears with no other discernible reason. When that happened, I knew it was time for a “health” day — I wasn’t legitimately “sick” but knew I would be if I pushed myself any farther.

    Now that I work for myself, everything has shifted. The warning lights don’t come on as much, mainly because I have the time to be more aware of troubles before they get too large — and because I can do something about them right away. Sometimes I feel just tired and overwhelmed enough to go to bed around 5:30. Sometimes I feel just anti-social enough to ignore the phone and keep the door closed for the day, until I feel my equilibrium return. Sometimes I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin, and I take a walk or get up and do something, anything, to get my mind off it.

    On the other hand, not writing in my journal for a long time (which can help me track more subtle troubles) might be trouble. Having too many “projects” might be trouble. And not paying attention to what I’m eating — just shoveling any old thing in because I need food NOW — is definitely trouble.

    Now with the sun shining on a beautiful day today, perhaps I’ll go for a walk, then come back and enjoy a healthy snack and the rest of “Darius” — and thus douse the warning lights and start the week refreshed! 🙂

    • Jennifer, I’m slow to catch on, but I’ve finally realized I MUST have time home alone, or I get bent out of shape. Not necessarily anxious, but snarky and unkind. When I’m home, I’m usually able to decompress, find my balance, and recharge. Where do homeless people go for that, if anywhere?

  6. I get Grumpy!

    And yes, that is Grumpy with a capital “G”. There are several levels of Grumpy that starts with muttering under my breath, followed by snapping at my coworkers and then, ultimately, losing the filter on my mouth when talking to people. If it is a particularly Grumpy day, a swear word may make its way past my lips. That usually does the trick to lighten my mood because they are so few and far between that I get incredibly embarrassed and turn red as a beet!

    Grumpy usually manifests itself after a difficult week at the Day Job. Too long hours, too few coworkers to help with the load, too many tragedies and too few breaks in the day or days off. Thankfully, I have learned to recognize the signs before they get out of hand and I get called into The Office.

    Now that I think about it, I haven’t been Grumpy in quite a while…

    • Christina, we do get better about recognizing the warning signs, don’t we? The urge to cuss is a sign I’m not feeling heard, too… And when you want to cuss at the judge, on the record, in open court… probably a sign I need a vacay…

  7. Grace I’m not sure I know what if any warning lights I have. I’ve been alone for so long that I honestly don’t have that much stress anymore. I think it has also helped in that I spend almost every Wednesday from late morning until the early evening with my daughter and her kids. It’s just us and her youngest two until about 2:45pm when the oldest three pile into the SUV, sometimes all talking at once, and we go off to get something to eat. At times they argue over who gets to sit with me so they generally rotate, last week it was the 9 year old, this week it should be the 11 year old but that may change between now and Wednesday.
    I went to church today for the first time in months, had been feeling guilty for not being able to go when I was sick last fall so I put off going back. Will also be back to volunteering on Thursday, though I’m not sure what I’ll do since I need a sit down job & there aren’t that many to go around.
    Church was very meaningful today as our senior pastor lost his nephew in the explosion in West, TX. He said his nephew was in West for an EMT class, he was a volunteer fire fighter, when the alarm went off for the fire at the fertilizer place the class was dismissed and all of them went to fight the fire. I can’t imagine what this man, his neice-in-law, and everyone else is going through. She’s now a widow with two small sons and a third child on the way. All I can do is pray for her.
    Things seem to change daily in my life and I’ve learned to deal with that the older I get.

    • Molly, some people would find that solitude stressful, some people would feel sorry for themselves, some people would figure Church ought to come check on them… Molly Moody is not Some People!

  8. When I was too stressed at work I used to get that feeling of panic that I just couldn’t do it all. I would just start to shut down and not be able to focus, which made it worse. Now that I have a much less stressful job, I don’t need to panic anymore, and life is so much better. In my personal life, I can tell when something’s bothering me because I dream about it or I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about it. Making a decision on what to do about the problem usually helps, or the social situation or occasion I’m worrying about happens and the worry is resolved.

  9. Barbara, as a kid I was the queen of bad dreams. I was always falling, being chased, meeting monsters where they shouldn’t oughta be… as an adult, that has abated, so if I DO have a bad dream, as you note, it’s a warning sign.

  10. When I saw this post on FB I said to myself “if I win I can pre-order Nicholas”! Not that I won’t buy it, if I don’t win of course. I am a pretty easy going person, so if I start losing my temper over little things, then I know I am feeling over whelmed. So I try to get some alone time and some extra sleep. When I was younger I didn’t know how to use the word no and because of that I got really sick. Well that’s what I think. The doctors never said that, but when I think back on it I feel that is part of why I got sick. So anyway I have learned to say no, no, no and no. I now am able to keep my chronic illnesses at a manageable place. If you don’t pay attention to your body it will let you know there is a problem and sometimes it will hit you with a ton of bricks. I think it is just amazing that you are able to work with children in need. I was one of those children and my siblings and I had no one to help us. I am 50, so back when I was a child there just wasn’t a lot of attention brought to children who had parents who were not doing well with there job as a parent. That goodness that has changed, but I know a lot more could still be done in that area. So I just want to say thank you for doing the job you do.

    • Mary, I wish things had changed for the better where child welfare is concerned, but I’m not sure they have. Children don’t vote, you see, and as you well know, when a child is in a bad circumstance, half the time, the kid thinks bad circumstances are normal.

      But you’ve moved past that, and like many of us, found some consolation and pleasure in books. Julia Quinn has a quote to the effect that: A romance novel may not change lives, but it can change a person’s afternoon.

      • Could I get any worse spelling Bad eye sight and an iPhone do not work well together. I need to stick with the computer. I started reading romance novels at 11, so I guess there is something to that. 🙂

  11. I would have to say that my most unfavored stress trigger, is weight gain. I am a stress eater, and always have been. When the pants start getting too tight, and I have no idea why, it forces me to step back from myself. Sometimes my life gets away from me, and I can be so caught up in trying to catch up, that I get really stressed out. How does a person get so over-run with stuff, and not notice? Been trying to work that one out for years.

    • Tracey, you are making me THINK, and stare at the scale and think again. Everybody says cortisol overload will interfere with proper metabolism, proper sleep, proper everything.


  12. I’m like your brother: if something bothers my sleep (or the time I wake up), I know it’s trouble. Usually, when it comes to big decisions, I make them and then sleep — and then act on them the next day. If I sleep soundly that night, I know I made the right one.

    Another warning light for me is books. If I go a week without picking up a book to read, I know there’s something wrong.

    I also handle my troubles in different ways. I’m lucky to have a husband with an open ear and I can talk to him about everything. Then I have an older sister who is always available for conversations and she gives very good advice. Finally, there’s always coffee with my friend — and it’s a coffee date that takes us a good two to three hours and it’s a great time to unburden for both of us.

    Hope you are having a trouble-free week! ^_^

    • Tin, I’m not in the office this week, and… finding it hard to not take the office with me. Those hard cases ride around in the truck with me, sit down at the computer with me…. Maybe that’s another warning light for me. Yeah.

  13. I know I’ve not been taking enough care of myself (especially in regards to sleep) when I get cranky. Aches and pains are my other warning, telling me I need to remember to do my strenght training and stretching.

  14. I use to get every headache there was but of course the migraines were the worst of them. My migraines were mostly hormonal so I lost them when menopause came around. Reading at night helps me get to sleep but when I’m stressed, I wake and cannot get back to sleep. Over the years I have tried to and sometimes succeed in letting things go. I come from a long line of worriers and logically I know it does no good.

    • I dunno, Jeanne. Sometimes, when I’m turning a situation over and over and over in my mind, that’s when a new angle will present itself. I abhor a night wasted on worry though, or a succession of nights.

  15. If I don’t sleep well three nights in a row or when I don’t feel like reading or cooking for several days–those are all warning signs for me. They prod me along to action. Interesting column; thanks.

    • Mary Balogh thinks we get hooked on reading because it shuts down our woes and worries when we’re in the story world, much like anti-anxiety medication. I agree, and agree with you too: When the books don’t work, something is amiss. (Or it’s time to find new keepers.)

  16. My warnings are shoulder and neck pain leading to really bad headacche’s . I try now not to get stressed which has helped recently.

    Looking forward to Nicholas’s book,

  17. I always do better with a little time in the morning to myself. Just a little. But if I notice myself needing more than that. Or time later in the day. Or isolating myself from everyone more than just one day or so….I know there is something up. Or if I am short with people. Its very unlike me.
    You all were speaking of the dark knight shooting. My son was also at one of the all day marathons. I was worried for him, of course. But when he came thru the door, it struck me how it could have just as easily been phoenix. My prayers were for the families and friends, the loved ones of everyone that went thru that night.
    Life is so short. Give the hugs. Be kind and gentle to yourself. And buy the books. 🙂

  18. My warning sign would be a neck pain. It means I am working too much on my computer and not relaxing enough. When I get like that I know I need to take a step back and really take some time and focus on myself instead of the stress of the world.

    • I have the occasional neck pain, and it’s one of those things you’d think is merely a nuisance, until if afflicts you. Then you realize, sleeping, driving, reading… not much you can do that doesn’t involve your neck. You’re smart to pay attention to it!

  19. If my eyes start watering and have trouble focusing it’s a clear sign that I’m not getting enough sleep. Also when I’m feeling over stressed (or sick) I just can’t read. If that happens things are dire as reading is my passion. LOL