Perfect happiness is an illusion.
You would think life is a piece of cake being a stay at home and work from home dad with a stay at home spouse. But I recently went through two weeks of intense lower back pain due to emotional stress. The last time I went through this type of pain was during the dotcom collapse between 2000 – 2003 because I was constantly fearful of losing my job.
After reading Dr. Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain, I became back pain free for 14 years until recently. If you are suffering from chronic pain, you must read this book.
So what’s the issue today? It’s simply adapting to the loss of 100% freedom, being a new parent, receiving judgmental comments, getting bombarded with endless requests over e-mail, keeping up a regular posting schedule, and being the sole provider for my family.
Something had to give. And that something was my back. Chronic pain is the mind’s way of distracting us from emotional stress.
My back pain is a reminder that health is more important than wealth. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you can’t take care of your physical AND mental well-being. Do not be embarrassed to seek help, especially for mental health issues.
Now that I’ve recovered, I’d like to share some thoughts on reducing emotional stress in order to appreciate life more. Might as well turn a bad situation into something useful for those who currently suffer.
Do What You Can
I’ve always believed that so long as you do your best, nothing else matters. The worst is being gifted at something and not taking full advantage.
Can you imagine being a talented singer and never bothering to audition for your high school musical? Can you imagine being 6′ 10″, but never practicing any sports? Or how about if you are a brilliant academic who decided to skip university despite getting a full ride in order to go vagabonding for years? We need champions by our side to guide us in the right direction.
Because I’m neither physically nor mentally above average, I took it upon myself as a teenager to try my best at every opportunity I was given. It was important to maximize my potential because my potential was never that great.
To not take full advantage of my opportunity would be an insult to those who didn’t have the same luck. It was hard witnessing so much poverty growing up in emerging markets. So I toiled and toiled until I finally decided after a couple decades I no longer felt guilty anymore. The growth stage of my life was over. It was time to focus on taking care of my family and volunteering some time to help others who could use some help.
But if I was truly content, why would I experience chronic back pain again? I got angry at myself for not being more thankful.
Then I met someone who helped put things in perspective.
The Gift Of Seeing Clearly
Roughly 15% of the world’s population, or 1.2 billion people have a disability. Disabilities range from seeing, hearing, movement, learning, neurological and more. Don’t assume that just because someone looks normal, they aren’t dealing with some sort of impediment.
Sonya, one of the girls I met at a foster home had two visual impairments called ocular albinism and nystagmus. You can have one without the other, but often times they go together.
Ocular albinism is a genetic condition that reduces the pigmentation of the iris, which is the colored part of the eye, and the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Many folks with ocular albinism have difficulty seeing outside without sunglasses and transitioning from outside to inside.
Nystagmus is a condition in which the eyes move in an involuntary and repetitive way. Sometimes the movement is slow and horizontal. Other times the movement is fast twitched, vertical, and rotary. There are supposedly 49 different subtypes of nystagmus with varying degrees of severity. These movements often result in reduced vision and depth perception. The condition tends to improve until about age 10, and stabilizes for the remainder of the person’s life.
Due to her visual issues, Sonya’s best corrected visual acuity is 20/200, the cut off point for legal blindness. In other words, even with glasses or contacts, she can only see something clearly from 20 feet away that other people can see clearly from 200 feet away. Most people who are near-sighted or far-sighted are able to correct their vision to 20/20 with glasses, contacts, or laser surgery. Sonya cannot.
Sonya didn’t say much to me about her family life or visual impairment at first, but she slowly opened up about how she was having a difficult time at school. She always had to sit in the front of the class, and even then, it was often hard to see what the teacher had written on the white board. But she said she always did her best to keep up.
Despite her family situation and her visual impairment, Sonya showed me a great attitude that made me proud. Although she said she had her fair share of bullies, she also told me wisely how she wasn’t bothered because she knew the bullies were going through their own difficulties. The sister of one of the bullies died in an accident a year ago. Another bully’s father was sent to prison. The kids in school found out and made fun of the bully as a result.
Sonya also mentioned how she’s become an expert listener as her hearing makes up for her vision loss. “Sam, I’m like Daredevil in the comics!”
Sonya displayed the one trait I long to instill in my son: empathy / compassion. Empathy comes from understanding about other people’s situations before making any judgement. Empathy allows people to listen and connect without making any judgement at all. Even if spite is hurled their way, the compassionate person is able to forgive and show kindness.
The other trait Sonya possesses that I hope all of us embrace is an indomitable spirt. No matter what our challenges, we will find a way to overcome. Whether it’s trying to reach financial independence early or getting through middle school without too many emotional scars, an indomitable spirit is important. “What I see is all I know. I’ll be fine,” she said when she sensed my worry.
Snapping Out Of A Funk
Sonya reminded me that I took my situation for granted. Feeling stressed about losing temporary freedom was silly because I had freedom to give up. What about all those who are still stuck in the salt mines, unable to ever get out? Feeling the pressure of having to constantly write on Financial Samurai is self-induced pressure that’s unnecessary. Taking a week off won’t change a thing.
Sonya also reminded me that no matter what challenges my son faces, he has two loving parents who will give all their time to help him lead a normal and happy life. She told me that all she’s ever wanted was for her parents to stop fighting so they could go to the park like her friend’s families. As a foster kid mentor, I hope to help fill some of that gap.
We will all go through emotional stress. Some of you will burn out and decide to quit your job, quit your marriage, or go down some deep dark path. I encourage you to take a good amount of time feeling angry and sorry for yourself. Afterward, get up and see life through the perspective of others.
Changes Are On The Way
I hope all Financial Samurai readers can embrace empathy in your day to day lives. The next time someone doesn’t look you in the eye when speaking, don’t get annoyed. Maybe it’s because they literally can’t due to their nystagmus. The next time someone seems cold, don’t feel insulted. It may be because they have Aspergers, which sometimes makes socializing a little more difficult.
In addition to being mindful about different perspectives, I plan to reduce stress further by deleting spiteful comments, aggressively filtering e-mails, and writing freely without concern. I will remind myself that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Further, I’ll be setting up schedule That commits me to only working and checking my messages during these times.
I leave you with an inspiring TED talk by Caroline Casey who might just very well be the adult version of Sonya. You’ll enjoy the clip because it talks about everything we talk about here: belief, self-esteem, courage, finding a purpose, and helping others. Try not to take what you have for granted.
Please enjoy and share your thoughts about how you reduce emotional stress in your life. What are some of the walls you’ve faced and successfully climbed over? Who have you met that changed your perspective?