Driving is when I have the opportunity to gauge my stress levels.
As a full-time teacher and Mum of three, I have always enjoyed a busy and hectic life. There are always points in the year which are more stressful than others. For us, this is usually the end of term; we are all shattered, the kids as well as us. The end of term sees our usual routines change, only slightly, but this can trigger a rise in our stress levels. Whether it’s the end of term discos, gifts for colleagues or collapsed curriculum days, it means we need to think and organise beyond the norm which, when you are already running on empty, can be enough to push you over the edge.
Our experience of stress though, has fortunately been limited. I did experience a spell in 2014 when I secured a Headteacher role at a specialist school for children with special educational needs. When I accepted the role, there was a nagging uncertainty that I would be able to combine being a mother and a Headteacher. Sure enough, after six months leading the school, I began to realise that the cogs were starting to fall off both at home and professionally. I could not sacrifice the needs of my family to give the role the 24/7 commitment it needed. And so I resigned. Until now, this was the most stressful time of my life. I felt I had let everyone down by not rising to the challenge, my colleagues, students and their families and my own family and friends. I was also aware that this could impact on my future career, however, I had to take the risk for the sake of my family and my own mental health.
The stress realm we are in now is a whole new world. Before diagnosis, my idle stress level would be around 3oo rpm revving to about 3500 rpm at peak times namely: end of term, work pressures, poorly child, family worries, money worries, the usual stuff. In the last couple of years, I might have reached 5000 rpm for one reason or another, but those peaking revs returned to idle as quickly as they had risen.
As I drive, I watch my rev counter and continue to relate it to recent events. At the moment, my current idle stress level is around 2500 rpm due to the constant and continuous risk of infection and immediate hospitalisation. There is no rest from this. My stress levels rev to about 4500 rpm at least twice a day as Felix takes his temperature, I know his rpm does as well. There are the incidents when I know Felix is going to be in pain or distressed, then we see the level go to around 7000 rpm. This is when he has to have his port accessed, when he says he feels sick, when he has blood draws, when he looks sad, when he has a lumbar puncture, when he sees his friends enjoying a football match, when he has to take his tablets when his mouth is full of ulcers and so on. Then there are the times when stress levels threaten to go off the dial, hovering around the 8-9000 rpm mark. This is when his temperature does spike, his port doesn’t work, he is sick, he is sad, we are in hospital and so on.
I have wondered how much stress humans can take. You can hear an engine when it is being over-revved as it squeals and screams in torment. I suppose you can see it in us as we scream or cry or withdraw.
Luckily, Team Brown has a huge amount of support. My wonderful family, friends and social media community continue to service my mental health to keep my rpm at a healthy idle. They provide the oil of laughter, humour and encouragement, the petrol of good food, wine and cake and the maintenance through conversation, text and acknowledgement. Thank you for coming along for the ride, I hope you enjoy it and there aren’t too many surprises. Happy driving!