How Stress Almost Outsmarted Me
By Dr. Lena Edwards
You may have read Adrenalogic appreciating the data but wondering, “How can this woman possibly understand what it is like for me? Sure, being a doctor is tough, but how does she know what it is like to be unemployed, uninsured, or in an unhealthy relationship?” Now, although this book is not an autobiography, I can assure you that indirectly it is.
I could’ve written a book about anything, but I chose to write my first book on something very personal to me: stress. In fact, I rank my life experience right up there with my medical training as the most influential factors in defining the type of doctor and person I have become. Helping people understand stress, how it can either help them or slowly kill them, and how they can outsmart and overcome it has become my passion… My divine calling, if you will. Believe me, I know because I almost allowed my stress to outsmart me too.
As a Type A personality, I often find myself wearing many, many “hats.” As such, in addition to my “doctor hat,” I wear hats corresponding to my roles as mother, business owner, employer, employee, author, speaker, teacher, significant other, daughter, and sister. I’m not saying this so you can reach for your miniature violin and play a little rendition of “my heart bleeds for you.” Rather, what I hope you to take away from this brief glimpse into my life is that I understand. I have personally and professionally “been there and done that” with just about everything you can think of. As such, I feel amply qualified to expertly guide you through these many pages.
I have had several unsettling life experiences just like everyone else, but there is one particularly memorable event that I would like to share with you. In 2003, I had a thriving practice with over two thousand patients. My hectic work schedule kept me distracted enough not to notice that my hair was falling out and my muscles were deteriorating. My diet consisted of crackers and soda from which my intestinal tract constantly begged for mercy. Because I clearly wasn’t busy enough, I decided to add more to my plate by getting trained in other areas of medicine: Botox, mesotherapy, laser therapy, anti-aging, bio-identical hormone replacement, integrative medicine… it was never-ending. With all these additional services came hundreds more patients which my office couldn’t contain. I decided to search for a new space and was approached by a seemingly charming real estate agent who suggested we purchase the building together – this move marked the beginning of the end for me.
It was in 2004 that I received the dreaded “wake-up “call which caused me to crash into the proverbial wall. Some may ignore these calls, and I tried to do the same. I received no hint of what was coming; if I had I might have been better prepared. This literal wake-up call notified me that my real estate partner had absconded with all of the mortgage payments and I was forced to file bankruptcy. I lost everything, including my medical practice, in the process. It was a devastating blow, but it didn’t kill me. In fact, quite the opposite: for I can now appreciate the fact that losing my business probably saved my life instead. “How?,” you may ask.
As you have probably gathered by now, you have a great deal of control over how a stressor affects you. And your perception becomes your reality which then fuels your reaction. Our perceptions to things can be as unique to us as our fingerprints and are also partially programmed into our DNA. Your surroundings and circumstances also play a significant role in how you react. For instance, before losing my business, I was a complete control freak. Everything had to be perfect, everything needed to be done yesterday, and there could never be room for error. My perception of life was that “average was the enemy of good.” Well, pardon the cliché, but this life lesson gave me a new perspective: my perceptions and reactions to stressful situations were slowly killing me. And even though I believed I was in complete control over my life, it only took one event to completely change it! I was able to adapt to this devastating blow. Have you adapted from yours?
So for all the rest of you who have hit rock bottom at some point in your life and can empathize with my situation, I pose to you this question: how did you handle it? Did you “outsmart” it or did it outsmart you? Believe me, I went through the typical stages of grief and loss, but I always tried to remember that amplifying stress with more stress would never get me out of my emotional black hole. I’m human too, and I would be lying if I said I did not falter along the way, but I’ve never lost sight of the ultimate goal… Self-preservation. Absolutely I considered leaving the practice of medicine to move to Hawaii and become a beach bum. Alcohol and other “emotional tranquilizers” were always an option over exercise and meditation, but I chose the healthier options. Negative thoughts like, “What have you done?!” echoed through my head every day, but I chose to ignore them. Instead, of succumbing to short term Band-Aid solutions, I chose healthier long-term solutions by maintaining my body, sanity, and well-being through making positive choices.
I see thousands of patients a year, men and women of different ages, backgrounds, and professions. I listen very carefully to the details of their lives and always ask them about what “stresses them out.” The patient’s stressors and their reactions to them are often the very reason why they feel “bad” and come to see me. Because of my life experiences, my many hats now give me clarity to meet the person in front of me, not the patient. In fact, I may occasionally share bits of my personal experiences with them so they realize I know how it feels to be down, overweight, unemployed, uninsured, or whatever the life hit may be.