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© 2019 by Ali Owens​

I'm Fine, I'm Great, I've Got This - A Lesson in Stress & Self-Care



I’m not going to lie, guys - it’s been a rough few weeks. I pride myself on my optimism, my positive energy, and my resilience in the face of stress - but this last week I’ve felt fragile as an egg about to crack. This is not something I’m comfortable admitting, for the record, which is exactly why I decided I needed to write this post. I had all these things on my to-do list last weekend, see. I was going to wash my clothes, as well as our sheets and all the bathroom towels. I was going to complete the two articles I’d been asked to write for the November issue of Scene magazine. I was going to finish putting together a first-time homebuyer packet for my day job at the mortgage company, clean out my car, post a gorgeous account of my Oregon trip on the blog, spend time with my boyfriend and his kids, organize the clutter in my office, edit my backlog of photos, repot a few plants, and retrieve my bureau from beneath the pile of books, magazines, sweaters, and various assorted bric-a-brac that seemed to have swallowed it whole. Perhaps most embarrassingly (yes, even worse than the fact that I couldn’t find my bureau), I was going to unpack from my trip to Oregon (which is honestly really bad, because I’d been home for a full week and somehow hadn’t managed to deal with it yet - my giant duffel bag taunted me every night, sitting there on the floor with all my travel things haphazardly spilling from it, conveniently restricting access to the closet, berating me for my procrastination while I hid under the covers in shame).

Basically, I was going to turn into Wonder Woman and accomplish all the things without batting an eye, breaking a sweat, or developing an ulcer.

I generally believe myself to be a pretty reasonable human being. Generally. I do, however, tend to stubbornly resist the idea that I am just as susceptible to stress as any other person. This, I believe, is the downside to my relentless optimism: I’ll be cruising along, looking on the bright side, ignoring the warning signs, insisting, “I’m fine, I’m great, I’ve got this” - and then one tiny straw comes along and breaks the camel’s back, and I crash, completely unaware that I’d even been stressed to begin with.

For the record, I don’t recommend this approach.

A lot of things have been happening lately. It hasn’t even been a month since I launched my website, which was nerve-wracking in a way I can’t quite explain. (Suffice it to say that a mere two days before launch, after a solid seven months of work on the site, I texted my cousin late at night: “I’ve decided I HATE IT. It’s literally the worst website in the land and I’m changing everything RIGHT NOW.” Kudos to her for talking me off that ledge). And now that it’s live, I’m learning very quickly that updating it regularly is no small feat and requires a significant amount of time and attention. I love it, don’t get me wrong - it’s my baby and I’m so glad it’s here - it’s just a lot of work.

It’s been crazy at my day job, too. My boss and I have been diligently working for the last two years to grow our business - and our labors have begun paying off. We’ve found ourselves getting busier and busier, which means I’ve been feeling fairly frantic much of the time and working extra-long days. In theory this would be good for my bank account, except basically I’ve just bought a lot more wine, because it helps keep the existential terror at bay. (“I’m fine, I’m great, I’ve got this!” Pour, sip, repeat.)

All this has caused me a significant amount of agita, as my boss likes to say, which is Italian for “stressing the fuck out” - but in typical fashion, I hadn’t realized it. So I blindly hurled myself into the weekend in blaze mode, refusing to believe anything other than I am a badass and I can do this, damn it. The thought that I might need some downtime never really occurred to me - it was far too frivolous to consider.

Fast forward to Sunday night, which found me curled up in a ball on the bed, having burst into sudden, inexplicable tears at my failure to carry out all my carefully-laid weekend plans.

I’d managed to finish the articles for the magazine and wash my clothes for work (but not the towels or sheets). I’d gone on an impromptu mini-golf-and-ice-cream excursion with Paul and the kids. I’d edited a lot of photos, and I’d started on the blog post about Oregon - but upon realizing just how involved it was going to be, I set that one aside and posted a quick brussels sprouts recipe instead. I cooked a lovely breakfast for the family, and cleaned the kitchen, and though I didn’t get around to repotting any plants, at least I remembered to water all of them (which is quite the feat, when you live in a veritable jungle like I do). Also, I watched a few episodes of New Girl, because it is currently my drug of choice and I am helpless to resist.

And I felt like I’d failed.

The work stuff wasn’t done, my office hadn’t been de-cluttered, my bureau was still in need of excavation, and - worst of all - the fucking duffel bag was still sitting there, in front of my closet, laughing at me. “You suck at life,” it sneered self-righteously.

“Fuck yooou,” I wailed at it, through tears.

It wasn’t just the fact that I hadn't gotten through my to-do list - it was all the stress I hadn’t been allowing myself to fully process, finally sneaking in during a moment of vulnerability and wrecking havoc on my emotions. There I’d been, completely in denial, utterly unwilling to admit how overwhelmed I was feeling - and, for that night, at least, it broke me.

I’ve been thinking about all this since then. I mean, at one point in my life, weekends were for relaxing - for recovering from the busy week. Lately, they’ve often felt even more frantic than the work week, as I scramble around trying to pack five days worth of accomplishments in the space of two. What would have happened last weekend if, instead of creating an unrealistically full agenda, I’d just committed to taking it easy and decompressing a bit? Maybe, if I’d done so, I wouldn’t have woken up on Monday morning feeling like Wile E. Coyote after he’s been flattened by a giant anvil.

But that’s exactly how I felt, and the vibe has carried through the whole week. I’ve found myself sitting in my office at work, trying to catch up on everything at once, my heart nearly pounding through my chest as I worry about how much there is to do and how little time I have to do it in. I don’t care how amazing you are - that just isn’t healthy. For anyone.

The messages we get from society all too often make us believe that we’re not really doing anything with our lives unless we’re doing something all the time. So many of us live in a constant state of “go, go, go!” - running from one thing to the next so quickly that we’re not even fully present for any of it. Even something as relatively harmless as a cluttered office can make one feel like a complete failure - especially when compared with all the chic, beautiful home offices splashed all over Instagram and Twitter, the likes of which are almost nauseatingly perfect.

But here’s the thing.

Life is messy.

Life is not a carefully planned out and perfectly executed work of fine art - one in which every brush stroke has meaning and every shade balances another. In terms of art, it’s more like a finger painting - a haphazard display of all the colors and feelings and experiences and memories and things, smeared around with no rhyme or reason aside from the fact that that’s just how it’s done.

I don’t care if you’re Martha fucking Stewart - everyone has finger-painting days, or weeks, or years. It is impossible to be poised and ready and prepared and successful at all times; it’s just not going to happen. Sometimes we’ll get up in the morning with a calm vision of Monet in mind, and by the time we go to bed, the day looks more like the product of a three-year-old who got into the food coloring again.

And we get frustrated by this; we berate ourselves for not doing enough . . . for not being enough.

But here’s the thing. When I’m 90 years old and sitting in my garden, I’m not going to give a flying fuck that my office was a cluttered mess for most of my life. It’s not going to bother me that I procrastinated on unpacking from a vacation for a solid month back in 2016. I’m not going to waste time lamenting about all the moments in which I believed my house should have been cleaner, or my ass should have been smaller, or I should have been more capable of juggling twelve things at once.

Instead, I’ll remember the important things. The miniature-golf-and-ice-cream days. The delicious meals and the excitement in creating them. The time I spent following my passions, and loving the people who love me, and treating myself to a day of hard-earned relaxation. The places I traveled, the works I created, and the things that brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

These are the things I will remember. These are the things that matter.

Reflecting on this, it’s much easier to get to the truth which is: I may be fine, but currently, I’m not great. And I don’t really feel like I’ve got this - not entirely.

And that’s okay.

Because it’s 100% okay to not be okay sometimes.

Because life is messy, and hard, and crazy - and, somehow, in the midst of all the other stuff, mesmerizingly beautiful. And the moment we get so caught up in the hustle that we forget about the beautiful parts . . . that’s when we have a problem.

Some things just have to get done - I get it. But what if we could stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly? What if we could accept the fact that no one’s life is immaculate and pristine in all areas - and that a life like that would most likely be pretty boring, anyway? What if we could stop comparing ourselves to strangers on the internet and instead own our lives, our loves, our messes, and our struggles?

The end result, to me, seems like a healthier, happier, more genuine and authentic experience of life - and what’s not to love about that?