If you read this column regularly (which is to say, you’re my mother), you may have noticed that my last column was a rerun. I missed a deadline. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life. I’ve written columns on airplanes, and at the gym. I’ve written columns in morning meetings and on the bus on my way to work. But I’ve never fully missed a deadline.

Liz Marsh

“Maybe you needed a sabbatical,” said my editor, kindly. Maybe he’s right.

For the last 3 years I have worked full time, and gone to graduate school full time. I have been … stressed. Sometimes when I’m under extreme stress I lose my temper, or I burst into tears for no reason (again, my mother nods her head). But most of the time, people who are close to me would say I handle stress well. I rarely freak out completely, I rarely lose my shit on anyone. I mostly hold it deep down inside. At least until I reach a breaking point.

The final presentation of my graduate career is in a few days, and nary a breaking point is in sight. Maybe I really am handling my stress magnificently! But my body disagrees. Whatever manifestation of stress I’m currently experiencing is 100% physical, including the forgetfulness that caused me to miss my deadline two weeks ago.

Just the other night someone asked me how my final project is going, “it’s fine,” I said, “I feel really good about it, I’m not even that concerned.” As I said this, I pulled my sweater down to my hands, over the hives that have recently appeared on the inside of my wrists. I adjusted my glasses that I started wearing when my eyeballs began to reject contacts.

Perhaps I am more stressed than I know.

There are times when I have horrible insomnia, when my tolerance is short, and when I get unreasonably frustrated with slow walkers on crowded sidewalks. These are times when I try to take a deep breath and say, “gee, I must be a little stressed out today.” But what do you do when you are so stressed out your brain no longer registers it and it must be relegated to your central nervous system instead? What do you do when the only indicator of stress is that your body starts to break down?

The holidays can be stressful in the best of circumstances. Maybe you, too, are feeling overwhelmed. So what do you do? You take it one day at a time. You do one assignment at a time, one work email, one load of laundry. You buy and wrap just one present. You don’t think about the enormity of the next big project, or the next holiday, and you sure don’t think about the graduation party. You just chip away at the things in front of you. And sometimes you miss a deadline.

And when all is said and done, perhaps you get a sabbatical. You deserve it.

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