Psychologists use mice to test all sorts of theories about conditioning, learned behavior and stress. One specific one (that I can’t locate now) used mice in a cage with a metal grid floor. There were two doors, one marked with a circle and the other with a very distinct oval. If the mouse poked its head through the door with the circle, it received a food treat. If a mouse poked its head through the door with the oval, the mouse received painful shock through the metal grid floor.
The mice quickly learned to choose the door with the circle and avoid the one with the oval – and the subsequent painful shock.
After a good period of time to allow acclimatization to the two doors, the experimenters began to reduce the obviousness of the oval. With each reduction, they allowed the mice to learn the new situation. Eventually the oval’s character was reduced until the door with the oval could not be distinguished from the door with the circle.
Confronted with a situation where they couldn’t predict when they were going to be shocked, the mice chose not to try and instead died from stress and starvation.
We face that kind of situation.
We are in that situation where nothing we do has known, certain consequences and the consequences are always bad. When we adapt to a new normal, without thinking we relax, accepting that, no matter what we really know, the new normal will last and we can be comfortable for some time.
Then the change, which always comes, is even more disturbing that just the truth of the situation. We are thrown into disarray, not knowing how serious that change will be and knowing that we must search and adapt to a new ‘lower’ normal.
The signs and symptoms are there for me when this happens.
My chest is tight, I have not drawn any easy breath for 11 days, I sleep poorly and, except for sweets, food has no taste for me. I am tired and can’t seem to get anything accomplished.
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
• Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
• Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
• Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
• Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
• Avoiding others
Physical symptoms of stress include:
• Low energy
• Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
• Aches, pains, and tense muscles
• Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
• Frequent colds and infections
• Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
• Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
• Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
• Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
• Constant worrying
• Racing thoughts
• Forgetfulness and disorganization
• Inability to focus
• Poor judgment
• Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
• Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much
• Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
• Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
• Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
If there is one of these symptoms I don’t remember having, it is my memory at fault.
The die is cast for my wife; I need to be certain that the same disease doesn’t kill me also.
My wife has had a setback significant enough that she is now being watched by hospice and our beloved care giver has expanded her hours. Today was a strange time for me. Our care giver came in at 9, I went to play pickle ball but could not yet relax. I came home for a while, then went out to do an errand and had a long lunch by myself with no urgent need to rush home. She is actually in better more capable hands with our care giver than mine.
So I sat there looking out at the lake and hearing the burble of people conversing on either side of me.
There is some small relief at coming this close to the end; however long this stage lasts, a month a year, whatever, I am comforted in knowing that there is not much past this, then she will be free and I can grieve and all the ambiguity will disappear.
I’m not certain that she recognizes me, she is passive and accepting of anyone who comes into our room. Ti and I will move her down into a hospital bed on the first floor and I will sleep next door in my office.
Perhaps this is, for a while, acceptance.
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