Last week was one of the worst weeks of my life. One disaster after another hit me. What was going on? Were the stars aligned against me? I guess the Italians knew that kind of thing. The word disaster comes from Renaissance Italian: ‘dis’ meaning against and ‘astro’ meaning star. Therefore, when the stars are aligned against you, it must be an ill-starred experience, a dis-aster. I didn’t just have one disaster, no, I had to deal with 5 disasters in this awful week! Find out about the “happy ending” of it all and 3 natural ways to help with stress at the very end of this article!
How did this ill-starred week begin?
Disaster 1: Poison Ivy!
Sunday afternoon I’m working in the yard removing some invasive vines from my pine trees. There is normally some poison ivy around them. This year we had a very rainy spring. Therefore, the poison ivy grew into a big monster. I thought I was careful to stay away from it. But somehow, I did get it on the left leg. I used anti-itch spray, which works better than calamine lotion. Yet the itching continued during the night and was quite annoying… Stress starts building.
Disaster 2: Car Died.
Monday morning, I wanted to run an errand. I jumped into my Fusion which always runs smoothly. I have had it for nearly 3 years and it never gives me trouble. This Monday morning it is totally dead. No lights, no engine crank, nothing! A jumpstart didn’t work. A battery charger couldn’t make it run. The tow truck managed to get it started and I could drive it to the dealership. Their repair shop was overloaded already. They told me it might take several days till they could look at it. But they would do their best for a good customer like me.
Why was it really bad news? Not having my car for a few days was really bad. Why? Because Saturday we had planned to drive to northern Michigan for a one-week family vacation. We had rented a nice big cottage. Thursday evening one of my sons with wife and two kids would arrive. We needed the two cars. With an itching leg and one car in the repair shop... Stress is climbing higher.
Disaster 3: Water Leak.
We live in the township. There is no city water. Therefore, each home gets its water out of their own well about 100 feet deep. We hadn’t noticed that the water pressure from our well was steadily going down. But Tuesday morning it was very obvious. I changed the main water filter. It was full of rust and silt, much worse than usual. However, the new clean filter did not help. The pressure stayed very low. I called the experts. They told me there must be a leak in the pipes between the pump at the bottom of the well and our home. They would send an expert Wednesday morning. Itchy leg, car in the shop, and now uncertain water pressure in the house and family arriving tomorrow night. My back started hurting, my neck got stiff… The stress barometer now at storm level.
Disaster 4: Pipe Stuck, Budget Blown!
Wednesday morning a heavy truck arrived. Phil, a seasoned guy, climbed out and shook my hand inspiring confidence. My stress came down a bit. Phil backed his truck close to the well. He moved the crane to pull up the pipes. But first he had to undo a buried lock 6 feet down below the ground. That lock was frozen. Phil tried and tried again. 90% of the time his tricks would work. We had the unlucky 10%. They didn’t work this time. Phil called his office. This was the news: they had to come the next day with a backhoe and dig a 10-foot hole to cut the lock and pull the pipes and pump deep in the well and find the leak. If the lock was frozen, there was no guarantee the pipes and pump would come out easily even with all that effort. And just to add some salt to the wounds, the cost would rise a few thousand dollars every time. And so rose my stress barometer. This was an emotional hurricane: an itching leg, my back out, no car, no guarantee of water flowing, only a guarantee of a huge repair bill... Stress up to the stratosphere.
Thursday morning three big trucks arrived right on time. First Phil with his truck and crane rig, next a truck pulling a large air compressor. And a third truck pulling a flatbed trailer with a huge backhoe. Phil shows me an estimate of many thousands of dollars. That’s what it takes to fix the well if all goes to plan. If not, it could be more. In less than half an hour the hole is dug. They cut the frozen lock. They pull up the pipes together with the pump. There is a hole which rusted through some 40 feet below. Now Phil is happy, all will go as planned. My stress is lowered just a bit. My budget blown, but we may have water when the kids arrive tonight.
The car repair shop calls. They scratch their heads. My car starts fine without a flaw. I should pick it up and drive it for a day or two to test. How this could happen no one knows. I drive the car home like nothing ever happened. Meanwhile a new well pump has been fitted to new pipes. These pipes are plastic and won’t rust. Pump and pipes go down the well. The backhoe fills the hole, then smoothes the earth. The air compressor blows the dirty water out of the well. At 4pm the pump starts pumping. Now all looks good. I can relax.
The kids arrive as scheduled. My car is running. The pump is pumping. The house is full of happy sounds... The stress goes down.
Disaster 5: No Electricity.
Friday evening. Stress levels now are muted. A heavy rainstorm had just dumped a pile of water. I start to make a light dinner. My wife is off to the airport to pick up her 2 sisters scheduled to arrive at the airport roughly at the same time. One coming from the West Coast, her flight on time. The other flight from the East Coast was delayed an hour and a half due to the storms here in Michigan. Judy got the California sister in her car. I had the dinner ready. A new storm blew in. This one had more wind and lightning. A strangely sounding gust shook our house. 10 seconds later all was quiet and pitch black. The power gone. Wind and rain beating on the siding… Feeling no stress, just acting on survival in the mess.
What next? Get a few flashlights. Set up half a dozen candles for a “candlelight dinner”. Call Judy to forewarn her. Then call my son with wife at dinner at a nearby restaurant. No happy sounds just sighs of quiet acceptance. Now I had to run to the airport to get the sister from New York. The rain so dense, I could hardly see. Crawling along the freeway I still beat the arrival of the flight delayed from New York City. Back home the house now full, eight of us without electricity, no water, in humid heat without the air conditioning. The next morning, we had planned to leave and go up North… This evening a glass of wine for everyone by candlelight was all the stress reduction I could muster.
What else could go wrong this awful week? The power company gave us an estimate to have electricity restored by 3 o’clock next afternoon, long after we should be gone. Before bedtime, my son helped me start an old generator we hadn’t used in many years. My mom had bought it for us over 20 years ago when she was horrified that our little kids might be stuck without power. A miracle this evening, we got it to work. Now we had water to shower and brush teeth, some lights and the refrigerator running to save the food. After an hour we bedded down to sleep in the dark house, the noisy generator turned back off… I didn’t even think of stress.
The morning after a restless night, still no power. We packed the cars and took off just before noon. The home secured as best we could, still no power. By the time we reached Bay City the temperature was up to 95°. Then suddenly in less than 40 miles the sky turned black and temperatures dropped down to 71°. Another vicious storm drove rain across the highway and buffeted the car from left to right. But we drove on carefully. Two hours later, we finally arrived at the cottage.
Finally, Recovery and a “Happy Ending”
Arriving at this beautiful cottage, the rain suddenly stopped. A cool breeze from the lake welcomed us. The others arrived as well. The cottage was full of happy family. Here we had lights and water, cooked a splendid dinner and made a fire at the beach. The air was fresh, the clouds had left, the lake looked beautiful, the nightmare finally was over.
An important lesson from this is that during very stressful situations we easily forget to take care of ourselves. Even “stress experts” will forget to do their stress management routines. There are, however, a few very natural things which help a quick recovery from stressful times.
For all those reasons and by being together as a family we all had a great time. The stars were back in good alignment. Disasters handled. We came back refreshed and “stress-free”.
Enjoy your summer stress-free! We wish you peace and smooth sailing!
Warm regards, Fred & Judy
Fred George Sauer, MS, MS Eng., Chief Stress Coach, Performance & Productivity Specialist
Judith Lynch-Sauer, PhD, RN, Scientific Advisor, Clinical Professor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing
PS: Create a daily routine of managing stress. Check Appendix 2 of the book for quick help with stress.
Fred George Sauer Founder of SciStress
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