One of the best analogies my therapist gave me, back when I could afford one, was about the ‘stress bucket’. The ‘stress bucket’ is an imaginary bucket that we fill with our stressors throughout the day. On a good day there might be a few half cups added here and there but on a bad day we add so much water that the bucket overflows. 

At the bottom of our stress bucket are a couple of taps. These taps turn on and release the pressure when we do things like exercise, breathing and take some time for ourselves. When I first saw this therapist, I had lots going into my bucket and no taps at all. I was busy worrying about everything and everyone else not realising that I had to focus on adjusting my oxygen mask first before I could help anybody else with theirs. 

This week I’ve watched my bucket overflow a few times. 

It’s easy to forget that at any given moment my bucket is normally ¾ full with just the everyday stressors of running businesses and raising a family. It doesn’t take much to send me over the edge these days, even when all my taps are in pretty good working order.

The final splash this week was the bloody real estate agent for our house. He rang saying he had good and bad news for us. Great, tell me the good news first - The good news was that the photographer can come and take pictures of our home so they can sell it on Wednesday. This, not surprisingly, wasn’t good news to me. This in fact was shitty news because cleaning a house top to bottom and KEEPING that house clean is almost impossible with a 6 and 7 year old. 

The bad news was that the landlord was going to raise the rent while they were trying to sell the house. To say I was pissed was an understatement. Especially since deciding to sell the property we’ve had maybe 5-6 trade appointments to fix shit that we’ve been complaining about for years. Some of these appointments have been no shows so we’ve had to go home for no reason.

I read this great article in the NZ news The gravy train is over: Why my tiniest violin is out for landlords about why renters are suffering because landlords can’t afford to maintain their ‘portfolios’. My favourite line from the article is “Landlords provide housing the same way scalpers provide tickets.” which hit the mark on the seeder side of the experience. For example our real estate agent (who is actually a nice guy and I do like him) is constantly going on about our rights as renters but from my perspective all I really had was a choice about the time the photographer came and I managed to negotiate our rent increase to $15 per week not the market rate of $40. 

On the day of the photoshoot Alice spilled a glass of water in the middle of the lounge making a huge dark patch and Frank felt like he was going to throw up so he had to have a day off school - which we couldn’t have at home because the house was spotless. All of these little events, which on their own were completely manageable, were too much for my bucket to contain. By the time I got to work with Frank I was livid. I’ve also learnt from the therapist that my anxiety presents itself at anger when it's turned to 11. 

Boy was I angry. I almost asked the doctor for some valium when I took Frank into his appointment. Luckily breathing really does help and after I’d settled into the fact that Frank was home from school and my working day wouldn’t proceed as I imagined, I started to calm down.

When I find myself in a shitstorm like this I really lean into the stoic idea of character. Our character is formed by our actions, reactions and how we treat others. When faced with a shitty situation like Wednesday morning I had to take a moment and assess what I can and can’t control. My character, my reaction to this particular situation is the ONLY thing I can manage. Looking at it objectively helps me to decide the next step. In this case it was to give Frank a big hug and tell him that I loved him and I wasn’t angry at him. From his perspective I was furious about him not feeling well, he had no idea that my bucket was already overflowing with shit house and work issues! Poor kid.

When my bucket is overflowing it's harder to find this perspective but it's always there. Being able to turn on the taps, just enough to stop that chaotic feeling is critical. Breathing is the most useful and accessible tool we have at any one moment. Exercise is the second most important tap to me. When I don’t run or yoga or move in some deliberate way my bucket starts to fill up real quick. I can almost feel it happening.

The third and most fun tap for me is connection. Talking to others or even writing this blog is how I process what's going on. Every single problem/concern/issue I have is lighter once voiced. I could be mixing my analogies here but when we share and connect with others that tap not only helps empty the bucket but we can then use that water to help fill our cup.

Video of the week
How did you know it was love? (Strangers Answer)
Podcast of the week
BANG ON: The forcible kiss, Cat Person film, …And Just Like That finale
Font of the week
Agnosco: Font of the week by Under Pressure

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