Except not really…
This is a story of what happens to your brain on Stress. Now that a few weeks have passed, I can write this with a little more forgiveness that I would have thought possible that day. Here’s what happened.
2 weeks ago
I am packing up my Portland life, getting ready to move to Denver. I haven’t moved out of state since I was 4 and my folks shlepped me and my brother up from California to Oregon. (And here’s my shoutout to my amazing mother who was about 8.5 months pregnant with my other brother. I cannot imagine going through the last two weeks and being about to pop at the same time. Shiver…)
With our move out date looming before us, it gets revealed that I will be, more or less, packing up our apartment and this life on my own. Matthew has a client who’s renovated website is going live the day that we leave. So he’s in the middle of a mad scramble to wrap this project up.
Oh, and in the midst of this, we are attending a wedding, I’m quitting my job, Matthew’s brother is coming into town… And oh shoot, I still need to buy our tickets to see Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge.
I am packing. I have corners of rooms and closets sorted by “Denver,” “My Dad’s,” “My Mom’s,” “Matthew’s Folks,” “Not-Needed-For-9-Months,” “Stuff-We-Still-Need-Here,” and “Camping-at-the-Gorge.” We are leaving for the Gorge early tomorrow morning (Sunday), and moving out of our apartment Wednesday at dawn.
Matthew: “Don’t forget to find and pack the tickets!”
Me: “No worries! I put them in a very safe place right…over…here….???”
What followed was a panicked hour where I went through all of our camping supplies (I could have sworn I put them on top of our sleeping bag!), all of our piles of recycling (what if they have already been put in the recycling bins!?), called Ticket Master to see what could be done about lost tickets (closed until tomorrow morning) and finally me sitting down on the stairs, my head in my hands, past the point of tears and thinking… “my wallet seems like a logical place I would put the tickets, to keep them safe.”
Low and behold, there they were. Sighs of relief ensue.
We are packed up and out the door at 8:30am, driving east on I-84 towards Troutdale for some last minute groceries, gas, and a rendezvous with Matthew’s family. I am blissed out, the air is crisp and cool, and somehow we are early. We’re content to wait for the rest of our caravan.
…When I realize I do not have my driver’s license. I have driven us from Portland to Troutdale without my driver’s license.
We quickly decide that we have no choice but to turn around and head home to find it. I’m retracing my steps in my head, wondering if it could have fallen out of my wallet after buying champagne at New Season’s last night. What if I’ve lost it!? We are driving to Colorado in four days! Is that enough time to get a temporary card?
At this point, I’m nauseous and looking a little green around the gills, my whole body dusted with a light, anxious, cold sweat. We pull up at our apartment, Matthew poised to run to New Seasons to see if it had been returned. I frantically unlock the front door…
And there it was, on the ledge right in front of me. Coincidentally, I had set it about where the missing tickets had been found the night before. I’m really starting to come a little loose around the edges.
Tickets, check. Camping gear, check. Fucking photo identification, check.
Four hours, a happy family caravaning (complete with Matthew and his brother Dan radioing each other between vehicles, “Come in, Blaster Mike, this is Whiskey Tango…”) and a soothing hot chocolate later, we pull into the Gorge Amphitheater’s parking lot. We dump out Matthew and Dan with their tickets and blankets who go sprinting to the amphitheater to hold us a good spot on the hill, while the parentals and I pitch our tents.
And we get a phone call from Matthew 20 minutes later, “Catherine, our tickets are for yesterday. Did you maybe accidentally buy them for last night?”
I did. I had bought the tickets for Saturday night. Last night. I was in shock.
I searched for a receipt in my phone records. I called TicketMaster, all of it amounting to nothing… Nothing… Nothing…
This concert is Matthew’s Graceland, and it seems like I have done everything to keep him from it.
New tickets from the venue would cost $55 a piece.
I went to meet Matthew to lead him back to camp (to top everything off, he was experiencing major hay-fever and was sneezing about every 20 seconds, poor boy). On my way down, I ran into a gall who was selling a single ticket for 20 bucks but she had sold it before I could get Matthew (and the cash) to her. But it seemed like there might be hope of an alternative to buying the tickets from the venue.
I made it back to camp with Hay-Fever Man and we pitched our tent while Matthew’s amazing folks comforted me and made me a gin & tonic in a plastic cup. That helped.
But I still felt like I had let everyone down. I had simply taken on too much for my squishy little brain, and things had clearly started to leak. What I really wanted to do was to sit down in the middle of the field and throw an exhausted, mortified, cleansing temper tantrum. Being a big girl is hard.
This is what stress does to our brains
Cortisol is a stress hormone that impairs the hippocampus from building and recalling memories. Normally, the secretion of cortisol (released by the adrenal cortex) is monitored by a negative feedback loop.
What this means (in very simplified terms):
- The adrenals receive the message that cortisol is needed
- The adrenals secrete cortisol
- The adrenals receive the message that no more cortisol is needed, and it stops. This way, we do not explode into cortisol-y goo.
Unfortunately, chronic stress erodes this process, slowing down or confusing the negative feedback loop, so that long after you’ve stopped running from the lion (or packing a house by yourself), your body is still pumping out cortisol. Not good.
Building new memories is not the most useful thing when you are running from a lion. Fast reflexes, a racing heart and quadriceps filled with blood and oxygen are what you want when you’re running from a lion. Thank you, cortisol.
Right now, I could use a little less cortisol, and a little more oxytocin, the snuggle hormone. (I could use a serious snuggle.) My swiss cheese brain could handle no more. I needed a hard reset.
A happy ending
Tents were set up and staked to the ground. G & Ts were stowed into plastic water bottles that looked factory sealed so we could sneak them into the show. And, we found a very lovely gentleman who sold Matthew and I tickets for $30 each.
In the end, it’s only money.
Yes, I was pissed that I had to buy the tickets twice, but none of our tents blew away, no one cracked a skull or broke a knee getting to our spot on the hill, and guess what, the concert was amazing.
We mess up in life so that we learn. Here were my lessons:
- I should not try to move around the holidays
- Triple checking concert ticket dates is never a bad use of time
- Carrying $40 in cash can really help in a pinch
But, the biggest lesson: having loving, forgiving friends and family around in tough moments is not giving an audience access to your shame. These are the people who pull us out of our self-destructive pits, when they see we’re slipping. They show up with cash to get you into concerts. They show up with moving trucks and bungee cords to get you moved. They show up with cleaning supplies and get down on their knees to help you clean your apartments.
Take note of who is showing up in your life. Some day, they’ll be in a pinch. And you’ll have an opportunity to show up with cash and bungee cords and cleaning supplies and calming words (and gin & tonics), and return the favor.