Special collaboration, a text from the Canadian Mental Health Association - Montreal branch
A dark screen. That’s all that Madeleine sees as she tries to connect to the virtual platform that was supposed to allow her to make a presentation this morning. The meeting is important, and Madeleine knows that her colleagues are all waiting for her on the other side of their screens. Madeleine hates being late, punctuality being her brand, and now she is seeing red.
While she tries to solve her connection problem, her cell phone screen lights up. It’s her 89-year-old mother calling. Unlike her computer, her phone doesn’t have a problem staying connected, 24 hours a day. It doesn’t stop, to Madeleine’s great displeasure; she would give anything for a few moments of peace. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have time, and already starts wondering why her mother is calling her this early. Has she injured herself? Does she need something urgently? Or is she calling to wish her a happy birthday, which she has done three times this month, even though her birthday isn’t until May?
Madeleine feels the tension grip her torso and a lump grow in her throat. Her clock says it’s 8:42; she is 12 minutes late. She tries to change her password, but the background noise made by her spouse, as he noisily does the dishes in the kitchen, prevents her from thinking straight. Bursts of laughter from her son, who is participating in an online activity with his class, add to the ambient commotion. Madeleine sighs and thinks nostalgically about her office cubicle. It was dark and tiny, and she never would have thought she would miss it. As she turns abruptly to grab a pencil, she accidentally knocks a coffee cup with the back of her hand, sending it crashing to the floor, splattering and staining the carpet. Madeleine jumps up from her chair in surprise, but stays planted on the spot, staring at the brown puddle on the floor, completely overwhelmed. Different emotions race to the surface and vie for the upper hand; anger, discouragement, weariness, and anxiety.
Her spouse, alerted by the noise, sticks his head through the door to ask what’s going on. Like a whistling kettle, Madeleine is boiling on the inside, as drops of sweat beads on her forehead. But rather than exploding, she lifts the lid to release a bit of pressure: she dissolves into tears in her spouse’s arms, who holds her and comforts her. She lets her emotions show rather than repressing them. She sits down for a moment. She takes slow breaths. She gradually calms down. The coffee is still on the floor, and she still hasn’t managed to connect her computer, but that can wait. Madeleine needs to reduce her stress to be able to find solutions, because right now, stress is so overwhelming that she can’t see straight, and it is preventing her from functioning rationally. After a few minutes of deep breathing, she writes to her colleagues to suggest postponing the meeting and apologizes for the glitch. They are understanding and offer to help her so that technical problems don’t trip her up next time.
Does Madeleine’s story remind you of your own experience?
We all experience stress, and there are many ways to manage it. Even though we would rather not feel it, it can’t be avoided. What is important is remembering that we have what we need to manage unpleasant situations, but it requires effort: the effort of allowing yourself to experience emotions as they arise and to express them “for real.” Try it. You may be surprised.