Living under tremendous stress is exhausting.
When your loved one goes to prison, you feel like you are living in a pressure cooker. Stress levels continue to increase until you think you might explode from the pressure. When Ron was first taken to prison, I felt enormous pressure to fix everything and save my family. Every. Single. Day.
"The stress of managing your life and trying to maintain relationships when your man goes to prison is unlike any other kind of pressure."
It will literally suck the life out of you, if you let it. Stress is poison to your body, your mind, and your soul. I remember the constant weight of living with Ron in prison. For several years, I could not shake the heaviness. It was always there, lurking beneath the surface, thus feasting on my energy. It took every ounce of determination I had to keep moving forward.
Unless you have been in this situation, you cannot imagine the emotional drain and physical strain it causes! Concern about your man’s safety, worry about paying bills every month, and anxiety over your children’s well-being are heavy baggage. I fought despair that tried to rob me of hope and kept it at bay most of the time. It was a constant battle in my mind at the beginning of our journey. Slowly, the battle turned into an occasional ambush. But, I learned how to be prepared to win the battles and keep moving toward my goals and dreams.
I remember the first job I got after Ron was in prison.
The job required reliable transportation because I would be driving from county to county to provide services. I had a car. No one in their right mind would call it reliable. I knew I had to count on it to get me where I needed to go until I could save enough money to buy that “reliable transportation”. Of course, I couldn’t save money without a job. This left me no choice but to depend on my car.
I started the new job, and things went well for the first month. I had a plan and a budget that would allow me to buy a better car in 10 months. Unfortunately, after just 31 days, I went out to my car after a staff meeting, and it would not start.
"I felt sick to my stomach and overwhelmed"
I checked every part I knew to check (gas, oil, battery connections) and then ran out of ideas. I felt sick to my stomach and overwhelmed. In reality, the pressures of my everyday life rose to the surface. Thinking I was alone in the office, I broke down sobbing as I looked for towing services near the office. I had no credit card, very little money, thus no one to help me fix my car, and a new job that required me to be able to drive. I lost my composure and cried into the desk after ordering a tow that would cost me ½ of my car fund.
“Cathy? Is that you?” I heard someone say. I jerked my head up and looked right into my new boss’s eyes – I was mortified. “Did you get bad news?” she gently asked. I then explained that my car wouldn’t start. She was so relieved, and then she was puzzled. She could not understand why this would cause me to break down. It was out of my typical character, and to her, it was such a small inconvenience. I found myself explaining that I did not have the money to pay for my car to get repaired and was concerned that I would thus not be able to keep my job. Then, she quietly left the room, returned, and told me she had called a friend who could work on my car for free. Ultimately, I only had to pay for parts.
Thankfully, that is the last time I broke down under pressure. I learned 3 things that day. 1. People want to help others who are trying to help themselves. 2. People don’t understand the pressure of starting from literally nothing 3. I had to release some tension, or I was going to explode.
I began to use self-talk to remind myself that set-backs are preparing me for my comebacks.
Recognizing that life is hard for everyone and knowing I was strong enough to face any challenge boosted my confidence. I stopped believing I had to manage everything on my own. Help was all around me, and asking for assistance helped me at that moment, but it allowed me to expand my network of friends. The pressure to solve everything was crushing me. I began to work on the small things I could control and take single steps every day. The pride of accomplishments banished the pressure to be perfect. Thus, I even kicked the word “perfect” out of my vocabulary. Of course, there is no such thing as perfect. After all, practice makes permanent, not perfect. But if you practice well, you will get better and better. Life is a continuous improvement journey.
If you are struggling with the intense pressure of having your loved one in prison, here are some tips to help you release some of the stress:
- Spend some time taking care of yourself. Do something that you enjoy; something that revitalizes you. Read a book, watch a movie, bake, knit, play cards, journal. Whatever brings you relaxation and satisfaction—make time for at least weekly.
- Start a Gratitude Journal. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I say this often. I say it because it works! Try 40-4-40. Write 40 things you are grateful for in your life for forty days. Thus, you will find that changing your perspective helps ease the strain of life’s pressures.
- Ask for help. You do not have to do this alone. Find a network to connect to. A church is an excellent resource, so that is my strong recommendation.
- Give help. Do not become a value extractor. Become a value creator and offer your support to contribute your time, talents, or resources. When you help others, your own sense of belonging and self-fulfillment increase.
You can do this and come out on the other side, stronger, healthier, and happier by releasing some pressure in your life.
I am rooting for you!