A brain under extreme pressure is a tricky thing.
In my experience, it does one of three things.
- It shuts down completely, leaving the man or woman it serves unable to function or at the very least, it badly cripples how they function, or;
- The screws tighten, increasing pressure, pumping up stress and making it run rougher than the ’74 Dodge Duster that I drove in grade 11 , or;
- It makes a Rocky Balboa type 15th round comeback.
But without a Hollywood scriptwriter pulling the strings, how do you end up like Rocky, bloodied, bruised but victorious?
I’ve thought a lot about the role stress may have played on my 2010 stroke. I have no family history of stroke and had no known risk factors. Yet, my brain didn’t seem to care about this when it started to fry early on the morning of March 10 five years ago. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a stress junkie. I feel like I have the most success when I’m under the most personal pressure. I even think I kinda like the buzz I get from stress. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.
But I’m not sure that it’s entirely bad, either.
Perhaps it’s one of those things that can be friend or foe, depending on how it’s used?
How many times are we able to up our game when we’re under the gun? Stress may have helped zonk my melon, but I think that it may also have helped me recover.
Stroked out and facing a life without words, meaningful work and threatened with not being able to support my family emotionally or financially – that was pretty good motivation to do everything I could to claw back. It was also pretty stressful. And all through my professional career I’ve been drawn to the stressful stuff. In a weird way, I’ve found the pressure of stress comforting. But have I hurt myself seeking out stress, or even creating stress that didn’t need to be there?
It’s cool to be able to step up under pressure. But are there some folks and organizations that thrive too much on this and who do their brain’s harm by being adrenalin junkies?
The Calgary Flames got me wondering about this.
If you’re a hockey fan you’ll know that the Flames made an unexpected resurgence this season and at the time of this writing were up in their National Hockey League playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. The Flames have some odd qualities to their game this year. Both exciting and frustrating is their ability to come back from behind. During many games and in their fight to clinch a playoff spot, which took until the second last game of the season, they were fighting back against the odds. It makes great copy for sports writers and causes grey hairs for Flames’ management.
I find it fascinating to watch the Flames continue to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I actually seem to prefer it to watching them get a lead and keep it. I love seeing them as underdogs clawing back all of the time.
A little background is probably required here. I’m born and raised in Calgary and believe in sports loyalty. As such, while living in the Edmonton area since my mid 20s, I’ve had a number of sports related ‘moments’ where folks in the Alberta capital didn’t appreciate my loyalty. There were a few sucker punches thrown at me while wearing a Calgary Stampeders jersey at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium during CFL football games back in the ‘90s.
And in 1989 when the Flames were drinking from the Stanley Cup after being crowned NHL Champions, for the first – and so far – only time, I was having a few problems with members of the Edmonton Police Service who didn’t seem to be Flames fans.
So there’s a pretty deep connection with me and the southern Alberta NHLers.
The cardiac kid thing makes for exciting games and movies. And who knows how far the boys in red can take it in the playoffs this year? But does there come a point where living on the edge and all the stress associated with it is too much?
In sports, I’m not sure. Maybe the Flames can go all the way. If they do, it’s sure to be with a number of stressful moments and come-from-behind wins. But at least professional athletes have the offseason to recover. And hefty pay cheques to help them unwind in style.
But what does too much stress make of those who live their lives that way all year round? Are some of us inclined to shape our lives this way? And for those of us who do this, does something happen to us, to our brains, when we’re not under stress? Do we need it like a junkie needs his fix? And what really is too much stress? Another thing, what’s so called good stress? And what’s good about it?
I don’t have any answers here. But I’d love to hear from those of you who do. Theories would be interesting, too.
Really, please connect. You’ll stress me out if you don’t :-).
Oh, BTW, back to sports, I’m lining up some interviews with experts and survivors of concussions for some upcoming pieces. Stay tuned.