Subtle Stress

It’s always amazing to me how stress can creep up on us. Over the years Chris and I, because of some of the major issues we’ve had to deal with, have gotten pretty good at managing things. Typically, when something comes up now, we just do what we need to do and often catch ourselves talking about it later and noticing the differences in how we’re processing or coping in a situation that several years ago would have had us not sleeping, reeling and not able to focus on anything else. When we were back in Canada on our sabbatical in 2010 one of the best things that we did for our own personal well-being, as well as family and marriage, was to spend a couple of months in Post Traumatic Stress counselling.

Aside from connecting with an amazing counselor that we now have in the friend category in our lives, we were able to learn some tools to help us cope and process.When things are going on, those things are deeply rooted and are a natural way of dealing with things now. On that list are things like voicing things like fear, frustration, etc. Actually allow ourselves to feel, I guess. As we share, it’s recognizing that we each will process things differently, and that all of those processing things and feelings are valid, even if they aren’t the same as what the other might be going through. Sometimes it’s okay to cry. For me this is a big one because I’m a natural crier and it’s my body’s way of physically letting go of those feelings. I usually feel wasted, but lighter afterwards, like I’ve flushed out all the crud. I think one of the other big things is perspective. Being able to emotionally step back and put things in order of importance, deciding how much time and energy to give something, and seeing where it fits in the bigger picture of things is something that we’ve gotten better at.

Despite all those things though, the stress can still creep up and invade, and sometimes we don’t even really understand where it’s coming from until we start taking off the layers. That’s where I’m at right now. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, but under the surface and didn’t realize that’s what it was until yesterday. I’m doing life and yet just sort of feeling “off”. Like I’m not quite there yet. When I start feeling that way, it’s hard for me to be a good mom and wife. My patience is limited because I just feel agitated. Once I start realizing the causes, I need to take time to work through the process of taking care of the things that I can, to essentially bring myself down a bit.

So, what’s been going on here?

Well, all in all things have actually been pretty good, thus the subtlety. I honestly didn’t realize I was feeling this stressed out.

You’re going to laugh when I tell you the first part of this, because it is so obviously something that should be incredibly stressful – but we were pretty chill about it and just rolled with it.

Back story… when Chris’ parents were here last week his mom mentioned that their shower in the dorms was backing up a bit and asked if there was any chance the septic tank was full. I smiled and said that it wasn’t a big deal, sometimes the pipes in the round house get clogged and the shower backs up, I would have Chris check on it after they left.

And then Yonese went down to start cleaning up the dorms on Friday after their visit. And she told me there was a big problem in that shower because it was full of water. Chris checked it out. Yeah, it was full of sewage.

I wish that was where it ended.

He came upstairs a few minutes later and very calmly said, “Um, yeah. I need you to stop what you’re doing and come downstairs because we have an emergency on our hands. I need you and Yonese to help clean out the dorms while I try to unblock the shower in the small dorm and get the septic to drain into the tank. I think there’s a big blockage.”

He was so calm about it that I thought he was exaggerating. (Because he does that from time to time…) I *may* have let out an exasperated sigh and said something along the lines of “Is this really something I need to come help with???”

And then I went downstairs. And yes, it was bad enough that the large dorm shower was full of water. But what was worse was the that small dorm had not only a full shower, but also 1-2 inches of standing sewage water through most of it. The bathroom. The main room. The small storage room where we keep everything from sheets and towels to our personal luggage and our bankers boxes of previous years filter forms.


This was after at least half an hour of sweeping. Anywhere that’s wet had sitting water.


Chris going in to snake the shower, which had about 10 inches of standing water in it.

And then we went to work. Yonese and I grabbed brooms and just started pushing water out the door. And the whole time I just kept thinking things like:

“I’m so grateful we live in a place where it’s all concrete construction and not drywall, carpet etc.”

“People often think what we do is amazing and “glamorous”. I don’t think they realize that sometimes it means you get to be ankle deep in poo water.”

“That just splashed my face…”

“We always try to make sure that we don’t ask our staff to do something we wouldn’t do ourselves. I guess tandem poo water sweeping is pretty much the definition of that…”

And I would try not to focus on the fact that there were shreds of toilet paper floating by me.

Now we are in the process of digging, and sadly not a swimming pool like Olivia was hoping. Our septic tank was full and overflowing and it wasn’t the type you could pump. Needless to say we’re making some design changes on the new one…


Busting into the leach lines to do the first assessment.


The not a swimming pool hole and the third load of dirt to go. And our poor lawn…

And yes, it’s been stressful, but definitely no where near where it could be.

  • We’re grateful for the fact that we have several buildings on the property, and each one is on it’s own septic tank. This means we can go and shower and use the bathroom and do laundry down in the round house during the day and feel mostly normal.
  • We have a fabulous staff that have been rock stars, whether it’s been Yonese bleaching the things that she can clean up at this point, or the crew of guys that have been digging a hole in our yard for the last few days.
  • The sewage smell has really been minimal. And this is a miracle in and of itself because we had to cut open the section of pipe coming from our building into the tank to let the pressure off and give it a place to drain the overflow. We literally have a pit of standing water with a section of 6 inches missing from the pipe. It’s mostly grey water going down there now from doing dishes, so I think that helps. BUT it could be so much worse.
  • We’re thankful this happened days after our last visitors of the season left. We have nothing else scheduled for a long time and no pressure to make it all better before a certain date. While it’s a minor inconvenience, it’s not the end of the world.
  • We have a trained plumber on our staff, who is meticulous in his work. He did all the plumbing in our building and does a great job. Being able to keep this stuff in house means less cost to the mission when stuff like this comes up.

So yeah, that is a bit of the stress causer right there, but honestly, it hasn’t been that bad. I feel it a bit in the sense that we’re having to think about how we use water in our house every day, but we should be thinking about those things or be reminded of them regularly. And honestly, I think the biggest stressor out of all of it is Alex. He wants to be where the action is, but sometimes gets in the way. It doesn’t bother the guys, but frustrates Chris, so then I have to try and keep him occupied while trying to do other things and get stuff done. And the whole time he’s fighting it because he wants to be back down in the yard. It’s times like this where I’m reminded of what a blessing Yonese is to us because she’s that extra set of hands and eyes and helps us out with him SO MUCH.

So that’s one thing.

Yesterday I came face to face with a surprise stressor. This might sound totally crazy, but hear me out.

Our printer/copier.

First off, we love this thing for so many reasons. Part of my job is to get things like training manuals printed and put together, training posters printed and laminated, and all of our installation forms printed and ready to go, just to name a few.

All of these things are double sided, so back in the day when we just had an inkjet printer I would, no exaggeration, spend two weeks printing. I would have to do one side, then the other, or just use more paper and do single sided pages. But I had to babysit the printer because the ink would run out and the printer wouldn’t stop. When we upgraded I specifically wanted something that would do double sided printing in color. Four years ago when we were looking for printers the only real option was a more office grade printer/copier that would do duplex in color.

It does a nice job for the most part, but the toner cartridges are expensive and need to be brought in specially. If we haven’t had regular visitors or I forget to plan ahead and make sure we have a supply here in country, running out means we can’t use the printer – period. It shuts down with an error message and until you replace one toner, it won’t work.

The drum unit, the part that holds all the toners, needs to be replaced every 1-2 years, depending on use. Last fall our printer started dumping ink all over the page. I ordered new cartridges, because sometimes the old ones wear out, especially if you refill them. Replaced them, but the print quality was still poor. We ordered a new drum unit and drum belt (the part that pulls the paper under the toner rollers) and they came in with Chris’ parents. They’re fragile. They didn’t travel well. I tried to put them in and while the printer works, the color print quality isn’t fabulous.

As I was working on things yesterday and doing everything recommended I was able to get to a place where I could be logical about the whole thing. Chris and I had already talked about the fact that the drum unit might not work well. We do have an inkjet printer as a back up and had been using that for the last 6 weeks or so but it just ran out of two colors of ink and when I tried to find them at the office supply store we checked in Port a couple weeks ago they didn’t carry them.

I realized that we could just keep using the big printer/copier for most things. Our day to day is things like printing in black and white, which works fine, or running things off that aren’t important and just for in house. If there are other things that are more “special” we can still use the inkjet, right?

Ah, but the ink!

This is the other part of the subtle stress. This stuff always happens when we really need the printer. Never fails. Definition of Murphy’s Law.

As we moved into the new year I realized that I wanted to put the effort into making an organization binder, so all of the things running around in my brain can be in the same place. I do have a day timer, but it sits next to my computer and it’s more for jotting down work stuff that needs to be done.

To give you an idea, I wanted a place where I could do my meal planning and master shopping lists for bigger grocery runs, plan blog posts (or jot down ideas so I might actually write the posts), a “wish list” so as I think of things we need to order to come in with people or bring back I can write those down, a cleaning and organizing chart, a place to check in with my yearly goals, packing lists, menu and planning pages for when we do get togethers at our place… so many things.

As I looked around on Pinterest there were a lot of great, free printable family/home binder planner pages out there, but a lot of them didn’t quite get the job done. Much of the stuff in them didn’t apply to our life here, and most of the stuff I needed wasn’t included. So, I made my own. And I love it! I spent a couple weeks designing all the pages, and being really methodical about what I wanted it it. I made my own dividers, and can add whatever other pages I find I need as the year progresses. Next year I can change dates and see what worked and what didn’t, then make changes accordingly.

The only hitch was that as I was finishing up one of the ink cartridges ran out. As in there was no more fluid in the resevoir. I kept going though, and the print quality wasn’t affected. I decided to wait until Chris’ parents were gone, then put the big printer back together and try to print things on it. Well, when it would work in the way I needed it to I felt frustrated.

Waiting on being able to use this thing, I realized, has had me feeling really disorganized for the last month. And knowing that it’s just been sitting there, and that using it, if I could, would alleviate that feeling has been hard. Using the binder will also mean that I can clean up my work space too, by taking down four clipboards off my wall, giving me more white space and a calmer, cleaner place to do my job. That’s a big deal for me because my “nook is about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep (have I mentioned how excited I am about getting an actual office at the new property???).

After realizing I wasn’t going to be able to get the big printer to do what I wanted it to do, rather than getting really upset and agitated I made a quick decision to let it go. I set the inkjet up on our kitchen table, went through my computer file of all the pages that are supposed to go in the planner binder, how many I still needed to print off in total, and then decided which were the most important and how many I need to print for the next two months. I then fired a message off to a friend who is leaving next month for a few days and who has already offered to bring something small in and asked if she would be cool with transporting some printer cartridges for us too, that would allow us a bit of breathing room. And on top of that, made plans to make an order to build up our stock here, for Chris to bring back in April. Then, I sat down at the table and I just started printing, telling myself that I would do as much as I could until I couldn’t print any more because the cartridges were EMPTY (another was almost gone, too).

Let me tell you, it was a loaves and fishes situation.

I got all of my essential stuff printed, and a few extras that will allow me to work on stuff into March without having to madly print stuff off in the 24 hours after our friend gets back and I leave on a trip (big excitement to share!). As this was all playing out I felt a layer of stress come off me. I didn’t realize how feeling disorganized and not “together” was affecting me, but when I thought about it I realized I had regularly been thinking about it, whether it was wanting to use it to write a big shopping list or work on next months menu plan, or wishing the “wish list” was in place to be writing down the things I know I need to get when I’m away. Basically not having a place to “dump” all that meant I was trying to remember all of it and my head is very tired.

When Chris came back from a meeting and I explained the status of the big printer the first thing he said was, “You know what? I’m kind of done with it and I’d like to get a new printer that is better for what we need, doesn’t need all these consumable parts and has less cost for the ink.”

And another layer came off. And I realized how big of a source of stress the printer had been for me over the years. Yes, I loved it and the work it would do made my job easier, so I dealt with it, but it has been a headache on and off, and always at the least opportune moments.

We can get everything we want and need for what we do in a much less expensive printer that won’t have the high cost toner cartridges. We can even bring one in our suitcases, rather than having to ship it in. I love how technology keeps advancing.

And, another layer off.

Life here takes so much more work than back home. Even the act of buying the food to feed our family requires more work. Because of location and availability, I have to plan what I buy and when. St. Marc has a large percentage of the things we need and use regularly, but some things we can only get in Port au Prince, so I have to plan specific shopping lists for the once a month trip to the store there that Chris makes. Weekly I need to look through the menu plan I have in order to make the Thursday market list for Yonese. Not planning means we buy fresh fruit and veggies, and they get wasted because we don’t use them before they go bad. Truly fresh food in a warm climate doesn’t have the same shelf life as it does back home.

Yesterday as I was grocery shopping for the first time in a couple of weeks, I got to the cashier and as I got to the end of my haul I realized I exhaled. Had I really been holding a breath and feeling stressed out because I needed to go shopping?

Yes. I had.

Some days it’s getting breakfast ready and realizing we’re out of bread and trying to figure out what to feed Olivia because she doesn’t eat eggs (gag reflex leading to several bad experiences, not because she’s picky). Others it’s trying to figure out what to eat for lunch because we don’t buy a ton of things like deli meat, so sandwiches are harder. Anyway, you get the idea. It just takes more work. And it takes planning because we have to drive 20 minutes to the nearest small store where I can shop for most of the stuff, aside from fresh stuff.

Another layer off.

Today my goal is to spend a bit of time on self-care, doing the things I need to do in order to feel more pulled together. Meal planning for next month. Dumping some of my brain stuff out in the right places. Tidying up my work space. Spending some time working on my women’s Bible study lessons so I don’t get behind.

What are your subtle stressors? What makes you feel like you can decompress a bit?


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s