Books Magazine

Don't Let The Balloon Burst

By Ashleylister @ashleylister

Believe me, you don’t know the meaning of the word 'stress' unless you have taken a buggy, a large suitcase, a backpack, a handbag, a carrier bag full of snacks and games, a comfort blanket and three children under four on a two hundred and fifty mile train journey (with, not one, but two changes). If you haven’t wiped noses, hands and bums at least thirty times on that journey (and this before the advent of convenient baby wipes), picked up off the floor, crayons, half eaten sandwiches, squashed grapes and the sausage roll that nobody wanted; taken those desperate children several times to the fascinating (smelly) toilet, so that they can tell you they ‘don’t need to go now,’ as you sit wearily upon the lav, and watch in slow motion as they fight over pressing the button that quietly opens the door to reveal you in all your glory to the suited and booted businessman waiting in the corridor.No, unless you have done that journey, under those conditions, please don’t tell me you know what stress is.

Alternatively, if you have no children and are feeling pretty smug about it, then ponder for a moment on technology.  Just last week, as I was attempting to upload a couple of hundred images to my Mac, it first flooded  the screen with yellow triangles, warning about misdemeanours I’d committed and mishaps that would befall me (none of which I fully understood and some of which were downright baffling), and then, very dramatically, froze before displaying a language consisting entirely of question marks. After a few moments of puzzled frowning, and muttered expletives, I tried to restart the machine. The screen went black and despite several attempts to coax it back into life, it refused to do anything but remain defiantly dark. I knew this day was coming. I’d been chancing my luck for the last few months, overcoming problems on a wing and a prayer. Things weren’t looking good. The next few days were filled with the kind of stress that comes with panic.  I was desperate not to lose images and documents and programs and apps.  When I got a (very short) window of opportunity before it all crashed again, I frantically moved everything possible onto the External Hard Drive.  I won’t go into the details, mainly because I can't remember them, but suffice to say, I had three full days of stress and anxiety over that Mac.  By some miracle, I managed to pull it all back, but by that time I was not only stressed to the point of feeling ill, but also exhausted through hours of trial and error. 

Don't Let The Balloon Burst

A Novel Screen?

There was only one thing more stressful than dealing with my own technological problems, and that was sorting out my 92 year old dad’s.  He did so well to even get on the computer at his age, not to mention sorting bank transfers, writing essays and emailing friends, but if anything went wrong he was flummoxed.  As he lived over two hundred miles away and didn’t know his archive from his El Capitan it was an afternoon’s job, requiring supreme patience.  There were times when my stress levels were through the roof, as I saw time ticking away and heard my dad saying for the third time, ‘but which one is the address bar?’ or ‘how do I move onto the next line?’ And once, woefully, ‘but now the screen’s gone sideways!’  I always kept my patience and didn’t let him know I was stressed but it was an effort - and my poor husband got the brunt of it once I came off the phone after a couple of hours.

I’ve always been a pretty stressy person. I’d love not to, but I worry about almost everything.  I’m convinced there’s some sort of cavity in my head that is there exclusively for problems. No sooner do I get rid of one worry than another takes its place. That Problem Cavity must always have to be filled, and believe me, that’s one problem I don’t have - filling it. I’d love to be one of those laid back people like my husband, who floats along, batting away worries like annoying bluebottles. I’ve decided that I now take on his worries as well as my own. I’ve also realised, as time’s gone on and the family has grown to include children, grandchildren, great nephews and nieces, that the bigger the family, the more stressed I become.  I love my family dearly, and we’re all extremely close but there are more and more people to worry about.  I put it down to a vivid imagination.  Somebody only has to be five minutes late and I’ve got them kidnapped by a knife wielding maniac, under a bus or down a ravine, and I’m ordering wreaths for their funeral. 

That’s extreme, and I’m happy to say that these days I do try my best to keep my stress levels under control.  When I was really ill with depression and anxiety several years ago, I visited an amazing psychiatrist, who, I would say, saved my life.  One thing that  sticks in my mind, is the balloon analogy, and although it didn’t work instantly, it’s something I always think about if things start getting too much. 

There comes a point in all our lives when we need to let some air out of our balloons.

Here's my poem:

Don't Let the Balloon Burst

He looks at me over half moon specs

Fleetingly, I think 

he looks like a caricature of what he is

A psychiatrist 

Kind eyes, no real humour

but then none here either

‘Your head is like a balloon,’ he says 

in that calm, quiet voice 

I would laugh in other circumstances 

‘The air going in,’ he continues

‘is the stress’ 

I don’t have the energy to nod 

‘If you don’t let some out…’

I stare at a mole on his face

waiting to hear what could happen

‘The balloon will burst.’ 

I nod

I don’t want my balloon to burst

‘No more air in - let some out,’ he whispers

I drive home, my balloon still full

Imagining the bang.

Thanks for reading, Jill

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