Friday, April 07, 2006

Finding the Stress Point

For the past two weeks or so, I've had this minor twitch on the lower edge of my left eye. From what I've read about such things, there can be several causes - lack of sleep, eye strain, or stress. When I was in high school and college I would occasionally get such a twitch, but it would only last a day or so and could usually be attributed to lack of sleep.

The last time I had such an eye-twitch was several years ago and it lasted for about two years! It developed shortly after the sudden and unexpected break-up with my fiancée. For the longest time I wasn't sure what was causing the twitch, and over the course of two years it migrated from one eye to the other and to different parts of my eyelid. It wasn't something that was noticeable to others - it's not like I was winking all the time or anything like that, but it was some sort of minor muscle spasm on the eyelid. If I looked in the mirror when it was happening, I could see a small section of my eyelid contracting or vibrating. It wasn't something I was overly concerned about, but it was a bit annoying since it was going on for so long. What made me realize the cause was when it suddenly stopped. It stopped right after the most bizarre coincidence of my life - when I ran into my ex-fiancée in a nightclub in Providence. It was such a bizarre coincidence because I hadn't seen her in about 2 years, she lived in New Hampshire, so running into to her in Providence was a bit odd, I was supposed to be playing hockey that night but some friends at work invited me to go out with them, and not being one for going out to nightclubs, this was the first time I had gone to a nightclub in about 2 years, and oddest of all - it turned out my ex-fiancée was out on the town for her bachelorette party; she was getting married the next day! If there is some supernatural being controlling our fates, I think who ever is in charge of my fate has a very strange sense of humor. Interestingly, after this chance encounter, my eye-twitch went away.

Which brings me to pondering what is the cause of this current eye-twitch.

I don't think it is a lack of sleep, although I suppose it is possible. I've been trying to cut back a bit on sleep - only getting 7 hours rather than 8. The hope was I would have an extra hour each day and I would get used to having slightly less sleep. The past few days I've gone back to 8 hours of sleep, yet the eye-twitch remains.

Another option is eye strain. I don't think I'm straining my eyes any more than usual. I'm in front of a computer screen the same amount of time as usual. The only difference is the use of my fairly new Mac laptop. While I don't really notice any difference while using it, the Mac screen is rather small (just 12 inches), so maybe there is the possibility that I'm squinting a bit more than usual.

The final option is stress, which I'm thinking is the most likely explanation. The question is, what am I possibly stressed out about? Since my last eye-twitch episode appears to have been caused by a pretty deep subconscious thing (lack of closure in a failed relationship), I'm not even sure if I'll be able to uncover it. But, as an exercise, I'll examine some possible stress points.

First, there's the usual suspect of work, but honestly, work is pretty stress free. I only work 40 hours a week. It's challenging, yet enjoyable. The only time I get a bit stressed out is when I think there's the possibility I might have to travel or I might get out a bit later and miss a karate class. But the last time that actually happened was exactly a year ago, so it's not like it's a common occurrence.

Another consideration is karate. I greatly enjoy karate - it's pretty much all I do outside of work. The thought of not being able to do karate often stresses me out. For example, a few months ago, I was having awful back-pain (I think from when I fell on a hardwood floor while practicing a tonfa kata). The pain was so bad it would wake me up in the middle of the night, and sometimes just walking was very painful. I came very close to going to see a doctor, but I was afraid I'd be told to lay off the karate for a while, which wasn't an answer I wanted to hear. Eventually (after about a month), the pain finally went away. More recently, I've had another concern. For the past few weeks, I've had a really odd pain in my right heel when I straighten my leg and flex my foot upward and towards my shin. It was a painful burning sensation that almost felt like my achilles tendon was tearing away from my heel bone. This got so bad and persisted for so long that a few days ago I was tempted to go see a doctor. But first I did a bunch of Internet research. From what I've read about achilles tendon problems (such as achilles tendonitis), the best solution is to give the leg/foot a rest - worst case, the foot/ankle will be put in a cast to give the tendon a rest. I didn't want to be told to not practice karate for a few weeks, or worse, be stuck in a cast, so even though it probably wasn't the wisest recourse, I decided against going to see a doctor. I figured I'd give it some more time, and maybe go a little easier on the stretching with that foot. Surprisingly, after last night's karate class which involved a lot of kicking bags, I noticed today that my heel actually has very little pain when I flex my foot. It almost feels normal. I'm not really sure why hitting my foot repeatedly would actually make my heel feel better, but it did. So, if my eye-twitch now goes away, I'll blame my heel. :-)

One other cause of stress I can think of is my obsessive nature and how it relates to karate. I try to be the best I can at whatever I do, yet lately karate has become very challenging. It's not necessarily challenging in a strictly physically demanding sense, it's more that there are certain details I'm struggling with and they just require a lot of practice and patience in order to improve. Sometimes I feel like I've hit a wall, like nothing is improving, which I suppose stresses me out a bit at times. I have to keep in mind that what is important is that I just remain mindful of what I am working on and keep at it. There will always be certain details that will be a challenge for me. That's one of the features of karate - the deeper you look, there's always room for improvement. It's not going to ever be something that I can say, "Ah, now I'm finished." It's a lifelong challenge.

Now looking back on my possible stress points makes me realize that I really ought not to be stressed out about anything. In all these instances of potential stress, the stress is due to me worrying or anticipating something that might not even happen (What if I have to work late and miss a karate class? What if I get injured? What if I never get any better? ). That's not very Zen-like. I'm not sure how I got so far off track. There's really no sense worrying...

Now I just have to convince my eye of that.