Learning to Live with Who You Are

I’d like to think that now that I’m retired and have little to do in my life that I’ve managed to escape stress and its effects, but apparently I’d be wrong.

Lately I’ve been suffering from a rather painful case of
pompholyx, something I haven’t suffered from in nearly fifteen years.

I long suffered a mild case of pompholyx on my feet, an ailment aggravated by my fondness for long hikes. I simply learned to live with it, a small price to pay for how much I enjoyed the hikes.

It’s one thing to have heat blisters on your feet, it’s something quite different to have them on your hands. Having your hands break out in a rash can be nearly debilitating, making it nearly impossible to complete physical tasks.

Strangely, I vividly remember the first time I suffered an attack of pompholyx. It was a hot summer day and I was trying to tile a bathroom for the first time. I was having trouble getting numerous small tiles to line up with each other. In the middle of laying the floor I received a phone call from a union leader who told me that the superintendent of our school district was trying to fire a vice-principal who was a good friend of mine, the result of a long-term power struggle between administrators and teachers in the district.

After the phone call, I went back to tiling since there was little I could do right then to solve the problem, and, besides, the cement mix was rapidly setting up. When I finally finished the job hours later and peeled off the heavy duty rubber gloves, my hands were covered with a mass of small “heat blisters” that itched and oozed a clear liquid when I was foolish enough to scratch them. A few days later the skin over the blisters started peeling off, exposing a raw mass of nerves.

It took a cortisone shot and two weeks of treatment with a steroid cream before I was able to function semi-normally, and the rash reoccurred with a frightening regularity for many years afterward. I really don’t remember when the rash finally disappeared long enough that I could forget that I had ever suffered from it. I suspect it was a while after that superintendent had been dismissed, my ex-wife had moved to Bellevue, and my stress levels had fallen to those of a normal high school teacher.

Perhaps, then it’s not entirely coincidental that this rash should suddenly reappear in the middle of the summer while working on this house. I tend to be a “perfectionist” while still wanting things done quickly, not necessarily a good combination.

I’ve been living in this house a year now and as long as I wasn’t responsible for the way things looked, I’ve been able to live with the house as it is, barely. Once I started working on it, though, all the things I’ve disliked about it became painfully obvious.

When you know how things “should be done” and you want things to be done “the way they should be done,” it’s stressful when you realize how poorly they’ve been done even in a relatively “expensive” house. It’s frustrating when you realize contractors have cut corners to save a dollar here and a dollar there, only to end up costing you thousands of dollars later when you try to fix them after the fact.

The point, of course, isn’t that contractors are too often con-artists who use cheap, inferior products to give the appearance of quality, but, rather, how does one keep one’s expectations from causing unnecessary and debilitating stress? How can apparently positive characteristics that make others admire your work turn on you so easily and undermine your very health?

After all the years of reading and meditating, why is it so easy to give in to life-long traits that are so counter productive and are guaranteed to create greater problems than the problems that they confront?