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Klark Byrd

Byrd: Don't be blind to stress relief

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columns Dickinson,North Dakota 58602
The Dickinson Press
Byrd: Don't be blind to stress relief
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

The nerve on my left temple was going numb again. It does that when I get stressed. And I had good reason to be stressed. I had never before lost my vision.


It wasn't a total loss, more like spots in which my brain said there should be a picture but nothing registered. It started out looking like a stitch in my vision that I could see with both eyes. It cleared up in my right eye after a few minutes, but that's when I started to lose vision in my left eye.

The blind spots grew until I was seeing a shimmering darkness in my peripheral vision. It was like there was interference between the camera and the TV, except the camera was my eye and the TV was my brain. At that point, I wanted to panic.

I knew that wasn't a good idea. Running around the house flailing my arms screaming "Oh no, I'm blind!" would have done little to aid the situation. Plus, I probably would have run into something and hurt myself. So I laid down on my bed and covered my face with a pillow.

I gave in to the darkness as I closed my eyes. I took a few deep breaths and determined my best course of action was to finish getting dressed for work. I decided to give my optometrist a call to see if she could tell me what was happening to my eye. I lucked out getting into the office when another patient canceled their appointment.

By the time I arrived, my vision problems cleared up. Still, it was worth a look. As she peered into my eyes, I thought about my father. He lost his vision when I was 6-months-old. Surgery restored only a small amount of tunnel vision and he did well with his situation, even living on his own.

But I'm scared to death of going blind.

The good news from the good doctor was that my eyes were 100 percent fine on the inside. The diagnosis: stress-induced blood vessel spasm behind my eyes. The prescription: take a vacation.

Oddly enough, it's not the first time I was given a similar diagnosis and prescription. A few years ago when I actually was feeling stressed out, I experienced a scalp spasm on the left side of my head so severe that I would have sworn someone hit me with a baseball bat if I hadn't been in my living room judging entries for an Associated Press news and photo competition.

The spasm caused my trigeminal nerve -- a major facial nerve on the temple -- to go numb. I thought then that I may have had a stroke. But due to a lack of facial paralysis, I didn't rush into the emergency room. I waited until the next morning and went to see my physician.

His examination determined no neurological damage, which was a relief beyond relief. From the description of the symptoms, he diagnosed the spasm and prescribed me a few days off work.

Ever since then that nerve will go numb when the muscles of my neck tighten too much, which tends to happen when I get stressed.

Just like I did a few years ago, I took a couple of days off this week. In my down time I learned this about myself: I really suck at taking "me time." I spent my time cleaning the house, shopping for groceries and mowing the yard.

I used to take small breaks all the time, usually to go outside and smoke a cigarette. I'll admit that the more stressed I felt, the more cigarettes I smoked. But I gave up the cancer sticks nearly five years ago. It seems I also gave up stress relief.

At least the mowing felt therapeutic. It felt good to be off my rear end, outside and sweating in the labor. Streaming music from my smartphone, I lost myself in the duty and that was a wonderful feeling.

I'm slowly learning the importance of time off, no matter how much I love my job. In this industry, we live by deadlines. Frayed nerves and seat-of-the-pants decisions are a part of the job. But the stress of any job needn't blind us to our own needs for a little R&R.

If you've been putting off a little vacation time, I suggest you go ahead and enjoy a break. You never know, your health might depend on it.

Byrd is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at kbyrd@thedickinsonpress.comor tweet him at klarkbyrd.