The right to give up

I have started this post some months ago. I have drafted it, thought a lot about it, changed it, deleted many paragraphs, rephrased ideas... In short, it's a difficult one.

You might be surprised by the title of this post. If you browse the thousands of blogs and articles on personal development, you will find plenty of useful tips on how to develop resilience, strategies to forge your stamina through the fires of hell and slogans to never, never, never give up. They can be very useful. Why this title then?

I find it's easy to follow the mass and encourage people to develop resilience and go go go and conquer the world. But in the end you have to be honest, at least with yourself: can you go on forever?

If you are looking for popular or easy solutions, probably this is not the blog for you. This is not a blog for the people who pass by things and just say "fuck it", for people who like to post pictures on social networks with their mouth wide open, for people who are happy with their mask of perfect life.
This post (perhaps even the whole blog) may be indeed unpopular. Well, fuck it.

I've grown up in an environment where giving up was just not an option. I always must face the situations, no matter how difficult they are. A difficult exam? You just study or practice day and night until you master the subject. A challenging sport match? You train yourself until you're exausted and you do your best on the field.You are faced with a tough situation? You stand. There is no plan B.

Sometimes it was just a question of culture. In other cases my character brought me to accept new challenges. But many times it was a question of necessity. Or survival. And I'm not talking about "oh dear, I don't know what to wear at the party". For sure, this contributed to make me the person I am today. A resilient person, who is not afraid of challenges, who even likes them to some extent. And I got used to stand.

As a result, in the words of a colleague "You look immune to stress". Over the surface, maybe. I feel stress, like anybody else, but I probably developed strategies to manage it. I believe that part of it depends on my character and part of it comes from the (good and bad) things I've gone through.

So for many years I was convinced that avoidance was not a good strategy to face difficult situations. But look at the first three minutes of this video, then stop.

[click here]

Will this bridge stand? How long? What will be the consequences? Will it be damaged? Heavily? Or will it collapse? or will it wave for minutes and then go back to its initial status? And in this last case, will there be hidden damages or fissures? What will be the risks for future usage of the bridge?

With the years (hey, I've heard you saying "with the age") I have realised that all the occasions where I was confronted with distress and I stood, my body suffered damages. Maybe not immediate ones, so that it was difficult to establish a clear cause-consequence effect. But the fire alarm was there. I just ignored it. And I'm still paying the consequences of some of them, many years after.

In the last years, I've learnt to listen to myself and my body a bit more. And I've realised that my body alerts me when I'm going too far. It starts with little symtoms, then escalating, like Jiminy Cricket trying to find a way to communicate with me. "Troubleshooter, stop. Hey, stop! I've said stoooop! You're still not listening to me, dear? Then you twist my arm..." and it starts breaking something. 

Something small at the beginning. Ever suffered a bad cold when you're stressed? Or noticed you have migranes? Well, that's your alert system, your inner Jiminy Cricket searching the best way to stop you. If you have migrane you cannot concentrate, so maybe you'll have to slow down. It doesn't work? Your alert system will find another, heavier way. Your senses, limbs, organs. Nothing is off-limits. Until you are forced to stop.

I've put my alert system to test for years and years, and in many occasions I managed to silence it.

But the Little Bastard was working in the dark deeps to sharpen its weapons. And tested them when needed. This one doesn't work, he said. Let's try another one. Oh, Troubleshoother only stopped for one second. Well, let's try a bit of this and that. It left a big scar but it didn't work. Too bad. I'll break something else. Until Troubleshooter will bend to my power and stop.

That Little Bastard. Always going something like this:

The precious will be ours once the hobbitses are dead. [I'm a nerd, I know]

With the years, though, the Little Bastard and I have started using the same language. I have noticed that when I am stressed - and I'm talking of psychological, not physical stress - my right calf muscle suffers. It starts as a little ache, then develops in a small sprain, of maybe one centimeter. I don't stop? The little bastard puts its sword in the sprain and makes it bigger. Or creates other little sprains. In the same calf muscle. Or in the other one, why not? After all, I have two legs.

The first time it happened, I resisted and I made the situation worse. In the end I had to stay at home because walking was becoming difficult. Then I realised that was the alert system. The second time I stopped much earlier and...ta-daaa: the ache disappeared in no time!

It happened recently again, I took some distance from the source of distress after one week that my calf hurt (one week is still a long time, I know, but it takes a while to learn) and the ache simply disappeared in one day, without any other intervention. That Little Bastard probably drank ten pints of beer that day to celebrate his new communication skills.

It seems there is some medical evidence of what I am saying. When we are stressed, we produce an hormon called cortisol. You can google cortisol and stress and you will find plenty of results. Cortisol is not candy. It seems that a single drop can kill a dog. Imagine what it can do to your body.

Biochimics and medical articles are rather complex. I'll try to summarise some scientific findings in a simple whay. Stress pushes our body to produce more cortisol. When the level of cortisol in our body is too high, there is a decrease of collagene synthesis, a weaker immunitary response and a raise of cronic tiredness. As a result, our body suffers: back, muscle and head pain, sleep problems, weight increase, vulnerability to colds and flues, reduction of libido, digestion problems, anxiety, skin aging...these are just some of the symptoms. Nice, uh?

So, is it possible to choose?
Our society makes us feel that the answer is no. Freddie Mercury too [RIP. Teach the angels how to sing]

Ooh, how would it be if you were standing in my shoes /Can't you see that it’s impossible to choose /No, there's no making sense of it /Every way I go I'm bound to lose, oh yes 

[Note: don't watch this video if you are soft-hearted. Where is my kleenex?]

We live in a society where we are pushed to give always an image of success. Giving up is seen as a defeat. [Important note: there are serious situations where you are not allowed to retreat. I am not talking about them, ok? There, you just have to endure and face it, whatever it costs. I am talking about situations where you finally have choice, even if it is not self-evident. And I am not talking about suicidal thoughts either. If this is your case, please ask for medical help. Seriously.] For many of us it is difficult to accept avoidance as a stress management strategy. Our pride prevails. But sometimes there are situations where we simply cannot change things. We can try hard, try to manage the situation, talk with people, apply all the good practices that we find in good manuals and in training. But things are not changing. Either because it's not possible or because people don't want them to change. In these cases, it is better not to insist. 

You can smash into the wall for a while, but it remains a wall and you risk hurting yourself seriously. If things are not changing and you realise it, it is better to give up. It is a difficult decision sometimes, because you have to recognise that you cannot control everything. Though, avoidance is a stress-management strategy. An effective one, in some cases. Sometimes it's the only way to preserve your health. Sometimes we just need to say "I don't want to stand it any more." Our pride won't suffer. On the contrary, you will probably feel you have done a difficult choice. Still the best choice for you. Whatever society tells us, we are entitled to give up. We need it to recover and to start again, giving us the time to take a step back and find our balance. Without standing against the wind and suffering anymore.

It is our right. The right to give up. And it's refreshing.


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