Monday, March 17, 2014

my emotional bathtub (is overflowing)

**This post in an introduction to the posts that will follow on Tuesday and Wednesday, which are especially important if you’re stationed here at Offutt AFB.  I’m partnering with the Offutt Spouse and Partner Resilience team to spread the news about their incredible program.  I’ve written on the bathtub of emotions a few times in the past, but this post was original**

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

On a normal day, my husband being late from work wouldn’t be a big deal.  But today, everything was piling up.

It was Friday and the end of a long, long week.  My son had been sick for a few days so we had been stuck inside to keep our germs contained.  Earlier in the week he had just wanted to be snuggled, but today he was feeling a bit better.  In fact, he was feeling just well enough that he was grouchy! Every few moments he collapsed into a puddle of tears if I didn’t know what he wanted or didn’t help him quickly enough.

My chronic pain had flared up again and a migraine was on its way, dizzying my sight.  My son took a ridiculously short nap, which meant I had a long list of work that still needed to be done.  Usually I would have grabbed a coke to help a bit with the migraine, but this week we were not eating sugar, so that wasn’t an option.  My husband told me he would be home early only to have a last-minute emergency that meant he stayed much later than normal.  I was ready to tap-out of the parenting thing (actually the life thing) for just a few minutes of respite, but it just wasn’t going to be happening right then.

“My bathtub is full.” I told my husband over the phone.  He knew what that meant.

Years ago, I heard that phrase from an allergist, describing how people with food sensitivities can eat little bits of a food and feel okay as long as those little bits don’t add up to equal a serious reaction.

I have adapted the phrase for my emotions.  Have you ever cried over a glass of spilled milk only to chide yourself for being upset over something so innocuous?  Usually, if you trace back over the last few days, you realize that the spilled milk was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.  So you aren't crying over just spilled milk.  

Going back to the bathtub analogy, stress is like water in a bathtub.  Each stressor might only add a couple inches of water, but when you have five or six different stressors, it adds up quickly.  When my chronic pain was at a peak, it felt like each day started with my bathtub three-quarters of the way filled.  I had such little room for extra stressors so I found that little things upset me far more than they should have.

A bathtub for emotions is a silly metaphor, but it works for me.  Countless times it has helped me communicate my stress level to my husband with just that one sentence: "My bathtub is full."

Do you have a similar phrase or metaphor for dealing with stress?

**Click here to read Part Two to hear how thisrelates to resilience in the Air Force**


  1. Love that phrase, Callie. I just may have to start using that with my husband. Having those phrases or clue words to help your spouse understand what's going on with you is so helpful in keeping good communication in a marriage, especially when stress levels get high!

  2. Hope that it helps you! It's so hard to explain EVERYTHING that went wrong that day (and sometimes I feel silly saying little things like "H spilled milk all over the floor"), but that phrase seems to cover it all and help my husband understand that I need a little space and some extra help. :)


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