The Stress of the Inner War

Yael Shy
September 9, 2023
The sun shines through red-tinted sunglasses, representing the way stress colors your view of the world.

Several years ago, I woke up one morning with a case of vertigo so bad that I couldn’t stand up, walk, or move my head without waves of nausea and vomiting. It turns out I had an inner ear infection and had to be on bed rest for several weeks. During this time, I kept asking myself, “how did I end up here?”

The answer was that I was stressed–not necessarily from the external world, but from a battle that was taking place within me. The problem boiled down to this: after more than a decade of toiling away and climbing the ranks in my dream job, I didn’t want to be there anymore.

That feeling started as a whisper in the years prior, showing up around the periphery of my mind, only to be “shooed” away from my inner practical voice. When I envisioned this practical part of myself, he looked like a skinny accountant with spectacles and a bow-tie, clutching the financial documents. And he was always scared about how I would meet my responsibilities and avoid danger.

These were his favorite lines, playing like a loop in my head:
“You have a GREAT job! You have so many student loans! There are no other jobs out there for a meditation teacher! You would be stupid to leave! You will end up penniless and your children will starve!”

It was much harder to hear the quiet voice that wanted me to leave over all the noise of the Accountant. I was scared of what this voice would reveal and I was convinced it was trying to ruin my life. In the desperation of the vertigo bed rest, I finally gave up resisting and tried to face this inner voice full-on. Who was she? What did she want?  

I felt her before I saw her. She felt like the thrum of insistent desire, coupled with a kind of unruly wildness. She was part-spider, part-woman, with voluminous frizzy hair. What did she want for me? She wanted me OUT of my job. Full stop. She wanted to set me free. She had no backup plan for me once I quit. She didn’t care about making money or feeding my family. She was feral and fecund, and she was growing louder by the day.

Unfortunately, so was the Accountant. Before long, I had a full-fledged battle waging within me, both sides wreaking havoc on my life. I was sleeping terribly. I was making big mistakes at work. I became a wreck.

From my sickbed, I called a meeting between the inner Accountant and the inner Spider Woman. “We cannot keep living like this,” I told them. “We need to learn to live together. We are not leaving this table until we arrive at a consensus about how we move forward.”

I imagined handing the microphone over to the Accountant, who, in a fevered pitch of anxiety, made his case for me to stay in the secure position. As per usual, he had facts, figures, and multi-page spreadsheets to prove his point.

When he was done, I imagined handing the microphone over to the Spider Woman, who argued that I must be free or she would burn my life to the ground. She was not effing around.

And so we made a treaty that day. I promised Spider Woman I would leave, but at a pace that felt safe enough for the Accountant. I promised the Accountant that I would work hard to secure a practical income and pay all my bills. One year later, I left my job and started my own company, which is still going strong after three years.

How much of your stress is external, and how much is the battle that is waging within you? Are you torn between polarized parts of yourself, each trying in its own way to help you, each wrestling for control?

In moments of great stress, meditation can help you find the stability to separate from these voices and access the love and spaciousness to hear, validate, and thank them for how they are trying to help. You, too, can have a peace summit—pledging to see the goodness within each part of yourself, and refusing to leave any part behind as you move forward. You can do this in your journal, in meditation, or chatting it all out loud to yourself.

This is how I found my way out of the stress of (literal and figurative) disorientation, and I hope it helps you to do the same.

Yael Shy is the CEO of Mindfulness Consulting, where she supports individuals and institutions with transformative mindfulness coaching, consulting, and teaching. She is the author of What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond, and can be found on Instagram at Yaelshy1.

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