This e-mail came across my desk. It was written by that famous writer known as “unknown author.”

“A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’ Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g. The lecturer replied, ‘the absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it.’

‘If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for and hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, I’ll need an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes … And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.’

To me, the glass of water symbolizes chronic illness. It is impossible to put down. Even when you are away from home on respite, or trying to do something for yourself, you are still holding that glass of water in your mind as it gets heavier and heavier. That is why, when living with chronic illness, you have to begin to pour off some water from the glass whenever possible.

Lil’s husband had MS for over 10 years when they bought an accessible van. Now that he was wheelchair bound, it was becoming harder and harder for her to help him into the car and then haul the wheelchair into the trunk, and do the reverse when they arrived at their destination. The van did not come without its own set of difficulties. Though Richard, Lil’s husband, was able to just roll up the ramp onto the van (as long as Lil pushed the chair), Lil had to raise and lower the heavy ramp, push and guide the wheelchair, and then tie down the wheelchair to the van floor.

Still, to Lil this was a great improvement over transferring her husband from the wheelchair to the car and putting the chair in and out of the trunk. That is why she bought the van. It was her way of making her life just a bit easier. It was her way of spilling a few drops of water out of the glass she was holding.

Over time, Richard deteriorated and needed more care than Lil could provide at home. He was placed in a nursing home and Lil held on to the van in order to take him on outings. As Richard’s condition worsened and the outings became limited to family dinners and in town meetings, Lil reevaluated the need for the van. She discovered that what she would save on insurance and cost by selling the large accessible van and buying a comfortable small car for her to drive would just about pay for a handivan to deliver Richard to and from their outings. What she would save in terms of her own stress and exertion was immeasurable. Lil sold her van.

Today, Lil hires the handivan whenever Richard needs to go anywhere, whether to meet her at a restaurant or a museum or home for dinner with the family. The handivan drivers pick Richard up, secure the wheelchair in the van, and deliver him into the designated place. Lil only has to be there, waiting inside if the weather is cold, to meet him. This leaves her more able to enjoy the outing being less physically and emotionally exhausted.

The ‘glass of water’ you are holding may be chronic illness or any other stress that is impossible to put down, even when you can manage a holiday or a few hours to yourself. If the stress is with you constantly, attached to your emotions and your mind without end, then what you must do is explore ways to lighten the load. Is there a piece of the stress that you can let go of, hire out, or let someone else handle? Look at the whole picture. Are there things you can have others do so that they are no longer your sole responsibility? There are many burdens that paid helpers or volunteers can free you of.

It may be little things, but each drop of water you spill from the glass you are holding makes the glass just a bit easier to hold.

You might be surprised at how much better you feel even after giving up just one or two minor, routine tasks, and how much better you can cope with the many that remain. Though the glass of water will never be light, you can make it weigh a bit less, and in doing so, make your life more livable and manageable.

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