Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Honest Truth: Panic

It was a bright sunny day. I pulled my car up beside the gas pump and fumbled for my credit card. As I eased out of my car the smells and sounds of the gas station, along with the humidity of a late Delta summer, seemed to smother me like a wet blanket.  I yanked my cell phone out of my jeans pocket and hastily dialed my husband's office number. "I can't do it," I sobbed into the phone. My heart pounded so fast and furiously... as if it my burst up through my throat, past my crooked teeth and out onto the greasy pavement. "I can't think straight. I think if I go I might...." I stopped my train of thought. I looked out at the cars driving along the road in front of the gas station. "I think I have to go home." I could feel the curious glances of fellow customers so I slipped back into the drivers seat of my car. On the other side of the phone my husband's soothing words urged me to take a couple of deep breathes. "Just turn the car around and go home," He spoke gently. "You can lie down for awhile and rest. You aren't so far behind, whatever you miss you can make up."  I didn't hold out much hope for that. Just the day before I had slipped out of a harmless presentation in one of my classes on infant development. I made my way to a bathroom stall where I spent the next 20 minutes crying into a paper toilet seat cover. A friend found me that day, armed with chocolate. She had also showed up the day after I had lost the baby...with a big white bunny in hand.

That day at the gas station wasn't the first time I had experienced a panic attack. I suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after my car accident and the panic attacks were just part of the package. It got better. So much better, but whenever I had any kind of stress or change in my life they would creep back in....malicious, crippling, devastating. Before my carwreck I had coasted through life...I have always been phlegmatic and would as soon avoid conflict as anything. I never looked for a fight. Or tried to borrow trouble. But it seemed as if trouble had found me and not only assaulted my body, but had waged war on my mind on well.

I wasn't trying to get pregnant. In fact, I had been told it was practically going to be impossible on my own. I had done a few rounds of fertility drugs before my car accident...And then between the accident and heart failure (it had been a tough few years) my doctors had told me that it might be a good idea to put the whole baby thing on the back burner. So I thought of other things. Threw myself into work and school. Projects. Plans and more plans...none which included being pregnant. We had already been married almost 9 years. If I allowed myself to daydream about soft baby feet, onsies and playdates I felt as if I would never recover from the disappointment.

So being pregnant in the first place was a surprise. In the back of my mind I had the tiniest bit of hope. "This is how God is going to do it! It's a miracle." But there was also something else in the back of my mind. A wariness. And when I was put on bedrest after just a few weeks I started the process of withdrawing into myself. I started to build up a wall. Brick by brick in my mind. It didn't help. When I did lose my baby it felt as if I never was going to be happy again.

I did whatever self-respecting pastor's wife/daughter would do. I dragged myself out of bed, put on a happy face and started talking about "God's plan"..even if I wasn't so sure about it myself. And then the panic attacks began...with a vengeance. My body betrayed me. Again.

To make things worse, my semester in college that year (I was an early childhood ed major) centered around infants and toddlers. My classmates gathered around me....going with me when I had observations or even covering for me when I faltered.

My story has a happy ending. It was during that time of mourning that we were contacted about a little boy who was yet to be born. In a few short months we were parents. I was a mom. What a curious turn of events:<) And what a miracle!

Today. Just today I felt the familiar beat-beat of my heart. I could feel my stomach lurch and my chest tighten. There doesn't have to be a loss or a big event. Just a little stress. And if I haven't felt well. Or if I haven't been taking care of my body. Which I haven't. And there are those other little warning signs. The withdrawing into myself. The lack of energy.

I have been dealing with this long enough to have a few tools in my arsenal. Prayer. Seems like an obvious choice. But there have been times in my life I haven't been able to pray for myself. Been there? I'm thankful to have a supportive spouse. I also know to take a little time to regroup. I need some downtime. Some quiet time. I make lists and journal. I read encouraging things. I also treat myself. Maybe a new bottle of nail polish. Or a pair of dangly earrings. I drink plenty of water, eat my favorite fruits and add some exercise to my life. (Things are always better when I am able to move). And there have been times when I needed the help of medication. When I first started dealing with this it wasn't a popular thing for a Pastor's wife to talk about anti-anxiety medication. I am grateful that the Church has grown up a little.

I can't tell you why I was impressed to share this part of my story this evening. There certainly were other things I could have talked about. More pleasant things. But I don't want you to be sad for me. My story is one of triumph, ultimately. God has done a marvelous work in my life. He has given me so much to be thankful for. And I know that there are days that are going to press me down. There are going to be moments that are going to make me feel lost. But I know that I am never alone. The moral of the story isn't that I persevered and got what I desired in the end. It's about being vulnerable. It's a common human story. Troubles are troubles. And I'm here to tell you that you're not alone.

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