Today is our second daughter’s first birthday and therefore also the anniversary of The Event. Writing about what I’m going through today dovetails quite nicely with a topic I had planned to broach this week: the action of time on healing from mental illness. What I don’t want to do is breed discouragement. I’ve been sharing things about how to make headway in certain aspects of anxiety, depression and panic, but many of you out there are still very much struggling in the midst of these conditions. Note: This is the advantage of an actual counseling relationship over reading self-help books/posts. Readers often get the impression that because they now “know” what to do, they should somehow be “cured.” Disappointment, shame, guilt sets in when this doesn’t turn out to be the reality. So here comes reality.
This is what I posted on Facebook this morning:
Happy (actual) 1st birthday Ellie! When I got to see you for the first time after waking up, I thought to myself, “Oh pfttttt. No matter what, this child is worth it.” It’s still true and always will be. Hey, in a way, we share birthdays. Thanks for the “reboot” 🙂
My prayer for you and your sister, little one, is that you would seek and know true wisdom. First and foremost that you would taste and see how gracious the Lord is. When you had next to zero chance of ever knowing your mother, He saw you personally and restored her completely to you. This is your God – it is His very nature. Your father and I have no desire to raise miniature versions of ourselves. Be transformed into His likeness and go out in confidence and security.
These statements are profoundly true and exactly what I want Ellie to know about her birthday. I’m thankful I post this, and after my firstborn finishes her breakfast, I drive her to preschool, talk to her teachers and then stop at Trader Joe’s for some groceries. It’s my regular day off from my part time job. On the way home, I begin to become conscious that I am a jumble of ill-defined thoughts and emotions. Bummer. I had hoped to glide through this day gracefully and triumphantly, focusing on my cute baby. I get home, and as I’m putting away the groceries, I feel very dizzy, like I need to lie down. The lines of light created by the plantation shutters begin to undulate. I drink some water. I begin to watch the clock. Strange. Without me having consciously marked it, I was induced right about now last year. I suddenly feel an irrational dread that the same sensations I felt last year will come over me again. I start wondering how I’m going to get through the day. I want to cry, crawl into bed and pull the comforter over myself. Well, today is going to take a little extra work. Switch to manual controls.
The first thing I do is whisper thanksgiving to God. Thank You that it is the joyous occasion of Ellie’s birthday. Thank You that it has been one year, during which time I watched my children grow, helped build a foundation for them, kissed and conversed with my husband, saw friends and family. Thank You that I am so healthy. I’ve been able to go to work. I’m not restricted from any activities. I have no long term fallout with which to concern myself from the event. Praise You for this utterly miraculous work, but more so because I know this is who You ARE. That, Father, is the truly comforting part. Please help me through today.
I resist getting into bed, lying on the couch. Rumination tends to set in when we do that (lie still, doing nothing), and we all know that rumination is mostly negative in nature and only serves to intensify our suffering. Plus, I don’t want to be in the same physical position as I was in when the hemorrhage started. That would only give my body more of an opportunity to engage its muscle memory and make me suffer.
Thankfully, one of my best friends stops by this morning with her son, and we talk about parenting and life happenings in general for an hour or so while he plays. This is a real blessing. I’m distracted from the memory and fear of my heart racing. I’m comfortable that she will understand if I act a little strange or even if I have a full blown panic attack right in front of her. If she hadn’t come over, I probably would have called her today.
After my friend and her son go home for nap time, I call my mother-in-law and chat with her about the kids. Ellie, my birthday girl, slept over there last night, because frankly, she wore me out after a 12-hr day yesterday. She’ll be home later on today, so we can celebrate together. I sit down and take care of some items on my To Do List. Still, I find myself watching the clock. How will I feel the minute she was born? How will I feel at the time when they took me into the OR (thankfully, I don’t know exactly what time that was – ignorance really is bliss sometimes)? I still want to cry and crawl under the bed. I allow myself the tears but avoid the bed like the plague.
Distraction is a fine and useful tool, and indeed, some people employ it their entire lives to keep from having to face the difficult feelings. It is also exhausting to maintain and does not represent true healing. It moves you neither forward nor backward in growth and maturity. Good or bad (probably a little of both), I’m not built to be able to distract myself from the real issues indefinitely. I decide at this point to have a talk with myself.
1. June 18th holds both utterly joyous and utterly awful moments for you. Do not allow in shame and guilt because you feel unable to feel unequivocally happy today.
2. This is the first anniversary of the event. Be hopeful that time will mute and heal some of the more bothersome emotions.
3. Today, of all days, you can probably safely chalk up any physical symptoms to post traumatic stress. First off, there is no rational reason to be anxious. Remember the facts; cling to reality. You are not pregnant. You are not newly postpartum. You are not losing blood. You can’t self-induce a code blue. Ok, so your heart races a little, and it feels like your BP is crashing. Well, obviously PTSD. You feel short of breath, dizzy, unable to focus? PTSD. No need to let anticipatory anxiety of emotions and physical feelings suddenly “getting you” take over. You’ve done the things that you need to do for a while to tamp down the fire. You have a BP cuff at home. You have your husband’s pulse oximeter. Yes, these items are neurotic for the average 30 yr old but not pathological (you haven’t transformed your house into a medical clinic; you haven’t demanded monthly labwork to tell you that you’re still alive etc.). It’s ok to accept grace where grace happens without feeling the need to “power though” all the time.
4. Should the feelings of panic crop up, which will probably closely mimic the low blood volume you experienced, you know what to do. See Agoraphobia Pt. 2. Courage is not always about “toughing it out in the moment.” More often, it happens as the result diligence, preparedness, knowledge and wisdom.
Just as I am dialoguing with myself about these things, my dear wonderful husband calls from the hospital. He knew this was going to be a hard day for me, even though I hadn’t said anything about it. The ICU is slow right now, and the residents are taking turns going home early. He told them that it was his daughter’s birthday today, so it’s his turn. He’s coming home to face the day together! In my wildest dreams, I had not expected him to be able to do this for me today, being a medical resident during a very busy year. “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Eccl. 4:12. It is just further evidence that the Lord sees us and loves us each intimately.
How do I feel now? Better. I’ve given my feelings a place to exist, so they don’t tantrum like an out-of-control child, but they have not been granted full access to hijack the entire day. It’s not that it would be “bad or wrong” to spend today in bed, crying and confused. I just don’t want to. I have better things to do and want to spend the day with my family.
So there you go. I’m with you! Days will be hard – one of God’s less often mentioned promises 🙂 An entire year can bring back the sensations I felt on June 18, 2011. But we will endure with help and, in the end, we shall be called overcomers together.
Just a quick note about the previous post, Agoraphobia Pt.2: I did not directly address the topic of predisposition to panic attacks, whether nature or nurture. Both are well-established and often observed, but the focus of the post was to build tools toward facing the attacks. Knowing that one is predisposed thanks to mom or dad’s side of the family doesn’t do much in that regard (except for maybe help to alleviate some guilt and shame).