Monday, June 4, 2012

It Only Hurts A Little...

“I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe? I feel like the room just got significantly smaller. Is it hot in here? I’m sweating. Why won’t my leg stop twitching? Oh God…I just want to go to sleep. I’m so tired. I have been laying here for hours. Why can’t I just go to sleep? I’m going to be so tired in the morning. What if I feel like this tomorrow? How will I make it through the day? Oh God…I really can’t breathe. Should I wake up Mom and Dad? Maybe I’m dying. I feel like I might be. Seriously, why won’t my leg stop twitching? I just want to sleep. I’m so scared. I think I might be going insane. Oh shit. I really do. They will lock me up. That’s what they do with crazy people. They lock them up in the psych ward and pump them full of meds. I’ll be stuck in the hospital with a bunch of crazy people. Shit. Oh shit. I’m losing it. I’m gonna die.”

This used to be my nightly conversation. The battle I fought in my tiny darkened bedroom as I tried desperately to cling to sanity. But this wasn’t the beginning.

I was always an emotional kid. I wore my heart on my sleeve and was definitely prone to drama. For the most part I was a happy kid. Well I guess as happy as you can be when everyone else around you seems miserable. It wasn’t until around junior high that I began to struggle with depression. I pretty much had everything against me. Overweight. Acne. I had a horrible sense of fashion. I hung out with the geeks and the underprivileged. I was an obvious target for any hormone surging preteen looking to supercharge her ego. All the days of name calling, tormenting, alienating and hatred took their toll on me. By the end of my eighth grade year, I hated my life so much I was practically foaming out the mouth to be done with junior high.

Freshman year I was hopeful. It was a fresh start. I could be anybody. I do anything. I got some new clothes. I got a cute hair cut. I was ready to take on the world. One problem. My classmates hadn’t developed the sudden summer sunshine induced amnesia I was hoping for. They remembered me and were armed and dangerous. Freshman year was even more awful and I hated my life even more, which I didn’t even think was humanly possible. By the time sophomore year hit I was a mess. My parents were going through a hard time and my dad moved out. My brother had just gone away to college and I felt so alone.

The loss of my father’s presence in the house and my mother occupied with her emotions left a lot of room for me to run a little wild. I decided to deal with my problems the old fashioned way…drinking. And when that proved to not be enough of a distraction, marijuana found its way into my life. It was all so glorious. I was finally apart of the scene. I was a party girl. A rebel. A bad ass. One problem. I was still a loser. Even though I was doing my very best to fit in and drown my sorrows in Milwaukee’s best and bong water, I was still unhappy. I hated it all. My “friends” still made fun of me. I was still an outcast at school. I was still fat…which, by the number of Cheetoh’s I was consuming thanks to the “munchies”, was getting worse by the minute. I was a mess and I knew I had to do something. Salvation came when I got the opportunity to go to New York City the following summer.It was right before my sophomore year. I was so excited. Freedom was coming. Too bad right after that was when I had my first panic attack. 

I had decided before I left to change my life. I quit partying and smoking weed and was taking my first real adventure away from my small Ohio town. I loved New York. I felt so alive. So invincible. That's when it happened. I was sitting in Les Miserables, my first Broadway show. Our seats were pretty high up. I remember having to lean slightly forward when you sat down. I guess that’s how they designed balconies back in the day. Holy crap. I was really high up. I had only been seated about five minutes when my palms began to sweat. There was tightness in my throat and the room began to swim. I told my aunt I wasn’t feeling well and walked back to our hotel. Any fear I might have had about the city streets at night was nothing to the terror I felt inside at that moment. I honestly thought I was dying. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would burst. I collapsed into the bed in our hotel room. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I actually think I passed out for a few minutes.

Eventually, those agonizing moments passed. I brushed it off as food poisoning or something. When we returned from our trip, I found a surprise waiting for me. All of my stuff packed in boxes. We were moving. Not the greatest news to hear right before your junior year of high school. But in a way, I was relieved. It was a chance to start fresh. So we moved and honestly, my life got pretty OK. I had lost a little weight. I was on the newspaper staff. I made some new friends who were seniors. Life was improving. Then came my senior year. All my friends had moved away. It was my last year of high school. The fear began to rise up again. I wasn’t ready for it to all be over. I wasn’t ready to grow up.

I'm not sure when exactly the panic attacks began. They sort of crept up on me slowly. I remember having a really hard time sitting in class. I just wanted to get up and leave, but what teenager doesn't feel that way? I also started having this intense feeling of fear followed by bursts of rage. It first happened after my parents got back together and we decided to move out of our apartment. We were out looking for a new house. We had looked at dozens. They were really digging this older house, a fixer upper. I remember feeling this strange feeling in the house, like something bad had happened there. All of a sudden, my throat tightened and I felt really scared. My parents were busy chatting about the paint colors they'd use and the flooring they'd put in. I excused myself out to the car. I climbed in the back seat and fear quickly gave way to intense rage. I started screaming and punching the back of the seat. I was so angry. How could they expect me to live in a house that made me so afraid? Why didn't they care about me? After a few minutes, the rage passed and I just lay in the backseat, crumpled in a ball crying. What was happening to me?

On the drive home, we passed by a home for the elderly. It was this creepy old brick mansion on a hill, like something out of a horror movie. My dad started telling me about how it used to be a mental hospital years before but it had lost funding and they actually had to release all the patients. The fear rose up again. Were there crazy people just wandering the streets of my city? Was I one of them? If people found out what was happening to me, would they lock me up in a house of horrors too?

Thankfully we didn't end up moving into the house that satan built and I was relieved. But the fear didn't go away.I started not being able to sleep at night. The panic attacks were now taking on the form of weird tics and spasms. My leg would twitch really hard and keep me up. It got worse during the day. I couldn't go to public places because I would feel like I was going to pass out. I would have blurry vision or see spots or colors. My palms would sweat and I would get really fidgety. At first, no one seemed to notice, but eventually, it got so bad I was freaking my mom out. I remember at one point she was giving me Midol to try to calm me down. It also was getting really bad at school. I practically missed the first month of my senior year because I was "sick". I couldn't stay in class because I was having such severe anxiety. I would camp out in the clinic, school counselor's office or hide in the back of the yearbook room. The final straw was the day my dad found me hiding in my closet instead of at school where I was supposed to be. I had even gone so far as to fake a phone call from my mom telling the school office I was home sick. Something had to be done.

My dad took me to the doctor where they diagnosed me with depression and anxiety disorder. The doctor prescribed a low level of an anti-depressant to start me off. After we left the doctor's office, my dad being the loving but slightly clueless man that he is, took me to lunch at McDonald's, had me wash down my first pill with diet Coke and then dropped me off back at school. I was freaking out a bit. I wasn't sure if it was all in my head or actually happening but I felt like I was high. On the inside I still felt all the feeling I was feeling before but on the outside you would never have known. I was happy. A little overly happy in my opinion. The skater kid that sat next to me in my government class kept asking me what I was on and if he could have some.

Senior year, honestly was a bit of a blur. The good thing was as I had found Jesus and was finally hanging out with some decent kids. Kids who, you know, were actually nice to me. I was taking my medicine faithfully, which had increased in strength, I was also faithfully packing on weight. I was a zombie. I wasn't having panic attacks anymore because I wasn't really feeling anything anymore. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. I would come home from school everyday, eat a snack, sleep for a few hours, eat dinner and then go back to bed. I probably gained a hundred pounds that year. I was still just as sad and lonely but I couldn't show it. I felt trapped. I felt like the tin man in need of an oil can. On the outside I was smiling and happy but miserable still on the inside. So I stopped caring about anything that wasn't fun. My grades began to suffer. All the sleeping, eating and having "fun" hadn't left much room for homework. I'm still not even sure how I graduated.

The other hard part was my faith. I really wrestled with God. Why wasn't he just healing me? How could I believe in Him and still struggle with so much fear? Why didn't he just take it all away? It felt like I was being a hypocrite telling others to believe in the power of God when I was taking psychotropics just to get through the day. I also worried that all my loving friends would stop being so loving if they knew that their friend was a total crazy face. I worried that their faith wouldn't outweigh their desire for a good reputation and they would drop me like a bad habit if I let it all out. So I stayed trapped.

After graduation, I continued to take the meds but knew something needed to be done. It was just as bad to be a prisoner in your own head than to be a prisoner of fear. So I decided to quit. Cold turkey. Now I'm not recommending this to anyone. It was totally the wrong way to do it. But at the time, I just wanted to be done with it all so bad I couldn't wait. I stopped taking the medicine. I just stopped. And I waited. Nothing seemed to happen at first. However, once the medication had fully left my system, the panic attacks began to come back. I was so angry. Why was this happening to me? Why couldn't I just be free? I was driving in my little red pickup truck and fighting with my fear and with God. Why can't I be normal? You said I wasn't given the spirit of fear. You said I have freedom in You. Why won't you just heal me? Then a thought occurred to me.I had never really asked Him to. I yelled. I accused. I questioned. But I never asked.

I had been so content to handle it all on my own that it never dawned on me that I had never flat out just asked Him for help. So right there, in my truck, I spoke the words that changed my life.

" my peace. Jesus, come and heal me."

I felt this rush of peace fill my car and then my body. It was working. From then on, whenever panic tried to set in, it just simply said, "Jesus, be my peace." That was all it took.

I would love to tell you that was the end of it all but if I did that, I would be a liar. I was fully free from it all for a very long time. Thankfully, I have never struggled with the panic attacks as bad as I did then but a few years ago, depression symptoms started to creep back in. I have even considered going back on meds from time to time. Not the same ones, obviously, but something. I want to make sure to point out I don't think medication is wrong. It doesn't change the fact I believe Jesus desires to set us free from all fear and sadness. And He can. But I also believe we live in a fallen world and not everything can be so black and white. I believe in the power of the Great Physician as well as the knowledge and abilities of earthly ones. You have to make that call with wisdom and prayer.

  I still ask Him to be my peace. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But I still ask anyway.I am excited for the day when I am fully set free from sadness, fear and pain. As for right now, I get through it. And hell, I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I enjoy a bit of melancholy. It gives me great writing material. I also admit that I hate it too. I wish I didn't have to deal with it all. I wish I was terminally happy. But I guess if I didn't struggle with this I would never recognize how much I really need Jesus. Sometimes, He's the only reason I don't fall off the edge. There have been times when my fear of separation from Him was the only thing keeping me from ending it all. Sorry for being so morose, but its the truth. I love Him and because of that I force myself to hold on to hope. It won't be like this forever. All of it will be worth it because what waits for me after is more glorious than I can describe. There will come a day when sorrow, disappointment, loneliness and pain won't even be a distant memory. As for only hurts a little. I'll live.

( Take depression seriously, don't be silent. There are hundreds of resources available to help people who struggle with depression and anxiety.  If you or someone you know is battling depression, please visit the National Allience on Mental Illness website for more information and resources in your area. And hey, friends, sometimes just being a shoulder to lean on can mean the world. Don't be quick to offer advice. Listen. Consider. Pray. Be a little dose of strength. It can save a life. Please feel free to email me at if you just need someone to listen. I'm here for you.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing! The Lord is using you to reach others.