Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Do Brave Things

Who stole my sunshine?

This last year was hands down the most difficult and darkest year of my life.  Don't get me wrong, there were wonderful things that happened, and good things that were able to sneak in, but lets just be honest here... last year sucked.  

In July of 2013 we were in a car accident.  A lady going around 55-60mph blew a red light and t-boned the drivers side of our car, totaling it.  We were all 5 in the car, and I was 11 weeks 2 days pregnant with baby #4.  I have never in my life felt fear the way I did when we were in that car accident.  To hear my children scream, to feel pain, to not know what was going to happen... and to not be able to control any of it... was terrifying.  God was so good to us that we all walked out of the car.  Sean, Dathan, & I were all checked out in the ER (it was actually our first ultrasound of Ayla!) and released.  Physically we were fine.  But looking back, that's when the worry started.

I was nervous to drive.  My heart would skip a beat going through intersections.  At random times the accident would just start replaying through my mind.  Every time I could hear the kids screaming in the back of the car.  Every time I would cry.  Everyone said that was normal, and eventually my nervousness in driving stopped.  But then I started to worry about Ayla & my pregnancy.  Every pain, lack of movement, or other random physical signs would send me into a worry frenzy.  

Ayla was born.  In a fast and very stressful way (the doctor didn't make it in the room in time and Dathan caught her).  The night she was born I couldn't sleep because every time I closed my eyes her birth would replay over and over.  Ayla immediately brought joy and light into our home.  We were thrilled for our sweet girl to finally be a part of our family.  Life was finally going to get back to normal, and we could learn what life was like with 4 kids.

Four weeks after Ayla was born, she was hospitalized with RSV.  I spent over 3 days in the hospital with her, and maybe slept 10 hours total the entire time I was there.  Although we knew Ayla would get better, and that her being in the hospital wasn't a permanent thing, it was still a very difficult time for us!  It's hard having a newborn in the hospital, mommy having to stay with her, and daddy trying to hold down the fort at home while wanting to be at the hospital.

What happened next really is no surprise, looking back.  But at the time I had no idea it was coming.  I had been dealing with some postpartum depression, and my doctor had recommended having a night to catch up on sleep.  So Dathan took Ayla for the night (with some bottles of pumped milk) and let me have the night off.  I had a wonderfully relaxing night painting my nails, watching a show, writing some encouragement cards to friends, and then going to sleep.

About 3:00am I woke up out of deep, wonderful sleep in a complete panic.  My heart was racing, my chest hurt, my left arm was in pain, I couldn't catch my breath, and it felt like there was a 100lb weight sitting on my chest.  I was completely terrified and thought I was about to die.  I have never felt anything like it in my life.  I woke Dathan up and we prayed, I paced, we prayed some more... a bit of time went by and there was no change.  Finally we call my dad to come over and stay with the kids, and Dathan drives me to the ER.

They take me back and do an EKG and some other tests on me.  Perfect.  Everything comes back perfect.  After more exams they tell me it was an anxiety attack.  What?  How is that possible?  They can wake you up from a deep sleep?  Yes.  They feel like a heart attack?  Yes.  They make you lose all sense of reason and think that you are going to die?  Yes.  I was stunned.  Having never struggled with anxiety or depression, and just recently having some PPD after Ayla, I could not believe that it would just come out of the blue like that.  Because it hadn't happened before, and because of thinking I had PPD, the doctors believed it would be a 1 time thing.  They didn't want to give me any medication because I was nursing, and sent me home to rest.

The doctors were wrong.  Very wrong.

That was the beginning of what I now refer to as "the dark nights."  A few days passed, and another anxiety attack hit.  They started once a week.  Then twice a week.  Then three times.  Then five to six times a week.  They would happen almost every time I slept.  There was no relief.  I prayed more during those months then I have in my entire life.  I memorized and spoke scriptures against fear over myself.  I fasted.  Others fasted.  Others prayed.  I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.  Unless you have experienced an anxiety attack, you really have no idea how terrifying they are... at least I didn't.  To be afraid to fall asleep because you think you are going to die... or to be woken up out of your sleep unable to breathe and feel like you are about to die... it's a horrific way to live.  I'm not exaggerating when I say there were probably 6 months of my life where I didn't sleep.  It would take me hours to fall asleep... then Ayla would wake up and need to eat... then I'd have to try to fall back asleep... then I'd have to get the kids up for school.  It was a never ending cycle of torture.

There were very few people who truly knew what was going on.  There's this stigma in the Christian world that mental illnesses are caused by lack of faith.  There's a shame in things like anxiety or depression.  You must not be doing something right, you're lacking in your walk with God... something spiritually must be changed in order to fix it.

I was at a Women of Faith conference in Anaheim, and Christine Caine was speaking.  She went off on a tangent and said something that spoke to my soul.  It had nothing to do with what she was speaking on, and I fully believe she said it because I needed to hear it.  She said something along the lines of "We, as the church, don't look at someone who wears glasses and ask them 'where's your faith?' So why do we do that to someone battling a mental illness?"  That gave me the courage to talk to my doctor about options that were available to help my anxiety.

Because I was nursing my doctor put me on a children's dose of some meds.  She told me it would probably take a couple of weeks to get into my system and start working.  Three days.  Three.  That's all it took for the darkness to begin to lift.  I couldn't believe it, thought maybe it was in my head because it started working so quickly.  But my doctor assured me that it was not in my head, some people have systems that are so depleted that the medicine can work almost immediately on them.  That was the case with me.  I started having some strange headaches which were side effects of the medicine, so I started taking half a pill every day.  That was it.  The perfect combination.  Half of a child's dose of medicine daily was all my body needed to get back in working order.  Since the middle of September I have maybe had 3 anxiety attacks total, and all of them were mild in comparison to what they use to be.  3 attacks in 4 months as opposed to 5-6 attacks in 1 week?  You can't tell me that the medicine doesn't play a part in that.  

The darkness has finally lifted.  The sun is shining again.  I'm getting sleep.  I feel like myself.  The days that I feel the enemy stole from me are getting redeemed.  God is doing a great work in me, and He wants to do a great work through me.  So, because fear played such a huge role in my life last year, God showed me that this year I am going to do the opposite... be brave.  Make brave choices.  Do brave things.  Fear will not consume me, and fear will not control my choices.

My first brave step is sharing my story here, for all the world to see.  I want to use what I went through as something that can bring freedom to others.  First, I want others who may be walking through the same thing I was walking through to read my story and know there's hope.  Second, I want to help break the stereotype of mental illnesses, especially in the church world.  I want people to see that sometimes the state of your mental health has nothing to do with your relationship with God and everything to do with your body not working the way it's supposed to, and that sometimes you need help to get your body to work correctly again.  And that's ok.  Just as if someone with cancer or migraines or eyeglasses or a broken ankle seek medical assistance to help their bodies get better, a mental sickness is no different.  

This is my time to be brave.  And this is the time for someone else to know they aren't alone.  

It's time we stop judging and start loving.  I admit that even I have been judgmental in the past of those who were dealing with things like depression or anxiety.  Until I walked in those shoes myself I had no idea how terrifying, how debilitating, and how much of your life it can steal from you.  Until I walked in those shoes I had no idea how incredibly wrong my preconceived ideas were.  Lets be brave together.  Lets love others going through things we don't understand.  Lets look past the way we think people should be and see them at their best... lets look at their hearts.  


Danielle Bacon said...

God bless you for sharing this. Your words are vivid. I can see your story come to life. I can see you pacing back and forth and praying with your husband. You are inspiring and an extremely gifted story teller. Thank you! You are such a blessing

Suzanne Ronge said...

Thank you for sharing your store. And im sorry you had to go through that. I went through that for a year with my fourth. Its crazy what your mind and body can do. It got so bad that I had to wear a heart monitor. I love reading about your life and what God is doing in it. It warms my heart and gives me hope and courage. You are such a strong women. Thank you again for sharing your story :)

Alexandria Silva said...

Thank you for sharing...I went a lot through depression and having anxiety when I lost my children & grandmother... But the lord has healed me in many ways...Maybe one day we can sit and I can tell toy about my story.. Love you girlie...God bless your beautiful family! Xo Alexandria Gonzalez


Amazingly written!! I too saw your story come to life....through my tears of hope! I have also struggled with anxiety for many, many years and know the feeling of being awoken from sleep in that way....you are so strong and brave for pushing through, and I am so happy you found your light again! HUGS to you my brave friend, and good luck on this awesome new journey!

Michelle Wilkinson said...

Beautiful. Wonderful. Thank you for this!

Becky Janowski said...

Much needed words to hear in the church world. Thank you for sharing

Sabrina Craig said...

That was terrible! I'm so sorry to hear that you were dragged into a horrible accident because of someone else's carelessness. An accident is difficult to recover from, but I'm so proud of you for coming out of that bravely and more polished. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Erica! You're an inspiration to us all. I wish you all the best! :)

Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY