It truly amazes me how in the matter of just a few days, my body and my brain, can completely double cross me…
A friend of mine recently posted how we are less than 200 days away from Christmas. This had me thinking about last Christmas and my immediate family that was 4 in count at the time. I remember waking Christmas morning in our house with two very happy kids, my 8 year old daughter and my 2 1/2 year old foster son. He was smiling, his dimples poking his cheeks, realizing this is a happy occasion but not knowing why. There was laughter and much confusion from him as he had no idea what to do with a wrapped present. My husband sat on the floor by T’s gifts and unwrapped them with the glee a child would normally have. It was a Christmas morning that was full of smiles, laughs and love.
Just a few days later, this all changed.
I had been having major anxiety off and on since T moved in with us at the end of October. None of my spells lasted past a week. This was a warning sign and I refused to listen to it. I ignored the heavy breathing, the annoyance of every sound within my home… these things that my brain was telling me, “SOS, we need help, NOW!”. I didn’t want to believe my perfect family, my dream family, was causing me to drown. I tried to suppress the angry feelings I was getting toward my children in order to keep my dream of mothering 2 kids alive. I continued to go to work and act as if nothing was bothering me, dreading going home at the end of the day. I told myself, “This too shall pass.”
But it didn’t.
On the morning of December 30th, I awoke for work not feeling normal. I was shaking. My chest felt tight and I was dry heaving. Once again, I ignored my body’s warning signals and went to work. I sat in my cubicle hyperventilating. “Deep breaths Stephanie,” I told myself. I stared at my breakfast with disgust. I was so nauseous that the sight of my cheerios churned my stomach. I became dizzy, pushing myself against the headrest of my office chair to hold me up. I cried as quietly as I could to not clue my coworkers into what was happening to me.
Then the tightness in my chest produced extreme heart palpitations. This only fed my anxiety more as I wondered whether or not a heart attack was going to follow. My hand quivered at my keyboard. My eyesight blurred with tears I was striving so hard to hold back. I was scared. I had never felt this way in my life before.
And then, about 20 minutes later, the moment passed.
I thought I was in the clear when about a half hour later all the symptoms I had just experienced came roaring back. My body was exhausted from fighting it the first time. Professionals say there are two types of people with anxiety… the fighters and the flighters. I am the former. I fought so hard, I was dumbfounded I didn’t pass out from fatigue. Just like the first time, after about 20 minutes, I succumbed to exhaustion.
This cycle repeated itself over and over that morning. My coworkers were still clueless. Most of them weren’t there due to vacation days they needed to use. Those that were, I hid the terror in me from them with a fake smile. It was 1pm at work which was lunch time. I went down with my coworkers and sat in silence which was uncommon for me. I forced myself to eat as much of my lunch as possible. As they chatted away about TV shows, I sat… my heart beating out of my chest, the nausea increasing, my breaths become short and rapid. Yet, I forced the smile on my face. I left the lunch table slightly early. Back at my cubicle, almost an hour later, the symptoms weren’t subsiding. In fact, they were growing in strength. I thought surely I was going to pass out and die.
I called my husband. He told me to use my coping skills from therapy. They weren’t working. I said I needed help. I needed to go to the hospital. He could not take me because he was home with our daughter and foster son. Next in line was my mother. I called her cell but could not reach her. 3rd in line was my father. Success. He answered the phone and tried to talk me down from this attack. I informed him this was going on all day off and on. He said he would come and take me to the ER as I was in no condition to drive myself. I sat waiting for his text that he was here. I informed a coworker as to why I was leaving in general terms to inform my boss. My phone vibrated… my father was here.
By the time I reached his car, he could see I was not myself in any way. I was a shaking, hyperventilating shell of a person. On the way to the ER, he asked me more questions that took me minutes to respond due to my lack of breathing. I was shivering so much, it was as if I was standing out in frigid temperatures for a long period of time which for December was common but I was dressed appropriately. We reached the parking garage at the ER within 15 minutes. I felt helpless as my father had to help walk me in because I would fall over. At the desk I had to give my name, date of birth, etc. to the person at the ER desk. This I did with labored breath. My father then helped me sit until we were called into a triage room. I sat down next to the nurse in the room. At this point I was just waiting for the heart attack. My heart was outside my chest visually in my mind. The pounding drowned out my hearing. I was still shaking uncontrollably and my breathing remained heavy.
Her questions were not easy to answer. Unfortunately, being a grown adult, my father could not answer for me. It took about 15 minutes to answer her five to six questions including if I had been to West Africa lately. Believe me, Ebola was far from my mind. Then she got up and hooked me up to the blood pressure machine… 164/95. Then came my temperature… inaccurate read because of my strenuous breathing. Then my pulse and O2… again, inaccurate. Upon completion of these tests I was finally moved to a room in the ER.
The ER doctor came in, asked me several questions, some the same as the nurse in triage. He took a good look at me. I could see the look in his eyes. He knew the suffering I was going through. The words came out of his mouth, “You are having a major Panic Attack.” The good news, I wasn’t dying. The bad news, I felt like I was. I was given .5mg of Xanax. Within 15 minutes of taking the Xanax, my body was beginning to calm itself.
At this time, I phoned my husband. Our foster son’s social worker was over for what should have been a happy occasion. He brought gifts for the family for the holidays. After hanging up the phone, I knew what was going to happen. My husband had to tell the social worker where I was and why. I knew that my foster son, a boy I loved just as much as my daughter, would probably be removed from our house. This stirred the anxiety in me but I was drugged and extremely exhausted I couldn’t fight anymore that day. I just laid in the bed in the ER and breathed what were the first normal breaths of the day…
Most people that know me, know that it was only a few short days later that T left our home. It was a decision that both my husband and I (with agreement from our and his social worker) made in the best interest for him, our daughter and myself. It was not an easy decision… as a couple of people expressed to me after he was gone saying I didn’t care about T’s needs, that I was being selfish. The fact is, I cared so much about him, I knew he needed a mother that was not becoming a poster child for Mental Illness. I think of him daily. I smile at the fact that we taught him how to love, how to eat, and how to speak in the 2 months he lived with us. He is truly an amazing little boy that I will always love and miss.
Stephanie Paige is a 30-something who has struggled with Depression since age 14 and Anxiety since age 26. She is mother to one beautiful daughter. With the strength of her husband, parents, and her child, she has survived 6 bouts of Severe Depression and has become a huge advocate of Mental Illness. Currently, she has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and has survived severe Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.