Life begins to turn…upside down

The year 1993 started out like most years. Les and I had been married about 2½ years and our son Grant was almost  ½. I was working for a department store and Les was working at Southern Illinois University. We rang in the new year like most young families, I suppose. We didn’t know a storm was brewing – or how hard it would hit. 

About the middle of January, something started feeling off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but sometimes I felt restless and agitated, like I needed to be moving constantly. Other times I felt detached, almost as if I was just going through the motions without really feeling much. The last time I had felt this way was right after Grant was born. Although it wasn’t ever diagnosed, I firmly believed that I had experienced postpartum depression that caused me to feel that way. But this time I didn’t seem to have a reason to feel this way.

As weeks went by I had days when I felt normal and days when I was off. Eventually the off days became the norm. I didn’t know what was wrong and I couldn’t even put it into words to describe it to anyone – I still can’t. But I began to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me. One day I was at the cosmetic counter where I worked and all of a sudden I felt like I was going to die. My heart was racing and my chest was tight.I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath and like I needed to get out of there. I told my manager I needed to leave and called Les to come and get me, even though I had driven myself that day. It was the first time I had an episode like this, but it wasn’t the last.

Not too long after this, while Les was on a work trip, I started having a suspicion that I might be pregnant. I went to the store and bought a test, which turned out to be positive. I think I even bought several tests just to make sure. On one hand, I thought it might explain the odd way I had been feeling, which would be a relief. On the other hand, if being pregnant made me feel that way then I didn’t want to be pregnant – I didn’t want to feel that way for another moment. When Les came back from his trip I remember tearfully telling him something to the effect of “I’m pregnant and I don’t want to be”. I was devastated and I didn’t know what to do.

I don’t recall the exact timing of events from so long ago, but I did go to the doctor to confirm my pregnancy, start prenatal care and to find out what was making me feel so awful so much of the time. It didn’t take very long to receive a diagnosis of anxiety and panic disorder. Finally there was an explanation, or at least a reason, for the overwhelming feelings that I had been having. Unfortunately this was a time before the Internet and Google searches, so I didn’t learn much about this panic disorder. I still felt off and now had the addition of morning (and noon and night) sickness. Things became bad enough that I quit my job and spent much of my time trying to be mom to Grant while feeling sick, helpless and needy.

At some point in early spring (March, maybe) we made a plan to go to St. Louis with some of my siblings, nieces and nephews to meet up with my sister as she was passing through the area. We enjoyed having most of them at our apartment for a day or so before we went to St. Louis to meet my sister. The kids had a great time playing together as the rest of us caught up with one another. Les, Grant, my nephew and I rode together and we headed for St. Louis. Not very far into the ride I began to feel sick. It was similar to the way I felt that day at my job when I thought I might die. By the time we got to Pinckneyville (about 30 minutes into the trip), I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to go further. We transferred our nephew back to his parents’ car and headed back home to Carbondale. The decision to turn around and come home – along with and because of the ongoing struggles of anxiety and panic – was life altering in a way we could never have known or expected. It was the start of what I later learned was agoraphobia.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the first definition of agoraphobia I remember hearing is a fear of open spaces. I’ve learned since then that it is sort of a catch-all word that describes overwhelming fear of situations where the sufferer feels unsafe and/or unable to escape. For me, it became a fear of fear. The panic attacks were so bad to me that I began making efforts to avoid any situation where I had panicked or felt like I might panic. My world drastically began to shrink.

Now you may be wondering where God is in this part of the story – after all, that’s what this blog is all about. I wondered the same thing back then. And many times since. It was a dark time and honestly, God didn’t feel very close. But God’s word tells us that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). He was working even then, even when I didn’t feel it. I will share more of that in the coming weeks.

If you are struggling with anxiety and/or agoraphobia, please reach out. I would love to hear your story, to pray for you and encourage you!

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