A Need to Suffer

One horrifying night when I was 7 months pregnant with my fourth child, I had my first anxiety attack.  To explain the horror of that unexpected and to that point unknown condition to someone who has never had the “pleasure” of having such an experience would be impossible.  I had no idea what had hit me and it was terrifying.  I struggled through the night and with the relief of the rising sun, I immediately called my doctor.  He explained to me that this condition was actually quite common for women who were 32 weeks pregnant.  According to my due date, I happened to be exactly 32 weeks to the day.

I was relieved to have a hope that this condition was pregnancy related and would pass after the delivery of my baby, but in the back of my mind I was afraid it would be a life-long condition.  For the next 8 weeks I suffered every day with multiple attacks.  You can only imagine how relieved I was when the baby was finally born and the anxiety attacks stopped, or so I thought.

Three years later, on a Friday night while attending my older sons little league baseball game, a good friend of mine was sitting on nearby bleachers with my five-year-old daughter, JaNae.  I was enjoying the fresh spring air while watching my son play when my friend came running to me with a horrified look on her face.  She beckoned me to come quickly.  Immediately I knew that something was terribly wrong, but I was very unprepared for what I would find.  There on the concrete ground my daughter lay lifeless, her empty eyes wide open, her head in a very unnatural and awkward position.  She had released her bodily fluids, her heart was not beating, and she was not breathing.

The agony I felt at that moment is beyond description.  I fell to the ground screaming in despair.  My daughter was dead and I felt the worst darkness and emptiness that I had ever felt before or have felt since.  I panicked.  All I wanted to do was run–run away, escape, cease to exist.  Luckily, there were those who did not panic, but rather commenced to perform necessary chest compressions and prepared to give her mouth-to-mouth.  I remember my friend holding me, giving her best effort to calm my anguish when JaNae began to cry.  It took time for it to register, my friend had to bring it to my attention several times, but JaNae’s cry was a cry of life.  It was a beautiful sound.

After what seemed to be an eternity, emergency workers arrived, she was transported to the hospital and had all necessary tests performed.  She had fallen off of the bleachers when a little boy who had been tugging on her let go without warning.  We assume that it was the impact of the fall that caused her heart to stop, but she had no serious injuries.  She had been spared; I had been spared.

I spent the weekend with my family in an hyper-elated state.  I’m certain I was running on adrenaline, but Monday morning when my husband went back to work and my children returned to school, I crashed.  Dark despair set in and anxiety attacks began again as quickly as my family walked out the door.  For the first time in my life, I came to the realization that I was not in control–I wasn’t in control of life and death, and right now I wasn’t in control of my mental well being.  Could life really change that quickly?  Was life and death just a heartbeat away?  Could mental wellness be so fleeting?  These, of course, were things that I always knew with my head, but now they reached into the depths of my soul and I wasn’t prepared for their effects.  In addition, I felt guilt; after all, I should be rejoicing and be filled with gratitude for the miracle that I had witnessed, not feeling despair and anguish.  I was grateful, but my mind could not let go of the image of my lifeless daughter lying on the ground.

It was then that my life-long journey with depression and anxiety attacks began.  There was much to learn about the condition itself.  For instance, I learned to recognize when I was heading into an anxiety attack and if I could catch it soon enough there were certain steps I could take to perhaps thwart the full onset.  I could attempt to get control of my thought process (something that is very difficult to do when entering an anxiety attack).  I could get up and start doing jumping jacks or run up and down my stairs, anything to start burning the extra adrenaline, a fight or flee mechanism, that my body produced at these times.  Although these attempts often were successful, there were still many times that they were not.  There came a time when I had no choice but to receive the assistance of a doctor.

I regret the struggles that my family went through during those dark days.  I still wonder what lasting effects my children might carry with them.  But, there are some things that I don’t regret, in fact, there are those lessons for which I am most grateful.  What I learned and gained from this experience is for me as a very precious jewel and certainly I cannot list here the great value of that experience. But, I can share that I am who I am because of these experiences and I personally think that I am a better person.  I can share with you that nothing, and I mean nothing, fills me with humility and brings me to my knees faster than when I am experiencing an anxiety attack.  Never do I feel closer to my creator, to my Savior.  He manifested himself to me in a way for which there are no words to convey.  He was with me in my darkest hours.  But, one thing He did not do, He did not take away my suffering.  Why?  And, why doesn’t he take away the suffering of so many upon this earth?

Perhaps it is a concept, a question, that in our human state we cannot fully comprehend, but next time, and I promise it will be next time, I will share with you, for what it is worth, some of my thoughts regarding the answer to this question.

Until then, remember 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4                                                          [And please take time to read my original post to understand Why the Title of this Blog? (Feb. 17, 2011)]

6 responses to “A Need to Suffer

  1. I understand where you are coming from–but my situation was a bit different (obviously, since we are two different people). In my case, the anxiety attacks started when I began working on my doctorate at the University of Connecticut. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me when I would wake up in the middle of the night, hyperventilating. After a few days/nights of this, I went to the doctor at the campus health clinic, and he told me to talk to my advisor, because it was something he needed to be aware of. So, I did what the doctor ordered–and it turns out that my advisor had the same problem while in graduate school and still had copies of the reading material he had been given then (most of them relating to relaxation techniques). That seemed to work for me, and, while I haven’t had any anxiety attacks since I left UConn (gee, I wonder if God was sending me a message), I still remember the relaxation techniques and use them when I get stressed. One of them involved throwing a ball against a wall. Thinking back, I’m sure I was a load of fun to have as a next door neighbor in the dorm (and I do warn the person in the office adjacent to mine before I throw the ball in my office; it’s quite therapeutic, especially when I get a bit agitated at the stuff that goes on around me at the college).

  2. I can imagine why working on a PhD would cause someone to begin having anxiety attacks. I’ve always wanted to get my PhD, but I married young, and quit school to raise children (something that I greatly discourage my girls from doing). It worked out great for me, but I want my daughters to be prepared and willing and able to support themselves as well as having the satisfaction of accomplishing a desired goal. Of course, that doesn’t mean they need a PhD, but they need something that they enjoy and are qualified to do. I would love to teach at the college level, but I’m actually only finishing up my BS this May at the age of 48. It’s not that I couldn’t still pursue a PhD, it’s just at this point I don’t know if it would be worth it. I’m still reflecting on that and also deciding whether I would want to pursue mathematics or physics. In the meantime, I’m going to spend my summer reading history books.

  3. I had no idea you suffered like this. I would have never guessed as you always are cracking jokes. Thank you for your post. Very insightful. I have had a couple of these in my life, but never to this extent. My have always come on very suddenly and left suddenly. I have other issues to deal with so I’m glad I’ve only experienced a few.

  4. As you know Jeannie, we have had very similar experiences in life. I will always be grateful for a friend who knew how to help me when I didn’t know what helped I needed. I have to tell you that I have found an ingenious way of dealing with my anxiety…it’s a little sport known as tennis. I guess running around like a crazy woman hitting a ball as hard as I can chases away those little anxiety endorphine devils.

    I love your blog and I plan to follow it 🙂

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