Your Momma

I remember when my life used to be mine. When my biggest worry was getting to work on time or an argument with friends. I got up each day with the same routine – breakfast, work, lunch, home, dinner, T.V., sleep. My weekends were like most everyone’s. They consisted of a few adult beverages and hanging with friends and family or just hanging around the house with Todd. That was before I became a momma, before I met you. Life was beautifully ordinary before you  came into it – beautiful, boring, and monotonous.

I had no worries, and the worries I had, are not even worth mentioning. In my world now, I wouldn’t even list them as worries, more like inconveniences. Things that made my day not run at the normal level of functioning I was used to. Something would happened that would throw my schedule off and that was my big crisis.  Then you came into my world and turned it upside down. One look at you and I knew I would never be the same. My life from that day on would be anything but ordinary. You brought a light to my life I didn’t know existed. As if the life before I had you had no relevance to who I was or who I would have been. Everything stopped and started anew. My life from that moment on revolved around this perfect angle God had  blessed me with. Your soft, dimpled, good smelling skin. Those dark chocolate eyes and that perfect button nose became my routine. Looking at you and kissing you became my job and I never missed work. If I close my eyes and think really hard, I can still feel you in my arms. Still remember the feeling of putting my nose near your face and just breathing in all that good baby smell. I felt so connected  to you. I still do. Four years since you left and I feel your absence just as profound as the minute your heart stopped beating. It’s tortuous, painful, an indescribable ache to have the center of your universe ripped from you. To this day I can not believe this happened to you. Yesterday, I was looking through pictures. They were all in chronological order. So many pictures of you and me and your daddy. Smiles you can not fake, every single one was pure happiness. I looked at  them and instantly felt  that love again, that naive-my-life-is-perfect, indescribable love. Then came the pictures following your death. Pictures I took of myself in your room crying while your dogs laid on my lap. Your dad would text me asking how I was doing and the thought of even trying to describe it was so tasking I would just take a picture.  Pictures of your nursery, your funeral. Pictures filled with an eerie darkness that made me feel instantly sick to my stomach. It was the the EXACT opposite of the overwhelming happiness I felt before. Just as powerful, but on the other side of the spectrum. Like something came into my life and sucked every ounce of happiness out of me and replaced it with the darkest Hell.  They are too dark to look at long without the ache setting in and the realization of what was taken. My heart aches for you. I worked this year. The first time I have worked the anniversary of your death. I actually went to work while your brother was with a babysitter. I thought I was doing well until I got off of work. I ran to my car and sped to the house to get to him . I couldn’t get there fast enough. Would I get there on time? Would I make it this time? Would he still be there when I got there? He was, and grabbed him and held him and cried uncontrollably, kissing him everywhere. I realized in that moment that I’m still waiting to pick you up from daycare. In my mind, I’m trying to race backwards as fast as I can hoping to get there before it’s too late. I hope you know I’m missing you. That I relive your life and death daily, like a side show in my mind. As much as I know you wouldn’t want that, I can’t help it. It’s impossible not to miss you, not to hurt from the loss of you. I lost a huge part of me when you left, but boy did I gain so much. The short time you were here… Oh buddy, I was so blessed to be your momma. I wish you could have experienced everything in life I wished for you. You were and still are, so immensely loved and celebrated. I miss us. I miss our late night story times. I miss our lullaby time. I MISS EVERYTHING!!! Mostly though, I miss being your momma.

The Beauty of Aging

Most of us spend our days wishing time would slow down. If we could only hit the pause button on our lives then we could enjoy it even more, have that much more time with the people we love. I know first hand not only does time not slow down, but it will run you over  like a freight train. It doesn’t stop for anything, not even your broken heart. I feel this frustration (that word doesn’t even cover it) that if I could just rewind my life, make different decisions, taken Nash to a different daycare, not dropped him off that day, he would still be here. I daydream about birthday parties and holidays that I will never celebrate with him. I envision Crue with an older brother barely a year older than him. I picture them playing, hugging, fighting and loving each other. I see pictures of other families, families with brothers, and I let my mind picture what could have been, what SHOULD have been. I miss a chaos I have never even experienced. I miss a time in my life that has never existed. Every day Crue grows a day older, and everyday is one more day that Nash has been gone. Time is a funny thing. I look at Crue and I’m so thankful that I get to celebrate these things with him, things I didn’t get with Nash; yet, the other part of me wants more time. Everything is going by so fast and I want him to stay my little boy forever. Sometimes I cry just thinking about the days he will no longer scream momma and run to give me a kiss. The days I am no longer the cool person to hang out with. A day when I am no longer his person. His everything.

This year has been eye opening. I spent nearly a complete year feeling unwell. I know what’s it’s like to realize how nice it is to wake up everyday and just feel good.  I’ve had friends diagnosed with incurable diseases. I’ve watched them suffer and come to terms with their new normal. I’ve had family diagnosed with terminal cancer. Young people robbed of the future they so desperately want and deserve. I’ve seen other moms suffer the same fate as me, the loss of their child. It makes you take stock of the here and now. As much as we want time to slow down or wish we could be twenty again, the truth is, aging is a gift we are not all blessed with. Every year that passes, is one more year we get with our loved ones. One more year on this earth to enjoy all that it has to offer. One more year that so many others  didn’t get. My baby never celebrated  one birthday party. Not even one Christmas. He never spoke  one word or  gave one hug. He will never get married or earn a paycheck. He will never fall  in love. He will never ride a motorcycle or feel the ocean at his feet. He will never make friends or have sleepovers.  I remind myself of this as I watch Crue growing older. It’s an answered prayer to watch him grow and an absolute hands down miracle that he gets to do it. Time is not promised to any of us. Crue will be three in a few short days.  Most of us spend this time of  Our life either hoping time slows down or hoping it speeds up. We spend so much time worrying about time that we don’t enjoy life as it’s happening. Some would say my life this year was nothing spectacular.  I did the same thing most women my age are doing. I got up every morning went to work, cooked, cleaned, took care of my children. Nothing in particular made this year a stand out year. I know the other side to life though, I know the beauty in  doing these everyday mundane things with my family is not something everyone gets. I like to look at the last year of my life as anything but mundane. I woke up every morning and felt good. I was able to walk into a grocery  store multiple times and buy enough food to feed my family. I went to a job that I’m fortunate enough to have. I’m married to a man that loves me more days than not. I wake up to slobbery toddler kisses and hear a small voice tell me on an hourly basis that he loves me. My life is pretty damn good. I heard a quote once saying, “ There is two ways to look at life. One that nothing is a miracle and the other that everything is.” Wow, is that not the absolute truth. Before you wake up complaining like I have on so many days. Take heart knowing that you woke up. That just the simple seemingly insignificant thing as getting out of bed this morning is a miracle. If more of us lived everyday like it was our last, we wouldn’t look back on our lives with so much regret. If nothing happens in my life, other than watching Crue grow older, I have lived a full life, a happy life. So, keep growing baby boy. Keep getting older, and I will celebrate with you knowing what an absolute miracle and gift it is. There is so much beauty in aging.

Matters of the heart

As soon as I was released from the hospital, my anxieties were tested. You see, the world and the people in it do not  stop being ugly because you have had a breakdown. Todd did his best to make my transition as easy as possible. For weeks, we stayed in the protective bubble of our home–even now it’s where we are most. Events would come up and Todd would say, “I would rather not go.”

It never dawned on me he was lying. He’s never been someone who sugarcoated things for me. If I’m wrong, he tells me. So when I mentioned I didn’t want to go to a particular family event, I was surprised when he said OK without hesitation. I go to EVERYTHING. So I thought he was just being fair. Then came my best friend Shawn’s birthday party.  I knew I had to get my butt there. That girl has done so much for me. As soon as I ready to go…..full on panic attack and another cancelation. I was letting the people I love down. I was letting Todd down. I was letting myself down.

I expressed how surprised I was that he wasn’t putting up a fight when I wanted to stay home from things. He said, “I don’t want you to have to do something that’s going to bring on any extra stress.” It was then that I realized how much he was catering to the new fragile me. He had done it so nonchalantly that I hadn’t even noticed he was doing it.

I needed to step up. I can’t expect him to change his whole life because of me. He has stepped up and now it’s time for me to return the favor. After that I went to everything again. A couple of things helped me break out of my bubble.

First, I started therapy. Now I’m someone, as you all know, who didn’t believe in it. It’s now one of my favorite things! Just talking to someone who is not biased about your situation is helpful. Also when you’re trapped inside your own head, you don’t make the decisions you normally would–every decision you make is out of fear. You need an outsider’s perspective that has absolutely nothing to gain, no hidden agenda, except to make you the best version of you.

I learned that I needed to set healthy boundaries for things that caused me stress. That it’s OK to not go to everything, regardless of what others think. That staying away from people or things that bring out the worst in you is a healthy thing, not a bad thing. That staying at home is actually really unhealthy if it becomes a habit…and that a lot of your anxieties are your own insecurities.

I think it’s easy to feel like other people or situations cause your stress, whether it’s family, friends, or coworkers. It’s easy to blame others when you feel you are misunderstood, judged, or wronged in some way. The truth is we pick who is in our lives and how much they are in our lives. If it’s stressful, then we can distance ourselves–that’s our choice. What’s that quote? “Not everyone deserves a seat at the table of your life.” If we feel certain people are worth the investment, we can try to mend that relationship or we can put some healthy boundaries there. If it’s work where you feel you have no choice…I’m learning we do have a choice. We can choose how we react to things. People will find you quite dull if you don’t react and will usually stop involving you. Most want you to react, and when you give them that satisfaction, the only person it harms is you.

This is all easier said than done. If you keep working it, keep trying to be a better you, you’ll be a healthier you. If you think you are cured or you are the best version of yourself, you probably need more therapy. We always need work.

Second, was an unlikely friendship that I didn’t see coming. The day I was released from the hospital, the cardiologist I had seen before I was admitted called to ask how I was doing. Boy, was his timing perfect. We were driving through the pharmacy picking up all my meds. I laughed and said, “Well, I guess I’m better.” I explained what had happened. He scheduled a follow up with me.

I was surprised he had personally called. I had seen a lot of specialists the last few months, and he was the first and only one to personally follow up. My appointment was a week later. It was the 8th, just one day shy of Nash day. I brought the staff cookies and the cardiologist a coffee mug I was sure he would love after our last talk. It said, “Don’t confuse your google search with my medical degree.”

I sat in the lobby absolutely exhausted. I was back at work, back to taking care of Crue, back to life and all that that involves. I was so exhausted I could barely pay attention to him. As he sat across from me, he again let me explain all my anxieties and ask the same old boring questions. One thing I have learned through this process is that if something bothers you or the answer you get is not what you wanted…ask again. Ask whatever questions will help you to stop asking yourself the same question. We anxious people have an inner dialogue of worry and questions that circulate nonstop. The best way to get them out of circulation is to get them answered.

I asked him again why he didn’t think I had POTS. He replied, “It’s not that I don’t think you do, but it’s a diagnosis of elimination. You were obviously dehydrated, your electrolytes were off. You need to check the more likely things off the list first.” I told him it was nice to be at U of M where I felt heard. I didn’t mean that in any way toward him, but he quickly replied, “I hear you!”

I laughed and said, “I know.” It’s funny because as much as I want my heart to not be the problem, I truly felt if it was, he would find the answer I so desperately needed. It was then that our conversation became personal. He asked about the hospital and I was blunt like I usually am now. He then told me of his own tragic loss of a family member. When I got home I couldn’t get what he told me out of my mind. The loss he shared was absolutely tragic, and I felt like an outsider to a horrific event instead of the one in it. I felt like how it must feel when I tell others my story. I was so exhausted when he told me and also so caught up trying to process it that I couldn’t remember if I had said anything in response.

I knew we had many mutual friends so I found him on Facebook and sent him a private message. I thanked him for taking the extra time with me, someone who most likely doesn’t have any heart-related issue. He had treated my anxiety as if it was his main priority. I’m sure others would have said, “Listen lady, you don’t have a problem and I’m pretty busy,” but he never did. I thanked him for sharing his story, apologized for his loss, and finished by saying, “We are the lucky ones to have the best of guardian angels.”

Soon after he messaged me asking me about church, specifically which I attended. I replied, “To be honest I haven’t set foot in a church for years…my faith is a continued work in progress.”

It was then that he invited me to his, and then not-so-subtly followed up every Saturday night with a reminder. He apologized if he was badgering and promised he would stop as soon as I came once. I remember saying I couldn’t believe he was such a godly person–I would think he would be more scientific. He replied saying something I’ll never forget. He said, “I’ve seen it a hundred times: I just treat patients; God heals them.”

It was then that I thought it couldn’t hurt. Anything that could help at this point was worth a try. One reason I hadn’t been in church was I didn’t know anyone who I could go with there. Remember, I am now an anxious person in group settings. Here was my opportunity.

The pastor at this church does his sermons with a theme of sorts. The month I started attending, the series of sermons was called “World War Me.” It was pretty much geared toward anxiety and our need to put things in God’s hands–to live by faith and not by fear. Wow, did I come at the right time! I started looking forward to church. I sat with the cardiologist and his equally lovely wife, and I found myself moved by their faith in God.

Certain sermons I cringe…like when they talk about God’s purpose, or putting your faith in God. These are hard things for me to do. I used to love church. I would walk out feeling touched by God. Now I sit there more as a skeptic. I think of what they are trying to relay and I treat it more like homework I have to work on in my own life. I question everything.

Although I’m not there yet, I know I will get there. There are days I feel like God is sitting beside me holding my hand and others where I want to scream, “Hey, wait a minute! I did put my faith in You and look how it turned out. You want me to do that again?!”

I’ve become more speculative and blunt, not only with God but in all the rest of life as well. If it bothers me, I’m going to say something. If it upsets me, I’m going to say it, even if that means questioning God. Never before did I lash out in anger during prayer or question God. My prayer was always thanking Him for my life and the people in it and asking Him to watch over them. After Nash died, it became a gateway to talk to Nash, and that’s all I did.

Now when I pray, I ask Him to calm my mind so that I can hear what He is trying to convey. I ask Him to help me better understand why Nash had to go. I ask Him to calm my insecurities and give me strength. I ask Him to work in my life and show me He is there. I have actual subject matter now. Every new Sunday I’m filled with new questions and every night the debate begins again. I throw out those questions to the universe and await its reply.

I’m becoming the strongest version of myself. I know what you’re thinking. Strong?! I can barely leave my house. I’m here to tell you anxious people are the strongest people you will ever know. When leaving the house is as hard as giving a speech, naked, in front of a million people…and yet you continue to do it every day…that’s strength. I no longer need the approval of others. I no longer cower when upset. I no longer second guess myself on things I feel strongly about. I’m a work in progress, but I like where I’m headed. I have slowly weaned off my meds, and Todd and I are deciding whether to give it a go one last time and add to the family we have already created together or to be content with the family we have now. I will tell you one thing: this decision will not be made out of fear. I will not let my anxiety dictate wether I’m going to have another child, and I’m not going to let my fear of the future stop me from being content with what I have.

Regardless of what we choose, I’m the healthiest mentally I’ve ever been. I have so many people to thank for that. God, for putting people in my life that got me one step closer to Him. My family for their unwavering support…and me.

Yes, I said it: me. It was always hard for me to give myself credit for anything. I think most of us are that way. With every new test this world throws out, I have survived. With every new obstacle in my rearview mirror, I have gained more and more confidence. If I got through that, I can get through this.

So if you find yourself down and out or wrestling your own inner demons, take a few recommendations from someone who has been there. Don’t be afraid to cut things out of your life that add to your stress, even if those things are people. Therapy can only help. Get your butt to church. Even if you don’t believe, start asking the universe those hard questions. I think you will be surprised by its answers. Don’t dwell on the negative…when one thing goes by another will replace it. Remind yourself you’ve gotten through them all and you will this current stress too. Oh, and one last thing: I recommended Dr. Dan for all things involving matters of the heart .

Dr. Dan and family sporting their Nash bracelets

Hand in Hand

My biggest fear in going home was letting Todd down. Through everything he has been beyond supportive…not just during my hospital stay but also the MONTHS leading up to it. I was worried he would think I was cured, that our life would magically return to normal and I would be that same fun-loving girl he fell in love with. I was worried that seeing that I wasn’t that girl anymore would be his final straw. Yes, you should absolutely support your spouse, but at what point is enough enough? At what point do you have to make a decision regarding your own happiness? It was then that I looked back at everything and saw the beauty in all the madness.

About four days into my stay, my friend Jessie had stopped by to visit. We were sitting in the living room area. From that spot you have a bird’s eye view of the nurses station. Todd had just gotten there and didn’t realize I was watching. He probably figured I was in my room. I watched as he handed a bag of groceries over to the nurse. The bag was filled with my favorite snacks, along with Powerade.

I hate Powerade but when the cardiologist recommended it for dehydration reasons, I started drinking it like crazy. I was so desperate to feel better I did everything every doctor recommended to the point where it was almost unhealthy. When my anxiety was at its worst, Powerade became one of my many rituals to try to keep the dizziness at bay. Added to taking vitamins at the same time each day; drinking water to the point where my car floorboard, bedroom floor, and trash can were littered with empty plastic bottles; and getting enough sleep. At home I was going to bed at 7:30 every night–although I didn’t sleep, I would lie there hoping I would wake to a better day. A doctor would tell me something and I would take it to the extreme, thinking if I would do this one more thing then I would get better and if I missed one day then I would most certainly pay for it. It was irrational to say the least, but it had been my life for months.

Now, here my husband was making sure I had these things because he knew they helped calm me. He then handed over his cell phone and signed in. I watched him and how routine this had become for him. You know, just signing into the loony bin and dropping off a few of my wife’s favorite things before I sit with her as she shakes uncontrollably and cries about her day. I still remember what my husband was wearing at that moment…his stance and his smile as he signed in. I remember the nurses pointing to where  I was and his smile as he turned my direction. I remember the look he gave me as we met eyes…it was a mixture of happiness to see me and worry that I wasn’t OK. In that moment, the love and admiration I felt for my husband grew so large my heart could barely contain them.

He didn’t miss a day! Hell, he didn’t miss an hour! Every single minute he could be with me, he was. This meant leaving work an hour early. Picking Crue up from the babysitters and dropping him off at his sister’s or parent’s. Driving an hour to be with me to do things like play UNO, watch the news in the cafeteria, meet my new crazy friends, and talk to me about my day. He would then drive an hour home to get up for work the next morning and do it all over again. He never complained. He never made me feel guilty. In fact, every time I apologized or commented on something like bills, missing work, or not being there for Crue, he would quickly remind me not to worry about anything besides getting better. I thought about our nights. My routine of a sleeping pill, a kiss goodbye, and the wave as he drove in front of the hospital on his way out. I’ve never been a needy person emotionally and here I was needing him for absolutely everything! My husband loves being needed. He really thrives when things get tough. He is kind, empathetic, giving, supportive, and thoughtful beyond measure. He truly is a gift to me and I find myself thanking God for him everyday.

To love a person with anxiety or depression is a full-time job. Yes, we all have things that are annoying that our spouses have to deal with, but anxiety and depression are not small things nor are they things that have an end in sight. This is an everyday struggle that may get better with time but highs and lows are to be expected. You are not just asking someone to love you and all your imperfections but also to love the roller coaster of sometimes debilitating fear, stress, and constant mood changes. You’re asking them to sit along side you when you are afraid of something that is not even a blip on the radar of rationality. You’re asking them to sit beside you as you try to rationalize your anxieties of things as small as going to a family party. You’re asking them to sit beside you as you sob uncontrollably for absolutely no reason at all. You’re asking them to sit beside you while you wake up in a full panic because you are scared of something but you have no idea what that something is. My husband has chose to sit beside me…..every time.

I think we all have good intentions when we say our wedding vows. At least I hope so. I’ve failed in so many ways as a wife. Yes, I’m loving, supportive, loyal…but I fall short in so many other ways. I’m riddled with fears and insecurities. Who knew when we said our vows the life that lay ahead of us? Who knew God would ask us to endure so much? I’ve seen my husband take everything life has thrown at us and make it magical. Our life these last few years has been like a roller coaster. I’ve seen my husband duck and weave with every new turn.  I’ve seen him endure and press on during the long uphill climbs and throw his hands in the air as the coaster speeds downhill.

I had a friend tell me once that we all have our things. She said this when I felt bad for complaining when others are dealing with things like terminal cancer. She said we all have our things that in our life feel huge. This is so true. I’ve had family complain about their children being suspended from school or a divorce they are going through, and all have apologized for burdening me with  problems that they felt were small in comparison to mine. I never and I mean never felt that way. I understand we all have issues  in our lives and would never belittle anyone’s. We all have our things. I never want people to feel I can no longer relate to this stuff. If anything I feel more empathetic to others’ struggles.

As I walked the halls saying goodbye to Kennie, Steve, Derek, and Phil, I clung to Todd’s hand. I wanted to cry because I knew these people shared one of the darkest times in my life and I would most likely never see them again.  I would never know what happened to them. I could see that same fear in their eyes. Each hugged and thanked me and I them. I walked away fighting back tears. What I’ve learned from this experience is that none of us are above the breakdown that brought me there. We are all dangling on that edge, just steps away from going over. If we are lucky we have someone to catch us when we fall…and if we are even luckier we have someone to hold our hand, smile, and throw their hands in the air as we take the leap off that cliff together. I’m blessed to have people there to catch me and a partner who won’t let me jump alone.

Saying Goodbye

Phil comparing his chronic pain to what I feel was an eye opener for me. Although I’m not in physical pain, I am most definitely  in emotional pain 24/7. Maybe not as bad one day as the next, maybe not as bad one second as the next, but at some level I feel it always. Our talks resonated on a level I’ve been unable to reach with anyone other than Todd. He talked about missing his life before his accident. How he missed doing something as simple as going to the store without feeling pain. The jealousy he felt when he saw others doing random, everyday things with such ease. How his personality and the way he viewed the world were completely flipped upside down. That as much as his family wanted to help he knew they couldn’t. This was his life from here on out. All he could do was learn how to accept it and find the strength to push through each new day. He said something to me one night I’ll never forget. He said, “Shelly, I use to think life was short. Everything was going by so quickly. Now every day feels long. Life feels long.” Oh boy, did I understand what he meant. I knew I couldn’t say anything to help him, and he had told me on a number of occasions he loved that I didn’t try.

As the days went on, I started to be able to differentiate between what symptoms were anxiety and what symptoms were something else. So many things played into figuring that out.

First, the hospital is very scheduled. Everything has a place and time, and every day is basically the same with very little difference. This is key for an anxious person. If something happened that wasn’t scheduled, I would get extremely anxious. Shift change was horrendous. I started trusting a nurse and then she was gone. I felt this need to explain my entire history to every new nurse who took over. I wanted them to know if something happened to me what all I had been dealing with in case it was important in an emergency situation.

Second, as much as not having Crue and Todd with me was one of my biggest anxiety triggers, it was also key to getting better. I needed time to myself to concentrate on myself. Up until that point, I had been trying my hardest to ignore how I felt. That meant keeping my mind off of me. Being in a hospital with nothing but myself to concentrate on was incredibly hard but also necessary.

Third, being in a hospital setting was the only way I could have done this. My anxiety had reached a level I didn’t know anxiety could even reach. I was having physical symptoms. This was affecting my health! I could not function. I was lucky I was tying my own damn shoelaces. I could no longer eat, sleep, do my hair, put on makeup. I had been going to work looking like a complete train wreck. The only reason I even went was because I was afraid to be alone. I cried all day, every day. I had panic attacks anytime someone came or went. I couldn’t be left alone with Crue, or by myself at all. It’s hard to explain this to someone who hasn’t suffered severe anxiety or depression. Even in the middle of all of this, I was dead set that something was wrong with me and was not thinking it was anxiety at all.

I think that the biggest misconception is that people can control this. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that it was anxiety let alone try and control it. It’s hard to fix something you are not even aware of. The hospital made me feel safe. Safe to take medication for the first time. Safe to have panic attacks. Safe if my symptoms manifested into something more serious.

Lastly, being around others who had similar issues helped. When they would explain their panic attacks, their thoughts, their pasts…it was like they were speaking for me.

All of these things were key to helping me get better. At first it was only the small things that I noticed, like my bathroom visits had almost stopped as soon as I was admitted. I not only started eating but actually wanted to eat. I wasn’t crying as much. I hadn’t had a panic attack since the second day there. I had to tell myself these things wouldn’t just go away on their own if it was my physical health. These symptoms were going away as I got my anxiety more under control.

One day I was lying in bed and just thinking about life, about how I had ended up here. Why was I still so dizzy? Was this something I had to live with forever? Was something seriously wrong with me but they just hadn’t found it yet? As much as these were just passing thoughts, I felt that pit of anxiousness in my stomach as I stared out the window but this time I recognized it as anxiety–something I was unable to do four days earlier.

On my fifth day there I was told the next day would be my last. Talk about anxiety returning. I was feeling better in this bubble they created for me, but didn’t think it would last. I wasn’t the only one–many of us had a hard time leaving. I was torn between wanting to be with my family and wanting to stay in this protective bubble forever. How was I going to go home and function at the level it required? How was I going to take of Crue? Go to work?

The psychiatrists didn’t feel my dizziness was anxiety related. They pushed me to explore all avenues in order to figure it out. Although I knew this in my heart, it was discouraging to hear. I had seen many symptoms disappear as my anxiety became more controlled. I was hoping the dizziness would be the next to go. I was, however, grateful they heard me. Grateful  they understood how much this was affecting my life.

The following day I met with the psychiatrists a final time, along with the nurses and the social worker. They went over a written emergency plan with me. I had to list three people and numbers I would call if I felt depressed. I had to list three things that calm me: coloring, hanging with my family and friends, snuggling my dogs. Also, I had to list three things to avoid if stressed: large groups of people, being online, thinking about having another baby. All easier said than done. Today was the day I would say goodbye to the people I had grown to admire. My fellow survivors. The strongest yet most fragile people I have ever known. The people who statistics show will most likely leave this earth by their own doing. Saying goodbye to them would be harder than I ever realized.

Chronic Pain

I woke up the following morning nervous to start medication. When your an over thinker, like myself, your brain tends to run on overdrive, usually with negative thoughts like; Will I be on this medication forever? What kind of side effects will I have? Will it make me tired? Will it make me a zombie? Will I have to try a bunch before I find one I like? How will I know if I like it? The doctors had wanted to start me on four different pills and up my dosage accordingly. I had asked to be started on the lowest dose and I didn’t want to be on more than two pills at a time. The great thing about U of M is that they actually take what you want into consideration. They agreed to put me on Zoloft daily, mainly because I requested one that was safe during pregnancy (just in case) and Xanax when needed for panic attacks.

We had a dry erase board in our room and we had to write  a goal on it everyday.  My goal was to not take any Xanax. The nurses insisted that I not make medications MY goal. They felt that I needed to realize medication was here to help and that it wasn’t a bad thing. What they didn’t understand is that my end game in all of this, is another baby. I wasn’t against the medication. I didn’t like it, but I was at a point where I would try anything if it would help; however,being on a medication dictated when and if I could have another child and that’s why I was fighting it. Every time I took a Xanax, I knew I was that much further from being able to get pregnant. Even if I never have another baby, I can’t take that disappointment, not when it’s the one thing I still have hope for.

My next group was “support team”. Almost all of us were in that one. We had to discuss who our support people were and who we would call if needed. What was sad about this group, was that  most, could not not think of a support person other than their therapist. Derek was the only one besides me who had a lot of support at home. I listened as each person talked about their home life and in most cases even, it’s what had brought them here. I wanted to take them all home with me. These people had horrible things going on in their life and no one to turn to. In that moment, I was so thankful for my friends and family. Two patients were being relocated to a special housing for teenagers of drug addicted parents. Kennie was trying to get her sister to leave her husband and come with her. Steve’s grandma had just died. I think she helped a lot financially and he was returning to a wife and new born baby with little money and not in a good place mentally. Obviously his wife wanted him home so she could have some help. I remember him on several different occasions saying he wasn’t ready to go home and his wife was upset he wasn’t pushing to leave sooner. Most people did not want to leave and there I was, wishing everyday was that day.

I can not recall the name of our final group that day, but it was all about therapy – what kinds, how often it’s needed, and if we already had a therapist, were we seeing them. if we didn’t have one, they guided us on how to find the one that fit. My friend Lauren is a therapist and I had actually contacted her before I went into U of M. We can’t leave the hospital without having an appointment with a therapist within two weeks of leaving. I had already asked Lauren and so she was getting all the information about my stay and planned on seeing me after I was discharged. She was one of five people on speed dial when I was in the hospital. I went from never seeing a therapist to needing one on the daily. Who am I kidding, hourly. In one of our groups, there was a guy named Phil. Phil scared me from day one. He was maybe five years older than me. He walked with a cane and was pale and sweating 99% of the time . He always, and I mean always, had a scowl. He doesn’t mind staring, and everything out of his mouth is sarcastic and mean. In group, he never spoke. The only reason  I only knew his name was Phil because the social worker would call him out of group. He would laugh in groups when people were talking about their issues. Not a full on laugh, more like a sarcastic chuckle, as if their issues were comical even. I  made eye contact with him  once and it sent chills down my spine. No smile, just that scowl, pale face, and a look of disgust that I had the audacity to sit near him. When the social worker got to me, she asked me about therapy and my experience. At this point in time, I had never discussed Nash once. He, after all, was not my issue, but a lot of my thoughts about therapy I got from losing him. I said, “I don’t really believe in it.”I said, “for me, its hard to believe someone who hasn’t been through what I have can really know how to help because they have no experience with it themselves. The social worker replied, “Yes, you are correct, but they can empathize with you.” Now I found myself chuckling like Phil. She then said, “why don’t you try it out here? What do you think they can’t empathize with?” Not sure why, but it opened the flood gates. I started talking about Nash, the call from Todd telling me the police were doing CPR, seeing him on that gurney watching doctors and nurses doing viscous and brutal chest compressions that shook Nash to the point where I felt I should stop them because they were hurting him. I recalled the day I dropped him off, the last time I saw him and the last time I saw him smile at me as I walked back towards my car to leave for work. I hiccup-cried as I explained that no matter how much they felt they could empathize with me, they could never know the pain I feel each day. They could never understand the pain of re-living the best five months of my life and the gut wrenching feeling of rocking my dead child in a rocking chair in front of my friends and family, singing to him his favorite song and telling him it’s ok to go. I didn’t realize I had been looking at the floor the entire time. As soon as I looked up there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Even the social worker was crying. Jozlyn, Steve, Derek, and Kennie were all looking at me, crying. Some even got up to hug me. This was the first time in a long time I talked about the day he died. Seeing others who have significant issues of their own be in complete disbelief and sadness for me, made me realize just how much I probably needed this help long ago. Then, out of nowhere, that low and scary voice came from my right, as Phil said, “this is the first time someone has explained exactly how I feel.” I immediately thought, “oh my God, Phil lost a child!?” That wasn’t his story though. He explained that he was hit by a drunk driver years ago. He described the amount of surgeries and metal he now has in his spine and legs. That his fiancé left him after the first year, when he was just learning to walk again. He then said, “no one understands what I go through on a daily basis.” How can some therapist give me any advice? He paused and then said, “no one else knows what it’s like living with chronic pain….”

 

Making Memories in the Strangest of Places

“Tell me about Nash.”

Those words echoed in my brain for what seemed like hours. How do I even begin to answer that question? How do you explain someone that changed your life forever? How do you explain that amount of perfection, or that amount of love…I am convinced it cannot be done. I have written well over 100 blog entries, and still feel I haven’t fully captured or conveyed the amount of love I felt and still feel for him.

I kept trying to swallow the giant lump in my throat so I could answer. I stared out the window as I explained my perfect baby boy, his life, and everything after. I finally looked at the psychiatrists and said, “So you can see I handled his death in the healthiest of ways. There is no way this is postpartum.”

The intern quickly answered, “We don’t think this is from Nash but from your miscarriage.” I was puzzled. I didn’t realize you could have postpartum depression after a miscarriage. I explained how little the miscarriage affected me. Don’t get me wrong…it was extremely hard, but after all Todd and I have been through it seemed…small in comparison. We were more upset about our ill misfortune. We knew the baby was not healthy and we accepted that with some relief. He went on to explain that postpartum is a chemical imbalance. That whether we are sad or feel sad does not matter. That our body will react differently because of this. I was skeptical to say the least.

I tried to be open, but the head psychiatrist seemed to be able to read my mind. He commended me on how we dealt with our grief. He complimented Todd and me for having the insight to do this in the middle of such heartache. He continued, saying, “This destroys marriages and it apparently brought the two of you closer together.” He then said something that made more sense to me then almost anything else I have heard regarding my health issues. He said, “Some people are mentally strong, such as yourself. You’re resilient…but your mind cannot continue to compensate for your body after long periods of stress. This is your body saying it’s done, that it needs a break.”

This made some sense to me. I laughed and replied, “I feel embarrassed that, after everything I’ve been through, dizziness is what broke me.”

He replied, “Don’t be embarrassed. You were going to break with whatever that next stress was. It just so happens it was this.”

They dismissed me and said they would start me on medication the next day. The next day?! Ugh, I was hoping I was leaving. I got back to my room and my roommate was packing. She was just short of prancing around the room as she excitedly told me she was going home the next day. All I could think is that they must really think I need some help if this chick hearing voices that came from the hospital can go home after a day and I’m not leaving anytime soon.

Her phone rang. I could only hear her side of the conversation. “Hello?” After a long pause she said, “I don’t know who this is,” and hung up. A minute later, another call. She answered “Hello?” Another pause, and she replied, “Who is this?” Another pause, and she replied, “I don’t have a husband,” and hung up.

Now her phone was blowing up. We both started laughing when we realized we had each other’s phone. The first person who called her was my friend Shawn, who called Todd worried that I didn’t know who she was. So Todd called. I died laughing thinking about Todd when she said she didn’t know who he was, and when he said this is your husband she told him she didn’t have a husband. Todd and Shawn were minutes away from breaking me out of the hospital on some sort of rescue mission. Seriously, when I think about this, I still laugh.

The next group was Anger Management. I didn’t think I needed it, but it was on my list and I wanted out of here. I sat by Steve and Derek and listened without talking the entire group. Jozlyn came in the night before. I could hear her screaming in the hallway that she was going to kick someone’s ass if they continued to not let her use her phone after hours. Let’s just say I was not surprised to see her in anger management. There was also a woman who I am almost positive was transgender–her name was Kennie. She was an introvert in every way. She spoke no higher than a whisper and not often. She nervously played with her hands if someone asked a question or made eye contact.

The counselor asked us all if we had ever felt our anger was out of control. Jozlyn damn near stood up, raising her hand, screaming, “I’m pissed off right now by that kid looking at me every two seconds!” She then pointed to the hall monitor who has to check on every one of us every ten minutes. even in the night. His head pops in every ten minutes to make sure we aren’t hanging by our shoelaces or something.

The counselor replied, “That is his job. Do you feel like your anger is maybe higher than normal in this situation?”

She sat stiff, arms crossed, and red faced as she answered, “I don’t care if it’s higher than normal or not–someone needs to teach that fucker to be a little more discreet. He’s making me fucking nervous.” Two seconds later he popped his head in and Jozlyn screamed, “You can see us through the fucking window, kid! No need to open the damn door to look in!” Steve and I started laughing hysterically. That poor kid did not open that door again for the rest of that hour.

When the counselor got to Kennie and asked if she felt she had anger issues, she looked at her hands and quietly said, “I’m not an angry person. I’m mainly just sad.” She made my heart break instantly. Her sadness was palpable, and all I wanted to do was give her a big hug.

They dismissed us and we waited in the hall for lunch. Just then some U of M students were walking down the hall with clipboards, about 25 of them. They looked at us smiling, but trying not to stare. It was 12:00 and I was still  in a hospital gown, slippers, and a robe. Jozlyn leaned over to me and said, “I feel like a fucking zoo animal.” I looked at the students and back at myself. “Zoo animals” pretty much captured it.

We had assigned seats and mine was with Kennie. We ended up talking quite a bit. She was extremely sweet. She lived with her sister and her sister’s very abusive boyfriend–never abusive to her but to her sister and her sister’s kids. She had decided to move out because it was an unbearable living situation. She felt a tremendous amount of guilt leaving her nieces there. He ended up beating them badly the first night she was gone and she ended up moving back in to help them. I’m not sure what happened after that, but that’s what brought her here.

I was on my way back to my room and saw I had Art next. Steve looked over my schedule and said, “That sucks–I got Gym.” Gym?!?! There was a gym? I noticed the Art class was all girls and the guys played b-ball and lifted in the gym. Anyone who knows me knows this did not make me happy. I didn’t say anything though. I just painted with the girls and headed back to my room.

Steve said there was a guy named Jack who works nights that will open the gym if there are enough people who want to workout. I said, “I would for sure.” Around 6:30, Steve and Derek were at my door in full gym clothes, waiting for me to get ready. Who comes to this place with a wardrobe? Todd had brought me some jeans and shirts, so I took off my robe for the first time all day and headed to the gym.

Steve and Derek explained that they wanted to play basketball, but that I didn’t have to–they had jump ropes and stuff. I laughed and said I would rather play basketball. They looked like I told them I was going to paint their nails or something. Then Jack said he would play 2-on-2 with us and they argued about whether I counted or not. Now I’m not meaning to brag, but I’m pretty damn good at basketball. I stayed silent, but all of the sudden I felt the need for anger management now. They finally decided I counted mainly  because Derek volunteered to have the girl.

I felt this pressure now. I hadn’t played in years. What if I sucked all of a sudden? I’m happy to report I didn’t, and Steve got razzed pretty bad every time I blocked his shot or scored on him. After the game we were all sitting against the wall catching our breath when Steve asked if I was a lesbian. I about died! I laughed and said, “No, are you gay?” Derek laughed so hard he shot Gatorade out of his mouth across the gym floor and we were promptly kicked out.

It was the first time I had had fun in months. The gym became a regular thing for us, although Steve would never play 2-on-2 anymore; instead, we played HORSE.

That night Todd had called like he did every night on his way down after work. He said his dad was coming with him which made me so happy. My father-in-law, Greg, is the best person I know. To be around him means to be happy. I knew hospitals were not his thing. He drove separately from my mother-in-law to the hospital when I had the boys so he could come later–the less he was there the better (but he always got to restless and came early anyway). When I was hospitalized with the flu and found out the baby had no heartbeat, he came up and sat by my side–my only visitor other than Todd. Todd told him not to come, that I was sad and very contagious, but he came anyway so I wouldn’t be alone when Todd ran home for things. He manages to be this quiet, calm voice of reason, and yet a complete tower of strength in these situations…and he instilled these qualities in his son.

When he got there, I could see that uncomfortable look he always has in hospitals. It’s a look I imagine most S.W.A.T. teams have when they are dismantling a bomb. We sat in the cafeteria playing UNO, just the three of us. We talked and laughed, and I could tell Greg was feeling a little better as the time went on. The last time he had seen me I had been in his living room sitting in his chair crying before I left for U of M. He had hugged me and said, “I want you to go, Honey, and get better.”

I’m glad he didn’t come the first day or two when I wasn’t as well. He got to see me on one of my better days. I’ll never forget that night. It was special for me–just me and my favorite guys playing cards in the psych ward cafeteria.

Tell Me About Nash

My second day in, I was still not leaving my room. I called my friend Shawn. She is my tough-love friend. I told her how I felt and she encouraged me to at least try to go to a group. I looked over my schedule for the day. Morning stretch, followed by CBT therapy, and then pet therapy. I couldn’t help but laugh at my situation as I read it to Shawn. She, however, did not laugh…. I mumbled hesitantly, “Pet therapy sounds interesting, and I could use a puppy to pet.” I could hear her smiling as I hung up.

They give you a coloring book when you arrive. It’s suppose to relieve stress and I found that it actually does. To this day I’m a coloring fool. As I was on my second hour of coloring, a man walked in and said he had to move me to another room–they needed this room for someone else. I learned quickly they didn’t really need my room–they just wanted to move me closer to the nurses’ station after my “episode.” Again, no roommate and I was thankful for that. I would say three hours into coloring I could color no more. I went down to the kitchen for some ice cream.

I got about ten steps before I went clammy/shaky and felt my heart racing. The nurse took one look at me and hurried me to this corner room I wasn’t aware of. It was a small room with a TV and two small couches. A man my age was sitting in there watching football. He was screaming at the television when they brought me in to take my vitals. My heart rate was 140. All I could do was cry. I should have never left my room. The man saw me crying and scooted closer to me. He leaned in and said, “My name’s Steve.”

I looked around the room trying to see who he was talking to. It was only us and the nurse taking my vitals. I knew he could clearly see I was in distress, but he acted as if this was just kinda normal. I shook his hand and said through a shaky voice and tears, “Shelly. Nice to meet you.” He then told me to breathe and try and think about anything else.

He had a monster tattoo on his arm, was vigorously chewing what I was almost positive was Nicorette gum, and he constantly was nervously kicking his leg. You could tell right away he was a very high strung individual. His advice was working though and, right when my heart rate was going down, I heard “god dammit” followed by a thrown remote.

My heart rate was back up and the nurse was yelling at Steve to calm down. Steve sat quickly and apologized for his outburst. I said, “Do you have Tourette’s or something?”

He laughed and said, “I wish–my fantasy kicker just fucked my world up.” I started laughing hysterically and he followed. I had no idea in that moment that I just met my person for the next week.

I tried going to lunch, but again I started crying and getting shaky. Steve walked me back to my room and got the nurse. I was a mess. How was I going to “work the program” if I can’t even leave the room? A nurse came in with another nurse whose badge read “Supervisor.” She looked me up and down and asked me sourly why I was crying. I explained, and she said, “You have go to at least try.” I explained something was wrong with me and she said, “Let’s just concentrate on the here and now.”

I wanted to punch her. I actually visualized it. I sarcastically replied, “OK, sounds good,” and gave her a thumbs-up. An hour later my heart rate was back up and that same nurse was ordering an EKG.

When the lady came into the room to apply the stickers, I just laid there staring out the window crying. No more noise, sniffling, just tears rolling down. I had no energy to even look at this woman. I could feel the woman’s concern and I couldn’t even give her a smile. Right before she left, she laid her hand on my arm and through a cracked voice said, “It will be OK, Honey.” Then she left.

Todd visited as normal, and I cried and told him about my day. I think he was getting discouraged that I wasn’t getting better, and I felt the same. I lived for the few hours I got with him. We did our usual ritual of a sleeping pill and waving goodbye, but I could not sleep. I decided to go to the small living room I was in earlier. Steve was there with another young man watching football and eating candy, because that’s exactly what high-strung Steve needed–sour patch kids. He offered me one, and I smiled and said, “No thank you.”

Derek, the other young man, was a good-looking 19 year old who played lacrosse for U of M. He was so soft spoken and sweet, and I found myself wondering what brought him here. He implied once that he felt a lot of pressure to be the best. They closed the room at 11:00 and kicked us out. Steve said, “You can come hang with us–Derek is my new roomie.”

I hung out and talked for a little while and then headed back to my room. Alba was back on and said she saw I had made friends. She said Steve came from the hospital. I said, “What does that mean?”

She said, “Suicide attempt.”

He had told me he had just had a new baby girl and my mind wondered about what had caused him to want to take his own life. I got the impression that this wasn’t his first time here.

I woke the next morning to a very childlike voice crying and saying, “I don’t want to be here.” I opened my eyes and saw I had a roommate and she appeared to be talking to her dad. She couldn’t have been older than 16. Her dad had to leave and she just laid there crying. She looked over at me and said, “Why are you in here?”

I told her, “Because I’m dizzy.” I laughed and said, “That sounds outrageous when I say it out loud.” I asked why she was.

She said, “I came from the hospital…. I hear voices and they tell me to do bad things to myself. I’ve heard them since I was 13.” I was intrigued. I asked if she ever believed they are real, like spirits, and she said, “All the time.”

The next morning she went to groups and said, “If you want out of here, you have to go to group. They won’t let you out otherwise.”

She asked if I wanted to use her brush since I was using a hospital comb. I thought to myself, “The last thing I need to do is catch voices.” I smiled and said, “No thank you.”

The first group was morning stretch. I was so freaking dizzy I had to sit for all the exercises. Steve yelled to the instructor, “This is bullshit that she gets to sit down!” I was taken aback, but he whispered to me, “Just kidding–the instructor is new. I like to break them in.” After that we were walking past a huge conference room to head to our rooms. I saw one obvious patient and five other people talking to her. Steve explained those were the psychiatrists and we would meet with them daily. An hour later I was told they were ready to see me.

I walked into the room not knowing what to expect. Quickly I learned there were four interns and one head psychiatrist. One intern would ask me the majority of the questions and I would answer. I mainly stated I was sick and no one was understanding this. They were the key to getting me on the right floor. I went on and on about my dizziness, hands being numb, moments of clamminess, and high heart rate. They then dismiss you. After they talk among themselves for about thirty minutes, they call you back. When I sat back down, the intern who asked all the questions gave me his diagnosis: delayed postpartum depression with severe anxiety and panic attacks. He recommended medication and explained that all of these symptoms can be caused by anxiety and/or depression. I smiled back at them and said nicely, “I know you all think that, but I don’t.”

He smiled and said, “We know.”

I laughed and said, “I’m not trying to belittle your profession but I don’t really believe in all of this, and I don’t believe therapy can help what’s going on with me physically. I have something medically wrong with me.”

This is when the head guy talked for the first time. He said, “Why do you think your mind isn’t attached to the rest of your body?” He said this smiling and looking at the table before looking up at me for an answer.

I smiled and said, “Touché, Doc, touché.”

The room fell silent for what seemed like minutes.

He then said, “Why don’t you tell me about Nash?”

I looked out the glass windows to the hallway area, closed my eyes, and pictured my smiling happy baby boy, and then the rocking chair where I held him for the last time. The tears fell like rain.

Perspective

Let me start by saying I did not think for one second they were going to actually admit me to the Psych Department. I after all was not anxious or depressed–I had something medically wrong with me. I hoped they would only because I would be in the best hospital in the state. Once they saw that I was clearly sick they would transfer me to the correct floor.

Waiting in the lobby was the first indication I may actually need help. They have a med cart in the lobby in case you need meds. A med cart!!! People were actually in line with little cups waiting for their psychiatric drugs! This seemed bizarre to me. The old me would never have needed meds to sit in a lobby…but guess who was in that line within an hour of being there…this girl!

The hardest part about being admitted to the Psych Department was saying goodbye to Todd. He has always been my rock, but, these last four months, I couldn’t function unless he was with me. They put me in a wheelchair and had me say my goodbyes to Todd. He leaned over to kiss goodbye this drugged, wheelchaired, fragile person his wife had become. He said, “Just get better, Honey. Don’t worry about anything else.” Let’s just say I cried hard as they wheeled me away, out of his sight. How was I going to do this without my person?

Luckily it was three in the morning when I was admitted. Everyone was in bed. I was scared to death. I pictured people walking down the hallway drooling on themselves or screaming obscenities. I guess I have watched a few too many movies.

The nurse gave me the tour. It was one giant hallway with a nurses’ station, living room area, and a kitchen. The kitchen was fully stocked with drinks and food, including ice cream. This in and of itself made me happy. That is if I could find the will to eat it. The living room had books, board games, and a TV.  She explained that they would give me a flip phone every morning at 8:00 and I would have to turn it back in by 10:00 each night. As they walked me to my room they explained that there were no TVs in our rooms or call lights…that this was not a hospital in that way. Anything that promoted us staying in our rooms was a no-no. She explained I would get my schedule every morning that would explain my daily activities. I thought to myself, “Activities? Are you sure this is not a prison?”

My room was at the very end of the hall. I was thankful to see I didn’t have a roommate. I woke the next morning to the nurse saying I would see the doctors today as she placed my schedule on the table. The list had different group activities with meals scheduled in between. I set it back down, rolled over in bed, and went back to sleep. It wasn’t long before the nurse was in my room to ask if I wanted breakfast. All I could do was cry. She said, “Just this once you can eat in your room.” She brought my food in and set it on the table. I  didn’t touch it. Visiting hours started at 6:00 p.m. on the weekdays, and I wanted to just sit and sulk until Todd could get there. This did not fly however, and every time meals were provided I was encouraged to go to the dining room and eat with everyone else. I didn’t leave for one meal.

Then I remembered that we got phones. I walked down to the nurses’ station to get mine. I gazed into each room as I walked by. People walking down the hallway would smile at me. I grabbed my phone and headed straight back to my room so I could call Todd. The doctors ended up not being able to see me until the evening of the next day. So I sat and waited in my room for Todd.

When he arrived I was so happy. For some reason I would always cry and shake uncontrollably when he got there. The relief that washed over me as soon as he arrived was all consuming. I think at that point I was surprised I had not driven him away yet. He went down to the living room and brought back UNO. So we sat there and played for hours. The closer it got to the end of visiting hours, the more anxious I became. I would cry and hold Todd, not wanting him to go.

The hospital is big on pushing meds, and they asked me several times if I had wanted something for sleep. I decided I would. Todd and I developed a ritual that first night. I get scared taking new meds, and I was even more terrified for him to leave. So a half hour before he would go, I would take a sleeping pill and get ready for bed, and he would sit and talk to me while I laid down. He told me to watch from my window and I would see him drive away. It took some time for him to get out of the hospital, to his car, and to the intersection in front of my window. I would stare out, waiting anxiously to see his truck.  He would flash his lights and wave as he drove by and I would watch until I could no longer see his taillights. I loved him so much in those moments.

That night I woke from the middle of a dead sleep to a pounding heart, almost like someone had injected adrenaline into my heart, like in the movie “Pulp Fiction.” I had never in my life experienced anything like this. I scoured the room–no call lights and the nurses’ station was down this gigantic hallway. I was crippled by fear…afraid to move. I thought I was having a heart attack. Well, I would be damned if I was going to die in this room alone.

It took everything I had to get to my door. By this time I was sweating something fierce, like I had run a marathon. Once I got there I saw the nurse and I yelled for help. She quickly got me to my bed. All I kept saying was, “Something is wrong. Something is really wrong.” They came in with a monitor for my vitals. My heart was racing 180 beats per minute! I was terrified. I started to think of Todd and Crue.

She said, “Did you have a bad dream?”

I said, “No I was just sleeping, and woke up like this! I’m telling you I’m sick!” I knew something was wrong and these nurses were moving as if I was just panicking. I  yelled, “Call my husband! Call my husband right now!”

She said, “Stop, take a breath, and calm down.”

I said, “Just give me something to calm my heart down.”

She said, “I will give you something when you calm down.”

One of the nurses was this young, spunky thing named Alba. She looked at me and said, “You got this! You have been through way worse then this, Honey. I’ve read your chart. Just catch your breath and kick this thing’s ass.”

I thought, “OK, calm down. Breathe. Your heart would beat this fast if you were running. You are not having a heart attack.” As I started to breathe slower, I tried to think positively. I pictured Todd and Crue and Nash. My heart rate lowered to 140, then 100.

Alba was my own personal cheerleader. She said, “You got this girl! You’re doing amazing!”

Once I got it down to 80 on my own, they gave me medication and I cried myself back to sleep. I woke up crying as I relived the night before. I went to the nurses’ station to get my phone so I could call Todd and tell him what happened. I was ready to leave this place.

When I got to the nurses, Alba hadn’t left yet. She smiled at me and said, “You did great last night. It’s not often we see people bring their heart rate down like that. If you work this program, it will help you. You’re one strong woman.”

I wanted to cry. I still felt misunderstood. I still felt as if I was sick. No program was going to make me better. I was so thankful for her though. Regardless of my health issues, she motivated me to stop being such a baby. Yes, this is horrible, but it could be so much worse. It was time to gain some perspective on my situation.

 

Call me Crazy

About four months in, I felt like a shell of myself. I finally posted on the Facebook forum for vertigo. I listed all my symptoms, asking if anyone else shared similar ones. Two girls commented that it sounded very similar to what they experienced when they first started developing a condition called “POTS”. I looked it up on the internet (I know, I know). The main symptom was a high pulse rate and low blood pressure. Specifically, a pulse rate that goes up 30 beats or more when standing. My blood pressure has always been low and it has never been a concern, so at first I wasn’t that worried. As I read more symptoms, I started freaking out. I felt like they were describing every symptom I have had since I was a teenager. I’ve worn multiple heart monitors throughout my life because I get something called, PVC’s. From what I understand, it’s a skipped beat from stress or caffeine. Lots of people get them, but not everyone feels them. I do. These are also very common with people who have POTS. Other symptoms included: lightheadedness in the shower or heat, unable to tolerate large meals, bowel issues, and dizziness. Although they do not know the cause, it usually develops after or during pregnancy, after a traumatic event, severe blood loss or surgery. Ok, so that terrified me! Every one of these things happened to me just months before this all started.  These people usually go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because its a new condition that doctors are just beginning to understand. No cure, but fluids and a high salt diet help most. Of course, I knew I would be the 20% that were completely bed ridden. 

 At this point, I knew my doctor already felt I was crazy and I was starting to wonder if I agreed with her. So, when they asked if I could see the physicians assistant instead, I was more than happy to. I didn’t tell her about my google diagnosis. No need to show all my crazy cards right up front. Plus, the last time she had seen me I was in her office with the flu and a heart rate of 200, which landed me in the hospital, and a miscarriage. I didn’t want her thinking I was “depressed”. They checked my heart rate like they always do and I asked if I could stand. It went from 80 to 140! I knew then, I did in fact have this condition. I said nothing though. I didn’t even tell her it went up. She asked for my reason of being there and I said I wanted to see a cardiologist. She practically held my hand when she said, “at what point do you stop seeing specialists?” I was taken back. I had only seen the ENT at this point. She then began to talk about all I have been through and being depressed is to be expected. I started crying out of frustration and said I’m depressed I can’t be left alone, that I don’t feel good, that I can’t take care of my child. I’m not depressed about anything else. I can’t afford all of these medical bills. Does she think I want to do all of this? I just want to feel normal. She prescribed me Zoloft, which I had no intention of ever taking and she gave me the referral I wanted. I asked how long to get in. She said it usually takes a while but there is a new cardiologist trying to build up a patient base and he is getting people in rather quickly. That is, if I didn’t mind he was younger. Not only did I not care, this made me excited. Someone who  would be up on all of the new things. He may actually know what POTS is! She said, “you will like him, and he is from Fenton.”

A week later, I was feeling my absolute  worst. I was crying all day. I was missing work. I had little to no contact with friends and family and rarely left my house. One day, my friend Shawn called me and I became hysterical. I sobbed on the phone, barely putting words together. She drove two hours to be with me and I told her everything I was going through. Every time she went to leave, I would start panicking and crying. She then called my friend Lauren who is a therapist and it ended up being an intervention of sorts. At this point, I was barely leaving the house, so neither of these girls knew what was happening in my life. I think they were surprised to see me in the condition I was in. It felt good to unload all of what was happening over the last few months on them. I knew how crazy  I sounded. I knew I  looked like a hypochondriac. They both were so understanding though. At this point Todd was home from work and explaining to them just how bad I had become. You know, just in case they didn’t pick up on it from my crying fits and completely disheveled appearance.  When I told Lauren about my upcoming appointment with the cardiologist she had said, “what would be the best outcome of this appointment for you?” At this point I was spiraling and believing no doctors and no diagnosis. I knew what she was implying. I had said, “if he knows what POTS is, I will be happy. If he knows, and he either says I have this or I don’t , that will give me a lot of relief.” I wondered if I believed what I was telling her. Would I feel that way or was I convinced otherwise regardless of what he had to say?

The day I was scheduled to see the cardiologist, I was feeling better than I had in months. I even thought about canceling but I knew better.  As I sat in the room, I thought to myself, “do I tell him about my “google diagnosis?” I thought “no”, just tell him how you have been feeling and see if he comes to it on his own. They took my vitals, which were the best they have ever been, of course. I then waited patiently to see the doctor. I would like to think I’m a good judge of character. I usually get a feel for someone right away.  The doctor walked in and  shook my hand, introducing himself. He exuded kindness and enthusiasm and I felt comfortable with him right away. I told him every symptom I had over the last few months, but left out my google search. I planned on giving the short version but realized quickly he wasn’t interrupting me or trying to cut off my rant… so I kept going. When I finished I almost laughed at myself. It’s funny how crazy you can sound when your explaining something out loud to someone else.  He smiled and then told me I was not crazy at all but that I may be dehydrated. I guess constant “bathroom” visits  can cause this along with lowering your potassium and a high heart rate is an indication of dehydration. He recognized my last name and knew all about Nash. He excitedly talked about what an amazing thing we have done in his honor.  It was then that I felt I could really unleash my crazy. This man would never make me feel worse. I could tell I could be open with him without judgment. I wasn’t going to get any peace until I knew for sure. I grimaced and said, while looking at the floor, “that because of my high heart rate and low blood pressure, I was confident he was going to tell me I had some rare heart condition.” He then said, “like POTS?” I smiled and said yes, and I am so glad you know what it is. He laughed and said the full name that I am not even going to try and spell here. He replied confidently that he did not think I had this condition. I knew I had to drive it home and I shamefully said that I had googled it. He laughed and said, “Dr. Google”. I don’t know why I trusted him, but I did. Maybe it was the time that he spent with me or that no matter how much crazy I was sharing with him, he always seemed to listen without judgement. Or it could have been the overwhelming feeling that Nash was with me in that room that day…He scheduled a follow up appointment in a couple of weeks and I was on my way.

Over the next couple days I cried every second. Todd could not leave the house. I was afraid to walk, run, climb stairs. I was so dizzy I was running into walls, and I was ridiculously thin. I remember at my lowest telling Todd, “maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here. This is not the mother I want Crue to remember.” Todd had finally had enough and took me to the doctors himself. He said “you have got to do something.” She looked at Todd and back at me, crying as usual. She then said, “I think you should take her to U of M, the psych ER.” I was so exhausted, so frustrated, so desperate, that I didn’t even put up a fight. That day would begin my week long stay on the psych ward. A week that would cause a great deal of soul searching and show just how devoted  a husband can truly be.