I had never heard of a panic attack before and I didn’t know that was what was going on that morning. I just knew that I had woken up stressed out. As soon as my Dad knocked on my bedroom door to wake me up for school, the familiar gnawing in my stomach started. But we were already running late and I wasn’t going to frustrate Daddy more by making him any later.
As I closed the bathroom door behind me and started getting ready for school, my heart raced, my stomach lurched, and I realized that there was nothing I could do to stop myself from getting sick. That morning, like so many others, I locked the bathroom door and ran water to cover the sound of my tears.
Choking and sniffling, I managed to pull my clothes on and run a brush through my hair.
“We’re going out to start the van!” I heard my brother’s shouted words through the bathroom door as I realized that I was going to be sick again. A few minutes later when I heard my Dad come back inside for me, I knew that he was angry and that just added an extra knot to my stomach.
“What are you crying for?! That’s not going to help anything!”
Yeah, well, it can’t hurt anymore than I’m already hurting.
I made it through the day only having to run to the bathroom to be sick two or three times during school. On each trip to the bathroom, I’d hold cool, wet paper towels to my face and whisper desperate prayers to the beige tile walls of the bathroom. I can’t do this anymore. Lord, make it stop. I can’t live like this anymore. But each day, I would get up and live through it all over again.
My anxiety started long before I was sixteen. Some episodes of abuse when I was seven or eight, mixed with almost losing my brother in an accidental shooting when I was nine, mixed with the normal cocktail of teenage angst and hormones and dysfunctional relationships made me a time bomb waiting for a place to explode. And when I covered it all up with my Perfect Pastor’s Daughter mask of “don’t let ‘em see you hurt”… Well, sometimes I’m surprised I lived through it.
Try as you might to hide the truth, eventually, it’s going to come out. My parents could see that something was going on. I became sick every time I ate. I had horrific headaches. My mood swings were violent and my family caught the worst of it because my Perfect Pastor’s Daughter mentality wouldn’t let me show my bad side outside of the house. Eventually, my parents took me to the doctor who tried to fix all of the physical symptoms before finally coming to the realization that if we could fix the emotional, then the physical symptoms might actually start improving. She put me on a Shiny Happy People pill which caused me to stop getting sick, stop having panic attacks, and drop about 35 pounds. With the physical improvements, I figured I could live with a broken heart.
You can’t have it all, right?
When I was twenty-one, I hit rock bottom. Chasing the man that I thought was going to be my world and fix my life, I had moved a few hours away from my home and family. But after less than a year, that relationship went down in flames. I was completely and utterly alone for the first time in my life. I had no education, a job that barely paid minimum wage, very few friends, and no church. Most people thought I should just move home with my parents, but I knew that if I moved home that I’d never have the courage to move out on my own again.
For several months, I struggled just to get by where I was, but I was only moving backwards. The darkness around me was getting deeper. The light at the end of the tunnel was non-existent and I felt completely lost. I thought about trying to go back on the depression meds, but without health insurance, that wasn’t a possibility. I didn’t know what I was going to do. My life became about surviving minute by minute.
I went to college in 2000 and I started feeling hope again for a while, but as the pressure of school and work built, I found myself stockpiling random pills with the unspeakable thought that if life just got too hard and I got too tired of fighting I could just take the pills and end it all. And then, one night, it got that hard and I decided to quit fighting. I got ready to take the pills, but then I didn’t.
A lot of people have earth-shattering come-to-Jesus moments. My way was more drawn out than that. Where some people come to Jesus in one moment, for me it was hundreds of little moments along the way. And I’m still on the way today. Every day I have to choose the light instead of the darkness and the joy instead of the despair. Some days, the darkness is easier to hold onto than the light. And some days, the despair is far more tangible than the joy. I still get sad—sometimes deeply and for long periods of time. I still get anxious. I still occasionally have panic attacks. And sometimes, I’m so fearful and weepy that I think I’ll never come back from it. And sometimes I don’t trust God. On those days, I remind myself that God loves me as much today as He did yesterday and that He’ll still love me tomorrow. I just have to keep breathing and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Those of you who are on Twitter probably saw me mention this today, but for the rest of you, I would like to thank you, once again, for your prayers for 26 year old missionary Joy Bausum. Within days of arriving in Malaysia to work as a missionary in children’s ministry, she collapsed. Upon testing at the hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, they found a blood clot in her brain and operated. Unfortunately, she passed away this morning due to complicationsy. Please continue to pray for the Bausum family and all of those who knew and loved her most. For more information on Joy, you can read her supervisor, Russell Board’s blog post on Joy’s life at: http://russellboard.typepad.com/asiapacific_updates/2010/08/joy-has-finished-her-course.html