Now that my New Zealand series is over (sad day), I am happy to begin sharing about a topic that is more personal, meaningful, and important to me. A lot of changes have occurred in my life over the past few years, including problems, improvements, and ups and downs, and I’ve been wanting to share about all of them in order to help other people.
This is a topic that a lot of people shy away from, but one that I’m very passionate about. Since struggling with these things that I will soon go into detail about, I decided that I would not keep them quiet or keep them to myself. I hadn’t heard many people talk about these issues before I went through them, but once I started sharing with friends and acquaintances, I learned that many other people, especially women my age, become stuck in the symptoms of these problems. I want to write and talk about these things so that that doesn’t have to be the case, and that we can be free from these burdens.
For this first post, I will start by sharing the beginning of my symptoms and the problems that I struggled with. The next post will share the second round of issues, and then detail diagnoses, and then I’ll share a post or two about recovery and changes I’ve made that have been helpful, and where I’m at today.
I first started noticing unusual symptoms when we were raising support and living at Whit’s parents’ house back in winter 2012. A lot had happened in my life over the previous half-decade: starting college, the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech at the end of my freshman year, graduating college one year early unexpectedly (I graduated when I was only 20 years old – I share this not to brag but to show how all of these stress factors compounded), moving overseas where I lived for eight months – I knew NO ONE before I got on the plane, living in an unsafe country where simply walking to get dinner or groceries by yourself is reason enough for paranoia, coming back to the US without debriefing my experience – and again having no connections with the people I lived with (I left them all back in Venezuela), getting engaged one week after my return to the US, moving back to Blacksburg and starting a new job, getting married, spending the summer in Colorado joining staff – while living in a dorm room, living with Whit’s parents and my parents for short periods of time, then moving in with my in-laws, all the while meeting hundreds of new people and trusting God to provide new partners for us to be successful financially and in ministry. Wow, just typing it all out it sounds like a lot. You would think that I would have realized how much stress was part of my life! But I didn’t!
One night I remember sitting in bed before dinner, reading in the dark winter room, and my head and fingers started to feel tingly, almost numb but not quite, sort of like when your foot falls asleep, but not painful. I would get a headache like that every now and then. A few weeks later, the feelings intensified. I would be sitting at dinner, with my in-laws across the table, and my head would start to feel like a balloon being filled with air. My head felt light and full all at the same time, and I had this urgent feeling of needing to stand up and leave the dinner table. I got that feeling many times while we were at other dinner tables and sitting in other people’s living rooms, telling the same story and having the same conversation, telling brand new people our calling into ministry and inviting them to join our team of financial and prayer partners.
I chalked the feelings up to being the dead of winter, and spiritual warfare. We felt strongly called to move to Pennsylvania for Whit to become the regional Finance Director, a position vacant for a year at that point (most companies would not leave the financial controller position open for that long! But we have a different method for filling positions, so we had to wait to finish raising support before we could begin). I knew that some of our other friends were also experiencing challenges during their support raising time, and I figured we just needed to trust God and push through it.
At this time, we had been married for little more than a year, and I was on the birth control pill. My biggest fear in life was to accidentally become pregnant. Whit and I had decided we wanted to wait a long time (about 8 years, at LEAST 5) before having kids, and I for one was not ready by any means, maturity-wise, or other. However, we would hear horror (to me) stories of people’s friend who got pregnant even while they were on the pill, blah blah blah, and month after month I would worry if my period didn’t start on time. I prayed so hard that we wouldn’t have kids yet, and was always so relived when Aunt Flow visited.
But, the birth control pill wasn’t completely fulfilling its duties. I don’t remember exactly why, but when I visited the gynecologist that winter, she decided to put me on a different pill, called Loestrin, which stands for “low estrogen.” Its placebo pill week was shorter, only 3-4 days, and the pill was designed so that you wouldn’t always even have a period. I remember when I was at the doctor that I told them about some of the problems I was having with feeling anxious, and the sweet nurse, who was a believer, reminded me that God would take care of me, and she offered to give me a prescription for Xanax if I wanted it. My mom had even suggested that I should maybe take the prescription, because she had times in her life where she needed, for example before going to the dentist to get a root canal. But I didn’t want to have to use medicine. I was in ministry, you know? I should just be able to pray and God would heal me. (That sounds so naive now.)
I took a test online that tallied the stressors in my life. My mother-in-law, a nurse, would kindly talk with me in the kitchen at night about my health and would try to help me figure out what was going on. She had noted that even good stress, like getting married, was stress, and all that stress would take a toll on my health. The tally came up that I had a lot of stress in my life, but not a crazy overwhelming amount, so I just figured I was pretty much okay and shouldn’t need to worry about all this stuff. All the while I was having episodes of eating lunch watching the Office in the living room, and immediately having to stand up and walk around because I felt like I would go crazy. I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt like that, but I knew it would help if I got up and walked around outside. When I had the same feeling at a supporter’s home, however, I just had to sit there, going through an out-of-body experience and wishing that I wasn’t there or having those feelings.
It may be obvious to you that I was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks, but at the time I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t feel anxious about anything – I wasn’t worried all the time, and I wasn’t a person who was type A or controlling, so I surely wouldn’t have an anxiety disorder.