Read Part One, here.
Read Part Two, here.
Throughout those dark two weeks of panic, I made several attempts to help myself out of this nightmare. For brevity's sake, I will spare you about a thousand details, providing the barest of summaries. If you have any questions or would like more details, feel free to ask here, or email me.
Because I knew that my panic was irrational, and because I knew I could not overcome any of this by myself, I sought help, to the best of my ability, on several fronts: medical (hormonal, chemical), cognitive (learning different patterns of thinking), and, of course, spiritual.
I spent several hours over the course of those long days sobbing on the phone to friends and to my sister. I didn't really want to talk to anyone, but when I did, I could not control my crying. As a natural non-crier, the crying was necessary and cathartic, and I cannot thank my friends enough for being so kind and caring, and for listening to me in my great distress. A few of them asked me if I thought that changing hormones might be playing a part, which validated one of my own suspicions. I looked up symptoms of peri-menopause and was shocked to read that anxiety and panic attacks are fairly common ones (again, why does no one tell us this stuff?).
I called my friend Dr. Deidre Wilson, a fellow mommy from our beloved school that had just closed its doors, and I asked for help. She is a Pope Paul VI Institute NaPro-trained physician, specializing in women's hormonal/reproductive health and infertility. I knew that even if I came out of the extreme panic, I would have to get my hormones in balance again somehow. Through her wonderful care, I eventually (after the panic lifted) started progesterone in oil (PIO) treatments, and my queasy-at-the-sight-of-needles husband learned how to give me those injections. Meanwhile, my OB/gyn started me on a low dose of Zoloft to try to even out my anxiety (and later I learned that it helps with peri-menopausal hot flashes as well!). Those two doctors together now have me on a wonderful balance of bio-identical estrogen and progesterone treatments, like countless other peri-menopausal women. Praise God for modern medicine!
Then there was the little matter of my thought processes and how they affected my moods. The day before my daughter and granddaughter flew to Nebraska, and two days before the pulmonologist appointment, I emailed my friend Nikki Westby, MA, LPC, a cognitive behavioral therapist (Little Flower Ministries -- yes, named after St. Therese!), and asked her if she knew anyone who could help with severe anxiety and panic. She replied that that was her speciality! I had a spark of hope, and I took her next available appointment, which was the following Thursday (like Deidre, Nikki is a mom of many, and office hours are understandably limited). She helped me immensely with the cognitive side of things, i.e., how our thoughts (and negative thinking habits) feed our moods.
Some of my friends also wondered if part of this episode might be explained spiritually -- might I be under spiritual attack? I believe that spiritual warfare is very real, and I agreed that this could be the case. I would never put anything past the devil, who will use whatever means he can to steal the peace from souls and replace it with fear. I employed sacramentals when I could, such as holy water and holy salts, and as I mentioned before, I clung to my two holy objects whenever I was in bed, which was most of the day and all night long. I also called my amazing and faithful priest, Fr. Don Kline, and told him I needed help. He came to the house and prayed formal prayers of deliverance for me, re-blessed my home with holy water and prayers in every room, heard my confession, gave gentle counsel, and offered masses for me. I could not be more grateful for his spiritual fatherhood and care. God bless our priests!
And then there was the night that I called Michelle, my precious cousin and dear friend, who had only recently received the news that her cancer, after being in remission for about four months, had recurred. I asked her, in a shaky voice, what she did to deal with anxiety. Her response was a gentle and concerned, "Uh-oh, what's going on?" From there, I explained the situation, somewhat embarrassed that I was losing my mind over potentially nothing, and here she was battling a deadly disease that would take her life just eight and a half months later. Michelle listened lovingly, gave me a pep talk, and gave me practical tips, all of them based in our Faith (she herself had not yet used the anxiety meds that had been prescribed to her upon her diagnosis). She told me of her daily prayer routine, which was habitual and rich, the Marian prayer book she loved, and her go-to saints (St. Michael the Archangel was a big one, her patron!).
She was counseling and consoling me!
The irony was not lost on me even then, and I saw in full technicolor the power of grace in her life. After that night, Michelle would call to check in, text me frequently with cheerful greetings ("This is the day the Lord has made! It is a beautiful day!"), and send links to prayers and words from the saints. Instead of turning inward on herself and bemoaning her own great sufferings, she was putting others ahead of herself! She was making sure that I was taken care of, and comforted, and loved.
I was gifted with a saintly woman in my life, at the time I needed it the most, and I will be forever grateful to God for giving Michelle to our family.
|Michelle was a gift beyond all measure, and continues to be.|
Eventually, the Friday pulmonologist appointment came. Let's just say that I was in what I (only half-jokingly) refer to as a catatonic state. Dean came with me, of course, and when we dropped off the little boys to my friend Danya's house on the way, she came to the car window and tenderly handed me a blessed scapular. Flatly, I thanked her. I truly was grateful, but had no way to express emotions.
I sat in the doctor's office looking straight ahead. I didn't want to hear anything he had to say, because either way it didn't matter. No one could make those nodules go away, and without a biopsy, no one could tell me that they were not cancerous.
When the doctor came in and introduced himself, he asked me right away what he could do to convince me that I did not have cancer. I looked at him directly, with my sunken and dead eyes, and said, "Nothing." He held my gaze for a moment, then turned to my husband to discuss my scan and my case. He rightly discerned that the only other rational, functioning adult in the room was Dean, and I mostly sat back and stared straight ahead while they talked. Long story short, Dean left reassured that all would be well, and I left with no change in my thoughts or feelings about the matter. I was scheduled for a re-scan in four months, and given a follow-up appointment for early December.
I was worse off than ever. The only thing that could have relieved me would have been the words, "You don't need a re-scan, and you never have to see anyone about this again." Since that wasn't the case, how could I get back to normal? Things seemed more hopeless than ever, and I took to my bed again. Dean was understandably frustrated now, because his (correct) understanding of the appointment was that the doctor sees these types of nodules every day, and there was only the very slimmest chance that it was cancer. Protocol and an abundance of caution dictated a follow-up scan. None of that mattered to me, and I saw no way out.
For two more days I languished in bed, and on Sunday morning I had my big boys take my little boys to mass early, as I wanted to go alone with Dean to a later mass. I needed Dean to physically lean on as we walked to our pew, as I was weak and shaky like an old lady, not only from the panic, but because I had eaten almost nothing for the past 13 days. Fr. Kline was the celebrant that morning, and I knew that he had been praying for me, which was a great comfort. I prayed to God to heal me. I stared at the crucifix and requested healing again and again.
When the Host was consecrated and became the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, my body started to awaken -- I actually heard my stomach growl! I could not believe it, and I was flooded with hope. I received the Eucharist, and just before mass ended, I turned to Dean and asked him if he could take me to lunch right after mass! He was shocked, but he agreed. It sounds so crazy, but I knew I wanted Outback medium wings! And so we went out to lunch, and I ate food and actually tasted it for the first time in almost two weeks.
I had much more work to do, but just like that I had turned the corner and had been released from the darkness. I began to feel like myself again!
That is all the "bad stuff" I will share with you. I think we've all had enough of it, haven't we?
Next, I want to share with you the incredible fruits that came from this experience, and why I thank God for it every single day. It still blows me away to think of what God did for me, and how He used this terrible experience, this cross, to free me from so much that had been holding me back.