I knew I’d been running on fumes for months but I had to keep going anyway. There is always something to take care of but sometimes it can get so overwhelming you don’t know where to start and ultimately nothing gets done.
I woke up on a Thursday morning and noticed I had what felt like little electric shocks shooting from my right eyelid up through my scalp. I did a quick search on net and couldn’t really find anything so I left for work.
When I got to work I checked with nurses assigned to our unit but neither of them had any idea what was happening. I worked for a couple of hours but after a while my right eyebrow started to burn. After multiple trips to the Urgent Care and ER they finally figured out I was getting a severe case of shingles. The next two weeks were complete hell…..the rash felt like a severe burn that wouldn’t stop, my face swelled like I had just went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and I had eye appointments four days per week because they needed to make sure I didn’t go blind.
The pain of shingles was excruciating and I am a wimp when it comes to pain. I’ve never been a medication type of person….maybe a Motrin or Tylenol for a headache or when my back goes out but otherwise I didn’t take anything…..but the pain was so bad I made sure I took my meds every four hours so I didn’t have to feel or deal with anything.
The doctor took me out of work for a couple weeks but when it was time to return that’s when all hell broke lose. I noticed some anxiety the night before but the morning I was to return I had a full blown panic attack in the shower. I was still in pain, which they said could last anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months but something else was wrong and I couldn’t tell anyone what it was. My husband had to talk me “off the ledge” as I couldn’t breathe and my entire body was shaking like crazy. Once out of the shower I made it to our bed where I curled up in the fetal position and cried like I had just lost my Mom or Grandmother. I don’t know how long we stayed on the bed but I remember my husband rubbing my back with one hand while the fingers of his other hand were combing through my wet hair I had a moment of clarity and realized I was safe and ultimately everything was going to be ok. My husband has always been my safe spot and knowing I have someone who allows me to be me with no judgment is truly precious. Later that afternoon we went to the doctor where he agreed I was not ready to return to work.
For the next few weeks I was either at the doctor’s office or in bed because I literally couldn’t function. I started going days without showering, I didn’t want to be around anyone, I lost my appetite for anything but ice cream and corn dogs and I got anxious anytime I had to leave our room. I no longer had the strength cook dinner and forget about grocery shopping or running errands. Anything besides lying in bed took so much effort that I would be exhausted (like I just ran a marathon) just walking downstairs to get a glass of water. The best way I could describe it is like falling into a hole filled with quicksand and fighting to keep myself from sinking below ground.
I finally went to see a psychiatrist where I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety which also led to more medication. I’m not going to lie it took me some time to become med compliant but eventually I gave in and started taking everything as prescribed. I remember one morning feeling so upset that I went from no medications a month or so ago to a mini CVS. I used to be proud that at the age of 42 I wasn’t on any daily medications while others had their own private pharmacy……but I think it was really about it was trying to prove to myself and others that there was nothing wrong with me (being a larger woman and the stigma that most bigger people high diabetes and high blood pressure) when the truth was I probably needed medication years ago.
Slowly between medication adjustments and letting my family take care of me…. I started to feel better. The change wasn’t very noticeable like swinging from a chandelier but I realized that the black cloud was just slightly lighter than the week before.
As an MFT intern I see a therapist on a regular basis and the topic of self-care came up during various sessions. After suffering from postpartum depression 18 years earlier I’ve really tried to be self-aware so I battled with the idea that I had an actual breakdown. My therapist asked why I was so resistant to the thought of having my own breakdown and I finally came to grips that I felt weak and ashamed……what kind of therapist am I that I can’t regulate my own emotions. I’m supposed to have been professionally trained to deal with all this and having a breakdown felt like being a failure.
Now if I had been in my clear mind I know that is not the case. I am a firm believer that failure is not a bad thing, failure is an opportunity for learning meaning only that what one is doing currently is not working and it needs to be tweaked or even revamped….either way the only time someone fails is if they never try.
My journey back was slow and sometimes painful as my core beliefs were all consuming. My therapist spent many hours challenging my early internal tape and things I told myself growing up like I’m weak because I’m too emotional, I’m not good enough to do anything right and the best one no one could love you because your damaged. I realized this was my injured 5 year-old child self reacting and not the woman I knew myself to be. After some intense therapy sessions I discovered that not being believed is a huge trigger for me. Not wanting to get into details I spent the previous two years standing up for people who were being treated unfairly. Not that they couldn’t stand up for themselves because they could I just stepped in when things went way to far. My stepping in was not well-received by others and ultimately my concerns were dropped by the waist side which activated my trigger. The situation lasted longer than it needed to but I refused to stand by and watch others being mistreated which ended up causing my body (and mind) to break down.
Some days were good and felt I made great progress and then others were horrible and felt like I was at square one but I never gave up hope. The more layers I uncovered the more peace I began to find. I learned that I spent my life learning how to step in for my child self by helping others but now I had to figure out how to let my child self “go out and play”. I am grateful for her as she protected me when I felt others couldn’t but now that I’m an adult she needs to know that “I got this” from here on out.
During this process I knew I couldn’t go back to the job I was doing. Working as a social worker was fulfilling at one time but my passion has always been performing therapy. If I’m honest with myself I should have left that job long ago but with a decent salary, good benefits and job security I was afraid to make that change. After many family meetings and some financial planning I was able to resign from my position and follow my heart. I miss my clients and I gained a few great friends along the way but now its time for me to take a leap of faith and jump into the abyss. I always try to be a good role model for my kids and I am big on practicing what I preach so I’m going to walk the walk.
Today things are much better. I am working with the brilliant Dr. Barton Goldsmith who was willing to take me under his wing and let me absorb all the wisdom he has to offer, I’m gaining hours toward my licensure and I’m learning how to create and maintain a private practice. Is everything perfect now? No, there is no such thing as perfect but I am more alive today than I have been in years. I still have up’s and down’s but my emotions went from tidal waves to baby waves I can jump through.
So what lessons have I learned from this experience?
1. Emotional Triggers never go away. They can be activated at any time but self-awareness and coping skills can reduce our reactions to them.
2. I will be a better therapist. Having my own experiences will allow me to empathize with their struggle and hopefully allow me to guide them to a positive outcome.
3. Our bodies really are amazing. Being in tune with our bodies will let us know when something is wrong….we just need to listen to what they’re trying to say.
4. If we never experience darkness we will never appreciate the light. We learn from our struggles not the accomplishments so make sure you continue to move forward at any cost because if you don’t the darkness can and will consume you.