Recently, I shared with you part of my friend Meg’s story as she found freedom in forgiving a drunk driver who killed her beloved brother. Today I will share with you a glimpse of her journey to find freedom from crippling anxiety and post-traumatic stress. I trust that you will also find freedom from her words – either for yourself, or someone you know.
‘I remember when I had my first panic attack, it was 4 months after the accident, I was sitting with a client in the coffee shop where I’d last seen Andy. There were a lot of people in the store, a lot of strangers. Too many strangers. The music was loud. Too loud. And then I felt it – the pair of hands wrapped themselves over my head, pressing the sound into my ears, forcing the volume up, higher and higher as they tightened their grip. Another pair of hands took hold of my lungs, squeezing out all the air, crushing my chest in, throat tightening up. My heart began beating faster and faster. It was mid-meeting and I couldn’t hear anything my client was saying, all I could hear was the sound and the people and the noise and the lights and the…
All of a sudden I wasn’t in the coffee shop but I was back at the accident scene. A man was shouting at me “IF YOU DON’T GET THE DRIVER TESTED RIGHT NOW, YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO CHARGE HIM. GET HIM TESTED. RIGHT NOW!!”
This continued for about 4 months, I would find myself in restaurants, coffee shops, friends houses, my lounge. Crippled by post-traumatic stress.
I didn’t know who this girl was, she couldn’t function in social settings. She would leave a restaurant after reaching her capacity at 15 minutes. She couldn’t meet strangers without having a panic attack. She would make irrational decisions.
It was completely debilitating. I called it the “emotional wheelchair”. To the world, Meg was doing great, she could wake up and feed herself and dress herself and run a business. Except that every situation I needed to be in, required me to walk up a flight of stairs, whether it was coffee with a friend or dinner at a new restaurant. There I would sit at the bottom of the stairs, in my invisible emotional wheelchair, with the world standing at the top saying, “Meg, come on, you can do it, you can walk up the stairs, you’re so capable, look at you, you’re standing on your own two feet…” And everything in me was shouting “BUT I CAN’T, you just don’t know, that I CAN’T.”
It was the loneliest season of my life. I would spend hours doing Sudoku, training my brain to focus on numbers so that I could cope in a social setting and not crumble under the pressure of strangers and sound. I would swim underwater for as long as I could because that was the only way I could drown out all the noise, and all the voices, and the only way I could hear Jesus amidst the commotion.
I also started to see a psychologist. She gave me tools to help me cope in my emotional wheelchair, and she taught me that grieving was not like any other part of my life, she pointed out that my standards of myself were far too high and that if I applied the same standard to my grieving that I wouldn’t process my brother’s death properly. She taught me to “cheat my own system” – I’m a to-do list girl, and trying to grieve and run a business at the same time was very tricky, especially for a girl of too many high standards. She told me to add “fun” and “rest” into my daily to-do list, it would help me feel accomplished, make me feel like I’d done something. My “fun” was an Instagram story, I would create characters and laugh for the rest of the day, this was where I truly learnt what “Joy as a weapon” looked like. And my “rest” was a candle-lit bath, a nap or game (or 5) of Sudoku.
It was during this time that I became so aware of mental illness and the reality that a lot of people face on a day-to-day basis – anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD. We’ve been taught for years that when you break your arm, you go to a doctor. But somehow because mental illness isn’t tangible for someone else it can be fixed with a “Just be happy”, “You’ll be okay” or a “Stop stressing, there’s no need to be anxious”. Mental illness is so real friends, and this post is nothing else but to let you into the reality of what it looked like for me. And to urge you to extend grace to those who can’t put words to how they’re feeling or why they’re feeling it. To help you understand in the smallest way of what it might look like for some.
And to those who’ve dealt with or are dealing with any form of mental illness, or maybe you’re just in a season of processing trauma, if I could reach through this screen and give you a hug, I’d hold you, you wouldn’t have to say anything and we could just sit in the silence. I’d also tell you about my best friend, I knew Him before Andy died, but He stepped in like no other friend did after the 4th of December 2016. His name is Jesus and He would sit with me and do Sudoku, we would walk on the promenade together, make Instagram stories and laugh together, He got me through the darkest season of my life and I know He can do it for you’.
A daily devotion for a better way of living.