You’ve heard it a hundred times, mostly in relation to a public figure: hospitalized for exhaustion.  It sounds much nicer that way, as if all one really needs is a nice vacation at an exotic hotel.  For my purpose, I am going to call it a breakdown because, well, my mind and body literally broke.

I filled you in last time about the ways my body was screaming at me to notice something was wrong.  You guys, our bodies are smart. God designed them to work a certain way and when they stop working as intended, these amazing temples warn us.  In my case, it wasn’t even subtle.   I was getting sick every morning, not sleeping at night, and my body was shaking out of my boots.  With hindsight, I can say two important things: 1) I should have sought help sooner 2) I should have stopped, dropped, and told everyone who was counting on me that taking care of myself was more important than any task or expectation.  My body was telling me that I needed to step back from my commitments for awhile.  I know this now, after more than a year of counseling, doctors, therapy, and meds.  For the old Laura, anything short of delivering perfectly and expertly was never an option.  And it just about destroyed me.

I keep writing about this auction thing and how it was part of my perfect storm.  You might be wondering what all the fuss is about. You can read about how I got involved here, but basically it’s being in charge of an event that 350+ people attend with the expectation being that you will raise $80,000-$100,000 over the course of the night.  And I was in charge.  Now, I had been in charge of big events before, but nothing on this scale or with such high expectations for the result.  I told myself I was doing it because I love my children’s school and wanted to do something that mattered, but somehow along the way it became less about the school and more about me.  In my mind, if the auction failed, I failed.  And failure to me was anything less than perfection.

Here’s the craziest thing. You might not believe me, but I had never really failed at anything in my life.  I mean, sure, sometimes things didn’t go exactly as planned, but I only ever earned one B in my life, I received every scholarship I ever applied for, and I was hired for every job I sought out.  I was smart and pretty with a beautiful home and lovely family. For all intents and purposes, I had it all and expected it all (of myself and everyone else).  For 37 years, I was completely used to things going my way because if they didn’t, I just worked harder until they did.  Crazy…I know.

If you’re smarter than me, you can see where this is going.  I had built an image and expectation of myself that was impossible to maintain.  I didn’t know it yet, but I was wearing a beautiful mask that was hiding all kinds of ugliness, shame, and pain.  And when the mask dropped, I dropped along with it.

There’s only one word to describe how it feels to have an emotional and physical breakdown – hell.  But the purpose of this blog is to let you see behind the veil, so I’ll try to be as descriptive, honest and transparent as I can.

This is what happened.

Saturday, April 5, 2014 was the morning of the school auction, I was supposed to be at the country club early to begin setting up.  My parents and mother-in-law were in town because Justin had been gone for three weeks and was planning to meet me at the country club, coming directly from the airport.  I hadn’t slept or been able to eat much in days, and I remember asking my mom to drive me that morning because I knew I couldn’t drive on my own.  I got to the facility and tried to start getting everything ready, but I couldn’t move.  The auction co-chair and all these wonderful volunteers were bustling around and all I could do was sit in a chair and stare.  I looked like hell and I felt like hell.  My mind was literally racing from one thing to the next…

What is wrong with me?
Why am I feeling like this?
What is everyone thinking of me right now?
Why can’t I stop shaking?
OMG…I’m going to throw up.
I’m losing my mind.
How is everything going to get done?
What if I can’t even make it to the auction tonight.
And on and on and on…

I will address the physiology of anxiety in a post soon, but for now let me just tell you that my mind and body were in such a state of anxiety that I was living one big panic attack.  The amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins had put me in a state of constant fight or flight.  I couldn’t move, but I felt like my insides were crawling.  My muscles were so tight, I was like a statue of stone.  I could not stop the negative thoughts and fear.  And with every bad thought, my body responded with more adrenaline.  But, you guys…this was only the beginning.  My armor had only just begun to crack.  Justin arrived at the banquet center directly from the  airport that morning after spending the last three weeks in Brazil, took one look at me and said, What the f*%# happened to my wife…

A Perfect Storm

I woke up this morning.  What an obvious statement.  “Of course, you woke up this morning,” one might say.  But for a long time, I didn’t wake up in the morning because I never went to sleep.

It was March 2014 and my life was hectic.  I was working 30 hours a week as the Director of Communications at my church/school and was also the chair of the largest fundraiser of the year, the annual dinner auction.  My husband was traveling out of the country for 3 weeks at a time, and we were raising our two girls (7 & 9).  I was stressed, but I honestly like being busy and challenged.  I had been in this place before and always managed to plow my way through.

Then strange things started happening.  Every morning I woke up feeling sick.  Sometimes I actually got sick, most of the time I had to run to the bathroom.  I couldn’t eat, and I was shaking all the time.  I tried to dismiss it.  Maybe I just had a bug.  But it didn’t go away.  I had too much on my plate, too many people counting on me to let it slow me down, so I just kept going.  Usually by 10am or so, my body seemed to calm down and I would be able to eat lunch and move on with life.  But then the sleep issues started.  I was so wound up by evening and my mind was racing so fast with everything I needed to do that I could not fall asleep at night.  This had happened a few time before, so I had a bottle of Ambien on standby.  I detest taking medicine, so I broke the pills in fourths just to get a few hours of shut eye.  And then the pills stopped working, too.

At this point, I knew something was wrong.  I remember telling my auction team volunteers that I didn’t know if I was going to make it through.  I thought I might have to go to the hospital or something…I just didn’t know.  I went to my primary care physician.  He said, “It’s anxiety,” and gave me a script for an ancient anti-depressant and a small dose of Xanax for emergencies.  I didn’t take either of them.  Relying on medicine seemed to go against my deeply rooted beliefs that I was in control of my life.  Plus, I made the mistake of Googling the meds and now I couldn’t get all the horrifying stories out of my head.

So, I asked my mother-in-law to stay with me for the 3 weeks Justin was gone right before the auction, and I started seeking a Christian counselor.  I felt better for a little while, worked myself to the bone all hours of the day and night, lost 10 pounds and hoped it would get better if I just made it through the night of the auction.  I was like a violin whose owner was tightening and tightening the string.  And then the inevitable happened…I snapped.

Roots {Part III in the Date with Destiny Series}

Continued from Date with Destiny – Part I and Date with Destiny Part II.

The rain cascaded in tiny rivulets down the century-old old window panes. She stood there with her head pressed against the cold glass. A pretty 7 year old girl with straight, blond hair. Her watery blue eyes fixed on the winding road past the long lane to the house. With a sharp pang of worry in her tummy, she imagined the worst. Mom was late again and these were the days before cell phones. As the moments inched by, the knot in her tummy grew tighter and larger. “Where was she?” “What if there was an accident?” The storm was getting bad. As the worry grew, it never occurred to her to tell someone about her fears. There was a safety in the secret. She could pretend she was strong. The imaginings in her mind were hers to protect.

Soon after, it was time to move from the hundred year old farm house where she played in the mud, pretended in the barn, and swung a million miles on the swingset. Oh, the memories of picking dandelions in a snowy summer field of fluff. Her favorite was the swinging, though. As the cool breeze caressed her skin, she sang. Songs from classic musicals like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, and The Music Man. On the swing with the songs on her lips, she was free…

And now she was moving from the deep country to a new town. It would be a fresh start in a new school. She thought a lot about the move. As a quiet and shy girl, how would she make friends? 5th grade is an awkward time, anyway. But she would be strong. She wouldn’t show her fear.

She loved her new home with it’s many outbuildings for exploring and large trees for leaf piles and cool summer shade. New friends were made and a bus bully was found. The quiet girl tried to shrink each time she got on the bus. Tried to become invisible by burying her nose in a book as she sat on that bus seat, but bullies prey on such children as these. The endless taunts made her turn ever more inward. Each morning as she waited for the bus, that same old knot in her core grew. Sometimes it seemed like a permanent feeling in her body. And once again, it never occurred to her to tell anyone. So, she began to wield control over the things that she COULD control. Things like her grades, and being the boss of her sisters, and any other thing that felt like she was strong and capable. Anything to quiet the worried voice in her head.

That voice told her that the world was a dangerous place sometimes. Out of the blue she would think the worst about everything. Her mom had Alzheimer because she always forgot her keys and her dad was going to die because he had to take high blood pressure meds. The voice was terribly creative and would soon grow much stronger.

Has worry been part of your life, too? It’s tough, but necessary to look back on the past and explore how old thoughts, behaviors, and patterns impact life’s journey. Mine would eventually lead to a physical and emotional breakdown at the age of 37, yet I’m finding that the darkness is finally setting me free.


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