This time last year, this time the year before, this time three years ago

This was me, a year ago in late February.

Yes, it’s a hospital selfie. Self-portraits are what you do when there’s no one to take pictures of you. And when you’re middle-aged and suddenly find yourself in need of redefining. And in need of proof of your existence and, well, everything.

Snarky expression aside, I was a mess.

I had been feeling unwell that morning, jittery and disconnected. I got myself out the door to work, told myself that I was fine, it was only anxiety, and I had years of practice dealing with anxiety so obviously I could and should just muscle through the day.

I drove my same usual route, the same road that I’d taken on the morning that the hospital called to inform me that Mark wasn’t doing well, and I needed to come right away. March 22, 2012. I relive that day often, not willingly. It slams into me uninvited, bringing back sounds, sights, lights, colors, sensations and emotions.

Last year on February 22nd, I wasn’t having “death day” flashbacks, not consciously. Nevertheless, my heart was banging around like a giant fist in my chest, and my breathing was ragged and hot. At some point, I pulled over, trembling, feeling hot but the air on my skin felt cold, damp. I took some breaths and a quick inventory, and reassured myself that I was fine, that I’d been through worse, and that once I got to work, I’d take some time to walk off the adrenaline. I got back out on the road, and before long, began to hyperventilate. That was new.

I called work, said I was driving myself to the emergency room, and did that.  Even if it was “only” anxiety, I needed help.

I walked up to the ER desk, shaking like Don Knotts on Red Bull. My heart rate was impressive, and was hypertensive enough that blood should have been squirting out of my eyeballs. I was breathing in bursts by then, and could barely force out words. Help came immediately. I told the nurses that this was probably anxiety, relayed the short version of the past couple of years, told them about the looming anniversary of Mark’s death. They got me into a room and hooked me up to everything. I lay there vibrating, freezing, muscles twitching like an frightened horse, EKG sensors glued to my chest and back, realizing I am the patient and I am alone. Mark had had a wife at his side; I had a gold Naugahyde chair.

With fumbly fingers, I somehow managed to send a text to my sister in Oklahoma, and my best friend in Dallas. My sister provided love and support and humor, and my buddy was at my bedside within minutes.

It was panic, a full-blown attack like I’d never experienced before. The doctor talked to me about Post-Traumatic Stress, with kindness, understanding and good care. (Anxiety sufferers will understand that this isn’t the norm. In a different-but-similar incident 20 years earlier at the same ER, a different doctor blasted me for wasting his time and accused me of being a drug addict.) This time, Dr. Kind Doctor and I discussed a short-term plan to keep me out of the ER, and within a couple of hours my friend went off to work and I drove myself home.

Now, after a year and many miles and many more dark days, I can see that this experience was a good one. Not one that I’d care to repeat, but it did prove that I can “be there” for myself, that I am capable and reliable.

This is a good thing.

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About Vicki Caroline Cheatwood

Writerly. Rebooting. Evolving. Searching for great chicken salad.
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2 Responses to This time last year, this time the year before, this time three years ago

  1. It happened to me once when I’d forgiven someone for something the rest of the family deemed unforgiveable. Suddenly all the resentment was hurled my way. Gathered at a family “holiday,” I felt like their anger was killing me. I was clowning, pretending to be okay and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I landed in emergency, thinking I was having a heart attack. No. It was a psychic wounding. Devastating but survivable.

  2. Wendy Welch says:

    I’ve had that anxiety only a couple times, and it’s scary. I’m glad you took care of yourself. You keep doing that, and that’s because you are a survivor. It’s a good thing to be. And call me if you need help surviving. I’ve had to make a few calls in my life. Love you, Vic.

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