My breath comes in short bursts of white smoke. My heaving chest is an engine blowing exhaust into the frost. I lean over the porch hyperventilating, watching my tears hit the snow beneath my feet making tiny indentations, pinhole hollows searing the purity of a fresh snowfall.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and my son pushes a cloth towards me to wipe my nose and eyes and the vomit from my lips. I squeeze my eyes shut tight causing tears to spill harder down my cheeks and puncture the pristine white before me.
“I’m going to die,” I gasp. “My heart… it hurts, I can’t, I can’t breathe.” I am choking again. Gagging and cold and ridiculous.
I ran from my living room into the front yard when I felt my stomach retch forward like my guts were detaching, a creature within me that had somehow come unleashed. I made it to the porch, the frozen air catching me before I was bent over throwing up.
Josh found my medicine lined up like a tiny arsenal on my bedside table. He’s reading labels to me asking which I need. I unravel clenched fists, my palm spread open like I’m receiving communion. He shakes out two small white pills and hands me a drink. I try to gulp them down and breathe and think good thoughts and pray but in that moment I hate myself. I hate that I can’t take slow deep breaths and make it all go away.
I hate that my body is betraying me again and my mind is wild with thoughts. I hate that I am cold and pitiful and so scared.
This same feeling had sent me to the emergency room months earlier certain I was having a heart attack or fatal arrhythmia. Two EKG’s, a CT scan, an X-ray, and a host of blood work later, a doctor with kind eyes took my hand and told me she wasn’t sure what was causing the abnormal EKG’s but I wasn’t going to drop dead on the spot and to follow up with my doctor.
Take it easy, she said and I wondered when life has ever been easy for anyone.
A month passed with daily episodes, my pulse racing and skipping, sometimes for hours. I had more tests, I saw more doctors. And then a cardiologist sat across from me thumbing through my medical records.
“Wow, you’ve had a tough year, “ he said looking up at me. “So, here’s the thing. Your echocardiogram looks good. No blockages or thickened areas, no strain we can see. You have a healthy heart. Your blood work isn’t showing any signs you’ve had any episodes like a heart attack so all we have are these abnormal EKG’s with premature ventricular contractions. Those in themselves aren’t a concern except that they’re uncomfortable and can wear you out because of their frequency. Have you been under stress lately? I’m looking at your history here and I see you’ve been in and out of the hospital a lot this year. Have you had any additional life stresses?Because I’ll be honest with you. I think this is a result of a lot of stress and anxiety related. How have you been managing your depression? Your EKG looks like the kind of thing we see when someone has been in a war zone and is having PTSD. Your body just kicks into fight or flight and it goes from there.”
My eyes were blinking fast, my lashes swooping down soggy while I tried to keep my makeup from trailing down my face in a deluge of tears. I had gotten up early and put on makeup, fixed my hair, put on clothes with no stains or stretch waist. No yoga pants today. I needed to feel together on the outside, especially because my insides felt like wreckage to be salvaged.
I had prayed there was nothing seriously wrong with my heart. But I should’ve prayed that there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with my head.
Have I had any additional life stress? Ummm, yes. So I told him about it. I skimmed quickly over things I don’t always talk about. Things that haven’t made it to this blog, things I don’t lead with when someone asks me how I’m doing. Because sometimes it just gets old to say, yes, I can’t fix it and it hurts. Yes, it’s too much. Yes, I am still right where I started and there’s so much more that can’t be explained when my mind can’t find the words anymore.
Got home, crawled in bed, and ugly cried off the eye makeup. I need to wash my pillowcases because there are now black puddles soaked into them where it smudged off. I don’t know if I’m happy crying or in despair. I’m not sure if it’s relief that my echocardiogram shows a healthy heart and my abnormal EKG’s have been attributed to too much cortisol and adrenaline stemming from generalized anxiety and panic attacks, or frustration that it all seems to be triggered by my anxiety which has flared recently and which, ironically, has been compounded by my wonky heart and a year full of surgeries, health issues, and ridiculously hard life stuff. It feels cyclical and cruel that to get well I need to stay well long enough to get well, but also a relief that I’m probably not going to drop dead of a heart attack anytime soon. I guess I hoped for easier answers than dealing with the mess in my mind. How to control a wild and unruly heart when my mind is an even trickier adversary? This is life with mental illness. It’s just one battle after another to stay functioning at half the level others can with ease. Some days I feel so very less than. I wrote about anxiety a couple months ago and even though I couldn’t respond to all the comments and messages, they were a huge blessing. The not alone-ness of it all. Anyway, thanks for the prayers and messages and voxes, I appreciate them all and even though I’ve not been around much online or even in real life and I’m a bit of a bummer today, I do love y’all. I think I need a nap. Maybe I’ll change my pillowcases first.
And sometimes great days are sprinkled in the midst. Maybe even great weeks and I feel unshakable for a spell and smiles make it all the way to my eyes. Like maybe all of this is behind me and I’m really free. Maybe I won’t cycle again, maybe I won’t take another tumble into despair and anxiety, my heart unconfined and beating like thunder. Maybe I’ll curl up on the couch by the fire, tucking my legs under a blanket and watching the storms come and I’ll feel safe and held. Maybe I’ll wear red lipstick on a Tuesday and go on dates with my husband to Costco and I’ll take pictures of the sky because it’s so breathtaking. I’ll pull myself up in the morning with anticipation instead of dread. When those days come I feel normal.
Ok this the last one of about 50 shots I took on the way home. Don’t worry, I wasn’t driving which is a good thing because every corner contained a masterpiece. This sky is just too ridiculously good looking. #picturesfromthesideoftheroad #livewithwonder #GodsgloryinthePNW A photo posted by Alia Joy (@aliajoy) on
But then I have nights like last night.
And today I’ve been gathering the pieces of me. I am rolled up fetal-like in bed, my eyes red and sore. My mind is numb today, a dullness quelled by anti-anxiety medicine and so many hours of sleep.
Nehemiah creeps in to my room quietly, but the rattle of the pieces in the Trouble game he’s carrying shimmy and crash against each other.
“Mama, will you play with me?”
He puts the game beside me on the bed and hoists himself up tucking under the covers. I pop the bubble that juggles the dice and move pieces around the board and silently hope he wins soon and that his victory will take placate him enough that I can crawl back under the blankets.
I am unraveled and raw. Tender and weak in spots like fruit gone soft and spotty, my skin slipping too easily when pushed. And the world never stops pushing.
I want to say I am so much better. I want to say I am returning to writing and that the other medical issues I first took a sabbatical for are wrapped up and tidy. I want to say I loved the time off and I got things sorted and I’m not afraid of what’s to come.
I want to say I can do this. I am ready.
But the reality today is that I don’t know what I can do. I look at this space and I feel incapable of writing anything worthwhile. It feels like gibberish, and the keys feel foreign under my fingers. I have been contemplating shutting the blog down for the past few months. I can’t know if it would be a relief to walk away or a loss. Sometimes it feels like a lifeline and sometimes it feels like a strangling thing. Is this just one more thing I can’t manage to do?
I think about how thankful I am that I can reach out for prayer and I have real life friends around the world who will lift my name to Jesus when I can’t seem to do it myself.
I love that when my mind and flesh are so broken, I belong to a body that holds space for me.
But today, when I wanted to say thank you so much for your prayers last night and don’t worry, everything is fine now, I can’t. Because while I am so thankful for your prayers, I am not fine today. I wasn’t fine last night. I may not be fine tomorrow.
And sometimes you have to be able to come and say, I am unfine. Still.
Maybe there’s grace enough for that but I don’t always have it for myself.
Maybe I forgot that this space wasn’t just a place to come to talk about beauty and grace and wild hope. It was a place to make space. Maybe it’s a space I still need? But mostly these days when things get hard, I just want to run for cover. I want to step away and never come back. I want to say I don’t have to do this anymore. I don’t have to talk about it or even admit that mental illness still rips some days to shreds. That sometimes just making it through the hours is torture.
I want to wait it out until I have something hopeful for you, something light and beautiful. I have flooded my Instagram with good and holy things. I wrangle beauty from my days and place them like altars along the way to remind me of God’s goodness to me. His provision and glory. But I think I’ve been afraid to fully return to this space because the next day might be harsh and cold and empty. And how can I share that again and again?
How can one day be filled with twinkling lights on a Christmas tree and snow falling in billows like a magical dusting of God’s breath and the next I’m retching and sobbing my soul out onto it, scarring it with tears and vomit?
I am a topsy-turvy circus of possibilities and dreams, despair and hopelessness. This is what being bipolar feels like. Like an acrobat stretching your insides out until your toes arch like marble and your fingers strain towards heaven and then suddenly you’re pressed in from all sides and everyone is watching you fall. You’re rounded up, whipped back into your place and caged.
I am contrary. I may squeal with joy and wrestle down so much hope I can’t imagine the world not seeing God pressed in close and whispering His lovesong like a homecoming but I’m juggling worlds and they keep crashing around me. Because the next day my peace is gobbled up and swollen inside of me like a decay in my bones.
I am tremendous gaping need, with hollows so deep the darkness fills my sockets and blocks out all the good things.
Some days good things are so hard to see. I want to say whatever comes, it is well with my soul. But what do we make of souls unwell?
Some days I am still unfine.