I do have a few other posts that I’ve started working on that are a bit less heavy than the previous couple and this one. I’ve started writing my reviews for the Twilight saga, though those will be a little bit longer in coming because I want to reread the series so I’m fresher on the content. And I’ve started a post about how our lives and our influence is like a giant Venn diagram, which ought to be fun – illustrations and all!
But I feel compelled to write about something that happened over the weekend. Something that was scary and painful but ended up okay. Though it’s the first time I think I would say that it ended up okay.
Recently, I’ve begun reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I’m still early into the book, so I can’t speak for the entirety of its contents, but thusfar it has been challenging. It talks about giving thanks for all things, in all things, including small insignificant things. Trying to see the good around us, even when we seem enveloped in the bad.
And that’s where I’m coming from with this post.
Saturday morning, Michael and I got up with no particular plans for the day (until our traditional Cinco de Mayo Action Movie with Paige that evening). It was hot and muggy out, and while we had thought we might stay home and unpack (can you believe we’re still not unpacked?) the veiled sunshine called out possibilities to us. I wore shorts for the first time in two years, he grabbed his camera, and we set off to Williamsport to visit a park that he had found that abuts the Potomac River.
On our way to the park, we made a pit stop at Wal-Mart. I offered to stay in the car to keep the air conditioning running on such a hot day – we’ve been without air conditioning in our house for a few weeks, and neither of us relished the thought of the car warming back up while we were inside. So I made the terrible sacrifice to stay in the cool and wait while he went in the store.
I must have been tired. And he was taking longer than I thought he would. My eyes kept growing heavier and heavier, until…
I was 3 years old, lying in my bed at night. Something must have woken me; I opened my eyes and stared in open-mouthed horror at a ginormous shadow of a hand on the opposite wall by my toy box. It was huge, menacing, growing ever larger and coming towards me. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think – I could only stare in stupefied terror as it came closer and closer, until…
Michael opened the car door, jolting me awake with a small shriek. As he climbed in the car, he saw my face, asked me if I was okay. I was shaking. I couldn’t stop shaking.
That is the first nightmare I ever remember having. I mean, I’ve had nightmares my entire life. But that particular nightmare is one of my very first memories. And while to an awake 25-year-old Dani, it’s not that scary…to 3-year-old Dani, it was terrifying.
We continued to the park, but I was still so shaken. Frustrated with myself for being so shaken. Most of my nightmares now are far worse than this one. Even though it unhinged me as a child, I didn’t understand why 25-year-old me was unhinged. Suddenly, our fun date at the park had turned into a desperate fight for me to hold onto my sanity.
Walked around an old building, taking pictures. I couldn’t smile. There is only one picture of the two of us in which I managed a real smile. We decided to walk over to the shore of the river, maybe walk through the water, skip rocks, try to salvage the happiness of the day. I was struggling.
On the shore, there was so much garbage. Lots of broken glass. That’s all I could think of. It cured me of wanting to walk through the water, lest I fill my feet with shards of glass. But the next thing I knew, Michael’s flip-flops were discarded and he was wading into the water, happy as could be. Something in me snapped, choked. I begged him to come back, to put his shoes back on. All I could envision was his feet full of glass and us unable to take him to a doctor. And my grasp on wholeness of mind was slipping so fast. He stared at me in confusion and frustration, asking me why I was suddenly so up tight. I didn’t know. I just didn’t know. He put his shoes on, came over, wrapped his arms around me, nuzzled into my neck…
And then the worst. A flashback. A panic-attack.
I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know who was touching me. Panic enveloped me, choked out the breath in my lungs. Hyperventilating, dizzying, I remember my hands clenching to claws as I half pushed, half scratched to get away from whoever was touching me. My wrists were gripped suddenly, then released as I stepped back and suddenly lost consciousness of my body. Everything was so dark, then suddenly blindingly bright. I was falling, flailing, weeping, craving death or any sort of release from the all-consuming fear that I simply couldn’t shake. Images, feelings, memories blinded my mind’s eye, overwhelmed me. It felt like my soul was screaming, wrenching, tearing apart, and yet I couldn’t make a sound. Surely death had to be the sweetest release.
“Look at me. Look at me!!”
I was slowly coming back to myself, becoming aware of my body, of my eyes at least. All I could see were his eyes, full of concern but in control. I was still unsure, still reeling, but something in me knew that I could trust him. “Deep breaths, come on.” He took a deep breath, then deliberately pushed it back out. I tried to match his rhythm, tried to calm my heart, tried to stop the out of control spiral. My breathing was still ragged, but coming under my control. The brightness was dimming as my surroundings came into focus. Finally, I recognized the concerned eyes locked on mine. Michael. My Michael. My safe place.
I’ve had many panic attacks in the past six years. Most of them in the dead of night, after a series of gut-wrenching nightmares. It’s always the same. Like my body doesn’t exist. I don’t know how else to describe it. All spirit, all soul, all darkness, then slowly seeing light and returning to myself. Utterly frightening and exhausting, ending with that familiar falling feeling, falling back to reality and then beneath it again to the depths of despair that just long to fall asleep and never, ever wake again. Arms wrapped around myself, trying to find some form of stability while my heart and soul and mind cry out to God to save me from this hell.
But something in Ann Voskamp’s book must have taken root in my mind this time. Something about good happening despite the bad. Something about finding hope in the midst of hopelessness.
Michael’s hands reached out tentatively for my elbows, to steady me. My world was still reeling, but suddenly I could focus. He had hold on me. The familiar longing for death, or to scratch the depths of my pain into my body until the physical pain outstripped the mental pain, all of that was still there. But more than that – there was a realization that I wasn’t alone. As I collapsed into his arms, into the safety and security of his chest and heartbeat, allowing myself to be fully enveloped in his love, I was thankful. A seed of hope sprouted from that root of thankfulness.
One day, the flashbacks will lessen. The triggers will lose some of their power. It will get better. And I don’t have to go through the horror alone. God is never more real to me than after such an episode. Almost…physically there. And in instances like Saturday, when Michael is present, the man who has shown me Christlikeness in a way that no one else ever has, it was like God was there in the flesh.
And I am thankful.