when we least expect it
A true story today.
She was returning from her weekly therapy session for her youngest child, Matthew (not his real name). Matthew was born with Down Syndrome. She educates all who need it, “It’s Down Syndrome without a “s”. He is not a “Down’s kid” either.” She gets furious with the “r” word.
Matthew is eighteen months old and still is not crawling. His older brother is only three. She works full-time, takes him to therapy twice a week (only one is covered by insurance) and has recently signed up for a sign language class. She hasn’t missed a beat since he was born but she would also tell you it took awhile before she embraced this new challenge.
Matthew has changed her life…..in ways only a few people know. As a teen-ager, Jennifer (not her real name either) suffered from anorexia, depression and severe anxiety attacks. Anyone that knew her couldn’t understand why. She was pretty, extremely intelligent, and everyone who met her loved her. So how could she suffer so?
As my readers know, this blog will often feature posts about depression. I’m not a doctor but I’ve done my research plus I’ve lived it. I’ve come out the other side and am completing a book about the tools I developed in my own recovery process. So it was never hard for me to understand how Jennifer could suffer from depression. My research had shown that depression is no respecter of persons.
Jennifer had already come a long way as a result of the birth of her first child. His birth after ten years of marriage had been the result of getting to the place where she was strong enough to quit taking anti-depressants so she could try to become pregnant. Her courage was something to see. Her happiness overshadowed any lingering depression and she embraced motherhood as if she’d been given a gift no one else had ever received. But when Matthew was born, the few that knew her history worried-would she revert to previous coping patterns? Everyone was cheering her on, silently and in their prayers.
Who knows what she went through during those early weeks. What mind gymnastics she had to employ to keep her mental feet solidly planted. What prayers she prayed. Only Jennifer knew how she resolved to keep her anxiety at bay at a time when experts would’ve predicted a free fall. But she did. And everyone that knew her breathed a collective sigh.
She stopped at the stop sign, slowly applying the brakes as the winter storm was getting worse. A sudden bump. She tightened her grip on the wheel and held her breath. No sliding into traffic. Her heart resumed its beating. It was just the one bump. She quickly turned to check on Matthew. He was playing with his toy and smiling with that smile that melted every heart that saw it. He was fine. Hadn’t noticed a thing. She could feel the beats of her heart in her throat. Her stomach was churning. She was afraid, for the first time in years. Her car showed no damage. Her and Matthew were fine. So why did she continue to shake so?
She drove home carefully, every nerve in her body on high alert. She carried Matthew in the house, fixed dinner and then succumbed to the fear that was enveloping her. That was when she called me. She told me she was terrified that her anxiety attacks were returning. I listened as she shared her fears. I reminded her she wasn’t the same insecure young woman she once was. I reminded her how hard she’d worked to overcome her anxiety and depression. She had fought her demons and won the battle. She had a great husband, two wonderful boys and all in all a great life. The accident was like an exclamation point on the last year and a half. Matthew’s diagnosis, the accident that she knew could have been much worse, the physical fatigue, all melded together producing one major anxiety attack. We talked about some coping strategies. In a few hours, she forgot all about her fear.
The reason for today’s post is this: depression/anxiety can try to deal us a blow when we least expect it. In can take a single anxiety attack, no matter how justified, and propel us into a state of panic. “Oh, no, our depression is returning”. Like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we run in circles, wringing our hands and moaning, “What to do? what to do?” That’s the hideous nature of depression. It can creep up on us insidiously or can jump out from the shadows.
Jennifer had learned over the years that if she practiced certain coping skills, the ones that worked the best for her, and if she implemented them immediately, she could quickly turn it around. She faced her enemy head on and gave it no space in her mind or her life. She got busy with her wonderful little “men” and soon fear was no more her nemesis.
This really happened, yesterday in fact, and Jennifer and her story are real. If she can win her battle after a lifetime of being a wounded soldier, so can you.