Forget Not His Benefits (Part 5)

Image

After I came off the Ativan and was headed back in the right direction, I tried not to be too discouraged. Yes, I took a few steps back but progress once again picked up and I was making my way toward healing…even if it meant I was crawling. It was slow…I mean really slow, but I was moving. Some of the things that I tried not to let alarm me were simple every day things I had been doing for years that now I could not do. I could not drive long distances. Shoot, I couldn’t drive short distances. Somebody had to take the kids to school and for the first few weeks it wasn’t me. The first time I was able to take my son to high school after the attack I sat rigid and carefully drove him the quarter mile there and home breathing slowly through my nose with every sense on high alert. I had done it. But that was all I could do that day until it was time to pick kids up after school. I hurried back inside after my drop off and shut the door where I was safe.

It worried me that I was so anxious about leaving my house. Was I going to be that lady now? That lady who never leaves her house. Those were the times I had to remember my anchor in Christ. That my healing was coming. The enemy would creep up and tell me I would never be the same again. He would tell me I wouldn’t function normally and that the vibrant woman I once was, was lost and gone forever. As I heard those thoughts and the fear began to rise I would stop and I would say out loud…shut up. That is a lie. The Bible tells me to forget not my benefits. First of all my benefits in Christ are forgiveness and salvation and secondly He heals all my diseases. So shut up you liar. You are not on my side. Even if my healing is slow or it is when I’m taken home to glory, He still heals all of my diseases.

After awhile of being in my house and leaving only when absolutely necessary I recognized the fight inside of me and the focus to get well. Simply put, I did what I had to do. But I also didn’t over do it. I religiously took my medication and if I had to go to the doctor I called a friend or a family member for a ride. I may not have been able to drive but I was still able to ask for help. My chiropractor could barely adjust me because my muscles were so tight and inflamed but I kept going and every time I saw her I was a little bit better. That was all I needed to hear. I was getting better. I scheduled massage therapy and saw the little bit of progress each time. I was very inflamed and swollen under my skin but I was getting better. If I was going to get better I needed to work at it. I needed to do what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t just take a pill and hope for the best. I needed to make real changes and sacrifices. We all did.

A few weeks after my December attack I was able to take a short walk with my husband and I mean it was short. I walked maybe 2 blocks to my sister-in-laws house to drop something off and by the time we got to the door I was so tense and anxious I’m sure I looked a little bit half crazed when she greeted us. It took everything in me to smile, breathe and be gracious. I felt the air closing in on me and all that I wanted to do was go back to my house and shut the door firm and tight where I would feel safe. We quickly said goodbye and I felt the exhaustion settle in over my body. Two blocks? We had to walk two blocks? I didn’t know if I could make it the two blocks back. I quietly held on to my husband’s arm, breathed carefully through my nose and told him to slow down over and over. I made it back home where I went straight to bed. It wasn’t a very successful outing in my eyes but I had gotten out and I had not been able to even leave my house before that time without extreme difficulty. I didn’t let it discourage me. I told myself that next week would be better.

And that’s the thing. I couldn’t gauge my getting better from morning to dinner or even one day to the next. I had to gauge my better on how I was last Monday compared to this Monday. The progress was painfully slow but graciously consistent. So instead of waking up and expecting to be 100% better I woke up knowing that each day brought me closer and closer to the light. I had to just keep moving in the right direction.

During this time my husband had worried eyes on me. I was finding my new normal and it looked really different then who I was before. Because I couldn’t really do much, I began to have the kids come snuggle in bed with me. We’d listen to music or they would read to me. They brought their stuffies and hid under my covers. Our nighttime routine shifted to me falling asleep with my two youngest and my husband moving them to their beds after it was his turn to turn out the lights. Mom might not be normal but mom was still going to be mom. I made sure I rested on various couches so the older kids would see me leave my bedroom. I had my husband bring up a load of laundry for me to fold. It brought a sense of normalcy to my kids.

One night I lay in bed with my husband and his worried eyes and had a heart to heart over his fears he was having. He loved me. He loved me any way I was but was this the new Niki? Had he lost something so precious to never be found again? I knew in my heart that who I was at the core had not changed. My body had shut down, my muscles were screaming exhaustion at me and yes I was anxious, but I was me to the very marrow of my bones. So I looked at him and said, “Matt, when I search inside of me I still want to travel, I have a love for life, I still want to have adventure and I still want to write. I have the same passions and loves. Picture me with a broken leg. I know it’s hard to do because the brokenness is inside of me. But, just because you have a broken leg doesn’t mean you won’t get up and walk again or play again. Maybe my break is really bad and I’m down for awhile but I’m healing. I know I am. I’m getting better a little every day. My being and my soul have not been lost in this struggle. I’m still me, just wounded.” At this he sighed a big sigh of relief. It was good for me too to reflect and voice my thoughts too. It was going to be okay. It was going to be okay as long as every day I got just a little bit better.

Forget Not His Benefits (Part 4)

Image

Those next few days after Christmas were the worst. I had no idea that an anxiety attack would wreak such havoc on my physical body. It was like every cell in my being had been revved up to its highest ability and now every cell in my body was completely and totally exhausted and needed who knows how long to recover. How could something in my brain be so debilitating to me physically?

Because I had “made it” through Christmas and put my hostess hat on I had a pretty good idea why I had taken my one step forward and ten steps backward. I had been on the Lexapro and Ativan for almost a week now. During this time I had more than one person warn me about the addictive nature of Ativan (which neither doctor who saw me said anything about) so I began to wean off the drug. I knew that it was only masking my symptoms. Although I really, really liked how I felt after taking it (the suffocating feeling was gone), I knew that I could not continue if I were truly to get better. I went down to half doses every eight hours and then half doses twice a day. I could still see I was improving with the weaning so on day eight I took my last dose around lunchtime and I completely stopped the Ativan. I was nervous that was for sure. I had barely made it through “The Croods” that morning (I was due for my last dose in the middle of the movie) and had to breathe through the last 40 minutes while lying on the couch with a kid flanked on either side. If a Disney movie could stress me out (all that action and father/daughter stuff) and put me back in bed for the afternoon then I may be in big trouble the next few days. However, it just didn’t matter. I was going to stop and I was going to make it through it.

That night I went to bed conscious that I was done with the Ativan. I woke up around three o’clock in the morning like usual (one of the side effects of Lexapro can be insomnia). But, I had hope that as my body adjusted my sleep would adjust too. An hour or two later I fell back to sleep but when I woke up again I felt terrible. I had a sick feeling in my stomach like I hadn’t slept in days. My jaw was clenched so tight my head hurt and my teeth chattered for a few minutes after my initial waking. I leaned over to grab my phone to check my text messages and e-mails and there sitting in my inbox was my daily Bible verse. It was Psalm 103:2-4. I began to just glance through it. It isn’t the easiest thing to concentrate when your head is pounding, your jaw is aching and your teeth have a mind of their own. The verse said, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion…”

Forget not His benefits. It hit me hard and the truth of the verse fell all over me. That verse was meant for me right at that moment for my situation. I knew then and there that I had everything I needed to make it through the next days of darkness. I had to take some action and forget not His benefits. His benefits for me are forgiveness, healing and pulling me out of the pit. I had already been forgiven but I needed healing and I needed out of my pit. I was going to forget not His benefits and I was going to praise Him for His perfect timing. Out of all the days in the year my Bible verse on the day I was coming off of the Ativan was this one. What a great, mighty and faithful God I serve.

This verse became my anchor in my hurricane. I was out deep, very deep in my ocean pit. But it didn’t matter how deep I was or how far out I was. I had an anchor I had been given that morning and I had thrown it overboard. The chain was as long as it needed to be. I was positive and absolutely sure that after I threw it out, it went down, down deep into my oceanic abyss and connected with the bottom where it hung firm. I was not going anywhere as the storm raged on because my benefit in Christ was healing. My benefit in Christ was removal from my pit.

I pulled myself out of bed so sick and so weak but I knew I had to eat or I would not have the strength I needed to get through the day. I made my way to the kitchen where I made myself a shake with extra peanut butter and protein powder and a few berries to taste and managed to consume it sprawled on the living room couch. After that I made my way back to my room, lay on my side, breathed through my nose and said over and over that I would forget not His benefits. The tightness was terrifying and my shallow breathing was alarming but I knew that I knew that I knew that my God was not a liar even though I did not feel one bit better.

I made it through the day and watched as each time passed for me to take an Ativan and I stood firm on my decision to not take one more pill. My Lexapro needed weeks to work and I was going to count the days and trust for improvement. I had read a helpful article that anxiety was an emotion. Although it was terrible it wasn’t intolerable. I recognized that what I was experiencing was anxiety. No need to be anxious that it was something else. I had already been checked out at the hospital. My lungs were clear, my heart was fine and my blood work was perfect. I was not going to die. I was going to make it. I was going to forget not His benefits. My mind was on high alert and full of irrational thoughts but the truth of the Word of God kept cutting through again and again and again. I was being tested but I hung on. This test would not last forever.

That night our youngest boy had a small cold and a cough and as I lay in bed awake most of the night my mind terrorized me with anxious thoughts. Was he still alive in his bed? Was it a deadly cold? Was it some mysterious illness and in the morning I would find him dead and I hadn’t checked on him? What kind of mother was I? My anxiety spiked high but I chose to lie in bed. I lay there breathing through my nose and waiting for morning. I would not get up and check on him. He just had a cold. He was fine. I would not bow down to my irrational thoughts. God was bringing my healing. Had he not told me the day before my anxiety attack that my healing was coming? Forget not His benefits. He pulls you out of the pit. My pit was deep but he was pulling me up.

The next morning my darling little boy wandered in with his stuffy nose looking for breakfast and I was relieved, and felt empowered. Victory for me. I know there is a difference between a mother’s instinct and anxiety and I knew the night before wasn’t a check in my heart to go rescue my boy. It was anxiety’s ugly crippling head tormenting me and I didn’t let it beat me. I was not going to forget His benefits. I began talking to my husband about my irrational thinking and he recognized how exhausting it was to talk yourself out of an anxious irrational thought in your head. For someone who doesn’t struggle with anxiety it was eye-opening for him as I explained how the night went with my thinking. I found that voicing my whole thought process was releasing and helpful. I was going to talk more about my fears and not be alone in my prison.

That is how I entered day two of coming off the Ativan. I woke up pretty much the same way with teeth chattering and the sickness you feel when you are so tired and have not slept nearly enough. However, this time my teeth ached too. My mouth was so sensitive and the thought of eating any food made my stomach roll but eat I must. I got myself out of bed and did my routine of getting a shake again. It was so much work to walk down the stairs, get everything out and make that shake but I needed to do it so I did. Then back to bed to make it through day two. The ironic thing about coming off Ativan is you have anxiety. So, as I went off medication that helped with my anxiety I felt more anxious. This was a wicked, vicious cycle that made me more and more grateful that I had an anchor in my storm.

Day three I woke up (after very little sleep) and felt a tiny bit better. It was tiny, but it was better. My stomach still lurched and my teeth still chattered but they didn’t chatter as long. I noticed the little change and that little change helped me hang on. I continued to practice breathing through my nose and taking deep breaths into my belly and holding them to relax my body. The next day was the same with a tiny bit of improvement and the next day was even better. I still couldn’t wait to take my Lexapro at eight o’clock at night. Some of my worst times were in the morning when I woke up and the hour or two before my next medication dose at night but I recognized those times and did things to cope. I rested in my bed, I prayed, I breathed and I listened to a lot of worship music. It calmed me and helped me remember all the promises I have in Christ. By day six I felt like I was over the worse of the withdrawal. I had been sleeping better and the teeth chattering was mostly gone. Every day I got about 1% better, and that was 1% better than the day before, which meant I was heading in the right direction. Sometimes in the storm that is all that really matters, that you are moving in the right direction. The direction that takes you out of the storm. But after this storm would I ever be the same? I didn’t know so I hung on to my anchor, closed my eyes and waited for my rescue.

Forget Not His Benefits (Part 3)

Image

As I lay on the examining table on my side I might as well have been laying on the edge of a cliff. Teetering. One gust of wind and I would have toppled over. I stared at the wall as the doctor came in and offered me something to help me feel better. Yes, yes I wanted something. She was very firm with me when offering me an Ativan shot. It was a strong drug. I didn’t really care what they were giving me or how they would administer it I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t going to roll off the cliff anymore. I had been on the brink and was coming back to safety but I had no idea what to expect next so anything to help me roll farther away from that edge was something I was going to take.

The nurse came in and prepped me for a shot in my right hip. I didn’t even feel the prick. She couldn’t give it to me though because she aspirated blood and told me that if she had given me the shot it could have killed me. She had never, ever had a patient aspirate when she gave this shot. I told her that now she could really remember me but in the back of my mind I wondered if it wasn’t God telling me that maybe the shot wasn’t such a good idea. I slowly rolled over on to my other side and this time she was able to give me the shot. After about 20 minutes I thought I felt better but honestly I was so wiped out it was hard to tell.

They moved me into a wheel chair where I sat slumped. It was just at that time that my husband came into the room. I am sure he did not expect to see me in the state that I was in which was: a completely railroaded wife. He hid it well though; I have to give him that. He and a family member gently wheeled me out of the room and out into the waiting area past watching eyes. Everybody looked at me and I just looked back. I was too tired to care. My husband wheeled me out to the car and with the help of two people I was able to sit in the front seat. Then we headed for home. I only had an hour until the doctor appointment I had scheduled that morning and the hospital doctor strongly urged I keep that appointment. The shot wouldn’t last forever. She was only able to prescribe a few days of Ativan pills for me and it was my responsibility to follow-up with my doctor.

We arrived home to all of my children waiting for me in the front room. I really didn’t want to wade through them and scare them but the younger ones especially just saw me as really sick and were glad I was home. My family helped me back to my bedroom and deposited me in the bed. I could hear grandma take charge of dinner in the kitchen. As I sank into my mattress, my seventeen year old son gingerly opened my door and hesitantly walked in. In the best way he knew how, he tactfully asked if I was going to be okay or what? I smiled and told him that yes, I would be okay but it might be a little bit and he didn’t need to worry. Relief flooded his face and he left me to myself after that.

It seemed like I had just laid down and my husband was urging me back up to go to the doctor. I knew I had to go but I did not have much strength. I also knew I looked a fright. My long hair was hanging stringy around my face and haggard wouldn’t even describe the condition of my being. We arrived at the doctor and were ushered back to a humorous and outspoken man. He had just looked me up in the computer health system and saw what I had just been through down the hill at the hospital. He rambled on about how he was on anti-depressants because his wife was going through cancer, etc. I’m sure he told me way more than appropriate for a patient/doctor relationship. He prescribed me Lexapro, an anti-anxiety medication and took one look at my prescription for Ativan and doubled it for ten days instead of five. He also was annoyed with the hospital doctor who signed the original prescription in the wrong place. I would have never been able to fill it. Was that another sign to stay away from Ativan?

We left the office promising to come back in two weeks and swung by the pharmacy to drop off my prescription. Then it was back to bed for me and the only thing I could think was that I still didn’t know what had happened to me and I was sure glad grandma had brought KFC for dinner.

A couple hours later I sat up in bed and called for my husband. Where was my medication? I could feel the darkness returning. The frenzy in my lungs and heart were crawling back and drawing me to the edge of the cliff once again. He rushed into the room and I took my Lexapro and then an Ativan. I lay there breathing and waiting for my body to relax. It finally did and my rolling toward the cliff ceased. Another attack had been averted. Was I going to have to take this medication forever? I only had ten days of it and in my mind as I accessed my now unfamiliar body there was no way I was going to be ready to be pill free by then. This is how I lived during the next days. I lived by my pills. As they wore off my body would begin to crawl toward the cliff again only to be yanked back by the pill. I watched the clock. I was not, absolutely not going to fall again.

Somebody took my kids to school and picked them up. People brought dinner and my husband managed to work full-time and care for all the kids. I laid in my bed. I couldn’t do anything else. Showering for me was painful. If I did shower it was the only thing I could do that day. Being in an enclosed place with water rushing over my head caused my anxiety to rocket through the roof. It was hard to lift my arms I was so bone weary and by the time I had finished I was completely done for the day. I could not eat anything. The smell of food made me want to vomit so I had to drag myself into the kitchen to make protein shakes. I literally gagged them down. If I didn’t eat, I felt terrible and eating was an extremely difficult chore but worth the results which were less shakiness and less nausea. Within three days I had probably shed ten pounds from the stress.

I knew from the doctor that it would take 4-6 weeks for the Lexapro to really work. That seemed like a lifetime. By now we were coming up on Christmas. The kids were home from school for Christmas Break. It had been five days since my anxiety attack. I mostly stayed in bed but for the sake of my family I would lie on the couch sometimes. I was feeling about two percent better and I wanted them to see my improvement. During this time I wasn’t able to read or watch television. It took all of my energy to focus on my breathing and to battle my mind. My mind was at war and I was one weary warrior.

By the end of the weak I was able to wean off the Ativan. I moved to taking 1/2 a pill during the day and a full pill in the morning and at night. Ativan is a strong sedative and for the first time in nine months I no longer had tightness in my chest. The Ativan gave me a brief respite. The tightness returned when the drug wore off and during that hour or so before I was due for the next dose I had to lie in bed and breathe counting the minutes until I could take my next pill. I was totally immobilized during that time, concentrating on warding off an attack.

The good and bad thing about the Ativan was I could function on it. I was grateful for that because we were coming up on the holidays. Somewhere deep in my soul however, I knew it was just masking the symptoms. All I could see though was that I had both Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day dinner at my house coming up. Of course I didn’t cancel these events. A full blown anxiety attack didn’t seem to be enough of a warning to slow down. Between prayer, frequent rests and Ativan it was the only thing that helped me make it through those two days…which looking back was a big mistake. Not the prayer, the Ativan and pushing through. Pushing through is partly what put me in the hospital in the first place. I don’t know why I didn’t learn my lesson the first time regarding over doing it, but by the end of Christmas Day after the last people had left I literally raced (in my state) to my room, frantically took my medication and huddled in my bed full of fear in a fetal position praying that the cliff would not claim me and knowing that it just might.

Forget Not His Benefits (Part 2)

Image

The day I landed in the hospital I had no idea I would be there. I woke up that morning and I knew I wasn’t feeling 100% but that wasn’t new. I had promised a friend I would help them take a load of garbage to the dump and I just couldn’t go back on my promise. After I dropped the kids off at school I began to feel woozy. I attributed it to not having eaten that morning so I stopped off at the local grocery store and bought some orange juice and nuts. Protein and a little pick me up. As I sat in the car my hands began to shake so I drank half of the orange juice and started in on the nuts. Immediately my mouth was like cotton and the food was like sawdust. Washing down the dry substance in my dry throat with the rest of the orange juice an alarm went off in my head. What was going on? This was not mynormal body behavior. I called my doctor to make an appointment and found out they couldn’t get me in until four o’clock that day. That was fine. I had a friend to move anyway. I drove over to her house and sat in the car feeling foggy, and the shaking seemed to worsen. As I got out of the car and walked into her house I just looked at her and said, “I don’t feel very good.” Immediately she sat me down on her steps and pointed out that I was shaking. I informed her that I had an appointment later to which she replied, “Oh hell no, you are going to the doctor now and I am driving.”

We got on the road and the trip down the hill was a quiet blur. I could feel myself descending down, down, down somewhere but I didn’t know where. My body was literally shutting down. Wisely my friend brought me to the main urgent care and as I made my way into the waiting room I leaned on the counter, looked the receptionist in the eye and said, “I can’t breathe really well and I have tightness in my chest and I think I’m going to pass out.” She ordered me to sit and a nurse brought a wheel chair out to take me back. As I lay on the bed I fell further and further down my hole. My blood pressure was sky high and I couldn’t stop shaking. I was shaking all over. My pulse was racing and my breathing was accelerated. I couldn’t stop from going down that scary road. Immediately my mind went to my husband and to my children. I couldn’t die now. I had too much to do. But whatever was happening to my body I had no control over and I surrendered to my weakness knowing there was nothing I could do to stop the decent.

A nurse took my vital signs every few minutes and I could tell she was relieved that my blood pressure was going down. A doctor came in and talked about the testing that needed to be done to rule out a pulmonary embolism. She informed me that if that was the problem I’d have to move to the ER and did I still want to stay at this facility. It would cost me extra money to move me. What? Was she crazy? I could barely move and I was still tumbling down the rabbit hole. I thought she was probably the craziest and least compassionate doctor I had ever met but I really didn’t care because at that moment I just might be dying. I told her no I wanted to stay so they started on all the testing.

First they had me give a urine sample to prove I wasn’t pregnant. As if I could be. I know there are laws but I have six adopted children to prove I wasn’t pregnant. So with monumental effort and help from my friend I slowly headed over to the bathroom to prove my point. When it came back negative I just smiled inside. Victory for me! Next they had me go downstairs for a chest x-ray. Yes. Downstairs. I shuffled out of my curtained room past the waiting room into the main entrance to an elevator where I shuffled to the receptionist in the x-ray room who then had me take a seat. I’m surprised I didn’t just pass out then and there. They called me back quickly and I stood and hung onto the machine with almost all of my body weight pulling me down while they took my chest pictures. Then it was back out of the x-ray room and into the elevator back through the main entrance and waiting room of the urgent care. When I made it to the hall to go back to my room I stopped abruptly and felt the whole world go black. My friend grabbed my arm and the nurse raced to my side with a wheelchair. As I sat down I thought, “My that wheel chair would have been nice for my recent hospital tour.”

Wheeling me back into my room I could not get out of my wheel chair. “Please, just let me sit here.” I said to the nurse. She complied and took my vitals while I sat slumped over. About ten minutes later I was feeling worse and asked for the nurse. I asked her to check me again so she did. The doctor came in and reassured me my vitals were ok. After that, because I had dropped another notch down my hole, I asked them to please help me lie on the examining table. Maybe lying down would help? I asked my friend to put on my worship music on my phone knowing that in the past during times of great distress, it helped me focus on my hope and not my problem.

After that my friend had to leave so a family member came to sit with me and as I lay on the table, still descending, I wondered again what was happening to me. By this time I could not move. It was like I was paralyzed and I could feel the heat rushing through my body. My face was flushed and the whole of me was tingly like it had fallen asleep and was just waking up. Like a foot you had sat funny on and was just coming back to life. It terrified me. Why couldn’t I move?

The doctor came back in and said that my lungs were clear and my vitals were normal. What? What do you mean my lungs are clear? I. Can’t. Breathe. She said they would do one more test. An EKG to check my heart but she was pretty sure she knew what was happening to me. I was having what was known as an anxiety attack. My mind raced as I processed that information. Anxiety attack? The doctor asked if this was my first one. Through clenched, chattering teeth while on the verge of hyperventilating I said that I had never had one before. It took every effort for me to speak. It was forced air through my mouth and as I answered her questions the heat in my body rose and the tingling intensified. Were there any big changes in my life? “Yes.” I told her. “We…just…moved…” Was it a good move? She asked. “Yes.” Now the tears slid out of eyes. “I’ve…had…a…few…hard…years. Family…stuff.” I said. Then I was done. I couldn’t say anything else I was so upset.

After the doctor left the room a compassionate young nurse came in to hook me up to check my heart. She was swift and silent. In the dark room my worship music washed over me, speaking hope in a very dark time. He was good. He was my hope. He was my light. The nurse thanked me for the music and how nice it was to come into my room. It was only a few minutes later that the doctor came in to tell me that absolutely everything was normal and this was most definitely an anxiety attack. I was not going to die. I could feel my body begin to relax and the heat started to flow out of my body. The tingling lessened and my breathing became more normal. The red stain that had crawled up my neck and illuminated my face began to fade. Her telling me that my vital signs were normal helped the attack begin to pass and as I lay on my side feeling limp, wiped out like I had just run a marathon, I stared at the wall and wondered what was next.

Forget Not His Benefits (Part 1)

Image

We arrived in Denver at a fairly decent time of day. The kids were unhappy because there wasn’t a whole lot of snow for March but I was just glad we had landed. It was me and five boys driving the five day trip from the Lone Star State of Texas to the Evergreen State of Washington and I was ready for a little layover with family. It was our second long day on the road and this mama needed a rest. Listing our house, packing, loading up and moving out of Dallas, Texas had taken a little bit of the starch out of me. I knew we were doing the right thing. That God was bringing us back “home”. My husband had been offered his dream job in his hometown with the right salary and a moving package that took care of every detail. It had never occurred to him that we would actually get to live in the small city he grew up in because his job is very specialized, which lends itself to big city living. However, that was exactly what was happening. It was time to come home to family. It was just simply time to come home.

We spent the night with my brother Cid and his family. We woke up to a glorious snow cover. The kids were beside themselves and spent hours sledding down a local park hill with their cousins. I had begun to feel a tightness in my chest and wasn’t at all surprised. My brother has a dog (Lily the lab) who liked to shed all over me and with my highly allergic self it wasn’t unusual for my asthma to kick in around certain animals. I took my inhaler, got a good night’s sleep, reluctantly said goodbye to my brother and his family then loaded up the kids and headed out across Wyoming. The trip was beautiful. It was a sunny day and we couldn’t even count the number of antelope we saw. My oldest son Luis even spotted a real life cowboy checking a fence. I about drove off the road for that one. I had never seen a real cowboy in action, even though I had just lived in Texas for seven years. We stopped at an off-the-freeway gas station where Luis was even more surprised to see a truck idling with the keys in it totally unlocked. He stared and stared and made me look at the craziness of the situation. I smiled at him and informed him that we weren’t in Dallas anymore. He agreed wholeheartedly and relayed to me that in Dallas that truck would have been gone. Yes, but not in small town in Wyoming I told him. During the day as I was driving I felt the same tightness in my chest but shrugged it off. Maybe Lily the dog’s hair had followed me in the van. That was more than likely since there were six of us crammed into our over loaded vehicle.

We arrived in Montana for the night and left early the next morning for the last leg of our trip to Spokane, Washington. Not at all surprising that the last three hours of our adventure were a little bit challenging. The kids and I had been on the road for five days. The bright spot on that last day was eating in Butte, Montana which they incessantly called “Butt” after that. They took great pleasure in eating at “Butt”. I only screamed at them once going over Fourth of July pass and finally after what seemed like days rather than hours, we pulled into my mother-in-law’s driveway. I was done. I wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and cry. Why had we ever uprooted from Dallas and come home? I was tired, I hadn’t seen our rental, I had boy chatter in my head from four days of driving in the car, my asthma was bothering me and I knew we would be on an air mattress in our rental for the night. I had forgotten how much I loathed moving. I greeted my mother-in-law and looked into my husband’s eyes. He knew I wasn’t doing well. He can read me like a book.

After a few minutes of hugging and visiting and me trying to cover up my despondency we headed over to the rental house. It wasn’t anything what I expected. The carpets were old and dirty (and I think original) and I could see scratch marks from some type of dog. There were a few updates and a nice big back yard but the dishwasher was broken and the curtains were from 1972. Now I really wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and cry. Instead I plopped down on the stairs and reminded myself what a blessing our new temporary home was. It had six bedrooms to house us all, close proximity to the schools of our choice, walking distance from family and extremely low rent. I knew God had set us in that rental but after two weeks in Dallas without my husband and a five day road trip up north with five boys by myself I was having a hard time not laying face down on the floor and putting on a kicking and screaming show to rival any of my kids.

It wasn’t long before we had the van unloaded and had set up temporary beds for us all. Friends from the area drove over and stayed the night to help us move in the next day. It was a balm to my soul to hug and connect with people I had known for over 20 years. I knew so much good would come of this move.

I awoke the next morning with more tightness in my chest. I sauntered down the hall and sat on the stairs again like I had did the day before and I assessed how I was doing. Not very well. I looked around at the evidence of pets (we had asked if they had any and the answer was one very small hypo allergenic dog) and I knew that there had to have been more of a history of animal in the house than that. Frustrated that I had landed in a dander bed of allergies I took my inhaler and moved on for the day. There was a lot to do with the moving van showing up. Although I felt discouraged I pressed on like I always did. It was what it was. A mom was never off duty.

After a month or two of settling in I was worried, frustrated and annoyed with my health. How had someone who had been running 5 miles a day and had no asthma symptoms before the move be so flared up? During those first couple of months I visited several different doctors (who put me on inhaled and oral steroids along with albuterol) whose treatment had not made me feel any different. Maybe it was the spring pollen? I’d have good days and bad days and really it was mostly bad days. Needless to say I wasn’t doing much better. After visiting the allergist I was put on a nasal steroid, an inhaled steroid and albuterol for whenever I needed it. There conclusion was it must be environmental. The house I was living in was making me sick. All of these appointments left me puzzled. I was barking up the asthma tree but some things didn’t add up. I could run fine with the tightness in my chest which seemed so odd to me with unchecked asthma. I was sleeping through the night (no asthmatic cough was waking me up). Like a switch had been turned on I had become sick on my move to Washington and had never gotten better. I had never had to be on anything to manage my asthma except an occasional rescue inhaler which I used very few and far between. I had lived in this area before for 13 years prior to Texas and never had any problems. The confusion I was having over the state of my health left me in a struggle I did not expect. This was supposed to be a good move up to Washington right?

I went through summer battling the tightness in my chest. It never went away. It was like a small dog was sitting on me at all times. The only time I felt okay was after I fell asleep and the few minutes upon waking. I could breathe free and clear and my heart would rejoice…only to have the tightness return within the hour. I went back to the doctors who gave me a peak flow meter to check my breath flow and administered a nebulizer to open up my chest.

At the end of summer we went on vacation to Oregon where by the very end of the trip I felt so terrible I took the radical step to eat vegan in hopes that changing my diet would offer me relief. Was it a food allergy that was making me so sick? My only known food allergy was shellfish. Maybe the test was wrong. For the next few months I tinkered with my diet. I cut out dairy, I cut out gluten, I cut out soy…then I added it back in. I took natural antihistamines and I took OTC antihistamines. Nothing helped alleviate the tightness in my chest. Why was my asthma so bad? Was it a food allergy? Animal allergy? I could only conclude that the house I was living in was a hotbed of allergies and until we moved out I would not get better. But why was I so sick in Oregon in a pet free home if that were true? We began looking for houses even though we didn’t have the money yet and every house we were interested in didn’t work out one way or the other. God? Why are you keeping me in this house? I am so sick! To add to the difficulty people couldn’t see how sick I was. Tightness in your chest and trouble breathing aren’t really visible health problems. Even my husband and children could not understand the extent of my suffering. Every day I walked in fear and had to reign in my thoughts. Would I be this way the rest of my life?

As we rolled through Thanksgiving and into December everyone was getting sick with cold and viruses. It was just that time of year. I worked hard keeping my house running on the little energy and breath support I had. Christmas was only weeks away so shopping had to be done and the fullness of the season was upon us. At about the second week of December I contracted the virus and my tightness was so bad I went in to see another doctor who prescribed a strong dose of oral steroid for my asthma and encouraged my use of my nebulizer as I needed it. For the next few days around the clock every four hours I faithfully used my nebulizer and took my steroid with no improvement. Was anything going to make me feel better? Why wasn’t my asthma responding to the treatment? Why couldn’t I just breathe again? I helped some friends move that weekend because I felt a “little” better but had to sit down a few times to rest. That wasn’t me, was it? I had endless energy! That Sunday as I sat in church because I could not stand and I heard the Lord speak firmly to my spirit that my healing was coming. I knew it was God. I just knew that I knew in my heart of hearts that I had heard from him. He was going to heal me like that! He was going to set me free! The next day I was in the hospital.