Nightmares. We all have them, right? Well, I want to tell you about two of my nightmares that I couldn’t just wake up from, they were my reality.
The first one started out with me in the bath, unwinding for the day and going about my normal nightly routine; and before I knew it, I was in the middle of a complete panic attack. My brain was telling me things that were not true and taking me to places I didn’t want to go. I felt alone. I was so convinced that I was a bad person and that I was going to Hell. This panic attack made me physically sick. I threw up and I couldn’t eat anything. I ended up in not one residential treatment center, but two. I was diagnosed with bipolar. It wasn’t until several counseling sessions and several medications later, that my brain finally decided that I was not a bad person and I finally started to get better. That was my first nightmare.
Now fast forward 11 years. I am married, have a bachelors degree, have 2 beautiful children, and I am working at a childcare center to put my husband through school so he can finish his Phd. Life was busy! I remember the day it hit me again. I felt really fatigued and anxious that day. I went to the gas station that I always did every morning before work to get a snack for the day. I got what I wanted and went out the door. I looked to the left and saw a man with a grocery bag. It was then that it dawned on me that I forgot to pay for my things. I hurried and ran back in and told the cashier what happened. Thankfully he knew me and wasn’t worried.
I went to work and felt funny the rest of the day. Then the days to follow, fatigue and panic attacks became my best friends, or should I say enemies? I was so tired, it took all the strength I had to get out of bed. But, I did it for my precious little ones. I went to doctor after doctor looking for answers. All kinds of things ran through my mind, do I have cancer, MS, am I going to die? No doctor could find anything, so I, of course was shoved off to mental health professionals. I was diagnosed with everything from depression to bipolar. I was given medication after medication that didn’t work. Counseling was no help either. I kept thinking to myself if I am suffering from a mental illness, then why aren’t these medicines working? I had to have gone through 12 medications or more. I was so fatigued and weary. My spirit was broken. My desire to live was leaving. I ended up in a mental health facility. I didn’t really want to die, I was just so desperate for help, I was pleading, crying out to anyone who would listen to me.
My relationship with my husband was beginning to suffer. I wanted to move closer to family, I felt like that would help me and the situation, but he didn’t see it the same. I found myself getting more angry and bitter by the minute. I felt like if I had cancer or some other physical disease, he would have dropped everything and helped me, but with this invisible illness, he couldn’t see so he didn’t believe.
I continued on despite the panic attacks and fatigue. If you have never had a panic attack, I don’t even know how to describe them to you. You feel like you can’t breathe, you feel as if your heart is going to jump out of your body, and you feel like you are dying. Something must be wrong with my brain I told myself. I thought I needed to get to a neurologist. I saw doctor after doctor and took test after test, with no results or answers. Then, one day I had an appointment with two doctors, a neurologist and an orthopedic. I was seeing them for different issues and concerns, but they both came to the same conclusion the same day (without conferring one another) — I had fibromyalgia. Fibro my what? Apparently, it’s an invisible illness characterized by widespread pain, panic, and a host of other symptoms. But, in order to be officially diagnosed with this, I had to see yet another doctor, a rheumatologist. I needed another referral but was denied (this wasn’t the first time I was denied a referral during this whole process). But I did not give up, I kept hounding my doctor and finally she relented and gave me a referral to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist confirmed my diagnosis of fibromyalgia and sent me to a neuropsychologist. At this point, I had lost my job and couldn’t even work. I needed another referral to see the neuropsychologist, but of course, I didn’t have to fight for this referral, after all, it was a referral to a mental health professional.
The day came to see the neuropsychologist. I left there with tears in my eyes, not wanting to live anymore. The first words out of his mouth were, ” You have kids, and you are on disability?” As if to imply that a mom can’t be disabled and take care of children. My children were well taken care of despite my sickness. Sure, I couldn’t do all I did with them before (which hurt), but we got to watch TV together and snuggle together, and I got to watch my kids play outside and cheer them on from where I was sitting. I got my oldest daughter to school everyday and back home. I took care of my son all day through this illness. Doctors and counselors would ask me, so what keeps you going? My reply to them was that my kids were what kept me going.
Then, in an unexpected turn of events, I took a medication that I had an allergic reaction to. I called my doctor trying to get in, but she was out. Amazingly, another doctor (who I had seen in the past, but had quit and was filling in that day), had agreed to see me. She insisted that I see a sleep doctor and have a sleep test ran. She told me she believed that God gave her a gift to know what is going on with people. So, here came another fight for yet another referral. A lot of begging again, but I got one. Except the only sleep doctor was 2 hours away – we made the drive! It was 3 sleep studies later, one of which I had to sleep with a tube down my throat, that I was diagnosed with upper airway resistance syndrome, a rare form of sleep apnea that some doctors know little about. I was given a Cpap and after about 3 months of wearing it, things seemed to get a little better. Just when I was feeling some hope, I started having problems with my Cpap. It would fall off at night, waking me up more than it would keep me asleep. After a while it was more of a problem, than it was a help. I finally couldn’t do it anymore and stopped wearing the Cpap.
My relationship with my husband was still on the rocks. He would question why I could do certain things, but not work. If he only knew how much energy, strength, and effort it took me to do those things, he would have never questioned me. I had finally had enough and I decided I was going back home to family, and if he choose to follow that was fine, but he didn’t which hurt tremendously.
I got home to Idaho and shortly after, a functional medicine doctor moved into the area. I saw it on the news. I was so excited! Finally, maybe someone who could help me. I called their office right away and made an appointment. Several tests later, he discovered I had a thyroid disorder, which none of the other doctors had found because of the outdated medical protocol they relied on for thyroid testing. I was told my thyroid was basically none. They put me on armour thyroid. It has only been about 6 weeks, but I am finally starting to feel the fog lift. The panic attacks are gone, and the fatigue is lifting, slowly, but it is lifting. There is hope!
I look back at what has happened to me, and I always ask the question, “why?” Why did I have to suffer? Why did I have to experience this? I cried and screamed at God and was so angry. There was so much suffering for something that could be fixed for $2.65 a month. How on earth did I survive? Then it hit me, it was not only because of my children, but because of my faith in my Heavenly Father. Sure, there were times I wanted to give up, times I was angry at Him and pleading with him as the Savior did in the Garden, “Father please, if though wilt let this cup pass from me, but if it be thy will, I shall drink it up.” God knew that these experiences and trials would make me who I am today, and he knew that I would use them to help others and to provide hope and comfort to them.
Is my storm over? No. I don’t think my storm will be over until my life on this earth is over, but I know that without a doubt that my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ and both heavenly and earthly angels will walk with me through this life and that they will never give up on me. Having that knowledge is what gives me hope and comfort for better days to come, in this life and in the next.
There is still such a stigma surrounding mental health because no one wants to talk about their stories, fearful that they will be judged. Am I afraid of being judged? Sure, but I know I am not the only one out there with this kind of story. I want to let those in the middle of their own storm know that there is hope! Keep going. Keep searching. Keep believing.
Written by Chantel Krumenacker.