By Sandra Dee Owens
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part in a series of The Funologist’s stories called “The Garage Years.” This column is published the first edition of each month. For previous parts visit: mountaintimes.info/category/column/funologist. Part 5 of this series will be published Nov. 3.
I had had expectations.
Expectations that my husband and I could quickly rebuild a house on the same spot where the charred remains of a burnt-down house lay in heaps.
Heaps that took us two years to clear away by hand.
I had had expectations that my husband knew how to build a house. He did not.
Expectations that we could achieve our goal with no financial means to hire help, buy material or tools needed to build a house.
Expectations that raising two young children in a small, old garage with no running water or plumbing, while in chronic back pain, was something I could keep doing.
I think it was the word “quickly” that did me in. We lived in the garage for 8 1/2 years.
Session #4: Not going to fix you
At the four-year mark of living in the garage, the stress became too much for me, and I suffered a nervous breakdown.
I was grateful that my husband accompanied me to the weekly, one-hour counseling sessions at our local mental health office.
I looked forward to the sessions. Though emotionally draining, they felt like a date.
A date with talking. (Talking is not my husband’s favorite language.)
The sessions revealed that I was suffering from a high level of anxiety due to our challenging living situation and relentless back pain. In the first of the six sessions we attended, I was told that it typically takes at least two years to recover from a nervous breakdown.
I was 29 years old and had had no history of anxiety. I was unaware that unchecked, long-term anxiety could be so destructive.
Committed to recovery without the aid of drugs, I experienced the full force of the anguish of mental illness — for nearly three years.
But there is much to be gained in the hard things, and education — no matter how it is gained — always costs something.
I gained more than I lost.
The counseling sessions gave me a momentary release from the intensity of anxiety.
I experienced firsthand how fear grows in the dark and diminishes in the light.
Opening my mouth and speaking out the fear-based thoughts and words, diminished their power over me — temporarily.
As swerving a bicycle side to side while going up steep hills allows muscles a moment of rest, talking released just enough anxiety, to keep going.
Hearing my words bounce off the neutral ears of the counselor, gave me valuable perspective.
If my words sounded anxiety-crazed to my ears, I could hear it … and try to let them go.
As logic and reason had left me (they returned nearly three years later, the little buggers), I relied on them being intact with those around me.
Driving home after the fourth session, I touted the wonders of going to a counselor. I was rapid-fire talking, a signature of anxiety-laced speech.
My husband, driving silently, stared straight ahead. Finally, exhausted by my speed, I shut up.
“If you think this man is going to fix you, you’re wrong,” my husband said in a dead flat voice. “He cannot fix you.”
I hated him for the rest of the day. I hated his harsh, raw, honesty, the absence of cooing, pampering, or babying. I hated this crushing statement that I would now have to face. I hated that he might be right. I had expectations, of someone else fixing me.
It was a winter Sunday. I had been losing weight and I did not need to, as my stomach churned with the acids of anxiety. Apparently, I manifest stress in my stomach.
Sleep had abandoned me. So each night, as my family slept, I slipped out of the garage and dragging my heavy boots up and down our rural road, I stopped under the street lights, leaned over the snowbanks, and vomited.
Shaken and clammy, I scooped mittens full of fresh snow to bathe my face in—then walked on. An aimless companion of the dark.
Can I be this sick?
I was so physically ill, that I was certain a disease was growing in my stomach. I imagined the worst.
Though our local clinic was closed on the weekends, they offered an on-call doctor for emergencies. My husband drove me to the clinic.
After a brief exam, the doctor said, “Hmmm,” then stood back and began asking about my stress level. I wonder what tipped him off? My ashen skin color, or the sunken, bloodshot eyes?
“Yes,” I admitted, my anxiety level was high. I told him I was seeing a counselor who gave me a diagnosis of a nervous breakdown … but surely, this could not be connected?
I was so sick!
“I have seen stress and anxiety make people really really sick,” he said quietly.
“Wait, are you telling me I can be this sick, and it’s in my head,?” I cried in the highest pitch of disbelief.
It was inconceivable that my mind—could make my body that sick.
On the drive home I pondered this new-to-me thought and felt a tiny spark of hope. If it was true, then I did not need surgery, drugs, or others to fix me.
Maybe, I could do something about it myself. Maybe, I was meant to do it myself.
My husband was right, the counselor could not fix me. Just as the doctors could not fix my back. But maybe I could.
And now, I just needed to find out how.
For more information, visit: sandradeeowens.com.