Column, Funologist

The garage years: part 5, counseling sessions 5-6

By Sandra Dee Owens

Session 5

I have no memory of counseling session 5.

Session 6

At the end of session 6, the last one my husband and I would attend, the counselor suggested we find a Plan B before winter arrived with us still living in a small garage with two young children and no running water. Then he said, “You know Sandra, if you cannot get your anxiety under control, you might want to consider taking medication.”

By Sandra Dee Owens
“Solo” – oil/ink/acrylic

knew that what he was really saying was he had done all he could — and it wasn’t working.

My husband was right: the counselor could not fix me.

In session 1, a few days after I had suffered a nervous breakdown, the counselor had told me it would likely take at least two years to recover. Apparently, the only thing that would heal me was time.

Though I desperately wanted the intense anxiety and chronic back pain (due to scoliosis) to go away, I feared medication would only add drug dependence to my list of health problems. Medication might have blanketed the pain, but I was determined to solve my health problems, not compound them.

Though I did not realize it at the time, my choice to face this illness without the aid of drugs set me on a path to personal wellness I believe I would not have discovered had I chosen differently.

I thanked the counselor for his care and kindness and left without making another appointment.

I felt alone and untethered from all that was normal, with no idea how to regain my footing on this earth.

School bus squeak

As a mom, I wanted to shield our daughters as best I could from what I was experiencing. What I thought at the time were coping mechanisms (I still do), I found out years later were psychotic breaks.

By Sandra Dee Owens
“Connected” – oil/ink/acrylic

Each morning, I walked our young daughters to the school bus stop under a giant black walnut tree at the corner. Then I returned to our small garage-turned-home where we lived while building a house, and talked.

Day after day, I blurted out the illogical and unreasonable fears overflowing my brain. My husband, leaning against the 2-by-4 kitchen counter, listened in silence. Having unloaded my anguish onto his shoulders, I could carry on with garage life tasks (without running water), and make our handmade jewelry to sell at craft shows, which was our sole source of income. But by midday, the back pain was unbearable and anxiety level so intense that I needed another talk-it-out session before the school bus squeaked to a stop under the walnut tree in the afternoon.

Re-entering the garage with our daughters, their backpacks, and cheerful stories of the day, I felt the walls (16-foot by 24-foot) shrink to a cage. After a quick snack, I hustled us back outside where I could breathe and try to be normal.

At night, after the girls were fed, bathed, read to, and in their homemade bunk beds, I sat on our couch-bed and stared at a spot on the wall behind the woodstove. My mind pulled me into the spot, transporting me from the too-small space of the garage to an even tinier one on the wall.

Weird. Really weird, but somehow, it helped me cope.

It took two and a half years to mostly recover from that nervous breakdown and three years for logic and reason to fully return to me, when I reconnected to the earth and everyone on it.

To learn more about Sandra, visit:

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