My eyes are shut and the headphones I’m wearing are sending buzzing tones to my ears. Each side is taking its turn in a tag team fashion … left, right, left, right, left right. In my hands I hold two sensors. They send corresponding vibrations and are apparently in cahoots with the headphones, because they too are dancing back and forth … left, right, left, right, left, right. It seems to make my eyes flicker and is supposed to do something to my brain. Rework, rewire, or redistribute my thoughts I guess … I’m actually not quite sure what exactly it does, but I have heard from good authority it helps with trauma.
I’m asked to go back to a very painful memory.
I relive a diagnosis and a room where my life changed forever. I see the tech remove her gloves and walk out of our room. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I see my husband trying hard to hide his panic. Then images of the next months start to flash before me, as if in a sped up slideshow … the doctor with kind eyes looking down at me saying, “Your son is going to die” … standing in the shower holding my belly and screaming in agony … falling to my knees and sobbing on the living room floor … dancing in the kitchen surrounded by my husband’s embrace … early mornings sitting in a ball on the couch with my Bible by my side as tears stream down my cheeks. In those scenes I am praying and begging God for a miracle. Next scene comes and I am at work fumbling for keys with shaking hands. This is where my water broke and with it all hope I had been so desperately holding on to. A hospital room. So many doctors. Laying in a bed, looking up at my sister and husband and noticing their glistening eyes and clenched jaws. Everything is crumbling. Finally, I see my son. He is as beautiful as I remember and he is wiggling. Moments later, he is no longer moving. He has gone from our arms to the arms of his creator. A bruise emerges on his chest where the nurse pushed to listen for his heart. Next scene emerges and I am walking behind my husband as he carries a tiny casket. A deep hole I’m jealous of because it gets to hold my son. Amazing grace. Doves. The horrific sound of a truck load of dirt collapsing on the place where we just put him. Dead flowers with muted colors now cover his grave. I drape my body over where I days earlier laid his and sob. My world has shattered, and the world around me is still spinning unfazed and at a relentless speed.
Then it goes dark …
Tears spill from my eyes and I hold my breath trying to fight the release of emotion. Refusing to give in, I squeeze my eyes even tighter and cover my face with my hands. The effort is futile as I am drenched from head to toe in a heavy sorrow. I succumb and the tears flow freely. I pull the headphones off my ears, drop the sensors in my lap and look up at another set of kind eyes.
“Tell me what you saw…”
Those kind eyes belong to my counselor. She is trying a process known as EMDR on me, because something has to give and I refuse to continue living in this place much longer. Logan died nearly seven years ago, but I still have wounds. The ones you are thinking of are obvious and I assure you, will never leave me. My heart will be broken and incomplete for the rest of my days on this side of Heaven. I know that and am learning to accept and tolerate the feeling (well, most of the time at least). The wound in particular I am working on is a very ugly byproduct of the trauma I endured many summers ago. It still plagues me and somehow continues to grow bigger and more deeply rooted with each passing year.
No one ever told me grief manifested in ways other than sadness. Fear, anger, anxiety, depression … the list goes on and on. I had to learn it on my own unfortunately. It started off small … a tiny seed that found a great environment for growth right in the core of me. I didn’t know it was there, but nevertheless, it started to take ahold of me. It was watered by sorrow, fear, exhaustion, and the work environment I had to face everyday. I was feeding a monster and slowly a prison was being constructed around me.
My first anxiety attack happened at work while cutting the hair of a new client. Out of nowhere, the pace of my heart began to quicken. Within moments the beats were pulsating through my entire body and taking over all my ears could hear. I started to feel a flutter in my stomach, and no not the good flutter you are thinking of, but the one that makes you nauseous and cuts your breath short. A heat began to crawl up my neck and eventually consumed my face. That’s when the shakes started. It began low in my legs and quickly made it’s way up though my body and out my hands. I thought I was having a heart attack. I excused myself and ran to the break room, not understanding what was causing the very aggressive assault. It took me some time, but I eventually figured it out.
For weeks I had started to dread new clients in my chair. There were too many questions. Too much small talk. All innocent and well meaning, unless you had just buried a child. I would slap a big and welcoming smile on my face, but on the inside was pleading, “Please don’t ask, please don’t ask.” And then inevitably … they would.
“Do you have any kids?”
The tension surrounding me was palpable. Those in earshot would bristle and grimace, as they waited to see how I was going to field the question - yet again. Every time I stumbled.
Do I say yes? Do I say no? I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, but if I lie am I doing my son a disservice? Dishonoring him? I don’t want to talk about it, but feel like I must. Forget it, I’m just gonna say no this time ….
“No I don’t, do you?”
Nice job Jamie. Way to pretend like he didn’t even exist, so that you could avoid an awkward moment. If you lost a parent would you deny their existence too? You failed. You let him down. You are a terrible mother and Logan is so disappointed in you.
The next time around I would try the other route …
“Well, I have a son but he died shortly after birth.” Instantly, a once casual and surface level conversation turns heavy and difficult.
Awesome Jamie. Now you scared them. Now you are going to have to watch them squirm and see how fast they can change the subject -or- answer all the questions they are going to ask without shedding a tear. Why do you feel the need to share him? The girls you work with are going to get tired of you always bringing up your dead kid. This client doesn’t want to hear it either. It’s ok. Just act like you are fine and redirect the conversation.
This back and fourth struggle became part of my daily routine. I so badly wanted to work in a cubicle. A cubicle wouldn’t ask me questions. But I didn’t. My work had slowly turned into a battleground. It was fully in my mind and invisible to those around me, but was slowly taking me apart one piece at a time.
As months continued that little seed was no longer little and not just a seed. It had matured into a thorny weed that wrapped itself tighter around me with each and every new vine. The anxiety attacks that initially only hit with new clients, started to rear their ugly heads with old clients as well. Clients I felt safe with. It made no sense and now … I had no refuge and nowhere was safe. Somehow work had become my trigger … the epicenter of all my trauma surrounding Logan. The prison that had slowly started to build itself around me was now complete.
I have fought this battle for nearly 7 years and to be completely honest, I am tired of fighting. The anxiety ebbs and flows. Some months I am 99% ok. Others I am crippled. Many times it has been so bad that I wanted to quit hair entirely. A couple times I almost have. The attacks have evolved over the years from a fear of talking about Logan, to a fear of anxiety itself. Yup, you read that right. I have anxiety about having anxiety. The second the thought enters my brain, the battle is already lost. Right now it is on my brain constantly. Eventually I am able to claw and fight my way out of the valley and find flat land once again. But then without warning, the land gives way beneath my feet and I find myself looking up at another insurmountable mountain.
That’s where I find myself today. Looking up, shaking my head and saying, “I’ll never make it to the top.” It’s no secret my family is in a hard spot and maybe that is why the ground gave out again. I shouldn’t be surprised. This time, however, I feel so much further down and maybe was also injured a bit more on the fall. The prison of anxiety I feel trapped in continues to close in on me and the bars seem to grow thicker and more impossible to break with each passing day.
My counselor casually asked me where I physically feel the anxiety most. A strange question, but I played along. My response was instant, “My hands.” She leaned back in her chair and gave me the type of nod only a wise person knows how to give. She grinned as if she was privy to something I was not and responded, “Wow … it means you are a healer. They always feel it in the hands.”
I gave a doubtful and nervous chuckle. I actually probably even raised an eyebrow as “I assure you I am no healer” reverberated throughout my mind. As she explained further, I began to understand a bit more and once again tears flooded my eyes.
Don’t romanticize it. I’m not calling myself a healer. Not even close in fact. But what she did - probably unknowingly - confirm to me is the willingness God gave me to share my struggles and the ugly in my life for the sake of others and the ability not to care what it personally may cost my image. As I got in the car I knew God was asking me to write again. I’m actually shocked I didn’t have the realization myself.
This blog has been really hard. Harder than most in fact because … it exposes me. I feel ashamed. Weak. Pathetic. Embarrassed. And then somewhere in the middle of these pages, I realized I’m not what is being exposed. As humans we innately want to take that which afflicts us and hide it. Put it in a dark and secret place and try our best to camouflage it from the world. But it is in that very dark and secret place where the environment is ideal for growth. Darkness loves darkness. What I needed to do all along was expose it. Shine a bright light and belittle it, because that is exactly what it is … little … compared to the greatness and authority of my King. You see our burdens are not quite so big and so scary when they are not kept so secret. That thing you can’t make out in the corner of your room at night, is no longer threatening once the lights are turned on. So today I’m calling it out of hiding and into the open. Today I declare, “Anxiety … you have no authority here.”
I still have a long way to go and a very steep mountain to climb. I am still on the frontlines of my battle, but at least now I know I am not alone. For those of you who struggle with anxiety and even those of you who struggle with depression, please know you are not alone. I know it feels consuming, claustrophobic and never ending. So call it out into the light. Name it and rebuke it. You are being fed a lie that you are unworthy, trapped, and without hope. It is simply not true, but still, a very gruesome war. I’m right there with you. Even now, as I think about work tomorrow … I can begin to feel the tremble in my hands. But I am choosing to believe I am on the verge of breakthrough and that I don’t have to climb to the top of that mountain, because God has made a promise to carry me.
We sometimes causally speak of our burdens as the “cross we must carry.” Almost as though we believe that was God’s plan for our lives all along. We act like we must drag around this heavy piece of wood, have it tear into our backs, knock us down and make us to bleed and all because Jesus asked us to. But we have it so wrong. When He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” he was speaking more along the lines of dying to one’s self and surrendering to Him … not carrying the very things He died to save us from. Jesus carried the cross so we don’t have to. Before He died the cross did represent sin and death, but now it looks much different. Now, it is symbolic of life, forgiveness, and freedom. So yes, “carry your cross,” just realize what it is you are actually supposed to be carrying.
And to my clients …
I love and adore you all. No we don’t need to talk about it at your next appointment. Just know … if I happen to get an anxiety attack while you are in my chair that it will pass. I’m fine and it will be ok. Most importantly … your hair will still be fantastic ;)