The Beginning of Sorrow

my-brother-and-i1The thing about tragedies is that they catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

This particular tragedy had been put into motion hours before I found out about it.  If only I had known earlier… If only.

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to be close to each other just to survive our childhood.

We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the States, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at The Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.

Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood his problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  When I took him to his appointment, I sat in the waiting room having a panic attack. About an hour later he left that appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (It is illegal to give a suicidal client enough medication to overdose, and his estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this error).

A week later, the call from our mother came at around noon. “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long,” my mom said.

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

When we were about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.

I stumbled over to the couch and sat down next to my father. I looked up at him, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“This is what he wanted,” was all he said.

What? How would you know what he wanted? I looked down at the tile floor. I tried to breathe.

At that moment a young doctor stepped into the room and told us it would be best if we all went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We all stood and looked from one to the other, then turned and walked out like a group of zombies. We left my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.

Robert Bruce Amthor

March 27, 1950 – August 24, 1975.

Free Fall

(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night” which I posted in May 2012. You can locate it in the archives. This is a memoir, the story of my life.  If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post.  I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).

Cracked HeartThe terror was relentless. It punctuated every waking moment. On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a steel ball in a pin-ball machine.  I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck. There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on.  I felt like I was going very quickly and completely insane.  I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily.  I had no name for it. I knew no one who had ever experienced it. I felt alone in my madness.

I went to my physician and he put me on Valium. He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis.  Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy. Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.

I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way.  He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk. He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers. But he almost never spoke first. Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers. He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past. I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it. There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.

Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of. I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason!  What’s not to get about that?  Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it?  I believed Dr. Teemis held the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me. I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital. I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless. I was grateful for that much.

As the fear increased, my world narrowed. It became terrifying to drive a car. At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to. That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank. I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it.

My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay. I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves. Shopping soon became a thing of the past.

Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option. I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing.  The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the day. Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes. I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.

During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well. At times I was sure I was having a heart attack.  I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death. I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb. Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery. He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch. He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction. I went stiff and silent. Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.

I worried about that femoral artery. I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out. That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong!  Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse. Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel. I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.

“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked. I noted the tone of his voice and the subtle look on his face but chose to ignore it. I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked. Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart.  “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said. He sounded irritated or impatient.  I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand. Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land. After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done. There was no one else who could help me.

Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate. I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality. I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home. One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone. It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care. Where was Dr. Teemis?  Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session. I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was. She covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “I’ll try giving him a call.”  She hung up the phone and dialed another number. I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you. She’s been here for quite awhile.” She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes. She quickly redialed to continue her own call.

Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened.  I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in. As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol. He loosely waved at me to sit, gesturing at me impatiently. He seemed angry. He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support. He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head. “How’s the fucking?” he asked. My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak. “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully.  His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.

“I don’t know.” I stammered.

“I don’t know,” he mimicked. “What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors.

“Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.

“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I guess so,” he said. His sneer said it all.

We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought. I was at the bottom of the pit now.  There was no deeper, darker place to go. But unfortunately I was wrong about that.  I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall. But I was just bouncing off of ledges. The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit.  And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Living on the Edge

CliffA year passed, and we were still living with the guy I met at work…the one who rescued me from Michael the Archangel.  We just sort of settled in, pretending to be a family.  Except for flinching every time he tried to put his arm around me, I thought I was doing fairly well, considering.  Then, as fate would have it, I got invited to a Tupperware party.

I really disliked Tupperware parties.  Oh, I loved all the little squares and rounds with their matching, color-coordinated lids.  I just disliked the parties.  I always felt guilty when the hostess looked me in the eye and told me how many points my friend would get if I would just host a party of my own.  I also hated the drive home, thinking about what a disaster my kitchen cupboards were, and how, if I only had a spare $327, I could reorganize my entire food supply.

Weaving my way in and out of the typical Los Angeles area work traffic, I checked my watch.  I hoped my friend Theresa would already be there when I arrived.  I knew that she would be the only person I knew at the party.  What I didn’t know was that after this particular Tupperware party, it would be years before I would go anywhere alone again.

The music I usually enjoyed blaring from the car radio was starting to get on my nerves, so I flipped it off.  The normal traffic noise seemed louder than usual.  I checked to see if my windows were up.  I began thinking of all the excuses I could use to leave the party early.  My husband is ill.  I’m not feeling so great myself.  I need to help my son with his kindergarten homework.  Our pet pig got stuck in the dishwasher.

By the time I pulled up to the house, I had my excuses in order, but I was hoping that seeing my girlfriend Theresa would help me forget about my nervousness and I wouldn’t have to use any of them.  I walked into the house and put my coat and purse where I could get to them quickly.

The women were clustered in little groups of two or three.  Theresa was nowhere to be found, and no one made a move to try to include me in their conversations.  I felt invisible, and alone.

I got up and looked out the window.  Where was Theresa?  What’s wrong with me tonight, anyway?  I began to imagine myself flippantly tossing out one of my excuses and casually walking across the floor, picking up my coat and purse, and heading out the door.  “Ta-ta!  Hope to see you gals again soon!”  Instead I felt glued to the chair.  I was positive that every one in that room would know I was lying and give me a silent glare.  I finally got up the courage and mentioned to a woman sitting next to me that I had to go, grabbed my coat and purse, and almost flew out the front door.

THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.

― Hunter S. Thompson

As I got into my car, I started to feel as if I couldn’t breathe.  My thoughts raced through my brain so fast it seemed as if I was interrupting myself.  My palms were slippery on the steering wheel.  I pictured myself passing out.

The traffic on Hawthorne Boulevard had gotten worse.  With each red light the feelings became more intense.  My arms and chest began to feel numb.  I wondered if I was having a heart attack, at twenty-three-years old.  The urge to jump out of the car and run down the street screaming for help was so strong that looking back, I don’t know how I kept from it.

I managed to make it home and got into bed, pulling the covers over my head.  My breathing slowed, and eventually I got to sleep.  The next morning, I hit the snooze button on the alarm clock and lay in bed for a few moments, trying to get my bearings.  I had a vague feeling of unease.  Did I have a bad dream?  No.  Is something wrong with one of the kids?  No.  Oh yeah, last night!  With that thought came the memory of the nightmarish rush home from the party.  As I replayed it all in my mind, my breath began to accelerate.  Then my hands went numb. I froze. I had walked too close to the edge one too many times. This time, there was no regaining my footing. I was in free-fall, on my way to being certifiable. I just didn’t know it yet.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19276763What does a neglectful childhood in an alcoholic family, a stint in juvenile hall, The Beatles, gang-bangers and prostitutes, teen marriage and motherhood, the state mental hospital, gang rape, life on the streets, rock and roll and a decade of drug abuse, battering, serious mental illness, the suicides of a brother and father, divorce, a broken neck, and an inoperable brain tumor all have in common? One woman. Me.

For those of you just joining me, welcome!  This is a memoir blog, which means that it details the story of one incredible life (mine!) from childhood to present.  The posts are written so that you can jump in anywhere, but to get the true gist, starting at the beginning (the bottom of the blog after you open May 2012) is the best.  Feel free to browse and see if you would like to sign up to automatically receive my complimentary e-book, “Becoming What You Might Have Been,” as well as all future additions to the story.  If you were signed in to my other WordPress blog via your WordPress account, “Light At the End,” your information didn’t transfer over to this new one (I switched to WP.org so I could offer you the free e-book).  Please sign up again and you will continue to follow and get the e-book as well.  I don’t want you getting lost in the shuffle! If you signed up with your email address before, no need to sign up again.  If you would like your own copy of the e-book, let me know in the comment section and I’ll send it to you via your email address.

Following is an excerpt from my first post:

When I awoke from brain surgery on October 16, 2006, I could hear my breath twice for each one breath I drew.  And it was loud, like the roaring of a waterfall. The first time I heard it, I was actually taking a breath. A couple of seconds later, I could hear it again…in between breaths. I thought, “That’s odd.”

My optic, auditory, and facial nerves had been damaged in surgery and everything looked and seemed weird.  For one thing, I saw two of everything, and each image seemed four feet apart and a little up to the left. The pupil of my left eye had moved over towards my nose.  My perception made everything seem strange, and it would take several years before the feeling of everything being “off-kilter” would pass.

I had steroids pumping through my IV in order to keep swelling of my brain to a minimum. I was hyped to the max. All I could think was, “I’ve got to tell people about this!!” I pictured myself before vast audiences of people, regaling them all with the story of the miracle God had wrought.  Actually, I have wanted to tell the story of my life for almost as long as I can remember. I have experienced so much sorrow, and yet I am so amazed at my own sense of joy in living. This blog is my attempt at creating hope, sharing what God has done in one life. If one person latches on to it, it is worth it to me.  Because what God would do for me, he would most certainly do for you.  Enjoy! And please comment or ask any questions you would like.

 

Learning to Fly on My Own

God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.

-Josiah Gilbert Holland

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

My mother had been dead for four months. I had become the matriarch of our family in one fell swoop.  At only 34-years-old, I felt alone on the planet. I had finally gotten my independence from an alcoholic, unfaithful husband, but my dependent nature clung to me like soot after a fire.  I wanted to wash it off, but a residue remained, leaving me longing for someone…anyone.

As I worked the microfiche machine at my desk at work, searching through other people’s family stories, I yearned to be part of a family and have a story of my own. I issued birth, death, and marriage certificates for other families daily. Performing marriage ceremonies seemed to feed my loneliness even more, leaving me empty and vulnerable.

I was working at the vital records counter in the county clerk’s office, listening to the good-natured chirping between my co-workers. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking.  The only sound in the large room came from the overhead fans and the rustling of paperwork on the desks near the open door.  Curious, I glanced up from the microfiche machine.

At first I thought everyone else recognized a movie star I had not seen before. Now I noticed all eyes were on me.  I fumbled around with the switches on the machine and walked up to the counter.

“May I help you?”  I looked up.  Our eyes met.  “Hey, I think I know you,” I smiled.

“I doubt it,” he said, dripping with sarcasm.  I took a step back.

“Well, I mean I think I’ve seen you.  Do you go to church?”  Wow…what was I doing?

He glanced up quickly, seeming to see me for the first time.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little friendlier.

I helped him with his paperwork, trying not to stare at him.  After he left, several of the women standing close by tittered and made little comments about his gorgeous good looks.  I was thinking about how I could sit nearby him at the next church service and try to catch his eye again.

Within two weeks he had volunteered to head a committee of men who would help me get my newly rented home ready for move-in.  It needed paint, some electrical work, and the carpet ripped out, and he was handy.   He came over every day, bending, stooping, and reaching.   I admired all 6’4” of him in all of his various positions.  He talked about the Lord constantly, incessantly in fact.  I tried to admire this, but it felt off and more than a little odd.

One day, coming back from running errands together, I asked him for a hug (sneaky strategy, huh?).  He sat there for several moments, not moving, not speaking, his eyes closed.  My stomach lurched.  I wondered if I had just made some terrible faux pas.  He reached over and hugged me so hard it hurt and whispered,  “The Lord told me I could.”

At first we found ways to spend time together without really calling it a date.  It was important to him that we went about this the “right” way for the Lord.   Nearing Christmas, we made a plan together (I thought) to take my children to get a Christmas tree.  My kids and I got up early.  They were clearly excited as we scrambled around the house, getting ready for the big day. Then we waited.  And we waited.  He didn’t show up.  He didn’t call.  Finally, I called him.

“Hi, what are you up to?” I feigned cheer.  “I thought we were going to take the kids to get a Christmas tree together?”

“You sound exactly like my ex-wife!”

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as I tried to process what I just heard.  A sound came out of my mouth, but instead of forming a word, I slammed the receiver down on the cradle.  I began to hyperventilate.  It felt like something was being ripped away from me. The kids and I remained home for the day while I wrestled with my anxiety.  We were disappointed, and I felt totally confused…like I had just met Mr. Hyde.

Of course his next phone call smoothed away all my fears.  He was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right.

One night we double-dated with another couple.  He had planned the evening around dinner at a sushi bar and then it would be off to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa in Avila Beach, California, one of the most romantic places for a date.  Each oak barrel tub is separated enough from the others for maximum privacy.  Little lights line the dark paths winding up the hill through a sycamore grove.  I was looking forward to showing off my new bathing suit I bought, just for this occasion.  When I saw the truck drive up, I ran out to greet my friends. I opened the passenger door, jumped in, shut the door, and turned to smile.

“Don’t slam my door like that!” he glared.  Everyone went silent.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”  My face reddened, but I struggled to normalize the request in my mind.  Of course he needs to make sure I don’t slam his door.  It’s a new truck.  I worked hard in the next minutes to pretend I didn’t notice his anger in front of our friends.  It was clear they were as surprised as I was.

We ended up having a wonderful time and I let myself relax.  But my mind began to compartmentalize my experiences.  One part held fear, caution, and lots of confusion.  The other part held the picture of the six foot, four inch, romantic man with the movie star looks.  He had a good job; he was handy around the house and good with money.  He was a gourmet cook and loved to grow orchids.  And he was a super spiritual version of what was on my top 10 list.  He was everything a good Christian woman should want, right?

It seemed like every woman in the church, single and married alike was riveted on my relationship with this mysterious man.  I was suddenly catapulted into a type of churchy celebrity status.  For the first time in my life I had something that others wanted too.  Other single women approached him, and asked him out for coffee or for lunch.  He turned them down and I felt pride that he had chosen me over so many others from our large church.  Only I never felt I had a firm grip.  My stomach began to do a play by play of events and I ended up in the doctor’s office almost weekly after being diagnosed with colitis. My feelings were on hyper alert.  Is this what love is?

The next time we argued, he told me he was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right. And besides, I had pushed a button of his, and if I just had not done that, this would never have happened.  I would have to try not to do that.

He planned beautiful, romantic dates at the best restaurants, including roses and wine, and ending with long walks on the beach.  He drove me up to the mountaintop late one afternoon.  He brought a quilt, champagne and flutes, and smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, and spread them on the ground.  He helped me out of the truck and gently wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  We sat and ate and talked until dark.   He tipped my chin up towards the sky and whispered, “Just wait.”  Soon, a trail of light blazed across the sky.  Then another.  Then another.  Then he kissed me.  I flung my doubts out to the sky and let them disappear into the black ink.

Our relationship became a series of conflicts, retreats and pursuits, the pattern repeating itself over and over.  I believed the only way to bring a stop to my insecurity was to marry him.  I was sure my own fears about his love were what were causing problems.  I believed it would be good for my son to have a strong male figure in his life.

The night we got back from our honeymoon was a turning point.  Now that we were married, Mr. Hyde quit playing hide and seek and decided to stay for dinner.  I felt helpless for several minutes while I listened to him bully my children about helping.  They weren’t doing anything right.  The silverware didn’t go the way they put it on the table.  They weren’t fast enough and dinner was getting cold!  He looked at them as if they were stupid.  They became quiet, and nervous, giving each other sideward glances.

“I sure hope you are listening to the Holy Spirit right now.” I said.  He glanced down and seemed embarrassed.  My chest swelled a little.  I had stepped in and taken care of it, just like that!  I am a good mother.

Soon, none of us were doing anything right.  Nothing happened without his approval.  If it wasn’t originally his idea, the answer was “no.”  If he said yes, he would change his mind at the last minute.  My friends could come over when he said they could.  They came less and less.  My sister could visit, but she walked on eggshells and spent time crying in the guest room.  He always answered the phone on first ring, screening all our calls.  He wouldn’t let my teenage daughter lock the bathroom door.

Then we were battling over how to cook ground beef or when to start a load of laundry.  He was disgusted when I didn’t know to put two slices of cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich, so he threw it in the trash.  I began to filter everything I did or said around what the consequences would look like.  What would he say if he knew I thought this, said that, or did this other thing? What would he do?  Mostly I knew what he would do, and it wasn’t pleasant.

At times I escaped by hiding in the tree house in our backyard.  I took long walks or I got in my car and drove to a nearby gas station and cried to a friend from the payphone.  My anxiety attacks and depression worsened and I needed medication.  My children were miserable.  I started calling some friends to see if we could come stay with them for a while and no one could help.  I began stashing change from the market in a shoe along with a spare set of keys.  I ordered a credit card in my own name.  I knew I had made another stupid, stupid mistake, and I felt ashamed.  I stopped looking into my friend’s eyes when I went to church.  I lied to everyone.  I’m fine, how are you?

My church family and pastor seemed to turn their eyes away, as if they couldn’t stand to watch the train wreck happen.  No one called; no one came to help. The church counselors knew I had bruises, but by this time his charisma and charm had landed him a position on staff at the church. They believed him when he told them I was out of control.  Many times I drove onto the freeway and just screamed out to God in desperation.  But I didn’t believe I deserved his help.  After all, I had done this…with eyes wide open.

Finally, I was ready.  I called my husband and asked to meet in the middle of a parking lot at the shopping center.  With others around for protection, I told him I was divorcing him. It had been two and a half years of pure hell.  I was a shell of who I had been starting to become.  Thin, hollow-eyed, defeated.  I was filled with guilt over what I had allowed to happen to my children and myself.  I believed God was so disappointed in me that he had turned his back altogether.  In one month’s time I had managed to lose a husband, my home, my car, and my job. It was my third divorce.  I was wrecked.

So I did what I did best.  I ran.  There’s a story in the Bible about a concubine of Abraham’s.  Her name was Hagar.  She gave birth to Ishmael, before Abraham’s wife had her own son, Isaac.  In Sarah’s jealously, she mistreated Hagar to the point of desperation.  Hagar ran out to the desert with her son, alone, and seeming without friend or protector.

I thought of her as I ran out to my own desert, away from church, friends, family.  I ran empty-handed. And then, just like God met Hagar in the desert, God met me there too.  He picked me up and carried me like a wounded little bird in a cardboard box.  He was gentle, tender, giving me little sips of water.  He slowly restored my spirit and eventually, he restored everything I had lost.

And then he began to teach me how to fly on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

It’s Too Late – She’s Come Undone

hI could say I didn’t see it coming.  Except that I did.  I worried and fretted and tried to talk to other family members about my fears.  I saw signs, and I especially tried to warn my mother.  She didn’t even have her name on their joint checking account.  What would she do if anything happened?

No one listened so I prayed.  I prayed every morning for six months straight. Please Lord, don’t let that horrible thing happen.

I had been attending the little white church for three years, and the sense of family and my relationship with God were wonderful additions to a life shaped by fear and sadness.   I had finally left Dr. Teemis and began seeing a young masters level student counselor doing his internship.  He continued to probe into all the dark places, the hurts that weren’t healed yet, the wounds that were still fresh.   I still didn’t understand my illness and hadn’t made a lot of progress.

My mother invited us over for dinner a few days after Thanksgiving.  My dad loved chocolate cream pie, so I decided to surprise him and bring one with me.  I was baking the crust when the phone rang.

“Linda, you need to come over here!”  I heard panic in my mother’s voice and got her to calm down long enough to tell me what happened.  My dad had put his shoes on and told her he was going to the garage.  When he didn’t return she went to see what he was up to.  She peeked in and saw him lying on the cement; she ran back into the apartment and called the paramedics, then me.

My chest felt hollow, and once again I found myself holding on to the dashboard of the car as we rushed over to the apartment.  My mind filled with memories of another emergency three years earlier, in August of 1975, when my brother committed suicide.  I tried to will the thoughts away, but they seemed to force the breath from my lungs.

We pulled up to the curb outside my parent’s apartment and I noticed a small crowd gathered across the street.  A paramedic was closing the back doors of the van and I saw there was no one on the gurney.  I looked over at the garage, hoping that my dad was chatting with a police officer nearby.  The garage door was partially closed, and my heart lurched as I turned away.  I went into the apartment and stood in the center of the living room, staring at my mom.  We didn’t speak.  There was a knock at the door.

A young police officer stood with a clipboard in his hand.  “I need to ask you some questions,” he said quietly.  “Was your father right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right-handed,” I answered.  What is he getting at?  I wasn’t about to ask any questions.  Maybe Dad will come walking in the door and we can all just go home and pretend this never happened.

“How old was your father?” he continued.

How old was he?  Was?  “Fifty-one.”  I am a robot.  My mind has become separated from my body.  I’m on another plane.  I may not be able to get back this time. 

It’s too late. She’s gone too far. She’s lost the sun. She’s come undone

~The Guess Who

Once the questions were over and the front door shut against the world, I walked past my mother sitting silently on the couch and went into the bathroom.  I shut the door and locked it.  And then I did what I thought any self-respecting believer in Christ who has any faith at all should do.  I stared in the mirror and whispered a prayer.  “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus, praise you, Jesus.”  But deep in the brain that had detached from the body, another phrase was repeating itself over and over again.  You’ve destroyed me, God.  I’m done.

Another Think Coming

Walking on Water Hajdudorog

Walking on Water Hajdudorog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wrote about how I expected that asking God to take over my life would lead to instant emotional healing.  I would love to be writing about how much better life got after I made a commitment to Christ.  In some ways, life got worse, at least at first.

The church was small, and about fifty to seventy-five members attended on any given Sunday.  The atmosphere was warm and intimate. It was like an incubator of sorts, and I truly do not think I would have survived in a large, mainline denominational church.  Even the pastor who recommended I start attending did not invite me to his own church!  I’m sure he pictured how difficult it would be for the proper ladies of his congregation to reach out to this poor, wretched, emotionally scarred scarecrow of a young woman.  They may have been tempted to simply ignore me, or tell me how badly I needed to clean up my act.   And it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over the edge, to make that break between me and life on planet Earth.

The people in this little congregation cared deeply about me.  Not one word was uttered about the state I found myself in.  I was legally married to my first husband, never having bothered to file divorce papers, even though he had abandoned us many years earlier.  I was living with my boyfriend, who was smoking dope from the moment he got up in the morning.  Looking back on this, I think it’s very unusual that no one proffered his or her opinion about all this.  It was almost like someone called a meeting and they agreed to allow God Himself to do what he does best when it comes to changing people’s lives.  Like I said, very unusual.

But this was a time of great confusion for me as well.  A well-meaning parishioner would throw a Scripture my way that was supposed to take all the fear out of my brain like a vacuum cleaner sucking up sand.  All those particles making noise and then silence.  Ahhh! But when quoting these Scriptures didn’t seem to work for me, I became sure that God saw me as an imposter, attempting to squeeze by unnoticed.  To me, that meant I was rejected.  My feelings of abandonment rested on a hair trigger.  It didn’t take much.  And if God abandoned me, that meant I was going to hell…no matter what.  And if I were going to hell no matter what, I might as well go ahead and make the trip rather then knowing about it for years ahead of time.  Who can deal with that knowledge?  Like a doctor telling you you have one to three years to live.  Yikes!

So I would be on the verge…making the plan.  I wrestled with it, worrying about my children, but thinking they’d be better off without me.  I worried about the church members, feeling all guilty and everything.  And then, like clockwork, it seemed like the Lord Himself stepped in to keep me planted on this side of the veil.  Once in awhile he just stepped right in to the scene in a dream I was having during stage 4 REM.  Other times, I would be pretty close to ending things when the phone would ring and one of the church ladies asked how I was doing, or there would be a knock at the door.  I became more and more sure that God was the one doing the knocking.  “Hello!  I’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t include repeating “fear not” while pointing your finger in the air or pretending to stomp on ‘ol’ slewfoot’s’ head!”

Winter’s comin’ on and it’s twenty below. And the river’s froze over so where can he go. We’ll chase him up the gulley then we’ll run him in the well. We’ll shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell.

“Old Slewfoot,” by Johnny Horton – The Legend – 1975 Columbia House 2P-6418

And it was enough…enough to keep me coming back to the little white church with the mural of Jesus walking on the water…enough to hang in there and keep breathing long enough to live another day.  I was still grieving the death of my brother, still waking up and crying first thing.  I still couldn’t drive a car, go grocery shopping, and I was still lying on the floor all day long just trying to get my breath at least once a week.  And I was still seeing Dr. Teemis.  And Dr. Teemis was still royally screwing with my head.  But things were definitely looking up a little.

One day I was talking to the pastor about my fear-filled thoughts about the future.  “Linda,” he started, if we got a list of all the things that would happen to us at the beginning of each year, we would go crazy with fear.  But all those things take place one at a time, and God gives us the grace to handle each one as they come.”  That helped a little, alleviated some of the dread I felt inside when I had certain thoughts.  But there was one thought that produced so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that the thought of God’s grace coming in after the fact wasn’t comforting at all.  Turns out all that dread was justified.  If I thought I was done with trauma just because I had become a believer, I had another think coming.

Free Fall

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies (Photo credit: Bryan Gosline)

(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.”  This is a memoir, the story of my life.  If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post.  I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).

The terror was relentless.  It punctuated every waking moment.  On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a highly polished steel ball in a pin-ball machine.  I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck.  There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on going very quickly and completely insane.   I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily.   I had no name to pin on it.  I knew no one who had ever experienced it.  I felt alone in my madness.

I went to my physician and he put me on Valium.  He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis.  Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy.  Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.

I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way.  He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk.  He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers.  But he almost never spoke first.  Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers.  He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past.  I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it.  There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of.  I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason!  What’s not to get about that?  Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it?  I believed Dr. Teemis had the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me.  I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital.  I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless.

As the fear increased, my world narrowed.  It became terrifying to drive a car.  At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to.  That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank.  I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it.  My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay.  I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves.  Shopping soon became a thing of the past.

Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option.  I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing.  The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the month.  Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes.  I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.

During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well.  At times I was sure I was having a heart attack.  I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death.  I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb.  Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery.  He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch.  He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction.  I went stiff and silent.  Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.

I worried about that femoral artery.  I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out.  That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong!  Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse.  Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel.  I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.

“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked.  I noted the tone of his voice but chose to ignore it.  I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked.  Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart.  “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said.  He sounded irritated or impatient.  I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand.  Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land.  After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done.  There was no one else who could help me.

Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate.  I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality.  I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home.  One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone.  It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care.  Where was Dr. Teemis?  Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session.  I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was.  She covered the mouthpiece with her hand.   “I’ll try giving him a call.”   She hung up the phone and dialed another number.  I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you.  She’s been here for quite awhile.”  She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes.  She quickly redialed to continue her own call.

Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened.  I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in.  As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol.  He loosely waved his arm at me, gesturing at me impatiently.  He seemed angry.  He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support.  He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head.  “How’s the fucking?” he asked.  My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak.  “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully.   His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.

“I don’t know.” I stammered.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors.  “Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.

“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I guess so,” he mimicked.

We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought.  I was at the bottom of the pit now.   There was no deeper, darker place to go.  But unfortunately I was wrong about that.  I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall.  But I was just bouncing off of ledges.  The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit.  And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.

Over the Edge

English: Purbeck : The Pinnacles & Chalk Cliff...

English: Purbeck : The Pinnacles & Chalk Cliff A steep drop – so don’t get too close to the edge of the cliff. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year passed, and we were still living with the guy I met at work…the one who rescued me from Michael the Archangel.  We just sort of settled in, pretending to be a family.  Except for flinching every time he tried to put his arm around me, I thought I was doing fairly well, considering.  Then, as fate would have it, I got invited to a Tupperware party.

I really disliked Tupperware parties.  Oh, I loved all the little squares and rounds with their matching, color-coordinated lids.  I just disliked the parties.  I always felt guilty when the hostess looked me in the eye and told me how many points my friend would get if I would just host a party of my own.  I also hated the drive home, thinking about what a disaster my kitchen cupboards were, and how, if I only had a spare $327, I could reorganize my entire food supply.

Weaving my way in and out of the typical Los Angeles area work traffic, I checked my watch.  I hoped my friend Theresa would already be there when I arrived.  I knew that she would be the only person I knew at the party.  What I didn’t know was that after this particular Tupperware party, it would be years before I would go anywhere alone again.

The music I usually enjoyed blaring from the car radio was starting to get on my nerves, so I flipped it off.  The normal traffic noise seemed louder than usual.  I checked to see if my windows were up.  I began thinking of all the excuses I could use to leave the party early.  My husband is ill.  I’m not feeling so great myself.  I need to help my son with his kindergarten homework.  Our pet pig got stuck in the dishwasher.

By the time I pulled up to the house, I had my excuses in order, but I was hoping that seeing my girlfriend Theresa would help me forget about my nervousness and I wouldn’t have to use any of them.  I walked into the house and put my coat and purse where I could get to them quickly.

The women were clustered in little groups of two or three.  Theresa was nowhere to be found, and no one made a move to try to include me in their conversations.  I felt invisible, and alone.

I got up and looked out the window.  Where was Theresa?  What’s wrong with me tonight, anyway?  I began to imagine myself flippantly tossing out one of my excuses and casually walking across the floor, picking up my coat and purse, and heading out the door.  “Ta-ta!  Hope to see you gals again soon!”  Instead I felt glued to the chair.  I was positive that every one in that room would know I was lying and give me a silent glare.  I finally got up the courage and mentioned to a woman sitting next to me that I had to go, grabbed my coat and purse, and almost flew out the front door.

THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.

Hunter S. Thompson

As I got into my car, I started to feel as if I couldn’t breathe.  My thoughts raced through my brain so fast it seemed as if I was interrupting myself.  My palms were slippery on the steering wheel.  I pictured myself passing out.

The traffic on Hawthorne Boulevard had gotten worse.  With each red light the feelings became more intense.  My arms and chest began to feel numb.  I wondered if I was having a heart attack, at twenty-three-years old.  The urge to jump out of the car and run down the street screaming for help was so strong that looking back, I don’t know how I kept from it.

I managed to make it home and got into bed, pulling the covers over my head.  My breathing slowed, and eventually I got to sleep.  The next morning, I hit the snooze button on the alarm clock and lay in bed for a few moments, trying to get my bearings.  I had a vague feeling of unease.  Did I have a bad dream?  No.  Is something wrong with one of the kids?  No.  Oh yeah, last night!  With that thought came the memory of the nightmarish rush home from the party.  As I replayed it all in my mind, my breath began to accelerate.  Then my hands went numb. I froze. I had walked too close to the edge one too many times. This time, there was no regaining my footing.