"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Full Disclosure

It has been so long since I’ve blogged that I almost don’t remember how! But I need to get some stuff out…I have agonized over whether or not to share, but in the interest of honesty, vulnerability, and transparency, I feel that it’s something I need to do. For one thing, it will feel good to get it out. And for another, maybe my experience (and musings!) can help someone.

When the great Colorado Flood of 2013 hit our town on September 12, we had already had a rough few months. Among many, many things, we were down to one vehicle and were about to spend $1200 to get Ryan’s car out of the shop.  The day of the flood, I sat in my office at work hearing horror stories of what was going on in Aurora…roads closed, ceilings falling in, etc. Our family room carpet had been damp that morning, and my imagination began to run wild picturing what may have happened to our home in the hours we were away. I was my family’s sole transportation, so at 1:00, I headed out to pick Ryan up from work. Rain pelted my windshield, and the highway was nearly empty and felt very lonely, like a scene out of an end-of-the-world movie. Entire stretches were blocked off. I finally made it to his restaurant, and thus began the obstacle of picking up Ryley from school. The three miles between Ryan’s work and Ryley’s school were the most treacherous and hardest hit in the main metro area. We navigated westward and found ourselves winding our way through back roads, as many routes had been closed due to flooding. Water was about 18 inches deep in places, and cars were pulled over and stalled out along the road. People were wading through water. I tried to stay on the highest part of the street, but it didn’t really matter. It was bad everywhere, and it was each man for himself. At one point, I remember panicking about a large wave of water coming my direction and pulling quickly into an empty lot to try and avoid it, only to find that there was no way out of the lot without either flooding our engine or driving through a 300-foot-stretch of sharp rocks and risking puncturing a tire.  It was insane. All the streets surrounding Ryley’s school were literally closed with blockades set up, and we had to backtrack and wind our way through a neighborhood to come in a back way. Ryan ran through the rain to get Ryley, where he stood in line with 12 other parents and got grief from the unsympathetic front office staff, who obviously hadn’t been hearing the news.  The ride home was even more insane. The main road was closed, so we cut through yet another neighborhood, where a man standing in the street flagged us down and said, “You can’t come this way; there’s been a terrible accident down there!” Some roads had been completely washed out, and there was a sinkhole in one. All we wanted was to get safely home, and there seemed to be numerous obstacles in our way.  It was the craziest few hours of our lives – apocalyptic, adventurous, and (mass destruction aside), kind of fun. I never felt like our lives were seriously in danger, but it was certainly an ordeal I will never forget.

We finally made it home, and Ryan ran downstairs to check on our damp carpet. Well, it was more than damp. The entire downstairs was a wet, sloshy mess. The water had even seeped into the bathroom, where we keep our dog Juliet during the day. We found her sitting and shivering in cold water. The whole thing felt like a dream, and I think I was kind of in shock. I mean, what do you do but laugh in a situation like that? The world hasn’t ended, but the expense of flooding is certainly not what we needed. We called around to local Home Depots, and everybody was already sold out of industrial fans and WetVacs (not that we would have wanted to drive back out anyway!). Ryan busted out the 6-gallon ShopVac, and he spent the next four hours vacuuming water out of our family room, an exhausting task. School was canceled the next day, and I worked from home, attempting to vacuum out more water whenever I could. But more rain came in on Saturday and Sunday, and every time it rained, the carpet got soaked. Thinking the fireplace/chimney was the culprit, we tarped the roof, but since it didn’t stop it, we couldn’t figure out where it was coming in for sure. We received close to 15 inches of rain over four days. By Sunday evening, our house smelled like musty fart, and we estimated that Ryan had filled the ShopVac 20 times, sucking up over 100 gallons of water.


The next day, a Monday, I was driving Ryley home from school when suddenly a white mist starting blowing from the A/C in our van. Within seconds, I found myself on the verge of passing out. I could hardly breathe. Thinking the white gas was suffocating us, I rolled down my window and pulled the van over onto a side street.

“Oh my gosh, what was that? Ryley, do you feel okay?”

She shrugged. “I feel fine.”

I had her call Ryan while I got out and walked it off, clearing my lungs with fresh air. I was trembling all over.

I was afraid to drive, but Ryan couldn’t come get us because his car was still in the shop, and I had already taken him home. So I gathered my courage and practically hung out the window all the way home, taking deep breaths and willing myself to stay conscious. I was so scared. Pulling into our driveway brought the greatest feeling of relief. I knew I would be safe if I were with Ryan. We talked through the situation, and since Ryley was feeling fine, we decided it must have been a blood sugar low or something. The white mist was most likely condensation. I felt lousy the rest of the evening, wondering several times if I should go to the ER, but knowing we had no money for such nonsense. I lay in our bed, staring at the ceiling, hyperventilating, praying, and feeling like I was going to die.

I felt better the next morning, but I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment for later in the month.

We got our car back that day and paid the necessary $1200.

Keep in mind, this whole time we were still living with wet carpet in our main area, and the stench was nauseating. I tried to cover up the smell by sprinkling baking soda on the carpet and running our box fans to help it try to dry. We moved some furniture upstairs to the living room, too, but not knowing how long it would be before we would be able to re-carpet, we left our couch and TV set up downstairs in the swamp.

Three days later, I was on my way to work, going about 70 mph down the highway, when I felt a sudden gust of air out of the A/C and began suffocating and trembling yet again. This time, I knew for sure that it was an issue with the van, so I got off at the next exit, and after conferring with Ryan, drove it to the Honda dealership.

I did enough Internet research that day to suspect that we had a Freon leak and that I was suffering from Freon poisoning. The problem was, the dealership couldn’t replicate it. The A/C system looked good. I began to wonder if I was going crazy.

The next day, the dealership gave us a loaner car since they had found a lot of problems with the van besides the seemingly non-existent Freon leak (of course), and it would need several days of work and $250. Yep.

But as I drove the loaner car home, I experienced the same symptoms as I had had when driving the van. I felt short-of-breath, and I fought to stay conscious. When I got home, I googled “sudden allergy to car” and “Honda allergy,” all to no avail. By now I really wondered if I was going crazy.

Then I googled “panic while driving,” and that’s when I started getting somewhere. All my symptoms seemed to line up with anxiety and panic attacks. And the crazy thing was that the more I worried about having anxiety, the more anxious I became. Yes, it was worse when I was driving, but that weekend, I felt like I lived in a constant state of panic no matter what we were doing. All I wanted was to sleep it off. Meanwhile, Ryan took the family room by the horns and cut up and dragged out all the smelly carpet while I napped, revealing a circa-1980 paint-splotched linoleum floor.  Lovely.

I was deathly afraid of getting behind the wheel again; that’s when things always seemed to spin out of control for me. We went for a Sunday afternoon drive so I could regain my confidence. Looking back, it was so silly, but at the time, I remember seriously wondering if I would ever be able to drive again. What if I lost my job because I didn’t have the ability to get to work? What if Ryley had to change schools? I imagined our entire lives being turned upside down because of the stupid flood and my inability to handle stress.

Deep down, I knew it was fear, and I knew that it was an attack from the devil. But when you’re in the midst of something like that, you don’t always have a lot of faith for yourself. I have long understood the power that fear has to literally freeze you from moving on with your life. And it's true. It curls its way up your backside in the form of chills and then sighs its ugly breath in your face so that you feel like you're suffocating. The scary part is that you have no control over it, and you don't know when it's going to appear again. So you live constantly on edge, with your throat tight in anticipation, ready at a moment’s notice to do everything in your power to keep your body under control should that ugly spirit of fear and panic rear its head again. You're not dumb. You realize the silliness. It's a cycle. You're panicking over panicking. You're fearful of fear itself. And you just want things to go back to the way they were before. You’re so concerned about just staying alive for the next 10 seconds that you don’t have the energy or capability to resist this thing longterm.

On Monday, I had no choice but to continue with our routine – school, work, etc., so I had to drive, taking deep, slow, deliberate breaths and praying all the way to my destinations. I sat in my office, feeling terribly alone, dizzy, breathless…feeling like I could pass out and die and it might be hours before I was found.

Do I call 911?

I called my doctor’s office and scheduled an emergency appointment. I couldn’t see my actual doctor, but I met with her associate who seemed to not take it quite as seriously as I felt it was. :-) He prescribed some anxiety medication and told me to follow up with my regular doctor in a couple of weeks.

Around this same time, Ryan began experiencing horrible stomach pain and chronic nausea. It went on for about a month before he finally made it to the doctor, and they diagnosed him as having a peptic ulcer and gastroesophageal reflux disease. I guess we all deal with things in our own way! Panic attacks for me, ulcer for him! :-) It seems that all the stress of the last few months finally got him too. He is on a high dose of medication to help heal everything, but it could take 6-8 weeks for the ulcer to disappear. In the meantime, we are eating wholesome, non-spicy, non-acidic foods, and he is learning to change his diet and eating/drinking habits throughout the day. 

We met our insurance adjuster, who denied our claim, and we met our FEMA rep, who also denied our claim. As bad as the storm was for us, it seems that a lot of others in our community had it much, much worse. We had a carpet estimator come out and determine that new flooring would be about $2,000 out-of-pocket. We decided not to do anything with it. I imagined people in Africa and other impoverished places, living on dirt floors. Even Jesus had dusty feet. It is what it is. 

Our house was in perpetual disarray, but I started not to mind so much. It became more important to care about my mental health and Ryan’s health than to worry about the cleanliness of our home.

But the problem was that it was fall, my favorite season of all, and all I really wanted was to bask in the coziness of our candlelit family room, coffee in hand and laptop perched on my knees…pumpkins scattered about for decoration…and I felt like my fall was ruined. And I grieved it for awhile. But then I took it back.

Ever so slowly, things started to improve. We paid $250 to the dealership and got our van back. I turned in a couple of freelance stories. After a few weeks, I found the energy to finally mop the family room linoleum so that we’d feel comfortable walking barefoot down there again. Two weeks ago, we decided to purchase some cheap area rugs, and I threw some white Christmas lights on our mantle. I plugged in some air fresheners, and Ryan moved the furniture back down. I finally got around to putting out my pumpkin decorations.

It's funny what you can live with...what kind of pride you can swallow in the decision that its okay to live with a crappy floor. And someday we might even be brave enough to invite people over again. But in the meantime, we can’t let it ruin our lives. We have to keep living and fully embrace  this rocky season with all of its quirks that God has thrown in. Even in this season of death, we will continue to grow.

I still have occasional bouts of anxiety, but I know how to recognize it when it’s coming on, and I know which foods and drinks to avoid. Overall, I have been so much better. Life doesn’t seem quite so dark as it did. Ryan seems to be getting better, though I feel like he’s not always completely honest with me because he doesn’t want me to worry.

All it takes is reading Facebook to realize that everybody has a lot of crap going on right now. I found myself hugging the Muslim Iranian mother of one of my piano students the other night when she poured out all the really heavy things she is dealing with in her life. I felt like it was such an opportunity for me to share the love of Jesus with her. She often falls asleep on our couch during her daughter’s piano lesson, and I like to think she has sweet dreams and that she feels God’s peace when she is here. Because carpet or no carpet, smelly or fresh, I believe God’s presence is here in our tiny, unworthy home. :-)

Ryan is constantly reminding me that “Jesus’ yoke is easy, and His burden is light.” I’ve heard that scripture my entire life, but all it took was the events of this fall for me to realize that I am still learning and understanding the reality of that truth on a daily, (sometimes hourly!), basis.

Good night for now. :-)