Earlier this week we had an appointment that just happened to be right across the street from the Residence Inn, the hotel where we lived for two months last summer. The kids recognized it immediately as we drove by . . . they had fond memories of our hotel adventure and were yelling and screaming when they saw it, asking excitedly if we could stay there again. For me, though, seeing the hotel brought back a sense memory of pure panic and dread. I wasn’t expecting it, but just seeing the hotel took me to a bad place, and fast – it was probably one of the lowest points of my life so far. It’s hard to explain (and even to understand) why that time was so hard, because objectively we were just displaced by a non-threatening flood, waiting for our home to be repaired at the expense of a good homeowner’s insurance policy. Certainly not a crisis. But for me, the events leading up to that hotel stay had been so stressful, and my coping skills so nil, that it was the proverbial straw that broke the raging panic attack’s back.
Last summer, I was finally coming out of the shock stage of the earthquake in Haiti, and beginning to peel back the layers of the PTSD that I had managed to avoid in the excitement of Kembe’s homecoming. I was just getting by, careful to not think too much about the earthquake, careful to not really articulate or acknowledge the well of fear that I suppressed every day in order to function. Granted, having your house flood is a stressful event, but on scale between 1 and 10, with 10 being the earthquake, I think it was a 3 or 4. But as I assessed the damage, as I found my hallway full of water and the rug in Jafta’s room afloat, and as I packed our bags in haste to move our family into a hotel room, I had the same cloud of dread hanging over my head that I did trying to re-pack my bags on the lawn of the embassy in Port-Au-Prince.
These are my overwhelming memories of that time. The difficulty focusing. The lack of short-term memory. The hypervigilance. The irritability. The anxiety. The fear of something bad happening. Panic attacks by the pool. Laying awake in that hotel room every night, willing myself to sleep. And all the while, dealing with Kembe’s transition as he heaped all of his ugly feelings of abandonment and grief onto me and the other kids.
The thing about anxiety is that it’s really impossible to see a way out. During that time, I often felt like this was the way life was going to be, forever and ever amen. It’s hard to be objective when you are in it, but it’s also hard to take stock when you are out of it. For whatever reason, that little moment on Wednesday felt like a gift. Because even though it brought up all these ugly feelings, it also reminded me of just how far we’ve come. It was shocking to be reminded of those feelings because the just aren’t present in my life anymore. It’s taken therapy and exercise and self-reflection and some pharmaceutical intervention, but I finally feel like I’m back at a place where panic is not my default state of being. The shift has been so gradual that it has been hard to measure, but I got a glimpse of it this week, and I’m grateful for where I’m at. Really, really grateful.
I went to find some photos of that time frame to put into this post, and it appears that during that two-month period, I took all of ten photos. Anyone who knows me can vouch that I am taking photos constantly, and when I’m not, it’s an indication that things are not going well. But I’m encouraged to see that despite my recollection of that summer, the kids remember it as a magical time . . . a time when they got to sleep in the same bed with mom and dad, a time when we let them eat things like sloppy joes and nachos with orange cheese at the buffet for dinner, a time when we traded our trampoline for jumping on the bed, a time when we went swimming every day. Their memories of that time are so fond that they are begging to do it again.
So today, I’m feeling grateful . . . grateful that I’m in a much better place, and grateful that despite the darkness that I was living in last summer, the kids remember it as a season of fun. Thank God for that grace.