Children know pure joy. You can tell in the way they laugh without covering their mouths, the way it bubbles out of them. Most don’t know betrayal, grief, and haven’t become jaded by the world. And even those that have seen the worst that humanity can do have a certain spark in their eye, and they make an effort to dig deep to tend to the joy that’s left.
Like many others, Joy has been something that I let go of and somehow buried it over with Stress, Anxiety, Depression, even Anger. Joy’s light was hard to see.
In the last couple of years, I have struggled. I can’t blame anyone or anything else. I was the one who stopped reaching for happiness and settled for feeling very little.
I thought I was having a stroke.
A few nights ago I had a panic attack. It started with some dizziness and a twitch in my eye. I have tremors due to my Lyme disease, so I didn’t think anything of it. My husband and I were getting ready to clean up after our dinner, and I just felt disassociated, not really listening to him anymore. My right side of my face tingled, down my arm and into my fingers. I stood up, thinking I was pinching a nerve or something and I stumbled. As I tried to talk, fear rose up, and I couldn’t make the words make sense.
All of the signs were there, signs that I had put to memory since my Gram had suffered at my age with her first stroke. I told my husband I needed to go to the hospital. In my panic, I started to hyperventilate. In a few minutes, which to me honestly felt like hours, he had rushed me to the hospital nearby.
I won't calm down… yet.
Here is where I realized how things go bad. I am a 40 something-year-old woman, crying, breathing hard, asking for help. But instead of running tests, it was automatically assumed that I was having a panic attack. No heart monitor, no EKG, just a back room and 2 pills to “Calm down.”
Even though I was insisting that something else was wrong and I wanted tests ran, I wanted someone to take this seriously. I wanted someone to recognize that I wasn’t freaking out, that yes… because I felt upset that my body was going through something big and nobody was listening I was crying. That didn’t have to mean the solution was to medicate without ruling out something more serious.
2 pills. I tried to object and ask for a doctor instead of the nurses who kept ignoring me. But the older doctor who came in briefly just looked into my eyes, checked my hands, and chalked it up to anxiety. I tried to explain to him about my Lyme, at which he questioned the validity. ( A very frustrating issue that many Lyme Disease Survivors have to deal with.) He didn’t bother to look into my ears until I demanded that someone listen. I’d been suffering from ear issues for a couple of weeks after a bad cold.
Lying there in the bed, dozing in and out of consciousness I saw how easy I was dismissed. The truth was that I had an ear infection that had caused vertigo and that also triggered a panic attack. But I’ve never had anything like this before, and it was terrifying. I have had some of what I now consider “small” panic attacks, the heavy heart racing and feeling of panic. But this was different. Instead of treating me with kindness and knowledge, I was left in a back room and ignored.
I am not ordinary
Lying there, I realized that I wasn’t special. I was just a “hysterical woman” and pills were shoved down my throat.
The next morning I woke up feeling drained and melancholy. The meds had forced me to sleep, forced my body to calm down, and left me with the reality that things needed to change.
Anxiety and panic attacks are real. They aren’t the work of overdramatic people seeking attention. They don’t have to be attached to anything solid or “Wrong” at all. Sometimes they just happen. Maybe there is a trigger, in my case, it was an ear infection. Other times it doesn’t require anything at all.
Less Stress and More Yes!
Things in my life, things that I can control, that’s what I realized I needed to change. I need to take back my joy and make happiness a priority. Stress damages us mentally and physically.
No, mental health illnesses can’t be cured by wishing them away with pig videos and happy thoughts. But what if the symptoms can be mitigated by increasing endorphins released by laughing, feeling joy, making efforts to BE better?
Every day I see people drowning their emotions in wine, Xanax and other drugs, or excessive behavior. What if what they are seeking was just more joy and it could be found IN them? Instead of getting drunk on Chardonnay, they exchanged that for yoga or inner peace? Could we be a better community, treat each other with more kindness and less passive aggressive BS?
Letting go isn't good enough
Looking at it, there were some shitty things that happened that night in my opinion. The healthcare that I received was ridiculous. In spite of having very good health insurance that was capable of paying for tests to run, I was sent home with a prescription for a high dose anti-anxiety medicine that as they gave it to me left me barely able to keep my eyes open and no guidance at all as to what to do next.
What I came to realize is that taking back my health also comes with taking back control over my emotions. I never want to feel that helpless, scared, and cast-off again.
We have the power to choose how we see the world, how we react to stimuli, and who we want to be. I want to be is less stressed, less angry about politics and that bitch in my neighborhood who talks crap. We should want to wake up in the morning feeling like the best day yet is right in front of me instead of rolling over and looking at our phones and fearing the worst has happened overnight.
I want to BE a light in the dark, a firefly.
Dancing with Fireflies is taking more steps to be a place of joy, sharing stories of empowerment and love. I want all of you to leave here feeling better, feeling like you read something that you can relate to and it makes you feel good inside.