I don’t typically spend much time editing my blog posts, but this one is giving me fits. Praying for words that will be received in just the way I intended them.
I’m not looking for pity or attention (prayers? yes, please.). It’s just hard for me to sit and blog about orphan care and 7 read-a-longs (we start tomorrow! have you signed up yet??) and my new e-book and act like my life is hunky-dory when it most certainly is not. At all.
Today at church, my friend and pastor, Rich Johnson, encouraged us to share our “right-now stories” as a way to start talking to others about Christ. And it struck me that I have a right-now story. And it’s not pretty, but if God wants to get some glory by me being transparent and vulnerable, then that’s what I want.
Even though vulnerable is not my most favorite emotion. Not even close.
I shared briefly a few days ago that Gabe had been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. He still is. And we’re taking it one little bit at a time.
To give you some context, I’d say he’s struggled mildly with anxiety his whole life. He and his mom have both shared stories of times in his childhood where his tendency toward worry and fear was pretty evident. Ever since we’ve been married (14+ years), he’s definitely had lots of times when his regular old worry became what I’d call debilitating. But never a full-fledged panic attack. And we always got through it. Reading the Bible, prayer, me yelling at him to get a grip.
And then in October, he had a heart attack that should have killed him (thank you, Jesus, for his life). And then we had a lot of hospital bills. And then we went to Cambodia. And all five of us struggled in our own way as we transitioned back to life in American suburbia. But while the girls seem to be doing better and my depression eventually (mostly) lifted, Gabe’s stress just seemed to keep building, layer after layer.
Several times he complained of chest pains, but we talked through it, and they always went away. One night at the end of January, he convinced me he needed to go to the ER. I was pretty sure it was all in his head and wasn’t super happy about it. We spent 17 hours in the hospital for them to tell us, “his heart looks great and we’re not really sure why he’d be having chest pains.”
Then he had this amazing visit with his cardiologist who happily explained that the echo-cardiogram showed that his heart had healed so completely that there wasn’t even any sign of damage from the attack.
Two weeks later, we were back in the ER, and this time I talked to the doctor in tears. “I think this is anxiety.” She agreed and said that panic attack symptoms will often mirror a heart attack. Tightening in the chest, pains, shortness of breath. And for someone who has already had an actual heart attack? Well, I can’t even imagine. She gave him some meds for anxiety and encouraged him to start seeing a counselor.
Long story short, the weekend before this last one was one of the worst of my life. My strong, logical husband was a perpetual puddle of tears (and he never cries) and when he wasn’t crying, he was convinced he was dying. The panic attacks started coming pretty frequently (with the latest happening just last night). I hate them.
We’ve been to a crisis center, he’s started counseling, he’s in rehab for his heart attack, and he’s taking time off work (with partial pay). He has lots of really good moments and some really, really awful ones. He’s tired and discouraged. And he wants his old self back.
And me? Well. On a handful of occasions, I could’ve been nominated for Wife of the Year (according to Gabe), and the rest of the time? Um. There’s been some despair, some rays of hope, some anger and meanness, some “please forgive me’s,” some more anger, some discouragement and frustration, some bitterness, some deep breaths and “okay I can do this.” And sometimes all of that in the span of about 10 minutes.
I cried at church today. Like four different times. Three friends prayed for me (I love you, girls), and lots of people listened. Gabe’s parents came down for the day. They had planned to go to church with us, but Gabe had a rough night, so they stayed with him while the girls and I went. Part of me didn’t want to go back home. I haven’t left Gabe’s side for over a week now. Lots of canceled plans, lots of… yeah.
Tonight has been good. Except when it wasn’t. I don’t know how to be the wife of a guy who’s working his way through anxiety. I don’t know the balance between gentle nurturer/caregiver and tough love, let’s-get-better-now-okay wife/partner. I don’t know how to do this, and I hate it. All of it. I want my husband back. I want our life back.
Some moments I feel the gentle peace of Jesus washing over me. And other times I feel the hopes and dreams for our family’s future crashing in a pile on top of me. And I get mad and then sad and then I scour the cupboards for chocolate.
So. We need wisdom and discernment. I need mercy and grace (both given to me and to give to Gabe). Gabe needs healing so he can continue to move into all that God has prepared for him to do to advance his kingdom. I need unconditional love and respect for my husband. Our girls need assurance that their worlds aren’t going to be getting rocked forever. And we need to trust that God has this all in his more-than-capable hands.
I know this could be so much worse, but it’s also really, really hard. And I’m just the wife. I know Gabe wishes I could put myself in his shoes for even five minutes.
Here come the tears again. Awesome.
Thanks for listening, friends. See you back here tomorrow where we’ll discuss the Introduction to 7.