Adventures in Aspen
I have written and re-written this post a half a dozen times now. Part of me honestly doesn't want to share it at all. To just sweep it under the rug and move past it. After all, that's what we are all taught to do with trauma right? Well, ignoring or repressing trauma is something that I am actively trying to reverse in my life. Turning to face it, take it in and sit with the emotions that plague us days, weeks, months or even years after the event is the only way to find healing. I am hoping to move through this experience in a healthier way than maybe my past self would have.
Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to be messy? Yes. Am I going to do everything right? Um... is that even a question? Of course I'm going to screw this up, try too hard and land on my face but it's the getting back up over and over that makes all of the difference. And honestly that's the only thing I count these days. I have found counting the failures exhausting and pointless.
In case you are starting to wonder, no this is not a horse-related post. But, if you stick around though you may learn something about yourself or a loved one that could begin to change the way you process the bad things that happen in your life. This is a mental health perspective/trauma post. Everything in our lives ends up connecting in one way or another and I'm not much for compartmentalizing myself, so here it goes.
Night of arrival in Aspen, CO.
Day Four Aspen, CO
As some of you may know, I took a ski trip to Aspen, CO this week with my husband and some dear friends. The trip was traumatic. There I said it. I'm not jumping straight to the f*ing silver lining. I almost died. All of the emotions, feelings and mental health fallout from this experience will be too much for one post. So I'll shamelessly plug my podcast here: The Horseman's Mindset which will either this week or next, have a more detailed account of where I'm at on this, depending on when I am up to sharing more.
So the trip started out innocently enough - though I do feel I should mention (and Tim, my husband, can back me up here) I had a feeling of dread about going on this trip. Two days before we were supposed to leave, I almost bailed which is really unlike me. I have been mentally stable, otherwise physically healthy etc... I had no reason to feel like something was going to go horribly wrong if I left. The very tricky thing about my brain is I have lots of feelings of dread for lots of different situations. During a Bipolar episode, a simple trip to the grocery store can involve feelings of dread, panic and inability to physically move. However - this was different. This feeling was like a dark cloud and didn't shift with my moods or after a restful nights sleep.
I have had several stressful trips in a row now - Colorado last summer with truck issues and the one in November that was so bad I didn't even bother to blog about being in three vet clinics in three states in three days and giving IV Banamine to my incessantly colicy horse, Jake, traveling solo home from Texas. Either one of those trips by themselves would give one pause about traveling. Back to back though? Yeah maybe that explained the primal flight/fight/freeze alarms in my head going off.
Anyways, after much deliberation with Tim - I decided to ignore the alarms going off in my head and proceed with the ski trip.
We had an easy drive into Aspen and picked up take-out after settling into our friends' family cabin which was gorgeous! Since we ate fast-food on the road, I decided to go healthy with a Caprese Salad. After dinner I headed downstairs to take a shower and noticed this dime size red mark on my neck. As I was checking it out it began to blister and within five minutes it was the size of a dinner plate. Even though I have never had an allergic reaction or seen one first hand; as soon as that rash blistered and spread the feeling of dread was GONE. "This is it! This is the thing that was going to happen. I can do this. It will be ok." I said to myself as Tim grabbed his first aid kit for Benadryl and looked up directions to the ER.
Tim immediately sprang into action and had me CHEW two Benadryl - do it in these types of scenarios it could save your life - and we jumped in the car headed for the hospital which was fortunately only a couple miles away. Perhaps my instant relief and optimism stemmed from my complete lack of experience with anaphylaxis but I remained calm as the rash spread to my entire body and my tongue began to swell, taking up most of my airway.
I often hear on TV shows that I watch about doctors describing patients as "fighters". Am I a fighter, medically speaking? I keep asking myself this because by the time we made it to the hospital the dark edges of my eyesight were beginning to close in as stars came into what was left of my vision. I wasn't scared. I felt peaceful. I felt content. I felt proud of my life and no regrets came into my mind. (Not that I'm perfect I'm just telling you what happened in my head. I felt like I did my best and for the first time in my life that was enough.) I also felt complete faith that I knew God was holding me in this situation and I would wake up either still in this life or in the next and either way I would be fine.
Well, either way, I didn't get to find out what waking up from the experience was like because before I passed out the Benadryl kicked in and right about that same time Tim's mad driving skills had gotten me to the front doors of the ER. By this point I was a little more alert but the rash had spread over my entire body, my hands swelled to the point of not being able to bend my fingers and I was still struggling to breathe. I was diagnosed on the spot with anaphylactic shock. Epinephrine, steroids, anti-nausea meds on board and I quickly went from slipping into shock to no sign that any of this had even happened. The whole thing, from the moment I noticed the small mark on my neck to being discharged from the hospital was maybe an hour and a half. I went from thinking I might die to being physically fine so fast that I didn't even have time to comprehend what had happened. Honestly, I don't even have my head around it now.
Tim probably had 15 min total to get me to the hospital from my first symptom and the Benadryl definitely bought us some time. I was about to pass out when it kicked in as we pulled into the hospital and my throat opened back up enough to breathe better again. They sent me home with an EPI Pen which will now be part of my life and I'm working through my fear of all things food related. I have never in my life had an allergic reaction to anything let alone something this severe.
The fear is real. My social phobia made a comeback one day while in Aspen and I cried in an art gallery when the owner was being pushy about a painting I was looking at. I spent an afternoon curled up on the floor of the bathroom in our cabin in the dark with the door shut crying my eyes out because - well I almost died and my limbic system had NO IDEA what to do with this information. Opening the refrigerator and deciding what to eat terrifies me. And I LOVE food. Now I eat because well I can't avoid it forever. I also had my first mixed manic episode in months and months last night and experienced audible hallucinations again which haven't happened in a WHILE. (Thankfully the audible hallucination was just an Enya song but imagine hearing one line over and over at full volume for hours and hours.) Yeah I think I'll be taking a break from her music for a while. Maybe forever. lol
Why am I telling you all this? Is it making you uncomfortable? Do you feel like maybe I over-shared? Or maybe this is resonating with you and reading this is opening your eyes and helping you realize you AREN'T alone. You aren't crazy. You are just a human with a human brain that does all sorts of things when trying to cope your way through trauma to find healing. Or maybe you have a treatable and diagnosable mental health disorder that you don't have to continue suffering in silence from. Or maybe next week you are going to eat something that send you into shock - I sure hope not! But whatever the case, I'm trusting this post will make it to the people who need it.
Healing from trauma (as I intend to do from this one) is a messy process. It's getting up and falling down over and over until you have lost count of all of the attempts at being normal. It's crying for hours or not crying at all. It's mental health management, self care and acceptance. It's being so angry you think your whole body might just spontaneously explode. It's feeling defeated. It's all of it. And I don't care if you have a pre-existing mental health diagnosis you are managing or not - trauma can bring out all sorts of reactions you may not be prepared for.
Now that I have walked you through my emotional brain's experience of this trip let's take a step back. Let's go back to that visceral, intuitive dread that I had about this trip. Next time that happens am I going to cancel my plans? Absolutely not. I refuse to allow fear to dictate what I will and will not do.
The reality is if I hadn't gone on this trip and I had experienced this type of reaction at home where I am NOT a mile away from a hospital the outcome could have been fatal. We were concerned it would be fatal anyways even with our proximity to the hospital. Allergic reactions are very unpredictable severity-wise. My throat was swelling shut, I was losing my ability to communicate and I was starting to feel the pull of unconsciousness. I keep thinking about that. How grateful I am to have found out this way and that we made it to help in time. Allergy tests when I get home to figure out what the heck it was that got me. Our money is on pine nuts in the pesto.
Hug your loved ones tightly my friends! You never know when your time is going to come. I guess it wasn't quite mine yet.
Psalms 139:16 NLT
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Photo above: Just a couple days after thinking I might die. How do you come back from something like this? It was/is A LOT to process. Not a fan of the experience but I'm game to figure this out and glad I'm still here.