The Fall of Everything

I didn’t expect it to happen to me – I was the energetic, determined girl with the ten year plan. As I far as I knew, I was capable and talented, and could do anything. I had no limits. Finishing high school, my ambitious self knew exactly what I wanted to do with life. I had specific goals I knew I needed to meet to ensure I stayed on track. And although God re-directed my steps and dreams the first year into my grand-plan, I didn’t expect to be taken out completely five years later.

I somehow made it from my car, across the road, and onto my bed that Sunday evening. I sat struggling to breathe, tears and mascara pouring down my checks and onto my recently washed white shirt as I tried to put God in the centre of the second panic attack I was having that week. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” were the only words I could seem to utter as my vision blurred, and went dark. I concentrated on deep breathing. “Help,” I whispered to Him.

I didn’t understand what was happening to my body. Up until recently, stress was never something that phased me. I truly believed and had seen evidence in my own life that with God on my side, I could do anything. But suddenly, even the thought of making it to work the next day sent my body in a state of shock – I couldn’t do it.

Every morning for two years I had prayed I would actually wake up to the sound my alarm. Getting dressed, I prayed I would make it through the day without any health interruptions. When I did find myself feeling from meeting rooms to the bathroom, I held back tears and with every utterance of strength I could muster, I whispered in desperation to God about my problem, “No. Not now. Be gone.”

As I moved from sitting on my bed to lying on the floor that evening to focus on deep breathing, I suddenly felt like even praying didn’t ease the complete breakdown overtaking my body.

The next day, I quit my fast-tracking career with guilt, shame, and a sense of hopeless I knew a Christian shouldn’t have. People told me I was lucky to be progressing my career at such a rapid rate and young age. Bosses and colleagues had for years told me I was good, great; a rare find. I felt like I was admitting defeat. I had already opted out from serving at my church. For over a year I had been cancelling social plans and dates with friends. I had isolated myself from everyone I knew and loved, and most days I lay in my bed at night, or stood in my shower with pain, crying to God, “Why me, God? Please, heal me.” That Sunday night, I felt like it was all over, and I asked God to take me home.

It all started two and half years ago. I got the half-hearted and unsure diagnosis in August, a few days after my 22nd birthday. It happened after a few months of weird health symptoms – extreme fatigue, constant nausea and dizziness, stomach pains, frequent headaches, and rapid weight gain. Doctors didn’t know where to start or what to do, so they labelled it as IBS – “There are many things it could be but we don’t really know, so it’s probably irritable bowel syndrome. See a dietitian and your symptoms should be better in a few months.”

I felt overjoyed. A solution! A three month long restricted food diet began immediately, and I couldn’t finish my leftover birthday cake. Nevertheless, self-discipline and control were things I excelled at, and I embarked on eating like a rabbit for the next few months, with the confidence that finding out what food I was intolerant to would solve everything. As Christmas and New Year’s greeted us with promises of cheer and happiness, I began my food trials.

My dietitian was thorough, and this process took another two months. I reacted to every test item. I sat at work, fearful to eat the half apricot before I went into my meeting. What would happen? I planned the quick-exit scenarios in my mind. I spent most of January and February at my work desk trying to concentrate on my work amidst headaches and dizzy spells, and in the toilet – pain began overtaking my body. Still, I pressed on, forcing myself to run home from work every day with the belief that “exercise solves everything.”

My dietitian was in awe – “It’s rare to fail every food group. This is likely not IBS, go back to your doctor.” My doctor told me I could manage my symptoms through food, and referred me to a different food specialist. More food intolerance trials ensued. Many more months later I was sent back to my doctor with a message, “This is not IBS. You need to see a gastroenterologist.” My doctor sent a referral to the public hospital. I was still following my strict, 20-item rabbit diet.

A week later, and three weeks after my 23rd birthday, I was sitting in front of a cosy fireplace after a day skiing with my mum who was visiting from Australia. My phone rang at 7pm.

“Emily, it’s Dr Sue* here. Your referral to see a specialist has been denied. They say your IBS symptoms can be managed through food.”

I wanted to scream at her. I held my tongue. I was instead put on a range of trial medications for four more months, with the empty promise to see her again then if I was still having issues. I stayed positive. “Maybe this will help?” I tried to reassure myself.

The pills gave me depression I never admitted to anyone I had, and I tried to fight off. Anxiety that had been toying with my mind for a few months became crippling. I stopped doing everything apart from going to work, and running home.

When my medication finished four months later I was worse. I was finding it harder and harder to wake up. It was nearly impossible to concentrate for longer than ten minutes. My anxiety became crippling. By this stage I had isolated everyone I knew and loved. I knew I needed help and support, and I finally told a few people what was going on. They prayed. I hoped. I carried on with life, ignoring the symptoms and pretending I could live normally if I didn’t let them get to me. It was hard, my bible became rippled with tear stains, and my nights became sleepless.

The months went on as I silently suffered, began to utter half-hearted prayers, and put on a smile during my waking hours. I was given a bonus at work as my 24th birthday rolled around and I was celebrated for being hardworking, talented, positive, and capable of achieving anything set before me. I felt like it was all a lie, and I was a fake. My rabbit food diet meant I couldn’t eat anything at my shared lunch, and by this stage I was used to it. People always asked me about my food, and I pretended it was all just allergies. I pretended I was fine. I didn’t want people to see that I was sicker that I let on – especially myself.

Everything collapsed after I was head-hunted for a new position at a rapidly changing innovative organisation. I feared I wouldn’t be able to deliver, but I took the position. I felt I couldn’t stop my career progression. I had to keep going, aiming higher, achieving more. I couldn’t be sick, and I wouldn’t let myself believe I was.

My body had started reacting to almost everything I put into it – even the food I was “allowed” to have. Food became a poison. I never let it show, but it was becoming impossible to make it through each day.

Three weeks into my new job, I found myself on my bed that Sunday evening having my second panic attack that week. I knew I had to stop. My doctor wrote me a letter to say I couldn’t work anymore. I resigned with my tail between my legs, feeling like a failure, and wondering what purpose I had left with my life if I couldn’t do anything.

I was determined, and decided that if I couldn’t work, I’d study. Over my third rabbit-diet Christmas I enrolled to teach the next generation all that I knew about my work in communications, engagement, media, design, and web development. I was referred to a private gastroenterologist, with a two month wait. I managed the first six weeks of the course with A grades – to the further detriment of my health.

Another panic attack crippled me on my way to my very first Trimester One workshop. I couldn’t go in, and I screamed at God while driving home. I rang my mum in fits of tears. Between raspy, heavy, breaths, I said: “I cannot do this, Mum. I’m sick.”

I admitted it. Defeat washed through every ounce of my body as I realised I couldn’t work, I couldn’t study, and felt all my dreams were dashed. I thought I had let down every one who ever thought I would be successful. I felt like the years of sacrifice my parents had made to send me to prestigious schools was wasted. I felt like I was wasted.

But in my spirit, I know God has a plan for my testimony. As I await my specialist appointment in a few weeks, I know there is purpose in Him bringing my life to a complete standstill. I believe freedom and liberty will come to my life. I hold faith, despite the seen circumstances, that God will use me for His glory.

Follow my (more positive) snippets, insights, recipes, and stories with others as I embark on doing one thing I know for certain God has told me to do: write. I promise they will be more uplifting (but still just as honest) than this one!

Emily x

3 Comments

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  1. Gosh Emily my heart goes out to you! You also remind me of the struggle I had at the same age with panic attacks!! I didnt have the food intolerance but I was crippled with anxiety. I went to Drs who told me I had to learn to relax etc etc. I was finally referred to a psychiatrist who said I was a typical A type personality with high expectations. A very typical anxiety attack patient. He prescribed me an anit depressant specifically for panic attacks and from then on I never looked back. It made a huge difference to me. I have stayed panic attack free but have had to take the medication for life. It is not a high dose so I have no side effects apart from weight gain.
    This was a very stressful time for me and know exactly how you feel. I knew I was so capable but I was crippled by panic attacks after I had one. There is light at the end of the tunnel Emily. I would love to have you help me at the lodge with my marketing and communication and at the same time help you through this difficult phase in your life. It is only a phase Emily I can assure you!! Your blog was very well written and I am sure you will touch people with the very same thing. God bless you sweetheart. I look forward to hearing from you!! In the mean time I send all my love and best wishes for a complete recovery!!
    Love you heaps
    Leigh xx

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  2. Leah Pickering March 8, 2017 — 6:30 am

    So awesome to see more people being open about their battles with mental and physical health. There are so many stigmas out there that are crippling people who suffer in silence and continue on as if nothing is wrong. Good on for for being honest with your self that you needed help and it’s super amazing and brave of you to share your story with others! Please continue as you are able to and seek out some blogging support to help you along the way as well! Thank you Em and keep doing what you’re doing – for you and your own journey ❤

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  3. I am so proud of you Emily. You are steadfast, strong and faithful, add to that courageous beyond belief.
    You have been and still are an inspiration, I have always loved how you live life and this has not changed even as you go through all this.
    You are not a disappointment to anyone (especially God) nor are you a failure…. You are a writer for this phase of your life, however long that may be.

    “There is talent and creativity in you that God wants to bring out and sometimes he needs to slow us down to do that”. from Charlotte Scalan Gambil’s book ‘Identity’

    You will continue to bless and inspire others just by living life the way you do and being you, our gorgeous Emz.

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