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 fleeing 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. 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!