04 November 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ Journey that includes Physicians and dentists, Panic attacks and Pretty amazing grace... "Oh my!"

Might as well start off by saying that I'm not setting a timer, not watching a clock, not worrying about keeping this to five minutes... although in the spirit of Five Minute Friday, I will skip the overthinking and editing that is normally a part of my blog posts.

Of course, if I did watch the clock... took the time to overthink... went back to edit... 

Chances are? 

I'll never hit that post button.

So without further ado, here it goes.

This journey began 12 or 13 years ago... and if I'm honest - a season of burnout. Still not sure of the exact mechanism... the why or the how... but somehow a combination of 
  • stress due to my stage of life - busy misso mama with home and ministry responsibilities...
  • parenting many children in close succession and the wear and tear of successive, close pregnancies and long term nursing -physically- on my body...
  • medications instrumental in preventing malaria, but that did bad things to both my mind and body...
  • stress due to high expectations that I had for myself as an overseas missionary...
  • through the roof stress in co-worker relationships, both perceived-by-me AND real...
  • rising tensions as well as physical dangers and threats in our neck of the woods...
  • a downed high tension electric line that resulted in persistent and long power outages (while living in what has, at times, been described as the hottest capital city in the world)...AND
  • an out-of-the-blue tree nut allergy suddenly emerging...
plus some other things that I'm forgetting as well as a few that I'm choosing not to list...

All of these mixed made a powerful cocktail that knocked me off my feet for what felt like a long season.

I began experiencing panic attacks. 

At first it was hard to distinguish an attack from an a reaction to tree nuts - heart racing then pounding then actual palpitations, difficulty taking a deep breath or breathlessness, a numbness and feeling that both my tongue and throat were swelling, extreme nausea, a fear of being alone (in case it was a real, physical issue) but an even greater terror of anyone seeing me in said state, cold sweats, physical trembling all over. 

Getting rid of the tree nuts was an easy solution, except that it didn't stop the attacks. 

Then, I started to figure out specific triggers: an angry disagreement with my husband, a sick child, a need to take (or give to one of my kids) a new medication where I didn't know what sorts of side effects would be experienced... but I still experienced mad symptoms, feeling like a cat perched high on a tree branch and I didn't know what to do or how to let anyone help. Still, no real relief.

For out of the blue and no reason I could determine, I'd be blindsided by an attack. Although, I guess, in theory, it is hard to be blindsided when those attacks were happening on an almost daily basis.

We went to our doctor. She said cut out all caffeine and get at least eight hours of sleep at night, but that brought no improvement. I changed malaria prophylactics, but if that helped, it wasn't immediately evident due to the long half-life of the medication - or so I was told. After another major episode, an injection to reduce that fight-or-flight response and a resulting bout with cellulitis, our doc referred me to a cardiologist. (Totally parenthetical, but visiting a cardiologist in Niger was enough to bring on a panic attack all by itself as they'd have me remove my shirt in the exam room and then walk to the procedures/imaging department, through the hallway filled with other waiting patients, for the actual test. It didn't seem to bother the local women, but I wasn't a local woman.) He first did a 48 hour heart monitor/EKG and then wanted to follow up with an ultrasound of my heart. His diagnosis was pulmonary hypertension. Not encouraging - and it wreaked havoc with finding medical insurance coverage for our family, specifically me, for the next decade. He said absolutely no more pregnancies, no caffeine, lots of rest, minimal stress - and come back in six months to see if anything had changed. Not long after, we learned that Mary Michelle was on her way... I ended up going to the States for that delivery.

It was finally an expat missionary nurse who helped me take an initial step on my journey to "recovery." She recommended a medication used by psychiatric patients, at a low dosage and one that I could buy over-the-counter in Niamey. At first, I took it regularly; then I gradually weaned myself off and used on an as-needed basis when experiencing an panic attack. I carry that little bottle of pills in my purse everywhere... still... even though they are long expired.

After a decade of these attacks
  • no more malaria prophylactic, 
  • no longer living in the excessive heat, 
  • not having been pregnant for almost several years and not having a nursing baby for almost as many, 
  • a lifestyle where I try and get regular outdoor physical activity, rest and sleep (even when I'm sure I don't need it),
  • avoiding excessive caffeine intake - even when I'm sure I do need it (or at least want it), 
  • quiet introvert-recharge-time alone at home - without the continual come and go of visitors as was so normal during our years in Africa.
I just went through two full years without even the hint of a panic attack (literally... October marked two years) - including an international trip where I had changed handbags and didn't have my purse placebo with me.

Until I went to the dentist a little over a week ago. 

I needed work done on both sides of my mouth: a small cavity and a chipped/broken molar way in the back that I'd waited way too long to have repaired. As is typical, the dentist (a young guy, with a man bun - all of our girlies think he's really nice... and hot!) used a topical med to numb my gums before injecting the anesthesia. I must have swallowed a little because my tongue and throat lost sensation and what feeling I did have resembled the swollen feeling I'd get back before we figured out the tree nut thing, back when I had regular panic attacks. And I had a stupid attack right there in the dentist office. Thankfully, after about 10 minutes and realizing that I was able to breathe just fine, gracious, kind and concerned dentist and hygienist/helper, and finally, some water to rinse the topical out of my throat, we were able to continue with the procedure on the back tooth. I did, however, opt to return the following week for the little cavity as really, all I wanted to do was escape back to my house.

I went in yesterday for that little cavity, knowing that I needed him to look at the back tooth again. I thought I had a little morsel of glue stuck under my gum that I'd tried and tried to tease out using dental floss - but had had no success. He found that and removed it pretty quickly. But when he looked a little more closely, he saw that the repair he'd done had actually cracked and a chunk had fallen out and wedged itself under my gum line as well. No wonder I couldn't chew on that side of my mouth all week! 

So... a subsequent repair, lots of digging around already tender gums - which we decided to do without anesthesia this time because we wanted me to be able to truly feel if it had been repaired. Of course, that meant I also got to truly feel the work being done as well. I'll suffice it to say, "Ouch!" and I did come home and cry cause I couldn't even when I wanted to while in the dental office. My mouth is still sore today. But the problem now seems to be fixed and no more dental appoints scheduled until my next cleaning - in a year!

As he started to work, as we moved from discomfort to downright uncomfortable to flat out painful, my heart started to race and pound and I feared another attack. Then a small still voice deep inside whispered, "Listen to the music."

It was no longer the pop music of the local station that had been playing while I was in the waiting room. It was praise and worship music - in English - and frankly, that doesn't even exist in Quebec City! It was like I was listening to a Christian radio station back in the States. And it played for the entire time the dentist was working on my teeth.

I didn't expect that. And while my heart continued to race, my one hand was clinching the arm of the dentist chair, my mouth hurt something fierce and I had to keep reminding myself that I could breathe just fine (during the instrumental parts), I was able to lay there while he worked and concentrate on words of praise and worship.

I don't know?  Perhaps the dentist himself... or his hygienist... picked out some music that they thought might specifically help me this time, after the panic attack the week before? The week before, while waiting for the attack to diminish, we'd actually had a pretty incredible 10 minute conversation about our time in Africa, faith and belief in Christ, why we'd gone in the first place and how I'd found out about my allergy/started experiencing the panic attacks. Then, the dentist left the room for another 10 minutes while the anesthesia took effect and the hygienist and I continued to speak. She'd attended a parochial primary and secondary school and had friends who'd done overseas charity work, so she continued to ask specific questions about our work and life in Niger.

If it wasn't that, perhaps the Holy Spirit did some miraculous thing and I heard the music that I needed to hear instead of what was really playing (although I don't tend to lean towards that sort of explanation - a bit too mystical for my comfort). I don't know if one of the receptionists changed to an internet station instead of a local station

What I do know is that when I needed that calming influence, God - or God through others - provided! THAT. IS. GRACE-IN-ACTION!

Time off... together, enjoying being outside on a beautiful day. and lots of physical activity... always helps when I'm starting to feel the pressure mounting. While back in the States for a training seminar last month, Tim and I took a day to visit DC. I've included a few of my favorite photos from the day, and our 14+ mile monumental metropolis trek!
In this journey we call life, grace catches us off guard, when we least expect it. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is much more prevalent than we even begin to recognize ~ for "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James said that. Or, to quote Paul, "I besought the Lord [much more than] thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."


  1. Richelle, I'm so glad you shared such honest emotions, and your thoughts on grace are lovely. I agree that grace catches us off guard, and that there are more instances than we realize. You've inspired me to watch for them more closely and to be ever grateful when I recognize them.
    Your neighbor at FMF,

    1. Kind words, Patricia. Thanks for stopping by today. Blessings!

  2. Reading your posting in Rochester, MI... attending an incredible Missionary Christmas weekend at one of our faithful supporters. Thanks for your transparency which includes God's provisions in your times of need!! Grateful for the gift of writing that He obviously gave! Blessed to read you this morning - and having the opportunity to pray for you and the Wright tribe!

    1. Thanks Tim. So thankful for you and Barb, your friendship/mentoring over quite a few years now, your prayers and the opportunity to be a part of your team. We are looking forward to seeing y'all again! Hugs from the Wrightlings!


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