I woke at 5:07 a.m. on Friday, December 16, 2016. Within a couple minutes of waking, I felt a tingle rush down my left arm. This wasn’t your average “my arm fell asleep” kind of tingle. It was different. Significant.
I’d been feeling tiny pains in my heart on and off since February 2014, the night before I left for Haiti. And for months prior to this particular day, I’d had several spells of unexplained dizziness when standing. Add to that three weeks of unusually elevated stress including two days of appointments at Mayo Clinic for my husband’s eye cancer, returning home to grandma and three kids with head lice that would NOT GO AWAY for NINE DAYS, my husband’s birthday, my last published post on my old blog and a new website in development, my daughter’s birthday and birthday party, one early Christmas with my side of the family at our house, and preparations for an early Christmas with my husband’s side of the family. Add to that 12 years of significant stress, including my dad’s layoff from his job two years before retirement; my sister’s SIX YEARS of significant addiction and mental health issues followed by two pregnancies with two children, one who had a serious medical problem requiring surgery three days after birth; my brother’s accident; my dad’s heart attack; my husband’s eye cancer; my dad’s rare lung disease which lead to a lung transplant; my mother-in-law’s heart attack; several years of chronic bleeding with multiple doctor visits and no answers; a vocation change; lice not once, but THREE times; and other diagnoses and discoveries we’ve chosen to keep private.
I was CERTAIN. Absolutely CONVINCED that morning of December 16, 2016, that with the tingling down my arm, the pains in my heart, unexplained dizziness and ALL the stress both long-term and short-term, that I was HAVING A HEART ATTACK.
I grabbed my phone from the nightstand, typed “symptoms of heart attack in women” into Google, and began reading the first article that popped up. No kidding. I didn’t even make it half way through the article and my heart began beating SO fast, SO out of control, SO out of my chest that I knew something was terribly wrong. My husband was sleeping, so I gave him a swift and hefty nudge.
“I need to go to the hospital. I don’t feel well.”
“What?” he said as he pushed himself slightly up and out of sleeping position. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, I NEED to go to the hospital. Call 911 RIGHT NOW. I don’t feel well at all!”
I wasn’t sure my husband believed me. This was totally random. It was still 5-something in the morning. I’d woken him from a deep slumber, asking him to call 911 and get me to the hospital.
“I’m not kidding! I’m going to DIE!!!! Call. 911. NOW! I’m having a heart attack!!!” I yelled in a panic over my symptoms and my husband’s disbelief and disobedience over not calling 911 the millisecond I asked him to.
My 11-year-old daughter rushed in our room after hearing me yell “I’m going to die.” I gave her a hug, held her hand tight alongside the bed, told her I loved her so much and that they need to call 911 right away!
At that point, I’m pretty sure my husband started to take the situation seriously. He whipped his clothes on and called 911. As soon as he connected with 911, we got me down the stairs. I hugged all three kids as big as I could, told them I loved them SO much and to hang on until we could get a neighbor to come over to watch them, and made my way to the cold car. If I was, indeed, having a heart attack, and if, indeed, it was going to be fatal, I knew this was a beyond-traumatic way for my kids to see their mom one last time. In the panic of the moment, I did my best to reassure them of my love and give them one last memory of their mom holding their hand as she rushed to take care of her health. It was, indeed, a memory four of us will never forget.
After taking my heart rate and hearing my symptoms, 911 confirmed that they should send emergency services. An ambulance was on its way.
My husband helped me back in the house.
I lay flat on the living room couch with my blue snowflake pajamas and disheveled morning hair. My arm wasn’t tingling anymore, but my heart rate was still unusually elevated, far beyond anything I’d ever felt working out faithfully for 11 years. I was dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous and shaky. I felt weak and disconnected from my surroundings. I was going crazy, having a heart attack or dying…perhaps all three.
Before I knew it, my neighbor who’s a firefighter was kneeling beside me. His wife was in the background gathering our kids and basic belongings so they could hang at our neighbor’s house before school.
An ambulance and two medics arrived. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The Christmas tree was decked to the nines with red ribbon, sparkly poinsettias and Hallmark ornaments aplenty. And there I was on the couch having a heart attack…or not.
This was absolutely, without a doubt, the most humbling and humiliating experience of my life.
One male medic and one female medic rushed in the front door with their medical equipment. They asked about my symptoms and took my pulse and blood pressure. Still super high. Unusually elevated considering I was just lying on the couch. They listened and decided to take a quick EKG to see if any unusual heart activity could be detected.
Nothing. Nada. No unusual heart activity except my reported symptoms and extraordinarily high heart rate.
I KNOW myself. I KNOW my body. I KNEW something had happened and was terribly wrong.
I also happen to be a highly sensitive and intuitive individual.
I sensed pretty quickly that the male medic didn’t believe me. He thought I was some crazy person, that I was making all of this up, that there was no heart attack happening here, that it was high time for them to get out of our house and let us take care of this in our own due time. Okay, perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but everything I read from the male medic’s body language was dismissive rather than supportive. I didn’t need any sort of dismissive. Dismissiveness, whether subtle or outright, is not a way to handle anyone’s story.
What did I have to lose in that moment? I’d already lost all sense of dignity. Heck, I was humbled prone on the couch.
“I know you don’t believe me,” I exclaimed as respectfully and NOT-crazy-person as possible to the male medic, “but I’ve been working out for 11 years and I know my body. I’ve never, ever experienced anything like this in my entire life. Something happened. Something is wrong.”
“Let’s see if you can get up and walk around a bit,” said Jordan. I got up. Made a few slow laps around our kitchen island. “Have you experienced any stress lately?” inquired one of the medics. “Yes. Significant stress for many years.” I shared the stress in a sentence or two, knowing full well that reality was more like a book.
Humbled and humiliated, I got back on the couch.
We decided, reluctantly, that the medics and ambulance would leave, that we would drive ourselves to the ER.
It hit me. I started crying as they looked at me one last time and made their way out. Something significant happened. We called 911. I traumatized our kids. Our neighbors came over. An ambulance and two medics came to my house at a freaky early morning hour. And now they were all gone. It was just me and my husband. Something had happened to my body AND I was crazy all at the same time.
A half hour later, we found ourselves in the emergency room.
Four hours later, after physician interviews, a chest x-ray, another EKG, TWO enzyme tests used to detect a heart attack, and continuous blood pressure and heart rate monitoring showing my pulse was still totally out of control, it was determined that I had NOT had a heart attack, but a PANIC ATTACK.
Yes, this was definitely the most humiliating experience of my entire LIFE.
The only consolation was the emergency room doctor who said she could see in my eyes that it had all been too much, that I had been through a lot and my system crashed once and for all. She said she wouldn’t have been surprised if my enzyme tests had come back positive considering my unusually high heart rate for all those hours; she’s seen runners leak enzymes at those heart rates post-marathons. Yes, she assured me that my heart was, in fact, INCREDIBLY STRONG.
That was Friday.
I had another panic attack on Sunday and another on Monday. On Monday, I made a doctor appointment for Friday; I’d read up on panic attacks and had no interest in this moving into the realm of panic disorder. Tuesday and Wednesday were okay, but my nerves were COMPLETELY FRAYED that whole week. I could feel my heart beating ALL the TIME. I had to move quarter to half my normal pace just to fend off another panic attack. I did very little around the house and had to take breaks to sit or lie down throughout the day. Thursday I had a panic attack. Friday I had a panic attack in the morning and was NOT well when I went in for the doctor appointment. I scored top of the charts on the anxiety test and began a medication that’s used to treat panic attacks that same day. Christmas Eve afternoon was terrible. I’m pretty sure I had panic attacks, one after another, all through Christmas Eve service. I only slept 3 hours overnight from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day because I was cycling through panic attacks all night long and was certain I was going to land in the hospital again. Yes, it was that bad.
Thank the LORD, my last panic attack was late Christmas morning on our way to the airport. Praise the LORD, we just happened to be heading to Orlando that afternoon for a 4-day family vacation. God knew I would need to get away.
The medication kicked in. I was able to enjoy the vacation and haven’t had a panic attack since late Christmas morning.
From then on, I knew life had to change.
I knew I needed to take better care of myself if I was going to continue taking care of others.
I KNEW I needed to see the significance of my OWN story.
Since January 11th, I’ve consulted once a month with our neighbor who’s a rockstar personal trainer. I’ve eaten more salads in the past two months than I had in a year. I increased my workouts from 2x/week to 3x/week, and am lifting serious weights EVERY workout which is a notable change from my mostly-cardio workouts. I’ve cut back significantly on sugar, fast food and mindless late-night snacking, and I’m generally eating with MUCH more intentionality. Every day without fail, I log my nutrition on My Fitness Pal. I’ve lost 7 pounds in 8 weeks.
The last day I drank caffeinated beverages was December 15th, the day before my first panic attack. I started going to bed an hour earlier and have been sleeping MUCH better.
I’ve said NO to some things and YES to new things.
I’m trying to reach out when I sense I’m in need of encouragement, community and connection.
Slowly, but surely, I’m allowing myself to dream again.
Something had to change. Praise God, things are changing. For He works ALL things together for those who love Him. He makes ALL things beautiful in their time. THIS is my story and I’m sticking to it.
So here we are. So much has happened since I began working on this new site on November 7, 2016. So much has happened since I shared my last post on the old blog on December 12, 2016. God has worked mightily, and although life has brought new and unexpected challenges, I am 100% confident that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
You might be asking yourself “So why did you tell us this long and crazy story? Now what?!”
Well, let me tell you, friends!
If you followed my story for a while, you know this website is NEW, just launched TODAY! After four months of hard work, I’m so excited to finally have this site up and running, and can’t wait for you to look around. But before you take a peek at our new online home, let me explain where we’re heading from here!
Moving forward, this site will feature four categories of stories:
1. Stories by Me.
ONCE a month, I will write on ONE of four topics, including DREAMS, HEALTH, FAMILY, and REAL LIFE.
2. Stories by My Sister.
Tiffany is a mother of two and has schizoaffective disorder – bipolar type. ONCE a month, Tiffany will write on ONE of four topics, including MENTAL HEALTH & SELF CARE, MOTHERHOOD, DAILY LIVING, and RELATIONSHIPS.
3. Photo Stories
Some photo stories will be simple, featuring my favorite photographs from recent shoots. There will also be full-length stories for people who choose to pay extra for a photo shoot, interview and written story in honor of a special occasion or major life event!
4. Featured “Sisterhood of Significance” Stories
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, I’m beyond excited to announce that I’m launching a long-term series called the “Sisterhood of Significance.” For the past 4 years 8 months, I’ve been sharing my story and others’ stories on my blog. Today, in honor of the new website launch, I shared an incredibly vulnerable and personal part of my story for a reason.
I love stories. I believe strongly that everyone has a story, a story worth knowing and worth telling. Good, bad, beautiful and ugly, your story is significant. I want you to see, more than anything else, the significance of your story. So we’ll meet. We’ll talk. We’ll get to know each other. I’ll ask questions and I’ll listen to your story. Then I’ll use words and photographs to help you see and share the significance of your story.
Two months ago, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with a crystal clear vision for how the “Sisterhood of Significance” will work! I started the chain today by sharing my story. I’m passing the torch and nominating my college friend and day spa owner, Amy, as next in the “Sisterhood of Significance.” Next week, I’m meeting with Amy. She’ll share her story of significance, I’ll take notes and photographs, and I’ll feature her story on the site! Amy will pass the torch and nominate someone who’s living a life of significance, whether they believe it or not. That person, if they agree to be interviewed and featured on the site, will join our “Sisterhood of Significance.” And so goes the chain, on and on, until we have hundreds of women in our “Sisterhood of Significance.”
The original “Sisterhood of Significance” chain can and will pause and resume on an as needed basis. New story chains will be inserted when I launch special series. I won’t go into detail about how that will work now, but the possibilities are endless, exciting and totally in line with all the visions I’ve ever had.
One more P.S. I’ve dreamed up something super amazing for this “Sisterhood of Significance.” How about a “Sisterhood of Significance Gala” where we take one night, once a year, to honor all the women that have been featured in the series?! I’m just going to put that dream out there and won’t mention it again unless it comes to life. But wouldn’t that be awesome?
One story. One woman at a time. Let’s do this. See the significance of your story.