It paralyzes you. Sometimes, quite literally. It can paralyze your body. I can vividly remember a time when fear left me trembling at the knees, and I felt the panic rapidly taking over my body.
I was standing on top of a mountain. Not a small hill, let me tell you. No, we were standing on rocky boulders at 14,000 feet in the rocky mountains of Colorado—Mount Bierstadt. We only had a few more feet to go until we were to reach the summit, but the natural elements began to intimidate me and I started to lose my grip; my grip on reality. When you are that high in elevation, the winds are cruel and whip your body around and slaps your hair across your face. The wind seems angry. To me, it felt like it was out to get me at that moment. I felt so vulnerable.
When you stand at the bottom of the mountain looking at your task ahead of you of reaching your summit and bagging your first “14’er” as people of Colorado refer them to, it of course looks challenging. But that’s what drives you and gives you the adrenaline. The will power and desire more than anything to conquer this beast. But down below, you are safe. You have not encountered the elements yet.
As we were near our summit, I felt my legs start shaking as I saw the drop off of the mountain not far to our right. The boulders we had to scramble over were huge, and all I could imagine, in my fear, was that I would fall and that would just be the end of it. The “fight or flight” feelings were settling in and taking over. I wanted to escape. I wanted to escape and run away from this situation. I wanted off this mountain. To make my fear worse, I saw clouds in the distance and snow falling from them. The snow was headed our way. “We are going to get trapped on this mountain!” I thought to myself.
We finally made it to Bierstadt’s summit, but I was terrified. I was breathing hard and my whole body was trembling. I told my husband, Josh, “I can’t do this. I can’t get back down.” I couldn’t imagine scrambling over those big boulders again. Each step was a risk.
It was time to get back down, off the mountain. The snow was approaching our way, quickly. It was time to leave. But I couldn’t. I literally could not find the courage to get up from where I sat down on one of the boulders. I said over and over again, irrationally, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this!” And I started crying. I was shaking so bad from my nerves. I was paralyzed. I think I might have even said something utterly ridiculous, like, “you are just going to have to leave me here.” My safety was ahead of me, by simply taking the steps to crawl over the boulders, but my fear stood in the way. I was putting myself in danger by remaining on the mountain . . . everyone else was starting to race off the mountain for they saw the snow coming too. I could imagine the white-out…I could see it all in those moments of panic. I don’t know how Josh did it. I don’t know what he said to me, perhaps he remembers, but he somehow knocked sense into me and gave me the courage and confidence to believe in myself that I could do this.
So, I took the first step. And then the next step. And the next. It was difficult as my legs were trembling but each step in the right direction and knowing I was getting closer to getting out of this dangerous situation gave me confidence and I soon found the shaking was lessening and my steps were more confident. I wasn’t crawling like a baby over the boulders anymore! I was conquering them!
Fast forward about two and a half years later. I am in a similar situation. Yep, a new mountain I have to conquer. Postpartum depression.
It also left me paralyzed. Some days, I literally felt that I could not move. That I could not get out of bed. I could not get off the couch. I was afraid to even walk around the house, because the anxiety was so high and my thoughts might start racing or the depressive thoughts might swarm my mind. I’d stay glued to the couch, finding something to obsess over, to distract my thoughts, whether that was staying connected to Facebook or I would research all there was to know about postpartum depression. I even started working on a research paper. Knowledge is power, they say, and I believe that wholeheartedly. But I was afraid. I was afraid of being left alone, because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. Thoughts that told me “You are never going to get better.” “You are always going to have this”. “This postpartum depression will just turn into regular depression and will never go away.” “You are always going to suffer.” “This is going to take your life.” These intrusive thoughts filled me throughout the day when I was at my worst. I was so depressed. My psychiatrist diagnosed me as having SEVERE postpartum depression and anxiety. I felt so hopeless. I felt afraid to walk into certain rooms because that’s where I had had a panic attack and where I’d had terrifying nightmares or feelings of impending doom and gloom. It felt like the depression was limited to those rooms, that they were dangerous rooms, and I had to avoid them.
These intrusive, “Bad thoughts” as I would call them, some thoughts that were even suicidal, were the boulders, like on Mount Bierstadt, that I had to overcome. With each fleeting thought that I had, I overcame them. The fear of those thoughts chilled me to the bone, but I knew they were not me, they were not Lindsey. And with each passing day of my journey with PPD, it was as though each day was climbing over another boulder. A baby step, that yes, sometimes, I literally crawled on the floor and lay there and lay crying and wailing like a baby that beat out my 3 month old’s crying episodes. I was pathetic. But I was trying. I was trying SO hard. To make it through each day.
When I would lay there on my boulder, or couch as it was when I was going through PPD, or even laying in bed, afraid to get up and face the day and what it might bring me, my family gave me the pep talks to get off of the foreboding mountain. To get back down to safety. On to flat ground, where the beautiful green grass and wildflowers awaited me….where happiness and normalcy was compared to the boulders that I was scrambling over at the time. My husband, again, gave me the pep talk every day for the three months that I suffered the most. Sometimes, several pep talks a day. “You can do this. You are going to get better. THIS IS JUST TEMPORARY!”
I remember after climbing Mount Bierstadt, I had SUCH relief when we were on straight, level paths. And when I saw our car waiting for us in the parking lot. My legs were killing me. I was in control by now, and felt so happy that I was back in the beautiful valley. As we drove back home, I thought to myself, like in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” movie with Jim Carrey, how when he’s sliding down the mountain in his sled he totally freaks out and almost throws up because he is terrified what might happen to him as their sled races down a mountain past trees and huge rocks that could crush their sled. When he gets back down off the mountain and regains control of the sled and his mind, he says, “Woah. I almost lost my cool back there!” That’s how I felt and how I felt many times during my PPD experience. I would totally lose sense of reality and rationality when I had my panic attacks.
But the great thing is, Mount Bierstadt didn’t stop me. I climbed two more 14’ers after that experience, and I had SO much fun and it was amazing reaching the top of those summits. My confidence was back and I didn’t let fear stand in the way. I still plan on climbing more mountains, with one of my biggest dreams being conquering Long’s Peak, known for being extremely challenging. In fact, a little side note, but we named our daughter after Isabella Bird, a brave woman in the 1800’s who rode across Colorado on a horse, traveling all around, by herself, and she climbed Long’s Peak…in a dress! Alongside Rocky Mountain Jim, a man with a bad reputation, but someone whom she had compassion on and tried to reach out and help him out of his darkness he was facing. I suggest you look up the story of Isabella Bird, and read her story, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.”
You know what the other great thing is? Postpartum depression didn’t stop me. That beast tried to take me down. It tried so hard. I conquered that mountain and made it safely to the valley of beautiful wildflowers, which is where I’ve wanted to be all along. There are still some days when the boulders get in my way, and the Fear, but sometimes we just have to kick fear to the curb. It keeps us from living life fully….keeps us from enjoying moments, opportunities, relationships, dreams. The beautiful valley I am in now is me fully recovering. It’s me having less and less days of anxiety and depression. It’s me looking at my daughter who I used to couldn’t look at without being thrown into a panic attack, but looking at her now with love and laughter. It’s laughing at her as I’m rocking her and she sucks her thumb and tries to find the corner of her blanket and then starts flicking the corner with her tiny little finger. The wildflowers are in those little, but precious moments, moments that I want to enjoy and savor for all time.
You can conquer whatever mountain you are facing. You can conquer your fears! It may take scrambling over the boulders in your way, slowly, and you may feel like a baby as you crawl over them, but those boulders will soon be behind you. And you will look back behind you at them, and you will laugh. You will laugh at them. For they did not take you. You won.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Forget Everything and Run
Face Everything and Rise”