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When a Facebook Memory Reminded Me of My Life Before Illness

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A few days ago a picture from Facebook popped up to remind me where and what I was doing two years ago. It was a picture of my husband and me at the first round of the NCAA basketball playoffs. We had been looking forward to this event for months even though those same few months were also clouded by confusion and fear.

I had been experiencing extreme joint pain and fatigue. So much so that I could barely move and staying awake was a fight in futility. I had seen a number of doctors by then, none of them quite sure what was happening to me. That uncertainty added to my already high anxiety and depression. Still, I pushed through and went to the first round. The two-hour drive meant missing the first game because there was no way I could wake up and get my sore body moving early enough. I was taking a small dose of pain medication and took the smallest amount possible to be able to have some comfort and still remain awake for the games. Under normal circumstances, I would have also taken my anxiety medication knowing that being in an arena full of people would likely cause a panic attack.

However, because I so desperately wanted to stay awake to watch the games, I decided not to take the anxiety medication on top of the pain medication. We made it through the first game and went out during the break so I could get a reprieve from the crowd. Unfortunately, while I was outside, I began to see threatening people everywhere I looked. I felt sure that gunfire was going to break out at any moment and we would be caught in the crossfire (anxiety likes to play these kinds of games). So we went back in so I could sit down in our safer-feeling seats. Unfortunately, anxiety was already staking claim in my brain. I began to feel my breath being taken away. Something was wrong. That’s all I knew and that was all I could say. My husband helped me up the stairs to the concourse. I felt the lights growing dimmer, every breath harder, stumbling out just in time to collapse on the floor. Waking with paramedics surrounding me, I assumed that whatever had been happening within my body had finally decided to kill me. Between my husband, the EMTs and me, we concluded that it was just a panic attack. I wasn’t dying (if you have ever had a panic attack, you will understand that it feels like you’re dying).

I had already lived for years with PTSD, anxiety and major depression. I had a good handle on them. And now, as if I needed another test of strength and will, came new diagnoses of rheumatoid arthritis and mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD). Another giant, jagged mountain to climb. My first thoughts revolved around suicide. I had already struggled and fought my way through mental illness and wasn’t sure I had another fight in me. These new health issues triggered my anxiety and depression so I had to face that mountain while also carrying the extra burden of my mental illnesses like backpacks full of bricks.

And that picture, now time-stamped in my mind. A reminder that my previous life had come to an end. A life full of dreams, strength, activity and ability. At the same time, it’s a reminder of the beginning of my new life, of days spent on the couch in too much pain to move. Fatigue so heavy that days ran into nights. A new life full of nightmares, pain, inactivity and disability.

I’m not sure how to feel about that picture yet. It marks both an ending and a beginning. I’m still grieving the loss of my previous life. At the same time, I’m working hard to create a new dream for my life that looks completely different. I’m not sure where to start. But I am sure that I am strong; otherwise I wouldn’t be here to write this. I remind myself that I am so much stronger than I could have ever imagined. My hope is that part of my new dream includes inspiring others to keep fighting, even when life isn’t fair and you are faced with too many mountains.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages.

Originally published: April 21, 2017
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