by Shannon Dorton
It was December 1st, 2016 – Four months since we lost my brother. My anxiety was running high that day. I was new to having anxiety – I had previously always been able to take things in stride – not a lot bothered me, my feelings rarely got “hurt,” and I hardly ever lost sleep at night. However, I found myself in this new world of vulnerability and anxiety.
In the six weeks prior, we had taken several family trips, and I just wasn’t “myself.” I was moody, on edge, unprepared, smothered, and lonely all at the same time. My thoughts were scattered and overwhelming. I had lost patience and my ability to rationalize. On the other hand, I had gained weight, extra responsibilities at work, and a heart full of pain. I lacked the skill to communicate what I needed or wanted to Todd…hell, even to myself.
Every day I would wake up and wonder if that would be the day that the Autopsy results came in. Four weeks came and went. 6 weeks. 10 weeks. 12 weeks. No one had heard of an autopsy taking this long. 14 weeks. 16 weeks. I knew it had to be any day now. The first thing that morning, I drove to a local charity to drop off the gifts we had purchased for a little girl we adopted for Christmas. It was a wet and dreary day. My head was hurting, and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like my shirt neckline was choking me, but I made it – I pulled myself together to run inside and drop off the gifts.
As I headed home, my head hurt worse than it ever had. I was overheating and could barely focus on the road. I pulled over, took a few deep breaths, and sent a few emails to cancel my calls that day. I knew it would be impossible to work. When I finally made it home, I stumbled inside and called Todd, but he wasn’t available. I took my wet hair down from my bun, kicked off my shoes and threw off my jacket. I was barely able to breathe and needed help. I called another friend who lived next door, but she wasn’t available either. I found myself wondering outside in my neighborhood, panicking and looking for anyone to help me. I even knocked on a few doors just trying to find someone to catch me when I fell. I had never been more scared in my entire life. I gave up and headed back home, sure that someone would at least come in and find me at some point that day. Finally, both Todd and my friend called me back. I’m not sure they could even understand the words I was saying, but they both rushed home to help me. I crawled upstairs, vomiting, and in complete panic. As someone who was always in control, I couldn’t recognize what was happening. Thankfully, both my friend and Todd made it home to help me. My body was exhausted and dazed. I had no control over what was happening or how to stop it. It was a panic attack. My first of several. All of the stress, grief, and anxiety had built up so much over those four months that my body shut down. It could not continue in the same manner and neither could I.
I share this very private and deeply personal experience to show just a small part of what has fueled my intense desire for change. Most who know me often speak to how strong I am and how my outlook is mostly optimistic. Those same people may be surprised to hear a story like this from me. Even I can’t believe it sometimes. And this is just one of many over the past nine months.
There is the time when I find myself feeling happy or joyful and then I’m stung by a pang of guilt just moments later. Guilt for being happy at that moment, for just being alive.
How I barely spoke any words for two weeks after arriving home from Hawaii. Somedays, barely even moving. How my sweet, dear friend went and bought the same clothing I was wearing just so I would change – because nothing else was as comfortable as that one outfit I had been wearing. How my husband managed house and home – I was home for days before I even saw my children, because I couldn’t bear the thought of responsibility. “What kind of mother can’t take the responsibility of her children,” I thought, adding insult to injury. I have many similar stories that could fill up more blog posts; I suppose I’ll save those for another time.
In the weeks after my panic attack, I started unfolding the lessons I had learned from Dion:
From these lessons, I started cultivating my WHY. And then, through hours of conversation and buckets full of tears, Todd and I started developing our family’s WHY. It was a welcomed distraction and paid tribute to Dion at the same time. We have begun saying NO to things so that we could say YES to others. We started reducing the items that didn’t add value to our home. We have begun actively learning how to get through each day together. I’ve radically changed my views on nearly everything in my life: I’ve sought counseling, shifted my priorities and learned about self-awareness and grace. I’m more in tune with myself than I’ve ever been – and yet still learning how to uncover my truly authentic self.
We are happiest when we are together, free to roam, and without an agenda. And so we flipped our lives upside down in search of those days. For now, for us, state park-ing is the answer. That sting of guilt creeps up as we pull into each park, but I am learning to harness that guilt and bring Dion along for the ride instead.