“Be thankful for stumbles, they prevent falls.”
I saw that on a church’s marquee at the corner of a busy street. It was the day after it all happened. And I just smiled, knowing full well I avoided a big fall.
Last week I did what I wasn’t sure if I should do. I drove out of town for an appointment, and stayed overnight in a hotel by myself. Sounds pretty silly, I know, but for the weeks leading up to it, I debated whether I should go alone.
Since my second Covid shot, I have felt overwhelming and relentless anxiety and a week’s bout of depression that was scary. Who knows if it’s been lingering from my lifetime of drama that happened over about 36 months, whether the shot triggered something, whether the isolation got to me, something else, or all the above. Who cares. All I know is that I haven’t felt the same in months and I’ve been working to get through it.
I felt fine on day one, but on day two, shit got real. As I was in my hotel room alone, I felt it hit. A panic attack rushed at me like an ocean wave. The icy water hit in my stomach and rose to my head. My conscious mind said, No No No, but I knew it was too late as the pain swelled in my chest.
The wave was crashing over me. I realized that if I didn’t act fast, it would sweep me under it and carry me away.
I am so proud of myself. No more stubborn Jackie. No more push through this now and avoid it later. I knew I needed help, and I phoned a friend.
Someone had to come and get me, take me to and from my appointment, watch over me, worry about me, and make sure I got home. I thought I rallied and tried to drive home, but it didn’t go well. My aunt and uncle had to meet me 100 miles away and bring me home.
The old Jackie would have been overly apologetic to all involved, ashamed, angry, and hard on herself. The new Jackie keeps saying, “Well, what do you expect after all you’ve been through?” The new me gets that her brain has been through a lot and is doing the best it can.
The next morning, I felt exhausted, worn out, and a tad beat down. So I put on headphones, hopped on my bike, and got to peddling in the sunshine. As I hit my stride, the good thoughts flooded me.
That was a great trip.
I saw my niece MacKenzie. We have a really have a special relationship. One time when she was about six, she saw me wearing a white stocking cap, so she went and got hers. She saddled right up next to me on the couch, with a little face that said, “I look just like you.” I’ve watched her grow and I’m so proud. She now has her own massage business at a salon.
While at that salon, I was surprised to see a dear old friend from college, Lisa. I haven’t seen her since I got sick, and I wanted her to see the hair she’s helping me regrow.
In 2019, I took my extensions out for a break, and realized that my real hair looked like dead grass. I called her in near tears. About two days later, a huge box arrived at my door with a variety of incredible hair product, and a hair piece to wear (I named it Moira). I wore that hairpiece for my first two TV appearances and out in public, so I could feel OK about myself.
Even better than all the beautiful gifts, was her card addressed to “Jackie the unstoppable.” She’s a gem. If only I could have seen the look on my face, when all of a sudden she was just standing in front of me.
I spent most the afternoon with a bestie, Ashley. We hung out, chatted, and took a very long walk. I haven’t seen her since November, 2019, but that never matters with us. We pick right up no matter what. Throughout most the afternoon, I watched her, and listened to us, and thought: If only 20-year-old us could see us now. Raising our three children and running law firms (my past and her future). Busy. Happy. Wise. I felt like I was beaming on the inside. I seriously love her.
And then the angel of the day, Kim. God always sends me exactly what I need, right when I need it the most. When I Facebragged about my niece’s massage, it caught Kim’s attention. That night, I had a nice message from her, wondering how I was doing and feeling these days.
Kim and I had only met one time before. I think in 2017. I knew she was a breast cancer survivor, but I didn’t really know her, I knew her law partners. I eventually met her, but truly, I don’t think it was much more than “hello.”
Through my journey, I’ve had multiple messages from Kim and they were heartwarming. She has cheered for me for years, and she never would have had to do so. But she did. That’s her. Sincere and generous.
As the wave of panic rose in me, I felt nearly debilitated. I knew I shouldn’t drive, and I didn’t think I could get to the doctor. Ashley was out of town. I assumed MacKenzie was working. In my rapid thoughts, I quickly settled on Kim.
Kim was whom I needed in that moment. I didn’t even have her cell phone number.
I tracked her down at work, and said it was urgent.
“Where you at hun? I’m on my way.” That was all I needed to hear.
When she got to my room, my bags were packed, I was dressed, had makeup on, and my hair was done. I looked just fine, but I was not fine.
I managed to tearfully mutter, “Remember when I used to not act like this. I didn’t have panic attacks in hotel rooms. I came out to Fargo to try a case or do a deposition.”
Kim paused, and profoundly offered me the following: People like us, who have fought through death and survived, we don’t have the luxury of carefree lives. But we live. We live in the moment. Would we trade it all, to live carefree again … she said as she trailed off.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Throughout the rest of the day, my phone kept blowing up. Out of nowhere, friends and family were texting me (believe me, this is not regular phenomenon).
My former law partner, Mike, texted an old picture of us. It’s a classic. He’s smirking and I’m making a dumb face. It represents happier times. I miss our life together at Stebbins Mulloy so much it hurts. Mike found a way to me and even made me laugh. I needed to hear from him.
My friend Becky, my friend Rob, a bestie Lacie, Todd …
Old friends, new friends, it was as if the universe felt compelled to check in on me, on that precise day.
And my Mom. My most steadfast companion. She talked with me on the phone for over an hour while I drove, to get me to where I could wait for my rescue.
My Aunt Nicole and Uncle Bob. They were by my side with a medallion from France, when I got out of the hospital. I faithfully wore it to all doctor’s appointments for over a year. It got a lot of wear. They stopped their day to drive and get me, no questions asked. That’s family.
And Sean. He didn’t get mad at me for venturing out alone. He told me we’d get me better when I got home. We’d make a plan. He was right there waiting. And my kids were riding bikes smiling. Life was just fine when I arrived, no matter how my insides felt.
Kim, MacKenzie, Kim’s law partners, everyone checked in on me and made sure I safely arrived home. They told me I was so loved. I felt it.
The next day as I biked, and saw the church sign later, it all made sense. Those were two great days.
I have so many people around me to make sure I don’t fall. I’m thankful for the stumble, as it set me on the right track and steered me toward medication. So far, so good.
Just keep swimming, but if you feel a strong current, grab a lifejacket. You can always hang it up when you reach the shallow end.
Thanks for swimming with me everyone.
“It’s like just before dark
Jump in the car
Buy an ice cream and see how far
We can drive before it melts kinda feelin’
That’s how your love makes me feel inside
“There’s a cow in the road
And you swerve to the left
Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death
And you laugh until you cry
That’s how your love makes me feel inside” ~ That’s How Your Love Makes Me Feel Inside by Diamond Rio