My life completely changed one Sunday evening in March 2017.
I was at home, getting ready for bed, and my head started to feel funny. Earlier in the week I had experienced this feeling every evening. It felt like my head wasn’t connected to my body. It was a surreal feeling. It would only last a minute and then it would be over. I didn’t pay much attention to it, writing it off as being tired.
Then Sunday evening, as I was standing in the kitchen talking to my husband Mike, the feeling came again and stayed this time. The next thing I knew I crumpled to the floor. Mike caught me and dragged me to the sofa. I was paralyzed. We were both terrified, thinking I was having a stroke or an aneurysm. I could talk, but very slowly. I could blink, but I couldn’t move my arms or legs.
Mike called 911. The operator told him to see if I could move my mouth or talk. I did what I could, which was only to say a few words very slowly. The paramedics came and began assessing me. I was still unable to move so they slipped me into a sling and got me onto a gurney and took me to the hospital. I had a CT scan, which showed that I wasn’t having a stroke or anything else that would explain the paralysis.
The doctor came in and asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately. I nodded, thinking "What did that have to do with it?" He said I was likely reacting to stress and ordered a mild sedative. If that helped me then it would confirm that it was stress. Within five hours I had regained function and was able to begin to walk again. By the next morning I was functioning normally but was very tired.
The doctor had suggested that I go to the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) in Steinbach and have a psychiatric nurse see me. As I talked with the nurse about what was going on in my life, she suggested that I take a week off of work. I was mortified and shocked. How could I take a week off work? How could I go to a crisis unit? What would happen to all the things I had going on in my life? People needed me. I actually laughed and told her there was no way I could do that. But, after speaking with her at length I understood what she was saying.
I asked if it would be possible to be admitted to the CSU. She checked and they had a bed available. I was going. I was pausing my life and going to a place where people would help me.
I ended up staying there for eight days. During that time I met with a psychiatrist and I asked him what happened to me. He described it as Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder. In layman terms, I had a nervous breakdown. It took a long time, months in fact, before that reality sank in.
This breakdown was a complete shock to me, even though mental health issues were not new to me. I have a strong family history of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. I experienced many panic attacks in my younger years and have been on antidepressants since I developed postpartum depression after the birth of my children.
Fortunately for me I have responded very well to medication and have been able to keep above the depression. Through a lot of hard work with my counselor, prayer and cognitive behavior therapy I have improved dramatically in dealing with anxiety. I haven’t had a panic attack in more than a decade.
However, when I look back now I can see it building. It was like watching a huge storm approaching. I was running myself ragged. I worked full time and I volunteered weekly. I was busy every moment of every day. I ran around like a mad woman. I held myself to impossible standards.
I lived in a world full of “shoulds”. I should go visit this person. I should volunteer. I should invite this couple over for supper. I should exercise, I should be thinner. I should have a clean house. I should be a better mother, I should be a better wife, I should have a nice yard. I should, should, should. I had expectations of myself that I would never dream of having of others.
I was busy. But I was busy to an unhealthy level. It was manifesting physically and I wasn’t paying attention to it. I had headaches daily. I depended on Tylenol and was taking it twice a day. I began having migraines, which I had never experienced before. I couldn’t sleep at night because as soon as I lay down and closed my eyes the thoughts would start racing through my head. I depended on over the counter sleeping aids to fall asleep. Then in the morning I needed cup after cup of coffee to get me going.
I had trouble shopping for groceries. I would go to the store and not know what I needed. I’d wander around and grab a few random things and race to the checkout just to get out of the store. I was eating out daily. I was not making meals often at home. Supper would be frozen pizza or cereal.
I had a hard time keeping the house clean. I needed to plan an event, such as having people over, to give me motivation to clean. Then I would spend a panicked few hours cleaning before the guests came. My life was spiraling like a nightmare.
The Recovery Process
The first month after the breakdown I could hardly do anything. I had difficulty concentrating. I couldn’t focus enough to read. I had a hard time driving. I had trouble shopping. So I stayed at home and had friends and family members take me to appointments.
I took one part of Psalm 23 and repeated it over and over when I was anxious. “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” It became my lifeline when the anxiety would build.
When I saw my doctor, I kept asking him for a three step plan that would get me back to “normal”. Some tangible, concrete steps that would heal my brain, so I could go back to being SuperCandice. Surely there must be some workbook I could do, some brain exercises that would help. He responded with “When you leave and pass the cemetery, have a look at all the important, indispensable people who lay there and ask why you are doing this to yourself.”
Very slowly, over the next several months, I began reading books recommended to me: The Soul Of Shame and The Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson; The Gifts of Imperfection; I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t); and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. These books challenged my thinking. They revealed the shame that I was living with. They exposed the thoughts that I had to work hard to be good enough. Good enough for people to love me and ultimately good enough for God to love me. It was as if God was untangling a ball of lies I believed that drove me to strive in these impossible ways. Lies that told me I had to be everything to everyone.
While I started to come to grips with the shame I was living with, I was confronted with my internal thought life. One staff member at the CSU had talked about mindfulness. I had never heard of that term. It is described as, “paying attention to what you are paying attention to”.
As I thought through this I realized that most of my days were spent in the future rather than the present. When I got up my mind was already engaged with work. I went through the motions of getting ready, eating and driving to work, but my mind was already at work planning and preparing for what I could get done.
I thought I was a marvelous multi-tasker. I actually remember thinking to myself that I was so good at multitasking I could almost split time and create more time. What a delusional thought that was! I was not ever really present in the moment. In the end I was not successful at doing any of it well and I was hurting myself in the process.
Mindfulness is very biblical. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. He is God and I am not! What a profound thought. I could be still and release all the unnecessary responsibility I was carrying. I could live within the boundaries of what God made me responsible for instead of living in the “shoulds”. I could stay in my “yard” and not worry about other people’s “yards”.
My recovery has been very slow and with very small steps. There have been setbacks and bumps in the road. I no longer expect that I will ever go back to the person I used to be. I’m not looking for the three steps to “fix” me. I am much more aware of my emotions and limitations and I have learned to be much easier on myself.
It’s been more than a year and a half and I am still finding my new normal. Places with lots of people still overwhelm me. I get overstimulated easily. I shop at off times to avoid crowds. My social calendar is slim to none. I work hard to not live in the future but to remain present in the moment, to stop frequently and enjoy what I am doing. To taste the food I eat. I enjoy the feeling of holding my granddaughters. I listen carefully to my self-talk. When I hear my thoughts go to “I should” I am immediately aware and I challenge them. I have no more migraines. I have no more headaches. I can sleep at night.
Most of my life I have held the belief that someday I will “arrive”. I will finally be whole and healthy and not struggle with untangling my past. A counselor has always reminded me that each struggle is another layer. He says it’s like peeling an onion. I tell him that I’d rather have a banana—please. Peel it once and be done with it.
God doesn’t work that way does He? There is beauty in the struggle. There is community when friends and family walk alongside us. And God is there in the dark moments of the soul when I reach for Him because there is truly nothing else to hold on to.
Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in France in 1910 called “Citizenship in a Republic”. I am inspired by one passage which made that speech famous:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
I believe that God has called us to dare greatly. To keep getting up. To keep peeling away the layers of the onion.
But to be honest, some days I’d still like to be a banana.
About the Author:
Candice Cancade is married to Mike and together they have two fabulous daughters and son-in-laws. Candice is thrilled to have become a grandma in 2018 to TWO beautiful granddaughters, Adalyn and Tenley. Another grandchild is on the way in 2019!
If you would like to send Candice a message, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Candice” in the subject line.