Today, I’m writing from a place of debilitating anxiety, just hoping that I can help someone. I have really good days and really bad days. I still go to therapy every 2 weeks. I have been on every medication they can think of to help me get through these times, but sometimes it just doesn’t help and time stands still. It took all I had to move off the couch, get out my computer and write this.
The moment that changed my ability to make it through days like today happened on August 8, 2019. My dad was in a car accident. Car accidents happen all the time. But, when they happen in my family, they are life-changing. In 2003, my step sister was in the car of her twirling director, turning left to go pick up another girl, the car was hit dead on the passenger side of the car and my sister didn’t make it out alive. So when I got the call last year from my dad, saying he had been in a car accident in Macon, GA and was in the hospital, my heart dropped. He could barely talk. I tried calling the hospital, they wouldn’t tell me anything, my step-sister lived 2 hours away and was on her way but still didn’t have any more information than I did. My sister and I were scrambling to figure out how we were going to get to Georgia to be with my dad from Missouri. We couldn’t let him be down there alone. He just lost his wife in May to cancer. He wasn’t okay. He needed us. We got on a plane first thing Saturday morning.
I arrived in Atlanta 3 hours before my sister. I chose to make the hour drive to Macon to see how my dad was, spend an hour there then drive back and get my sister. When I arrived, I went straight to my dads room. He was in BAD shape. He had a broken hip, broken neck, broken ribs, a heart problem and he didn’t have any feeling in his right hand. I went into “survival mode” and just started asking all the questions. When the nurse came in, I introduced myself and immediately asked what surgeries he had, what surgeries he needed, and what the prognosis was. I thought my dad was going to die. This was when he told me that someone else was in the car with him. Who? Who would have gotten in the car with him and drove to Georgia without telling anyone? His girlfriend. No one knew about this person, let alone why she would be going to visit our step sister with him so close to my step mom’s passing. He told me she was in the next room and told me to introduce myself.
This was just the beginning of the questions to come. I went in to meet her, to be “nice” because I didn’t want her to be alone down there either. But she wasn’t alone. Her kids were there. They knew of the accident as soon as it happened and drove straight there. Why didn’t my dad call us until the next day? Why didn’t the hospital call us if he wasn’t able to? I went back to check on him before I left. He asked if she could come to his room while I was gone, so the nurse wheeled her in. Then, I left to go pick my sister up. So confused. So heartbroken. I called my best friend on the hour drive. I cried. How had my dad moved on so fast? Why did he lie? Why did I come all this way when he didn’t even care to tell me about the accident until the next day? Why did I come all this way when all he wanted was her by his side? How was I going to tell my sister who is more protective of him than me? How were we going to get through this?
My sister got in the car, I asked how her flight was. I had to tell her the news. I calmly said “there was someone else in his car.” She asked “Who?” “He says that she is ‘his friend’ but I don’t know why he would bring a ‘friend’ 17 hours away to visit his step daughter and her new son.” She agreed. When we got to the hospital, I took my sister to my dads room, first checking to make sure that his ‘friend’ was no longer in there. She and I met with the nurses, got our dad to sign paperwork saying he could share medical information with us and that we would be his spokesperson for any procedures or new medications. He was very tired so we let him nap while we got checked in to the hotel and got some lunch.
My half sister showed up at this point and joined us on our way back to the hospital. We all knew that we needed each other in this time. It was no longer about my dad. We went back and visited with him for a while, understanding that he needed another surgery for his heart in a couple days and another surgery a couple days later for repair on his neck/spine. We took this time to gather all of the paperwork he needed for work short term disability, insurance and anything else that we could think of. We took detailed notes and updated the family.
My sisters and I spent the next 2 days together, getting our plans aligned and making sure that he was going to be taken care of. I had to get back home to work and my girls. My sister needed to get back to her family. My half sister agreed to be there for his neck surgery since we weren’t able to be. My step sister never went back to the hospital. While we all had opinions on his choice to move on and bring her with him to Georgia, we put those aside to make sure that he was getting the medical care necessary and that he would not be alone.
He ended up being in Georgia for 7 weeks and having a couple other surgeries due to re-breaking his hip while at the rehabilitation center and another complication with his heart. We finally got him back to Southwest Missouri in November, right before Thanksgiving. During those 7 weeks, I spent 5 hours a day on the phone with the Georgia State Highway patrol, his insurance, the girl he hit’s insurance, his employer benefits, every single doctor he had, and way more. I called him daily to make sure that he was feeling okay. It was the longest 7 weeks of my life. Once he got home, I came out of “survival mode” to realize that for the last 7 weeks, I had eaten all of my feelings and gained 30lbs. I no longer could find motivation to get out of bed and had extreme anxiety any time someone called. I went to the doctor for a reaction to my flu shot and failed my depression screening. How did time stand still for 7 weeks? How did I gain 30lbs without even noticing? What is wrong with me? These are all the questions that came to mind.
I started establishing what I know today as my support system. I have an amazing therapist that still reminds me that it is truly amazing that I made it through those 7 weeks doing everything that I did. No normal person would have been able to do it. I have 3 amazing best friends who check on me every day to make sure that I am doing okay. Sometimes time stands still for me, but I have to remind myself that it is okay to feel feelings instead of eating them. So here I am….. crying at my keyboard because this is the first time I have put this all in one place.
I want your takeaway to be that you don’t have to do it all. You just don’t. You can say “I can’t do this” and ask someone else to do it. Survival Mode for me was always just doing what needed me at the time and for those 7 weeks, that was a lot, especially still having 2 kids at home and a husband working overnights. It is okay to feel feelings when they come. Don’t shrug them off. Don’t choose to eat instead of crying because you are overwhelmed. Because I’ve been there and when you wake up on the other side, it is so hard to lose the weight. It is hard to feel the feelings. So you have days like I am having today where all of the emotions are too much and I can’t move off the couch. Feel your feelings as they come and deal with them in the moment. Don’t push them to the side. Time will start moving when you do.