At first, my husband told the kids, “Leave Mommy alone. She needs to sleep.” After long stretches of not moving, my husband shifted his instructions and told the kids, “Please check and make sure Mommy is still breathing.”
I was exhausted. Actual exhaustion.
A few days ago, the dizziness began. I woke up one morning and the entire room was spinning. At one point, I got out of the shower, tipped my head upside-down in order to wrap my long, black hair into a towel, and flipped my hair right-side up again. I lost my balance, grabbed the top of the toilet, and thankfully landed on the edge of the bathroom tub. I felt my heart racing, blood rushing to my head, and began to throw up. It only took a moment for it all to settle down. I got myself together, walked out of the bathroom, smiled at my family, and they were none the wiser.
Two days later at work, I had finished up a big meeting and found a few quiet minutes to work on my qualifying paper — the second of two major milestones in my quest as a doctoral student. I have been working on this paper for more than 3 months, and completing it signals my permission to continue on as a doctoral student. There were two vice presidents in the room with me, and before they left, they turned to me and asked me a few questions. I looked up from my computer, and all I could see was the two vice presidents merged into one. I couldn’t hear their questions, couldn’t figure out who was talking to me, and couldn’t focus on their faces. I managed to answer what I thought they were asking, and I chalked it up to just “being stressed out.” Once they left, I called my doctor. Within a few hours, I was in her office telling her about my symptoms.
“Liza, this is classic stress induced exhaustion. Have you been stressed out lately?”
I told her that this was my busiest semester of work and also the blessings I’ve had to travel the country. I had just returned from a conference two days earlier and took the red-eye. Instead of resting from the 8:30am arrival at the airport, I went right back into most-time-single-mom mode, picking up my kids from my parents’ house, getting their lunches ready for school the next day, baths, laundry, unpacking from the trip, etc. Most people would have slept off the jet lag; I didn’t have that luxury.
I told her I had a major paper due, committee assignments at work, lots of Christmas shopping to get done, and everything on top of the usual Mom duties. Oh, and I was beginning my pre-ops for my oopherectomy, the removal of my ovaries to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer.
“Your remedy is to go home and sleep,” she warned. “Otherwise, this will get worse.”
I politely shook my head, promised I would go home after this appointment, and sleep.
Before I left, she made an appointment for me to get an MRI. “I want to make sure the dizziness is just a symptom of your exhaustion. But, knowing your family history of things going wrong, I’m ordering this test for you.”
I don’t do well with doing-nothing. In fact, doing nothing causes me more anxiety.
But, the universe has spoken. On top of the dizziness came fever and chills. Soon, it traveled into my lungs. My neck grew stiff. I couldn’t regulate my body temperature. And, my kids suffered the brunt of my lack of patience.
By Friday at 4pm, I was in bed. Some of it was Nyquil induced sleep; most of it was just sheer exhaustion. My body refused my mind to work beyond Maslow’s basic needs: sleep, eat, shelter. Twice, I left the bedroom to lay on the couch where my family was watching a movie. Both times, I fell asleep immediately as my head hit the cushion.
“Just make sure she’s still breathing,” I would hear my husband say.
I usually live by the motto “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; but it’s times like these when the universe reminds me that “what you think is making you stronger, just might kill you.”
Peace, love and still breathing,