Today I’m reflecting on my life at this time a year ago and God’s healing power and mercy. Last February I was struggling immensely with anxiety and panic attacks. I had sought medical professional help and had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and after a time of refusing medication, I decided it had gotten to the point where I felt like I had no other choice. I had prayed, done novenas, attended Masses for the sick, and begged God to take away my anxiety. I had felt moments of relief, but the pressure of dealing with the anxiety while also being a mom had become overwhelming. I knew God was with me and prayed for Him to lead me to healing.
While I had struggled with anxiety my whole life, my panic attacks really started after an adverse reaction to some medication, so I was hesitant to try this new medication when I was by myself, for fear of possible reactions. I was literally anxious about taking medicine that was supposed to help my anxiety. The panic attacks weren’t as strong when my husband or other friends and family were around to distract me, so I didn’t feel like I needed the medicine in those moments.
Last February, my husband had a work conference out of town, and the kids and I joined him. He’s was the president of the organization who ran the conference, so we knew so many people at the event. A friend stopped by one afternoon, and I confided to her the struggle I was having with my anxiety. I did not know that she has struggled with anxiety as well. She encouraged me to try the medication and she assured me that would sit with me to watch for side-effect reactions.
I was ashamed of taking the medicine and had said nothing about it to my children. I had hidden the medicine away in a suitcase so they wouldn’t even know I had it. The hotel was a two-bedroom suite, so the kids were running around playing when we were having this conversation. In any normal circumstances I would have never been discussing medication while they were in earshot, but they were distracted by playing with her kids. After taking the medication, I put it back in the pharmacy bag and left it on the counter, knowing my children knew better than to touch it.
When I realized how late it had become — the babysitter was coming so my husband and I could attend a dinner event — I began rushing around, getting the children ready for the babysitter. Instead of detaching and letting the babysitter take care of the evening, I felt it was my duty to make sure they had eaten and were in pajamas and ready for bed, to help avoid babysitter meltdowns.
Just as it was time to leave, one of my children told me they didn’t feel good. I wondered if this was just a normal kid reaction to the babysitter and their hopes that I would stay with them. It wasn’t until they started to walk sideways, which even then I discounted because they’d been spinning around the room earlier, that I started to wonder what was going on. I looked down into their eyes and their pupils were fully dilated. Internal panic raged through my body as I wondered what was going on.
It was then that I had a brief moment of remembering the sound of paper rustling in the bathroom as they had been getting into their pajamas earlier. At that time, I had asked them if they had touched the bag on the counter, and they assured me they hadn’t. Knowing it had only been a minute or so that they were over on that side of the bathroom, and knowing the time it took them to change as well, I dismissed my fears that they had gotten into the medicine. I had grabbed the bag (that was still closed) and had thrown it in another suitcase.
Now, fearing that my child had indeed gotten into the medication, I called 911 immediately. I was racking my brain to figure out what was happening and suddenly I remembered my friend telling me that the pills tasted “sweet,” and remembered how much my child liked anything sweet. Perhaps they had overheard. Thanks be to God, the babysitter had since appeared and I retrieved the medicine bag from the suitcase and instructed her to count the pills. She confirmed my worst nightmare: There were indeed pills missing.
The emergency dispatch patched me through to poison control and within moments he was able to confirm that my child would be fine — super disoriented for a few days, but fine. The Lord’s mercy and peace rushed over me in that moment as their words came through the phone; however the battle wasn’t over.
Moment later, the paramedics and police were in the hotel room and asking me questions. Seemingly unfocused on my child, they began to ask me questions. While my story included exact times and was the same for both the police and paramedic, they informed me that they doubted a child could open the (easy to open) bottle and began with assumptions that if they hadn’t opened the bottle, then someone else had. The paramedics asked if I wanted my child taken to the hospital and I wondered why we hadn’t already left. My husband wasn’t allowed to leave the hotel with us and was kept for questioning by the police since he wasn’t in the room at the time of the incident.
Leaving the hospital and completely unsure of what lie ahead, I also knew everyone in the hotel knew us and would begin asking about our son and would find out about the medication and my anxiety. I was ashamed that I couldn’t just “breathe through it,” and more ashamed now that I even cared what other people thought. My wounds of insecurity and the need to appear perfect were overpowering at that time of my life. Thinking back on the fact that it even dawned on me to care about others in that moment, shows me the deep-seated wounds with which I struggled.
My child, though uncomfortable and disoriented, spent a few days in the hospital but was completely fine. Since it was a fast-acting medicine, they were not able to pump their stomach but it also meant the effects would wear off without further side effects.
CPS, of course, became involved and I was repeatedly questioned as a competent mother. This hit especially deep into my wounds of insecurity, as all of my children have been adopted through the foster-care system, and so my knowledge of the CPS system and the children’s lives before becoming our family were raging against me.
It was a moment which I would wish upon no one but looking back a year later, sitting in the same hotel and at the same conference as last year, while I write this, I can tell you that God is merciful, His healing in endless, and the closing prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy speaks the truth when it says “the treasury of compassion, inexhaustible.”
Following this event, I battled on and off with trying the medication and others and in desperation shared my story with others, while seeking answers and help. What I expected to find was judgment and condemnation, but I found compassion. I began to realize that people were unaware of the potential dangers of medication, since many of us assume our children know better.
God allowed opportunities of detachment and healing. He has lead me to counselors and support groups that are helping me expose the extent of my wounds of anxiety, codependency, and a myriad of other struggles and to find solace, in God alone. I have sought medical help from a neuropath doctor who has helped me to realize dietary intolerance that could be contributing to my internal anxiety.
Through all of this, I continue to learn that God alone can heal and ultimately He knows what we need to become closer to Him and fully reliant on Him alone.
I pray for each of you with whom my story resonates, and I continue to implore you to seek Him and the resources He sends to you in your journey of healing.
May God grant us His peace “while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord.”
The photo above shows you the chairs that my friend and I sat in, discussing the medicine, that day that my life changed. I challenge you to think of a day that changed your life. Where were you sitting when your life changed? How has God worked in your life since then?
Copyright 2020 Courtney Vallejo