Finding God when the bottom falls out.
by Patty Knittel
I lay on the bed, staring at the camera perched in the upper corner of the room and wondering what the people on the other end were thinking about me. Are they concerned that I haven’t left the room yet this morning? Have they even noticed me curled up on the plainly made bed? I didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
In walked the nurse assigned to me since yesterday. “Good morning, Patty!” she said cheerily. “It’s a real nice day outside. Why don’t you get up and get ready for lunch. It will be here in just a few minutes.”
Looking at this non-uniformed woman, I came back to reality for the time being. She pulled the curtains open to let in the sunshine and walked over to the side of my bed. I started to sit up, but she said to wait while she took my vital signs.
“Hmmm. Are you feeling a bit anxious this morning?”
I hadn’t noticed feeling any more anxious than the day before, so I said, “I don’t know.”
“Well, your heart rate is rather high, so I’ll get you some medication and be right back. It’s OK if you want to lie there a little bit longer.”
The nurse left, and my eyes settled back on the camera as if I could watch her entering the room where they kept the medications, and see the staff sitting at computers. I guess they had a lot of notes to keep about us.
I had been in the hospital psychiatric ward since the night before last. I was still adjusting and gradually getting to know a few of the other patients. Most were friendly and came from various backgrounds: a few homeless, a few drug abusers, a few who had come back from overdoses. One other woman was much like me, with a family waiting for her to return home to be the wife and mother they had always counted on.
How did I end up in the thought pattern that brought me here? How did I get to the depths of desperation and fear of my own actions?
It started with caring for my aging parents. As their only child, I looked after my mother in a local nursing home and my father, who lived over four hundred miles away. My mother couldn’t see enough of me. My father was upset that we had swooped Mom away a year before for her safety. He had abused her for fifty years.
My parents were now in their late eighties, and I was caught in the middle — not only of their relationship but also of mothering teenagers who needed me.
Mom had always been needy, and now I was the only go-to person she had. My days consisted of working six hours, followed by a two-hour visit with Mom — longer if she had to be taken to the doctor. She couldn’t walk, so I had to get her in and out of the car and push her around in a wheelchair from place to place.
My father struggled with heart failure. He had lost his driver’s license due to macular degeneration, but this meant he was more needy and unhappy about living in an assisted living facility.
I was three people: daughter, mother, and wife. When the demands of each were added up, there was nothing left for me.
Then there were the flashbacks of my father’s abuse. As I was again the mediator for Mom and Dad, the same feelings and fears began to arise that I experienced in my younger years. Feeling trapped, I grew more and more depressed.
“Where are You, God?” I cried. He seemed deaf to my requests for relief. I became increasingly desperate. My husband didn’t know what to do or say, and my counselor became more concerned about my well-being.
Finally, I thought there was only one solution to my misery. My family would be devastated; my friends would miss me for a short time. But I made the mistake of clueing in my counselor with an e-mail message. After sending it, I took off in the car with a plan.
The counselor called my husband, who called me on my cell phone and asked if he could come to me. I was parked in a forest park in the city. I didn’t know whether to feel grateful or angry, but decided to tell him where I was.
The next twelve hours were a blur. My counselor called us in to her office, then proceeded to tell my husband that we needed to go to the ER.
I was lifeless. When she asked if I was willing to go, I answered with only a weak “Yes.”
Now I battled not only family demands but also past voices and insinuations: So if your faith were strong enough, you wouldn’t need to take medications. Don’t you trust God to take care of you? Why can’t you give everything over to Him so stress doesn’t get to you?
How could God allow me to suffer so? I didn’t understand how He could watch me slowly dying on the vine. Did He even know I was in this predicament?I had hit bottom, and no one saw it coming so they could catch me.
I asked for a visit from the hospital chaplain. He came later that day.
“I know this must be hard for you,” he told me, “but you are in a safe place.”
“I know. I’m glad I’m no longer free to act upon my feelings. I was scared.”
“So, you must believe in God,” the chaplain said.
“Yes. I go to church regularly. I think that’s why I have questions for God right now. I don’t understand how I could have gotten to this point. Do you think He wants me here?”
“I don’t think God likes to see any of His children suffer,” the chaplain answered. “But He also provided knowledge to people who can help us when we are struggling. Right now you need a place to rest and give yourself some time to reflect — and perhaps get the medication you need.”
The chaplain then opened his Bible and asked if he could read something to me. I didn’t object.
“I’m reading from Psalm 6, verses 2 through 4. ‘Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love’” (NIV).
I soaked up the words, then asked, “But why? Why did I have to end up here? I was doing my best.”
The chaplain began to thumb through his Bible. His finger pointed to Hebrews 12:2, 3: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (NIV).
The chaplain looked into my eyes and put a hand on my shoulder. “You are a child of God. He knows what suffering feels like. He longs to help us and knows we are not strong enough for some of the heartaches that come our way. He is within reach for encouragement and hope. He tells us not to lose heart. I hope you can hold on to that assurance.”
Prayer and presence
I reached for a tissue and wiped my eyes. “I can see that more clearly today than I could yesterday or the day before. Maybe I need to thank God for providing such a place and for the doctors and medications.”
“That would be a great start to your healing. May I pray for you right now?”
The chaplain spoke a short, sincere prayer and we said our goodbyes. I felt a little better. I even felt God’s presence in giving me a Christian nurse on the evening shift. We talked more, and she was reassuring. Though my life was like a mirror that had been cracked, maybe this experience would one day help someone else.
A few days later, I was ready to be released to my family. While they sometimes didn’t know what to say, they were supportive and more attentive to my needs. This was in sharp contrast to my always being the one to keep everything together.
Returning to my responsibilities as mother and daughter of dependent children and parents meant I needed to utilize God’s support. This included keeping the new medication combination He had directed the doctors to use and continuing my weekly talk therapy. I had to do this because the stressors didn’t magically disappear.
The verses the chaplain had pointed out to me also helped. They reminded me that God is my deliverer and that Jesus suffered so I could lean on Him and not give up. What great assurance that God understands my suffering and will never leave my side.
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