This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell since it happened, but it almost doesn’t sound real. This really did happen, though, and it was an important encouragement just when I needed one, and now I’m at a point where I really need encouragement again. I’m kind of writing this for myself to read, but I also hope that it will help other people to see a glimmer of hope in desperate times.
In November 2014, I was in my fourth month of pregnancy and finally starting to get past the nausea when I had a nightmare. I dreamed that I was walking in the jungle, admiring the exotic plants, having a pleasant hike until I noticed a glimmering spot in my vision. Then, gradually, I understood that a migraine was coming, but I was in the jungle with no medicine and no help and–and I woke up, and in fact my vision really was disrupted. This is the only time in my life that this ever started while I was asleep and I was able to perceive it. I quickly got up and took my prescription migraine medication, which the midwife had told me was safer for my baby than allowing the migraine to proceed because migraines disrupt blood circulation. I did not get much of a headache and was able to go back to sleep and then get through a normal workday.
The next time, I had no warning. I just suddenly got a bad headache, and when I took my medicine it came right back up again. But I had to go to work I had to I had to, because I was working toward a deadline but also because if I missed one more day, I wouldn’t be able to travel for Thanksgiving.
By then I’d worked out a morning survival strategy that involved having a bagel with butter at work every morning, except on the day when I was out of bagels and therefore would go to the bagel shop before work to buy a half-dozen bagels for later days, plus a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee to enjoy at the bagel shop. This was my cream cheese day. I told myself to look forward to the treat because I would feel better when I ate it, if not before.
Instead, I got worse. A lot worse. You know how doctors ask you to rank your pain on a scale of 1 to 10? For years, I never ranked anything higher than 9, because it seemed to me that it would be possible for pain to be worse than what I had experienced. I was right: In 2010, I had a migraine that went to Level 10 and stayed there until I went to the emergency room and was given an off-label schizophrenia drug that brought it down to a 3.
On this day in 2014, I hit Level 10 as I stepped off the bus into bright sunshine. It only lasted one minute, maybe less, but that was too much. My vision fragmented as if smashed by a rock, and that was about how my head felt. I staggered across the sidewalk, crashed into the fence, and clung there, not thinking, barely breathing. Then the pain dropped to Level 8, which for me is the clumsy, self-criticizing level where speech is difficult and vomiting is likely. I ripped myself off the fence and stalked across the street toward the bank (because I needed cash for the bagels) as my brain yammered, Don’t you dare throw up; the baby needs every calorie; you are a terrible mother taking terrible care of your poor innocent baby; don’t even think about the hospital; they won’t give you any off-label schizophrenia drug when you’re pregnant; don’t be ridiculous; they can’t help you; stand up straight and look normal you freak; go to the bank like a grown-up and get your stupid bagel and go to work; nobody will help you; get yourself together and act like someone who can be trusted with a baby!!!
So I got to the bank machine, and I kept dropping my card, and then I must have pressed the wrong button because the machine was in Spanish, and it was my fault that I was doing it wrong and my fault that I don’t know Spanish, and although I muddled through well enough to get the cash, by then I was in tears.
I turned around, stupid and incompetent and crying in public, and in front of me was someone I had never seen before. She was young, probably a student at the adjacent University of Pittsburgh. She had a Chinese accent.
She smiled so gently at me and said, “Everything will be all right.”
I stared at her for a moment, and then, slowly, I repeated, “Everything will be all right.”
“Yes!” she said. “Everything will be all right.” She hugged me. My brain filled with different ideas: The headache will go away; I will feel better soon; I have money in my hand and more in the bank; I’m going to have a nice meal and several more meals today; I’m really quite lucky; I have what I need; I will have a healthy, beautiful baby, and all the struggles will be worth it worth it worth it. Everything will be all right. Maybe not this instant, but it will be.
She stepped back, gave me a radiant smile, then hurried on down the sidewalk as I called a bewildered “thank you…” after her.
Then I walked to the bagel place, and by the time I got there I was running; I ran straight to the back and into the bathroom and puked, but I hit the toilet perfectly, and after washing my face I looked into the mirror and said aloud, “Everything will be all right.” That demonstrated that I could speak normally. I went out and ordered my bagels and coffee.
Half an hour later, I had no headache at all. I went on to a happy and productive day at work.
Of course, not everything was all right forever from then on. I hit more really low spots before that pregnancy was over, and I’ve hit many more since then. Life sucks sometimes!
But the odds are that everything will be all right, pretty soon. Hang in there! Try to notice the things that are okay, as well as the bad things that are so much more noticeable. Try to look forward to the future. It’s hard. The past several weeks have made it obvious to me, again, that I’m not good at this. I tell myself awful things and wish I could just give up. I can tell that my brain is upside-down, but I don’t know how to fix it. I just have to try to get along until things pick up.
This is Advent, the season of waiting, the darkest time of year. Even if you are not a Christian or not religious at all, try for a few weeks to pray when you find yourself waiting. It may not seem to accomplish much, but it is better than doing nothing. If you’re too upset for specific prayers, just focus on this one idea: Everything will be all right. It will. It will.