So, I did my part in Colombia to inspire people. I had a panic attack.
We’d been working a tough schedule. Mornings at PARE (a home devoted to helping people get off the streets) doing English lessons and teaching the residents skills that they could use to make money. It was loud, high energy, and fun – and for a major introvert like me, incredibly bombarding. Add to that, the facts that I’m deaf in one ear and can’t hear anything said on my right side, and that I knew so little Spanish that I was afraid to say the little I knew, because the response would then be in Spanish and I wouldn’t understand a word said – if I even heard it… and well, I was stressed. During the afternoons, we either planned or put on events at El Redil del Sur, a Christian church in Sabaneta, and I had to hear and talk to even more people. All day. Every day.
To add to the upheaval, I kept expecting those closest to me (the team I was working with) to be mad at me! I know it sound crazy, but really it’s not so crazy as it sounds, because in my day-to-day life, my special-needs daughter has rage issues and is almost constantly angry, usually at me. Her anger has dominated my daily life for years now. What I didn’t realize until I went to Colombia was how much it has affected me.
Still, no matter how much I expected it, no one got mad at me there. I don’t even think they felt frustrated with me, though they certainly had a right to be. Every time I noticed myself closing down emotionally, I’d remind myself that no one was mad, that they actually even seemed to like me. I’d be fine for an hour or a day or whatever, and then it would sneak it again, and I’d start feeling like a miserable burden to the people I worked with, like any moment they were going to snap and say something mean… Surely they’re mad at me now. Nope. Okay, but what about now? Sorry, no evidence of that. But what about now? And on and on it went.
And then Sunday came. The first church service that day was very spiritual and I felt so open… and then when the service was over, it’s like all my doubts and fears of the proceeding week zoomed into that open space, and wouldn’t leave. I held myself together only a few minutes into the second service, and then for the first time ever, I had a panic attack. To make things worse, I had to leave the service during a relatively quiet time and I was sitting at the front, so of course a lot of people noticed. Though the panic attack was as scary as I’ve heard they can be, it couldn’t stop my feelings of embarrassment or humiliation. If I could’ve chosen anywhere else to have my episode, I would’ve done it. But, well… it was simply not to be.
Brad stayed with me the whole time of the attack, and eventually, I could breathe normally again. Ages later, the tears stopped. I tried to slink out of church unnoticed, and mostly succeeded. Either that or most people were giving me the gift of averting their eyes (I suspect that’s the case, actually). The rest of the day was awesome and rejuvenating, and I was able to start up again on Monday morning with no outward residual effect. But underneath, I still felt ashamed of my meltdown. I blamed myself for being both weak and an idiot. That is, until the day we left Sabaneta.
We had a last lunch together, and were sharing our thoughts on the trip, on what was a success and what might be better next time, and right at the end, Jairo, the pastor at El Redil, said something that completely changed my outlook. He said that one of the things that really impacted the people in his church during our visit was how supportive and gentle Brad was with me when I was upset. Many people saw it, he said (and I thought, “oh great!”), and they were deeply moved by Brad’s kind and loving response.
And all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so bad about my meltdown. I had made a difference. I’d helped to inspire. I might have done it by crying and hyperventilating, but if I hadn’t done that, Brad wouldn’t have had a reason to show me such kindness in front of so many people. Yes, at the time it was terribly embarrassing and frightening, but to have that painful experience inspire others on the value of kindness and gentleness? I’m glad it happened. What more can I say?