Birthdays have been bittersweet for me these last several years and usually, more bitter than sweet. They started to feel like reminders of lost time rather than something to celebrate. My birthday, like Christmas, was just a day that marked another year of sickness and suffering, another year of feeling left out of life and cut off from the people I love.
This year was different though. I didn’t dread my birthday all week like I did the other times. I was still sad not to be celebrating with family and friends, but I had a plan. I was going to hike! I couldn’t think of a better day to attempt my first hike than my 24th birthday!
Brett and I decided we would drive back to Death Valley and hike the Mosaic Canyon. The map said it was an easy hike, at least by Death Valley standards. I brought my walking stick along and we set out on a birthday adventure!
I didn’t feel very good after being in our mildly contaminated car for two hours and I silently wondered whether this would all end in disappointment. I was very determined however and wasn’t about to quit before I even tried.
We started walking and were surprised at how hard it was. The terrain was very uneven and it was all uphill. There was even one part where we had to climb over rocks! They call this easy?! Not to mention it was 90 degrees outside!
I had to stop to take a lot of breaks but we made it all the way to the end of the canyon! It was almost surreal as I climbed onto a rock and Brett snapped a photo of me. I couldn’t believe I really did it!
The way back down was a lot easier and we really enjoyed our time together. I only stopped to rest four times. In the end we hiked 2.8 miles. It took us about 3 hours, but still! Almost 3 miles, people! That’s amazing! I could never have done that even a month ago. I am continually being amazed at the enormous difference that clean air makes! It’s startling at times!
Just as surprising is how quickly a slight change in my environment can bring me back into the throes of this miserable illness.
On our way back from Death Valley we stopped on the side of the road to call my family. We had been talking pleasantly for almost an hour when all of a sudden my throat started closing up. Next, I started to feel like my brain was being squeezed, a classic symptom of biotoxin exposure. I told Brett we needed to leave. We hung up quickly and started driving back to our campsite.
My symptoms continued to progress and I started sobbing uncontrollably because I was worried about our dog. The sobbing turned into a full-blown panic attack. I completely lost touch with reality and became terrified of my sweet Brett. I screamed loudly and tried to get out of the car while we were still moving. Thankfully the door was locked. Brett stopped the car to help me get out safely. I started walking aimlessly down the road and he called after me. “You need to decontaminate!”
I came back and let him rinse my head, face and arms. As the water poured over me the panic and crying stopped instantly. Almost like magic. I finished changing my shirt and reflected on what had just happened. My throat felt normal and my head was fine too. I felt like myself again and struggled to understand how I could have been so irrational just a second ago.
We still don’t know where that exposure came from. Perhaps it was a car that passed, or a plume blown in by a gust of wind. Maybe it was because I briefly opened a plastic bag I knew was contaminated in the enclosed space of our car. I’m sure it wasn’t random though because of the instantaneous relief I felt when I decontaminated. This is the second time I’ve been able to stop a panic attack just by washing with water and changing into clean clothes. I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it for myself. It’s so comforting to think that I will never be powerless against a panic attack again. I now know where the off-switch is.
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Happy Birthday! What an awesome accomplishment!!April 6, 2017 at 8:36 pm
Thanks so much! 😄April 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm
Go Ana!!!April 6, 2017 at 8:43 pm
I love you Daddy! 💚April 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm
Wow! So proud of you, Ana! That’s amazing!April 7, 2017 at 2:22 am
Thanks so much, Alex! It was surreal.April 7, 2017 at 4:51 pm
God is going to make a hiker/camper/outdoorsy woman by the end of all this! You are amazing! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!April 7, 2017 at 5:20 am
Haha! Thank you! 😊April 7, 2017 at 4:51 pm
2.8 miles?!? That is amazing, Ana! Way to go!!April 7, 2017 at 5:50 am
Thanks so much Courtney!April 7, 2017 at 4:51 pm
Happy Birthday! What an amazing day!April 7, 2017 at 9:00 am
Thank you! 😄April 7, 2017 at 4:52 pm
I was so excited about this post Ana!! Congrats on your birthday hike!! Way to go!! And such progress after all you’ve been through!! Amazing!! Hey, I had a thought about the slightly contaminated car. I wonder if those charcoal bags from that link I sent from Amazon might help absorb these toxins?? Just a thought. But they might be worth a try. But this post really excited me. Praise the Lord!!!April 7, 2017 at 11:01 am
Thank you so much Chris! It really was amazing! Do you know if they’d have those available in stores somewhere? Ordering things from Amazon is kind of complicated when you don’t have a real address.April 7, 2017 at 4:53 pm
Praying!!! <3April 7, 2017 at 4:54 pm
Thank you so much! We really need it.April 7, 2017 at 7:46 pm
Happy belated Birthday Ana ! So happy for you that you were able to do the hike!!April 7, 2017 at 5:55 pm
Thanks so much, Aunt Mim!💚April 7, 2017 at 7:46 pm
What a victory! So glad for you.April 8, 2017 at 4:45 pm
Happy Birthday, Ana! Wow, what a day you had! I understand the part about not really caring about birthdays. When my health plunged a few years ago, I stopped sleeping well (or at all) to avoid nightmares, and ended up losing a lot of memories. I forgot whole family trips, months at a time, and most of 2014 I still can’t remember. It scared me to think I could just forget precious time like that, but as my health has slowly improved in the last few years, I’ve actually started getting some memories back! I still don’t get that excited about my own birthdays, but I’m learning to find joy in the journey and treasure the little victories and wonders of each day. That hike sounds like so much fun; my family loves to go hiking, and I miss hikes we used to take with our Papa as kids (he passed away when I was 12). Also, the panic attacks I related to. I was in several car accidents when my health was diving, and that only added to the nightmares, and I would get huge adrenaline rushes if we swerved or someone gasped or little things like that, and feel sick for hours afterwards. One thing someone told me about that helps is “grounding”, where you name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste right then. I could only do a few of those, but it helped me get my mind to calm down and breath. Also, having a playlist of “calm me down” songs to listen to at night really helps me sleep better. I’m glad the decontamination provides instant relief for you, that is huge! Praying for you, Ana! Thank you for being a blessing when it’s happy and when it’s hard.April 9, 2017 at 1:45 am
Thank you for sharing your experience Ruth! I can so relate to the nightmares! I’m happy to hear you’re improving and have gotten some of your memories back. I also felt like I lost touch with my past as a healthy person when I fell ill. It was really weird and disconcerting. I pray you can make a full recovery. I love the idea of grounding. I can see why that would help. 🙂April 11, 2017 at 10:52 am
Way to go, Ana! So happy for you….Happy Hiking and Happy Birth-day to you!April 9, 2017 at 7:43 am
Thank you so much Tamam!April 11, 2017 at 10:53 am
Happy belated birthday Ana! Praying for God’s grace for you and Brett, and thankful for all the progress you are making in learning how to control exposure and its negative effects.April 9, 2017 at 12:30 pm
Thank you so much Alyssa!April 11, 2017 at 10:53 am
Happy (belated) Birthday, Ana! I hope that you enjoyed your hike and are praying for a swift recovery. 🙂April 11, 2017 at 8:06 am
Thank you so much Charis! 🙂April 11, 2017 at 10:54 am