816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: Recognizing the darkness

Breathing was hard. I couldn’t fill my lungs. The more I thought about that, the shallower my breaths became. I leaned against the kitchen counter and tried to control the flow of air.



Iiiiin two hours I have to take Noah to baseball.

Ouuutside, flowerbeds need weeding.

One after another, chores and commitments did a taunting dance through my head and down to my chest, blocking the airflow. Passing out seemed the next logical next step.

It’s OK, Susan, just get one full breath then we’ll work on the next.

“It was so weird,” I told my friend days later. “My vision got all swimmy and tears gushed for no real reason.”

“You had a panic attack,” she gently told me. “Never had one before?”

I hadn’t.

All my life I’ve tried to focus on the good, spotlight the humorous, be optimistic and step over the dark.

But recently the pile of dark became too big to step over.

I could hear myself talking less but overreacting more each day while a big ball of emotional ick grew heavy in my gut

But this is life, right? Ups and downs, ride the ride, and be happy for the experience? At first I thought that the busy summer broke me, but when I tried to remember the start of feeling this way, I had memories into last spring, towards the winter…beyond.

When the kids finally went back to school, I wasn’t overcome with joy as I had been in years past. I didn’t have that special moment when my heart filled with a weird combination of love for my kids and bliss that they finally were away for six full hours a day.

Instead of doing a happy dance on that first day of school, I cried. Not tears of relief or because I missed them — but darkness born weeping. The following week, the time when I normally organize my own fall and winter projects was spent dragging myself through each day. It’s just a slump, I told myself, stop whining.

One afternoon Noah asked me to go outside with him but I was in the middle of a long postponed lunch. (Plus, it was hot out there, who wants to go play when it’s hell hot?)

“No, honey.”



“Please, I want to go outside and I want you to come with me.”

My dark Ick Ball grew tighter.

“Did you ask me a question and did I give you an answer?”

He stomped out of the room … and out the door.

With a bowl of dry cereal (I never said it was a healthy lunch) and iced tea in my hand I stomped behind him.

And then I threw what is best described as a temper tantrum.

An immature screaming-cussing-bowl-and-plate-hurling-and-shattering-on-the-driveway temper tantrum.

It wasn’t my finest moment.

It was one of my worst and there I was on my front porch for all the neighborhood to see.

For my kids to see.

The next day I had a regularly scheduled healthy-woman exam. When my doctor asked how I was doing, instead of cracking a joke I told her.

All of it.

I felt weak and hopeless but I asked for help.

And I got it.

It was hard to do. Not as hard as writing this and admitting that I needed help for all the world to see — but the alternatives to asking are too scary to face.

I’m still raw and the edges are still dark but light is getting through. I’m not going to kid myself that this is a one shot, take-these-pills-and-be-happy-again situation. I’m going to keep going as I always have: focus on the good, spotlight the humorous, be optimistic — but now I want to face the dark and kick it far, far away.

Today I feel changed but I still feel broken.

Better, but broken.