The Watchman

The Watchman

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Of Nightmares and Panic Attacks....

Last night I dreamed of fire.  I guess it is more accurate to say that tonight I dreamed of fire since it is still night, but I can no longer sleep.  The dream started out calmly enough.  We were hiking through a beautiful canyon - my family and some close friends.  At some point, we got on a raft and continued through the canyon floating down a beautiful river.  We were laughing and singing.  The sky was blue with wispy white clouds.  The leaves on the trees were green and whispered as a breeze gently blew.  The view of the walls of the canyon was inspirational.  Occasionally we would see deer, turkeys and other animals along the shoreline.

Then I heard it.  The unmistakable sound of a fire department radio going off and as in dreams, one magically appeared where none had been before.  Dispatch announced that there was a fire in the canyon and as we looked ahead, the gentle clouds in the sky turned into smoke and then flames were visible beneath.  We frantically tried to pole our way back up river, but knew it was a losing battle.  Someone knew of a cave down in a ravine where we would possibly be protected, so we hiked up and then down, all the time the flames were getting closer. 

We made it to the cave and hid as the flames went over the top of us.  We had water and we had food and we were safe for the moment.  Upon exiting the cave, we realized that we were standing in front of our home, but we were trapped.  Everywhere we looked above us there were flames.  Ash and burning debris rained down on us.  We couldn't escape.

I woke up.  My heart was racing.  I couldn't catch my breath.  It took me a moment to realize that the noise I was hearing was not the roar of flames, but Rick snoring.  And now it's not that I am no longer tired, it is that I am afraid to go back to sleep and go back to the dream.

I know why I had that particular dream on this particular night.  When daylight comes, I am supposed to accompany Rick to Phoenix for a few days while he attends a conference.  It should be a fun trip.  We have friends that live in the area that I can visit, in addition to the many things there are to do by just being in Phoenix.  Rick will spend most of the daytime hours in meetings and classes, but we will be able to spend each evening playing tourist together and enjoying each others company while revisiting some of the places we saw on our honeymoon.  I wish I still had the picture of the rainbow we took in Phoenix while on our honeymoon.  It was the most beautiful complete, double rainbow I have ever seen.

I know I should be excited to spend time with Rick.  This isn't the first time I have been with him to these conferences.  We have travelled to Seattle, Chicago and Minneapolis together.  We always have fun together and each trip has brought us closer together.  Each time, just as now, we have left our children in the capable care of grandparents and all has been well on our return.  

But I know that this time is different.  I have made a hundred excuses for not going.  It is General Conference weekend for the LDS Church and tonight when Jon goes to the men's priesthood session, he won't have anyone to take him out for ice-cream afterwards.  Our new dog is sick and needs to be given medicine a couple of times a day.  The girls have a crazy schedule that I can barely keep track of.  I haven't finished balancing the checkbook.  The peaches haven't been canned.  The Halloween decorations aren't up.  I start thinking about leaving my children alone, not being home with them at night and my chest gets tight, my heart races, and I can hardly breath.  Yes, I go into full blown panic attack.

Why is this time different?  You would think that after two years, the fallout from our house fire would be gone, but just like the ash and debris in my dream, it continues to rain down on us.  I know I have tried to be the strong one.  For my children's sake, I have put on a face of confidence that everything is alright, that all is back to normal, business as usual, etc.  But this is my secret - I still don't feel safe in my own home.  We have built it to be as safe and secure as possible, but I know how fragile that security can be.  The smell of smoke still sends my heart racing.  Autumn with the smell of burning leaves no longer brings me joy.  Instead I find myself looking for the source of the smell and planning an escape route.  

I have come to accept that this is probably what will be for the rest of my life.  Still each day we try to put things back to the way they were before, continue to redefine normal.  I know that this trip alone with Rick is just another step in that process.  I know that Jon is capable of cooking meals for himself and his sisters.  I know that Grandma is capable of making sure the girls get to school, dance, piano and home again.  Jon has been taking care of animals his whole life, so giving a dog medicine and making sure the fish are fed is no big deal for him.  Yet I still find myself looking for excuses not to go, to hang on to the illusion that if I stay I can be in control and make sure everything is alright.

Last night as she went to bed, Emily came to me and told me that she was feeling sick and thinks she is going crazy.  She asked if she was still sick in the morning would I still leave with dad or would I stay home with her.  I guess we will wait till morning.


  1. Ann, this breaks my heart.
    While I can't possibly understand what you went through during or are going through after the fire, I can understand your panic about keeping things "in balance". Leave it in God's hands (like I know you will) and try to enjoy your trip with Rick. You deserve a break. Keep your cell phone close, so you can make sure all things are going smoothly at home. When you're assured that they are, give yourself a pass to have a good time.
    This whole post shows once again, what a good momma you really are.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. The support of my friends means so much. We made it to Phoenix and I know home will be good. It still feels like each day brings a new challenge, but then that is life, right?

  2. I am so sorry for all your family has been through. Panic attacks are no fun. I also hope that you are able to go and enjoy the trip with Rick. It's also part of the healing for the girls to spend small bits of time away from the two of you as well. Still, I don't have the trauma of a house fire to live with but I feel that pull of anxiety whenever Greg and I leave alone together- that worry about "what if something happens"?

    1. Thank you for your continued support. I know that this is more than just a part of healing for the girls, but also for me. Some steps are just harder and more emotional than others.