This is a difficult post to write. I’ve already cried that “ugly” cry three times this morning and I can barely see the letters on my screen as I type now as tears fill my eyes again. But I want to write while the emotion is here because I feel like this is the best way for me to help people see the effects of lupus in my life and how a lupus flare has led to one of them most terrifying experiences I have ever encountered.
I don’t often talk about being sick. In fact, I would venture to say that most people would never guess that I suffer from Lupus and Porphyria. Even my own family has no clue just how much I suffer. I often just push through and keep going because, to be honest, there is no other choice. You do what you have to do. Lately I have been in a pretty bad Lupus flare with sore muscles, inflamed joints, difficulty breathing because of pleurisy and costochondritis, discoid lesions on my body (thankfully hidden!), and exhaustion that just can’t be explained. But, I pushed through as I always do. Not because I want to, but because I truly have to. I have children, a husband, a job, and responsibilities and they all depend on me to pull my own weight and to do the things I need to do. You get used to pushing through and not truly recognizing when your body is calling out for you to stop and rest.
Yesterday we had a staff Advent retreat. I have been looking forward to this little “pause” in our daily lives. Going on retreat always rejuvenates my soul. I get so much from being with other faith-filled people, from hearing about God’s love, and just sitting with nature. This time we did something new and went to a local place called Banning Mills. A few of us were brave enough to zip-line before our retreat started. It’s a great team-building activity and one that would challenge us to overcome our fears. I had never been before and so I was very excited to try.
Our first line was ok. We all overcame our initial fears and did the line with ease. Then we went over a catwalk bridge and a thin wire bridge to climb higher into the trees. My hands ached from holding the wires. I was surprised by the pain; it was unusually strong and made my hands hurt to even close them. Still, there were more lines to ride. We ended up at a tower where the line is called “Zoom” because it is one of the fastest lines. Our guides affectionately called it “Doom”. We asked how many people don’t make it to the next tower and our guide said, “Oh 99% of the people make it, only 1% doesn’t.” Laughing, I told him I probably would be that 1%, but secretly I worried.
The first two in our group went with no problem. Then it was my turn. I took my place on the stand, looked out at the line and how high we were, looked at the guide and said, “I don’t want to do this.” He laughed and told me, “You don’t want them to be the Three Musketeers! You are the Four Musketeers!” I took a deep breath and went. The first part of the ride was ok, but as I picked up speed, I began to turn. I tried to remember the instructions they gave us to help right ourselves. My hand strained to help turn me, but I did it wrong. I began to turn even more. Panicking I tried to swing my legs to help make myself go the right way. It didn’t work. I was coming in backwards and blind.
I tried to slow myself down the way they had instructed us. It worked and I slowed and then stopped. But I was short of the tower. Reaching up I tried to pull myself on the wire, also like they showed us, but my arms were short and my muscles were too weak. I began sliding back down the wire. I tried my best to stop myself again. Finally I came to a stop high above the trees and too far from the tower to be able to save myself. I reached up to hold the wire above me and the muscles in my arms felt as if they were on fire. I have never known pain in my muscles the way I felt hanging on to that wire.
I began shouting out, “Oh my God! You have to help me! Please someone help me!” I vaguely heard the voices from the tower telling me to hang on. But I couldn’t hang on. I felt my muscles completely failing me. I grasped and clung as long as I could. When I was helpless to hold on any longer, my hands slipped from the wires. This caused me to flip completely upside down. Now I was hanging by the harness attached to the wire above me. I began to panic in a way I have never panic before. “Please, hurry! Please help me!” I could see the ground below me and the sky above and I was stuck somewhere in between. My mind was racing trying to figure out what I could do to help myself, but I was completely helpless. There was nothing.
I wrapped my legs as tightly around the wire above me as I could. The blood was rushing to my head and it was hard to think straight. I am a large chested woman and my lungs and throat were being crushed under the weight of my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like I would pass out. I worried what would happen if I did pass out. I struggled to lift myself some so that I could simply breathe. I recognized that I was in a panic attack as well and tried my best to slow my breathing. I didn’t succeed very well but enough not to pass out. I can’t explain the terror that gripped my body, my mind, and my heart. I pleaded for help. I cried. I prayed. I actively tried to trust in the wire above and what felt like a thin thread holding me tight to that wire. “It will hold. It has to hold. Please dear God, please let it hold.”
I don’t know how long it took the guide to get to me. It felt like forever. When he did he was able to get me up and fasten a line around me to help keep me from falling upside down again. I know his muscles strained to keep us both held tight. Not only were his arms holding us, but he wrapped his legs around me and he held on to both of us. He used his entire self to make sure I was safe. I apologized over and over again to him for having to come to rescue me and that I couldn’t do more to help him. He gently told me that it was ok; that it would all be ok. I tried to focus only on his voice and reassurance.
He called for extra help. I don’t know how long it took them to get there but while we hung above the trees this sweet young man tried to keep me calm and to talk me through the terror that was still so present. I told him I hadn’t realized how weak I was due to my lupus. I had no idea that the muscles in my hands and arms would give out as they did. I told him I would have never gone had I known. He told me not to worry. There were several times I told him I thought I might pass out. I fought so hard to stay awake with him and to help him help me. It was humiliating, humbling, and horrible. When help arrived he told them that his strength was almost gone too. They sent the rescue pack to us and he was able to grab hold of it so they could pull us in to safety.
I was still backwards when we reached the tower and had to be hoisted up by several people as I couldn’t even see the platform to be able to help stand up. I felt so humiliated and ashamed that I couldn’t even help them a little bit. The ladies I was with hugged me and rubbed my back telling me, “You were so brave! You were so calm!” I laughed and said, “If screaming ‘Help me! Oh my God, someone please help me!’ over and over again is calm, then, I nailed it!” Still, having them reassure me that I was going to be ok and that what I had just experienced was horrifying helped tremendously to calm my nerves and to reassure me that I hadn’t overreacted.
I didn’t go on to finish the course. I was belayed down with my rescuer, who then went back up with the other ladies to finish. I was driven back to the lodge where the rest of our retreat would take place. The retreat was wonderful but I was eager to leave at the end of the day. When the day was finally done and I walked to my car, I began to sob, barely able to catch my breath, and climbed safely in my van.
This was one of the most single, terrifying experiences in my life. I was trapped and I was completely helpless to save myself. In the last 24 hours I’ve thought a lot about that thin line that held me to the wire. What if it hadn’t been strong enough? What if I hadn’t put it on properly? What if it had failed in some way? The outcomes of those scenarios bring me to tears and yet… the thin line was strong enough; it did hold properly; it didn’t fail me.
In prayer I can see how my experience can be related to my faith life and to God. God is that wire that I attach my life to. The harness- the line that held me tight- is Christ. In my panic, in my terror, it held strong. Without it I would have been lost. I wouldn’t have been able to connect properly to the wire that held so strong had it not been for the line that held me. Without Christ, I would be lost. I can’t connect properly to my God.
Hanging alone so high above the ground, my muscles completely given out, my mind racing, and panic infiltrating every single cell of my body, I was still safe because I was connected to the grounding wire. In my helplessness, God sent the perfect person who had the skills to save me. He comforted me, he wrapped his body around mine, and he used himself and every last ounce of strength he had to keep me safe. My faith life is this way too- God sent the perfect person to save me in my helplessness, in my sin, and in my doubt. He provides a lifeline that won’t break, that is always strong enough, and that won’t fail. His voice comforts and reassures me. He wraps Himself around me and He gives His entire body for me. He saves me when I can’t save myself.
My heart races when I think of what I went through yesterday. I have cried so many tears thinking about the what ifs, thinking about how thankful I am for surviving what could have been a tragedy, and feeling frustration and sorrow for how far my Lupus has progressed. I know that God is merciful and kind and that there is so much that I can take from this experience to help myself and more importantly, help others.
While I will never go ziplining again, I will always be willing to trust in Christ to keep me securely tethered to my God. He is my lifeline. He keeps me safe, he calms my panic, and he sends the right people at the right time to help me through the darkest, most terrifying times of my life.
I selfishly ask that you please pray for me as I heal physically and emotionally from this horrible experience and as I try to maneuver through the devastation that Lupus is having on my body. Thank you, my friends!
*The picture to this article is taken from the Banning Mills Historic Website.