white coat hypertension

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It is a Wednesday. The nurse tries her best to hide the sense of alarm rising up her gaze as it falls on the screen. The numbers shouldn’t be that high. The cuff tightens, and I try to breathe, try to keep my knees still. My heart beats, and I can almost hear it, and I think what in the world am I doing here? I am telling the truth. I am saying it out loud.

The doctor calls it white coat hypertension: a common spike in blood pressure occurring in a medical setting  in otherwise healthy individuals. Months earlier, they had done blood work and an echocardiogram because the numbers were too high. Everything turned out to be fine. I try to remember that I am okay.

I tell her that I used to start my day by reading the news, but not anymore. I tell her about the panic attack, how I felt as though I had been run over by a semi-truck all the next day. I tell her about my leg muscles seizing in the middle of the night, and how my patient husband would massage the extremity until relief finally came. I tell her about the last time I self-harmed.  I tell her about the sense of dread — that Fear has been running the show, and I will do anything to get my life back.

What I don’t tell her is that when I called the crisis hotline as a teenager, no one answered. No one told me that depression is every bit as devastating as cancer. I don’t tell her that I wake up in the middle of the night crying, and that I can’t remember the last time I showered. I don’t tell her that sometimes when I’m driving, I want to leave this place and never come back.

I already feel like a fool for saying so much, for actually telling her that I am familiar with the symptoms. I tell her that I must be a doctor’s least favorite kind of patient, knowing just enough to get me into trouble. She is kind, and says that it sounds a lot like clinical depression.

I have clinical depression. It is also called major depression.

The enemy that has remained aloof for the better part of a decade had finally been given a name. I didn’t know if what I felt was relief. I had always known its face, and could see it coming from a mile away.

The doctor interrupts my thoughts. She says there are medications, and that sometimes that is the best course of action. She says that the side effects should only last for a couple of weeks, and that if I needed anything, I could call her any time. The pharmacist warns that the nausea is the worst of all, and I find that he is right. My stomach churns for days, and seemingly stops like clockwork just as they predicted.

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Every Wednesday evening, a group of teenagers and a handful of twentysomething leaders meet in the church foyer to talk about what it really looks like to follow Christ. Their clothes are monochromatic, and their hair is a different color every week. They bring their questions, and we do our best to show them the way. Don’t all of our questions echo the hissed inquisition of the Garden? Is God really good? Can I trust that grace will catch me? 

We talk about how Christ, God with skin, met people where they were, in the middle of their mess. In the heart of their lies, their adultery, their plots, their pain, their smelly, blood soaked cloths — the clothes they wore to the grave. He never held out for perfection.

I’m good at preaching that to others, and terrible at believing it for myself. I’m thankful that Christ comes all the way to meet me, but I would much rather him call ahead so I can clean myself up. I don’t want him to see my dirt, my heartache, my indecision, my inability, my wrecks. I talk a big talk about authenticity, but I’d rather you believe that there is nothing wrong with me. I’d rather you not realize that in the deepest parts of my being, I’m still looking for something.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a lot of things. A dancer, a lawyer, a meteorologist. For a long time, I wanted to make signs. I grew up seeing signs nailed to trees and telephone poles: Jesus saves. And I was certain that the people who nailed up those signs made a living doing it. I could make a living telling people that Jesus could save them.

I wish I could go back in time and pinpoint the precise moment when I began to question if Christ truly was everything I had believed him to be — the moment where the lies forced their way in. You have to perform. You have to hustle. You have to compensate for your inefficiency. How well you follow the rules is more important than the condition of your heart. 

Is it really any wonder that my blood pressure is through the roof from the minute my feet hit the floor every morning? There are days when it seems like nothing I do is right or good or even okay.

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I consider his sanctuary — his divine operating room for mending hearts like mine. I don’t want to believe that there’s anything wrong with me. I don’t want all the ugly to be exposed. Even more than I don’t want the pain, I don’t want the ugly, and pride has always been one of my greatest downfalls.

But still, he asks. Do you want to get well?

Will you let me do my healing work inside of you? I know how badly you want to be used by me, and this is the first step. Let me love you back to life.

My heart beats. I am the paralytic, and I can only muster excuses.

But I cannot heal myself.

He won’t let me go. His love compels in the most gentle of ways. My heart is his, but sometimes I get nervous and try to take it back. I make a mess of myself. I become bitter.

And he makes beautiful things. If we let him. I want to let him.

 Lord, let it be according to your will.

  • Darlene Kimsey

    I love you Erin. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. That’s what Jesus did. When he needed to rest or be alone – that’s what he did. You are just as precious as those you serve.

  • Tara Ulrich

    Erin, God does indeed take our dust and brokenness and makes things beautuful. Your post reminds me of Gungor’s song and video “Beautiful Things.” I so understand white coat syndrome. I get it everytime I go to the doctor.