Fainting runs in the family. In fact, Natalie and I have quite the history of fainting, and often. We faint at home, school, work, on vacation, Walmart, doctor’s offices and everywhere in between. You get the point. Our husbands lovingly refer to us as the “Fainting Goats”. If you’ve never heard of the real Fainting Goats, immediately go to YouTube and do a quick search. You’ll thank me! If you are familiar, do the same quick search and watch the video again just for laughs. These feisty little guys run, play and have a grand old time until suddenly – Whammo! They fall over from fear. They literally pass out. But don’t worry, they’re fine. Give them a little recovery time and they’re back up, frolicking and playing like nothing ever happened.
For the real goats, it’s a genetic disorder that renders them motionless temporarily. For the Elliott girls, it’s a response to extreme stress and trauma, also known as Vasovagal Syndrome. For me, the fainting spells started at a very young age and to this day, can occur under the right circumstance.
Fainting Goat Episode #1 occurred when I was age 2 with a relatively minor car door closing gently on my pinkie finger. My young mother was certain I was maimed for life. With a few tears and a rush trip to the local hospital, it was determined I would live with only a minor scar. (Photo of ¼” scar available upon request.) When the nurse placed a Band-Aid on my finger, I passed out. Seriously. 2 years old. Flatter than a flitter ordeal. Obviously, I lived.
Most people have never heard of let alone seen an individual have a Fainting Goat episode. Sadly, it’s more common than you think. The signs and symptoms are easy to identify. First, a traumatic or highly stressful event occurs quickly followed by a fainting spell. The fainting can happen at any time. Next and simultaneously, the person experiences a loss of color in the lips, their eyes roll back in the head, and their entire body stiffens, giving the appearance of a seizure. It’s FREAKY SCARY I’m told and if you haven’t seen it, well, you’d think it was 911 worthy.
Legendary Fainting Goat stories of the past include:
At the age of 16, amidst a celebratory high-five with Natalie, I broke a fingernail while driving dad’s work van. Thankfully, I pulled over and then passed out. However, the van was still running, and my foot was on the gas. Natalie confirms that had we not been in park, we would have shot off like a rocket to the moon.
At the age of 45, the Fainting Goat made an appearance during a cruise. I was headed up a stone path, in a line of cruise goers from the beach below. At the bottom of the trail came Dexter’s familiar voice, “Where are your Keens?”, my go-to, hard-toed waterproof shoes that offer maximum safety for those afflicted with a “less than graceful” stride, like myself. I replied, “My flipflops are fine”, as I had previously been delighted by how my flipflops and swimsuit perfectly matched. And then halfway up, it happened. I stubbed my big toe. All was good until I looked at it. The blood blister was too much. With an audience of cruise goers, I crashed face first into a bush of tropical forestry and still have a small scar on my cheek to prove it. While transported back to the cruise ship via wheelchair, I would again recover and live to faint another day.
Can pain and stress really cause a body to shut down? The answer is yes. So how do you cope?
It wasn’t until 2008 that I found the cure to prevent the Fainting Goat episodes. I sing. Well, clarification: I sing poorly. Anxiety and fear overwhelmed me as I waited for a nurse to set up an IV for a routine procedure. I vividly remember her bracelet, a link filled with spiritual symbols. As she worked she told me about the bracelet and where the charms came from, each sentimental to her. With my mom by my side and one holy nurse, we sang. I’m not sure who started. “Shout to the Lord” was the song. At this point, I would have already passed out, yet I didn’t. I simply sang. Later, I would think back to what was different and realize, it was the singing.
Over the years, whether it be a medical procedure or more abuse to my big toe, I would continue to apply my go-to strategy of singing. God thankfully sends people who have good voices and know my hymns.
And when I cannot sing, I let another sing for me. In 2019, my mom experienced a medication induced psychosis that required my husband and I to transport her 13 hours for specialized treatment in Florida. During the drive, mom attempted to jump from the car as we traveled down Interstate 75 in Atlanta. After I safely secured her, quickly figuring out the child locks, I sat back in my seat. I was a nervous wreck! I found a set of earbuds in my purse and connected them to my phone. My song – “Symphony” by Switch.
“Even in the madness there is peace…. Through all of this chaos you are writing a symphony.
You say you’re working everything for my good. I believe every word.”
Since 2008, there’s been one common denominator in successfully eliminating the Fainting Goat episodes - I Sing. In reality, this is more than fainting. It’s how stress and anxiety impacts your mind and body after acute or even prolonged traumas. Thus, when I feel unsettled, I sing. Natalie chooses to exercise and Emilie takes a bath. We’ve all found our go-to’s to manage those moments that want to knock us off our feet, both literally and figuratively.
As caregivers, it’s imperative to take advantage of those brief moments of respite as they give us energy to keep moving forward. Peace. And the hope needed to reassure ourselves that it’s going to be OK. No matter where you are in your caregiving journey, find the time, whether it be an hour or even a minute, to care for yourself. I encourage you to “find your song”, taking respite where you can get it – a breath, a song, a bath, a walk. Recognize that to care for others you must care for yourself. And if you’re not quite ready, know I’ll be singing for you until you are.