The Garage Years - Part 2: Nightcrawler

How much stress can make you sick for too long

By Sandra Dee Owens

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of The Funologists’ story, The Garage Years. Part 1 was printed in the July 7th issue of the Mountain Times. Look for Part 3 of this series in the September first issue.

“And I felt logic and reason seeping through my skin like a gas, and suddenly my ‘glass of stress’ poured over its rim like a burst dam, and the smallest, simplest tasks and decisions became unbearably difficult.” Fear and fear ruled my world for 1/2 year.

1-800 crisis

Do you know the emergency number 1-800 to call when life gets out of hand?

By Sandra Dee Owens
‘Edge’ – acrylic / oil / ink

When I was 29 I called them. I never imagined I would need it and have ridiculed those who “needed” it as weak. It was a young and foolish thought.

I am forever grateful to the doctor who was on call that Sunday, who pulled me back from the ledge I fell over.

After a summer of homelessness and endless back pain due to a degenerating spinal disease (scoliosis), my husband and I put our young family of four into a challenging life situation that shook my physical and mental health.


The first three years of living in the small, older garage without running water on the property we bought was an exciting “Little House on the Prairie” -like experience. We loved owning land, even if it meant we had to hand remove the remains of a burned down house.

During the third year of life in the garage, our building plans changed from a log house style house to a traditional, connected wooden frame with locally sawn white oaks (read: beautiful, heavy, sophisticated and very slow architectural style). My husband Bill’s building experience included a bird house.

By Sandra Dee Owens
‘Night Creeper’ – acrylic / ink


As the fourth year began with no structure outside the garage window that gave me hope, my coping skills began to unravel and I found myself in constant back pain and emotional stress.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I just knew something was wrong. In a 24/7 state of discomfort, I turned to movement to try to calm my mind.

Always the sporty type, I went for long night walks, went cross-country skiing in the fields across from our house and even tried an aqua aerobics class for women, but was pulled out of class because I pinned a girl on the pool wall with lipstick, which it did should be a dignified game of gentle resistance.

Nothing worked. And as my discomfort worsened, I lost the built-in gift of sleeping.

And then it happened. . .

One day in the spring came a great new load of stress. A burden that I might have been able to navigate successfully on my own. But piled on the swaying mountain of stress and fear that I already had, it became the proverbial last straw.

I didn’t realize that living long-term life without running water, caring for young children in a tiny room that doubled as a jewelry studio, driving 20 miles a week to the laundromat, barely earned our mortgage on weather and travel-dependent craft shows, chronic back pain and unfulfilled expectations of a house would endanger my health.

But it did.

And as the new load of stress poured into me, I felt my stress glass spill over the edge like a broken dam. My voice rose without my permission and I couldn’t stop crying. Sensing my desperate condition, Bill suggested that we take our two daughters and visit a beloved sister in Alabama. I grabbed the phone book and started calling airlines.

Getting away for a while was a great idea, and I felt a little relief at the thought – relief that lasted until a receptionist told me the tickets were going to be $ 1,000 each. It could have been a million dollars each.

And that’s when it happened.

I heard a crash. I felt the impact as I slammed into a concrete wall at 1,000 mph.

And I lost touch with Earth and everyone on it. I felt myself floating up and out without being shackled – in dark silence.

And I knew I was deep into doo-doo. That’s when I called the number.

A man named Jamer was on duty that day and asked me if I was suicidal. I answered an honest “no” and he celebrated that with me. Then he listened and afterward suggested that I come in and take some of that stress off by talking to someone. His calm voice pulled me back from the edge … just for a few minutes. It only lasted as long as our conversation, but it was the biggest.

Bill said that my problems were his problems and came with me to the weekly counseling sessions. We have been there six times. In the first session I learned that a nervous breakdown takes at least two years to recover from. I couldn’t imagine surviving another month like this. It was devastating news.

It brought me three years closer.

Determined to recover drug-free, I ventured into uncharted territory day in and day out of nervous breakdown, trying to keep everything together to care for our little daughters, make jewelry, and go to craft shows.

I worked.

I loved, fed, bathed and cared for our daughters as best I could. But at night when they slept in their homemade bunk beds and Bill slept on our pull-out couch / bed, I put on my sorels, an oversized winter coat and hat, and crept outside to walk the streets.

Sleep had left me, so I pulled our boots up and down our snowy country lane, stopped under the street lamp to get on my knees and vomit.

More information about Sandra can be found at:

Call 802-775-1000 to reach the Rutland Mental Health Crisis Helpline.