So, I found this journal entry from 2013, and I thought it might be beneficial to share. It is super raw and makes me feel incredibly vulnerable to share, but I know that my issues with panic attacks and anxiety thrive on isolation. Perhaps, in sharing this struggle, I will help others who have their own anxiety issues feel a little less alone and be willing to get the help they need.
The tears are still wet on my cheeks, and another lone tear slips down my face as I hastily scrawl in this old journal. I grip the couch cushion, knuckles turning white as “it” washes over me. Sure, there are waves of pain, but the “it” I speak of is much more sinister than my tightened stomach and waves of nausea. “It” isn’t my shallow breathing or the chills from out of nowhere. “It” is not tangible.
“It” is fear, waves of fear that seem to choke the life out of me. Not just any fear, but pure, inexplicable fear that seems to swallow me whole like some closet monster I feared as a child, its gruesome fangs now replaced by thoughts of doom, loneliness, and overwhelming hopelessness. I try to push it away and fight back; I focus every ounce of my mind power on a song, each note throbbing in my head as I feel another wave of panic wash through me, squeezing the tears out of my eyes, my stomach heaving again.
I see visions of my worst fears passing before my eyes. I see the disappointment in Ryan’s eyes. I see myself alone, friendless, and uncared for by anyone because I’m crazy, because I’m not good enough, because I’m broken. My chest feels like it might explode, but the little voice in the back of my head reminds me that I’ve experienced this before and reminds me to breathe. I try and listen.
And without warning and as quickly as it came, it’s gone. I’ve survived yet another panic attack.
I remember the first one all too well. I had been dealing with what I now know to IBS, and the stress and anxiety of a unknown health problem, coupled with school work and a new boyfriend, were becoming incredibly worrisome for me. I remember that cold February night. I remember the nausea, the hyperventilating, the uncontrollable chills, and the terrifying tingling, which began in my fingers, then my hands and arms, and finally working its way into my temples and making it hard to focus on anything but the overwhelming fear and pain. My nursing student friend Marissa was with me, yelling at me to breathe deeply, but I felt completely out of control and unable to slow my shallow breathing. She called an ambulance, and at some point at the hospital, I was finally calm again. The doctors tested me, revealing nothing physically wrong. Nobody said anything, but I could almost feel the word tangibly hanging in the air.
Was it really all in my head? Did I really do this to myself? I don’t want to be anxious and in pain. I want to trust God. I want to be level-headed and calm, focusing on truth in the midst of the fear. But, in those moments, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of terror. I can see the truth, like a life saver floating towards me, but when I reach out to grab it, my fingers always miss by just a few inches. So close – and it might as well be an ocean away.
How do you explain these irrational and sometimes, completely out-of-the-blue feelings and fears to another person? I feel like I’m trying to explain snow to a person who has always lived in the tropics; there is no frame of reference or understanding unless you’ve stared that monster in the face and lived to talk about it. I don’t know what happens next or what I should do. Talk to someone? Take drugs? Repent for some unknown sin that is supposedly causing this?
And like so many times before, I do the only thing I know do:
I breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
As you have read, this blog post doesn’t end with some sort of resolution. I don’t have all the answers for you. I’ve talked to doctors, taken medication, practiced mediation, and exercised every day, all of which helped but have never 100% solved the issues. Every day, I spend time in the Word, filling my mind with reminders of truth to counter the irrational, fear-filled thoughts that are so easy to get trapped in, but it is a fight for me more often than not. The panic attacks have reduced, but occasionally, one will blind side me.
But, I have found over the years that God is good. He has shown Himself to be patient and kind with my little faith and my fearful heart. While my anxiety isn’t gone, it has reduced significantly as I see Him faithful and my fears groundless. With His strength, I have been able to do and say things that I never thought possible; even though my stomach may tighten in fear and my heart may beat a little faster, I try to take my tiny, mustard-seed-sized faith and follow His commands despite my anxiety.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
(If you need to talk to someone about your anxiety, please talk to your medical doctor and/or click here to find a local Biblical counselor.)