A few Monday nights ago, it happened again. For those of you who know my story, you will recall my past struggle with fear, anxiety, and panic attacks. Well, these old acquaintances have paid me a visit over the past two weeks or so. On that Monday night, the granddaddy of them all (a massive panic attack) snuck up on me about midnight.
This attack was just as unpleasant as ever. It has been many years since I have wrestled with one. Sure, there has been some anxiety here and there from time to time, but nothing that compares to this culmination of fear and anxiety.
I want to say a few things to all my friends reading this that struggle with such things. I was reminded that night how scared and alone we feel in those moments. We may feel “crazy” or even like we are about to die. It truly is terrifying as our bodies and minds go into full red alert. Our own minds play tricks on us as we buy into the lies that are swirling around in our heads. Please read these words and know they are the truth: you are not crazy, you are not dying, and you are never, ever alone.
There was a time in which I would have been devastated as I faced the reality of having had another panic attack. When we have struggled with something in particular for a while and have seen experienced some freedom from it, when it bites us again there is often tendency to feel defeated. There is a strong suggestion inside our minds that says, “You are back at square one, you must start over”. It may feel like everything has fallen apart and that we are surrounded by nothing by debris. That is not at all true.
Even though we may face the same old struggles time and time again, the chances that we face them without having learned something along our journey is slim. For instance, I now know what I’m dealing with. It’s not a stroke, heart attack, or some environmental toxin. It’s anxiety. It’s painful to deal with it, but that’s what it is.
Regardless of that thing in our life that hurts, whether it be anxiety, depression, relational issues, work issues, sickness, or tears of grief, let’s be mindful that a reoccurrence does not mean we are a failure or that we are stuck inevitably in a cycle. As with my panic attack, it can be viewed as a difficult, yet helpful reminder that I need to take a look under the hood and see what’s going on inside of me.
For me, I was reminded first of how painful it is for those of us who experience anxiety and/or panic attacks. Being reminded of those who are hurting around me and what they are going through was a not a bad thing. It gives me the ability to reach out not just sympathetically, but empathetically. We all can benefit from those around us who understand and stand with us in our struggles.
Second, I was reminded of my needs. Some of them were going unmet due to my lack of self-awareness. I had withdrawn from others in some ways, not allowing them to help me with things. I was trying to do it all on my own, which led to burnout. I was angry and was not dealing with it in a healthy way. I had allowed myself to be defined by the criticism and condescending comments of people around me. All of this happened without any thought at all. It took something big to jar me enough to take a close look at things, particular what I was seeing in the mirror.
Scheduled time alone, talking things out with trusted others that love me, and a conscious effort to examine my thoughts throughout the day have been a wonderful outcome of that jarring Monday night. I hope and pray for the same for any of you reading this that have felt down and out after facing (perhaps for the thousandth time) your own continuing struggle in life. Be aware of the fact that you are wonderfully unique, loved, and accepted just as you are. No criticism, bad circumstance, or any other kind of struggle defines you. Our loving Father in heaven does not expect us to perform well for His love. He loves us no matter what and tells us that in many ways, but it takes effort to trust His words and notice when He reminds us in everyday life.