Sitting squished in a ball, tight and small, with my back in the corner and the bar counter over my head. I remember the cold tile floor and the way I felt I was losing my breath.
The phone on the wall above me, the patio door to my left, crying quietly and waiting. Terrified my parents wouldn’t make it home in time to rescue me from the bad thing I felt sure was about to happen. I didn’t even know what the bad thing was … I only knew it was waiting for me. To get me, overcome me and ruin me.
Alert and listening, in a state of manic anxiety, I kept my eyes fixed outside. Looking through the small square windows of our french door, I could see the delicate mimosa tree dotted with soft pink blossoms. Ballerinas dancing on a stage of green, gorgeous leafy canopy back-lit against a warm twilight sky. I wanted the tranquility my eyes could see but I couldn’t get past the repetitive drumbeat of impending doom dominating my mind.
I started having panic attacks when I was barely sixteen years old. I didn’t know they were panic attacks. I only knew I could not stay in my house alone at night. Instead, I sat frozen under our bar counter until my parents came home to save me. Or I would stuff myself in the hall closet behind heavy winter coats because,
I was afraid.
Looking back now, I see the bigger picture. My panic attacks started after I witnessed the murder of my English teacher in my eighth grade classroom. As I tried to cope with the reality of living my life in an unsafe world and the God I loved allowing bad things to happen, I got stuck in a pattern of intense anxiety. In my heart and mind, I tried to wrangle the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the whole situation but there were no good answers. There was no good news. I felt trapped. A girl lost in grief.
I was sad because my teacher died. I was sad because of how my teacher died. And most of all, I was sad because I felt God was no longer reliable. I was grieving the loss of a teacher, the loss of innocence and the loss of my trust in God.
I loved God but I didn’t trust him.
I tried to hold myself together and soldier on but I had no peace, so the panic pushed in. Peace and panic can’t sit in the same room together. One or the other will fill the space. In my life, panic took predominance. Because I felt like it was my only choice. I thought if God couldn’t keep me safe, I’d have to take care of myself. And that my friend, is a terrifying, panicky place to be.
I know there are many components that create panic attacks and I am not a therapist but I can tell you that in my life, my panic attacks were brought on by a revolt of my heart and mind that my body had to obey. All those racing thoughts and the out of control anxiety made my lose my breath, made me curl up in a ball of fear. Then the trifecta of my heart, mind and body completely suffocated my spirit and that is when I found myself under the counter or in the closet.
The problem was I wanted my old life back, the one where the God who said he was good showed he was good by how he managed my circumstances but that no longer existed. So I had to walk through the hard grief and ever present discomfort of the realities of trusting God in an unsafe world.
If you have panic attacks or even generalized anxiety that stems from bad things happening, I want you to know I understand what it feels like to be dominated by fear. But I also want you to know you don’t have to live your life like that. You can have peace. Because I no longer have panic attacks and I have found peace.
It would be wonderful right now if I could give you a list ‘ten things to do’ to ensure you never have a panic attack again. A bullet point list to follow but you and I both know it’s not that easy. The reason I have peace and not panic is because I renegotiated my whole relationship with God. It was a long journey for me. In many ways, like a slow-motion movie. A decade full of God patiently woo-ing me back with love notes, left specifically for me. It was through his love, he healed me.
I can look back over my life with all it’s grim realities and yet, I see God’s love notes dotting my life like pink blossoms on that mimosa tree. I’m not the only kid God loves like that. He loves you, too.
If you’re a fear-er, my prayer is you’ll find hope in my story and the things God did to set me free from the fears in my life. That peace will invade your life and push out the panic, the anxiety and even the everyday worries that threaten your peace.
My prayer for you, is to live your life unafraid.
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