Tears leak from my eyes. I’m not fully awake yet. Beads of sweat stand on my brow. Palms clutch the blanket. Ribs feel as though they will break. Not enough air in my lungs. Feet tingle. Goosebumps everywhere.
I can’t do this. I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too much.
Panic attacks are not logical. They can’t be rationalized away. The brain decides to flip the “fight or flight” switch and it’s off to the races. The neurons and chemicals and whatever else hangs out in the gray matter fly around, making faulty connections, ones that must sound like a car backfiring. The result: Me, on the couch, stiff, waiting for the terror to pass.
It always does.
The rest of the day, the anxiety is high. By “high,” I mean “would send a person who doesn’t live with an anxiety disorder to the emergency room, convinced she’s dying.” My hands shake. The bottoms of my feet tingle. My lips go numb. I talk to myself.
“Okay, you have to get up and shower now.”
“Okay, time to make some lunch.”
“How about you vacuum? You can do that.”
When completed, these simple tasks become victories. I celebrate them. I ask God if He notices that I braided my hair. Of course He does; He misses nothing. But I like to invite Him to the party. I take comfort in knowing that He paces around the house with me, laughing at sitcoms I’ve seen a thousand times, working to burn off the excess energy that leaves me both restless and drained. He knows that it’s not my fault. He knows that I didn’t wake up and think, “You know what would be fun today? An episode of the crazies.”
We’re not supposed to use the word “crazy” when discussing mental illness, but I feel crazy when the panic hits. I was 19 the first time the terror tiger sank its claws into my brain. I’d always been anxious, but this…it was new. Strange. Surreal. I’d been hanging out with friends. Nothing unusual. Went home, put on my blue plaid flannel pajamas and crawled into bed.
Sometime before sunrise, I don’t remember the hour, I sat in a room at the hospital, feet encased in purple Volkswagon Beetle slippers, adrenaline pumping. The doctor asked my parents if I was on drugs.
Anything I do, I do afraid. I do it with the thought that it won’t be good enough. That I’m not good enough. That failure is inevitable. The times I’ve seriously considered no longer writing, I can’t count. Any Bible study group I’ve led, I’ve been sure that someone else could do it better. Going to a party or get-together, even with people I’ve known for years, requires pumping myself up as if I am about to step into a boxing ring.
And most people are never able to tell, because I have a poker face to rival the best of card sharks.
God knows, though. As I said, He sees it all.
We misunderstand passages like:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
– Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
– Psalm 56:3 (NKJV, emphasis mine)
Trusting God isn’t a one-and-done deal. Conquering fear isn’t an easy win.
The Hebrew yôm used in the psalm is a word that is used to denote any length of time. It can be a day. It can be yesterday. It can be tomorrow. It can be a lifetime.
Yesterday, I was afraid. I trusted God.
Today, I am afraid. I trust God.
Tomorrow, I will be afraid. I will trust God.
My lifetime is marked by an anxiety rooted in faulty biology, the result of the Fall and Curse of Genesis 3. I will keep on trusting God. And when I forget, when I fail to act in wisdom and cry out for His help, I believe that He holds me in the palm of His hand. I believe that He does not and will not cast me aside for being frail. He knows the dust from where I came and the dust to which I shall return.
I plant my feet on the Rock.
Whatever winds roar.
Be encouraged today, dear reader. The fact that you have not destroyed the beast that weighs upon your back doesn’t mean that you don’t belong to God. It doesn’t mean that you don’t believe. It doesn’t mean that He hates you. Keep fighting, one moment at a time. This is the working out of your salvation, the wrestling that is part and parcel of sanctification. The beast may always be there, pulling at you until you reach Eternity. This is no sign of failure. Instead, take its presence as a reminder of the great grace you need each moment, as a prompting to raise your hands to the Lord who knows.
He is with you.