Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Anxiety Part 3: The Return of the King

Part 1
Part 2

Let's talk panic attacks.

This should be fun.

This might be TMI, but I had a panic attack in the shower recently.
It was a Tuesday morning. I woke up and jumped in the shower. About two minutes in, the panic washed over me like the streams of water on my face. I fell on the floor of the shower and began the normal ritual of painfully gripping my face and my hair, and feeling myself hyperventilating and my heart racing. After about three minutes of this hell, I regained control. I laid on the floor of the tub and stared at the scratches on my legs from digging my fingernails as hard as I could into them. I tried to get rid of the kink in my neck from when I pulled my hair as hard as I could to the right.

I laid there and thought about all that I had to do that day.

My Tuesday routine is as follows:
1. Arrive at work/prayer
2. Prep staff meeting
3. Lead staff meeting
4. Work on sermon
5. Meet with our lead elder
6. Do more work on the sermon (so that by Wednesday I know generally where the message is going, and can spend Wednesday doing a lot of visiting/pastoral care)
7. Run 6 miles
8. Dinner/time with family

Tuesday is a busy day. Yet here I am, staring at the scratches on my legs and trying to work the kink out of my neck, and I start thinking, "How can I possibly make it through today? How do I lead a staff meeting? How can I possibly write something to help guide other people in their spiritual lives? I can't even make it through my morning shower without falling apart."

That's the thing about panic attacks.  They make you feel worthless, and ruin the rest of your day.

Until this past year, I had never had a panic attack. I hadn't known of anyone personally who had panic attacks (I've since found out that many of my friends have regular panic attacks; they just don't like to talk about them. I totally get that). I had previously used the term "panic attack" to refer to times when I felt 'panicky,' but I didn't actually know what a real, honest-to-God panic attack felt like.

And then, about a month into my time in therapy, I had one. It woke me up, my heart raced, I was sweating constantly, and I couldn't do anything but dig my fingers into the bed. After what seemed like an eternity, it stopped. For the rest of the week, I was sort-of afraid to go to bed at night, thinking that it might happen again.
I asked my therapist about it the following week. I was predominantly concerned with the question, "Why now?" Did I only have a panic attack now that I was getting help? Did I subconsciously want to suffer more, now that I was in therapy? Had I heard "You have anxiety," and then my brain subconsciously gave myself all of the symptoms of anxiety? (I realize how ridiculous these questions sound now, but at the time I couldn't stop fixating on them).
My therapist said that panic attacks are perfectly normal for people with anxiety, and that sometimes they happen more often when people are in therapy.


I've had quite a few more since then. The thing that's so painful about panic attacks (okay, everything about them is painful), is that I can't predict when I'll have one. They seem to occur most often when I'm having a few days of extreme stress. However, sometimes I'll have them in the middle of a fantastic day. I've had them while playing with my kids. This morning I had one while in a board game store (aka my favorite place in the world). I feel like if I could simply figure out what triggers a panic attack, I could stop them entirely. But they so often come out of nowhere.

Someone I follow on Twitter recently said that he had a panic attack out of the blue for the first time in fifteen years. He said that there's nothing like a panic attack to remind him of his weakness.

This year I've repeatedly returned to the verse from 2 Corinthians, when God says to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." If that's true (and I really hope it is), then out weaknesses are not the end of the story, because God's power shines in our weakness.

Which is awesome.

Still, the weakness sucks.

I just spoke to someone who said that she used to have panic attacks while driving her car. I can't even imagine...

There's not really a happy ending to this post. Panic attacks are terrible.
If you have them regularly, you have my sympathy.

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