Over the past six weeks I've spoken to five people, on five separate occasions, about my recent bout of panic attacks. After hearing me out, each opened up and shared their experiences with panic; one for decades, one several years ago, one last year, and two in the past three months.
To be honest I'm still shaking my head.
Five people, and each of them had a similar story. Like me, there was a short reticent pause in the conversation before they shared their experience. Could they trust me? Would they be judged? Yet, my openness seemed to give them permission.
My doctors told me that severe anxiety and panic are very prevalent in our city right now, "So many people are struggling!". I suspect that many are doing that alone... which is where fear, anxiety and panic hide I suppose.
Over the past two years I have experienced an inordinate level of stress; stepping away from the ministry into a very unknown future. I thought I had the faith to endure. But it turns out that my faith actually contributed to my breakdown. Under the guise of faith I denied my stress. Instead of engaging faith as a means to process my fears, I used it to bury them.
It was only a few months ago that I first started to acknowledge my stress. I can still recall that healthy sense of goodness I felt when, for the first time in forever, I felt compassion toward myself in relation to the pressure I was under. It wasn't self-pity, or self-absorption, it was self-love; the kind of self-love that I had robbed myself of for years. Acknowledging my humanity in this way was incredibly freeing. I am not indestructible. I cannot push my way through anything. I will not necessarily be in a better place when I accomplish that next thing.
So now, I find myself more able (and willing) to identify stressors when they arise.
"I'm a bit afraid to do this next thing..."
"That disappointing news is really hitting me hard..."
"I continue to worry about the future..."
It's as though I'm learning, for the first time, how to process life's strains in a just in time kind of way. While I sometimes still feel the urge to bury things and push through, for the most part I'm choosing to live in this new place.
The vulnerability is freeing. Which is what I've always wanted; to freely, daily and in a dependent, childlike way, trust... trust that God will be with me through all of life's stressors.
"“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last."
Jesus in Revelation 1:17, NIV