Living with panic issues is rough. Surviving a panic disorder relapse is even worse. I wish I was writing this blog from a distance, that I was looking way, way back to my high anxiety times and assuring you that complete healing is possible, that you might live anxiety-free one day because I do, too.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is. I struggle. This week, I’ve stepped back a decade—maybe fifteen years—to what it feels like when anxiety is at its worst, when I have a panic attack and then feel fragile and scared until another one comes along, and this happens multiple times each day. Days seem to last forever as I wait for a day with no panic attacks, a day when I am back to myself and panic is a distant memory.
Yes, even those of us who feel we’re making headway against anxiety can relapse, and that, dear reader, is what I’ve been doing this week.
The other players
Part of my panic is because there are other players in this game, and they are not always my friend. There is an enemy who seeks to devour us. That enemy knows my weaknesses, and this week he struck there hard. A few things in my life frighten me, and this week I was faced with the possibility of one of those things happening. My body reacted before my head, with the old fight or flight hormones that result in physiological panic, and once that genie is out of the bottle… I struggle to fight it back in.
I was reading a book by Louie Giglio called Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table about not listening to Satan or letting him hone in on your thought life. One of the signs that Satan has been invited to your table is that voice that says “I can’t do this. I can’t get through this.” I have been hearing that voice this week. I feel like I cannot handle one more panic attack. God says otherwise. He says He won’t leave or forsake me, that when I feel crushed he is right there at my side, walking me through. If I head through the valleys, I will make it to the other side because the Creator of the Universe won’t walk away from me.
I confided my struggles to a friend, and she pointed out the enemy uses scaremongering techniques. I am being manipulated into fearing. I can’t always control my physiological responses, but it helps to know that what I feel isn’t rational. It’s not only my head lying to me. The master liar is here, too, and God is more than willing to defeat and silence him in my life.
The inner enemy
Also, I have my own inner enemy. I have told myself lies concerning God for a long time. Not on purpose, of course. I’m not sure where some of these come from, but when I’m in the pit it’s easy to believe God isn’t happy with me. Maybe if I did better, lived better, loved better, then He would lift me up. Maybe I don’t deserve good things. Maybe this is all my fault.
Yes, sin is my fault. But God loves me. He wants to fix the broken places and pull me close so nothing can come between us. He isn’t waiting for me to fail so he can bat my hand away when I reach to him in the darkness and make me suffer until I see him right.
But oh, tell that to my mind when my heart is racing and I once again feel like the world is ending for the third time in a day.
I take a deep breath. Then another one. I push all the doing away. Some of my stress is this very blog. Who am I to talk to people about anxiety when I can’t seem to beat it myself? I struggle to find readers, so am I wasting my time? The thoughts churn, and I want to fix it, want to find answers, when sometimes it’s enough just to let God take care of me, to hunker down in his hands and wait for better days.
Let go of the outcome
Another deep breath. I try to let go of the rest–the doing, the worrying, the control. Let go of trying to fix family or worrying over health issues. Let go of doubts about blogging and writing. Let go of the outcomes. If I write truth, God can find readers for my word. Sure, I still have to work, but that’s all I have to do. Work, rest, live, and let God take care of the outcomes. Same with issues of health for me or my family. I do what I can, and then I leave the outcome to God. There is honestly nothing else I can do, so why do I work and worry so hard to make things go my way?
I want to tell God what the outcomes should be in all areas of my life. How important my writing needs to be. How my kids need to live their lives. What my bank account should look like. How my husband should behave toward me. How healthy my people should be. God seems not to ask my opinion when He plans my life, and I can’t say I’m okay with that.
Except I’m here. Fifty-some years in, and I’m standing. I deal with a chronic illness, but I’m still here. I lost a sibling, but it didn’t crush me. We live frugally, not by choice, but we have a roof and food.
God has been good. He has always come through. Huge waves have buffeted, but I’ve always surfaced because He won’t let me go down.
How about you? What were the waves that didn’t drown you? Think them through. When you relapse—if you relapse—you need to have the victories handy, because I think Satan’s best weapon is amnesia. In the middle of a season of fear or pain or struggle, I’m pretty sure this season is the only one I’ve ever had.
When the fog of anxiety hits
I am on day five of multiple-panic-attack days, which is panic disorder, when panic leads to fear of panic which leads to more panic. Five days of constant anxiety, heart palpitations, dizziness, the works. Five short days. This morning, I was convinced this had gone on for months and years. That I had never known anything else, and I would never know anything else, and I was lost forever in the darker recesses of my mind.
Really. I had to tell myself to get a grip. I can’t really control the physiological things my body does. But where my mind lands me? That’s more in my control—although, in the depths of an attack, it is okay to sit and cry and not be strong. I did that today, and oh how cathartic, holding onto the edge of God’s robe and simply sobbing. I could almost feel his hand come across my back as he pressed me against his leg and told me just to let it out. (And yes, now I’m almost crying again.)
Alongside the tears, I had to remember other times God had come through when I was struggling. Remembering is powerful. David writes about it, along with the other psalmists, all the time. Their favorite memory was the crossing of the Red Sea. Life is rough? Well, a God who moves a whole sea to make a path through—you can’t really dismiss that.
The power of remembering
So if you have a bout of panic attacks or panic disorder like I’m having, remember. If you are looking at terrible finances this week or job issues or parenting failures, remember the good days. Remember that God has come through for you before. Or, if your anxiety amnesia is too strong for that, open the Bible and read what God did for Israel, for the early church. That’s your God. Those stories are for your remembering if you can’t see your own memories clearly.
I am preaching this to myself, because I am as forgetful as anyone. I can’t remember which Christian writer said “We wake up atheists.” This may not be completely true, but it’s close. Anxiety, pain, grief—they hover in our minds like a fog, and reality fades. Remember the truth. Read the truth. Whatever it takes, cut through the fog to the truth.
If this lingers I may end up on medication, at least short term. I’m adjusting my life to slow down for a few days in the hopes of breaking the pattern of attacks. I might try supplements. I have a whole list of things to do during an attack (Grab that below if you want.) Some of them work better than others, and some work one day and not the next, because panic attacks are strange creatures. Panic disorder is even worse.
Don’t give up hope. Most healing in life has its moments of two steps forward, one step back. God is there for that dance. He’s not waiting to bat you away but to press your face into his robe and feel his power and compassion in his touch. I imagine God hitching me up on a hip and wrapping his arms around me so my head is on his chest. I can cry there. I can whisper fears in his ear. I can feel the strong vibration of his words through my entire body as he comforts and soothes.
I will survive this. Whatever you are experiencing on the anxiety front, you will survive this, too.
Until the day we don’t survive, and then it really starts to get good…
Grab the pdf below for more ideas on dealing with panic attacks. If one fails, try another. Some days these work great, and some days they don’t, but keep trying.