so it begins

I had a really bad panic attack a few days ago.

I’m not entirely certain as to why it happened, although I had kicked off the morning with a mimosa and then several hours later had been the one to drive my two friends to the airport so they could return to their lives in Chicago.

Drinking champagne – excuse me, sparkling wine – makes me nervous. I do it anyhow, mostly because I want to challenge these irrational fears that so often spring up as a result of my generalized anxiety disorder. After Saturday’s excursion, I’m not certain that I ever want to do so again, because the panic attack was that awful.

But I also have to recognize that it wasn’t just the champagne sparkling wine. It was also the trip to the airport in extremely bad traffic with my husband unable to shut up from the back seat about what he thought I ought to do and which route I ought to take.

It was also on top of a week of having two extra people under my roof and in my kitchen and wanting to get out and do things, all of which was perfectly reasonable but which also couldn’t help but be a strain on my introverted sensibilities.

By the time we arrived at the airport, I was shaking and sweaty. My hands and left leg had a pins and needles feeling. I proclaimed myself unequal to driving home and made my husband take over. We hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before everything intensified. I felt dizzy and was gasping for air but not feeling like I could possibly get enough oxygen. In the irrational grip of panic, I figured I was probably hemorrhaging blood from somewhere, possibly internally, and was about to die there in the passenger seat of my car, out on the industrial northwest side of town.

“Jesus,” I said over and over, not a curse but an inchoate prayer.

My poor husband tried in vain to talk me down. “You’re okay,” he soothed. “This is all in your head.”

“Shut up,” I snapped. “Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutup. Shut. Up.”

I felt bad for it even as I said it, but couldn’t stop myself. We finally got to a likely exit and stopped at a shopping mall. Neither one of us needed a thing, but I bolted from the car as though it were on fire and the relief was nearly palpable. I wasn’t trapped. I could walk off some of the massive amounts of adrenaline that was coursing through me. I could maybe take one more breath. And then another. And then more until I ceased to be so conscious of the effort.

Eventually, I was able to find the wherewithal to get back into the car and drive home. The rest of the day wasn’t easy. My throat was so tight I couldn’t eat or drink without the fear of choking being perched on my shoulder, although I know from a year and a half of dealing with it that my dysphagia is an artifact of my anxiety, just like the pins and needles feeling in my limbs, or the tightness in my chest, or the headaches that last for days, or the nights where I wake to the sound of my own heart beating madly away and can’t drown it out enough to sleep.

Lindisfarne The reason I mention all of this as the maiden post of this blog is because of the next day. Sunday.

I woke up and felt more myself after a good night’s sleep, although my throat was still noticeably tight. After coffee in bed and laughing at the cats and their antics, I pulled myself together and we went to church. Somewhere in the middle of worship, which is always my favorite part of any church service, I realized that I’ve been spending the past several months asking God for a healing of my mind. I haven’t always been this person who gets panic attacks and struggles just to make it through a day, and a wholeness of mind is still something I hope to someday have again.

Somehow though, I never spent any time praying for release from the physical manifestations of my anxiety. So I did pray then and there and my throat gave a twinge and then… nothing. It’s been remarkably normal ever since.

Hallelujah.

After the service had ended, I didn’t bolt immediately for the doors as is my usual practice. The pastor came over and asked my husband and me if we would be interested in helping to run the media booth and we said we would be and then I fell into conversation with another woman and we fixed a date to have dinner together, which is sort of freaking me out a little, because I’ve never even met her husband. The last thing we did before going was to stop by and sign up to help out with a carnival that our church is putting on for the residents of the local neighborhood.

And to the point now – that whole weekend was a perfect microcosm of my life as a whole, and the best way I could think of to illustrate the syncopated rhythm of my days. In the background is that I spent many years being angry at the church and some of that emotion sort of splashed over onto God. If I had never needed Someone bigger than myself and capable of all things, I might have stubbornly remained in that state, because after all, it wasn’t as though I were rejecting the idea of God Himself or renouncing my belief in the path to salvation provided by Christ’s death and resurrection.

I just didn’t want to bother myself with the collection of broken humanity who would say in one breath that they were following Christ and then do anything but live by that example. My distaste for that hypocrisy was perhaps my greatest blind spot, for there was no meaningful way in which I was any different. Perhaps I was worse for all the moral superiority I felt but did not possess.

But now I’ve arrived through circuitous means back where I started, realizing that not only do I absolutely require God and a real relationship with Him, I also have a great need for community.

John Donne once wrote that:

No man is an island,
entire of itself ,
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main…

How right he was. How much more stable my life is becoming with the additions of people who are both immediate and accessible, who have loved me and allowed me to love them in return.

So, in part, this blog is about that. One can never just start writing and expect to have community happen overnight, but with patience and work,  it can be built over time. I was fortunate enough to do so before and I have hopes that I’ll be able to do so again. After all, I am an introvert and I find online friendships are the best supplement I can possibly have to the few people I manage to connect with on a personal level and face-to-face.

Isle of Wight

To me, my anxiety has been and is both a blessing and curse. It has been – to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon – the wave that has thrown me against the Rock of Ages. And in fetching up in that place, I have also rediscovered and am beginning to rekindle those needful human interactions as well.

Welcome to my deepest life.

2 thoughts on “so it begins

  1. I’m sorry to hear about you suffering from panic attacks. I’ve fortunately only ever had a couple or so in my life, and it’s not something I’d wish for anyone to experience (even less so on a more regular basis, as you seem to).

    Regarding religion, I think you may already know (not sure, since I don’t write much about it), but I’m somewhere between an atheist and agnostic. Officially, like most Swedish people, I’m Christian though. I was a member of the Swedish church, even if I wasn’t a practicing Christian. (It’s a weird thing in Sweden… I won’t get into it here.)

    That said, I’m not someone who begrudge someone else their faith, or try to belittle them (which I sometimes feel that some atheists do). And I actually find religion and spirituality in all its forms quite interesting. My grandmother is quite active within our local church back home, and I know she really appreciates the community that it brings. It’s one of the things I think are very good with churches – it brings people together, for those who want/need that.

    I hope I’m not saying anything wrong here, I am always afraid of coming off a lot worse than I intend to! I’m just trying to say that even if I’m not religious myself, I am very keen to read your blog and I hope that you’ll continue to allow this atheist/agnostic to do so 😉

    1. First of all, thank you for the compassion! My anxiety/panic attacks are certainly no picnic! Fortunately, I do seem to be getting better over time. I have gone whole weeks at a stretch without having a bad day and while it is discouraging to still be dealing with it all, I have only to look back to see how far I’ve come. I’m deeply grateful that I haven’t had to be on meds to deal with it, too. Not that I think there’s anything bad or wrong about taking medication for mental disorders. I just would prefer not to have to do so myself.

      As to the rest/religion/etc., I could never mind having an atheist/agnostic read this little blog! I’m not intending to try to be preachy or force people to see religious matters the same way I do. It’s just not my style. I suppose I just wanted to get into that part of my life straight off so that anyone who cannot tolerate any talk of God would know what they were in for here!

      My hope is that eventually there can be discussions and varying viewpoints and even civil disagreements over anything I might write here. I’ve been so challenged over the past several months to grow as a person in this regard – to be more open and more accepting and more able to value those who are different from me and my experience just as much as I value those who are more comfortable and familiar to me. I don’t always do as well at that as I’d like, but who does?

      Anyhow, very glad you’re here and willing to read! I’m excited to be writing again and my chief difficulty at the moment seems to revolve around deciding what topic to write about next…

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