What Panic Attacks Have Taught Me About Strength
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There is nothing I have ever experienced; not bullying, not divorce, not even addiction, that has made me feel more helpless than a panic attack. There is a moment where the waves of terror take over my body and hold my thoughts captive.
Though I know the panic attacks comes a resurgence of painful memories my body is the piece of me that loses control. In the midst of the attack, I can tell myself, “This isn’t real, it’s going to end, I will be able to breathe, everything is going to be okay” but I cannot convince my body to relax or find breath.
Not being able to breathe is terrifying.
What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks come in different shapes and sizes and each person can react differently. For me, my body goes numb, I feel incredibly weak, my body shakes before I fall to the floor, I may cry, I may scream- often I do both. I start to hyperventilate until I am at the point where I am dizzy, gasping for air and doing all I can to try and drink a glass of water. My heart hurts. My stomach hurts. Voices may sound distant. I may not hear them at all. It is a strange “fight or flight” response and interestingly enough, I want to do both. It feels like it lasts for hours but generally, they are anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour long, which is a long time for a panic attack. Afterward, I’m completely exhausted. If it was a particularly long one, I could still be tired the next day.
There are many different causes of panic attacks. I do not panic from a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) but situationally, as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has resulted from a number of prolonged stressors in my life. In other words, something “triggers” a painful memory, hits a nerve, strikes up fear and that’s when it happens.
You could say that over time, life's hardships have “weakened” me, so to speak. What I could have handled much more gracefully years ago, is more difficult for me now. There is a lesson to be learned in these types of "weakened positions" because the Bible talks plenty about how when we are weak, we are strong.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.' Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Having panic attacks has greatly increased my dependence on God but it didn't have to. I could have chosen to turn to medication and therapy to "fix" my problem. Not that there is anything wrong with therapy or medication, and I have had it in the past, but I do not want to put my trust in the medication and therapy. I have instead chosen to trust God for healing and put my trust in Him.
Trusting God is not a passive activity but an intentional one. It means we fight our natural instincts to "push through" and stop trying to be strong by seeking rest and being okay with being weak.
I have found the best way to get over a panic attack is to stop fighting it and to allow it to run its course. If I want to cry, I can cry. If I feel angry, I can be angry (so long as I teach myself to stop throwing things like the tv remote when I am angry! Yep. Broke it). If I can’t stand, I can lay down. If I need to feel safe, I can call someone who makes me feel safe. Allowing myself to go through the pain is the beginning of healing it.
How Does This Make Us Strong?
This same principle applies to all things Christians go through. If we would stop fighting God and trying to get the people in our lives to operate the way we want them to, stop trying to prove ourselves or define our worth, stop trying so hard to smile, be perfect, cover our flaws- I believe we would begin to transform.
I’m reading a great book right now called, “Rooted” by Banning Liebscher (what a cool name!) of Jesus Culture, who started his journey in Bethel church. I want to share a small piece of it with you.
“You have what it takes because you have Him. He will be faithful to give you all you need so you can be a faithful in stewarding what He’s entrusted to you. Rest in the fact that God chose you and you have nothing to prove. Let Him build the house while you focus on being a great son or daughter. Let that be what matters most.”
“Let Him build the house…” When you have a loved one struggling with an addiction, it can be really difficult to trust God to “build the house”.
In an effort to protect ourselves from the pain, we fight the fear. Our emergency responses kick in and we react in a panic-like state to the events happening around us. But much like a panic attack, sometimes the best way to handle a hard situation is to allow the pain to wash over us and simply "be weak". The best thing we can say is, “Lord, I can’t fight this anymore. I need you to take over and to help me find joy in the middle of it”.
When addiction is at its peak and we have hit our breaking point, it feels the same as losing our breath. We cannot find rest. Nothing feels safe. Our bodies are weak and we are exhausted. Remember the emergency at-hand will pass. God shines in our weakest moments!
"Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh."
You may not struggle with panic attacks as I do but life affected by addiction often feels like it is in a constant state of panic. It is not something we have to fight or run away from. In fact, we shouldn’t. We protect ourselves best by honouring God and allowing this experience to make us weak so we draw closer to Him. Inevitably, finding our strength, after all.
I started this ministry based on a verse about being still. I want to leave you with it today in hope that you will find peace in knowing that you do not need to fight or run- you only need to “be”.
Be a good daughter. Be a good wife. Be a good mother. Be who God made you to be and let Him take care of "building your house".
Whatever you're going through, whether currently addiction-related or not, the lessons you'll find in The Be Still Series will lay a firm foundation for anything life throws at you.
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