Monday, September 15, 2014

How to win in a panic attack (No really, someone please tell me)

To be seen, or not to be seen.

Today I’ve been wondering about my anxiety. I’m holding it up and staring at it, and turning it over and over in my hand, dying to know what it’s made up of. Dying to know where it came from.

I had my first panic attack about 13 months ago. It happened on the day we moved into our house. I was tired. Really tired. It had been an exhausting summer getting the house move in ready, and moving is a long, long process. We didn’t have a crew of 10 people helping us. We had two friends, and then just the two of us. I’m not sure what even prompted that first attack, other than just stress and fatigue. Maybe I had some underlying emotions about moving out of that little house I’d lived in for so long. Maybe I was upset because Dave and I had been snappy at each other that day (Cause we were tired). All I know is that it hit out of nowhere. I thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t breathe and the overwhelming thing I felt was terror.

It only lasted a minute.

I had my next one about a month later.

After a year of panic attacks and growing anxiety, I have started to do what I always do, which is to analyze the hell out of it. I want to know where it comes from, and how to cut it off from its source. When I would struggle with bouts of my eating disorder I would do that: refusing to just stop because I knew there was a root, and I longed to find the root.

I want to know where my anxiety comes from. I want to know what lie I am believing, what fear I have, that brings it to life.

I don’t remember being anxious as a child. I was shy as a little girl to groups I didn’t know, but around family and close friends was outgoing and confident. I was outspoken in high school. Not afraid to speak my mind or share my thoughts. On top of that though was very much a desire to please - everyone. Especially my parents. I had a lot of expectations put on me by a variety of people, and lived up to them. One, because I was a people pleaser. And two, because I didn’t know myself well enough to be able to discern what I did and did not want. I wanted to be liked. To be loved. To be accepted. And I had to earn it by fulfilling people’s expectations (this is the lie I bought). I didn’t feel that I had the freedom to be me, because my security was entirely at the mercy of person I wanted love from. I could earn love by being perfect in that person’s eyes.

*don’t get me started on the enormous amount of counseling and retraining I’ve had to go through to get past that lie

So, nothing glaringly obvious (to me) from my childhood to account for anxiety, but my childhood was skewed by lies about my worth and how much I was loved.  I wasn’t seen growing up, because I didn’t reveal myself. The real me would have not been enough.

Right about the time I figured out the magnitude of that lie and had a night where I wept for hours at the feet of Jesus, begging him to alter that lie and show me truth, I was becoming friends with this guy….this guy who would see me and know me in ways no one else ever had simply because he let me at first (with no judgment or condemnation). I was his friend and he was mine and there were no strings attached. Glory, that was new. No expectations to be perfect. No way I had to act or talk. No appearance to maintain. He was easy to be around because he made no demands. No snarky reactions. No making fun (I think I was teased even into adulthood much more than I realize). He didn’t laugh, or mock, or belittle. The big things I handed him he did not toss aside as though unimportant, or make about him. I could be me. Finally. I was safe with him. It was so incredibly freeing.

I got comfortable with this boy. I got to know him. I saw him. He saw me amidst a bunch of brokenness and really ugly, nasty situations with my family. He didn’t run. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t tell me how I ought to act. Most of the time he just listened.

I fell in love with that boy. Cautiously at first because oh man, I didn’t want to lose this friend. Turns out that the boy was falling in love with me.

Wait, what?

That’s right. He fell in love with me in the midst of brokenness. I felt so vulnerable at first, because you always hear that guys want a strong woman. And holy heck, I was not strong right then. I was being me in ways that terrified me. I felt that I was living life naked with everyone there to see me. And this boy saw me (no, not me naked). And he chose me. And loved me amidst the mess. Amidst the nasty battle I was in. He loved me. Chose me. Rescued me from it. Picked me up when I couldn’t walk, and took me to Jesus.

So many people have made comments about how I changed once Dave and I got together. How calm I got. How the anxiety I used to have slipped away. Being loved by Dave was the safest, most freeing place I had ever been in my life.

I think that’s why my anxiety now is baffling. Because I’m loved so well by Dave, yet have this anxiety that is growing. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Maybe it’s because I feel safe that it’s happening. Because I am free to be me, and to expose my true desires and fears. I’ve always been highly sensitive but also grew up in a family structure where emotions were allowed only if they echoed those of other family members. (emotional validation is a HUGE arena in my life for Satan to enter and do a number on me. Holy mess.) I'm sensitive and easily overwhelmed even in little things, like, I don’t like big crowds. Or loud noises. I don’t even like group classes at the gym. I like being alone and comfortable. Protected. Safe. I think it’s why I like routine and order. I don’t like things I can’t control, and maybe that’s a root from being unable to control so much of my childhood, and wanting to. I don’t know. But I wonder if there isn’t some correlation between my need to feel safe and valued and the fact that my anxiety leaps up and chokes the life out of me sometimes.

I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. I have a lot of fears. The biggest fear is fear itself. Fear has crippled my family. I’ve seen the devastating effects of it. I hate fear. But I still have some. I’ve wondered if I’m afraid of losing love. Of being a disappointment. Of not being enough.

The attacks come when things get overwhelming. When I know I can’t. They start with just the tiniest spark of “This is too much. And I don’t want it.” And then it’s as if my body just can’t cope. Little things have set them off. And big ones haven’t (darn inconsistency!). I feel so exposed and raw in those moments when a panic attack comes. I’ve never had one in front of another person, and the thought alone terrifies me. Imagine you pee yourself in front of someone. That’s the level of vulnerability and loss of control I am talking about. Thank God no one has seen one yet.

Underneath that though, I wonder, if there isn’t some desire to be seen. During one of my bouts with my eating disorder in my early twenties, I remember being in my car and wishing someone knew. Which is so counterintuitive because one of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is hiding it. And I did (right under my parents’ noses for four years in high school. And from myself. I remember sitting in my Adolescent Development class in college and we were discussing eating disorders and it was like time froze because I remember thinking “Oh my gosh, that’s me.” Chilling I tell you, to discover that and have no place to go with it).

Anyways, I sat in my car that day and as much as I wanted to cover it up, I wanted someone to know. I had spent my entire life being responsible and in charge of the emotional well being of my entire family, and I wanted someone to notice my brokenness. To notice my needs. To help me, instead of it always being the other way around. No one saw. That was a big thing (and still is): I wanted to be seen. And known.

Thus why marriage has been the greatest gift other than Jesus that God has given me. Because Dave sees and knows and wants to. He gives a shit, and that my friends, was quite new to me. It still baffles me. I can hide my emotions from anyone, and have before. Not him. Five minutes in my presence and he knows. It’s uncanny. He’ll ask me what’s wrong and I’ll say ‘I don’t know.’ His response: Yes you do. Tell me.

I cannot tell you the beautiful power of someone giving you permission to feel what you feel, and tell them about it. I did not have this growing up.

I’m in such a safe place now, and still have anxiety. It boggles my mind. And it’s strange the things that overwhelm me. Having to switch membership to the big gym and not be able to go to my tiny, comfortable one anymore. Driving new places. Washing machine leaks or things that are broken. Little things. Isn’t that odd? Sometimes I comb through my brain looking for clues that maybe it’s big things behind the little things that are really freaking me out. I don’t find anything.

Maybe I’ll never figure out the root. Maybe the root is just my need for Jesus and anything that prompts me to fall to the floor sobbing, confessing my overwhelming need for him...well, isn’t that ok to have? It’s like getting mad at hunger pangs, wanting to ignore them, when hello, they remind you to eat and therefore sustain your life. Maybe that’s what my anxiety is. A thorn. A gift to remind me of grace.

I freaking love grace. I’m not enough, and Jesus knows it, and he says it’s fine with him. It’s because of my need for grace that I have him, and he has me. So hot damn; perfection be gone. I am so lovingly imperfect, and so perfectly loved. Being perfect does not guarantee his love. Terrifying right? And yet so freeing. His love does not depend on me.

Sweet mercy, read that again. His love for me does not depend on me. I can’t lose it, or ruin it. Or fall short of earning it. Marriage is like that, and I think that’s why I love it so much. Because it’s a choice to love another person regardless of them. To be loved regardless of yourself. Isn’t that crazy? What a mirror of Christ’s love for us. It’s a commitment to love someone that is not contingent at all on the other person. Not on their attitude, their words, their intentions, their actions. A commitment to love, for all time, in all ways, despite everything. Even the other person.

I’m anxious because I am broken. And that’s ok. I can seek healing, but I don’t have to be fixed to move on and grow. It’s not a sign of regression or immaturity. It’s just an aspect of a fallen world that I live and find Christ in. And really people, when you have those moments in life where you fall apart so spectacularly, then confess to Jesus and wonder how he can even put up with you (you know those moments?) ah, that, more than anything, will prepare you for marriage. It’s intense.

And really beautiful. You don’t deserve that love. But you’ll get it (Lord willing. Literally, marry someone who lets themselves be loved by Jesus). And that is what the Bible means when it talks about marriage being a parallel for Christ and his people.

So loved, despite myself.

Didn’t I start this talking about anxiety? Ah, well, the search for answers has led me to some good truth. So there you go.