It's interesting to me - how the panic + anxiety seem to be cyclical. Are your experiences similar?
Though I had struggled with generalized anxiety before, I can remember the first panic attack I had, right after my daughter Charlotte was born. It was so awful, I remember being fearful of when the next attack might come. Tonight? Tomorrow? Two days from now?
The more time that passed withOUT panic, the more fearful I became...
"It's been two whole days since my last one. Surely the next attack is just around the corner! Maybe I should cancel my plans or stay home tonight? Should I commit to that other thing? I might have to back out last minute!"
Eventually, the fear of the panic, and the stress from daily life would build and compound and, surprise, surprise, I'd be down with another attack... Which just meant more fear, more stress and more anxiety.
This cycle turned into a downward spiral. Instead of having one or two panic attacks a month, at my worst, I was having at least one attack every day. When each one came, they were more and more intense. The panic was rough, but the feeling of defeat and condemnation made it even worse.
It was totally debilitating. Many times, I couldn't even process how I would get out of bed and make my kids breakfast toast. TOAST, of all things...
After several meetings with my shrink, it became apparent I needed to figure out how to stop the cycle. I may not be able to stop the panic attacks themselves, but I could do my best to stop the compounding, snowballing effect of fear and worry.
I stumbled upon Psalm 46 in my devotions...
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling... God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.
Those two tiny words became a turning point for me.
Even though my earth was giving way... Even though every strong place in my mind and mountain in my life was falling into the sea... Even though the panic was roaring and foaming and threatening to overwhelm me, I didn't need to fear. I didn't need to be moved.
Don't get me wrong. The worry and stress didn't leave right away... Instead, in meditating on these words, I started to slowly develop more of a "So what?!" attitude towards the panic.
Panic attacks have come and gone. But, big flipping deal. So what?! I've weathered each one. I was still alive. Sure, I was limping, but my kids were still being cared for, my husband hadn't left me, my friends still loved me.
If I could weather this much anxiety, maybe it wasn't such a big deal if another attack came. Even though I felt anxious, I would still choose to get up, get out of bed, dig the bread out of the cupboard, muster up the energy to put it in the darn toaster, and make my kids the friggin' breakfast toast.
To me, that meant victory. I didn't let a panic attack keep me in bed. I got up and made toast. Even though!
Shove it, Satan.
Though this may seem like a small victory, I've learned that small victories and instances of bravery can compound and spiral upward just as much as fear and worry can spiral downward.
Over time, confidence builds and courage increases. Over time, the fear decreased.
Sure, panic attacks have still come, but they are markedly fewer and farther between. And, my good days aren't as weighed down by fear and worry over "the next one" coming.
Just a few days ago, I was processing this with the Lord, and I felt like I heard the words "Let them come," in my mind. They were so very clear - almost as if someone had spoken audibly to me.
"Let them come?" I asked the Lord. I didn't really know if that was a snippet of scripture I had forgotten or some quote he was hoping I'd remember. Anyway, I did what every smart person does when they hear from the Lord and Googled it. ;)
The quote was from Lord of the Rings - movies I love, but hadn't seen in years. For those of you who love LOTR, please just rewatch The Two Towers, and especially the Battle of Helms Deep - you won't be sorry! For those of you who are not epic movie fans, let me explain just a bit...
Really horrible enemies (monsters, really) are coming against a small kingdom of humans. The main character, Strider, is sent out to spy on the enemy to see how many are coming and what they might be up against. He returns from his mission with horrible news for the king...
Let them come.
A vast army is coming to destroy the race of men - they are outnumbered by thousands and thousands - yet instead of cowering in the corner, the King takes on a posture of bravery in saying, "Let them come."
The following scene details King Theoden's commands and plans for battle.
"I want every man and strong lad able to bear arms, to be ready for battle by nightfall."
Instead of spending our days crying in a dark corner, we can choose bravery. Instead of wasting our time worrying, we can use it productively and offensively - planning our battle, preparing for war, strapping on our armor.
His friends shout their worries - fearing the king isn't aware of what he's up against.
"I have fought many wars - I know how to defend my own keep," he responds.
We, too, who have struggled with panic and anxiety, have fought many wars. We know how to get through another day. We know how to fight. We may limp a little, but we certainly know how to survive.
"They will break upon this fortress like water on rock. Saruman's hordes will pillage and burn - we've seen it before. Crops can be resown! Homes rebuilt! Within these walls, we will outlast them!"
Hordes of demons and waves of panic may be marching towards us even now, ready to destroy us. And yet... Even though they may do their best to pillage and burn us to the ground, by the Lord's power, we will rebuild. We will resow.
We will outlast.
Let them come.