I wrote this in the post called “Random Facts about Me. Just for Fun!” It is #64 on the list. But I think it deserves its own post. So I reposted it here, a bit before the “Random Facts” list. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, maybe you can relate. I hope not, though. Because panic attacks suck!
64. I had a small panic attack three days ago (May 30, 2016. But it’s posted in February because I wanted the blog to end there.). It’s the first one I’ve ever had and I don’t plan on ever having another one. [I also once had a minor nervous breakdown during my parents’ very messy divorce. It was so bad that the only way I could start breathing and stop crying was to flee from everything, to jump in the car with my husband and two kids and run away to the middle of nowhere for a little while.]
This panic attack started after a walk I took around the block in the morning. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the things that have gone wrong in life and that I don’t have control over: broken family, broken home, broken dreams, broken friendships, and particularly my frustration and heartache over the neighbor’s moldy garage which is still blowing all over my garden. I have to cover my face when I am out there for more than a minute or two. It’s breaking my heart.
[I say “particularly” because the garden was the last “sweet spot” for me, the place where I invested my heart and creativity because I felt so defeated in every other area of life, except with my husband and kids. And then, two summers ago, we had to stay inside and keep our windows shut because the mold smell was so bad that you could smell it almost up to our house. So I stopped gardening that year and let it all rot. And last year, after I decided to give it one more try and not throw in the towel yet, a giant dead tree fell across my garden at the height of summer and ruined so much, especially ruining my desire for a garden and for anything for myself. And then this year, I thought I’d try one more time, in the hopes that it wouldn’t be that bad (especially since a new person bought it) and that I could learn to love gardening again. But the mold smell is still there and getting worse, and it just feels so defeating and hopeless and like I really shouldn’t be allowed to have joy. It’s breaking my freakin’ heart.]
And so my mind was swirling with all of life’s problems and how trapped I felt by them. And I could feel the panic rising. I fought it off for about an hour, doing every relaxing thing I could think of, from slowing down my breathing to praying to distracting my mind with tasks.
And then I started thinking about lung problems we could get from the moldy garage (on top of the mold from the last place we rented). And so I started to take deep breaths to see if I had the same amount of lung space as before, to see if I could take as deep of breaths. And, of course, in my panicked state, I didn’t feel like I could breathe as well. So I kept trying, taking deeper and deeper breaths.
Well, everyone knows what happens if you take too many deep breaths. You start to get tingly and dizzy. So I started getting tingly and dizzy and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t get away from the problems. And before I knew it, I was drowning in panic. I was freaking out that I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like I needed to rush to the emergency room because I was about to throw up and pass out and die of suffocation. I was spiraling into an other-worldly state of mind. It was really weird, so unlike level-headed, stoic me.
I was moments away from telling my husband to drive me to the hospital, but I decided to try one last thing. I told my husband that I thought I was having a panic attack and that I needed him to pray for me. And then I started sobbing about how much I hate life and how hard everything is and how wrong everything is (except my amazing family-life with my husband and kids) and how I am tired of trying, and tired of hoping, and tired of being tired.
And then he prayed for me. It was a wonderful prayer. And as he talked, I felt myself calming down and my body relaxing. I needed him to pray for me because I couldn’t pray for myself. I needed to lean on him because I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. And when he was done praying, things felt a little lighter. Still sad and disheartening, but lighter.
But it’s amazing what a panic attack does to you. How much it wears you down. I was exhausted. And the rest of the day, I shuffled around like a weak, tired, old lady suffering from arthritis and osteoporosis. And my guts were basically liquefied and my stomach was so tight that I couldn’t eat anything. It took me all day to eat a child-sized Subway sandwich. And it took me all day to feel even somewhat okay again.
Unfortunately, the next day (yesterday) I was still wiped out. So I laid down a lot. But one time, I woke up with a neck-pinch that I get sometimes which makes me vomit. And so on top of being exhausted and having eaten nothing, I started vomiting. Three or four times I threw up the nothing that I had in my stomach. I was a miserable wretch. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t move without my neck hurting, couldn’t handle noise. So I stayed in bed all night until this morning, when I woke up at 3:36 a.m. and ate a cracker. And amazingly enough, I kept it down okay, along with the banana that took me hours to eat. Slowly but surely, I am working my way back to normal. But I am wrecked.
Today (the third day APA – After Panic Attack), I am still shuffling around slowly and not eating well. And this morning, I could feel the panic tickling the edges of my brain, looking for a weak spot to come in. I think I was misinterpreting tiredness and hunger, thinking they were precursors to panic. But just the idea of panicking and remembering how it felt made me want to panic. So I called a friend and told her what was going on, and she offered to pray with me right there on the phone. I felt so much better after that, to have someone else pray for me when I couldn’t pray for myself. Just having someone listen and care felt really good.
I have been up and down all day today, praying very different prayers.
First, when I was ready to crawl in a hole, I prayed, “Lord, I’m broken. Please, I am just falling before You broken. Pick me up. Carry me. I can’t do it anymore. I am falling apart. Put me back together again.”
Later on, I once again got so frustrated thinking about how we are once again subjected to mold and how there’s nothing we can do about it and how the city won’t do anything about it and how other people get to enjoy their homes but I’ve never really had the pleasure and how we are in the same place we were in 6 years ago when we were trying desperately to get out of a severely moldy rental and how just 6-ish years before that I was dealing with the incredible stress and heartache of my mom and step-dad’s divorce and how I can’t catch a break and how everything just feels so unfair, even like God Himself is being unfair. Sometimes it feels like one problem and one health concern after the next. So discouraging. Makes me feel so trapped. And so I prayed a rather unedited prayer in my frustration, “I don’t f*cking care anymore, Lord. I don’t f*cking care about anything. I don’t care what You do. Do whatever You want. I give up. I don’t care about the f*cking garden or the f*cking house. I can’t f*cking care anymore. It’s hurts too much! What have I done? Am I that bad that we can’t catch a break? I have always tried to do everything right and look where it’s gotten me!?! No wonder the Bible says to not get tired of doing good. Because we can get so tired of doing good when it gets us nowhere. No wonder people turn bad and lose faith. I won’t turn from You because I know You are real, but I don’t care about anything anymore. Do whatever You want. My prayers don’t do any good anyway. I’m done!”
[If I didn’t have that nighttime demonic harassment happen to me awhile back, I would have lost faith by now. I would be totally doubting if there really was a God, if He cared, if we mattered, if faith makes any difference, if I should even bother “being good” anymore because what benefit is it to you. Thank God for that demonic harassment! It is what always reminds me that there is an unseen, supernatural world out there. There is a God! And I choose to follow Him, even when He seems unfair!]
And then a bit later on, not too long ago, it was this, “Lord, I still believe in You. I trust You. And I have a big problem, a neighbor’s moldy garage that is ruining my health and my joy and my heart and my mind. But You are big enough. And I have to believe that You care, that You hear me, and that You have a plan. Please, Lord, I know You have a plan. Please, do it. Show me what You can do. Because I can’t do anything. And help keep us healthy and safe until then.”
It’s been a terrible several days. And I know it’s not over yet, and I don’t know how it will all work out. But I never want to go through a panic attack again. I’ll take depression over panic any day.
I know one of the big effects of a panic attack is that you get afraid that it will happen again, so you over-analyze every little sensation. I can already tell that I am afraid to take too big of breaths. But I am also afraid to not breathe enough. So I have to think about my breathing more. And I feel like something broke inside, in my mind. Like I am more fragile now and could crack any moment. I have to be careful what I watch on the news or bad things I hear or thoughts that enter my head. I feel like everything around me is ominous and closing in on me, from the loud sounds of the cars driving by to the fact that I am beginning to hate my own backyard to the bright, flashy commercials that are giving me a headache. I hope this fades soon. Maybe after I get more sleep and food.
Plus, I decided that everyone deserves a panic attack and a nervous breakdown at least once in life. And I have had both of mine. And since it took me forty years to get this panic attack, I’ll simply schedule the next one for forty years from now. (I hope it works out like I planned.)
Update – Day 4 APA: I was out in the garden this morning for a few minutes gathering strawberries when I realized that the wind was blowing the other way and I couldn’t smell the mold too much. And I prayed, “Thank You, Lord. That is a blessing!” (I do think it’s important to always be thankful for whatever you can be thankful for. There is so much we overlook.) And then as I left the garden . . . I got stung by a bee in the foot, which caused a pain that hurt all day. I texted my husband about it, and he replied something like, “That’s the way life seems to work out, isn’t it?”
And then just a couple hours later, as I was starting to relax and eat again and get the house cleaned for the multi-person birthday party we are hosting tomorrow, I got a call from my brother who I haven’t talked to in years. And he tells me that my mom overdosed on pills a couple days ago, went to the hospital to get her stomach pumped, and is now on a psychiatric floor under supervision for three days. He said she tried to kill herself.
Yep. That’s how life goes sometimes. Serving up one sh*t sandwich after the next.
[I told you this post would be “improper.” The cussing thing only recently started, after I got too tired of trying and trying to do the right thing, only to constantly fail or fall on my face. Or so it seems. I’ll get a handle on it soon. But for now, I can’t really care. It’s my version of venting the pressure. I know it’s not right, but it could be so much worse. You know what, don’t read anything that I write. Seriously.
And to be clear, when I say “cussing,” I do not mean “using the Lord’s name improperly.” While I might let a few four-letter words slip out, I am very careful about never using the name of God, Jesus, or Christ in a disrespectful way, even in something as common and benign-sounding as “Oh my God” or “OMG!” Unless you are talking about Him or to Him when you use His name, you are most likely using it in an inappropriate, disrespectful, or “bad word” way. And to me, that’s in a whole different camp than other “cuss” words we might use. In fact, “don’t use the Lord’s name in vain” is in the top three of the ten commandments. And it says that anyone who uses His name in vain will be held accountable for it. Is it worth it?
Also, I do not like to use the word “damn” about anything because you are essentially expressing a desire to “damn” something. And I have always wondered about the power of our words, such as the curses that people in the Old Testament have uttered against others, and the fact that these curses seem to come true for many of them. What if our “damning” something has an effect or opens the door to evil? I think it’s best to not even go there.]
Anyway, that sent me into another sobbing fit, nearly hyperventilating. I knew that if I kept crying like that, I would go into a panic attack again. And I CAN’T go there again. So I gathered myself together and reminded myself that I knew this could happen someday, that I have been prepared for this moment since the really messy divorce when things got really bad, potentially suicidal or homicidal bad.
The rest of the day, I alternated between sitting there and staring and trying not to work up my nerves at all, praying, cleaning house, and occasionally crying, thinking of her feeling so discouraged that the only thing she could do was end her life, hurting and broken. After having gone through the depression that I have gone through, I can totally understand and have compassion for anyone who feels that broken and hopeless. I’d never do anything to myself, but I can understand those who do. And it breaks my heart for them. (I think only broken people can truly understand and have compassion for broken people.)
Well, later in the day as I contemplated if I needed to cancel our trip to Iowa for my dad’s memorial (he died one year ago from something he wouldn’t go to the doctor for and was buried on his property in a coffin he made himself, no funeral or service or goodbye) and jump on a plane and go down to see how things are going with her, I decided to call my step-father and ask what’s going on. (Sadly enough, no one called me to tell me that anything had happened until two days after she went to the ER. Yep. That is my family.)
I really should have called him earlier because, according to him, it’s not as dire as my brother made it sound. I thought she was basically on her deathbed but it sounds better than that. Yes, she was completely out of it, acting like she overdosed or was drunk, but they are not sure yet what happened, if she really did try to kill herself or if it was something else, maybe something in the brain. (She said she went on a drinking binge but they found no alcohol in her system. Strange!)
She was admitted to the ER (never had her stomached pumped, though) and she was involuntarily admitted for “suicide watch” for three days on a psych floor. And that’s all I really know right now. It might have been a suicide attempt or it might not have been. I would really hope it’s something other than suicide because it would break my heart to know that hers was so broken. I am waiting for a call later when they know more. But at least from what my step-dad says, she is not in as grave of danger as it first seemed. She is stable now. We’ll see what really happened when they know more.
[To my sons who wondered why mommy was so tired and sick all week, lying in bed and barely able to smile: This is the kind of week I had. And it broke me. Humans break sometimes and need a little time to get it back together. And you know what, we’re all broken in some way. And if we’re not now, we will be someday. We’re all broken. And we’re all okay.]
Update – Day 5 APA: Well, my mom is out of the hospital and home again and doing a bit better. Apparently it was an overdose but not necessarily intentional. She had taken her normal pills. But when she couldn’t fall asleep, she began taking Nyquil. And she kept taking Nyquil when it wasn’t working. So it was a bad combination of pills and way too much Nyquil (which would explain the drunk-like state). The psychiatrist on the psych floor ended up adjusting her pills because one of them has been shown to cause seizures. So who knows if that was part of it or not? But there was no foul play or intentional self-harm. Thank God. What a messed-up situation.
But my mom is out of the hospital, she didn’t attempt suicide, the birthday party is over, I am starting to eat nearly normal again (after losing 6-8 pounds this week), and I feel pretty good. I’m just going to chill today, sit around and do nothing but relax, pray for no new excitement, and gather my strength for the Iowa trip coming up in several days. All in all, it’s been a good day.
Update – Day 7 APA: I’m not liking getting up in the morning much anymore. I am tired and dizzy and that makes me feel like I could get panicky. It’s still a bit of work to keep myself calm. And I want calm to come more naturally. I want to not have to think about it, to not work at it so much. That counteracts the whole idea of “calm.”
Anyway, I was gathering strawberries again this morning, holding my jacket up to my nose, and I was thinking about how hard it is to hang in there, to hold on. And I started to feel trapped again by all the problems and broken dreams and heartache and hopeless world problems. And I could feel panic starting again.
“Lord, I don’t know what I did to deserve this. But I know there are people who have it way worse. They would kill for a house to live in, even with mold and construction problems. I have it good. I really do. But I need help getting back to normal. I’m barely holding on here, Lord.”
And that’s when it dawned on me. What am I trying to hold onto anyway? I can’t even really identify what I am struggling to hold onto. I guess I am holding on to broken dreams and unfulfilled desires. But that means that I’m really holding onto nothing because they are not even there. So I am struggling all this time to get a better grasp on nothing. No wonder I’m so exhausted and defeated. You can’t get a better grasp on something that’s not there.
“Lord, I don’t even know what I’m trying to hold onto anymore. But the struggle to hold onto it is killing me. I’m done. I’m letting go. I’m going to stop trying to hold onto vague ideas and dreams that I can’t attain. I know that the only thing I really need to hold onto is You. But I don’t even know how to do that anymore. I have prayed so much, pouring myself out for years to the point of tears and exhaustion. And it doesn’t do anything. And You still seem silent. Yet I will trust You. Why do I still trust You? Why haven’t I lost faith? Because I know You are real. It is not just a wish or dream. You are real and You are the only option I have. So if this is how You have allowed things to be, I have to accept that. Because there is no other God but You. So I will let You be God. Like Job, I say, ‘Will we accept good from God and not the bad?’ And ‘Though You slay me, yet I will trust in You.’ There is no other. I need to hold onto You. Not some dream or hope or desire. I am letting go of my efforts to hold onto anything else because it’s just crushing me anyway. And I am falling into Your hands. Help me know how to hold onto You again because I don’t know how to do it anymore.”
After that prayer, after letting go of my efforts to hold onto things that aren’t even there, after telling God that I will still hold onto Him but that I need Him to help me figure out how to do that, I felt immensely better.
You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past depressing years, it’s that faith is messy sometimes. Faith hurts sometimes. And we don’t have faith in God because it fixes every problem or because it’s fun or because it gives us an emotional high. We have faith in God because He is real. Because He is good and faithful, even when life is messy and hurts and prayers don’t work.
And I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials. It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to. But that’s not really faith, now is it? It’s gratitude that life is good. It’s happiness because we are getting what we want. And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise.
But when the trials come, we have to struggle with our views of God and ourselves and life and faith. And we gradually, painfully move from a naïve, untested, “gimme” faith in a version of God that we created in our minds to a genuine, hard-won faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by us, who is far above us, who has His own plans and timing, and who is sovereign over all, knowing when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” Through the trials, we learn who we really are and we learn to have faith in Him for the God that He really is. And that is a faith that helps us cling through the hard times.
If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either. If we can’t follow Him when the road gets rough then we’re not really following Him to begin with.
And finally, we have faith in God because this life isn’t all there is. There is a spiritual world out there. There is an eternity out there. And there are only two options: Life with God or life without God. And I’d take a painful life with God before I’d take an easy life without God.
I trust that someday He will work all this mess into something beautiful. But until then, I can’t expect life to be easy and fun. I can’t expect God to do everything my way, fulfilling my dreams and wants and desires. But I can expect Him to carry me through, to guide me on the right path (even if it hurts), and to make it all right in the end. I don’t have to know what to do. I don’t have to make things happen. I don’t have to have the answers or know what the future holds. I just need to hold onto Him and let Him hold onto me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: God is good. And because God is good, life is good. Even when it’s not. I’m gonna be okay.
[Side Note: I wanted to explain something, why I left the cuss words in this section instead of editing them out like a “proper” Christian would do. I thought about editing them out so that I could present that good, proper front, but I left them in on purpose, for a few reasons.
For one, it’s the truth of what was going on in my head, even in that prayer I prayed. That might have been the first time I used cuss words in prayer. Now, I don’t condone it, nor do I walk around using that language flippantly or out loud. But I have been using it in my head recently. Because it seems to be the only way to really express the depth of what I am really feeling. (And because I am in an “I don’t care and I am tired of holding it all together” state.)
And I didn’t edit it out because I want non-Christians to understand that Christians are human, too. I think sometimes we Christians try to polish ourselves up so much and “do the right thing” that we seem un-human to non-Christians, like we are not real or something. And we are always setting ourselves up on a higher level and shaking our fingers at everyone, saying “No, no, no, don’t do that.” But in reality, we are really on the same, level ground that they are. We just fail to show them that. And if we always present the “good, clean, polished side” but never the “human, raw, real side” then we might end up presenting to them something they feel they can never be. They might feel that if they could never be that “good, clean, and polished” then they could never be a Christian.
But deep down, we Christians know how human and real and sinful and improper we can be. We just never let it show. But I wanted to let it show, to humanize Christians, to show non-Christians that we are not robots and we are not perfect. We are broken, sinful people, too. We hurt and we struggle and we doubt and we get angry and we do things wrong. But God’s grace covers all that. God can forgive all that.
It doesn’t mean we should flaunt sin or willingly, regularly engage in it, for our lifestyle and choices will demonstrate if our faith is real or not. But it does mean that we are not as “good, clean, and polished” as we might look on the outside. We are human, too. And God understands that and loves us anyway and covers our sins. There is grace for all of us, for the messed-up sinner who wants out of their lifestyle of sin and for the messed-up Christian who has hit a rough spot and is struggling on the journey.
I also left the cuss words in because I wanted to “test” fellow Christians, in a way. I think we Christians can judge others harshly for the “improper” things they do while totally overlooking their hurts and needs and humanity. I wonder how many Christians that read this thought, Oh my goodness, what kind of Christian is she!?! How could she use those words and call herself a Christian!?! Shame on her! And yet they completely overlooked the deep hurt and ache and struggle.
Sometimes, we fail to see people’s hearts because we are too focused on “improper” externals, on if someone measures up to our idea of “godly enough.” We make mountains out of molehills, judge the quality of someone’s faith or their value by the things that we don’t like about them or things that they do wrong. We focus on their speck while ignoring our plank.
Of course, a genuine Christian will be working towards godliness and will feel convicted about sin. So if someone continues to flagrantly sin without any remorse or repentance then you would have to wonder about their faith.
But my point is, even genuine Christians struggle and hurt and need help. But sometimes their attempts to reach out and be heard and get help are ignored because others are too focused on their flaws or sins instead of seeing the person in need. So I left the cuss words in, to test the Christians who are reading this. To challenge them with this question: “Which did you notice more? The heartache or the cussing? Did you feel compassion for my pain or did you scoff because of the F-word?” Just wondering.
And I wonder, which would God notice? What does He see when He looks at us?
I think He sees our pain, out heart, our inside. He sees past the polished surface and sees the rough, ugly, broken inside. And He loves us anyway. We don’t need to polish ourselves up before He will accept us. He knows we are broken, hurting sinners. And He loves us as we are. And He died for us as we are.
And He wants us to come to Him as we are, in all our ugly, un-polished honesty. It’s okay with Him that we are broken because He is the one who can put us back together. He will help us grow and strive towards godliness as we walk with Him. But never let your ugly brokenness stop you from turning to Him. Even if other Christians reject you because of your imperfections, God never will. Come to Him as you are. It’s what He’s been waiting for and it’s what you need.]
Update – Day 14 APA: I had a wonderful trip to Iowa and haven’t felt any send of panic or dread since last week when I let go of the “nothing” I kept trying to hang onto and asked God to help me grab onto Him instead. I don’t necessarily feel any great ray of shining hope or anything. But I haven’t felt any darkness or panic this past week. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.
Update (not in “Random Facts” list) – Day 50 or so APA: The last half of July has been terrible. Remarkably terrible. There have been some minor issues and some major ones. (It would make a great made-for-TV movie!) And I have written them down somewhere else to possibly add them later. But for now, I cannot share them. Not until things get sorted out. So maybe sometime soon.
But what I wanted to point out is that despite this horrible month, despite the fact that I ended up unable to get out of bed for a couple days and emotionally-sick-to-my-stomach and unable to eat anything and ended up losing five pounds from stress, never once did the panic come back. It’s been a whole host of other emotional reactions, but the panic never came back. Thank You, God!
However, I will be honest, for the past however-many months, I have been unable to pray. I mean really pray. I do offer up the quick “Help me, God” and “I’m sorry” and “Give me wisdom” prayers, but I haven’t been able to really be on my knees, pouring my heart out to Him and opening myself up to Him in all humble honesty. In some ways, I am afraid to because it feels like bad things happen when I do . . . or nothing happens . . . or the thing I am praying about is what gets attacked . . . or my hopes and dreams crash-and-burn and I die a little more inside. Sometimes, I wish I just never really cared about things or desired things, because then I wouldn’t pray about them and I wouldn’t get my hopes up about them and I wouldn’t be expecting an answer. I would just numbly exist in the life I have and that would be okay because I wouldn’t get my heart broken over and over again by reaching for more and failing. When you fly too high, it’s a long way to fall. And it hurts.
Anyway, my point in sharing this is that I have found something that’s incredibly helpful. In these times that I have been too heartbroken and confused and afraid to pray too much, it has been wonderful to listen to my favorite band, The City Harmonic, and to let their honest, heartfelt words be my prayer. I listen to them every day and let them sing the words that my heart needs to hear and wants to pray. And it has been encouraging. So if you ever find yourself at a loss for words and unable to pray, find a good, godly, inspiring, Christian album and let your heart sing along with them. It really does help keep you afloat when you are ready to let go of the life-preserver and sink to the bottom of despair.
[But honestly, I am really looking forward to winter, to putting this summer behind me. What a sucky summer it’s been. The kind that would make you want to give up your faith. And I know that I would have been tempted to do that, if it wasn’t for the fact that I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists. And so even if things do not go the way I want them to go, I still have to believe that He is sovereign and He is watching and He cares and He is working behind the scenes. I don’t understand everything He does or allows, but I do know He is real and He is good and He is love. And so I have to be willing to wait on Him and trust Him and give Him the control. As I have said in another post, it’s like John 6:68 for me: “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” There are no other options for me. I will cling to my God and my faith because I believe He exists and He is good and He is love. It’s just that simple! Even when life is not!]