I had a panic attack on a Texas highway. I cannot recall the trigger. In 2007, I was driving along on a warm day with my windows down. The sky was changing colors from blue to Sunkist orange across the planed horizon. As I turned up the music on the radio, I could feel a slight edge of anxiety that had been chasing me on and off throughout the week. First, I had a sudden sense of nervousness. Next, my neck stiffened. Followed by my fingertips becoming numb and tingly. Suddenly, my breathing became shallow and I could not take a deep breath. My eyes darted from the road to the rear view mirror. I had an overwhelming urge to cry due to the simultaneous chest pains that felt like fists pounding on the bones of my chest.
I thought I was having a heart attack.
Eventually, pulling over I leaned my head against the steering wheel and said, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” over and over again until I could feel my heart rate slow and my mind begin to soothe. When my hands finally stopped shaking I pulled back onto the highway, and drove to my destination weeping. I had never experienced a panic attack before or since. My experience left me with a depth of compassion for those who struggle with ongoing anxiety.
During that season, I lived with a lot of fear. Because of past failures --- I began to fear future decisions. Caution and second-guessing are not synonymous words. Caution guides us to make smart decisions based upon previous experiences. Second-guessing ourselves highlights our insecurities and dredges up fear. I was ashamed of my fear and overwhelmed by regret. I did not talk to anyone or process my feelings.
What was I afraid of?
I feared change and opportunity; although, God was opening many doors. I had become comfortable in the safety of my routine. I had chosen the comfort of routine over joy, surrender, opportunity, and the dreams that are formed out of a surrendered life to God. I was afraid of attention. Would people still like me if I were to succeed? It is my experience that people are often drawn to light as long as your light does not shine brighter than his or hers. I was afraid that I would remain trapped in the mud of my past mistakes.
Fear will attempt to grip and snuff out what God has for YOU. Fear attempted to cripple me through anxiety. My faith began to languish. I began to prefer days in bed with curtains drawn. Encouragement felt like a tinge of lemon on an open wound.
“God, where are you?” I cried out in my journal post anxiety attack.
I was afraid to experience another attack, therefore, I began to pray (I should have started there --- live and learn). God’s response surprised me.
I was drawn to scriptures like:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” - Deuteronomy 31:6
“....do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.” - Isaiah 43:1
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-8
God’s words were all a reminders:
1. I will have times when I am afraid.
2. I do not have to live in that fear.
3. Press into my faith through prayer and surrender.
God will exchange your fear with peace.
I know anxiety is not simply overcome. There is no magic wand. Often, resources like therapy and/or medical professional advise from a licensed doctor are necessary. In my case, I had to go through a journey of release (forgiving myself), acceptance (learning to love myself), prayer (seeking God above all else to find peace and my purpose).
I still worry. I still get nervous. I still become afraid. But now I FIGHT BACK.
You are more than enough. You are capable. You are loved by God. Surround yourself with people who love you and seek the best for you.