Sunday, August 23, 2015

Panic and Peace

Panic is back.

Whenever I reveal this to someone, the question that often follows is, "Why?" 
"Why are you panicking? What's got you worried?"

In the words of Jedi Master Yoda, "Panic or Panic Not; There is no why." 

Simma down now, Nerds! So, that's not exactly how the quote goes, but its close. 

There is no why. There is no reason for the total-body experience of feeling like you're wedged between fainting and dying of a heart attack while being dangled by your toes off a 30 story building.
There is no line of logic between stimulus and this suck fest. You can literally open your eyes in the morning and feel the sensations of panic in your body before a single thought has crossed your mind.

Panic is your body snatching the controls away from your rational mind and putting you into auto pilot for the sake of self preservation. It's goal is to keep you alive. Since panic is single-minded and seriously over-kill it sees everything as a threat. So, no matter how fine you may be, your body wants you to RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIIIIIIFE!!!!! Pretty much the only place Panic wants you to be is safe at home in your bed. Even there it doesn't subside. Like a tornado warning, ARROOOGA ARROOOGA, it wants to warn you not to even think about getting up and going out in that world that's trying to kill you.

Panic is mean. I mean, it has good intentions, but it's the ultimate Helicopter Parent. And it isn't afraid to abuse you to get what it wants.

"What does it feel like?" courageously curious people ask.

First your head goes light and swirly. Then your elbows and knees turn to jelly and your heart starts lurching against the back of your ribs. Tightness constricts around your chest. You want to swallow a huge cleansing mouthful of air to feel the sweet relief of oxygen, but suddenly there's only a thimble worth of space in your lungs. So you suck in as many thimbles as you can because you don't want to suffocate. 

Worry comes first. Worry says, "What the heck is happening to my body? I'm going to faint. I'm going to faint. I'm going to faint." It makes it worse. But you're no fool... you calmly ask yourself if there is a reason you would be feeling like this out of the blue. Should I be worried?

Once you've determined that you're not, in fact, having a heart attack, you try to go about your day normally. Surely if you just shake it off, it will leave. But you still feel like you're going to faint. Imagine trying to go about the normal routines of life with children (breakfast, shopping, park, school) feeling like you are one thimble of oxygen away from passing out. 

The feelings don't stop. 
The feelings increase.

My best strengths do nothing for me in the face of panic. 

I can't research my way out. Panic doesn't care what information I have on the subject. It doesn't care if I know it's not a real thing. It doesn't care if I identify it as a bossy control freak who is taking away my life. It still takes over.

I can't think my way out. Panic sees my brain searching for a door to leave and starts chasing it, making it run faster than normal, never allowing it finish a complete thought... and, ultimately, it just laughs at me.

And I can't coffee my way out. Dadgumit, Panic, you even take away my best friends! Ugh. 

The only thing that truly wins the Panic battle is time. Mental gymnastics, breathing exercises, prayer, sleep, exercise. They may help, if your lucky, but I've never known them to stop the experience. If the panic holds on for days and days, your mental determination not to let it swallow you whole will begin to get weary and waver. Then depression can easily creep in.

It's a hard road. I'm not gonna lie. 

I don't have it all figured out, but if you've walked this road before or you're on it now... I want you to know you're not crazy. I am a gentle friend to you in this moment. 

Many people deal with anxiety for years and genuinely don't know what it is. They think they're sick... because you feel sick... but it's, weirdly enough, kind of all in your head. 
Our minds and bodies are connected. It's how we stay alive. It's how we avoid the lions and tigers and bears. It's how we learn to follow our instincts... because they're loud and messy and can't be ignored.

As much as we are children of God, we are very much made of earth. We are critters with instincts and chemical bodies. The shepherd turned king, David--who historically suffered bouts of epic depression and anxiety--says "He knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).  

I find that beautiful and comforting. God understands the building blocks of our bodies. He did, after all, "knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139). We live in a broken world where the functions of our bodies (which are meant to preserve us) sometimes tear us apart. But God doesn't scorn us for our Panic. We do not sin for suffering anxiety against our will. 

Psalm 139 says he "knows my anxious thoughts." 
Psalm 56:8-9 says "he has put my tears in a bottle." 
Psalm 40:11 says "he will not withhold his compassion." 

Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28-30. "I have told you these things that you may have peace... I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).

Take comfort, sweet silent sufferers... with your bodies bashing you around like an abusive partner... God's eyes are eyes of mercy. His heart is full of compassion. He is not opposed to you while it feels like everything else is. Your body may not be on your team right now, but Jesus is.

That's all. Peace. 

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