by Carolyn Majoran
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. - 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
It came out of nowhere and I couldn’t stop it. My body was shaking. I couldn’t catch my breath. The tears were collecting in my eyes. I was so angry with myself for losing control. I hadn’t lost myself in such a way in over 15 years. I was having a panic attack.
My first panic attack occurred when I was 19 years old. I was snorkeling in the ocean and suddenly came upon a very black patch of water. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t know how close to the ocean floor I was or what was swimming around me. Having always relied on my faith to get me out of nerve-wracking situations in the past, I prayed my way out of that panic attack and out of that black, murky water.
On some level, I have always acknowledged my struggle with anxiety. As a young child, I was very shy. I didn’t speak often in class and, as I got older, presenting in class was a painful experience for me. I did not want to be the center of attention. Just the thought of speaking to a large group of people made me nauseated. It’s safe to say, public speaking was not part of my gifting! The fact that I retained honour roll worthy grades was truly by the grace of God as He was the One I relied on to get me through the moments of discomfort.
My faith has always defined my life. At times I would push it into the background and try to blend in but, if my faith was ever questioned, my core values would shine through. There is not a moment in my life that hasn’t been covered by either my prayers or of those praying for me. I am well protected! Knowing this, succumbing to my anxieties never seemed to be an option. I have always been a mind over matter kind of person – or, rather, a faith over disbelief kind of person. I have firmly believed that there is no emotional or mental disorder that cannot be overcome by redirecting our thoughts to Christ. As Christ is quoted saying in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I have certainly looked upon struggling with anxiety or being a nervous person as a weakness.
But then, while preparing to leave for a trip on Jan 2, 2015, the second panic attack of my life occurred. It was the most severe feeling of anxiety that I have ever experienced. It seemed to never end. I simply could not get a handle of myself long enough to bring under control my out of control emotions. I could see myself falling apart and there was nothing I could do about it. This panic attack shocked me to my core. I am the type of person who prefers to be in control. I am a perfectionist. I like things done ‘just so’. As you can imagine, the expectations I put upon myself as well as (and probably more so) the expectations I perceive others put on me, have turned out to be a weight I can no longer bear. The years of controlling my personal hamster wheel that is always spinning and analyzing and condemning me for my weaknesses have had to come to an end. This anxious feeling that I was constantly feeling was now something I could no longer hide because unlike my first panic attack when I was alone in the ocean, this second one occurred in front of family. There was no escape. I could not pretend that I had a handle on the anxiety that seemed to creep into my life little by little until it overtook it.
Now, as a Christ-follower, how do I justify this with all that I know about Jesus in my life? I am a victor and a conqueror (Rom 8:37). I follow a King who has overcome the world (John 16:33)! I can do all through Him because He gives me strength (Phil 4:13)! Anxiety should have no hold on me. And yet, it does. Does this now diminish my faith? Does this diminish my testimony?
In the past, I would have simply told myself to suck it up or get over it. Yes, I have conversations with myself and I berate myself over the silliest of things. Did I mention I am a perfectionist?! To be honest, I still tell myself these things but I also cling to the verse that claims my Saviour is near to those who are crushed in spirit (Psa 34:18). Or the verse that tells me to give my cares to Christ because He cares for me (1Pet 5:7). My faith is not a fix-it-all-instantly kind of faith. Having my Saviour with me each day is sometimes all that gets me out of bed and out the door. I know that I am not alone.
So, does this diminish my faith or my testimony? Absolutely not. If anything, it causes it to grow. And while this is my trial to navigate through for the time being, it will not define me permanently. Does it define me now? In some ways, yes. I struggle to gain control of my anxieties and that is something I used to be able to do. Sometimes being around people, even in the smallest of numbers, is overwhelming to me. Situations that make me feel out of control are more frequent. In particular, traveling, which is the most debilitating anxiety I struggle with and the one that upsets me the most because I have always loved to travel. Now, before I leave the house, I have to mentally work myself up to get from point A to point B and then back again. I recognize how inconvenient this is for myself and for my family but we are adjusting to this new and, I’m praying, temporary norm.
I think back to the faithfulness of God through past trials and while I certainly didn’t enjoy the struggle, I know He saw me through the dark times and brought me into the light once again. I work daily to let go of my desire to control and know that God is using this time to refine me into more of who He sees me to be.
In simply skimming my Facebook newsfeed or reading articles posted on news sites, I know that I am not alone in my struggle with anxiety. From one anxious person to another, let me encourage you to be strong in the Lord. He will not let go of you. Being refined can be a painful process, but the end result will be a God glorifying experience that will strengthen your testimony and point others to Him. Isn’t that what our lives are ultimately about? I pray others will see Christ in me – even in my anxiety – and desire to follow Him.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. - Philippians 4:6 (NIV)