When Anxiety Happens

Several mothers in conversations at last week’s Walk to Remember in Houston told me that some of the most comfort they found was in the posts where I was real about the broken stuff. It is why I try to not hide behind facades…and why I try to be open about struggles, even though that’s often misunderstood or judged by some. But, it’s in the realness others are encouraged.

I’ve never been a person prone to panic attacks. The idea of loss of control is abhorrent to me…well for myself. I’m quite gracious and understanding if someone else feels a loss of control. But, apparently I don’t afford myself the same grace.

After my mother died, having suffered more than I ever thought was possible for a human being to suffer, I felt differently about health issues or visiting the doctor. I developed a strong aversion and outright fear of any medical intervention or concern. The depth of this fear was realized when I had a migraine that landed me in the emergency room, disoriented from effects of medication on a trip home from a visit to our NE Ohio branch to offer trainings a couple years ago.

I stood beside the bed asking why my hands and feet were numb, refusing to lay down in the bed.

“You’re having a panic attack ma’am.”

“I don’t have panic attacks,” I protested vehemently, “I take care of other people. I don’t lose control.”

But, the lack of control was quite evident as panic literally gripped my body, squeezing my heart, stealing the air from my lungs, making my legs and arms feel like jello covered weights hanging from me. Five hundred anxious thoughts raced through my brain and I could barely pick out just one…enough to discern through the tangled mess of my brain to write a text to my husband to come and get me.

Later, we found out I was having a reaction to some of the migraine medicine I was given, which caused serotonin toxicity, a condition triggering unreasonably high anxiety and irritability. The loss of control for me was incredibly traumatic. And I’ve been hesitant to see a doctor for much of anything since that fateful Emergency Room experience. The entire ordeal…and the intense fear of being out of control of my body and mind, mixed with the stark reality of my own mortality caused me to make some changes in my own Healthcare regimen…and part of that included limiting any medical interventions.

Which brings us to yesterday.

When I….a woman who has birthed five babies and buried three, who has been poked and prodded…scarred from IVs and shots, had a couple surgeries, had needles placed in her uterus, stands in birthing rooms, holding the hands of mothers while amniotic fluid splashes and birth happens without missing a beat, a woman who calmly and gently cares for tiny babies…sometimes in various stages of broken and sees only their beauty…stares death in the face again and again, standing in the place where heaven meets earth again and again…

I had a panic attack. At the dentist. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to hide my racing heartbeat, the tightness of my chest, the rapid breathing, the legs and arms turning to utter jello. Embarrassed by the image of my forty year old self crying silently, unable to keep the tears from falling while in the dentist chair, I heard myself apologize, while making every effort to keep my breathing steady and my voice calm.

“I’m having a bit of anxiety. This is so embarrassing.”

They tried to explain the procedure, thinking I was afraid of the minor dental procedure. As a teenager I had 8 teeth pulled to make room for braces, and my wisdom teeth. Without missing a beat. I’m not afraid of the dentist.

Yet, the tears fell, as I willed myself to remain in the chair. Reminding me…that deep inside, there are still some broken places. Places that don’t listen to reason. Places that know how fragile life is, how we are not exempt from suffering this side of heaven, places that fear any medical procedure or lack of control.

It is something so misunderstood. Something I will admit I once perceived as weakness, at least in myself. Anxiety. Panic attacks. I choose to pray through mine. And use other natural remedies, like essential oils. I think of scripture that offers solid truth that’s unchanging when fear grips me….taking those thoughts captive as the bible instructs. But, in my human flesh, I can’t control my body’s fight or flight response.

I just want to speak to the stigma for a moment. Anxiety is a very real thing. It’s an intense battle in the mind. And having that battle doesn’t make a person weak or inept or unable to perform well. I am typically calm in many trauma-induced situations, entering into raw grief with others on an almost daily basis. My triggers are when my own health is somehow compromised and I fear medical interventions that affect me in ways I can’t control. I think anxiety is often trigger specific for people. And, at other times it can come over you without provocation. This post isn’t meant to be an in-depth research on the subject.

I just want to share one of my personal broken places…to say that being a bit broken doesn’t mean we are weak or less capable. Loss and trauma can leave a person susceptible to anxiety and post traumatic stress responses. Speaking it aloud can often help us understand one another as we all walk together with our own broken places, open and vulnerable…and real.

Real is my favorite…even in the broken.

2:30 a.m….Awake Again

It’s 2:30a.m. and I’m awake…again. It happens sometimes. I fall asleep around 11:00pm and at around 2:30a.m…here I am.

Wide awake…with no escape from all the burdens of this life, rushing through my mind.

Awake…with all the thoughts that we stuff somewhere else throughout the busyness of the day, finding it much easier to drown out the unpleasantness in the noise of life.

But, in the silence….they come…unbidden, unwelcome…pressing in with full force. I try to shake them off at first, just wanting to nestle further under the comfort of my covers and enjoy the bliss of sleep. Much needed, much desired, sleep. They press in with added fervor.

I begin to pray, taking great pains to lay them at the feet of Jesus, instead of dwelling in worry and hopelessness. It can be an effort beyond any other to resist worry…in the dark of night…when there is nothing else to distract from the barrage of burdens and accusations. Worries that I would never dream up during the day, suddenly surfacing, reminding me they must have been here all the time. They must be with me in the day, just waiting…bursting for release when I am helpless to fight them…or run to something else to keep from looking. They begin with concerns on my heart for my family or even just things that I need to remember to do…and wander to those of my friends. I keep praying, pressing on. It takes strength to turn worries to prayer in the dark of night when worries seem their strongest and I feel my weariest. Soon, I am burdened for the grieving hearts that belong to faces I’ve never seen, but mothers my own heart still feels so connected to…and  the needs of Sufficient Grace. So, I pray some more. Next, come the parade of failures…accusations of all the ways I fall short…both currently and in the past. I writhe uncomfortably for a bit. Then, I pray some more.

Sometimes, I wonder…does the enemy just attack at night because I seem powerless to fight him? And, does God allow it, just because due to the sheer force of the attack and my complete helplessness in the dark of the night…I will run to Him, knowing at His feet is the only place where I will find relief. It won’t be in the bag of Doritos or the can of Pepsi. Not at 2:30a.m. It won’t be by chatting with a friend, exchanging snarky pleasantries with my boys, laughing with Tim, joking with students and co-workers at school, watching something mindless on TV, or running to and fro to get it all done. Relief won’t be found in the arms of my husband as he snores peacefully beside me like a normal person, at 2:30a.m. It won’t even be found as I pour myself into helping someone else. Or do the next thing on the list…whatever that may be.

His word tells us to be anxious for nothing…

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God… – Phil. 4:6

To keep our eyes on Him…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
- Heb. 12:1-3

In the light of day, I take my eyes off my worries and try to keep from dwelling on what makes me anxious or fixating on my latest failure as a human being. The problem is, there’s a difference from taking our eyes off the burdens of this life, looking to something that simply distracts us. Distraction is sort of a gift for one who spends her days at the mercy of busyness….which I think would describe most mothers in any season. There’s a lot of places to focus our minds…too many places. There is a difference between just looking to something else…anything else…and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. There is a difference between just escaping to any old thing, and running to His arms for comfort.

Distraction I can do, but as His light shines in the darkness of my night, truth is revealed. The truth is, I’m doing way too much just looking away from what troubles my heart….and not nearly enough fixing my eyes on Him. Running from the burdens of this life…instead of running toward Him. Maybe, that’s why I have to be awake at 2:30a.m., so I’m quiet enough to listen.

Praying that as the light dawns on this day, it will not chase away the truth He has whispered to my heart in the darkness of this night and so many others. (Also…part of the reason that I came here to share that truth with you…so I won’t forget. Plus, I have an inkling I’m not alone in this struggle to “lay it all down”. Which is why I will be saying some prayers for all of us awake at 2:30a.m., seeking sweet sleep and peace in His arms.)

Love to all…

Blessed Be His Name

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshipped. And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
~ Job 1:20-21

This week as I turned to the scriptures in Psalms, I noticed that the pages of my bible were wrinkled in spots from my tears. I ran my fingers over the bumpy pages, struck by the thought that my Father in heaven has kept every one of those tears in a bottle. My tears, my heart, my cries are precious to Him. I closed my eyes and remembered the times I have clung to His word in the middle of the night…the times when all I could do was cry and search His word. On my knees…on my face…weeping in His arms.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth…
– Psalm 31:1

I will bless the Lord at all times. I will bless Him when He gives. I will bless Him when He takes away. Those seem like just words on a page…easy to write. It is something altogether different to actually experience it.

Years ago, my friend Ginny and I attended a memorial service for families who had lost a baby. It was an amazing experience, and a treasured gift to sit in a room with so many other mothers and fathers who had walked this path. A beautiful woman stood to share the story of her precious baby’s birth and death. She shared that she had been studying Psalm 34 prior to giving birth, focusing on the message that we are to bless the Lord at all times. As she held her lifeless baby in her arms with tears streaming down her face, she felt the Lord gently whisper to her heart…

“Will you bless Me now?”

She replied, “Yes Lord, somehow…I will bless You…even now.”

I will never forget the grace that shone on that mother’s face. For it is by His grace alone that those words can be uttered. Until you have walked in that place, until you are held in the grip of His grace, at the end of yourself…there is no way to know or understand the grace, peace, and strength of which she spoke. But, it exists. I have experienced it myself. That kind of grace is waiting there for those who cling to Him. For those who bless His name in joy and in sorrow. For in all of it, He is worthy to be praised.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all. ~Psalm 34:17-19

God never promised us that we would not face sorrow, trials, loss, afflictions. In fact, the opposite is true. We are to expect many troubles on this earth…many afflictions. But the Lord hears our cries…He is near to those who have a broken heart, and He delivers us out of all our troubles. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

There has been some talk lately among those I dearly admire and respect (Angie and MckMama), mothers who have been held and are still resting in the grip of His grace, about what constitutes as a miracle. I have said for many years that it is easy to praise God and say He is good when all is well…or when you get the physical healing on this earth. We should praise Him for the healing. But He is still worthy to be praised when the miracle is one that can’t be seen with human eyes. It is a miracle to watch Him make beauty from ashes in a broken life. It is a miracle to be led through unspeakable pain, step by step with His sufficient grace. It is a miracle to look upon a tiny life that the world may never meet, and then watch Him use that life to touch the world and point souls to Him for comfort. Every breath, every life, every soul is a treasured miracle sent from the very hand of God.

I remember sitting in the waiting room of the maternal fetal medicine specialist as sweet Thomas clung to life in my womb, knowing short of a “miracle” his time on this earth was fleeting. I picked up a magazine that told the story of the miracle of a family’s multiple birth. In my weakness, I winced. Yes, God was good and He should be praised when things go well…when we see the miracle with our eyes. But what He has shown me from walking a different path is that God is still good when the baby doesn’t live on this earth, when the cancer isn’t healed this side of heaven, when the rain pours and the flood waters rise. He is good when He blesses and He is good when He carries us through the storm. He is good when he heals the body and He is good when He saves the soul.

In all things and at all times…blessed be the name of the Lord.
I know that, even as you read this, many of you are facing struggles and heart ache. My own heart has been heavy as I look at the suffering around me. I have offered unceasing prayers for so many who are currently in the midst of the storm…especially Baby Stellan and my dear bloggy-friend, Jennifer Ross. Several mothers from around the country have written this week requesting Dreams of You Memory Books to honor the lives of their precious children who have left this earth too soon. My own heart is heavy for children who are hurting at school, and for the burdens and anxieties these little ones are facing in our fallen world. Some days I press on with a weary heart. Hopelessness threatens, and then His word reminds me…

Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in Him.
Because we have trusted in His holy name.
Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You. ~ Psalm 33:20-22

So, press on, I will…hoping in Him…blessing His holy name…