For over two years I lived with heightened anxiety. Panic attacks were pretty normal. I learned to live with them. I continued on with normal life. I had fun with friends. I tried to stay kind and pleasant. Most people around me never knew. People knew I wasn’t healthy, but they didn’t know how bad the anxiety really was. I masked as much as I could.
One of those pictures I took right before a complete panic attack. The other picture was taken right after a full on panic attack I had at school. I had locked myself in the bathroom for the worst of it and then walked outside to get a bit of fresh air while the students were still at lunch. (During those two years, I didn’t actually know they were panic attacks. It was only after I described them to both my doctor and my counselor that they told me what was happening. I had thought I was going crazy.)
When I moved back to Minnesota last April, the panic attacks had mostly gone away, but the anxiety was still present. I had prayed for the anxiety to go away, and the improvement was so dramatic I believed it was gone. I remember sitting in the counseling office and she had me rate my anxiety on a scale of one to ten. I fully believed my anxiety was low – maybe a two or a three. Yet, my shoulders were tensed. I couldn’t make eye contact. I was jumpy. My body was saying that I was carrying incredible anxiety even when my mouth was denying it. I wasn’t afraid about what was going on in the moment, but I was constantly on alert about what danger might be waiting for me right around the corner. I had become so accustomed to the anxiety, I couldn’t even recognize it for what it was.
I’ve learned how to breathe – both deep breathing but also just consciously noticing how often I would hold my breath. I practiced techniques that bring me back to present reality where I know that I am safe. Knowing now what it feels like to not have to carry the anxiety, I have no idea how I carried it for as long as I did. Even in the worst moments, God’s grace was sustaining me.
In the last several months, I’ve had a few moments of anxiety, but they are simply moments. The majority of the time I’m completely relaxed. I know that I am safe and loved. I had prayed for the panic to become manageable. Instead, I have had the anxiety all but disappear. I received a security I didn’t even know I needed.
(You can read the rest of this series here)