How do we make sense of the chapters of our lives we wish didn’t exist? There is a chapter of my life I would have chosen to never go through if it were in my power to do so. However, I am now thankful for it since I see the good it has brought.
In December of 1997, I had a panic attack. I was out for supper with my husband and some good friends. I thought I was having a reaction to the food. My heart rate was 120, I became white as a sheet and I could’t breathe. I wasn’t too sure what was happening, but it was a feeling like none other. Six months prior to this incident, my husband’s brother had died at the age of 31. I thought I was doing OK with my grieving until that moment.
After that, I began to realize that the state of anxiety that I was constantly in wasn’t going away any time soon.Continued panic attacks, increased fears and food phobias (as a result of the restaurant experience) began to shrink my world. A visit to my doctor revealed that physically I was healthy. What a confusing time. It was a time of searching. One main issue that I struggled with was why God had let my brother-in-law die. I had placed God in a small box for many years, so dealing with this loss blew apart my carefully designed "story." Was I really willing to let God have control of my life? Did I trust him? Did I want to believe that, just maybe, God was writing a little more of my story than I wanted to admit?
I finally began to be honest with myself and with God. He was, to my surprise, willing to answer my questions without putting me down. He was gentle and drew me close. He began to show me that life is not full of fear. He began to show me joy! I began to trust him, and bit by bit, let go of my desire to control things. A favorite verse of mine through this was Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." That hope and future were what I needed.
The chapter didn’t end there, though. I found myself facing my father’s death a little later. I had not experienced anxiety for a while when that happened. However, I knew that the anxiety was lurking underneath, still a tender and unhealed wound. I joined a support group at our church designed specifically for anxiety and panic disorder. I didn’t think that I’d need much help; just a bit of support to prevent what I’d experienced before. What a surprise, as I learned more about myself and the anxiety. I’m still in that group, now as an assistant leader. It is such a joy to see healing in others as they join and walk through their journey with us.
I’ve continued in my spiritual journey as well. God has never let me down. He has become my greatest friend, one in whom I trust so much more! At the beginning I would pray, "Lord, heal me from the anxiety." Now I know that I need to pray, "Lord what exactly is it that I need healing from?" Through the healing process, God has given me something special. With a willingness to risk and try new things, I began painting and writing. Joy has returned.
Read Hazelle’s story of facing anxiety.