Panic Disorder is the label psychologists give you if your natural fight-or-flight response keeps going out of whack.
And it’s part of the package God gave me when He created me. Call it a thorn, if you like.
If you were to come face-to-face with an emergency, you would experience an immediate, physiological reaction: your adrenaline increases; your heart pumps harder and faster; you are prepared for action, or escape. But the 6 million American adults like me who suffer from Panic Disorder experience this even when there’s no threat. When we do, it’s called having a panic attack, and they’re terrifying.
Imagine the hyper-emotional, hyper-physical response you would experience if you were racing to rescue a drowning child, except there is no drowning child. That’s what a panic attack feels like. I’ve lived with them all my life. My first was when I was eight. I had gone to bed. The house grew quiet. And I panicked because I thought Jesus had come to take my family to heaven, and left me behind. Alone. Forever.
Panic attacks hit me two different ways.
They usually come on fast and furiously intense. The sensations peak in a matter of seconds. They’re most often nocturnal, which means I’m jerked awake in the middle of the night already in the throws of a full-on panic. I have to work really hard to convince myself there’s no danger, but my mind is obsessed with the worst imaginable things: a vague sense or doom, or fear of having a heart attack, or worse, fear of God abandoning me. Sometimes I wake Lon up to have him pray for me.
The other type of panic attack I experience is slower to rise, not as intense, but lasts much longer. I usually experience this during the day, but it can happen at night, too. One night I awoke awash in adrenaline. Panic came like crashing waves surrounding me, smothering me, and carrying me out to sea.
I knew I needed to move, to get up out of bed and work the adrenaline out of my system. I was already exhausted from fighting depression all day, but got up and began pacing the hallway just outside our bedroom. In the darkness, I felt so deeply alone and frightened.
As I did my half-walk, half-run up and down that hallway, I forced myself to worship God. And as I did, I gradually realized I wasn’t alone. Jesus was walking the hall with me, pacing with me. Did the anxiety go away? Did worship give my mind and body peace for the rest of the night? No. In fact, I was up twice more that night, wearing a path in our carpet.
But so was Jesus, who “never sleeps and never slumbers”. His presence kept my heart from hopelessness. His promise worked its way through my sleep-deprived mind and anxious heart.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For our light affliction, which is momentary, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) At that moment, the waves of panic and despair felt anything but light and momentary. But God gave me faith to cling tenaciously to that promise. He is working His glory in me! His promise embraces me, freeing me from despair, and bringing meaning and purpose to my suffering.
It’s over my cold sea of need that the sun rises most warmly.
I look back on that night with quiet awe and gratitude. I’ve learned both from Scripture and hard experience that God uses what He hates to accomplish what He loves in His children’s lives. In me, He uses the Panic Disorder He hates (and I hate) to deepen the worship and trust He loves.
Reader, it is hard, but this is the way God works in us. My struggles, and yours, reveal the depth of our need and the greatness of God to work His glory in and through us.
May we ever grow to worship and trust Him, even in all that He hates, and allows anyway.
God truly is great, even when life isn’t.