Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A gift?

This post is about something I have struggled a great deal with since Friday. Realistically, I know that this is not that big of a deal and that what I am experiencing is very common for people from all walks of life, but I have found shame and failure in it. Primarily because I took a firm stand (with hands on my hips and an angry red face) years ago that I would be nothing like my mother (whom I believe suffers from mental illness and unresolved issues).

So... I saw a doctor last Friday for tightening of the chest, difficulty breathing and dizziness. I've had these "episodes" a few times a month for the last couple of years, but they've always subsided after 30 seconds or so. I was never concerned about them... But in the last couple of weeks they have come much more regularly and an episode on Friday lasted for 15 minutes. To rule out anything serious, I went straight to the doctor. After a perfect EKG and chest x-ray, the doctor gently delivered the news that it's possible that I'm suffering from panic attacks. "They can run in families" she says.

I was immediately brought to a place of shame and failure when I heard those words. I managed to remain stoic in her office, but I was crumbling inside. I've been on a mission for good mental health since I was a child!

It was so confusing too. I can honestly say that I could not be happier and there isn't anything going on that I am worried, anxious or stressed about. Why these panic attacks? The doctor explained that they can come from nowhere and be for no apparent reason; that people who are not depressed or stressed can get them. This news makes me feel out of control, and I do not like that feeling one bit.

I don't really know what to make of it all. If you'd have asked me a month ago, I could have given you a list of a few major things that were on my mind - school starting, my three year old possibly having cancer, having two of my friends lose a child, adjusting to my husband's new work schedule... But I wasn't having increased "episodes" when all that was going on. That would at least make some sense!

So, when I got home from the doctor's office I read about Panic Attacks on the Mayo Clinic website. There I read that people who were sexually abused have a higher tendency to suffer from panic attacks. I was furious to read that they could be linked to the abuse I suffered as a child. How could he take this away from me too? It made me angry to think that, after all the progress I've made in my recovery, these panic attacks could have something to do with the abuse. (But, possibly not - I don't think we'll ever know.)

As I have processed this over the last several days, my anxiety over the whole thing has decreased a great deal. I understand that, if these are indeed panic attacks, it doesn't mean that I will spiral out of control. It doesn't mean I'm going to start making a decisions that devastate the lives of everyone around me. I am not a ticking time bomb.

And even as I sit here and type, I am wondering about something I read on another blog. JMom writes about the bags God packs for us... She says that "Some things bring groans and others bring grins... but all are gifts from a loving Father." Is this a gift? I really like that idea... I'm a silver-lining kind of girl (after I get past the shock and horror), so I'm wondering right now how this could be a gift. Off the top of my head - maybe being humbled by my plan not "succeeding" (perfect, unfailing, always-on-the-top-of-my-game mental status) will grow my understanding and compassion for people with mental illness. Maybe it will grow my compassion for my own mother and bring another layer of healing. The possibilities are endless, as He is God and I'm just me...

'"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.' Isaiah 55:8

Rather than stay all bent out of shape over the situation, I am choosing to embrace this idea of it being a "gift from our Loving Father". I wonder how He'll use it.


Anonymous said...

I've had plenty of panic attacks. It's good to hear that I am not alone, but I'm sorry for your sake! It does get better over time. The longer I have been a Christian, the better I cope. There's still a long way to go for me, though. Speaking of silver linings, believe it or not, I am at the point where I can see how God used the abuse to make me much closer to him that I think could otherwise have been. He's amazing. Thanks for your blog!

sarah said...

I suffered so much with panic attacks. I couldn't walk down the street. Couldn't be seen. Felt like I was loosing control or dying. God freed me from them and I think for me they were a symptom of the abuse and rape. Maybe your mother never worked through her stuff. I;m praying for you. thanks for being real here. Sarah

JMom said...

Leigh- Thanks for sharing your story. I am praying for you tonight.