I started off the month of June in the Emergency Room. A panic attack or acid reflux sent me to the ER in the middle of the night. I had to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. I wasn’t. But Todd and I lost a night of sleep and started the summer groggy and delirious.
The first half of 2016 brought a lot of heartache to our community. Some I’ve written about. Some I’ve kept to myself. But it all contributed to intensifying my battle with anxiety. A lot of the time, I feared the worst. I kept seeing the worst happening to people around me. I don’t understand it. I’ve seen too many young people die this year. Ergo, I couldn’t ignore the chest pains that night and possibly leave my three children motherless. Not if I could prevent it.
Therein lies the rub. I can’t prevent pain. I can’t control life and death. None of us are getting out of here alive. It’s all about eternity. Sometimes I can’t wait till we’re there and this is all over. But I know I’m called to something greater. I'm called to have joy in the journey.
I keep coming back to this: I know my Father loves me. He holds all His children in the palm of His hand.
I repeat these words to myself sometimes.
I have other mantras, too.
Psalm 91: “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night . . .”
Good Good Father “You are perfect in all of Your ways.”
Whom Shall I Fear “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind.”
A beautiful song my niece wrote:
“Oh, how I love You, how I love You.
Oh, how You love me, it’s how You love me.
And I can’t do anything but praise You, Lord.
And everything You do is for my good.
And I just want to sing Your praise,
And I just want to shout Your name in all the earth.”
Following the advice of some wise friends, at bedtime I read some scripture, turn off my light, and go to sleep speaking in tongues. Yes, I’m one of those crazy Pentecostals, too. Surprise!
“Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26
I don’t want to dwell on my infirmity. Some days and nights are worse than others. God is guiding me through this. I feel as though I’m walking in dense fog. I can just make out His shape as I follow Him. Sometimes it clears a little and I can see better. I’m praying the sun will come out and burn the fog away altogether.
June came to a close with my biggest struggle yet. My eldest child was having two teeth extracted July 1st. All the evidence directed me to let anesthesia put her to sleep for the procedure. She didn’t want to stay awake with just Novocain and nitrous to take the edge off. But fear gripped me in its unrelenting vise.
“What about that heart murmur she used to have?” I thought. “What if the anesthesia kills her?”
I couldn’t seem to stop the parade of images and possible scenarios that flooded my mind. The oral surgeon was in the same building as my obstetrician. The same place I’d discovered my third pregnancy was over at 7 weeks. Was I going to lose another child in this building?
I know. I know. Some of you are thinking, This woman is really crazy!
On the other hand, some of you can identify with this pattern of thinking.
Deep down I knew I couldn’t let my fears dictate what was best for my daughter. Making her endure an awful experience because I’m afraid of losing her would be wrong. The breakthrough came when I spoke to my counselor and she talked about neural pathways. It wasn't the first time I'd heard about them, of course. My very simplified way of understanding these pathways is to picture deep ruts in a dirt road. My anxious thoughts get stuck in a destructive pattern the same way a vehicle's wheels get stuck in the tire tracks. I can observe it happening and I have to retrain my brain to have positive thoughts.
I believe Satan plays a role in this. He watches us daily. His goal is to steal our joy. He knows my weaknesses and attacks me in every possible way. In order to establish new pathways, I need to rebuke the Devil and turn my thoughts to things of God. Repeat my mantras. Read the Psalms.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12
I went to the oral surgeon with Camilla on Friday, July 1st, armed to fight my fears and determined to hide them from her. I made sure the doctor knew about her innocent heart murmur before he started the anesthesia. I counted the minutes and prayed as I sat in the waiting room. Before long, I was ushered back to the recovery room where I sat by her until she was ready to leave. She was perfectly fine. No ill effects whatsoever. She wasn’t even sore.
That afternoon, I was so exhausted by my sleepless week, all I could do was lie on the couch and make a pact with myself that I was not going to let this—Satan, my anxiety, my neural pathways—get the best of me anymore. I was done.
The sun came out that Saturday. I was kayaking on my parents’ lake, my two-year-old tucked in front of me. I was myself again. Sunshine on my shoulders. Water dripping from the paddle onto our bare legs.
As I turned the kayak to head into shore, Eva’s toddler voice reached up to me.
“No, don’t go back yet, Mommy. Go around the whole circle!”
That’s when I felt it. That unmistakable old friend.
I’m not letting go of it this time.