Once upon a time I thought I had my life all figured out. Things seemed to be falling into the right places. I was leading a group of moms, that made me feel like I had a voice and that I was doing “my part.” I was working towards writing a book, and pursuing public speaking. From the outside, it looked like I was living out my dreams.
But for a while, there have been small cracks webbing over the glossy surface of my life, reminding me that I can’t continue to sustain this image for long. And then the girl who seems to have it all together had a panic attack in the middle of leading a women’s study.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve carried a lot of stress for a long time. A blend of my daughter’s restlessness and my own insomnia have meant I haven’t been sleeping. For the past couple of months I’ve been having trouble being in settings with a lot of people again, reverting to struggles of my old self. Yes, that anxiety that I’d filed away in the drawer of my past is creeping out and making itself known in my present. Shaking sweating hands, racing thoughts, trouble catching my breath, inability to slow down or process the situation normally, all these symptoms that I share about as things I’ve learned to overcome, are overcoming me.
Its embarrassing and inconvenient. I worry what others are really thinking. I start to feel uncomfortable in my own skin, which is an odd feeling as a 30-something woman– like I’m an awkward teenager again.
To cope, I could resort to old unhealthy habits of my past. But then, I should be older and wiser now right? But the truth is, when I try to think about a long term plan, even when I think about the prospect of finding a counselor, or how I’m going to cope with things that feel stressful and anxiety provoking in the next few weeks, I freeze up. It was this overwhelm that led me to being curled up and immovable on my couch, unable to cope when I was younger.
So this 30-something woman hasn’t learned much, but I’ve learned one simple trick to keep plotting through this familiar maze called anxiety. Its taking the next step.
The next step during my book club was admitting my weakness and getting support to get through the hour. The next step was to leave there with my head held high, to get my daughter, and pick her up and smell her hair, to drive us home and make lunch. The next step was to not give into the thoughts of shame and self doubt, to put her down for a nap, and sit and cry, and listen to good music and pray. Yesterday, all I could do was do the next right thing, and then the next. Today it was waking up, and drinking coffee that tasted like grace, a half of a Pilates workout, and then to cancel my social plans and give myself the time and space I need.
These panic attacks aren’t convenient when it comes to my passion for public speaking and leading. Its not convenient with my husband’s job that is also in the public eye. But I can’t think about the big life implications. I can’t redirect my whole course or make any life changing decisions right now. I just have to trust that God will help me find my way, and the the next right thing will guide me back to who He’s created me to be.
I know that Paul had a thorn in his flesh that God used to empower him. I’m not Paul, and my thorn is probably not as great as his was, but it reminds me that this anxiety thing is a piece of my life that will continue to make itself known on and off. Its something that even as a mom, a wife, a professional, and a “mature and capable grown up,” I’ll never fully be rid of. While its annoying, and frustrating, its also a gift. Its God’s way of directing me back to Him, so that in this weakness, His power can be made perfect in me. After all, the secret that we grown ups keep, is that we all have so much more growing to do.