Shame had kept me silent. Few people knew the intense battle I had been having with panic attacks. Not even my pastor was privy to the emotional upheaval that existed in my mind. My doctor knew because he was prescribing the medications that were helping me to function. But fear of judgment had kept me from telling people how bad it really was.
The smallest thing caused me to feel panic. I was scared to take a shower. I was scared to wash my hair (the picture below was not staged). I was scared to fix my breakfast and let the dog go out and fill up my Tervis with ice. Why? Because in previous days, when I had done those things, my body panicked and my pulse raced and my chest felt like I was having a heart attack.
And I was going to avoid that happening again, at all costs. Even it it meant going five days without a shower.
Unless you’ve experienced panic disorder, you can’t understand. Its not just being a little nervous because your teenager is driving. Irrational fears which felt very real, like being afraid of washing my hair, would stop me in my tracks and prevent me from functioning in the safely of my own home.
One day I stood in my shower stall and said to the walls, “I’m not afraid of you.” And then, as my heart rate increased, I was honest and said with a giggle, “Well, maybe I am.”
Most days I felt ashamed.
A lot of people quoted scripture to me: “Do not be anxious about anything.” “Perfect loves cast out all fear.” “God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear.”
I love God’s Word, but trying to fix me with scripture didn’t help. All it did was make me feel more ashamed and defective and unwilling to be truthful about my life. I believe that some problems, especially mental ones, are more complex than memorizing a scripture.
This struggle continued for months, even while I led a women’s ministry and began a speaking ministry and kept up a blogging ministry. But one day it came to a head. I was alone, upstairs in my bonus room, and I was frozen, unable to go downstairs. I had already taken a tranquilizer to calm my “fight or flight” response but it wasn’t helping.
My heart was racing uncontrollably and there was nothing that I could do to stop the runaway freight train of panic.
I began to wonder how the day would play out. I honestly felt like I was losing my mind. Was I having a nervous breakdown? I was certain that I was going to be in a mental hospital by the end of the day. I wondered –
“Will Brian have to come home from work to take me there?”
“Will I call 911 and an ambulance will transport me?”
And of course, the silly question that always arises in the midst of life and death moments,
“What will the neighbors think?”
It was in that moment of terror that I made a decision. And it wasn’t to call Brian or 911 or to figure out what to tell the neighbors. It was a courageous decision. It was to tell my secret…to unlock the chains on my mouth and to tell my friends about how I was fighting not just for my peace, but for my sanity. It was to cry out, in desperation, in prayer, with nary a thought to my pride.
And so I texted people.
First my inner circle. Then my close friends. Then the girls I mentor. Then my small group. Then my pastors. Altogether I shared the deepest, most humiliating part of me with over 15 people. Because I needed help, and I didn’t want the mental hospital kind. I needed prayer.
Shame and pride will keep you silent and stuck in your deep dark secrets. Desperation causes you to cry out for all to hear.
As I invited my friends into my private struggle, they joined me there. They said things like,
“I’m in your corner.”
“You can tell me anything and I won’t judge you.”
“I’ve got your back.”
They didn’t just quote scripture at me and try to fix me- they loved me where I was. Broken, medicated, messed up, and all.
That day was not the day that I lost my mind, but the day that I began to get better. I no longer was suffering in silent shame, but I had friends who walked with me out of the pit of panic. They continued to follow up with me, sending me cards, asking how I was doing, and repeatedly telling me they were there for me.
I am very thankful to say that I am no longer on daily medication for panic attacks. I can take showers and wash my hair and eat my breakfast, mostly with peace of mind. I thank God that I didn’t lose my mind, but found freedom in the love, support, and prayers of others.
They were in my corner. They had my back. They didn’t judge my mess.
The next time you feel like you are down for the count, you’re not. You are within the reach of others who can grab you by the arms and through prayer, support, and love, can pull you out of your pit.
All you have to do is be brave enough to tell them.
If you are suffering in silent shame and don’t have anyone to share your secret with, I’m here for you. I keep things confidential and I won’t judge or try to fix you. Email me at Lisa@CelebratingWeakness.com