As a child, I never knew I suffered from anxiety. My fears seemed…reasonable. Any kid might say this who was raised by a veteran of World War II who suffered greatly with PTSD, and also had no idea his emotions were often out of control. And any kid might say this who had to start each school day with Mass at her Roman Catholic school, which heightened not only imagination, but fear.
So irrational fear was a driving engine in my home. It wasn’t intentional. It just was. We never stopped to analyze it. We thought to admit being broken was to get more broken. So we were a stoic family, trying not to talk about the real stuff because talking seemed to let the cat out of the bag, and the cat was a mountain lion on a tear. We had no idea how to deal with it.
I had a lot of stomach aches. My body took over, manifesting my difficulties in terms that made sense to my parents. Stomach problems could be fixed with baking soda. If they persisted, you needed to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and carry on until they went away.
I remember deciding I needed to save us. I was just a kid, but unless someone took the wheel of the ship, we were going down. That ‘need to save’ got forged deep inside of me. That’s why I can spend twenty minutes in the back corner of Walmart talking to someone I just met about how they feel since their dog/dad/best friend died. I can smell grief and it dogs me.
I was twenty when I had my first panic attack. The bottom finally fell away and I plunged straight down. Hope left. I had nothing I believed strongly enough to stand against it. It was the mountain lion out of the bag chewing on my face. I couldn’t breathe.
I became a victim of panic. A victim of fear. It was my Goliath, but I wasn’t David. I was one of the Israelites, quaking in my shoes, and ready to run. I believed everything Goliath said. I believed he was going to devour me and feed the scraps of my flesh to the birds. I believed.
And anytime of night or day the trap door opened beneath my feet and Goliath shouted threats as I plummeted down, down into the abyss.
Eventually, I would land…hard…on a ledge, in the hole. I would look into the blackness and know that one day soon I would fall even further, into the hopeless deep.
So I viewed life from that place, that hole. I would fall to a ledge, then climb back up. Sometimes I would make it to the top and hang on the lip of normality by clinging white knuckles. But I would always fall again.
That is how I spent my twenties, and most of my thirties. Panicking was my most honed skill. And my most guarded secret. It was inside me like a snake carving well worn tunnels of unworthiness, insecurity, and hopelessness.
Oh, I needed to get saved, right? I needed faith in the one who could save. But I had that faith. How do you think I found the will to crawl up and down that black hole and not give up on myself…and on life? I had faith. But I was an Israelite. One of those hoping I was in the right army and being in that army would somehow save me. I didn’t want to be singled out…called out to fight Goliath. I didn’t want that kind of notoriety in my weak state. I was looking FOR David. Not to BE David. And there is a big difference.
(to be continued)