Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Anxiety, Panic & Entrapment: Facing Our Fears Head On With God


names have been omitted or changed in this post 


I woke up with a start and tried to get my bearings. 

Not again. 

It was another nightmare. 

This one was frighteningly realistic and had a close friend in it... we had been traveling along a country back road in her new taupe SUV, excited to be embarking on a girl's weekend... shopping antique stores, sampling various flavors of homemade jellies, perusing art galleries, relaxing at a spa and getting pedicures... it was going to be a couple days of relaxation for us we both needed. Bathed in pitch darkness... tree silhouettes lit up along our narrow path from her vehicle headlights... I grasped my tan leather hand rest and spoke "I think this road curves ahead... we better take it slow." I was dreading this drive and just wanted to hurry up and get there. Yet at a very safe and slow pace of course. I wished I could magically boomerang us there but unfortunately that wasn't an option... instead it appeared I would be suffering through these winding curving roads with little foresight due to the darkness... which made my stomach queasy. It wasn't a reflection of my friend's driving as my nausea would have happened with anyone riding with them in the car. I knew this was really more about my control... or lack thereof. Of course my friend did what many people would do in this situation and assured me we were just fine... she was okay and maneuvering the roads perfectly well. But a few seconds later we lost control... swerving, spinning, flipping and finally coming to rest upside down off the side of the road on a grassy field. I don't remember much of the dream after that but just frantically screaming my friends name over and over again but not receiving an answer.

That was when I woke up. 

This was one of many continual nightmares that incurred a few months after my sister was killed by a drunk driver. They continued for well over a year and into two years...

Many people don't realize the huge impact the death of a loved one incurred by a drunk driver has on their family members. It runs deep and has lasting effects. The loss of them is soon apparent in how any anxieties you already had are magnified ten fold or new ones that crop up. I've had generalized anxiety for years. I've experienced panic attacks since I was seventeen and left home. Experiencing trauma while I was gone from home certainly didn't help. Having undiagnosed ADHD for all of my childhood, twenties and now partial thirties contributed to my anxiety rising. Anxiety is an often co-morbid condition that goes with ADHD...  more so if ADHD is not diagnosed and treated early in childhood. Living in a marriage that wasn't healthy over the years greatly added to my anxiety: Every time I attempted to verbally express myself about anything important I was shut down and walked away from... aka stone walling...  throw in control, arrogance, manipulation, narcissism and some Asperger's traits... and you have a recipe for disaster and lots of anxiety in general because I was in a chronic state of high pressure to be perfect, perform and do it all with a smile plastered on my face all the while tending to two young children... one with special needs while the hubby frittered away at "work", traveling and tending to his various extramarital relationships unbeknownst to me. Yeah... I know... that makes my eye twitch too just reading it... chocolate, anyone?

Toss in the unexpected death of my baby sister in 2008 and there is definitely going to be a hefty price to pay regarding anxiety. And that was in the form of.... Panic Disorder. If you already have GAD or as it's also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder where you pretty much worry and fret about anything and everything... you may be at an increased risk for Panic Disorder.

For me one of the most debilitating aspects of life after losing my sister and going through depression and the various grieving stages was struggling with the Panic Disorder that soon cropped up. It was about feeling a total loss of control in my life.... specifically on the road due to my sister's death. Driving was somewhat doable if I was the one doing it... but to sit in the passenger seat? No way. To hand someone else that level of control... I couldn't even begin to fathom such a concept. I truly saw everyone as incapable and a potential liability including other drivers on the road... "Stay over there, away from me"... I'd mentally think every time I took to the city streets. Freeway driving left me in a total panic and I completely stopped driving at night.

In 2011 the Panic Disorder came to a peak...

In the interim of our city's massive construction of a new corridor, new routes had been temporarily constructed while a toll road was being developed. To reach the particular restaurant we were headed to that evening the most direct route required us to drive along a narrow one-lane freeway lined with concrete barrier walls.  It was long and winding and as my husband sailed along it taking the curves as they came, I grasped the gray leather passenger hand rest tightly in his car. I soon realized I was holding my breath and reminded myself to breath. Why did he have to go this way? I thought with a mixture of panic and irritation. I asked him if he could please slow down. He checked his speedometer and exclaimed he wasnt going fast at all, dismissing my request. Yet as the car took each winding curve my stomach felt sick and I felt a huge wave of panic rise up in me. Telling him I thought I was going to be sick I told him I needed out of the car. But as he pointed out with exasperation there was no place for him to pull over. Just hang on. he told me. But I was completely beside myself. My breath was coming out in tiny spurts, my hands were sweaty and my heart was accelerating. Images of my sisters wreck flashed through my mind and I gripped the hand rest tighter. 

"Oh, no!"
my internal dialogue screamed. 

Fight or flight set in and all I wanted was to flee from the car. I knew I was panicking and yet I couldnt seem to calm down. Feeling a complete lack of control over my environment, I mentally berated my husband with choice words for taking this particular route to dinner. Telling him how that narrow winding road set me on edge and sent me into a panic he told me we would be exiting up ahead. He then asked me how on earth I reached the southwest side of town if I didnt go the route he was driving. I explained the alternate route I always took and as he listened his face looked incredulous... 

But that route takes
 an additional 
fifteen minutes at least! 
He exclaimed, 
giving me a bewildered look.

 Yep, it sure does! 
I quipped and then added mockingly...
And yet strangely enough I dont feel an extreme need to jump out of the car either! 

Hearing this we both laughed. Knowing my reactive fear to riding in the car was irrational I knew it was a fear I wasnt facing head on and needed to. I had been avoiding certain routes because they instilled sheer panic in me and yet I knew it wasn't rational. Deep down I knew for sure by continuing to avoid certain routes I was undeniably at the mercy of my anxiety and that my symptoms were actually worsening the more I desperately tried to avoid what I was so fearful of. It was time to face it head on and stop succumbing to the fear and avoiding. 

I started looking online for ways to combat anxiety, panic and avoidance. Soon it became very clear what I needed to do to overcome my fear. A few days later I had to go somewhere taking that same route I'd taken with my husband and children. I knew I had two choices; I could take the alternate longer route or face the narrow winding one that left me in a breathless heart thumping panic. I sat in my driveway suddenly wondering if my errand really warranted going out at all. Come on, I mentally coaxed myself, you gotta do it. You'd think I was attempting to parachute out of a plane with zero release leading to a malfunction... rationally you think to yourself, "Come on, this is just driving" but the cloud of anxiety is never clear or rational. I began praying to God for help and I headed in the direction of that one lane narrow winding freeway. I did it. I prayed the whole way and afterward I exited, pulling over into a parking lot to settle my nerves and bask in what I'd just accomplished. Then I turned around and did it again. And again. I continued to force myself to drive it over the course of many months until it was no longer an issue. 

Say no to fear... 

God doesn't want us to live in fear, to feel chained to the toxicity of anxiety and it's effects on our health, our outlook and even our functioning in a happy well adjusted life. He wants us to be free from anything that restricts, that darkens, that holds us in entrapment so that instead we can live as He wants us to... with freedom and with fearlessness. A healthy perspective to gain is one of complete dependence on God to help face our anxieties and fears instead of going straight to autopilot in fear. Unhealthy views of anxiety lead us to a world of perfection, rigidity and feeling trapped. We may have been through traumatic events that have led us to where we are in terms of anxiety and panic.... maybe the unexpected loss of a loved one, maybe a car wreck, maybe a rape, a toxic childhood or even wounds from war. It's not our fault, it's not something anyone would ask for as anyone who has lived it knows it's a far cry from being a picnic or something to be trivialized. You aren't less than for struggling with what you've endured or the anxiety that has stemmed from it. You can improve, you can make progress however small in tiny steps, you can get better and you can live! 

© ~ 2013

To My Readers: 

Thank you for reading, commenting & sharing!

No comments:

Post a Comment