My storm came while I was in the throes of what is normally an exhausting season for anyone – that season of parenting little ones, a time when you are going on little sleep and just trying to take care of the basic needs of your family.
I think I struggled with depression before. I can see that now. It usually came on during seasons of change. Like after graduating from college or post-honeymoon or post-partum. But those were nothing like this.
This was a different kind of low. A low that felt like I was falling. Like I had no control. And stranger yet, there was a part of me that wanted to fall and not try to fight it. I just felt so tired. So done with doing life as I had been doing it. It felt easier to let the darkness win, to let it envelop me in its soft, heavy weight.
My first panic attack occurred at my children’s preschool. It was something about the floor. The design in the carpet suddenly became this swirling beast that was jumping out at me. Of course, I knew this was not logical and chocked it up to lack of sleep, so I pressed on and continued down the hall to pick up my kids.
On my way out, I collapsed. All I remember is being half-carried out on my friend’s shoulders and the shoulders of another teacher into the lobby. I didn’t know what was happening, the only thing I remember is that my arms felt like they were on fire. Painfully so.
In the parking lot, my friends prayed for me and then called my husband, who took me to the emergency room.
In the weeks and months following, I experienced waves of intense panic attacks multiple times a day. After each one, it felt like my body had run a marathon. I would sleep for hours afterwards, totally spent. I started going to bed around 7pm every night and sometimes sleeping until noon the next day.
Of course, my husband was worried. We knew this was not a schedule we could keep running on. One of the first people he called was our pastor, who quickly began reaching out to his network of doctors, counselors, and therapists.
At first, my husband and I assumed this phase would pass. But when weeks turned to months, we knew we had to adjust to this ‘new normal’.
I didn’t feel normal. I felt like I was going crazy. And that fear just made things worse.
For the next 3 years, I saw a slew of therapists and doctors who helped me understand what was happening and how to regulate my body when the attacks came on.
I could barely drive my kids to school. The sun felt too bright. The buses were too loud. The bumps in the road were too jolting. Lawnmowers and blowers grated on my nerves.
I was ashamed, embarrassed, and intensely critical of myself.
My inner dialogue would go something like this:
What is wrong with you? Get your stuff together! You are a mom! You need to function for your family. You have so much to be grateful for! Stop wallowing.”
Of course, none of that helped.
It was frightening and humiliating and exhausting all at once.
But oh, how gracious God was in the midst of this storm. Rarely has he given me a tangible dose of his presence in dark times. But I think he knew I needed something to hold onto.
I am a dreamer. Literally, I dream in vivid colors and scenes, which often inspires my writing. So, oh! How tender and compassionate was it that the Lord gave me visual images of hope that I could hang on to!
It was often when I was curled up in a ball in the closet that these images came to my mind:
1) A hurricane. Fierce winds battered my body, trying to rip me away into utter darkness, but I was holding onto something; a wooden post; just a simple wooden post; as the storm whirled around me. As long as I held onto that post, I felt safe. It was my anchor. I believe that was Jesus. His tangible presence saying: “I’ve got you. Cling to me. You don’t have to be afraid. I am right here.”
2) The second image He gave me was: a knotted rope hanging down from the sky, not a stormy sky, but a bright blue sky dotted with wispy white clouds; and a voice, soft and tender saying ‘Hold on. Just reach out and hold on. This will pass.’ But then I remember thinking, ‘What if I can’t hold on? What if I let go?” And in response, He gave me a vision of an enormous hand, palm facing up, hovering just below the rope, ready to catch me if I fell. And a voice said, “I am right here. I’ve got you. Trust me in this.”
I clung to those images every time I had a panic attack over the next 3 years. I would repeat His promises every time a fearful wave washed over me.
And to me, that act of holding onto the wooden post or grabbing the rope that hung from the sky didn’t mean that I should just muster up the strength to hold on. Because I physically had none. I felt like a weak and wounded animal.
No…the action was in my faith. A faith to bear the storm and wait for it to pass. A faith to grab the rope even when I didn’t think I could. It was a faith in God, in His presence, His protection, His provision, and His mercy, even in the midst of the darkest storm.
And like all storms, this one eventually passed. Today, I am able to function again for my family and for that I am deeply grateful. But I will say, I have not experienced a tangible dose of His presence like that ever since. It was a sweet and precious gift He knew I needed in that moment. Not for every day, but for that particular storm.
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped.”