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God Is With Me In My Panic Attacks

It was just like any other Saturday night, and I was hanging out with my friends after the church service. A large group of us went out for dinner as usual and had a grand time talking and relaxing. I was enjoying myself, laughing and cracking jokes with my friends sitting closest to me.

Then suddenly, I looked around at all the people around our tables—friends and strangers alike in the restaurant. I became uncomfortably aware of all the conversations going around me, the sound of people chewing food, utensils clattering on plates, and food orders being yelled in the kitchen. The smells of the many different meals around me became too much to take in and I started getting dizzy.

Knots formed in my stomach, and it was becoming difficult to breathe calmly. I quickly got up from my chair and made a beeline for the exit. It wasn’t much better outside though, since we were downtown and there was so much activity. People swarmed all around me on the sidewalk, and traffic was busy as ever. Soon, the sensory stimulation overwhelmed me; it was something I had zero control over, and I simply couldn’t handle my surroundings anymore.

The tears started coming and I felt myself going down another one of my dark mental spirals of fear, confusion, and insecurity. I walked and walked until I found a small, lonely alley and tried to calm down enough to try the breathing exercises my counselor had taught me. Standing in that alley trying to ground myself in reality again felt like forever, but the intense emotion of fear finally faded and I felt safe again.

This scenario has happened countless times in the three years since my battle with anxiety started. It has happened in restaurants, in stores, in church, in friends’ homes, on the metro, and other places. I panic when my brain realizes it can’t control its surroundings and the way my senses are affected.

The struggle is constant and ongoing. Panic comes unexpectedly and usually for no obvious reason. Often I’m frustrated with myself—why can’t I be like the rest of my friends and peers, who can enjoy themselves and not be so deeply affected by their senses as I am?

 

God Comforts Me

But even in the midst of fear and confusion, I am increasingly realizing that God is near. Regardless of what we’re going through, God always has something to speak into our lives (Psalm 91:15). And He has been teaching me to distinguish His voice from my intense fears of suffocation and feelings of despair, so that I can push past my anxiety and clearly hear  what He has to say.

God created me, and He knows all my weaknesses and faults. He has been gracious to me even as I learn to trust Him through my hardships. This can be seen in how He has surrounded me with close friends who understand my struggles, who know when to keep me company or talk me through my panic. I do not take this for granted.

Each time I have a panic attack, I also discover more and more how much comfort even the simplest, shortest of prayers or a well-written passage can bring. One day a friend shared with me an excerpt from Bob Goff’s book Love Does:

I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement…it’s ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It’s the invitation (from God) to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day.

I realized that my senses are a gift from God so I could experience His amazing creation. God wants me to receive His blessings and enjoy His goodness (Ephesians 1:3), and my senses are an invitation for me to enjoy life and enjoy my relationship with the Creator through it.

 

Learning to Love Others

With this in mind, I am learning more and more how to take my panic attack triggers, turn them around, and practice seeing God in them. Most of my triggers are people-related (crowds, outdoor noises and smells), so I am trying to see past my difficulty and love people around me more.

After a panic attack, I will often focus on being useful or kind to people around me, largely so I can take my mind off my panic. Sometimes I am prompted to pray for people around me. Other times I stop and notice that people have specific needs I can help with, such as lifting something heavy, walking up the stairs, or needing directions.

It’s amazing what happens when we take time to look around us and see how we can serve others. This is what Jesus did (Matthew 14:13-14), and as His followers, we’re to do the same. This can be very hard to do when we’re caught up in our present troubles. I know that often it is difficult for me to even see light at the end of the tunnel. But when I am able to look around me, I have often received unexpected blessings by giving to people through acts of service.

 

Be Willing to Seek Help

Improving mental health is a process. For anyone experiencing trouble in this area, please be encouraged knowing that getting better really is possible, even if it is a slow process. Prayer and Bible reading have been vital for me, but they were not enough on their own. I saw a licensed counselor for some time, to help me learn to push through my intrusive thoughts. God can and certainly does use the medical expertise He’s given others to help us live better lives. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help.

We all have an opportunity to experience nearness to God through hardship. We don’t have to be “good” at maneuvering life and all its aspects (e.g., mental health). We just have to be open to letting God come to us. Spend time with Him, make it a point to talk with Him throughout your day. Ask for medical help if you need to, there is no shame in wanting to live better. Don’t push away those who sincerely care for you and want to be there with you; they can be angels in disguise. These are choices we make every day. Invitations to experience God’s grace.

When darkness and confusion seem to be clouding your mind, know there is still a God of love and power Who is holding you and seeing you through it all. As He promised in His Word:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
(Isaiah 43:2-3a)

When God’s Promises Don’t Mean Very Much

I was standing at the precipice of a new season, nervously anticipating the last day of my salaried job and the dreaded world of freelancing that awaited me after. It wasn’t a career move that I’d chosen. But the company wasn’t doing well, so I’d been retrenched.

As I prayed and looked for another job, I encountered something familiar: all the doors to the work that I wanted were firmly closed, but the door to the sort of job I didn’t want—freelancing—was flung wide open.

In the week leading up to that last day, friends coincidentally sent me links to sermons and articles, all related to the same verse, “So do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). None of them knew each other or knew about my job transition. Receiving the promise “I am with you” in several different forms happened enough times for me to know that God was trying to get through to me.

So, I sat down one evening and said to God, “I’ve got to be honest. I know being told that You are with me is supposed to be something very precious, but it doesn’t give me the comfort that I think I’m supposed to feel.”

I braced myself for what was surely going to be (at the very least) gentle chastising. What a sacrilegious thing to say, after all. But as I waited on God, a surprising question came to my mind:

When have I felt assured simply because of someone’s presence with me?

Thinking back over my experiences, I remembered two people who had a remarkably reassuring effect on me.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were teachers I had in high school when I was in New Zealand. They would often organize hikes in the New Zealand wilderness during the summer weekends. They were absolute experts, and knew all the beautiful and formidable things about the outdoors, as well as how to navigate through them.

There were always any number of things that could go wrong in the bush: the way the unpredictable New Zealand storms could transform the safest looking path into a deathtrap, or how an unusually hot summer could dry up a stream at a campsite and leave you stranded for fresh water. Someone stepped on an innocent-looking tree root once, some 10 minutes after Mr. B. warned the team not to (tree roots are always deceptively slippery). She had to be helicoptered out of the bush because of how terribly she’d sprained her ankle.

Yet, amidst all the potential for chaos, I was never once anxious about how dangerous tramping could be. I was so assured of Mr. and Mrs. B.’s competence that I knew, when the worst happened, they’d manage it perfectly. I was also certain that they cared about their students and would use their expertise if we needed help. There isn’t much point having experts at hand if they’re indifferent to your situation. This combination of what they could do and who they were made their presence indispensable.

It occurred to me to apply this reflection to my current circumstance, so I thought about the sort of expert I’d ideally like to have during this season of freelancing.

My answer rolled right off: someone excellent at finding jobs for me, the ones I like and can do well, the ones that open doors to meaningful projects where I can make a difference. It wouldn’t hurt if they paid well too, of course, the bills and all that. . .

And then, almost immediately, another question dropped in my heart, “Is there anyone more of an expert and more willing than God is to provide all those things for you?”

It felt like such an obvious question, with such an obvious answer. But I was shocked to realize just how ineffectual I’d thought God was. A source of comfort, sure, insofar as one is comforted by having their hand patted and told that everything will be fine. But that’s not what relieves fear, no.

Fears arise from an acute realization that what one has at hand is insufficient to thrive in a situation. I feared freelancing because I wasn’t sure that the irregularity of the work could always keep me financially afloat. The only thing that would dissipate my fear was knowing I had a tangible way through the quagmire, something I clearly didn’t think God was capable of doing!

My fears revealed my insufficiencies of which I was most aware. And they also revealed the aspects of God of which I was most unaware. My inaccurate impression of who God could be made me ascribe His promise with the value and power of a fridge magnet.

After all, whether the words, “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you wherever you go; I won’t ever leave you,” mean anything to us really depends on the person who says it. (Stalkers say these things too, and that’s what restraining orders are for.) In the same way that I valued Mr. and Mrs. B. because I knew what they could do and who they were, I needed to learn who God is before I could cherish His promise.

In the face of my limitations, God promises Himself to me—with all His expertise and His willingness—so that I will have what He has to meet my circumstances. His expertise is in keeping unstable situations stable (Psalm 18:2), in making something come out of nothing (Isaiah 48:21), in knowing how to give us exactly what we need (Matthew 6:8). How He’ll do it, He’ll never say, but that He’ll keep His word is a given.

I realized it’s a little like how it was with Mr. and Mrs. B. I never questioned the routes they took us on, even through some of the most mundane  landscapes or those perilous cliff edge trails on the side of a mountain. They had my complete trust, so whatever paths we were taking became irrelevant. I knew they would always lead us to some of the most spectacular campsites or mountaintop views that New Zealand has to offer. They always led us somewhere good.

When I question God’s instructions, or if I fear the path He’s taking me down, it’s because I’ve lost sight of how much of an expert He is in that area of my life. He knows the ins and outs of the land and all the tricks of the trade and is the most qualified to navigate me through it competently. He’s the very best at healing broken hearts, in building secure inner worlds, in redeeming failures, in sustaining human relationships, in overcoming the impossible. . . an endless list of specialties for a God with infinite capacities.

I don’t know why being a freelancer is so necessary for me just yet, and I don’t know where it’ll lead. But I trust that He has excellent reasons for it. It’s been three months into this new season, and He’s already given me more work than I know what to do with. Expert, indeed.

Finding Comfort On The Trail of Life

Title: Finding Comfort On The Trail of Life
Artwork by: McKenna McIntyre (@mckennacreates)
Description: Our journey to self-discovery isn’t always a clear path. We may face challenges or uncertainties about the future, but we must remember there is a plan for our lives, and that in this, we can find encouragement and hope to keep moving.

 

 

Sometimes in our life’s adventures we face obstacles

 

Or unclear directions

 

We might feel lost or uncertain about what lies ahead

 

But we must remember there is a plan mapped out for our lives, full of purpose and love

 

“Trust in the Lord and do good” and you will find fulfillment and joy in your journey. Psalm 37:3

 

3 Tips to Comfort a Friend

Written by Sam Chia, Singapore   

The older we get, the more likely we are to face trials; call it growing up, if you will. And even if trials don’t plague us, we’re bound to hear of loved ones who have to face them.

Over the years, I’ve heard from different friends about the struggles they have had to go through. Some have experience things too painful for me to understand. In the past couple of months alone, I have heard of a few breakups, a betrayal in a relationship, and an illness scare.

Although I knew that the Bible calls us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11), it came to a point that I was exhausted. It became difficult, draining, and daunting to be consistently there for friends who were mostly on their lows and lamenting their suffering bitterly and negatively.

I blame it on my own lack of patience or empathy that I got easily discouraged when supporting my friends. But it was also as I went through one disappointment after another (with myself), that I started to reflect on practical ways that would help me persevere on this journey with my friends.

 

1. Involve other members of the community

Recently, a friend told me about her struggle through a break-up. It being a personal and private matter, she was initially unwilling to tell more people about her feelings. But knowing how having another person in the “support group” would help my friend—and myself—I suggested it anyway, and thankfully she agreed.

This new confidant added a new dimension to the conversation, and relieved me when I was just too tired to reply. Having someone else to share the burden and time needed to care for someone allowed me time to reflect and rest, so that I could persevere longer during trying moments.

For me, it was also a lesson that I am not able to completely meet my friends’ needs and that they need a bigger community of people who love them.

 

 2. Give practical tips in addition to pointing them to God

More often than not, our friends who are Christians, already know that they ought to trust God and cling onto His promises through challenging periods. And many times, it requires discernment and wisdom to know when to remind them of God’s truth.

In the meantime, we can also provide them practical tips to help them get through everyday life. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I chanced upon some tips and suggested that my friend do some of them as a practical measure to help herself.  She unfollowed certain accounts on social media, went out to do things instead of staying home all day, and listened to a playlist that I put together for her.

For another friend, who was suffering from panic attacks and insomnia, I suggested some simple counting or breathing exercises to help her get through the moments of despair and long nights. She eventually sought professional help (which was a good decision and something we hoped she would choose) and still holds on to these counting exercises for those bad moments.

While practical tips do not solve the root cause of the problem, they serve as helpful methods to help my friends get back on their feet again, so that they can slowly seek God in their time.

 

3. Self-care

One thing I realized as I journeyed with my friends over the past couple of months was that I had  underestimated the energy it took to support someone, and overestimated my own ability to remain steady and unaffected by the problems or issues I heard. I had always thought of myself as someone who could separate what I heard and saw from what I believed about God and life. But as I walked my friends through times of betrayal, confusion, and darkness, I realized that my own fears and uncertainties grew as well.

Thankfully, I had strong support from other friends, and began to value having a separate outlet where I could voice my frustrations and uncertainties as well as obtain advice from—while keeping the identity of my other friends private.

But perhaps, the most important lesson I’ve learned through all this is that I am not my friends’ Savior—God is. And God brings people the counsel and comfort they need in His time and plan (1 Cor 12:25-26). I’m thankful that despite moments when I missed a text or call from a friend in need, he or she found others to confide in. And though that might sound trivial, it is a freeing truth because it shows that God ultimately, is the one who cares for my friend far more than I can ever do.

 

And so I take heart, for the Lord Jesus is the ultimate comforter and understands best the fears of our human hearts—both our friends’ and our own.