I bury my head deep in the vinyl booth corner––hoping against all reality that it will absorb me into invisibility.
The cacophony of loud, magnified laughs and my own pent-up pressures catalyze heart palpitations. I tug my forest green cardigan over my face and clench my jaw to stem the tide of tears.
In a temporary shelter of primitive security, I feel my shaky breath bounce back to me, and I try to gather myself. My family on either side of the U-shaped booth murmur on. Occasionally concern layers their conversation as they turn to me, a curled-up form half-buried in upholstery and near-panic.
As I try to slow my thought process down, I feel like I'm chained to the back of a moving truck that continues to steadily make its way toward a dark downtown.
I faintly remember sequences of numbers help derail anxiety attacks.
3. . . 27 . . . 8 . . .
Textures. Yeah, certain textures help, too. I grip the cloth napkin bunched in my fist, but it might as well be sandpaper, for all its ineffective comfort.
Almost as a last resort, I pray. The concept of an all-loving and gracious God is currently a framed antique in the hallway of my mind. His character and purposes are facts I know to be true. But in my terror, they have been relegated to confined artifacts.
If only I can grasp the goodness of His sovereignty right now. A weary thought. Lord, help me.
Think of His promises. My mind goes blank. Maybe there's another framed manuscript with a reference starting with. . . Psalm . . . ? Right now, my mind grasps at truth like all-too-elusive smoke.
"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." –Romans 8:26
The Spirit administers comfort and helps my weak clinging to truth, even when hope seems altogether out of sight. And I end up with just enough strength for the next step––slowly turning around for a sip of water, to face the penetrating gaze of curious eyes.
Every so often, I suffer a massive panic attack. It happened in Portland, Oregon, when I was freshly 18 and had a cup too many of strong coffee. I started hyperventilating in Powell's giant book haven and could barely breathe even an hour later.
It happened in the middle of a crowded McDonalds in India. To my horror, the bathrooms were closed, the second floor dining area was packed, and my only visible refuge was the protecting embrace of a dear Indian friend who plopped next to a turbaned stranger. I'm indebted to my friend for allowing me to sob into her neck until the red sirens in my head faded to a dull roar.
And yes, I very nearly had a panic attack in a family restaurant a few weeks ago. Would I call it a victory? Hardly. But by the Lord's strength, I fought back. Did it feel like I was warring against anxiety with a foam sword? Oh, it often does.
I hate that anxiety makes me feel weak. Or, reminds me of how weak I really am. I hate the feeling of helplessness, exposed once I build up enough resistance against the dam, eventually releasing the floodwaters of fear that rush through my whole system.
The struggle underscores my utter human vulnerability and magnifies the anchoring constant of God's love and care for me. Apart from His provision of strength, I'd be wrenched apart by anxiety.
Even if victory over the ghosts haunting my mind seems distant, I have complete faith in the goodness of God's character and long for the day when He will bring final fulfillment to His glorious promises. Through the most intense panic, I encourage my heart to "weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered" (Rev. 5:5).
It is only by His grace that I stand, stagger, and limp out of a fear-filled prison into a world governed by the gracious rule of my Heavenly Father. When I fight back, it doesn't feel like much. But I know who fights for me. Thanks be to Christ, whose redemptive work has secured victory over all effects of the fall––including my proclivity to anxiety.
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today...The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” –Exodus 14:13-14