I didn’t know her, but I could tell she was having a panic attack. As soon as the flight took off, she began wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans. She tugged on her hoodie and pulled it down to cover her face as if she wanted to be invisible. She held her hands tightly together, every muscle in her body tense. The woman who sat next to her, her mother, placed her hand on the girl’s thigh and gently patted it. The girl quickly slapped her mom’s hand off her thigh, as if she didn’t want any attention drawn to her weak moment. She flung her upper body over her legs, with her head curled in underneath, but she couldn’t escape. No one can ever escape that moment when panic takes over and fear starts screaming in your ears, “You’re going to die!”
I couldn’t stop looking at this girl, because this girl was just like me. For me, anxiety isn’t triggered by flying but by driving on the highway. I don’t like talking about it so I just avoid it. The thing about a panic attack is I am aware of how irrational my fear is, but I can’t help but succumb to it. I want to snap out of this false narrative that my mind keeps telling me, but I feel so weak that I bow to its beating. I give up. I cry. I get angry at myself that I can’t do something that any sixteen-year-old child can do.
Growing up, I was involved in five car accidents, and I totaled three vehicles. Luckily, I walked away from all of them without a scratch on my body. But the last wreck traumatized me and left me with panic attacks, and I haven’t driven on a highway for over ten years.
A few years ago, I accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up on the highway. Luckily, I was on the phone with my husband. He was calmly trying to direct me off the highway, but once I felt the other cars speed past me, the panic attack hit me. I couldn’t hear him reassure me, like the girl slapping her mom’s hand off. I cut him off and screamed over and over, “I am going to die!” My hands shook, tears streamed down my face, and every muscle in my body was tight like I was in a fight. Somehow, I was able to take an exit and get off on the side road.
Along with the fear, shame comes with these panic attacks, and it often makes me want to hide and deal with it alone. A part of me feels like no one will understand because I myself don’t often understand it. It feels like something is wrong with me that I am just weak, yet I feel the pressure to carry it all on my own because of the shame.
This is what anxiety does. Anxiety makes me more aware of me — my weaknesses, struggles, and insecurities. But what if I didn’t allow panic attacks to push people away? What if instead of cutting my husband off on the phone, I let him speak truth into my mind until the negative thoughts faded? What if that girl on the plane held her mom’s hand instead of slapping it away? What if we realized our people are actually part of the cure to fight fear and shame?
Four years ago, I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat on the topic of shame. The Holy Spirit kept putting it in my heart to share about my panic attacks. After I shared, several women shared with me me how they also had similar histories with car accidents and how some suffered with panic attacks. I began to feel the shame slowly dissipate.
It is hard to share our stories and be vulnerable because relationships are complicated and people can hurt you and the enemy wants to us to hide in shame.
But we look at Jesus in His weakest moment, about to be arrested and crucified. Knowing His closest disciples have doubted him and were about to betray Him, deny Him, and leave Him in His greatest time of need, He still invites them into His pain: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 ESV).
Jesus sets a powerful example of vulnerability and walking with community in our struggles.
I still have panic attacks and avoid driving on highways, but anxiety’s power has diminished and I am no longer held captive by shame because I chose to share my story.
Friend, freedom is on the other side of vulnerability. You don’t have to hide or carry your burden alone. And you can choose to embrace the hand that wants to hold you during the hard moments of life.Leave a Comment