There isn’t much I’ve been unwilling to lay bare about myself in the hopes of helping others who may be experiencing similar situations or issues.
One such issue I’ve written a good deal about is my lifelong struggle with panic and depression.
It’s not a topic I enjoy writing or talking about because of how intensely personal it is, but I know a large number of people are fighting similar battles and need as much hope and encouragement as they can get.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I started having panic attacks every night when I was six or seven years old. I don’t remember exactly how long this went on, but I think it was for most of a year.
In my case, a panic attack was a bout of intense hopelessness, despair, and, well, shear panic that would last several hours every night. My brain would get hung up on a particular fear and would get stuck in a cycle of worrying that the fear – and the panic – would never end, and I’d be a prisoner to the same cycle for my entire life.
Not to gross anyone out, but at six and seven years old, my physical reaction to this panic was intense nausea that would eventually lead to vomiting. “Hate” isn’t a strong enough word for how much I despised feeling this way, nor how much I feared the physical feelings.
I’ll spare more detail as I’ve described this more explicitly elsewhere, but I eventually stopped having these episodes as a child. I’ve experienced variations of them off-and-on for short periods of time on a handful of occasions since (the most intense while I was going through a custody battle over my daughter in my mid-20s), but, thank God, life experience and healing have brought the worst to an end.
In the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve become more consciously aware of the lasting impact my childhood experience continues to have on my life today. Fleetingly in the past I’ve had moments of clarity when I’ll realize just how much those experiences formed me, but in my thankfulness for how much healing I’ve received over the last several years, I’ve unintentionally written off just how much impact they continue to have.
Here’s the honest truth that I’m ashamed to admit, even though I shouldn’t be because it’s only to be expected from what I went through at such a formative age: I’ve learned a deep liturgy of fear that goes into my bones beyond my conscious mind.
A liturgy is a pattern of living, a pattern of perceiving the world – most explicitly in Christian worship, it is the pattern of praying and approaching God, but the deep truth of the concept of “liturgy” is that we are all creatures of habits and repetitions.
The more I accept that I’ve unintentionally allowed fear to be the underlying arbiter of many of my actions, the more in retrospect I make sense of decisions I made that I didn’t understand at the time, and the more I understand my hesitancy to undertake other courses in life.
Plainly, just what am I trying to say?
I’m saying that as a small boy, I became absolutely petrified with fear about panic. I remember begging God to make it go away and being willing to do, say, or believe absolutely anything at all that would make it disappear. I was utterly desperate.
And living in that state of desperation at that age for that length of time, I learned beyond conscious thought to avoid absolutely anything that might risk resurrecting that slumbering dragon of panic within my heart.
It completely altered how I approach life – subconsciously. I wasn’t aware of it, but it was nonetheless true. I come by anger and bitterness generationally (and perhaps panic, as well), and they were intensified by this experience.
That’s not at all to say that I was nothing but a miserable wretch throughout my childhood and adult years from then on out – far from it. I actually had a really good life and, as I’m fairly sure most people would tell you, I was well-liked in school even if shy and reserved.
I did extremely well in school and in college, and for one brief moment at age 21, I was filled with God’s excitement over fulfilling a calling He had for me at that time to minister to youth in a church, and my true nature shone through all my inner junk for a very short period of time. Then, my inner junk combined with life experience and I collapsed.
Perhaps the combination of that collapse and my childhood experience resulted in where I’ve found myself over the ensuing 14 years: cautiously stepping out toward what God has called me to only to retreat – again subconsciously – when reminded of how much I’ve failed and how much I want to avoid being stuck in a situation that will bring me to panic.
I share all this in the hopes that maybe, to some people, this resonates. Maybe you’ve had life-altering experiences that you haven’t fully appreciated the impact of. Maybe you just haven’t been able to bring yourself to think about them because the pain is too great. I know what that’s like.
You don’t have to have been a child for an event (or several events) to have changed – even without your awareness – how you perceive life and reality.
The good news is, there is healing. You aren’t destined to be stuck, and you aren’t fated to be a slave to any fear.
The healing is in dealing with, in going through, your wound with Jesus. It likely will take effort (which God is happy to help with), and it will likely take time. There are often many layers to our wounds.
Using myself as an example, a major motivation for my increased interest in genealogy and family history over the last year has been to unearth just what, exactly, I’ve inherited spiritually and generationally from my ancestors – both positive and negative. To better understand myself is, in part, to understand genetically and environmentally just what it is I’m composed of.
More imminently important, though, is directly attacking my lifelong tormentor: fear. Fear, in a variety of forms, has caused me to worry about my future, my ability to cope with drastic life change. Will I fall into despair and panic when my parents pass away? Will I find myself in a job I can’t handle and end up jobless and homeless? Will I one day finally marry only to find myself in a miserable marriage and situation that brings me panic and despair because it’s more than I can handle?
Lies. All of them lies. Built out of an altered perception of life formed by the beatings panic administered on me as a boy. And more than lies, they are legitimate tormentors, demons, the agents of God’s enemy who fears (fancy that) what may happen if God moves freely and uninhibited within me.
Why? Because I’m not alone. Not only is God with me (who is Himself more than enough), His very Spirit within me, but I am supported by His Church, my community of friends, who genuinely love me and will help carry me if I fall.
Christ Himself is my hope, and against Him no fear can stand. He is my rock. He is my anchor. All sayings I thought of as cliches, and out of context, they are, but within context, they are the foundation to stand against every fear.
No fear is greater than Christ. No fear can separate me from God’s love. No fear can snatch my sanity from Christ’s hold. No situation can break me when I rest in my Redeemer.
And the same is absolutely true for you.