A Note From The Pro of Panic

I know what you’re feeling right now.

That tightness in your chest that just won’t let up. The feeling of “impending doom” that wreaks havoc on your mind, making it nearly impossible to function normally. Shaking hands, hyperventilating, constant tears, racing thoughts… I’ve been there. I am very familiar with these scenarios; You see,  I am a pro at panic.

I have had many friends and family members reach out to me in recent weeks. They are mostly checking in on my mindset and mental health; After all,  I suffer from contamination OCD (aka the fear of germs). People like me shouldn’t be okay in times like this. People like me should be utterly crippled by things like pandemics- our ultimate nightmare played out in real time. The funny part in all of this? The scenario that I have been terrified of since my diagnosis in 2015 is here…and I am okay.

I have my moments, sure. There are times when this virus hits a little too close to home, and I spiral. I would honestly find it strange if I didn’t spiral- at least a little. But for the most part, I am not panicked. Hard pressed on every side, absolutely, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not in despair (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Why? Because I am a pro at panic.

There are things I’ve learned over these past years that fear doesn’t want you to know. Things like: This feeling will not last forever. The unknown is not such a scary, awful place. Humanity is already in a constant state of brokenness, and covid-19 is just the latest shard. You see, Disaster has a way of shaking a sleeping world- jostling us from complacency until we are staring the harsh realities on this side of Heaven straight in the face. I know I said a lot in these last few sentences, so let’s unpack it.

This feeling will not last forever.

Those of us who suffer from panic know this phrase well, as it is often included in Grounding. Grounding is a common technique utilized during panic attacks; Its goal being to remind the sufferer that this feeling will pass. It roots you back into reality by forcing you to latch onto facts, thereby releasing feelings.  In order to be freed from the grip of anxiety, you must understand that feelings are fleeting. They are not facts, and they cannot be relied upon. Panic is a feeling. Fear is a feeling. Fear does have a place in keeping you alive; but, he also has a way of getting too big for his britches. Given the opportunity, he will take the wheel… and your mind with it.

Have you ever been in an argument, or had a really bad day, and felt like there was nothing outside of “this”? Similar to blinders, the triggering event consumes every aspect of your mind.  There is something biological behind this, actually. Panic and rationality cannot coexist. One must take the reigns. When your mind is triggered to release adrenaline, your prefrontal cortex (where rational thought happens) ceases to function. The driver’s seat is passed to adrenaline… and as it turns out, he’s a horrible driver. Adrenaline has one function: self preservation. Which makes him a great friend to have when you’re being chased by a lion; but, you don’t want him in your driver’s seat in the day-to-day. A person operating from the Amygdala (Adrenaline driven) is irrational, impulsive, selfish, and even lacks compassion and empathy. It took me a long time to understand why I behaved the way I did in 2015. I now know that it’s because OCD is a selfish disease, by nature. It is an illness defined by the overproduction of adrenaline- as is anxiety. The sufferer CANNOT operate from a place of rationality because the prefrontal cortex is OFF. shut down, overriden.

Does this sound familiar? Covid-19 has allowed fear to slide into the drivers seat in so many minds, and we are seeing the ramifications of a world led by adrenaline. News flash: it’s a pretty bleak picture. A pretty unfulfilling place to be.

One of my favorite quotes says this: “Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go” (Mooji). And to be perfectly blunt, you will not find peace in these times if you can’t operate this way. I am not saying not to feel; Honestly, I’m saying just the opposite. I’m saying the fastest way to get through something is directly through it. Let the emotions come, and feel them fully. But don’t let them take up residence. Please do not give permanent power to something so very temporary! Trust me, it is no way to live.

The unknown is not a scary, awful place.

I can’t even believe I’m saying this one, because I hate the unknown. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than feeling out of control or ill-prepared. OCD doesn’t like the unknown either, and during my treatment, many exercises forced me to simply sit with it. Refusing to pacify my mind with preparation, rationale, or research. This may just be the cure for the human condition- living abundantly without the need to know everything. Or maybe, without the need to know anything. Joy for joy’s sake.

I resist change- most of us do, I think. In fact, when I think back on most major shifts in my life, I see resistance. Fear. A death grip on control. And then? Then that thing: a new job, a move, a breakup… it happened anyways. And? I survived. Every time. Not only that, but I am better for it. I say this all the time and I will say it again- OCD was the best thing to happen to me. My time in treatment, my rock bottom, forced me into a time of growth that was life-altering. In the best way.

I’m not saying you should throw caution to the wind, shred your planner, and fly by the seat of your pants. This works for some people, but it’s not a practical solution for most of us (also I really like my planner and I will not be destroying it). What I am saying is that regardless of what happens today, tomorrow, or in the next few months, knowing the outcome does not get you through the valley any faster. I promise. If anything, it takes the joy away from the journey. (I’d also like to argue that we already know the ultimate outcome- and its far better than this place anyways.) Many things about this virus, and the world, are unknown right now. But? Babies are still being born. Meals are still being cooked for those in need. Families are still gathering around dinner tables. Love is still apparent, and abundant, if you know where to look. I think the answer to the unknown is not more knowledge- I think it’s acceptance. The absence of striving. Peace is found in the present, and in the presence of Jesus. There is nothing that is unknown to Him…and I find rest in that.

The human condition is brokenness. 

Can I say something without sounding insensitive? Covid-19 is not a surprise. It is yet another tragedy that we must wade through. It is not the first pandemic, and likely will not be the last. I have no doubt that we will experience much more hurt in this lifetime… maybe even in this year. The good news? We do not have to stay in this hurt. Things that happen to us don’t have the power to break us if we do not give it to them. You’re scared? Me too. You’re weak? Cool, same. We are each a mosaic of pieces from each Earth shattering event we have endured- and that’s good news! The space between each piece allows the Light to shine through. It gives the Lord space to pour out of you.

You have already been broken; in fact, you are in a constant state of brokenness. The fear comes when you are still under the illusion that you are whole. That it is YOUR job to ensure you stay that way. No one is up for that task, and you will shatter from that pressure alone. When you aren’t afraid to be broken, catastrophe can’t touch you. When you acknowledge that your life is not, nor has it ever been, in your hands- you free yourself to be the hands and feet of the Most High. And believe me, there is FREEDOM there. There is not time or room for fear there- you’re too busy being love. And I would rather be that kind of busy, than busy fighting a battle that has already been won.

A spirit of gentleness 

I know people are acting out of sorts. I also know that is an understatement. I have seen the videos of altercations in grocery stores, and the memes of people wearing various household objects on their faces. I have laughed about the hoarding of toilet paper, and expressed my frustration at the lack of hand sanitizer (that stuff is like crack for OCD folks like me). But as I hear more stories and read more articles, an interesting thing is happening inside of me: my heart is softening, rather than becoming calloused.

I’ve never been very good with emotions, and my closest friends would even say I am the Christina Yang of the group (if you understand this reference then you are my kind of people). I can be cold and impatient. And yet? My chest aches for the very ones that are screaming at each other over masks, fighting over paper towels, and taking to their keyboards to spew venom about anyone and everyone else. It has taken a while for me to see it, but what I just wrote in the paragraphs above is exactly what is playing out in the lives of these people. The absence of prefrontal cortex reasoning. If I know and believe the science behind this, then it is silly of me to expect rationality and compassion. During my worst days of OCD, I was not rational. I was the opposite of rational. I lashed out at anyone that came close enough, for absolutely no reason at all. This behavior is not foreign to me, so why am I so quick to pass judgement? It’s easy to see the angry woman in the grocery store as “what’s wrong with the world,” and you may be right, but you can’t change them. You CAN change how you respond to them.

I am asking for gentleness. A ton of it. I’m asking you, and me, to pour out gentleness on anyone and everyone until we cause a freaking flood. We are living in strange times- ones that will be written about in history books and studied by future generations. There is no “right” way to navigate these uncharted waters…but the better ways involve grace. So, look straight through the anger and the aggression- look right into the fear-filled hearts. And then tread lightly; because each and every heart is hurting, anxious, and terrified. Many are barely holding on. Instead of fueling the fire, how about we bring fire extinguishers in the form of unprecedented, reckless grace and love?

We are relational beings, of this I am sure. So what if we use this time of social distancing to dive deeper into emotional closeness? Finding common ground, instead of drawing lines of difference. I may just be saying “can’t we all just get along” in a roundabout kind of way, but the sentiment still remains. I believe we can come out the other side of this with a sense of community that is worth immeasurably more than stockpiled paper goods and cleaning products. Anxiety is a beast. Fear can be consuming. But love? Love never fails.

 

 

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