There is a scene in the movie Sweet Home Alabama where a jilted Patrick Dempsey says, “So this is what that feels like.” In that moment his soon to be bride had just left him at the alter, declaring her love for another man. I will not go far as to say that have had or am having a nervous breakdown. However, I recently have been dealing with some anxiety issues and I did find myself sitting in my favorite chair thinking, as Patrick Demspey did, “So this is what that feels like.” As I have worked through this I am finding that it is bringing me closer and closer to God. Please allow me to tell you what I have been dealing with and how it is improving my relationship with God.
I am a perfectionist. Ok, there I said it. In fact I am such a perfectionist that it often prevents me from finishing projects because I get mired in the details. For most of my life this has not cause me any anxiety. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have always built my life in such a way that allows me to deal with those truth, without having anxiety.
I am a problem solver. I had never really thought of myself as one until my brother looked at me and cautioned me to be careful as I looked for God’s plan for my life. He explained that because I am a problem solver, then I could take my desire and ability to solve problems as God’s guidance. This truth can be both anxiety reducing and anxiety producing.
I built my life to reduce my anxiety. I didn’t do it on purpose and I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. It is only in retrospect that I realized that either by luck, or by design my life had always been built in such a way that anxiety rarely, if ever, happened. You see as a perfectionist and a problem solver, then I am at my best when I am super busy and have lots of problems to solve. As far back as I can remember my life has been busy. In high school in addition to the normal busyness that comes with school I was very active in the band and had a part time job as soon as I could. In college there was the wife, the job (or two) and college. In fact when I was in nursing school I worked full-time, something few other people do. As I thought about my life I realized that this season may be the least busy in my entire life. That may have been the beginning of the problem.
Enough back story, WHAT HAPPENED? Ok, here goes. A couple weeks ago as I laid down to sleep I found myself “jumping” from sleep with my heart pounding and feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath. This happened every time I would fall asleep for two nights. During the first night I experienced something else that I had never experienced before, I was scared. I have been scared before, but this was different. Never before had I found myself pacing around the house, unable to calm down or even to sit for more than a few seconds before I had to get up and pace some more. Never before had I had this feeling of apprehension and anxiety without the presence of any threat. I think that many would describe what happened to me as an anxiety or panic attack. This description might be accurate. I had never experience something like this before. I worked 16 years in an emergency room and never felt this way. In fact nothing that I had ever encountered had cause me to feel this way.
While in the ER we discovered that when I fell asleep my heart rate was dropping and may have been causing my symptoms. After two nights of these symptoms I had my wife take me to the hospital. After a night in the hospital and a number of tests they decided that my heart was fine. They adjusted my blood pressure medicine as it was likely causing my drop in heart rate. After this I was able to sleep without any more symptoms. However, the thing that remained was the anxiety.
Over the next few days I found myself to have continued anxiety. Getting back to work helped. Talking with family helped. After nearly two weeks I find that these symptoms are almost gone. However, the potential is still there. The potential for another panic attack looms over me like a dark cloud. If you have never experienced such a thing, then you may not be able to understand. I took care of many patients in the ER experiencing this, but never really understood them. Now I do.
While my anxiety is much better now, I realize that I am just at the beginning of this journey. I may go my entire life and never experience another anxiety attack. Heck I may never even feel the same feelings of anxiety that I was last week. Regardless, this experience has changed me. My prayer is that God will use this experience to help me minister to others better. One thing I know right now is that this has already drawn me closer to God. I am out of room for that right now, but come back tomorrow and I will share how this experience has drawn me closer to God.Matt Norman
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