When Panic Attacks: Why I've Been Away & Why I Must Write Today
Bonnie Gray is author of Whispers of Rest and of Finding Spiritual Whitespace. An inspirational speaker, Bonnie has touched thousands of lives to encourage and lead women to flourish in faith, stress recovery and wellness. Bonnie is featured writer at Relevant Magazine, (in)courage, and Christianity Today. She lives in California with her husband and two sons.
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- 2012 Jul 30
I swallow hard.
I am doing one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.
I am writing.
About why I've been away.
About why I haven't written on my blog.
But, I must.
There is no other choice -- if I want to be free.
I must write.
Even though I am afraid.
I must write.
Even if I don't know where all these words will lead.
I am writing...
Because Jesus is telling me I must -- trust Him.
With the truth.
Of why I've been away.
The last time I wrote on my blog, FaithBarista.com was March 15, 2012.
That was four months ago.
Those who have been walking alongside me here on my blog throughout the years, swapping stories and sharing comments may have noticed something odd. Except for the monthly writing I do for DaySpring's incourage site, I have been quiet. Too quiet.
Ever since I created FaithBarista.com -- which will reach it's three year birthday soon -- words have pushed out of my heart, through my fingers onto this blog, the way a newborn child presses out of the womb, words flowing, like water breaking onto the floor .
My voice, silent for so long tumbled and spilled out. Messy, with life.
I began blogging five times a week, settling into a steady three-post rhythm, eventually hitting my stride by publishing twice. I began hosting a weekly Thursday community blog link-up called Faith Jams. I found my passion, serving up writing prompts to explore real, everyday faith topics -- fueled by you. Your voices. Your stories. I wasn't alone anymore.
It was in that place of freedom, God planted in my heart, the Book-That-Would-Not-Go-Away. To my surprise, a childhood passion to write took the form of a God-sized dream to publish a book. A publisher offered me a book contract and the deadline for my manuscript was set.
Everything seemed to align according to God's will and purposes for me.
To have a voice.
To be free.
And then it happened.
The month leading up had been a nightmarish marathon of battling winter illnesses. Pneumonia and a nasty virus called Strep collided with my boys three-year-old CJ and six-year-old TJ for weeks. Sick little boys don't sleep well, spelling sleep deprivation for me. Hubby Eric caught the flu and I ended up flat on my back with the Strep-throat too.
I was completely exhausted and utterly behind on my manuscript. To get me back on track, sweet Eric surprised me by booking a cottage at a local retreat center for some uninterrupted time away.
I packed my bags and drove up into the mountains along Bear Creek Road.
Nestled in thick foliage and dark night crickets, my heart surged with hope. As I grabbed myself some tea in the cafeteria, I overheard other guests sigh with disappointment. We were caught in the heavy drizzle of a winter storm. But, I was euphoric. A rainy weekend in a cozy cabin, typing next to a window with a view? A writer could ask for nothing more. I was golden.
Back in my room, I began unpacking, spreading my papers and notes across the floor in the layout of each chapter. I knelt to pray. I asked God to prepare His words for me. I asked the Holy Spirit to speak into my heart for the work ahead. I thanked Him for the beauty of His presence in my life. I spent the remaining afternoon enjoying spiritual whitespace, revisiting passages of Scripture and journaling prayers to God. It was the perfect way to begin my writing retreat.
It would be time for dinner soon. As I gathered my coat, placing my hands in my gloves, I had no inkling of what was waiting ahead, as I closed the door behind me.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. I have hiked in storms, rain soaking down into my socks, lightning and thunder crackling at every side.
Yet, in less than 10 minutes of walking up a muddy hillside, I was about to fall into the most terrifying, traumatic trek in my 41 years of life.
Something Very Wrong
My heart started racing.
Then, it started pounding.
My chest tightened.
My throat started narrowing.
The sky turned white and my entire world became over-saturated with light.
I couldn't see.
I started to feel dizzy.
Sick. Then nauseous.
I wouldn't have been so alarmed, if I hadn't started gasping. For air.
Oh my God! What's happening? I fell to the ground.
I. can't. breathe. I choked my way through the next dizzying minutes. How many passed, I don't know.
That night, as I struggled with sleep in the dark, my body became flooded with feverish chills. Hot flashes.
I must be stricken with some weird, awful sickness. I thought.
The next day, after writing a chapter, walking on that same path, it happened. Again.
Something must be very wrong.
A Dangerous Endeavor
I returned home to see the doctor, but my tests came up normal.
Every night, for the next three months, whenever I went to bed, I was jolted awake. I would fall fast asleep and suddenly, my throat would constrict and I would start choking. Hot flashes would fire through my body, sending my heart palpitating like crazy and my chest heaving, as I struggled to recover my breath.
It took weeks and weeks of torturous insomnia, fear, and confusion stumbling down rabbit trails and misdiagnosis until I understood what I was experiencing. I went through a revolving door of doctors, counselors, and pastors -- until I finally found an expert who understood the cause of my suffering.
I don't have cancer.
No, my faith isn't broken.
No, there isn't a hidden sin unconfessed.
And no, I don't have a mental illness.
You won't believe it. I didn't believe it.
Apparently, writing can be a dangerous endeavor.
My friends, writing this book has opened up trauma from my childhood. What I experienced on that dirt path four months ago was a panic attack -- a symptom of Post-Tramautic Stress Disorder.
Yes, dear friends. Me -- the girl who has never been afraid of anything -- is recovering from childhood trauma.
The Girl Who Wasn't Afraid
PTS -- me? Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress?
It definitely didn't make any sense at all.
Hello, God. This is me, you're talking about. You know -- the "Faith Barista" -- the one who has always trusted and loved you? Something else must be wrong, because with You, I've never been afraid of anything. I'm the girl --
who grew up first generation American-Chinese and put herself through college.
who threw a party to celebrate, after selling all I had to become a an overseas missionary.
who is an entrepreneur who has launched multiple ministries and loved every minute of it.
who enjoyed a successful high-tech career managing portfolios of product teams.
who loves inductive Bible studies as a hobby.
who loves people, snorts when she laughs and regularly enjoys coffee with pastries.
How can this girl have PTS?
As for childhood trauma. C'mon. We're talking about stuff that occurred decades ago. Wouldn't PTS have shown up earlier? Why would writing about it surface trauma now?
Apparently, trauma can be frozen in time.
A person, an event, a stress, or a change -- even a dream or a hope -- can unravel that trauma. This is what happened to me, as I stepped into writing the belly of my book. You see, there was an incident. Actually more than one. People who have hurt me in my past recently attempted to place themselves back in my today.
And all the sadness that I've swallowed, the losses that I've dismissed and the memories I've turned into stories suddenly ignited my memories into live events up on that mountain.
Apparently, this girl does have trauma.
Deep inside, I am -- it turns out -- very much afraid. A part of me -- the wounded part of me -- that stems from my childhood has surfaced.
Your Full Voice
My therapist, Dr. P, is a world expert in treating PTSD.
He tells me panic attacks typically strike the strong. CEOs, pastors, managers, stay-at-home moms, writers and everyone in-between. You don't need to have fought in a war in Afghanistan or Iraq to suffer from PTSD and it's not limited to physical or sexual abuse.
The impacts of emotional and verbal abuse are equal in damage and trauma.
PTSD often surfaces in people in their 30's and 40's -- when major life changes are occurring. The stresses that we've hidden deep inside finally emerge when we can no longer bolt down what we fear most: our wounded selves.
Dr. P always makes me laugh because he calls all this disorienting, painful experience "good". He says with a smile and compassionate gaze, "The Good Lord is healing you, Bonnie! Loving the hidden parts of you back to life."
There are people in my family of origin who don't want me to write the book. People who have hurt me in the past -- and because they have done so, continue to hurt me today.
God knows I've prayed about everything, forgiven them and "buried them at the cross of Jesus". What's in the past belongs in the past, right? Forget what's behind and strive toward Christ ahead. That's been my motto.
That's the thing. I believed my faith had buried my hurt -- in the past.
I felt God had finally brought me to a place of healing -- in my today -- to write this book.
Because I had survived.
Because I was finally free. I had my voice.
But, when I began my final stretch of putting voice to print, God chose to reveal to me --
Bonnie, it is time for you to heal.
I don't just want you when you are strong.
I love you when you are broken.
And I don't find it shameful that you are wounded.
You want to only speak in that voice that feels safe and good.
But, I want you to speak in your full voice, where I am your only safety.
Where I am Your only good.
I want you to speak -- in your full voice.
Dr. P says that I need to write.
I am like the agoraphobic who avoids going to the grocery store because that's where she last had her panic attack. Just like the man who won't cross a street because that's where he was last hit by a drunk driver.
Me. I've withdrawn from writing.
I've avoided writing because I've been waiting to get well. I've been waiting for my symptoms to go away, so I can come back and tell you how terrible it's been and how I'm all better now.
I want to present my good and unwounded self to you.
But, Dr. P says that day will never come if I don't write afraid.
You see, I've been waiting to get well before I write. But, it turns out I must write in order to get well.
It's taken me more than a week to write this post. And I suffered a rash of anxiety attacks attempting to "cross the street" by writing these words.
I really don't have a choice.
I must write.
Because I don't want to be afraid anymore.
Because Jesus is calling me to speak in my full voice.
Because God is now calling me to put my faith in Him here.
"Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
And be gracious to me and answer me.
When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You,
'Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.'
Do not hide Your face from me...
Do not abandon me nor forsake me,
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up." ~Psalm 27:7-10
How is God calling you to speak in your full voice?
What is the "street" that you must cross?
Share a bit of your story? Click here to comment. I'm truly grateful for your voice here.
By Bonnie Gray, the FaithBarista serving up shots of faith for everyday life.
Bonnie Gray is an inspiring Christian writer and blogger, offering encouragement to keep faith fresh in the daily grind. Her writing springs from the belief that the beauty of faith often takes place when life goes off script. Bonnie is the Founder of FaithBarista.com and featured writer for Hallmark subsidiary DaySpring's (in)Courage. Bonnie is currently working on her debut book, to be published by Revell Books. Bonnie is a native Californian living in the heart of Silicon Valley with her best friend Hubby, wrangling their two heaven-sent boys on the homestead.
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Photo credit: browneyes via photobucket.com.