The ninety-minute drive home from my in-law’s was a peaceful one. It was nearly fourteen years ago and we’d spent the whole day at Jeremy’s boyhood home with his parents and were headed back into town to our apartment in the city. The sky was dark and the air cold as our six month and two year-old boys snoozed in the backseat.
Finally some peace. No one to take care of but ourselves.
Earlier that day, just as we were pulling up for our visit, I felt some achy and tingly sensations up my left arm and shoulder. It startled me and took several minutes to subside. I rubbed my arm up and down the way midwives and nurses rub a newborn’s back to encourage them to take that first breath, hoping a little movement would make whatever was going on in there vanish.
I knew the warning signs of a heart attack. Probably from posters at the doctor’s office. Pain up the left arm can be a valuable warning sign. But it can also be nothing. Or a back that needs adjusting. Or a wrist that was tweaked. Or any number of things.
I also knew I shouldn’t freak out. So I didn’t. I just enjoyed our stay while the achy, tingly sensation stayed away.
By the time we were loading up the car and starting our drive, I’d forgotten all about my arm and the looming possibility of a heart attack. Even if the possibility was only in my head.
Right as the city lights came near and we were close to home, it felt like someone had reached both their hands inside my chest and firmly squeezed my heart two times. BOMP… BOMP.
I gasped and reached for the dash as my body went cold and Jeremy pulled the car over. Ice raced from my core to my extremities and I could feel myself getting faint. The only thing I could think of was getting to a hospital, which at this point was just a few minutes away.
I was going into shock. It was terrifying. With my baby boys asleep in their car seats, I grieved the fact that if this was my time to go, I’d never get to see their faces again to say goodbye. Waking them up was out of the question, since who would ever think it was a good idea to add two crying babies to the already stressful mix.
I was sure it was a heart attack. I was only twenty-five — this couldn’t be happening.
At the hospital, they swooped me back to a room taking my blood and vitals. My blood pressure was through the roof and I was white as a sheet but was feeling better by the minute.
They performed an EKG, which found no evidence of a heart episode or attack. This news found me greatly relieved, but also dumbfounded. Then what in the world had just happened to me?
As a child, my heart used to skip a beat and then beat a little harder after the missed beat. It always took my breath away, but the doctors weren’t concerned. They may not have thought it was any big deal, but tucked into the back of my mind, I’d always been mindful of my faulty heart.
I grew out of the skipped beats as a teenager and stopped thinking about my heart at all.
Fast forward several years and here I was worried about it again. A few hours later, I was checked out of the hospital and tucked in my bed at home praying it wouldn’t happen again. Subconsciously, I carefully logged every beat as I drifted off to sleep.
I felt fine in the days following, but they referred me to a cardiologist. Because of course they did.
The doctor did all of his tests. Stethoscope. Fingers on wrist. Blood pressure cuff. He looked over the tests run at the hospital that night.
After I got dressed, he came back into the room and sat across from me at a table. I was eager to hear what was wrong with me. At least I’d have answers even if I didn’t like them.
What he said was not what I expected — he said I’d had a panic attack.
Truth be told, I’d heard of panic attacks, but thought they were episodes that panicky and nervous people had when they were freaking out about something. I pictured a person frantically running around in a frenzy, freaking out about who knows what. This wasn’t me. I was an easy-going person with a trusting nature.
I don’t panic.
I argued with him about it for a minute telling him that I’m not that sort of personality. He gave me some things to read (as they do) and sent me on my way. I left shaking my head, slightly annoyed that we’d just paid money for that.
What did I do when I got home? You bet. I looked it up online.
Hmm. Why didn’t he tell me panic attacks result in real-life physiological symptoms? Why didn’t he tell me they can be involuntary? That would have helped. I was baffled as I went down the list of symptoms. Check. Check. Check-check.
I pretty much had them all.
So it WAS a panic attack. But why?
A few years later, after several more bouts of heart palpitations and anxiety attacks and generally feeling extremely run-down and sick after my fourth baby, I literally thought I was going to die. I was a mess for an entire year. I was on the couch every night when Jeremy got home from work. So sick. So fatigued. So painful. So dizzy. So blurry. So frustrated. I ended up finding out I had a severe vitamin deficiency and another health issue on top of it.
I received the help I needed from my practitioner and felt reasonably better. But at times, even to this day, anxiety manifests itself in unexpected physical ways. When my heart is happy, it will appear. When my body hurts, it will appear. When all is well and good, it still appears. It’s not any every day, every month, or even always an every year reality, but still it looms in the background.
Do you ever feel like your body is one big science project? Couple this issue with the physical results of a major car accident I walked away from in my teens, I sometimes feel like one giant mess.
What do we do with this? After speaking to many women about physical and mental ailments through the years, I know I’m not alone.
How do we make all of this hardship fit into what we know is God’s goodness to us? Even this. Even anything He allows to manifest in our lives.
How do we continue to do everyday life when unexpected physical manifestations hold us back? I haven’t figured this out all the way. I have so much to learn, and so much room left to grow. But I do know God desires us to rest. To let His peace dwell among us without our troubles taking up every square inch of our thoughts.
Jesus didn’t say His peace will settle around us only when we’re feeling great, He said it’s available whenever. Present always. In any circumstance.
In John 14:27, Jesus is speaking to His disciples in the Upper Room before His betrayal helping them understand what life will look like after He leaves the earth, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
He has left His Spirit with us. We can rest because He knows. He’s here. Nothing is unexpected with Him. We are not some science project He’s figuring out. Can we rest in that? Will we rest in that?
You are loved, not forgotten, and prayed for. How about we pray these words together:
Father, we come to you today as a group of women trusting you with our lives.
With our health. With our families. With our work and our callings.
We don’t want anxiety or other physical ailments to be in charge of our emotions and our peace. We praise you for making us wonderfully for your purposes. May we walk boldly in them trusting you are holding us.
May we love and desire your good gifts even in this season. We receive all you have for us, even in pain. We love you. Thank you for your beautiful work on our behalf. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.