A note from Diana: The below is an excerpt from my book, Don't Just Deal: Going from Surviving to Thriving When Everything Changes. It is Day 7 of the 30-day devotional written for those of us who are enduring change, have endured change or will endure change. Basically, it's for all of us. You can read more about the heart behind Don't Just Dealhereor you can buy your copy on Amazon here.
I met my sweet husband, Tyler, on a blind date in Charlotte almost a year after my college relationship ended.
After dating for a year and a half, Tyler proposed to me on Thanksgiving Day. We watched the Thanksgiving Day parade with his mom and then showered and got ready for the day. Before heading to his grandparents’ house for dinner and games, he drove me to nearby Lake Chatuge – a beautiful lake rimmed by the Great Smoky Mountains. He held my hand as we walked over to the spillway, got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. It was the same exact spot where his dad proposed to his mom some 30-years earlier and everything about the way he asked was sincere, romantic and positively perfect.
We knew we wanted a relatively short engagement, so we set the date for May 20thand gave ourselves six months to prepare for our big day. About halfway through our engagement we were celebrating my 27thbirthday when I was confronted with how notin control I was.
We’d just pulled into my apartment’s parking lot when I started to feel a little bit off. My heart was racing, my stomach was uneasy and I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. We walked into my apartment and I excused myself upstairs to my room to change.
Before I knew it – I was having a full-fledged panic attack.
My heart now felt like it was going to thump into my throat and cause me to throw up.
I wanted to sit and stand and lay down and run a marathon all at once.
I kept fluttering between crying and not being able to produce words because I could hardly breathe.
It felt like this panic attack came out of the clear blue skies – but looking back, I can see how life really was kind of a “perfect storm” in that season.
Meticulously planning a wedding in less than six months. Tension in my relationship with my older sister. Preparing for marriage and trying to learn how to be a wife. Work pressures mounting atop a crazy travel schedule and a gargantuan annual event for which I felt almost solely responsible.
In a season I’d always thought would be filled with joyous anticipation, I started to find myself filled with dread.
The anxiety I was dealing with took on a life of its own and I quickly began to spiral out of control. What I thought was an isolated incident was actually a launch pad into a 10-month battle with a diagnosed anxiety and panic disorder. Our wedding landed in month 3 of this struggle – and to this day – it hurts to admit that I felt a bit of dread on our wedding day.
Let me explain.
Despite the many clinical definitions of anxiety – mine was simply this: The mind’s uncanny ability to transform any fear – no matter how far off or how irrational – into a very real and threatening reality. For me, these fears were both in the distant future and distant past – fears of what was to come and fears of who I was. It even reached a point of being as cyclical as the fear of feeling fear.
I could not reason with my anxious thoughts because they operated outside of any logic. For example, during this season, I could acknowledge, believe and knowsomething as 100% truth and anxiety could latch onto it and coax my mind into poking holes in it. Eventually, I was tempted to believe the exact opposite of what was true.
This particular breed of anxiety didn’t care about statistics or odds, it did not take the reality, facts or figures of a situation. It made its own assumptions and lived life defining its own story, its own reality.
Eventually, the constant anxiety led to regular panic attacks (like the one that happened on my birthday) that would interrupt every aspect of my life.
I would physically shake.
I would gag and feel like I was going to vomit.
I couldn’t eat anything and survived on meal replacement shakes because they were the only things I could stomach.
I wasn’t sleeping.
I almost always felt dizzy and like I could pass out.
I had chest pains.
I couldn’t travel or be alone.
I could barely leave the house.
I began building a “safe place” for myself by cutting people off and attempting to control what I could. I told my boss I couldn’t travel anymore and he graciously obliged. I would stop meeting people for lunches or dinners because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat. I begged Tyler to stay at my place as late as he could – often asking him to spend the night in the guest room.
Anxiety and panic ganged up on me and tried to convince me that more control would bring me the peace I so desperately wanted.
I listened to it. And I isolated myself.
Two weeks before our wedding, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was at what I thought was rock bottom. I was crying in my bedroom when Tyler came over. I confessed how I was dreading our wedding day because I was absolutely terrified of having a panic attack and ruining what we had both been looking forward to for a long, long time. I was so scared that I would crumble under the sheer stress and natural nerves that would present themselves on that day.
Trying to control everything (see above) wasn’t working. I began to realize that feeling like I needed to control everything played a huge part in what landed me in this cycle of anxiety.
And when I didn’t know how to break it and when I didn’t know where to begin surrendering my “control”, I began to panic even more.
You see, the illusion of control is perhaps one of the most damaging lies we are fed as Christians. Particularly Christian women. The world will tell you that having your ducks in a row and having a plan and being Type A is the preferred (or only) way to live life, but hear this:
You are not in control. You never have been and you never will be. More control does notequate to more peace. In fact, the more we try and grab at control – the more we begin to obsess over having things figured out and neatly planned – the more opportunity the enemy has to pile stress and anxiety on your plate.
The good news? We know the One who is in control. And He is worthy of all our trust.
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9
KICK AROUND QUESTIONS
Do you struggle with the need to be in control? If yes, how does the need to be in control manifest itself in your life?
Why do you think we believe the lie that the more control we have, the more peace we will have? How can we combat that lie with truth?
Chat with God about some of the ways you’ve clung for control in your own life. If you’re feeling extra bold, as you pray, place your open hands on your lap with your palms facing up to the ceiling. Tell God, with your words and your posture, that you trust Him, that you surrender the reins to Him – and then thank Him for being the One in control.