I met Kate when I visited Galati, Romania a few months before I moved there eight years ago. Her warmth and kindness have long lasted in my memory as has her integrity in all areas of her life. I welcome her words here today.
I’ve always experienced anxiety as personified. But somehow, she’s developed into someone more over the past year or so. An uninvited, shadowy other, standing close behind me but never beside or in front of me. I have a feeling she’s hiding her face so I can’t identify her clearly in a line-up when needed.
Only recently have I begun to learn that it might be okay for me to have human emotions. It also might be okay that I express those emotions outside of myself at times. Sounds like a simple truth, huh? Yet, it’s one of the most difficult lessons I’ve encountered.
You know… I’m a therapist. Every day I give others permission to grieve, to revel in joy, to speak authentically. I rarely give myself that permission. I’ve been called strong, brave, and confident my entire life. All of those things are true about me. It’s also true that I am heartbroken easily, cowardly in the face of conflict, and so incredibly dependent on others for self-worth.
Recently, I have begun to embrace gratitude for what I feel rather than briskly walking away from it all. Within my slow crawl toward emotional acceptance, a crack in my core is beginning to grow larger. Even I am surprised at what’s being birthed from that soul-opening. There are things about me I’ve never taken the time to learn.
I had my first panic attack about eight years ago on an airplane heading toward Romania where I lived for several months. I sat beside a teammate and thought I would die on that plane… alone. My teammate was sleeping and I dared not wake her merely because my heart was beating out of my chest, waiting to explode. My pain wasn’t valid compared to her needs. Fear made convenient decisions on my behalf so I didn't have to be honest.
My second panic attack was about a year ago. I was on top of a mountain, 45-minutes out of cell phone range, and in my car… alone. I pulled over to the side of the road, terrified and fighting desperately for breath.
Instead of dealing with the aftermath in isolation, I trusted my housemates. It took all the strength I could muster, but I did it. I decided my personhood was significant enough to talk about over supper. Consequently, I was loved. I was given space and time to speak about what may have caused anxiety to enter my life again.
That’s precisely where hope began.
Honesty is a daily pursuit. I’ve had a few more panic attacks within the past year. I’ve also talked about each one with my housemates, welcoming the wound-healing grace honesty has provided our home. Because I’ve learned, over and over again, that it’s worth it.
Anxiety may have initially been an uninvited guest. For now, however, she is welcomed. She is educating me in humanness. I am prayerful. I am hopeful. I am broken. But, I am no longer alone.
Kate Gilliard is an in-home therapist for children and their families, living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She’s created home with four of her dearest friends in a 130-year-old house at the base of Lookout Mountain. She enjoys talking to the three turtles in their backyard fountain, spending time with older friends in water aerobics class, and eating breakfast food for every meal possible.