It was the middle of the night and it was pitch black out. The heat was oppressive and all I could hear was the whir of the ceiling fan. I woke up and could barely suck in a shallow breath of air. My chest was constricted and I was having sharp chest pains. A sense of panic came over me. After time, my breathing returned to normal, the chest pain went away and the panicked feeling dissipated. This was my first panic attack of what would be many more to come.
This panic attack didn’t come out of the blue but it was a complete surprise. Without realizing it, I had been experiencing chronic stress. Chronic stress can be defined as the response to emotional pressure suffered over a period of time during which an individual perceives he or she has no control. I was a prime candidate for this.
Our youngest son with additional needs was now seven years old and these needs had placed a tremendous stress on our family. As a husband and dad, I internalized my struggles and what I was feeling because I didn’t want to place more weight on Sarah. On top of our son’s additional needs, during the previous year I had 5 surgeries and was on bedrest off and on for 10 months. The final straw was working with refugees in a refugee camp in South Sudan. My body had reached a point where something had to give. It could not just keep pushing forward. On my way home, lying under a mosquito net on a cot in Juba, South Sudan I experienced my first panic attack.
I have since gone on to get the help I needed. I have prioritized making sure I am getting the right nutrition and am taking breaks periodically. These things have allowed my body to recover to the point that I no longer experience panic attacks.
Often, we, as parents of children with additional needs, just keep pushing on. We just take one more step and focus on getting through that next minute. This becomes our new normal and before we know it, years have gone by…step by step and without a break.
Our bodies can only live under constant stress for so long. After time, something will give. Some of you may find yourself in this state of brokenness right now. Maybe you are struggling with depression or doubts about God. Maybe you find yourself dealing with one of the many health issues that can result from chronic stress. I want to encourage you. This does not mean that you are a weak person. It does not mean that you are somehow “less than”. It simply means you are human.
God sees your brokenness. He knows your pain. He gets it like no one else can. When it feels like you are alone, He is with you. He will use your brokenness.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.”
~ 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)