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There is a light that never goes out

Last night I was on the grips of one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced in my life. You see, I have these irrational fears that visit me from time to time, usually at night. It varies slightly depending on the trigger, but the end result is the same: I lie on my bed, scared, heart pounding, convinced that I’m about to die from a heart attack.

It’s very difficult for me to admit this to anyone. Such is the stigma of mental health issues that I find myself brushing this under the rug and treating it like a joke when its probably (actually) a legitimate problem. At the moment, its not debilitating enough to affect my activities of daily living. I can still talk myself down from the ledge that my fears bring me to. Usually I just need someone to tell me how ridiculous I’m being.

But I am well aware that there is a line I might cross and never be able to get back from if I don’t start dealing with my issues.

For whatever reason, the fear of death has haunted me for most of my adult life. It is one of the driving forces of everything that I do, whether I’m conscious of it or not. I guess the fear fits in with my personality. I don’t like uncertainties, I loathe the idea of something being unknown to me, and I absolutely detest not being fully in control. There is nothing more uncertain, more unknown or more out of our control than death.

I have issues. I’m ashamed to say that I’m very ashamed to admit that out loud, to admit that – as well-adjusted as I am most of the time – there is a part of my brain that doesn’t work as it should, that triggers that helpless, hopeless feeling that life as I know it is about to end. I’m still trying to come to grips with the reality of living with this, and how I might get help.

When it comes to mental health, the journey is individual. Different things work for different people. Even with medications: no two patients will react in the exact same way to a drug. We all have to do and stick with what works for us. So what works for me? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Running has helped me immensely. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am that I built up this habit of running in the morning before work. Sometimes I think its the one thing that’s keeping me sane.

Talking to people about it, being able to open up about my anxieties, and not being judged for it – this helps too. I found out during my panic attack that there are people who will literally drop everything to come keep me company just because I said I was feeling scared. You find out very quickly who your true friends are when you reveal some of the worst parts of yourself.

Lastly, today I voluntarily went to church for the first time in a long long while. It was to keep a promise I made last night, when I was gripping the rosary so tight praying to God that I make it through the night. As we grow older it becomes harder and harder to believe some of the beliefs that seemed so infallible and irrefutable when we were younger: like answered prayers, heaven and life ever after. Being part of the medical community, and being friends with people who don’t share my faith and where I’m constantly being asked to explain the LOGIC of the Catholic religion probably did not help, although I wish to apportion the majority of the blame for my lost faith where it rightly belongs: with me.

There is no logic to faith, that’s why we refer to it as a leap of faith, rather than a series of scientific steps. If faith can be explained, it would be called another name. There is no reasonable explanation as to why praying ten Hail Mary’s while gripping scented beads bring me immeasurable comfort when I’m scared. All I know is that it does.

So today I went to church and just prayed and talked to God the way I would talk to myself. I asked for guidance, and I asked for strength. Mostly I asked Him to help me find my faith again, to help me believe that there is a life waiting for me on the other side of this where I could be with my family and loved ones forever. I know there’s no proof that heaven exists. But there is also no proof that it doesn’t.

I got up after praying and noticed a light in the corner of the church for people to draw from if they want to light candles. Its a flame that is being kept alive so that people who need just a little bit more hope than usual can see it and know that there is a light that never goes out, and that light is called faith.

I keep you all in my prayers, and I hope you keep me in yours.