At the moment I stood there in line. However, it was taking everything within me to keep from running out of the theatre. My heart felt like it was about to jump out of my chest and my breathing began to syncopate to a short and shallow rhythm. I tried to focus my thoughts on something else, but I was not successful. The swarms of people standing and moving through the concession lines infiltrated my senses, like a flood, quickly becoming a sensory overload. I felt as if I was losing control and I was powerless to this alien take-over. In my mind, I knew that this feeling was familiar. However, I hadn’t experienced anything like it for quite some time. Furthermore, I hadn’t experienced something like this in a public setting before. I knew that I was moments away from a full-blown panic attack. I hadn’t prepared for this. It hit me like an unexpected sucker-punch. As I reacted to the stimuli, I sent silent screams throughout my body. Nevertheless, no one could hear them but me. I wanted to put an end to this experience, but all I could do in this moment was breathe, and savor each breath as if it were the last.
It was Friday night, and all I wanted was to catch a movie with my wife. After a busy week at work, we both felt like we owed it to ourselves to grab some dinner, relax, and watch a flick. We had made plans to catch the 7:15 showing of Ocean’s 8. It had been a while since we had a date night and I eagerly looked forward to spend this time with my wife.
We arrived at our favorite outdoor-mall and went straight to the food court. She ordered her usual slice-of-pepperoni-pizza while I feasted on a gyro pita. Although the summer heat in Phoenix was intense, we settled on sitting outside to enjoy the company of each other. After dinner, we walked to the theater, purchased our tickets, and went in to grab a seat. As my wife proceeded to find us a spot, I offered to go and buy her some popcorn (which is her favorite). As I walked towards the concession stands I noticed that the lines were busier than usual. At first I wasn’t alarmed, so I got into one of the long lines and began to wait for my turn. However, as I waited, I began to hear the sounds of those around me. Some were laughing and obviously enjoying their time. Others argued and were rude with each other. Some were loud, some were soft, but what was most noticeable, was the amount of them. As I listened to them, I felt my blood pressure rising as the room seemed to spin around me. The second that I was able to complete my purchase, I rushed back to the seat that my wife had reserved for me. As I sat there, I took a deep breaths and tried to focus my thoughts elsewhere.
Earlier that morning, I had spent time listening to a guided meditation that was based on John 14:27. This specific meditation guided the listener in imagining what the peace of God would look like if he, or she, truly embraced it as truth. As I sat in the dark theatre, I continued my deep breathing and began to imagine the peace of God coming in and taking the anxiety away from me. In my mind I repeated the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)”
Thankfully, the dark shadow that attempted to overcome me did not linger. Although, this experience gave me a good jolt, I was still able to recover prior to the start of the movie and enjoy the rest of the night. However, I feel as if this experience caused me to reflect on few truths that I hadn’t thought about for a while. I’ll share them with you below.
The taste of victory does not mean that I will never have to face battle again.
Anxiety is a hideous beast that I’ve previously overcome. Prior this episode, I hadn’t had a full-blown anxiety attack for years. Somehow, this one snuck into my peaceful existence and created quite a disruption. As ugly as this monster was, I am grateful for the lesson that it brought along with it. It reminded me that I am not exempt from the woes of this life. In fact, I should expect previously conquered obstacles, that I’ve written off as dead, to try and resurrect themselves from time to time….. and when they do I need to remain determined to put up a fight.
Uncomfortable moments do not have to define my life.
As a young adult I was worried that my life would carry the label of a person with an anxiety disorder. Today I recognize that although I might experience anxiety from time to time, I am not an anxiety attack myself. I refuse to allow this beast, or anything else that I face, to define who I am as a person. I have the mindset that each day, that I face, will present challenges of its own. Knowing that, I choose to present myself before this world as a warrior, a child of great King, and as a child of God. I refuse to be defeated.
I don’t have to surrender to unhealthy patterns of behavior when faced with stress.
I’ve previously shared with you how my life, at one time, had turned into a bundle of unhealthy coping skills. My choices eventually led to a separation between my wife and I. During that time, I had to make a decision to work on the areas of my life that had spun out of control, or face losing my marriage. What seemed to be the darkest season of my life became a divine platform to prepare me to live life to the fullest. This “new life” is one that is lived in a conscious decision to acknowledge my identity as a child of God and live in commitment to love Him and to love others. (Flash back to who I was five years ago… I would have laughed in your face if you would have recommended deep breathing and guided scripture mediation. [I’m grateful for the trials that have shaped me to who I am today])
I am no longer a prisoner to shame.
So I had an anxiety attack. It was real, it was ugly, but it’s over now. Right now in this moment (as I’m writing) I am in a state of joy and peace. In times past, I would have felt shame having to explain to someone that I was experiencing anxiety. During this recent debacle I had to tell my wife what was happening. It caught her off-guard. I’m not sure she understood what was happening right away. However, it wasn’t my responsibility to bring her to an understanding. My responsibility was to treat myself with the care I needed to get through my tempest. Afterwards, I was able to talk about it with her in depth. However, my conversation was not one of shame. My conversation was one of someone who experienced victory for the thousandth time. I assured her that this struggle will probably resurface in the future.… and when it does, I will be ready to fight it with the tenacity that accompanies a person who has won many wars.
John Eli Garay
John Eli is a transformational life coach who has spent over 15 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, any negative self-talk that keeps them from living life to the fullest. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”
To schedule a coaching session with John Eli click here.