When an old wound is reopened

Have you ever overcome an obstacle and thought, “I’m SO glad that’s over with!” only to have it unexpectedly rear its ugly head again later?

After my dad passed away in 2017, I began to experience anxiety and panic attacks, a struggle that lasted for nearly 2 years.

When it seemed to be over, I was singing HALLELUJAH, I AM FREEEEE!!!!

On my worst days with anxiety, I could barely leave the couch, stuck in a mental fog of an alarmingly unsafe detachment from reality.

My first panic attack occurred as I began my ascent up the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, an iconic structure connecting St Petersburg, Florida with Sarasota, Florida, after getting the title for my dad’s car.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge – photo from WTSP.com

My heart started beating uncontrollably and I felt weak and dizzy. As soon as I got to the top, I was fine.

I still don’t understand why it happened, but it was enough to instill a fear to drive over ANY bridge, which is extremely inconvenient living on a peninsula.

I began to really distrust my body. I felt like it was working against me.

Why would it spring something so awful on me for no good reason?

Bright lights, hunger, extreme temperatures, and loud noises could trigger anxiety or a panic attack.

It was hard to leave the house because I couldn’t always control my environment. I didn’t want to upset my body and cause it to turn on me.

Eventually I started seeing a therapist.

After months of weekly sessions, I was feeling healthy again.

I slowly learned to trust my body again. To trust myself. To be able to handle it. To stop avoiding situations for fear of a panic attack.

I got my life back. And anxiety was no longer a part of it. Just a distant memory. 

Until last week…

After 6 months of living free from panic attacks, I had one.

What happened?

I recently received news that a friend lost a son close to my age. A parent’s worst nightmare.

I don’t have children of my own, but this trauma struck me deeply, triggering my grief from my dad’s death. 

I couldn’t handle the news. It took me back to a dark place I never wanted to see again.

Driving home from my friend’s house Friday night, as I approached a different bridge, I felt the familiarity of my heart rate increasing.

I did my best to focus on the music, to no relief.

Then I placed my left hand on my right arm, rubbing my skin soothingly, saying “I love you.”

Almost instantly, I felt relief.

My heart rate began to normalize, and soon I was over the bridge, safe and sound, happy to get home, lay in my bed and sleep the residual anxiety away.

Why did this happen? I’ve kept asking myself.

As I reflect back, I’m amazed by how the power of my own touch was so comforting. What a miracle.

And isn’t that after all the basis of my work?

I teach others to love and respect themselves, to know and honor their worth. To prioritize their self-care. To take personal responsibility for their own happiness.

To trust that they can give themselves what they most need.

And that’s exactly what I did. I gave myself a sense of safety in a moment of panic.

I ask again, why did this happen?

As a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve healed.

A reminder of the power I hold within.

A power to care for myself in a way no one else can.

A reminder that I can get through anything, and I will always have ME by my side. I have proven it time and time again, and I will continue to time and time again.

Most importantly, I see this as a message that my body and I are not separate. We are part of the same whole.

The anxiety in my physical body was a sign that I longed to be soothed, and when I listened, I felt comforted.

Within us all there is a child that longs to be loved and comforted, and learning to give that to ourselves with sincere compassion is one of our most precious gifts.

YOUR TURN: How do you respond when an obstacle resurfaces? Can you see it as a reminder of how far you’ve come? Have you ever had a mental or physical health concern that caused you to mistrust your body? How can you be more compassionate with yourself?

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