I like to think of myself as a manly man. You know, beer, motorcycles, outdoors, baseball, rock, flag, and eagle (if you know, you know).
When I look in the mirror, I see Johnny Bravo. When I look at photos of myself, I see Gaston from Beauty and the Beast - err, I mean, you know, all the good qualities. Not like in the rude, egotistical kind of way…
Never would I have imagined that I could be one to struggle with…(glances around…says in a whisper)…panic attacks.
Yep, that was most of my life growing up - and eventually, enough was enough. After historically dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, I found help, and I could navigate that part of my life in a way I never imagined I could. I even figured, “Okay, just a bump in the road of life. I have that part hacked and dealt with; time to move on.
But then, this cultural phenomenon came along. His name?
After diving into the culturally-sweeping-sports-comedy-drama show full force, I came across one episode in particular that struck up some distant feelings and made me question a lot about my mental health progress. Something I thought I had put aside and dealt with had crept back up, and the paranoid thoughts began to flood in.
Had I actually “dealt” with my anxiety and depression? Was I just burying it? Am I back to square one?
The experience and what I discovered it meant were not exactly what I wanted. However, in the end, it was actually an incredibly healthy discovery. Through it all, I found myself in a better place and with closer unity with God.
More on that in a moment.
Trigger Warning Approaching. I will be diving into my panic attacks in the following paragraphs. No shame to stop reading
For context - there was always some awareness of my anxiety as a kid. It was really hard to articulate, and I didn’t understand it, but I had a weird sense that it was there. It wasn’t until I was 18 that my untreated anxiety, depression, and OCD “cocktail” became clear.
Even today, seventeen years after that first panic attack, I can remember my feelings. My body got warm, there was a pain in my chest, and my mind immediately started racing. I was having tunnel vision, all while the sound around me resonated like I was at the bottom of a pool. And this would happen on and off again - never really at a time that would make sense, either. No rhyme or reason. One time in particular, it was so severe, I thought it was a heart attack. I even had my wife take me to the hospital.
After that hospital visit, I started seeking out real help. I began to go to therapy regularly. I started taking medication. I began to be more vocal and open about my experience and struggles. It was a weird and kind of painful time. I began to put names to feelings and emotions that I had my whole life. I met others who had the same kind of struggles.
I was 23 years old when I made these discoveries. And quickly after, life moved on. I got married that year, we bought a house, and started having kids. As the years carried on, I was able to manage and maintain a good sense of mental health to the point where it had just become second nature. I wasn’t having panic attacks, and honestly, it felt like that part of my life was behind me. As I said earlier, I had gotten everything “figured out.”
Fast forward twelve years to this year. Life is busy. Because of that, I do not watch much TV, despite my wife asking me to dive into a show together. But she gave a hard sell for Ted Lasso, and I caved.
So there I was, several nights in a row, laughing at the poetic way Ted (played by Jason Sudeikis) could string together thoughts and pithy responses to his newly acquired futbol team. I was really enjoying it. The dialogue was such a fresh approach to a show I had seen in a long time.
But it all changed (for me) during the seventh episode of season one.
Lasso and his team are at a nightclub celebrating a victory. At this moment, Ted slowly starts to have some odd things happen to him. You start to see his hands ball up. A slow but gradual ringing starts to occur, and you even begin to see his view become tunneled.
Without knowing exactly what was happening, I audibly said: “Oh, is he having a panic attack?” I was half joking and being light-hearted. The scene was such a hard left turn from its typical program. As the scene unfolded, it became very clear that he was, in fact, having a panic attack.
I watched the rest of the episode and didn’t think much about it. Even when I proceeded to have one of the worst nights of sleep of my life, I didn’t think much of it.
Over the next couple of days, though, I started having feelings creep up that I hadn’t felt in twelve years. In previous times, leading up to a panic attack, I could begin to gauge that it was going to happen. Days or hours before, I could tell I was heading towards one. These were the same feelings I started having again. And I was terrified.
How could this happen? A TV show evoking a panic attack? That doesn’t make sense.
After watching that episode, it was a really tough couple of weeks. So much so that I brought it to a group of guys I meet with on Friday mornings. It was hard to articulate, but I talked it out, much like I am writing it here. One of my friends threw out the acronym: PTSD.
Now, he’s no psychiatrist - but it had me thinking. Post-traumatic stress? From a silly and supposedly “heart-warming” TV show? I thought that acronym was reserved for war veterans. Was the act of watching a television episode able to trigger my brain into thinking about some subconscious memories and evoking a panic attack? Haven’t I already dealt with this? I had thought that this whole anxiety thing had already been fixed and buttoned up, and I was incredibly discouraged and worried.
How can I struggle with this? I have a young family. A wife. A job. Coworkers that I love. Am I unfit to do this work? How can I lead a household?
I thought about a friend of mine in Charles Spurgeon (Okay, I just really wish we were friends). He was an amazing man of God and an intellectual powerhouse of theology in the 19th century. And yet, amidst his work, he had deep struggles with mental health for almost all of his life. In a lot of his excerpts, he talks in-depth about his mental health and, all the while, gives a glimmer of hope:
“Almost every year I’ve been laid aside for a season, for flesh and blood cannot bear the strain, at least such flesh and blood as mine. I believe, however, the affliction was necessary to me and has answered salutary ends.” - Charles Spurgeon.
What I came to realize for myself is that when it comes to mental health, it really can be a lifelong journey. There is no perfect, everlasting antidote. Gulp.
That is a tough pill to swallow. Whether it’s a mistake we are struggling to overcome, the abuse we want healed from, or a relationship we want to forget - we want the one-stop pill that will cure everything. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I thought I had already taken and was done and healed up from everything that was “holding me back” from really getting on with life.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that’s not how life works.
And I don’t believe that’s how God works. Yes, I believe God wants good things for us, but I also believe he is more concerned with us knowing him (John 17:3) than all of our immediate problems being fixed.
In a sermon I recently listened to, I was rocked by one line from the teacher, Matt Chandler: “Through attrition and problems we face, we can go two directions: Either spiral and sink deeper into the feelings we have, or, face it head on, be observant and learn along the way, and allow God to use that win to prepare us for the next battle or to help others. And, the more this happens, the closer we grow to Him.”
Through this latest experience, I was reminded of a few things:
One: Mental Health can be a lifelong battle.
As easy of a reminder this is, it is as easy to forget it. I once thought that this was behind me. I had new challenges to think about, a new marriage, a house, a kid(s,s,s). My focus quickly shifted from myself to others. I neglected what I needed to do for myself for so long. And that is a real struggle for me. It takes subtle reminders from my wife and friends that “a healthier YOU only benefits those you love.”
Mental health is ongoing. And that takes time to wrestle with. Wrestle with it. Much like Paul in his account in 2 Corinthians struggling with a “thorn” in his side (which we don’t know what that is, but it could mean a variety of internal struggles).
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
So I ask - why do I have a thorn in my side? Can God heal me of this? Time will tell how much healing can happen, but Paul chooses to trust whether or not his thorn is removed, God is good, and he can find peace. Which leads me to…
Two: God is Good.
He is. I believe it. I wonder, at times, if my life was ‘perfect,’ would I still rely on God? If I had the perfect support system around me, all the money in the world, and all the trinkets and motorcycles that my heart could desire - would I still call him good? Would I ultimately lean on him for support? Would I need to?
The reality is I don’t have those things. Not even one of those things. And therefore, I have to rely on God and his goodness. And further, I have learned of His goodness. I’m thankful for the people and things in my life. And if you believe me, I am thankful for the struggles I have and carry. It is like Paul reminds us, once again:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Three: Knowing All This, We Can Take Action
So what now? Do we just say, “Trust God, and all your problems will be fixed!” I don’t think so. I believe we can move forward with practical steps of healing, all the while keeping in mind Paul’s words about being content no matter the circumstance.
That being said, what do people like us do to stay healthy mentally and continue to sharpen ourselves? Here is what I have learned to do in the past and am implementing again today:
1) Pray, meditate on scripture, and talk to God.
It is such a simple reminder that has such everlasting power. He is our ultimate therapist, helper, provider, and comforter. I try to remember what Jesus said:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
2) Be open and honest about your struggles.
With yourself and with others. Being honest with yourself can feel scarier than it really is. When I hear advice like this, I think, “Well, duh!” But take it seriously. In this recent struggle with Ted Lasso, it wasn’t until I said, “I think this is triggering a panic attack,” that I started feeling physically and mentally better.
Vocalizing these struggles is very important. Also, talk to others that you are close to. In my example, talking to my wife and friends in my bible study helped me communicate my struggles more clearly for myself and opened the door to people who actually love and care about me.
3) Seek professional help.
This can be many things, a therapist, medical doctor, listening appointments, etc. For me and others I know who struggle like this, not ONE thing will help overcome mental illness. It was explained to me by my therapist like this: “If you are trying to lose weight, physical exercise can’t be the only change you make. You also need to start eating correctly. The combination of multiple practices is what leads to success in this area.”
It took something humorous like Ted Lasso to remind me that I may never have life completely “figured out.” And it was painful. It might still be painful. However, I pray for a tough callus to form through these struggles. I am reminded that God is still doing a good thing in me; he is continuing to move. Ultimately I know that the right path forward means tackling pain head-on versus numbing myself to it every day of the week.
And I can be weak and wrestle with these mental health struggles, so long as it is in Him.
Disclaimer: This article is 100% human-generated.