“I bet you didn’t know that I’m afraid of the dark,” my 5-year-old-going-on-23 informed me. Her manner so matter of fact.
“Me too, sometimes,” I wanted to whisper back. But I didn’t.
Instead, the mommy in me reminded her that suspicious shadows and unexpected creaks weren’t the only thing residing in the darkness. Jesus was there too; she could talk to Him any time.
It isn’t that I don’t want my kids to know that at 35-years-old, I struggle with the dark too; that we aren’t all that different. But this time, the moment didn’t seem to call for it. In the past, it has.
You see, I’m the kind of mom who wants my daughters to see that my glaring imperfections aren’t limited to the moments I’m grumpy or short with them. Just because I’m all grown up doesn’t mean little girl fears don’t plague me too. I want them to realize when they feel afraid, I’m not too old or far removed to understand. They need to know that, just like them, I need a Savior to rescue me – not only from my sin, but also in my weakness.
So, yes, we’ve talked about the dark before.
Yet, when we do, I’m careful to keep it age-appropriate. No, I won’t tell them until they’re older how my fear of the dark was debilitating at times. How I spent a year of my life turning down any girls’ night out that required I drive alone; the very thought of venturing out after dark brought on a panic attack.
The strange thing was, I had no good reason to fear the night. I hadn’t endured any trauma or abuse under its shadow. What I had encountered was a miscarriage. One that had left in its wake severe anxiety and irrational fear. It had intimately reminded me I couldn’t plan and control every aspect of my life; that yes, God would allow tragedy to touch me at times. And that was frightening. It brought with it a constant fear of what might happen next – especially when I couldn’t clearly see all that surrounded me.
At first, the panic attacks came slowly. A pain in the chest. A shortening of breath. Before long, though, they left me unable to walk into a dark room in my own house without panic.
It was a state I simply could not function in. My husband and my daughters needed me. So for two years, I accepted the help of an anti-depressant. As my body adjusted to the meds, the anxiety eased. Suddenly I could breathe again.
Almost a year ago, though, I decided to call it quits. Not because I’m anti-medication; I believe it has a time and a place. It did for me. But because I’d hit a point where I wanted to give life a go without it.
After I said goodbye to the pills, the panic attacks began welling up within me again. A bit more often too. They weren’t at the level I’d experienced a few years earlier, but they were certainly strong enough to get my attention. Normally they came in those moments I felt the most out of control. In a large crowd of people where I couldn’t quickly and easily do a count of my kids. Or when someone swiped our credit card number and ran up $13,000 in charges in two days. Yeah, that really happened.
It was obvious I needed a plan. I needed a way to prepare for the fear when it came. I decided to come up with my own three-step “program” for when panic attacks.
1. Talk to Him
The wisdom I offer my 5-year-old is also mine for the taking. Remember how I told my daughter that Jesus was there with her in the dark? Well, He’s with me when the panic invades too, ready and willing to help. I just need to call on Him. Most of the time, my cry is simple. A “Jesus, help me, calm me” goes far. I’ve learned that if there’s anything fear is afraid of, it’s Him.
2. Talk to Myself
Once I’ve talked to Him, I talk to myself. Not just any words, but words of truth. I’ve found that memorizing Scripture passages such as Psalm 34:4-10 minister faith – the opposite of fear – to me. In these verses, David reminds me that it benefits me to take refuge in the Lord, especially when difficulty comes.
3. Talk to Others
When I’m hit with an attack, I often call my husband or a close friend. Just as I offer words of comfort to my 5-year-old, they also speak similar words to me. They remind me I’m not alone. And they help turn my attention to the Lord and away from the fear. They walk beside me and encourage me to rely on Him.
I hope my daughter outgrows her fear of the dark long before she’s 35. I’m confident that, unlike me, she won’t carry it into adulthood. But I find solace in knowing my current struggle is one I can use to encourage her in the here and now. That I can wrap her in a blanket of comfort, one knitted through my own scary times.
Ashleigh Slater (www.ashleighslater.com) is the founder and editor of Ungrind, and a regular contributor at Start Marriage Right. Her writing has appeared in print and online in publications including Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family, Marriage Partnership, and MomSense. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can follow her on Twitter @ashslater.