Do I have another blood clot in my heart? That’s what it felt like as I quickly threw groceries into my cart at Wal-Mart. I was already frustrated. The day hadn’t gone as planned. It was after 7p.m., on a Saturday evening, and there I was shopping. I was supposed to be resting and preparing my mind for Sunday worship. Before leaving for the store, I had been in a heated exchange with my wife. I had two sermons to preach the next day. I didn’t have time for this. Plus, we were having people over for lunch after services. But whatever “this” was, it felt like it wasn’t going to be going away any time soon.
Why was I having a hard time breathing? Why did my chest feel so heavy? I’m pretty in tune with my body. My face wasn’t hurting the way it was when I had that cardiovascular event (blood clot in my right coronary artery) in 2014.
This was different. Somehow, someway, I had to get home. Thankfully, I did. As I walked in, my wife knew something was wrong. I told her how I felt and that I had to lay down immediately. I believed she correctly diagnosed me. I was having a panic attack. I thought to myself, “I can’t be having a panic attack. I’ve never had one. I’m too strong to have one. I’ve preached in front of hundreds and never experienced one. I’ve sold medicine to physicians for eight years and never had one. I lift heavy at the gym. I’m too strong to have a panic attack.” I was wrong. Those things didn’t matter. I was experiencing something new.
The weight of a new job, financial worries, and an argument with my wife turned out to be pretty heavy stuff. The next morning, I went to services. I still felt “It.” Why couldn’t I shake it? As I sat in Bible class listening to someone else teach, somehow, I was able to garner enough strength to ask one of the brothers who is a physician to come with me to my office. As I sat down to tell him what happened, I began to tear up. Tears came rushing down my face. What is this? I’m known to cry from time to time during a sermon, but this felt different. I thought to myself, “Great, now I’m crying in front of this brother who I’ve only known for a few months.” He was kind, gentle, and patient with me. He checked my blood pressure. It was normal. Everything seemed to be okay. His diagnosis: panic attack. By the grace of God, I preached that morning. I think the sermons actually turned out pretty good.
The feeling slowly subsided in the coming days. I had to force myself to get stuff done. It was a struggle to lift at the gym, but I did. It was a struggle to talk to my wife, but I did. It was a struggle to share what happened to my shepherds at the congregation. But I did. I’m thankful for the gentle hearts, listening ears, and assistance they provided for me.
It’s been over a year since this event happened. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others as well. There is often a perception that a leader has everything put together. I think this is especially the case when it comes to preachers. Being a preacher for the past decade, I have been available to a lot of people. Many have come to me for strength and guidance. I’ve viewed myself as strong and ready to give assistance to others. Many times, I am. But I’m learning, that will not always be the case.
Last year taught me some valuable lessons.
1. Even those who are perceived to be strong will need strength from others.
2. Maybe I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. Looking back, there are things I know I could and should have done differently. I allowed stress to build up, which is never a good thing to do. I have a tendency to hold on to a lot of my feelings.
3. I found a new kind of strength: reaching out to others. I needed strength from others to help me navigate my way through those feelings I was experiencing.
Can you relate to any of this? I’m sure you can! Maybe you’ve experienced a panic attack in the past. It doesn’t mean you’re not strong. It may mean you will need to make some adjustments along the way.
Maybe it’s taking more of your vacation time.
Maybe it’s opening up to others about some of your challenges.
Maybe it’s sharing more of your feelings with your spouse.
Maybe it’s recognizing you may need a different kind of career, for the sake of your health.
Maybe it’s reevaluating what you perceive true strength to look like.
Real strength isn’t measured upon what you can lift in the gym.
Real strength isn’t about what title one may have in their profession.
Real strength is being able to open up and to receive assistance from others. I’m thankful there were people who were there to assist me.
There are people who are willing to assist you as well if you are willing to allow them to.