Seeking Truth and Wisdom in Mental Illness

This may sound completely bonkers, but I believe my panic attacks were a message and a gift from my Soul self to my Human self. My panic attacks provided a map to the buried pain and suffering that I had unknowingly been rooted in for most of my life. My panic attacks forced me to see truthfully and set the setting for deep understanding. Perhaps most importantly, my panic attacks have given me the opportunity to transmute my pain and suffering into something that serves.

No longer do I have to live as if I am fighting to survive. No longer do I have to rely on various coping mechanisms to convince myself that I am okay when I am not. No longer do I live in a state of D E N I A L, where I Don’t Even Notice I ALying. There used to be such a disconnect between what was deep inside me and what I was consciously aware of. Unbeknownst to me, it was as if I was living the lives of two different people. There was a hidden inner world — hidden even from myself — and a composed, curated outer one.

Who I am now looks a lot messier and having a clearer understanding of the workings of my own mind is often uncomfortable, but I choose and will continue to choose real and true over picture perfect impossibility.

My anxiety was a gift in that it gave me an instantaneous implosion of compassion and empathy for my mother and for others living with mental illness.

I have always struggled to understand how she could want to hurt herself when she has a family, but I never thought that she was evil. I have always understood that she was not well. I could not make sense of what she did, but mostly I was sad and wished it could be different. I was not angry. I had compassion for her. I forgave her for what she put us through. I knew that on her Soul level, she did not want to be the way she was.

But I never really got it. Not until I was caught in my own spiral of debilitating, irrational, afraid-for-my-life anxiety.

During the height of my panic period, I had this thought: If I was going to have to live in this state for the rest of my life, I didn’t think I could do it. I considered a future of several decades, God-willing, and as I thought about waking up day after day for several decades feeling like THIS, it felt overwhelmingly dreadful and impossible.

That’s when I understood. I understood how my mom could do what she did. I understood how much pain she must have been in to get to that point. She had tried so many things to recover or to just feel a bit of relief, and it all failed her. Medication failed. Advice to do xyz failed. Religion failed.

It wasn’t about sad feelings. It was about hopelessness. It was about never feeling safe and at ease within herself.

My mother was dealt an extremely unfortunate hand as far as her mental and emotional health. And she did the best that she could. In fact, maybe she’s done really well, considering. She did manage to raise my brother and me. Granted we are not without our own wounds, but we are good-hearted people, which is perhaps the greatest lesson parents can teach their children.

I was once terrified that my panic attacks and anxiety were a signal that I was going to go down the same path as my mother. I don’t think that now. I see that it was a gift of deeper understanding and clarity, a light guiding me towards my path.

Image by Ales Me
I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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