I woke up one morning, five weeks after my retina surgery. I groggily stumbled into my bathroom and fumbled for the light. I had to start the process of taking my meds, but I was in no mood to open my eyes. Mornings since my surgery had been rough— fatigue which made it feel like I hadn’t slept at all, blurred vision, sometimes a mild headache, and anxiety.
Yes, anxiety. Why did I feel anxious first thing in the morning? I can’t tell you why this happened day after day, but I think it might have had something to do with my experience on the first morning after the surgery. I woke up disoriented, my eye patched by a cumbersome metal shield. For a moment, I was confused until it all came back to me. I didn’t experience anxiety at the realization that my vision was limited; it was more related to the fact that the day ahead was largely unknown. I had no idea if I would be able to take my own meds, move around the house without sunglasses in place, be able to read anything other than an audio book, or eat without making a huge mess. My healing process was steady and stable, but I was impatient with my limited activity level. Thus, every morning upon awaking, I would be slammed with the reminder that I was still recovering and that my prognosis was mostly unknown.
So that morning when I stumbled into my bathroom, I was tired and defeated with a marginal amount of anxiety present. And then I turned on the light. Instantly, I saw it— a large, floating spot moving across my line of vision. Every time I blinked or moved my eye up and down or side-to-side, it followed me. Not even taking my meds made it go away. I didn’t have a headache and there was no pain in my eye. There was no reason this floater should be there.
I panicked. My entire morning derailed. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t pray. I was frozen. The only reason I made any effort to greet the day was because the doorbell rang and I went to answer it. With that task completed, I knew I had to move forward with my day, so I went through the motions of baking a batch of cookies for a church event that would be held that evening. But I was beyond distracted and my mind was drifting to all kinds of scenarios. Obviously, I had developed some kind of complication or maybe even my retina was detached again. I just couldn’t focus.
An appointment with the surgeons eventually assured me that nothing serious had happened, but that obnoxious floater was still there. Day after day, I would wake up to the dreadfully obvious reminder that I was still healing and that perhaps floaters would be my new normal.
My morning anxiety became so routine that it actually began to affect my work. But before you start to think that I began showing up to work late or let my commitments slide, it was quite the opposite. In fact, my anxiety often woke me up before my alarm went off, so instead of wallowing in my bed I would force myself to get up and get ready. I actually showed up at work so early one day that one of my co-workers asked me, “Why so early today?” My response: “Oh, I don’t know; I guess you have my panic attack to thank for that.”
“What?” he asked. “You’re serious?”
“Um… yeah. I wouldn’t make something up like that.”
And it was that day in my office that I realized I had a problem. I named that problem “panic” and gradually began to recognize my triggers and work through them. Eventually my floater began to dissipate to the point where I only saw it once in awhile when I would turn my head quickly from side-to-side. My ultrasounds and examinations proved I had nothing to fear in my healing process. I made it four months post surgery, slowly loosening my grip on the panic and anxiety. Deep down, I was afraid of a recurrence, but I knew I needed to move forward.
One day, about five months after surgery, I was practicing piano in my overly bright living room. I turned my head quickly, and out of the corner of my eye, I registered a dark, menacing, and very unwelcome guest. I wasn’t sure it was a floater or maybe just my imagination, but needless to say, it freaked me out. I turned my head from side-to-side again, hoping to get a sense of what I was dealing with, but I didn’t see the spot again. Part of me was relieved, but the other, larger part of me was paralyzed with fear. I knew I was over-reacting and that to panic was a waste of my time, but I was scared nevertheless. I said out loud, “Wow, panic is stupid!” I kind of had to laugh to myself then, and for a fleeting moment I thought about posting that revelation to my Facebook page, but I hesitated. I did not want to open myself up to the response that my statement was sure to create: What’s wrong? Why are you panicking? Are you okay?
So instead of standing in my dim kitchen avoiding the potential floaters that would manifest themselves in the glaring sunlight, I turned on the radio and cranked it up. “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel was playing, and it instantly gave me chills. At the top of my voice, I belted out the chorus: “I’m no longer a slave to fear/I am a child of God.” Wow! Thank you, God, for the right song at exactly the right time! Did it instantly evaporate my panic? Not quite, but it gave me new perspective.
I am of the firm belief that the enemy, Satan, loves to taunt God’s people with fear. Fear doesn’t come from God, after all. God wants us to trust in Him despite the uncertainty that comes with the unknown. Satan wants us to panic; therefore, instead of praying and drawing near to God, we isolate ourselves and turn away from Him.
In my panic and anxiety, that’s exactly what I had been doing: turning away from Him. God had been so gracious and loving throughout my surgery and recovery process, and my panic had drawn a line between myself and my Best Friend. It was as if I was saying that I didn’t trust Him enough to provide for me and protect me. But when I began to sing, everything changed. I don’t know if it was my attitude that began to shift, simply because I love music. Perhaps God used that particular song by Bethel at that exact moment to remind me of His love and presence. But maybe, just maybe, dare I say, the devil was on the attack that day, chiseling away at my weakness. He found a way to make me panic, but at the sound of my voice raised in song, he fled?
Someone once told me that the devil is allergic to praise and worship, so when we feel attacked, we should sing at the top of our lungs because he can’t stand it when we praise God. So that day I sang, holding nothing back. I just wish I would have done the same thing that first morning when the floater appeared in the glaring brightness of my bathroom. Come to think of it, I have actually used music throughout my life to banish fear, grief, and anxiety without even realizing what I was doing.
I can recall singing worship songs with a good friend of mine as we prayed her car would make it to our destination without breaking down. I could have claimed a family emergency instead of singing in the college choir concert the night my grandfather passed away, but I wanted to sing to honor his memory and work through my grief. When a family member was nearing the end of life, I sat by their beside and sang hymns with tears streaming down my face. I belted out Kari Jobe’s “I am not Alone” the day I got the news that I would need emergency surgery.
Without realizing it, music has played a significant role in my life as I have processed challenges, grief, and even panic. I would be so lost without music; I feel it so deeply within me that sometimes it’s all I can do to keep quiet when all I want to do is belt out a tune. It’s remarkable how one simple song can bring about such a change in attitude and demeanor. I may never be fully released from my tendency to panic, but I am fully aware of a weapon I can utilize to ward off its advances. From now on, I’m going to praise that panic away. Take that, devil! You’re not welcome when I’m praising the name of Jesus! I’m going to walk out of that panic prison with my chains dangling and my voice raised in song. “I’m no longer a slave to fear/I am a child of God.”