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Finding My Heart’s Voice and Overcoming Panic Attacks: Rhodalynn’s Story

Unexpected battles with panic attacks and anxiety while in the midst of ministry, service, and motherhood caused Rhodalynn to pursue health and wellness in new ways. Through the experience, she learned to value herself, understand her body's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, and rediscover passions, including dance, that...

Panic Attacks Reveal Unmet Needs and New Passions

On the dance floor is where I can let it all go, where my body and soul gets to detox and my heart’s voice begins to emerge. It is where I found myself again, after I started having panic attacks and anxiety that began to reveal unmet needs in my life.

Before these experiences, I did not know how to honor my capacity, and how to say no and yes with my whole heart. I was so motivated to be generous and kind, and serve others, but I didn’t know how to care for myself.  These lessons have turned into core values that guide my decision making. I have also learned to value and give myself permission to be right where I am, even if that looks messy or is full of snot and tears.

My name is Rhodalynn, and my first panic attack came quite unexpectedly. I was leading an international service and ministry trip to Cambodia, had two toddlers, had gone back to university as a full-time student, and was on staff at a church. It was a crazy, full season, and I had no idea how to draw boundaries around my own heart and capacity. Looking back, I now see the panic attack and anxiety as something that was bound to happen, because it was the natural result of the choices I was making, and not making. I had little grid for my heart so my body began to speak through the panic and anxiety, loud and clear.

Identifying Roots and Healthy Growth

For years, I had woken up with a slight anxiety in my belly, but because it felt small, and I was so used it, I never gave it much thought or stopped to deal with it. In my wellness journey, I realized that I was waking up with adrenaline that needed a healthy outlet. And that’s where I rediscovered my passion for dance.  I found a dance class near the university I was attending. I danced my guts out every time, not because I was a diva but because I needed to. It brought a release that met needs of my heart, my body, my mind. It wasn’t abnormal to find tears streaming down my face in a hip hop class.

My wellness process has been quite the journey, but I’ve found treasures along the way. When panic and anxiety filled my body, I first felt  so powerless because I didn’t know what to do with it. Guilt and shame settled heavily over me for even feeling the surge of nervousness in my body. Not being able to control my body in its normal function was difficult, and I was frustrated and angry with myself because I thought something was wrong with me. But nothing was wrong me. I was just experiencing the fruit of a string of choices I’d made over the years, where I had neglected emotional and mental health needs because I didn’t know to value them. This may not be the case for every person who deals with panic attacks and anxiety, as there are many causes, but this was a large part of my story.

When things get messy in my life, I find great hope in knowing that I won’t always be there. Joy does come in the morning. The night season will pass. My journey has also given me a  greater appreciation for the night season, because the depth of clarity and feeling it brings. Even in the night, there is substance and truth to be gained. It’s not just about rushing to get to the light.

Creating New Structure and Habits

Through the process, I had to be intentional with creating habits that would support health and wellness more broadly, not just when I felt anxiety or panic rising. I learned to breathe deeply. I made space to engage my body physically on the dance floor. I fed my love of beautiful words by reading poetry more often and journaling regularly. And I let myself be seen, just the way I am, by a tribe who encouraged and supported me along every valley and mountain top. They took me into their hearts and, as sorely uncomfortable and vulnerable it was to let myself be loved, as I am not as I should be, their collective love reset my life in a way I could have never anticipated.

The truth is that I wasn’t alone in any of my journey. I was only alone if I chose to be. That was a reality that smacked me in the face, a truth that both set me free and offended me. It held me accountable to the way I was living my life, and how I was pursuing wellness and wholeness. My choices do matter. No longer am I a victim to panic or anxiety, but I also feel no shame when it seeks to rumble in my belly or rise up. In that moment, I can bring it to the dance floor or leave it on my journal pages or breathe it out with intention.

Self-Care: Letting Love Lead

Today, my daily routine is pretty basic. I touch base with my heart multiple times a day by simply asking, “Heart, how are you feeling in this moment? What do you need?” And when my heart speaks to me, I honor her voice by listening. My heart often tells me she needs space. Many times that means silence. I have learned to love myself and be comfortable in my own presence, giving myself permission to meet my own needs without feeling guilty. When I love myself, I can truly and authentically love my neighbor.

These experiences created a passion in me to see others walk in wholeness, purpose, and their true essence, and helped inform what I’ve started and grown, an organization called Wholehearted and Courageous, which empowers women to step into greater wellness.  What initially felt like massive, unexpected challenges have opened the door to new, wonderful avenues of life and purpose.

A few months ago, I had a dream. In it, I heard so clearly this line: “Let love lead.” I wrote it out and made a sign so that I see and am reminded of the words everyday. It’s become a mantra, a directive. My deep hope and prayer is that we would let love meet us right in the middle, let love lead us to a place of being grounded in truth, and that love would mark the way we speak to ourselves and experience the gift of our own humanity.

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