Lora* sat ramrod straight, knees crossed, her right foot bouncing, as she told me her emotional concerns during our first counseling session.
"I don't understand what's happening to me," this mother of two said. "I wasn't stressed out when my heart started racing. I was just driving, unable to catch my breath."
Her blue eyes watered up and her neck flushed. Lora's symptoms characterize a common mental health problem—a panic disorder. As I listened, Lora confessed her family and her home consumed her time. Even on weekends, her husband orchestrated the family's activities.
"Lora," I said, "tell me what you do in your free time. What activities do you enjoy?"
She flipped her blond hair off her angular shoulders, laughed lightly, and asked, "What free time?"
"The quiet times you take for solitude? Hobbies? Pleasures? Or just plain having fun with a friend?" I pushed.
She didn't answer. Instead, she shifted her feet and smoothed her skirt over her lap.
"Why don't you just describe yourself to me, then," I urged. "Who are you?"
The woman's eyes reddened; her lips tightened. She studied the pattern on my rug. But her silence answered my question with a shout. She didn't know who she was. She'd failed to find—or to keep—her sense of self.
After she shared more information—mostly about her overwhelmed feelings, I offered my thoughts. "I believe your panic attacks stem from your not knowing who you are. You may be feeling this sense of panic, of being out of control, because you've lost yourself." I assured Lora she was similar to other clients who struggle with anxiety and depression. "You've buried yourself in the midst of your multiple roles. Your desire to please others has concealed your sense of Self. You and I need to help you answer this important question, "Who am I?"
Lora faced a problem threatening women today—loss of personal identity. This can cause panic and anxiety, depression and anger. Many factors place demands on us, whether from the workplace, our families, our aging parents, our health, our church, or friends. We're often taught to comply, to agree, to serve without complaint. Yet Jesus wants our lives to be full, fruitful, luscious (John 10:10). To help us and to continue to provide us with the nourishment our souls and identities need, he gives us the Holy Spirit, who in turn reveals to us who God wants us to be and empowers us to bear lasting fruit to his glory (John 15:16).
Regaining Your Lost Self
Often I'm asked, "How can I find my identity?" As women we're so busy giving ourselves away—to our spouses, children, mothers, friends, co-workers, even churches—that we neglect to care for ourselves properly. That's not God's design for us. We are supposed to lose ourselves in Christ—not have our identities sucked away by other people.