I’m coming out of the closet about my panic attacks

I walked slowly from the kitchen to my bedroom in the early morning light.  With every step my body became heavier and heavier and as soon as I stepped through my bedroom door, my petite body collapsed onto the carpet.  I could hear Brian getting ready for work in the nearby bathroom.  I weakly called out to him.  And then he called 911.  I was scared but I also remember being mortified by the thought of an ambulance racing to our home, wondering, “What will the neighbor’s think?”  That happened four summers ago.

panic attacks

Living in the South as we do, mosquitoes as big as toddlers swarm our yards and suck the life out of us.  We had our yard treated for mosquitoes but later learned that the pesticide was making me very sick.  The yard was safe when it was dry, but every day the morning dew reactivated the mosquito pesticide on the flowers and foliage, and it was poisoning me as I gardened.

So my beloved garden was no longer a safe place for me but filled with a pesticide that made me sick.  And then, Brian treated our kitchen window for sugar ants using the same pesticide that made me sick in the yard.  My brain, whose job it is to protect me, could not handle this news.  It assessed my surroundings and determined I was not safe in my yard and since pesticide had been used in the house as well, my brain told my body that I was not safe there, either.

So my body did what it was designed to do when it assesses threats: it went into fight or flight mode.  It panicked, and that is what caused me to collapse in my bedroom.  When EMS arrived,  I was laid out in my bed hardly able to move.   The EMS technician stood at the end of the bed and gave me his assessment: “I think you are just hyperventilating.  I think you had a panic attack.”

I thought this was good news.  I did not have a heart attack or a stroke or something worse.  It was just a panic attack.  I sat straight up in the bed, hopeful.  “A panic attack?”  I repeated.  “I can handle that.”

Four years later, I realize the stupidity of my ignorant and prideful words.

I spent that summer taking medication twice a day for panic attacks.  My brain told my body that I was not safe in my yard or in my home and then it generalized to other things like getting ready for church and serving food to guests and checkout lines.  I dearly loved to shop, but having to check out gave me a panic attack.  Eventually I was able to convince my brain that I was safe and that my home or my yard or cash register were not threats.  I no longer needed medication.

But now, years later, the panic attacks are back.  I have been fighting them every morning for several weeks now.  Most mornings I am able to function by prayer and breathing techniques taught to me by a counselor.  But some mornings the pain in my chest and the shakiness has been too much and I have had to take medication just to function.

Why do I share this long story?  Because perhaps, on the other side of this screen, there is another woman who is also in my shoes.  She knows how ashamed I feel.  She knows that I feel weak.  She knows how shame and fear of judgment keeps me from sharing my struggle.  She knows the constant advice you are given, “If you would only trust Jesus more then this wouldn’t happen.”  Disorders in your brain are so complex that faith-filled platitudes and even deliverance ministry don’t always work.  I’ve tried.

Friend, if that is you, you are not alone.  I’m sorry for the struggle that you are going through, and I understand.

Perhaps you do not have panic attacks, but you struggle with another issue such as depression or OCD or an eating disorder.  You are not alone.  You are not the only one who has to take medication just to function.  You are not the only one who keeps your situation hidden because of fear and shame.  You are not the only one who is weary.

I’m sorry for the struggle that you are going through, and I understand.  And I love you, right where you are.  Weak, scared, unable to function, medicated and all.

If you don’t struggle in these areas, but know others that do, pray for them.  When you ask them how they are doing and they reply, “Fine” they are probably lying through their teeth.  Most likely they have fought an intense battle just to get out of the house.  Have compassion on them, and please, please, don’t judge them or try to fix them with one scripture verse.  Love on them instead.

As we share our struggles with one another, we can support one another and together, we can make make it through another day.   That is what being in the body of Christ is all about.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
 Galatians 6:2 NIV

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