**This will be a two part post due to the amount of content, in order to not overwhelm, and out of consideration of your reading time.
I read a statistic that said some 6 million Americans suffer from Panic Disorder (PD) on any given year. That’s a big number. I also read another statistic that said 3.4% of the world population is depressed, which is roughly 264 million. And 3.8% of the world population has anxiety issues, which is around 284 million. These are even bigger numbers.
I point these statistics out for a few reasons. First and foremost to say, if you are someone who falls into even one of these categories then rest assure you are not alone. There is a huge percentage of the world battling these issues every day.
Secondly, I point these statistics out because even though there are so many people who suffer from panic, depression and/or anxiety, for some reason, these conditions are not openly discussed very much. I have found that “mental issues” or issues of the mind come with a stigma of shame, embarrassment and a desire to hide. I have also found that because of this stigma, those who suffer sometimes feel even worse because they feel as if they can’t talk to anyone about their inner struggles. It is for this reason, I have chosen to open up about my own personal struggles with these issues- in hopes that by me sharing it will encourage at least one person out there who feels alone and hopeless. Trust me when I say that I understand your struggles, pain and all of the emotions that go with these unappealing problems.
Lastly, I have chosen to discuss the topic in order to share a spiritual perspective on it. I do this again based my own experience- I can only speak to what has helped me over the years in hopes that it will help someone else.
And part of me still doesn’t want to talk about these inner predicaments I fight or share what I am about to share. The inner voice says it looks weak to have these issues. But the older I get the more I realize to grow and overcome, is to be vulnerable and honest with ourselves, to ignore the inner doubt and criticism. This is absolutely needed. So here goes.
WHAT DOES A PANIC ATTACK LOOK LIKE? HERE’S A LITTLE SNAPSHOT.
A sound, deep, restful sleep abruptly interrupted by a jolt out of bed. My feet hit the floor and I stumble, trying to make my way to the bathroom as quickly as possible. I am going to throw up…I can feel the acid rising up in my throat. A thought quickly enters my mind, “Am I getting the flu?” I reach the toilet waiting for it to begin and then something else kicks in. My heart is racing and I begin to lose my breath; I’m now gasping for air. The feeling of knowing I am going to throw up has now been replaced with choking. I’m choking and I can’t swallow, my throat is closing in. I begin to feel faint. My mind is racing, “What is happening to me???” And then the realization becomes painfully and abundantly clear. Panic has woken me up from a deep sleep. It is attacking my body. I am in the middle of a full blown, severe panic attack.
Now that I’ve realized what’s happening, the panic becomes even worse. I have been here many times before and I know how bad it can get, and that makes my anxiety and panic rise…even more. I desperately just want the attack to be over. I feel out of control and this again, makes it worse. My head continues to spin. I feel alone, lost and terrified.
If you have never had a panic attack, consider yourself very lucky. It is literally one of the worst feelings I have ever had. In these moments you actually feel as if you might die. I have never had a heart attack, but I imagine panic attacks and heart attacks might be very similar in how they make someone feel. I mentioned this to my doctor one time and he told me the nervous system actually responds in a very similar way in both instances, so my hunch was correct.
I had severe separation anxiety as a child.
I have dealt with depression, anxiety and panic attacks much of my adult life. Even before the shooting incident that my husband and I went through, these things were a part of my chemistry. And honestly, if I really think about it, I’ve dealt with the anxiety and panic element my entire life. I had severe separation anxiety when I was a child. It was very traumatic for me to be separated from my parents, even when going to school. I can remember the feelings of anxiety- the nervous stomach and just plain fear, from very early on. Feeling physically ill as I got on the school bus just because I didn’t want to be away from my parents. I remember one year on the first day of school, I’d guess it was my first day of second or third grade, my anxiety was so bad that I threw up all over myself as I rode to school. I quickly cleaned myself up as best I could so no one would see and start making fun of me. It was awful.
To put it in simple terms, dealing with this trifecta of emotions and feelings- depression, anxiety and panic, well, it just plain stinks. There’s really no other way to describe it.
Although I have always dealt with these things to a certain degree and have even been on medication for them at certain points in my life, the panic attacks got significantly worse after the shooting due to PTSD and also another challenging time I encountered. Stress and trauma definitely trigger the panic element in me. Worry and fear do too, which of course are directly connected to stress. They say our bodies remember, and this statement could not be more true. Our bodies hold onto our traumas and then continue to be triggered throughout our life. That is until we do the work we MUST do in order to release these traumas and triggers.
For a long time I felt like a completely helpless victim to my circumstances. I felt like there was nothing I could do to improve my condition. Panic and anxiety are their own beast, but then when you add in depression, this awesome party just gets even better. Uhhgg. That is said with the highest level of sarcasm possible.
THE FOG OF DEPRESSION…
And depression, well this also just plain stinks. If you have never experienced it, you may think, “well people can choose to be happy, people can and should just snap out of it” or you may see depressed people as wallowers in their own self-pity. I’ll assure you this is not the case. Depression is not just something you can snap out of. It is a very real thing.
Depression is like waking up in the morning and looking outside to see a thick, heavy fog. You can barely see anything in front of you and you feel unsteady and unsure of where you are going. The fog surrounds you, its presence undeniable. The air just feels heavy.
Real fog always lifts though. Slowly as the day goes on, the sun shines through and things become clearer. Unfortunately, the fog of depression is often not like this. It can linger and refuse to lift for days, weeks, months or even years and the effects of it are very far reaching.
So lets come back to the fact that for a long time I felt like a helpless victim to all of this lovely mess. I identified myself as a person who struggles with these things and at times, struggles bad. I thought, “this is just who I am.” Well one part of this is true- I have struggled and still do struggle.
I’d like to tell you that I have these issues totally beat, that they are something of my past, but that simply is not the truth. Even though I have done A LOT of work and therapy, even though my faith in God is incredibly strong, and I trust Him completely, I still get lost at times in the darkness and hopelessness of these conditions. Sometimes, the dark is more than the light and its grip on me is strong.
I think a mistake many of us think in these moments is, “if I really trusted God, I wouldn’t feel this way.” Or “if my faith were stronger I wouldn’t feel depressed, I wouldn’t have anxiety.” Or even aside from faith and spirituality, “If I was just a stronger person in general I’d be able to fix this.” You’ll hear me speak about the attacks of the enemy often. The thoughts that make us criticize ourselves and believe that we are lacking in some way…those are all attacks on our spirit by the enemy. Luke 12 says, “the devil comes and takes away the words from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” How true this is.
I will just be completely raw and honest here. Often when I am in this darkness my faith waivers and it waivers big. I question God even though deep down I know He has a plan for me and for my life. I get angry at God for allowing me to go through something so painful or difficult. I think, “Haven’t I been through enough?” I doubt God is really listening because if He were, wouln’t He have answered me by now? Wouldn’t He have saved me from the noise and chaos of my own mind or the circumstance that is so uncomfortable? Wouldn’t He provide a way out???
I am so like an impatient child in these moments.
The doubting thoughts come as a symptom of what I’m experiencing. When I have a panic attack it makes me feel very alone. It’s like I’m in a cold, dark room where no one can hear or help me. No one can make this feeling go away for me. And the more I think about that lonely room, the worse it gets. The fear rises more and more and more. God seems so far away in these moments.
OVER TIME, THE COLD, DARK ROOM HAS BECOME WARM AND FULL OF LIGHT…
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also gotten a little wiser. This is the goal right? To learn a little bit more about ourselves and about life with every passing year. Inner wisdom began to show me that really the only way out of all of this was to completely surrender. To stop fighting myself and surrender my inner battles to Jesus. To let Him fight for me.
I don’t know how I realized the need to surrender, somehow I just did. My explanation for that- the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it just gives you the inner wisdom that you need. One time I conceived this because the very words that I’ve meditated on so many times came to me, “I know the plans I have for you, not to harm you, but to give you a hope and a future.” I can still remember lying in bed, full fledged panic, wide eyes staring at the ceiling and hearing those words spoken, knowing I was not the one speaking them.
Now, after all of this, in the cold, dark room where there once was a complete feeling of isolation, solitude and gripping fear, a presence has begun to enter my mind and I realize that even though I have felt and thought I am suffering all by myself, Jesus is actually here, and has been all along, suffering with me. I talk of these panic attacks in the presence tense because they are not yet behind me, and maybe they never will be completely. But I am working on not living in fear of them for the simple fact that I know I am not alone.
So the cold, dark room…do you know what I am talking about? Do you have your own lovely, cold, dark room? I’m guessing you hate it there, just like I do. What about the warmth and the light? Have you experienced that? Or if you haven’t, do you want to? Are you wondering what that was?