Most people only die once in a lifetime. A person whose had Panic Disorder has died a thousand frightening deaths. Not literally, but we might as well have.
This is the first time I’ve decided to publically share my struggles with Anxiety/Panic Disorder because, well quite frankly, it is a part of my life I am not proud of. It’s humbling to share such a weakness with the world, but in part, it just makes me human. One of the top things I wished for when I struggled with Anxiety/Panic Disorder was for someone to understand the whirlwind of insanity I experienced during those times. So here I am; an open book hoping to relate and bring hope to someone who is struggling with issues like the ones I experienced.
My story began during dinnertime one evening. I was twenty-one years old, married for about a year, just starting off in my career. My husband, Joe, and I were at my parent’s house enjoying a meal together while watching television. As I was in the middle of chewing a bite of my dinner, out of nowhere, my throat suddenly closed up. It was as if, in an instant, the world around me stopped and all I could focus on was getting my next breath of air. I remember thinking for a moment, was I having an allergic reaction? Was I choking on something? I couldn’t figure it out. As my wheezing continued, my family quickly gathered around me to help. All I knew was that I could not breathe or speak and that I might actually die. After about a minute, my throat began to open up more and more on its own and air began to reach my lungs. I breathed out a sigh of relief as I thought to myself that it was finally over. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of what would be a very long and arduous journey.
The very next evening at dinner, the same thing happened to me again. My throat closed up while eating and I felt as if I couldn’t breathe! This time it didn’t last as long and was not as intense, but it frightened me as I wondered what could be causing that to happen now for a second time. Not a week later, I began waking up every night, always shortly after falling asleep, gasping for air. I felt as if I was suffocating each time and it would literally cause me to sit up out of my sleep. My heart would be pounding 200+ beats per minute, (which was later confirmed by a Holter monitor). I felt strangely disconnected from my body. All I knew was that I needed to get out of our house and go to the hospital. Night after night, I’d wake Joe up and make him drive me to the hospital. Each and every time I was convinced I was dying. Some nights we would enter the ER; other nights, it was comforting enough to just sit outside the hospital, just in case. I was beginning to feel like the “girl who cried wolf!” My fear intensified as I wondered if anyone would even believe me if something were to actually be wrong with me one day?
The panic attacks only grew worse. Aside from the suffocating sensations each time I tried to sleep, I would have severe episodes in which my body would not stop trembling (chattering teeth and all). I would feel a strange, heavy sensation over me that I could not shake off. Everything would go blurry, I would see spots and swirls in the air and life in those moments felt surreal. Breathing and swallowing became difficult. I would feel nauseated. No amount of comforting helped. Soon after researching some of my symptoms, Joe and I were convinced that, I was not actually sick, but simply having panic attacks. I went and saw every specialist in the book (just to weed out any “real” health conditions) to no avail. My body was perfectly healthy, but my mental/emotional state was far from it.
I began having multiple panic attacks daily and it started affecting my marriage, work, social life and even my beliefs. It got to a point where I was afraid to drive, go to the store, or even leave the house out of fear of another attack. As a Christian, I struggled with the fact that I prayed for healing from Panic Attacks, and I spoke and recited every scripture on fear in the Bible, but I was still getting them. I met with my Pastor regularly, I read books, I began seeing a Psychologist and then a Psychiatrist. I was put on medication and eventually, after several years, the panic attacks subsided. Although my quality of life had improved, the brutal stream of panic attacks over the years had left me with underlying Generalized Anxiety and Depression.
Shortly after purchasing our first home and having our second child, Kaelyn, I was ready to return to work after a three-month maternity leave. I began working again and quickly became overwhelmed and stressed by the added responsibility of work, caring for a larger family and maintaining a mortgage. I recall about a week into it, as I was driving home from work during rush hour on I-95, I suddenly began to feel a surge of panic through my body. I felt a coldness slowly creeping up my arms. My feet became numb and the numbness slowly crept up into my legs. I could no longer feel my face. My mouth went completely dry and it was hard to speak or swallow. My hands began to spasm to the point where I could no longer hold the steering wheel. I did my best to pull onto an exit ramp to get off the highway and I called an ambulance. I was sure I was dying. Cue the humiliation! The ambulance arrived and took me to the ER only to find that I was simply hyperventilating.
I wish I could say I never struggled with it again since then, but the truth is, it is something I still face, but can boldly say I now face with strength and dignity. For a long time, I was like the man by the pool at Bethesda in the Bible (told in John 5); helplessly waiting for healing. However, one day Jesus came to that man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” In the same way, I believe Jesus is at hand saying to me, “Your healing provision is here. Take your healing and walk!” So today I know I am healed of Panic Disorder and Anxiety attacks. If an attack tries to come, I know that the symptom is a lie and the healing truth prevails. Some days are harder than others, but I stand on God’s truth—sickness can’t stay on me and I am healed!
I always believed God would work this out for my good and I believe He has. I have since then learned to listen to my body, to slow down and not overburden myself. I take better care of my body and mind. I have learned to let go of those things I can’t control. I have learned to trust only in Him. Maybe your story sounds like mine, maybe it doesn’t. No matter what you are going through today, know that healing is yours and you don’t have to live in torment and fear any longer. Victory is ours (even if it’s in the waiting).