***This is part 3 of an ongoing series I am doing here at Carryonmyheart.com, you can find part 1 here and 2 here.
Coming face to face with my monster…
Everything I thought I knew about myself changed with my first panic attack.
I was newly married and in my early 20’s, working for a law firm as a legal assistant. I was enthusiastic about my job, happily married, and had family and friends that I loved spending time with.
There wasn’t a logical reason for me to have a panic attack, however, as I would come to find out, fear and anxiety are rarely logical.
On a random night before work, I was in my closet picking out the next day’s outfit. I couldn’t tell you now what I was thinking of, besides the enormous decision of whether to wear pants or a skirt.
In an instant, the closet began to feel as though it was closing in on me and a creeping terror climbed up the back of my neck. There was literally nowhere to run from the fear that had completely ensnared me.
My brain had been put on hyper-speed, shooting me messages that were nearly incomprehensible, although, I felt them loud and clear;
Feeling as though I could barely breathe while clutching at my chest, I left the closet to lie down on the bed. The sensation of being far away, as if I was outside of my body, overtook me. I was positive at that moment that I was going to die.
Anxiety: My “new normal”
I began to experience severe anxiety and panic attacks daily after this initial incident.
Baffled as to why this was happening, I dove inward, searching and questioning every thought and feeling I had.
As if the answer was in my own head.
Nope. Turns out that is not a fun place to be.
Remember those fears I had as a kid? They had matured right along with me and were more fearsome than ever.
Consequently, I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. I like to assume it’s how Daniel felt in the lion’s den, except the only lions staring me down were in my head and they didn’t have their mouths shut.
My life suddenly looked unrecognizable and in those next months, I had what I would consider a full break down.
I couldn’t work.
I couldn’t sleep.
I couldn’t drive.
After about a month and a half, I lost roughly 40 pounds. I learned that applesauce and scrambled eggs came in handy when my stomach wouldn’t tolerate anything else, but sometimes those wouldn’t even stay down.
At one point early on in my journey through anxiety, I didn’t sleep for 3 days straight. Not your typical tossing and turning that can happen. I am talking eyes wide open, heart pounding, terror in the middle of the night, not sleeping. Nighttime was frightening because I was all alone with my fear.
My sweet husband would drive me to doctors’ appointments and care for me on his days off. When he worked he would leave me with my mom and grandmother during the day because I couldn’t be alone.
I was a mess…to put it lightly.
Digging Deeper Inward
I am naturally gregarious, an undeniable people person and a talker. I love my people and I love being with them.
It morphed me into someone I no longer recognized and my world began to shrink. I rarely laughed anymore and life had taken on a strange color of sadness. I lost all interest in being with my friends and social situations terrified me.
The anxiety I experienced began to intermingle with depression. The longer I stayed in this intense place of panic, a hopelessness developed within me that became an unintended, integral part of who I was.
I spent days, weeks and months trying to cope, grasping for ordinary and forgetting what it looked like. I tried desperately to live my new normal, clumsily slipping along with many, many days of breakdowns.
What is wrong with me?
I had gone to every doctor imaginable, from a family doctor to a neurologist. Someone must have an answer and I was intent on finding it.
Yes, I was that hypochondriac patient.
During this time, I received a stern talking-to from a nurse. After checking my vitals she placed her hands on either side of the sterile white paper I was sitting on. She leaned forward until her breath warmed my face and glared unsympathetically into my eyes, “There is nothing wrong with you, you’re completely healthy and fine and this is all in your head!”
Tears streaming down my face, I gazed back with earnest and stammered, “But I feel like maybe there is… something wrong, I mean.” Said with an almost child-like questioning, the words floated in the air as she briskly walked out of the room.
I scolded myself, feeling embarrassed by my lack of self-control and decided then to stop searching for some elusive answer that clearly didn’t exist.
After this, I began trying to reintegrate into my pre-anxiety world, all while still having panic attacks and spiraling down through depression.
I eventually lost my job because of my inability to fully concentrate, I was forgetting important details. Not to mention all of the time I was missing for sick days and doctors’ appointments. This caused even more depression since I felt like a complete failure at life.
What on Earth was wrong with me?
The worst part—no one seemed to have an answer. And sadly I found that the church was not a comfortable place to discuss emotional issues such as worry, fear, anxiety, and depression.
Where was God?
Although I believed in Jesus as my savior when I was a young girl, God currently felt like a distant deity— unhelpful and far too big to care what I was presently going through.
I was doing all of the “right things,” praying and reading my bible. So, the question remained, why was I still going through this and when would it end?
The more I heard that worrying was a sin the further I sunk into my pit. I hadn’t really heard about anxiety and depression until now and certainly didn’t hear it discussed in church. The thoughts I struggled with were horrific and overpowering. Surely, no other Christian could possibly have such thoughts. I came to the conclusion that I was a defective Christian, or worse yet, maybe I wasn’t one at all.
Shutting my mouth
The fear of my own mind overwhelmed me and led me to a place of despair. Sadly, I decided to no longer speak openly about what I suffered, for fear of what people would think.
During the many years of pain and silence that followed, I came to understand why people would take their own life. This feeling terrified me most of all. And from here, a belief system grew, coiling its way through my every thought, fed by numerous lies and fears, that took root deep within me.
The Enemy had me right where he wanted—alone in the dark, feeling helpless and hopelessly cornered.
Thankfully, the truth of Jesus burns brightest in the darkest of places…
To be continued…
Stick with me through my personal journey of having walked through life with anxiety and depression and where I am today because of God’s grace and faithfulness!
As always, friend, thank you for stopping by,
My goodness, I understand you. Panic attacks change us big time. I can almost separate time by BPA and APA (before panic attack/after panic attack). I wrote about mine at https://lovehealme.blogspot.com (it’s in the month that the blog opens on but farther down the list, called “my panic attack”). Looking forward to hearing rest of your story. God bless.
Susan McIlmoil says
Heather, thank you for your comment. And yes, absolutely, anyone who has felt panic/anxiety can relate. I’ve started to think of us as a club, we didn’t ask for this club, but I’ve found that I really like the people in it! People with anxiety tend to be some of the most compassionate, imaginative, and caring people that I know. Blessings to you sister! I’m heading over to your blog right now!
Theresa Boedeker says
Thanks for sharing your story. Yes, Satan wants us to feel ashamed and that we can not share our secrets because other people would think bad of us. But it is just another one of his lies. Because our vulnerability helps others and our self heal. Wanting to hear the rest of your story.
Susan McIlmoil says
It definitely is one of his lies! I believed it for a very long time and I know many others do as well, I’m hoping my story will help others see that they are not alone. Thank you, Theresa!
Michelle Warner says
Thank you for sharing! We are tackling anxiety on our blog this week and next too. I appreciated reading your perspective .
Susan McIlmoil says
Thank you, Michelle, I’m so glad to hear that! I’ll have to go over and check it out. 🙂