At one time in my life, I was greatly plagued with severe anxiety and panic attacks - even to the point of not even being able to leave my own home for fear of having a panic attack in public! I'll never forget how it all started...
I had only been married to my first husband for a couple of years. We had made plans one Thanksgiving holiday to visit my parents for the holiday weekend - about a two hour drive away. However, he had to come back a day earlier due to his work obligations that weekend, so we decided to drive separate cars. On Thanksgiving morning, we took off down the busy highway - me following him in my car. As expected, traffic was heavy and we were in a time crunch to get to my parent's house in time for Thanksgiving lunch.
Now, I have always been a stickler for being on time - not necessarily a BAD habit to have, but one that could cause a great deal of stress if conditions slowed you down. In this case, we had left home a little later than I wanted, and with the holiday traffic being so heavy, I was already a little MORE than irritated - I was GREATLY STRESSED OUT! I had managed to stay right behind my husband almost all the way down the busy highway, but suddenly he abruptly pulled way ahead of me and was out of sight. Already nervous about driving alone in such horrendous traffic, I panicked when I realized he was no longer in front of me. On top of that, I glanced at the clock on the dash and realized we were "cutting it close" to arrive at my parent's house in time for lunch. Traffic continued to whiz by me at warp speed, and all I could think about was how late we were going to be. I knew how impatient my Daddy was - especially when it came time to eat - and I worried that our tardiness was going to hold up the whole holiday dining plans.(It is true what they say about anxiety magnifying little things!) The fact that I was "all alone" on a busy holiday highway, and the pressure of getting to my parents on time for Thanksgiving lunch, sent me head first into an anxious tailspin. And then suddenly, out of no where and without any warning - it hit me.....
Terrifying dizziness and disorientation overtook me and instantly I felt like I was losing control of my mind and body. My hands became wet and clammy as I clutched the steering wheel in a deadbolt grip in a desperate attempt to keep driving. My heart was beating so hard I thought it was thundering outside, and I started hyperventilating as I gasped for air. Somehow, in my dazed, confused and terrified state, I managed to pull over to the side of the road. For what seemed like hours, I just sat there in the median while the holiday traffic continued to zoom past me. I had NO idea what had just happened to me, but I was sure I was having a heart attack - or worse! I sat there frozen, helpless and panic-stricken, just waiting for my fate to catch up to me. Instead, within a few minutes, my mysterious symptoms amazingly started to subside and I was able to get back on the road and make it safely to my parent's house - right on time for our holiday meal. The rest of the visit went by uneventful and I just chalked the whole thing up to "holiday stress." Unfortunately, that was NOT to be the last time I would experience such an alien encounter with terror.
I'm skipping alot of history for the sake of this blog, but for the next two years, I would suffer with similar attacks - going from doctor to doctor to try and find out the cause. I was SURE I had some serious or rare disease that caused such horrible symptoms, but in the end, I was finally diagnosed with "severe generalized anxiety disorder" accompanied by subsequent panic attacks - a diagnosis that I neither expected nor wanted to accept. I was told I had a "disposition" to anxiety, and that it was something I most likely would just have to "live with." I was given anti-anxiety medication and sent to a therapist to probe my psyche,and try to understand where all my anxiety issues were coming from. My "normal life" as I knew it was gone, and I constantly felt like I was living in a fog - disoriented and confused - and unable to do the things I used to do on a daily basis, not to mention I was constantly living on the verge of another "phantom attack" at any time. To make matters worse, no one around me - especially my husband - could understand what was happening to me, or why I just couldn't "get over it."
My road to recovery from anxiety and panic attacks was neither short nor easy. Unable to leave my home- much less work - I spent alot of time in my bedroom - mostly crying out to God to heal me from the demons that now seem to possess every part of my being. It was in this broken state that I found comfort - and eventually my healing - through my daily conversations with God, as well as recording my experiences in a journal I kept by my bedside. Desperate for healing, I begin to read and study the Bible - meditating on God's words about how we are to "cast our cares on Him" and "not be anxious for anything". I would write down all the verses I could find on how God wanted us to be happy, healthy and blessed, and repeat them every day. For days, weeks and months, I would study God's Word, praying and leaning on His promises of healing. Encouraged by His promises and lifted up in hope, courage and strength, I finally began to break the cycle of anxiety, and regained my confidence and ability to do things I hadn't been able to do before - like drive a car down the road to the grocery store by myself without having a panic attack, or go a day longer without having to take my medication. Eventually, the anxiety and panic attacks subsided and I was able to stop going to therapy and go off my medication completely. Ultimately, my marriage ended and I went back to my hometown to continue my healing and recover from yet another painful episode in my life - a failed marriage. And although my life took a dramatic turn for the better after that, I was still fearful that my old demons would follow me into my bright, new future.
I wish I could say that since those days I've never had another anxious moment or stressful situation, but that would be untrue - and unrealistic. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. Even now, I still have moments of extreme anxiety and occasional bouts with shortness of breath, however, I CAN say that I've NEVER had another full blown panic attack, nor have I had to take ANY type of medication for anxiety. And for those times that I DO have anxiety-producing situations, I immediately turn to God and focus on Him and His amazing grace, strength and power to get me through those stressful times, and bring me peace, consolation and joy!
If you struggle with panic or anxiety attacks, I encourage you to do what I did - seek out medical help FIRST to get a correct diagnosis, then get into the Word of God and focus on His promises of hope and healing. If anxiety is great within you, His consolation will bring you peace and joy, and the strength to overcome every stressful situation in your life!