Panic attacks are not mild worries about a stressful event in the future. They aren’t the knots a bride gets in her stomach right before walking down the aisle. They are forceful assaults on your mind and body and don’t take no for an answer.
The dictionary defines an attack as an aggressive and violent action against a person or place. It is an assault, onslaught or a blitz. Similar to the blitzkrieg method the German army used in WW2, panic attacks come on quickly, without any warning, leaving the victim bewildered and defenseless.
Imagine hundreds of tiny soldiers stomping around your brain screaming all at once. The chaos cannot be silenced. Nothing you do can calm the throbbing pain in your head. Suddenly these invisible intruders detonate bombs full of terror and panic that spread through every inch of your nervous system. Your body begins to tingle and go numb. You aren’t sure if you can take another step.
Did I forget to eat today? Did I down a Red Bull I don’t remember that’s responsible for this sudden outbreak of psychosis? What did I do to deserve this? Why is my body betraying me?
When the final strike comes, your heart races uncontrollably. Your thoughts give way to hysteria that leads you to believe you are all but finished. It’s over. You’re on the way to the grave.
My first and most severe panic attack happened in the middle of the day my senior year of high school. I wasn’t doing anything that should cause me to be anxious much less, feeling like the world was caving in on me. But there I was, in the middle of the hallway gasping for air and wondering why on earth I felt so strange. Wondering if I was going insane made the panic in my stomach spread out of my gut and into my arms and legs until I was barely able to move. Somehow, I managed to get out of the building and call my mom.
I’ll never forget having to tell her I was going to die but wasn’t sure who or what was behind it. I knew in my head that what I was saying was irrational but I believed it to be true with every fiber of my being. I thought,
This would be my last day on earth. I was only 17. I wouldn’t graduate high school. I wouldn’t make it to prom. I would leave my poor mother to grieve the loss of her baby girl. This was the end for me.
All this happened while in a completely sober state of mind. I had taken nothing to make myself hallucinate or bring on feelings of suicide. I didn’t want to die but my body was telling me it was time.
The attacks began to happen every day and continually grew stranger. Hallucinations accompanied the panic. I feared being in public because I just knew people could tell I was different. They had to know I was seeing things that weren’t there. I lived in constant fear of the next attack. That anxiety triggered more delusions, which caused more panic. It was a never-ending cycle. I wanted to run screaming and leave my psychotic brain behind. It became a struggle just to have a normal conversation.
The worst was watching the faces of my loved ones morph into unrecognizable objects. Because this happened so often and I was unable to speak while the transfiguration was going on, I became an incredible listener. I nodded my head and smiled at the right times.
I searched high and low for a way to maintain my sanity. After suffering in private for nearly a year, I told my counselor about my hallucinations and daily struggle with panic. She listened and told me I wasn’t a freak. She put a name on my condition but it wasn’t “weirdo”. She told me there was hope. I expected to be sent to a mental institution. Instead, Dr. Clark gave me a list of coping mechanisms and an option to try medication when I was ready. I hated the thought of needing medicine to function like a “normal” person. I couldn’t fathom living my life that way. Today, I’m just grateful to be alive.
In years since, I have grown in my relationship with The Lord. I have learned that His words are true and I can hold onto His promises in scripture on the days when life is more than my medicine can handle.
Recently I’ve been learning how to manage my anxiety through the biblical principle of “taking thoughts captive”. Science shows that our thoughts are malleable for roughly 10 minutes after they enter our consciousness. Those first 10 minutes are so crucial. This is where we have to stop the negativity, fear and worry dead in its tracks. We have to make the conscious choice to “take the thought captive” (2 Corin 10:5) and refuse to let it sink it our brains and wreak havoc on our hearts.
My way of practically applying this idea to my life is music. Recently I’ve been listening to “No Longer Salves” on repeat. (Will tucker and The Brown Missionary Baptist Choir sing my favorite version. Check it out on YouTube: https://youtu.be/pEKhwx723z8 ).
The message is “I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.” I was so empowered by being able to change my identity. As a believer in Christ, I am a child of God. Sadly, I spent the larger portion of my life not believing that. since I was a child of God, that meant I didn’t belong to anyone or anything else. Not fear. Not anxiety. Nothing can take that identity from me, unless I freely give it away.
Fear wants to hold you by the throat screaming for mercy with no hope of ever receiving it. God is so good. He wants to be our King but under His reign, we are free. Only His peace & love control our lives. Isn’t that something to sing about?
Once I internalized this fact, I couldn’t stop listening to the song. Peace consumed me every time I heard those beautiful words. I listened to it so much that I could sing it in my head without any prompt from the song. That’s how I began to take my ugly thoughts captive.
When I was in tears, shaking, alone in my room scared to death, I sang to myself. I am no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God. I replaced the delusions in my mind with the assurance of my identity in Christ. I took the evil thoughts, put them in a figurative box and pushed them aside. When I stayed focused on the lyrics & humming the melody, my mind couldn’t wander into the realm of the unknown. My mind couldn’t play tricks on me anymore. The bad thoughts did try to free themselves. They tried to sneak out their little boxes and creep back into my consciousness. So I sang again. And again. And eventually the thoughts lost their way out of the box. They no longer control me. They aren’t my master anymore. I am finally free.