Panic

The panic attacks began one sunny autumn Sunday morning shortly after I arrived at that church. Nothing unusual was happening – it was a Sunday like every other Sunday. It was during the final morning service when one moment I was reading the text, the next I felt my throat constricting and my breath slipping away. Heat rose into my chest and face and the words on the page began to swirl. I wondered if I would pass out, I could feel my heart rate accelerating, thumping in my chest. I stumbled over the words as I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs to speak them. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Senior Pastor. Was he looking at me? Could he tell I was freaking out? Could the congregation see how red my face was? I felt confused, frightened, and extremely ashamed that I was out of breath and faltering over my words. When the readings were over, I went back to my seat with my head held low. What was wrong with me? I went home and cried to Chad in our kitchen as I told him about the terrifying experience. He listened and gave me a hug. I hoped to God that Sunday morning had been just a strange, isolated experience.

It was only the beginning, unfortunately. Panic and anxiety began to accompany me regularly each week to worship. I researched extensively on stage fright and panic attacks and as I did, I tried every tactic I could think of to get “over it.” I quit smoking – which I knew was a good idea no matter what. I began running five miles before church each week and eventually began marathon training. I prayed and prayed and prayed some more. I would write down distracting things on my church bulletin (like the punchline of a joke, or even initial in something dirty and scandalous Chad had said to make me laugh) in hopes that if my mind got distracted with other thoughts while I was reading, I wouldn’t think about the swirling, scary thoughts that made me descend into panic: everyone looking at me, everyone listening to me, screwing up, etc. I took a Benadryl before worship – thinking that maybe if I felt drowsy that would help my heart to not race so much. I did breathing exercises, meditation and visualizations. Everything helped and nothing helped. Sometimes I could go a Sunday or two without a full-blown panic attack, but the threat of them was always there. Nothing could make the threat of them disappear and the worry wore me down. I felt like I lived constantly under the heavy shadow of what my anxiety might do to me. I was not in control of it, I could only avoid it sometimes. Even if it left me at peace for a time, I knew it would be back. It lingered like a ghost in the corner of that big brick box sanctuary – I knew eventually it would always find me again.

Have you experienced panic attacks? If so, what tools have you found to deal with them?

first lutheran audubon

 

Categories Benediction, This Clergy LifeTags , , ,

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