I have always been the happy-go-lucky girl. My solution to all problems growing up was to tell a joke or whistle a happy tune. I have never liked drama or emotional outbursts. I loved making people laugh and when I saw people who were sad or struggling, I thought if I could make them laugh it would be such a help! Because of my personality, I have always taken most things in stride. I know that things will be better tomorrow, so let’s just get through today.
Enter trauma. Personal trauma. March 2009.
I went to bed in a tremendous amount of pain, and didn’t wake up for 24 hours. When I awoke, I was completely paralyzed. My arms were heavy and felt disconnected although I had movement. I couldn’t sit up and I could feel or move nothing from my chest down.
I was 5 months pregnant at the time. Although I was pretty freaked out at what was going on with me, I was more terrified for the baby I carried inside of me. All decisions were made based on his health. I couldn’t get an MRI because I would pass out while laying on my back. The general consensus was that hopefully, after the baby was born, all would return to normal. So, for 4 months, we were just getting through the day…counting the days until my baby boy would be born and I could see for myself that whatever had attacked me, had not hurt my baby!!
I went into the hospital to be induced for a normal delivery. Even though I was paralyzed, my team of high risk doctors were convinced all would be fine. It was, until my little guy decided to flip upside down and sit cross-legged, bottom down. That rushed us straight into the delivery room for an emergency c-section. They ended up giving me the LSD equivalent drug to knock me out in surgery as I was having complications with all other anesthesia medicines. That medicine sent me on a HORRIBLE hallucination trip! I thought I was being suffocated by a mattress and I couldn’t breathe, or move my hands. Jimmy said my breathing was fine, and I held his hand, but that I cried out in pain the entire surgery.
After I came to, and was able to eat my first meal, they brought the bedside table up to my bed. The table touched my chest. When that happened, I immediately felt like the mattress was over my face again! I couldn’t breath! I yelled for Jimmy to move the tray and before he could even get up out of his chair, I had pushed the table away from me so hard it crashed into the wall.
That was my first panic attack.
It had come out of nowhere! I had no clue why it happened and I certainly didn’t know what to do with it! The months following were horrible. Because of the way I became paralyzed, whenever I was having an anxiety attack, I was convinced something else horrible was happening to my body. There were so many times I would tell Jimmy that I needed to go to the hospital and he would say, “Okay, just tell me what is wrong,” and I couldn’t name anything. I just knew something was wrong! So, we would never go because I was embarrassed that I wouldn’t be able to tell the doctors what was wrong.
One day, he came to me and said that he had been talking to his mom and she wondered if I was having panic attacks. I told him I had no clue and we googled them. Out of the multiple symptoms, I had most of them!! I was relieved that it wasn’t something that was going to paralyze me more, but I was still plagued by these episodes of terror that would come out of nowhere!
I started researching…which is what I do…on how to end anxiety!! I found a million suggestions from medications to tapping zones on your body. There were books you could buy, DVD’s you could order and prescriptions to purchase. I would try to learn these things, but when an attack hit…it was almost impossible to implement these things.
So, I just tried to simplify. I couldn’t remember the 37 tapping spots, and I didn’t want to try medication. I have worked so hard to stay off of meds with my paralysis, I didn’t want to start something new. I would like to emphasize that this was for me. I am not suggesting this is a solution for anyone else.
Re-program My Brain
For me, I knew when my attacks started. My dad said to me, “Alicia, you have been holding this all together. You were paralyzed out of nowhere, you had a baby you were worrying about, you had an unplanned surgery, crazy meds, lots of complications and your body has had enough.” That rung true with me when he said it. I was emotionally overloaded.
I also talked to the anesthesiologist and he said the particular meds he gave me caused panic attacks – which made sense to me sense my first one was a day after my surgery. So, I knew I was not only emotionally overloaded, I had been medicinally altered.
Those two facts in my head, helped me to know that something knew wasn’t going horribly wrong in my body. My brain was just freaking out over nothing!! It didn’t feel like it was nothing, but it was. So, I decided I needed to retrain my brain to be okay.
Here is what that looked like:
We would be driving in the van as a family. Out of nowhere, with no warning, would come this huge wave of terror. My right arm would feel very weak, my chin and face would get numb, I would feel hot and cold at the same time, and everything in me screamed that something bad was happening in my body again! My mind would start racing with fear as to what was wrong and what was happening!! But then…I would remind myself that my brain was telling me this stuff, but nothing was wrong.
I would literally start saying over and over and over and over, “Alicia, calm down. You are absolutely fine,” “Alicia, calm down. You are absolutely fine,” and keep repeating that one phrase. In the beginning, I didn’t think it would ever work. The attacks were just as intense – even when I was saying that. But…over time, I noticed that they didn’t last as long. I noticed that my brain would calm down as I told it to. From my research, I had learned that you literally have to retrain your brain to shut off the fight and flight button that has malfunctioned and doesn’t work correctly anymore. So, you have to give it therapy and teach it how to turn back on. I found this to be extremely accurate for me. Be patient as this literally took months for me to be able to calm down a panic attack.
Get My Mind On Something Else
The other thing I learned to do, while attacks were very severe would be to get my mind on something else. One thing that helped me and what I feel is even biblical is that a merry heart is a good medicine. When you are panicking, you are NOT feeling merry and I cannot work up humor in that time. So, I let others do it for me. I bought old comedy shows like the Dick Van Dyke show or I Love Lucy – shows that make me really laugh. I would also watch episodes on YouTube of Just For Laughs which are hilarious gags.
I think it is important to get your mind on something happy – not just get your mind busy. It needs to be brain “light” – not heavy. When I was having a hard day, I would watch episodes that would get me laughing, get my mind on something else, and trick my brain into giving me a break!
Give Up Control To God
Now here is where the rubber meets the road. One of the things I realized about anxiety, is that much of what I can get anxious about is things I absolutely cannot control. I realized that much of what my anxiety comes from, and can raise its ugly head about, is about control…or rather, my lack of it.
- I can’t control my health.
- I can’t control if I will become more disabled as I age.
- I can’t control how people view me and my disability.
- I can’t control my future.
- I can’t control if health care will care about me or not in the future.
- I can’t control politics.
- I can’t control the moral climate of this world and what kind of world my kids will face.
- I can’t control if my kids will serve Jesus or not.
- I can’t control if broken relationships in my extended family will be restored.
- I can’t control if I will live through the night or not.
- And neither can you.
All of these things can give me anxiety if I dwell on them! So, I have had to learn that I just absolutely have to turn these things over to the Lord and leave them there.
My panic attacks, which I have been told by doctors is PTSD from what happened to me, are pretty limited to night time now. I can be going to sleep and just as I enter that dozing-going-into-a-deeper-sleep stage, I wake up gasping for air terrified! I know now what it is and I know it always hits only at night in that stage of sleep. I know that I am fine in my brain, but my emotions are screaming for the right to be heard and to keep me awake worrying all night long. At this point, I have a decision to make. I can dwell on my fears, or I can give up the control to them.
So, I pray and I quote the passage of Scripture in Matthew 6:25-34:
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Then I pray. I tell Jesus that I am absolutely terrified. I tell him that I am worrying, but I don’t want to. I tell Him that I know He loves me more than I do. I tell Him that I know that He controls my future and I ask Him to help me trust Him. I also ask Him to come lay beside me and comfort me and hold me close.
I kid you not, but most of the time I fall asleep while talking to my precious Jesus. I know that He comes and helps me. And oh how I love Him for helping me!!
- Know that outside sources can cause our emotions to get out of whack. So don’t over-spiritualize anxiety. Try to identify what is going on. Marriage? Kids? Bad diet? Not enough sleep? New medications? Church drama? Relationship issues? Try to work on these areas to help what you can.
- Try to get your mind refocused on other things. Laughter is a wonderful medicine. Laugh!!
- Leave with the Lord what you cannot change. Some things we can do – like get rest. But other things we can’t – like get rid of this disability. Give up that control. Let it go!
- Memorize passages of Scripture that comfort and follow the prescription of Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
- CLING to Jesus!! Tell Him everything. He is my best friend, totally gets me and loves and cares for me so much. I dwell on that knowing that no matter what, He is with me.
I’m not sure who this may help, but I just felt that sharing my own journey of trauma and pain and anxiety, may encourage someone else. If you need a prayer partner, let me know! I would love to pray for you on your journey!!