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From Panic Attacks to Freedom in God- Part I

October 9, AD2017

eye, see, sight, sad, tear, cryThis is the hardest story I have ever told. It is my story of struggling with anxiety, panic attacks anxiety and depression.

My story will contain references to counseling and medical care and I want to be clear- I am not here to tell you to change any protocol with counselors or doctors because we are mind, body, and spirit and all are to be attended to. I am writing here to address the spiritual side of our lives and to let you know we do have a Great Physician in Jesus Christ.

Trauma Triggered Panic Attacks

I grew up Catholic, my whole life, and have pretty much always attended Mass. I would say I probably was always an anxious child but it wasn’t until college, in a series of sufferings that anxiety and depression started to take hold of me. The trauma of these events almost paralyzed me, but in the end, Christ freed me.

On my second day of college, I witnessed the aftermath of the murder of the cleaning lady from my building. I was up in my dorm room when I heard screaming and shouting and gunfire. I looked out my window to see her laid out on the parking lot ground with a bullet hole straight in her heart. I called 911. I watched as they tried to revive her. They could not. Campus police caught the perpetrator, her boyfriend, but needless to say, it was a rude awakening into the life of violence which sometimes plague cities. I said a prayer for her and a prayer for myself. And I continued on.

Later in my freshman year, a friend of mine, who was a recovering alcoholic, called me one morning and asked me if he could borrow money to purchase his anti-depressants. I said yes and I lent him the money. He called me later in the day to tell me he had lied to me and he had used the money to purchase drugs. He was crying and saying he wanted to kill himself. I decided to go over to his place and call his AA sponsor. When I arrived he was in a frenzy. He was banging his head against the wall and calling himself stupid. I asked him to stop hurting himself and got on the phone to call for help from his sponsor. He pulled a knife out and told me he was going to kill me, and then kill himself. I don’t think I believed him. The RA came to the door and asked if I needed help and I said yes, and said he had a knife and was threatening to kill me and kill himself. The RA called the police. It was reported as a hostage situation. The building was evacuated. SWAT was called in, and I was told snipers were placed on the roof of the building across from me. The RA unlocked the door and came in and told my friend to let me go, and that he would stay. It was a moment I was in awe. He put his life in danger for me. I don’t even remember his name, but will forever be grateful. I was whisked away by SWAT. They were able to detain my friend, and they put him in a straight jacket and carted him away. A year later he apologized to me and I never saw him again, but I will come back more to this story later.

In my Sophomore year, I was mugged and kicked by 5 girls coming off of the metro station. They yelled slurs at me as they kicked me and my friend in the chest and stole our purses.

In the years to follow, I became much more cautious about people and life. I prayed when I struggled, and I prayed at Sunday Mass, but I don’t know if I really believed and if I did believe my belief was luke-warm at best. Suffering had made it hard to believe.

Medication

I was tired of feeling depressed and anxious. Sometimes having panic attacks. I went to a doctor, and they prescribed medicine which they said would make me better. It took the edge off, but it didn’t make me better. I used medication on and off during these years.

When I would drive to visit my sister in the south, I would cry seeing all the wide open spaces, and the friendly faces. I decided moving would cure me of my depression and anxiety.

Within a short time of moving, I met my future husband, we were married, and within 10 months of our wedding, I found myself pregnant. I was excited, but also extremely anxious. We moved twice, my sister moved away, and I changed jobs. But the worst thing which happened during this time was 9/11. I remember being newly pregnant when the planes hit the towers. I watched as the people jumped for their lives. I remember thinking, “what kind of world am I bringing this baby into?”

Post-Partum Depression

After he was born, I went into a spiral of post-partum depression. It felt like I was having a heart attack panic attacks. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. Later I would also be diagnosed by a psychologist with PTSD from my days in college. I had so much anxiety I thought I would die. I would literally stand over my baby’s bed multiple times in the night to make sure he was still breathing. I was exhausted. I felt crazy. I felt as though no one understood. I knew I was supposed to be happy having a baby, but I wasn’t. And for the first time in my life, I actually wanted to die. I remember sitting in the bath one day contemplating sticking my head under the water and not coming up. The only reason I did not, was because I saw my sister’s face in my head, and I knew she would be sad. There happened to be a Rosary on the side of the bathtub and I picked it up, and for the first time in a long time, I prayed a Rosary.

I went to doctors, was given more medication, and occasionally prayed for God to release my suffering. I followed the best of the day’s medical advice–all of it–and it worked for me, to a degree. I went to counseling. I did the breathing techniques. Eat right, exercise, take medicine, I did all of these things. My anxiety became manageable. My frequent panic attacks became more controllable. Within a years time, I became my normal self. My “normal” self was one who worried all the time, but if I ate right, exercised, and got eight hours of sleep (which was hard with a little one) I was no longer totally debilitated by my fears and anxiety. I could function. I thought, “This is as good as it gets.”

An ectopic pregnancy that almost took my life, sent me back into the pit. I have to say, this was the only time I heard God’s voice outside my head. As I lay waiting for the CT scan and they injected what felt like liquid fire into my veins, I asked God a single question. Am I going to die? And I audibly heard, “No.” This allowed me to know God was in this suffering with me too. Because of the despair, I could feel coming on I quickly called the counselors and got back on the medical path.

Part II

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

My name is Susan Skinner and I am a lifelong Catholic. I attended all Catholic schools including the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

I am a mother to 3 children and a wonderful husband and we now reside in the South. I love living in the South.

Though I have always identified as Catholic, it was the murder of my friend in 2010 that brought a transforming change to my heart and made me a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I now make it my mission to spread His Love and Good News everywhere I go. Jesus isn’t just someone we should just know about, He is someone we should KNOW, personally. He has made me new. I am now the Adult RCIA and Faith Formation Coordinator of a Catholic Church where I live and I know God has brought me to where I am. I am nothing without him.

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  • Karen

    So apparently my comment stating that this is an irresponsible article because it advocates abandoning treatment for a medical problem. Depression and panic attacks are, in fact, medical issues. A vanishly tiny number of people will, like the author, experience spontaneous remission. Most will not, and should not be shamed for wanting effective treatment. You shouldn’t shame diabetics for taking insulin; same rule applies to mental health treatment.

    • Sue

      Can you tell me where I told people to abandon treatment? In fact I stated the exact opposite. You think telling people to add spirituality by going to Mass and adoration is bad? My remission was anything but spontaneous… it was a very long road over years toward healing. And the medicine was a tool that was part of that. There is no shame in that. I honestly have no idea where your vitriol is coming from. I am just letting people know there is hope. I am not shaming anyone. If you think Mass and adoration are bad then I have to disagree. Again I will pray for you.

  • Tanya Wersinger

    So much, so young to have all that discord. Praise be to God who delivered you. Incredible!

    • Sue

      Yes Praise God. There is much joy in my life now. We will publish the 2nd part tomorrow.