overwhelmed-mom-head-down

I recently wrote about feeling overwhelmed, and many of you shared your own experiences with the same types of emotions. But what about when the feelings go deeper?

Have you ever locked yourself in the closet? Fallen face-down onto the bed and wept uncontrollably… for hours? Felt despair so deep you couldn’t shake it? Had panic attacks? Experienced frightening and rushing thoughts you can’t control and that shock and even horrify you? I can ask these questions because I have experienced all of the above.

A few years ago, I noticed I felt on edge. I ignored it and kept going. My edginess soon gave way to panic attacks. At first, they only came on while I drove over the river bridge. My extremities would go numb, my heart rushed, I felt lightheaded and dizzy, and I worried I would lose consciousness. But I used my usual method of dealing with issues: I ignored it. Soon, the panic attacks came on during intense moments in TV shows and movies (and when I say intense, I mean even the fight scene in “Kung Fu Panda”).  Still, I ignored it.

The panic attacks gave way to feeling so overwhelmed, I couldn’t get things done; even a sink full of dishes was so overwhelming that I had no idea where to start. Then I locked myself in the closet a few times and sobbed uncontrollably. Still, I ignored it.

Then the thoughts started. Rushing, hateful thoughts — mean things even directed at God, which I never would think on purpose. But I couldn’t control them. My brain had frozen like a skipping CD on thoughts I hated. Tears fell while I banged my head on the wall to make them stop, but still my thoughts raged. In a panic, I called my parents — the only phone number I could remember. I told them I wanted to shoot myself in the head just to make my thoughts stop. My mom tried to sound normal, but I could actually hear her waving my dad onto the phone. I was afraid to live, afraid to die. Afraid God would reject me for what kept going through my head. I was paralyzed by fear.

That was the day I knew I needed help. My dad explained that rushing thoughts is a normal reaction to stress. (Rachel was diagnosed with severe autism a few weeks after.) My dad went on to remind me that God loves us far more than we love ourselves, and Jesus died on the cross for all sins. There is no fine print about Jennifer’s thoughts. Also, see Paul’s thoughts on the subject in Romans 7:15–8:4.

I sought a Christian counselor, which helped a great deal.

Later, my doctor prescribed an antidepressant. Even though I had fears about taking medication (Would it change me? Would it disappoint God? Would I be a zombie?), I agreed. I’m so glad I did. It took a few different meds to get the right one. (One of them did zombify me; others made me feel nauseous, but I stuck it out.) My panic attacks have gotten a lot better. I handle stress better. I also sleep better and have less muscle and joint aches.

I would encourage anyone who experiences anything as I did to stop and take action at the early stages. Don’t let fear stop you. Panic attacks and the rest are normal physical reactions to stress. There is no shame in getting help and seeking professional medical help; and/or Christian counseling is a much better method than self-medicating through things like food and alcohol.

{Editor’s Note: Singer, song writer Steven Curtis Chapman’s wife visited MomLife Today; see this interview with