I couldn’t breathe.
Everything was spinning. Blood was rushing, like needles – everywhere. I was going to faint…and everyone would see.
I tried water, relaxation techniques, walking off the feelings. But they wouldn’t stop.
So I took my first Xanax.
I’d had my first major panic attack.
I’d been having near “fainting spells” since grad school. David took me to the doctor for tests and it turned out – these were just panic attacks.
I was prescribed Xanax, a few breathing exercises and sent off.
I figured I’d be fine if I just relaxed more.
But life happens.
There was no major trauma that triggered my first major panic attack.
We’d had a busy season, working 7 days a week. I’d been eating poorly, sleeping little, never exercising (I swore to David I’d never run unless it was away from something), and had been worrying about everything:
Work. Dreams for the future. My to do list. David. And, most of all, Knightly.
Since he was 6 weeks old, every 6 months, Knightly is graded by teams of specialists (not just 1 team, but 3). After a year of acing every evaluation, every evaluator was telling me that delays were showing up in every category.
My baby was 16 months old and I was being given detailed documents showing that at some levels Knightly was functioning as a 3 month old. At a party the day after, a lady looked at Knightly and said, “Judging from how he moves, he must be just 7 months old, right?”
Though by no means the worst thing that could happen, it’s the words you try to prepare for but absolutely dread hearing when you’re a parent of a child with special needs.
Over time, something broke and my mind wouldn’t take anymore.
I hated the Xanax.
The day after I took that pill, I got its hangover effect. For the next 24 hours, every single hour, I had a major panic attack. I couldn’t drive, work, or even eat without triggering those same symptoms over and over again. I thought:
“This is it. I’m officially going crazy. I’m going to have to stay at an institution for the rest of my life.”
I couldn’t imagine leaving the house. I could barely get myself out of bed without suddenly feeling like I was about to die.
my turning point
I woke up terrified about the day.
I had to do a photoshoot; then, watch Knightly all alone. David was shooting a wedding and wouldn’t be home ’til late.
Waves of panic washed over me as I drove. I tried relaxation exercises. I tried praying. As I dragged my feet through the sand on the beach, I felt like I would lose consciousness right there – ’til I saw the couple I was photographing. Miraculously, the entire shoot went by without them noticing anything was wrong – with them actually enjoying themselves. They had no idea that deep inside I was fighting to keep calm.
I drove home hoping to feel relief but the tension mounted as I went to pick up Knightly. David had been my anchor after tough panic attacks and I realized I’d have the entire evening with my baby alone.
Arriving home, I put Knightly down in his play area and fell on my knees.
I felt incredibly ashamed to struggle with something that should be so simple to fix in my mind.
I knew, I KNEW, that everything was okay. I knew all the right Bible verses. I prayed the right prayers. I had gone to healers.
But there I was, lying on the floor, wrapping my arms around myself, feeling absolutely hopeless and sobbing.
Knightly watched me.
I saw him slowly start to crawl towards me.
He put his arms around me, looked up at my face and just smiled.
And I melted. I looked at Knightly and just knew I had to get better. I have to beat this.
Thank God, I was blessed with a husband who’d been there.
my husband’s battle with anxiety
After David first got Bells Palsy, he suffered from major anxiety for two months, almost always at night. He slept very little and was constantly fearful of death with every new symptom his body had. Work felt impossible and, with a newborn child, he could barely manage but he did what he could day by day.
I remember getting so impatient, telling him he was fine and he just needed to get over it.
And I thought of people I knew who struggled with depression or anxiety and just wondered to myself:
“It’s just in their heads. People just need to get over it and look at the bright side of life.”
But now I understand how hard it is.
When it becomes a war with your own mind, in your own heart – it takes so much more than just “think HAPPY thoughts” to get you out of it.
my goal | Overcome this panic disorder. Without medication.
why without the drugs
- We want more kids | The minute I have another bun in the oven, I won’t be allowed to use any drugs or supplements that help with anxiety. Why learn to cope with meds if you’ll just have to deal with it again while having pregnancy hormones? Does not sound fun.
- I hate the side effects | I was in zombie mode on meds. Live like that the rest of my life? No thanks.
- I want independence | I can’t live life knowing I have to have them around to feel safe.
- It doesn’t really solve my problem | There’s a reason I’m struggling with anxiety this badly. And, frankly, I need to freakin’ deal with why that is. My body’s trying to tell me something. It’s time to listen.
6 months ago, I couldn’t imagine a moment where I’d be free of this. When this started, it felt impossible to get out of bed and get through the day. Knightly’s therapies, grocery shopping, watching a movie, even driving the car would trigger me.
It has been an almost impossible adventure.
Around 3 months ago after, I came home from a challenging photoshoot. I pulled into the garage, turned off the engine and wept…from utter joy.
I had had no panic attacks that day.
For the first time, I actually believed that, with God’s help, I was going to beat this one day.
It brings tears to my eyes when I say that now I can go to work, go to therapy, go grocery, and live each day again. At my darkest points, I never thought I’d come back to this.
I can truly say this journey has been one of the best things that have ever happened to me.
Because of this, I’m in the best physical shape of my life. I have learned how to cook healthy meals for my family each day (I’d never cooked before). I’ve had the difficult conversations I’ve spent my life hiding from. I’ve grown the most meaningful of friendships. My marriage is stronger. I have been changed, painstakingly, for the better.
Still combating anxiety and fear on a daily basis, I am learning to overcome this panic disorder without medication, with God’s help, every single day.
So what helped me?
the BEST panic/anxiety attack treatments that made the BIGGEST impact
- ILovePanicAttacks.com | Truly life-changing, wonderful, and hilarious audio series from one who suffered through years of extreme anxiety and agoraphobia – His journey around the world learning from people like Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra created a wonderful step-by-step day-by-day program for people struggling with panic attacks.
- Counseling (my personal recommendation: Megan Keller, LMFT at Megank@iceckids.org or 949-648-3698) | Based in Orange County, she has just an amazing heart, warm spirit, and best of all, is a woman who battled anxiety and panic attacks for years and got through it without medication. Also a fellow believer, she fit everything I was looking for and has been a great counsel to me.
- Whole30 | A lifechanging transformative look at eating and the relationship you have with food – and a great 30 day adventure to change how and why you eat (I absolutely LOVE the results. More on our Whole30 here.)
- Exercise | I see a HUGE impact when I am regularly working out. I try to work out almost everyday (if not at least take a good walk). (1) Yoga | My absolute favorite is Hot Yoga from CorePower Yoga + (2) Cardio workouts | Zumba (Fantastic Fitness Studio‘s is fun) and running with my baby in the stroller (Knightly will actually push himself forward to get me to go faster which definitely helps motivate me).
- Journaling | The biggest change in my thinking came when I started centering my focus on everything I am thankful for in each moment. Journaling at the end of the night all that I am thankful for or happy about has made a big difference as well.
- Community | I would not be where I am today if not for the loving community and Lifegroup that God brought my way. It is an incredible gift and blessing to find people and friends that you can truly say whatever is on your heart and what you’ve really been through. Real, honest, there-for-you community is worth more than its weight in gold. I found my community through an awesome Rooted series held by Mariners Church. It’s held every quarter and I, hands down, recommend this to EVERYONE.
- A Holistic Health Nutritionist (my personal recommendation: Susan Largent from Sow Good Seed) | Based in Orange County, Susan is a Board certified Holistic Health Nutritionist – she has a great heart about getting you at optimal health without the use of drugs and gaining nutrition through whole foods. She’s also a personal friend and absolute sweetheart – I’d recommend her to anyone.
so why share this?
When this all started, I reached out to my closest friends and asked for prayer. To my biggest surprise, I found out that most of them have struggled with the same thing. I couldn’t believe it was so common. And I also couldn’t believe how secretive it was.
So I’m sharing this now because maybe there’s someone like me who’s reading this – someone who needs to hear this. To that person:
You are not alone.
You are not crazy.
And there is hope.
Other people have a hard time understanding what it’s like when your biggest enemy is in yourself – when it’s not cancer or some specific illness – when it looks like all you need to do is just “feel better”. There’s so much hell going on around the world but do not belittle yourself.
Do not feel guilty.
Do not give up.
You can breathe again.
You can live again.
You can have the life you’re looking for.
You can beat this.
It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to require all of you. But that’s what happens:
When you want to change your life – your life will have to be changed.
All of it. Your mindsets. Your habits. Your relationships.
It’s one step at a time. But, more importantly, it’s DOABLE!
And there ARE people out there who’ve beat it and WITHOUT meds. They’re real (I’ve actually met some).
It will require honesty, transparency, and allowing yourself to go to places you’re uncomfortable with.
But you’ll grow. And you’ll learn to defeat the battles you never thought you could.
A dear friend shared this quote with me:
When this all started, I was terrified to tell anyone else I was struggling with this. What would people think? What if they realized I didn’t have it all together? You know what I learned though?
I don’t have it all together.
And screw trying to pretend like I do.
I get scared before meeting people, worried if they’ll like me or not. I care too much about how I measure up compared to other people, feeling like I’ll never be good enough.
So it made perfect sense that I’d develop a panic disorder.
And it was the perfect humbling wake up call. Life’s way of saying:
Welcome to the human race.
God made me face debilitating fear
‘Til I couldn’t take it anymore
So, although I felt like I was blindly running from a life of dread,
I found myself running towards a different life, a life of courage,
A life of overcoming fears
I’ll be sharing my journey as I continue to push myself to face everything that once triggered and terrified me. It’s been an empowering journey from rock climbing, confronting difficult people, to learning to let go of where my son is and will be.
And it’s only begun.
I have a long way to go but I pray this will help encourage someone else who also has a long journey ahead they need to face.
To that person, you’re not alone.
For those of you dealing with this same issue right now, I’d like to pray with you:
Dear Father in Heaven,
I thank You, Lord, because You are good. You are faithful. You are love. You are God.
And, although there is in our minds a feeling of impossible, you can make all things possible.
Lord, I lift up to You this dear person who is struggling with fear, anxiety, depression. You know every thought. You know every hurt. You know what lies heavy on their hearts. Free them from their despair.
You can move every mountain in our lives. Where there is doubt, bring faith. Where there is despair, bring hope. Where there is loneliness, bring love.
Grasp onto us and do not let us go. Uphold us with your righteous right hand. You will not leave us or abandon us. In our darkest of moments, You are there.
For those who don’t know You, help them to see You and to be healed and to realize they are known and they are loved. Shine Your light in our lives and help us to know You are near.
All the glory to You, sweet Jesus.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
May you be blessed with a life of hope and courage!
‘Til our next adventure and with my love,