My heart is pounding… My hands are shaking… I can’t breathe… The whole world is spinning… I’m gonna faint… Am I gonna die?
These were the thoughts that were running through my mind when I had the first panic attack in my life last year, when I suddenly woke up at around five in the morning and started experiencing these terrifying symptoms.
I didn’t know what was going on with my body, and I couldn’t reach out to anyone for help at such an hour.
I was drowning in fear, anxiety and helplessness because I thought that I would get a heart attack and die.
It was only the next day when I met up with a friend that I was able to put a name to what I experienced.
Through that conversation with my friend, I realised that the panic attack may have been my bodily response to the mental and emotional burdens I had been carrying for the past few months.
These were friendship conflicts, family situations as well as the realisations of deep, past hurts in my life.
But a few disturbing thoughts remained in my mind: What if that wasn’t the last time? What if it becomes a regular occurrence in my life?
And my fears began to come true. In the following weeks and months, I started having insomnia and frequent panic attacks.
There were many days that I was woken up by a panic attack, and I had to spend hours trying to recover before I could go on with my day.
I would even have sudden panic attacks in the middle of church service. When that happened, I would hide in the toilet to calm myself down.
Whenever it happened, I would feel helpless, frustrated and angry.
Because I was stuck feeling helpless and hopeless for an extended period of time, I started developing depressive symptoms.
I started feeling out of place in social settings because I found them too noisy. I felt that everyone was happy and enjoying themselves, but I couldn’t. It was like I could never be happy anymore.
It felt as if I could never be a part of this world anymore, and that led me to isolate myself.
I often hid in my room and stayed in bed as long as I had no school, and I kept my head down and remained quiet when I attended cell group gatherings and church services.
Experiencing God’s love in community
But even though I felt lost in all these struggles, God’s providence and grace never stopped.
The moment I started struggling with these mental health issues, a few of my church leaders immediately offered themselves to journey closely with me. Closer friends whom I opened up to also banded around me to support me.
They often go the extra mile for me, like standing around me during service to look out for me, offering to spend time with me even after a long day of work, calling me after a panic attack to chat and pray with me and even opening up their place for me to sleep over so I can have company.
I am extremely grateful for them because their love and kindness have helped me to see friendships and community in a new way.
It is a kind of love that doesn’t bail even when things get messy. It is a love that allows me to lean on their faith when I lack it. It is a love that points me to God when I struggle to see His heart. It is a love that is undeserved, freely given by grace.
With the support of these people, I started making sense of what I was going through. I came to the sobering realisation that there is also a deeper issue underlying my anxiety and depression — my sin.
The way I always dwell on negative emotions has made me more prone to depression; the fears and insecurities I experience in relationships have become one of my triggers to anxiety.
These facts were hard to swallow, and it felt harsh that I still had to own my sin when I was already going through so much pain in these struggles.
But that was also where hope came into the picture.
While my depression may not miraculously lift right now, I know that Christ is the antidote to my sin.
While I might still feel trapped in my sin and its consequences, I know that Christ has won the victory over sin through the cross — I simply need to remain in Him and journey with Him.
Thus I started to embrace this season as a journey of grace. I began to realise many deeper sins and areas of growth in my relationship with God, and I began to recognise God’s grace and love in how He can take even struggles like these to sanctify me and bring me closer to Him.
One day, a dear friend introduced me to Delightful (The Sower Never Wastes A Tear) by Hillsong UNITED.
That song became a great encouragement and reminder to me about God’s promise in Psalm 126:5, “that those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy”. There’s a part that goes like this:
So I’ll wait long as heaven takes
One day I’ll see the joy You make of this
‘Cause ain’t nothing gonna stop Your faithfulness
So I’ll wait long as Heaven takes
One day I’ll see the joy You make of this
How You never let a single tear go wasted
The lyrics remind me to trust in God’s faithfulness, and to wait for His promise to come through — even if it takes my entire lifetime.
Hope in the tunnel
Till today, I am still struggling with depression and anxiety.
Even though I have grown to be more familiar with the symptoms and learned some coping mechanisms through counselling, I am still not able to fully explain why and how these struggles came about.
There are still mornings when a panic attack wakes me up and leaves me feeling exhausted. And there are still moments when I go through emotional breakdowns and depressive symptoms.
Yet amidst these moments of struggles and confusion, a quote by C. S. Lewis from his book, Mere Christianity, reminds me of the work that God is doing in me even when all I can see is a mess.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
While I might not know exactly what God plans to do through these struggles, I know that I can trust His heart.
I know that the end goal is definitely one that leads me into greater freedom, greater joy and greater intimacy with Him.
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25)
God alone is the reason for my hope. It is not just a hope at the end of the tunnel. It’s not a hope that waits for my depression and anxiety to be over. It is also a hope in the tunnel.
Because it is in this process where I can see God’s presence and the good work that He is doing in me.
While the object of hope lies in the future, the experience of hope may be found in the present.
So I wait patiently.
- Have you ever experienced any of the things the author described?
- Have you sought help (medical and more) for this?
- Who is a trusted person you can speak to about panic attacks, anxiety or depression?
- Do you know someone who’s facing what Devin lives with? How can you be a blessing and encouragement to them this week?