My first anxiety attack happened when I was about eight years old. While I don't remember the exact time, I certainly recall what happened.
I was lying on the floor at our home in Downey, California. Suddenly I felt dramatically alone. My mother, as I later found out, was just next door at our neighbor’s house, but no one was in the house with me and I panicked…big time! Adding to this drama was the clear sense I had no power to stop it. My mother shortly arrived and had to hold me for maybe a half hour for me to come out of that world of fear.
What was going on in my life at the time? Mom and Dad were fighting, separating, divorcing. I could do nothing about it. Our family was fragile, and so was I. My kindergarten report card noted that “Stanley cries too much.” Interesting! Because there was a period of time afterward lasting maybe ten years or so that I never cried for anything.
I would continue to have these occasional panic attacks through early college days, maybe once a year. The fear of sensing that one might be coming actually helped it come. Fear! When I was in the middle of one of those attacks, the fear was so intense that a shotgun pointed at my face would have been less scary. Why? Because of two “realities” I was experiencing. The first one was a powerful sense that I was alone. Remember the first attack and how it must have imprinted me? There was a feeling that no one either could understand what I was going through nor be able to help me.
The second feeling was equally clear, and it came in waves. I could not stop the panic! I had lost control of myself. There was literally nothing I could do…no cold shower, no face slapping, no trick that could slow my pulse down. I simply had to “ride it out,” hoping it would end soon. My Mom holding me probably helped.
As I think about those events now while I’m writing this article, it suddenly hit me why I was negative on trying the drugs that my friends were trying. This was the 1960s-70s. Most of my friends tried a lot of different things. My college roommate was kicked out of school because of it. But I could tell that they couldn’t control themselves, and maybe that was why I steered clear?
Where was God during these times in my life? Probably very near, but I was NOT saved. I knew about God but did not know Him. I liked the hippie culture, and I thought that I could not be “myself” if I became a Christian. Looks like another fear of a loss of control, right? Maybe I’m a control freak!
But God’s patience finally won the day in my life, and He graciously won me to Himself when I was twenty-two. I returned to college, this time to study for the ministry, when I had the biggest panic attack I ever had! This one didn’t last the customary one hour or so — it lasted over one whole day! No one I spoke to about this, including a campus counselor, could understand my terror. And it began to become clear to me that (without getting too dramatic here) demons were involved in some way. It got so bad that I prayed, “Lord, if I must deal with this for my whole life to keep You as my Lord, I will do it. But I will not give up my faith just to find relief.”
I immediately felt a sense of God’s presence. It was as though He said to me, “I needed to hear that.” And very clearly, my waves of fear slowly and consistently subsided. The panic was over. And on top of that relief, I felt God was telling me, “you won’t have another panic attack ever again.” And I haven’t, praise the Lord!
When I do a little self-analysis about the fears that set me off, “aloneness” was perhaps the biggest one. In my opinion, mental health itself can be connected with this fear. If you are the only one in your entire universe, that is real aloneness. After all, a powerful sense of aloneness is what killed Christ on the cross. He had sought companionship in the panic He felt as the Father began to pull away from Him. It was often the sense of the Father’s close presence that put a bounce in Jesus’ step while He ministered.
God Himself must have been motivated to create living beings to fill His own life with people to love and who could love back. And the fear of losing us in eternity was a powerful reason for the whole plan of salvation.
As I look out at the world today, it strikes me that there is a huge sense of aloneness that people are struggling with, trying every possible option in order to cope. The musical group Green Day sang a hit song entitled “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” The main repeated lyric is, “I walk alone, I walk alone.” No one understands, no one can help. It’s a sad song, but one that many connected with.
I don’t walk alone anymore, but I certainly understand the feeling. So does God.