Escaping Anxiety Through the Supernatural

2 A.M. I was losing air. The devil took his throne. He threw darts at me, taking advantage of every split second I tried to grasp for oxygen.

“You’re going to die in the next few seconds.” A shot lanced. Tears fell down my cheeks as I started to believe in what I felt was the only truth. “Say goodbye to your parents.” The more shots fired, the more my hyperventilating increased. Screaming took control of my body as I vividly pictured my deathbed. If there’s one thing I was desperately afraid of, it was dying.

My throat began to feel inoperable. “The switch is off. You can’t swallow,” the voice whispered.

I was afraid of breathing. I was afraid of swallowing. I was afraid of myself. Fear dominated my mind as the doctors looked at me from afar. Apathy was scribbled all over their foreheads. I became a wild species in a stage of observation, waiting to be tamed. I was desperate to live but at the same time, I was desperate to die.

Eighteen. I was eighteen. In the fourth century BC, Hippocrates wrote that anxiousness is a difficult disease. His thoughts consisted of something like this: “The patient thinks he has something like a thorn; something pricking him in his viscera, and nausea torments him.” To me, this couldn’t have been more truthful. Anxiety wasn’t anything new in the system.

I could hear the room being inundated with laughter from animals. The entire hospital room was colored in blue-painted wallpaper that illustrated the clear ocean and their inhabitants. It was the world of fishies.

“Come swim with us,” one said very invitingly. The fish had a smile on his face while he made direct eye contact with me. I stared at the eyeballs. “We won’t hurt you. Just take a dive into death.” I was suddenly transported into an ocean tank where I envisioned myself drowning, screaming, and claiming for air. My hyperventilation only worsened.

Supposedly, staring at these walls was supposed to bring me solace. It was the complete opposite, actually. This hospital strategy was known as distraction therapy. According to author Joanne Klimovich Karrop of the Trib Live newspaper, the goal of the childish wallpaper in ER rooms is to foster an environment that promotes harmony. She comments that it serves to heal the mind, body, and spirit when the patient is feeling anxiety. Nevertheless, all I knew at that very moment was that instead of bringing me psychological comfort, this textured surface only brought me more distress.

© Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia Commons – An example of fish-covered wallpaper that hospital emergency rooms use.

I wanted a solution and my lungs did too. Fast. How could those white coats just stand there and look at me without doing anything? My mom held my hands, attempting to comfort me as tears rolled down my cheeks one by one.

“Please do something to calm her down!” my dad scolded their nonchalant behavior. The main white coat looked at me in the eyes. “Sweetheart, calm down. We are going to give you something.” A dark-haired nurse entered the room with a water bottle, a white tablet, and what appeared to be a warm smile. “You’ll feel much better after this.” She placed the pill in my hands and demanded I swallowed. Little did I know that this white substance would sooner than later turn in to the strongest addiction of my life.

I began to feel a bit woozy. Although for some odd reason, I liked the feeling. The pill removed my distress. My trembling began to calm itself. My eyes started to feel heavy. I yearned for a mental shutdown and in five, four, three, two, one… my wish was granted.

By the time I woke up the next morning, I still felt the side effects. I was at ease. I enjoyed the sensation this pill had given me, but why? Everything had been mushed into one. My low self-esteem mixed itself with depression, isolation, a nonexistent social life, and now anxiety. I only saw two solutions at hand: die miserably or sustain my life with a pill.

According to the doctors who prescribed me this medication, they would agree with the second solution I presented. This was my escape, but unfortunately, it had an expiration date every time I took it. For a second, I thought I was alone on this until I picked up my laptop and scrolled through hundreds of anxiety-focused webpages. Rachael Dove from The Telegraph commented that she had tried yoga, self-help books and ‘Headspace,’ a mindfulness app, to calm the anxious thoughts that plagued her. I was blown away. How could an app help someone? Dove commented, “according to the British charity YouthNet, a third of young women and one in 10 young men suffer from panic attacks.” That sparked a turning wheel inside my head. I belong to that third. “Let that sink in, Georyana. The next step is a rehabilitation center,” the devil spoke.

He was right. The next few weeks after I’d experienced my first anxiety attack, were the definition of hell and back. I grew worse. My condition grew worse. My hyperventilating increased. Every time I told my mind everything was fine, more darts kept striking me. This 4.0 student began to miss classes due to increased ER visits. I grew a psychological fear of swallowing. My mind was like a hamster running on a never-ending wheel. Why couldn’t I find an answer to any of this? Where was the eternal solution? Apparently, the only solution that existed was to tell another person about my problems. I was off to a psychiatrist.

Going to a psychiatrist is one of the most common ways millenials are taught to cope with their anxiety. With school, family pressures, and relationship problems, youth are more inclined to see a doctor in order to release their emotional distress. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 30 percent of 18 to 29-years-olds suffer from an anxiety disorder. Author Katherine Schneiber from the Greatist Internet media startup comments that there is a silver lining embedded in the awfulness of anxiety disorders and that’s the “handful of helpful, proven tools available.” She advocates the use of medication as an evidence-backed solution. Schneiber promotes the idea of “getting a prescription for a regular or as-needed antidote to intolerable stress” as nothing to be ashamed of. “This is nothing to be ashamed of? What am I even reading?” I thought, as my eyes skimmed the words. How could I not be ashamed of my addiction to a white substance? How could I think this was all okay? Weeks had gone by and I was already convicted of one thing. I couldn’t dare to sleep without swallowing at least two whole pills. I needed it. I craved it. At least that’s what the devil made me think.

coping-mechanisms

Every time I closed my eyes, I saw my deathbed. I was haunted by that thought. I was petrified of dying. The sun would rise and as it would fall in the nighttime, my pensive mood would dominate me. It grew so bad that I began to have a social anxiety disorder. Days and nights inside of an apartment without seeing a single soul (other than my parents) grew dark on me. My parents grew anxious for a solution. My flight to the Dominican Republic, my parent’s home country, was waiting for me.

© Creative Commons CC0 - Airline Profits
© Creative Commons CC0 Airline Profits – Planes reaching their final destination.

Once I arrived, I met one of the best psychiatrists in their homeland. Over the course of 2 weeks, I went through intensive therapy sessions and being hospitalized. Visits to Dr. Acosta’s office turned into emotional breakdowns and relentless ranting. I tried to convince myself I wasn’t a messed-up person after hearing myself, but it was hard. I was grateful for the time and dedication she gave me, but in reality, I just found myself walking away with a bigger set of medication. Oh, and let’s not forget the motivational pep talks about loving yourself and other coping mechanisms for managing stress.

Coming back to Orlando after two weeks, I was taking a total of four pills daily: 3 Clonazepam tablets and one Quetiapine tablet. I was prescribed one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and two in the night. In other words, you could have said I was a walking zombie. Clonazepam was a pharmaceutical treatment used to relax the mind. It caused drowsiness, a reduction of anxiety, and a slight euphoria. Quetiapine was an antipsychotic prescribed to treat my depression. It provoked me to sleep peacefully and somehow reduced my irritability.

Months passed and with my overthinking personality, I was curious to know what were the stronger side effects of the pills I’d been taking. When they say, “curiosity killed the cat,” they don’t lie. As I searched on the Internet once again, I encountered an interesting article. Investigative journalist Christopher Byron commented that Clonazepam has been such devastation to people partly because it is so highly addictive. He mentions “anyone who takes it for more than a few weeks may well develop a dependence on it.” “The drug’s label clearly specifies that it is “recommended” only for short-term use—say, seven to 10 days—but once exposed to the pill’s seductive side-effects, many patients come back for more,” says Byron. The article also had reported that Hollywood movie producer Don Simpson died from an unintentional Clonazepam overdose. I had been taking the pill for seven months. Little did I know what I was consuming.

As these seven months went by, I was performing like a normal human being. That is – attending college and socializing with people, all under the influence. No one knew I took these prescribed medications except my family. I was ashamed of them. I despised the fact that these objects were controlling me. I had not returned to the hospital. Nevertheless, the depression was still there. The low self-esteem was still there. I felt like a runner in a maze with my only goal in life being finding my way out. My soul was dry. It was running on empty – no gasoline, no fuel, no engine.

I felt like a runner in a maze with my only goal in life being finding my way out. My soul was dry. It was running on empty – no gasoline, no fuel, no engine.

“I need to keep going. I need to find something that lights my soul on fire,” I thought. After auditioning for a fashion show, I encountered a soul-winner for God. Her passion was to bring people to Jesus. Her name was Kristie and she was my make-up artist. Kristie was a radiant brunette with a small baby-bump, dimples, and an art for make-up. We became close during the practices of the show and I could tell she was different.

“You should come to me and my husband’s Christian church! It’s right by where you live,” she mentioned. Church? Ha. “I was born and raised Catholic but the last time I attended a church was eight years ago. Plus, I believe in God. I’m good,” I told myself. “Uhm, I don’t know. I’ll try to make it out,” I said offhandedly.

“God wants to do amazing things with you,” she insisted, smiling. Me? The last time I remembered attending church I was desperate to leave. It’d be barely an hour and my eyes would go straight to the clock. “I’ll pick you up on Thursday night at 6:30. Service starts at 7 p.m.” I had no escape but to say yes. “Okay, Kristie. I’ll be ready.”

The doorbell rang and Kristie was standing outside of my apartment with her irresistible, beaming smile. I didn’t want to disappoint her with my damp mood so I faked a grin. What did I get myself into? I was going to experience the same thing. The story was going to replay itself. God forgive me, but I already knew the typical church experience. You go in depressed and you walk out depressed. They read you the Bible and you pretend like you’re still alive, breathing, and listening to the message. I knew it.

1
© Redimidos Por Dios (Redeemed By God) Church located in Orlando, FL.

We arrived at the church that read “Redimidos Por Dios” in Spanish, otherwise translated as “Redeemed by God.” As I walked through the door, I felt a supernatural presence consume me. The hairs on my skin stood up. “Oh my God, what is this?” A huge mantel fell on me as I took a seat. No, I didn’t see it. But I could feel it. As worship songs began playing, I began to bawl. “Why am I crying so much?” I asked Kristie. “That’s God’s presence you’re feeling,” she replied, still smiling, as she handed me a tissue.

A transformation began. I didn’t know what was happening to me spiritually, but I felt different. Kristie began to send me Bible verses in regard to anxiety, and somehow and in someway, they gave me peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7). Weeks passed and although I was still on my medication, I had a very clear revelation. Jesus was, is, and will always be there for me. He was there during every moment of my anxiety attacks. He was there during every ER visit. And He’s still here, giving me this peace, that’s just somehow incomprehensible.

As I attended more services, I started to pray more. Jesus showed me that He was in control of everything. I just needed to surrender everything and He would take care of it. I never realized how strong faith-based coping mechanisms were. Mental Health counselors Neal Schindler and Keely J. Hope note that prayer has been defined as a coping strategy and as a powerful method of healer. “Adolescents often use prayer to heal, complain, or reflect; when some pray, they relate to God as a friend, confidant, or parent,” they state. Seeing God as an unconditional companion that never expected me to be perfect helped me realized that I could tell Him anything. When others were not there for me, I knew that He was. Men had the potential to fail me because they were human, but God never would.

There was hope all this time. There was a solution all this time. It wasn’t drugs. It wasn’t fashion shows. It wasn’t friends. It was Jesus. He became my best friend and as soon as I would ask Him for peace in any stressful situation of my life, He gave it to me. He was never early. He was never late. He was always right on time.

Just after another service had finished, Kristie came up to me.

“We have a spiritual retreat coming up on January, about a month away. God still isn’t done with you yet. He wants to take away every burden from you and remove all of those pills,” she mentioned. “Want to register? You get to spend 15 hours in God’s presence,” she insisted. “15 hours?” I asked, amazed. “Yes. It’s a full day you get to spend with the Lord and He heals you in a lot of areas of your life.” I pondered for a minute. Then, I couldn’t help but to agree.

“A full day with my best friend? I’d love to,” confirming to an intimate appointment with the best doctor that ever existed. It would be two weeks until this event but I knew I couldn’t go a day without talking to my Father. I kept praying, going into my secret place where I spent time with God, until January 30th came around.

————

The day came. I stared at the pill bottle. “You will never get rid of me,” I heard it mock at my anxiety and me. I knew that voice inside my head. This wasn’t the first time I heard it. I couldn’t stand to hear it repeat itself. I pulled out a pill and swallowed my prescription for the morning. “Until I meet you once again in the night,” I said. 5:40 a.m. My destination was 15 minutes away.

After arriving at church, without a warning, the lights instantaneously went low. A video began to play on the monitor in front of us. My eyes met Jesus. “Oh. They’re playing the part where He dies,” I thought ignorantly. I was correct, but there was more to it than that. Something began to happen. Shivers covered my body and uncontrollable tears began to roll down my cheeks as I watched the man I had heard about for years being whipped by a group of Roman soldiers. Whip! The lash pierced His flesh. Whip! The blood dripped down His face, arms, legs, and back. Whip. I was transported into another dimension. My spirit was no longer in the room. It was tied to Jesus’ crucifixion.

As His crown of thorns was placed and His hands were pierced on the cross, I sensed my soul on fire. Every lash I saw, my bones felt. This was no longer just a video clip. This became a reality that pierced into the deepest parts of my soul. “He died for our sins. He died for my afflictions. He took my place voluntarily so that I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore,” I thought. All these years I was tired of searching for a way out to my problems only to realize that the way out was standing right in front of me all this time. Jesus. And I felt He was there in the room, with me, healing me, lifting my burdens, and giving me the gift of revelation.

Cross (G)
© Flickr – Alexander Cahlenstein – The cross is found on top of the mountain Hovärken in the small, Swedish village Lofsdalen.

After wiping away an ocean, we moved onto our next activity. This one was titled ‘breaking the chain.’ The Pastor began to state the essence of what we were about to do. As he was explaining, a server came up to me and began to tie my ankles together with paper rope.

“Put your arms together, side by side,” she demanded as she made a knot around them as well. I felt imprisoned. “What on earth are we doing?” I thought. The Pastor resumed with his instructions: “Everything you have faced throughout the course of your lives, every battle, every affliction, every ounce of misery and pain, Jesus already carried it on the cross so you could live a life of deliverance and joy, so it’s time we put this into practice. It’s time to break free.” Free? I didn’t know that word even if it hit me like a dodge ball in the face. But, hold on. It gets better. “The background music will play and you will begin to think of something that has been making you feel oppressed. When I count to three, you will have the freedom to do whatever it is you need to do in order to break that chain.” My heart began to beat rapidly. Sweat and uncontrollable trembling consumed my body. A fire lit up inside as I muttered “anxiety” over and over again.

The countdown began. One. I pictured three prescription bottles that overflowed with pills. Two. My mind replayed the emergency room I had fled to for my anxiety attacks at 2 A.M. Three. A scream of despair filled the room as I fell out of my chair kicking and bawling. The plastic ropes that wrapped around my wrists and ankles flew in the air with their broken pieces.

The plastic ropes that wrapped around my wrists and ankles flew in the air with their broken pieces.

All self-control was lost. My eyes saw flames as I was tied down to the floor by a group of servers. If I knew something at that exact moment, it was that God was manifesting Himself within me. The revelation came. He set me free from bondage.

The rest of the retreat went by like a breeze. I returned home at 9 p.m. feeling as if I was floating in the skies. “Who am I?” I asked myself. I pondered for a second. Wait. I knew the answer to that question. “I’m not the girl who overdoses in pills to cover my anxiety anymore because I no longer have anxiety.” I quickly went to the kitchen counter and removed the three bottles I was prescribed by my psychologist a year ago. “You had your fun and games. It’s over now. You no longer dominate me,” I spoke with authority. Down the trash they went. My mom stared at me in awe giving me the “what-did-you-just-do” face. “Something I should have done a long time ago,” I said smiling.

Jesus was no longer a mystical character in a book any more. I was hungry to meet Him again and to have another encounter. I yearned to have an intimate relationship with Him. 15 hours spent in the presence of Jesus and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way. He was real. And at the peak of almost giving up on life, He manifested Himself to me.

IMG_3368
© Flickr – Gigi Ibrahim – An artistic representation of the ropes, which held me back in psychological chains,  breaking.

Life without medications was a gift. As I’d go around preaching to other people about the miracles God had done in my life, others couldn’t believe it. When I called psychiatrist Acosta in the Dominican Republic, she advised me to take the pills again and reduce them gradually. She was worried about the effects they could produce since I had stopped taking all of them from one day to another. I’m sorry, but I was not going to do it. I wanted my freedom and God gave me it. I was not going to fall back into this trap again.

Today’s reality is not a Cinderella story either. Of course, there are temptations. Of course, there are these sudden urges I get to take those pills again because my mind likes to play a cruel trick on me. It likes to remind me of how I felt when I had them: the “wonderful” euphoria. But I like to remind my thoughts of how I am now, and how I wouldn’t trade today’s reality for anything in the world.

No one wants to be pinned to a set of prescriptions every day. I don’t guarantee that every day will be easy, but I do know something. I know that my one true living God already took my anxiety and depression on the cross. His sacrifice gave me access to liberty. Truthfully, that goes for just about any sickness there is. If He took away my oppressions, He can take away yours too. There’s something about the peace God gives you, even His word says that it surpasses all understanding. You don’t have to know how He operates. You don’t have to know how He does His good works. One of our most unfortunate qualities we have as humans is that we tend to rationalize everything. Just talk to Him. Believe in your heart that He’s hearing you. You’ll be surprised at the changes He will begin to form in your life.

References:

Byron, Christopher. “America’s Most Dangerous Pill? Klonopin.” CCHR International. 1 June 2011, https://www.cchrint.org/2011/06/02/americas-most-dangerous-pill-klonopin/

Dove, Rachel. “Anxiety: The Epidemic Sweeping through Generation Y.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 20 Apr. 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/health/anxiety-the-epidemic-sweeping-through-generation-y/.

Karrop, K. Joanne. “Distraction therapy: Hospital room designs help ease tension.” Trib Live, 27 June 2015, http://triblive.com/lifestyles/morelifestyles/8416076-74/says-rooms-hospital.

Schindler, Neal, and Keely J. Hope. “Commitment and Relatedness: How College Students Use Religious Coping to Manage Anxiety.” Journal of College Counseling, vol. 19, no. 2, American Counseling Association, 2016, pp. 180-192. Academic Search Premier, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.rollins.edu:2048/doi/10.1002/jocc.12040/epdf.,

Schreiber, Katherine. “OMG I Can’t Even—How Much Anxiety Is Normal and How Can Millennials Cope?” Greatist. 17 Nov. 2015, http://greatist.com/grow/how-much-anxiety-is-normal.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (ESV), Containing the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2011, p. 982.

  • author's avatar

    By: gsantos@rollins.edu

    Georyana Santos is a passionate lover of Jesus, communications major, multimedia enthusiast and aspiring journalist. She loves to tell stories through her photography & writing. Oh, and let’s not forget that she enjoys watching The Voice too.

  • author's avatar

  • author's avatar

    See all this author’s posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *