Soon after I was diagnosed with anxiety and had started on the medication I was at a very low point. We had gone on holiday to Barcelona, but I was too fearful to leave the holiday apartment for the first few days. I felt dizzy – I thought I would fall over. My chest was tight. I was sweating, even though the temperature was quite mild. I couldn’t go in the lift to the apartment because it was too scary, so I walked up to the fifth floor. This didn’t actually help as it made me more out of breath and added to the lightheadedness.

My wife didn’t know what to do for the best. We were a long way from home, in a foreign land. All I wanted to do was sit on the sofa and keep warm under a blanket. We nearly hadn’t got to our destination as I refused to get on the Eurostar at first. I’d developed a panic attack at Waterloo station and the “impending doom” of a train journey under the English Channel was too much. Or nearly was too much.

At the point of it was either get on the train or we would be heading back home and give up on the holiday I gritted my teeth and went for the train. I didn’t want to let me wife down and have her miss out on our holiday.

The train journey was quite miserable. I didn’t want to sit in our seats, so we sat at the end of the carriage on the temporary seats next to the luggage. I listened to my mp3 player – lots of worship songs. It felt better to escape into worship. In fact listening to worship songs on my mp3 player was what enabled me to cope with the whole holiday.

After a few days of this hellish existence I gradually plucked up the courage to leave the apartment and explore the city. It was all about confidence building. I would tell myself that after I had managed to walk to such and such part of the city I had survived and nothing terrible had happened. So the next day I could try it again and maybe explore a bit more. Day by day my confidence grew as I taught myself simple things like walking around, going on the metro, going into museums and churches and shops.

During one of my more rational moments I tried to analyse what was going on. It felt like information overload. Instead of tuning out background noise and only focusing on the task in hand, all my senses were taking in the sounds and smells and sights all at once. My brain had too much to handle and this made me fearful.

Fearful I would be ill. Fearful something bad would happen.

Barcelona has a lovely big department store – El Corte Inglés, but it took a few goes over a few days to enable me to venture further in than the ground floor. I needed to know I was within 10 minutes of an exit. So to go up or down an escalator was too much to consider at first. Eventually I grew in confidence by telling myself I had managed so far the day before, I could try a little further today. So by the end of the first week I had enough confidence to have a coffee and cake in the top floor restaurant.

The second week of our holiday was quite a contrast. Confidence  was returning. I had relearned basic skills like sight-seeing. I was able to tell myself I had managed to cope with this yesterday, I could try that today. I started to enjoy being on holiday.

All this was nearly three years ago, and it is hard thinking about it again. Hard because of how restricted I had been. What kind of life is that? Hard because of the impact it had on my wife. She is such a treasure and has helped me tremendously. It was a far from enjoyable time of life, and I felt that the anxiety was robbing me and my family of joy.

I am no longer the same person that struggled in Barcelona. I’ve been on many holidays since then. I’ve been on the Eurostar and other trains lots without the same sense of panic.

It was also a time of trusting in God. I prayed loads. I listened to lots of worship. I felt God was close. It wouldn’t be true to say that He took all the anxiety away, but I did know his presence with me while I was going through it.

Anxiety is normal

To some extent nearly everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their life. The worry before an exam or driving test, butterflies in the stomach before a first date or job interview, nerves about public speaking. All these will prompt an anxious reaction to a greater or lesser extent.

Psychologists say it is to do with the fight or flight mechanism in your brain. Is the obstacle or challenge you are facing one that needs you to flee (such as being chased by a lion) or one which you should fight (exam nerves). The body knows how to cope with these situations and adapts by pushing adrenalin around as required.

When Anxiety becomes a problem

The problem occurs when the fight or flight mechanism is some how broken and these normal anxious feelings occur in situations that don’t merit such a response. Anxiety can become a controlling entity which impedes your normal life skills. Previously easy to perform every day tasks such as driving, going to the cinema, getting on a train, sitting at a desk, become filled with dread.

Symptoms could include headaches, tight chest, stomach and digestion problems, heart palpitations, tiredness, depression, sleeping disorders and many more. There could be a feeling of needing to get away and hide in a safe place.

When I first started to notice that that anxiety was a problem for me I was at work in a normal daily situation. I would be sitting at my desk and when someone came over to speak to me I would start feeling uncomfortable. I would feel a pressure in my head, like I was going to fall over. I would make my excuses and then go and hide in a toilet cubicle or in the first aid room.

These feelings increased over time and I was to learn that my reaction to them was actually reinforcing the sense of peril and making the matter worse. I didn’t know that at first and so I tended to flee rather than fight the anxious feelings.

Is Anxiety curable?

I believe it is. I have experienced a high degree of being set free from anxiety. It hasn’t completely gone from me… yet. Through a combination of medication, therapy and prayer I have a much more enjoyable life that is no longer dominated by this unwelcome visitor.

It is so important to seek medical advice. There is no need to retreat into yourself and suffer in silence. Anxiety can steal life. I didn’t always understand what was happening to me, but I knew it was becoming a controlling force and I was going to have none of that. So I sought help.

It did take a couple of visits to the Accident and Emergency to prompt me. (Saying you have a pain in your chest is an easy way to get seen quickly in A&E!) But I booked an appointment with my GP and he referred me to a specialist.

Professional Medical Care

I’ve included a link on this site to the NHS website which has more information on anxiety and includes a video. If you are suffering from anxiety, or know someone who is, then do seek professional medical care.

In future posts I will explain more about how the anxiety affected me, some of the mistakes I made and how I am being healed of it.

Nearly three years ago I felt a pain in my chest which resulted in me going to A&E and having an ECG to check my heart. It was ok but that was the start of me getting other symptoms which eventually led to the diagnosis of anxiety. For a period of about six months this anxiety gradually became a controlling force in my life. Work suffered, social and family life suffered. At times I couldn’t even sit at my desk because I felt unwell. I had to hide in a toilet cubicle or the first aid room. I was unable to do simple things like attend meetings or go to the cinema without it being a real effort to endure. I had to sit at the back of church or upstairs. I needed to have a get out plan for social events. I couldn’t walk through the shopping centres. Eating out was nearly impossible. It was a nightmare.

My GP referred me to a Psychiatrist who put me on medication. Fortunately I had private medical cover through work which paid for a Psychiatrist and later a Psychologist. The GP had said that if I hadn’t got the medical cover he would only have been able to offer me a leaflet.

My manager was very understanding. I was determined not to have any days off sick and he allowed me to adapt my work load to fit in with what I felt able to cope with. The Psychologist worked through cognitive behavioural therapy with me, part of which gave me coping strategies to work with.

I also, and not with wanting to make this sound an after thought, had a lot of prayer. When I hid I prayed. Driving to and from work I prayed. And when I didn’t have the words to pray, I listened to worship music or Bible verses. It was difficult to share with many people about the anxiety. The nature of it meant I didn’t want to talk about it. My wife knew, of course, and has been hugely supportive and a tower of strength.

Some days were harder than others. Some days the anxiety was more controlling than others. Life was about how to endure and accommodate the anxiety. Some days it was easy to pray, others it was hard. Sometimes God felt close. Sometimes He didn’t.

The anxiety always felt like an unwelcome guest that had invaded our lives. Why it decided to visit, I don’t know. But one thing I know that helped was my determination to say this is not the way it will always be. It was an unwelcome guest, and one day my present troubles would be a distant memory. Each day I prayed a simple prayer that by “His stripes I have been healed”. Isaiah 40:30-31 are some verses that were given to us that have been a help as well.

I had a week at Harnhill about a year ago where I received some prayer ministry. While I was there a verse from the hymn And Can It Be spoke to me about my condition. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee. I think Wesley was referring to being in chains because of sin, but the words spoke to my condition about being imprisoned by the anxiety. This was something I could hold on to during the darker times.

Prayer and praise evenings at church have been part of my story. A year ago I used to have to stand at the back where it felt safe. Over the course of the Spring and Summer as each month went past I could find myself starting the evening not quite at the back, then a bit nearer and now it doesn’t seem to matter where I stand. Being in the presence of God means that it is all safe ground.

I would say that I have had a very high level of healing from anxiety, and this has increased noticeably in recent months. I’m not yet at the stage where I could stand up and announce to the world that it has totally gone. I’m still on medication, but this is reducing. I’m still seeing a psychiatrist, but the frequency of appointments is decreasing. I am freer to do the things that I would consider as normal that haven’t been easy during parts of the last two years.

We go out for meals, go to the cinema more now. My work patterns are returning to normal. I can sit in meetings and actually take part rather than just wishing it was over. It’s been more than six months since I last had to hide. It really is a new lease of life. Our life still has its fair share of other challenges to deal with, just like everyone else. But the point is, life is in proper perspective again, and it’s not about enduring this unwelcome guest anymore.

Looking back, I think there have been aspects of anxiety in my life for a number of years. Prayer ministry sessions I have had have helped uncover some things from child hood that I’d forgotten about. Praise God for prayer ministry.

I know anxiety is one of those issues that a lot of people suffer with. We know a couple of people who have it in our circle of friends. I hope this testimony could be of encouragement for those who are in the midst of it.

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