Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Panic Attacks, Mental Illness, & The Church's Dirty Little Secret

The following is an article written by the incredible Carlos "Los" Whittaker.  What he shares grabs my attention because our church deals with many of these things on a weekly basis plus I have struggling with depress for many years.  What Los shares is insightful and honest.  Read on...

The first time it happened I was standing on stage at Sandals.
I had stood in front of this family every Sunday for at least 5 years.
Nothing was different.
Just another Sunday.
We were singing Charlie Hall's "Salvation".
It was the 2nd song of the set.
All of a sudden I felt my heart skip a beat.
Literally I felt it flutter.
WHAT WAS HAPPENING?
Then it happened again.
Everything started spinning.
My chest got tight.
I remember almost blacking out.
I put my guitar down and stumbled off stage.
The band kept playing and our exec pastor ran up to me with eyes wide open.
"I think I'm having a heart attack. Get a doctor please." I whispered.
They stopped the service and asked if there was a doctor in the room.
After 5 minutes with, the doc looked at me and said, and I'll never forget it…
"Carlos you aren't having a heart attack, you're having a panic attack"

That was the sentence that began a LONG road for me.
A road littered with me not being able to leave the house for days at a time because I would start perspiring profusely and my heart would race out of control.
A road where I would scream at myself in the mirror and curse God for giving me this thorn.
A road where I would have to pull over driving and sit for an hour because my body would randomly go into terror mode.

That was 13 years ago.
Through counseling, medicine, prayer, and everything short of traveling see the Wiz at the end of the yellow brick road, I have gotten my panic and anxiety under the illusion of control.
The truth is that it pops up at the most inopportune of times.
And what used to be strictly panic and anxiety has morphed into it's ugly cousin called depression.
Depression is newer for me but very similar.
The idea that I can't control my mind and my body.
It's all the same.
Zero Control and the fear of it overtaking you.

Over this year, after seeing social media explode with opinions and thoughts on mental illness, my own struggle came pressing her face up against my conscious again.
3 years ago I told my friend Eric, "I can see why people commit suicide. I honestly can. Not because I am near that, but this last bout of depression was the first bout where the fear of the what was coming was greater than the fear of anything else."
I've never been suicidal. Or at least I don't think I have. I don't even know what that really means. But I do know this…
I have prayed for God to take this away.
I have fasted for God to heal me of this.

And guess what.
I still have it.

Last weekend, before I walked on stage at Embrace Church to preach, I had to sit in the green room for an extra 5 minutes and do breathing exercises to slow my heart rate down as it had been palpitating all morning.
Was it because I was nervous about preaching?
No.
Was it because I was anxious about anything that was going on in my life?
No.
It.  Just.  Happens.

So let me dispel some common myths the church has when it comes to mental illness.
1. A person struggling with mental illness needs to have more faith.
My faith and my serotonin levels have nothing to do with each other.
2. A person struggling with mental illness should forgo medicine and pray harder.
You wouldn't tell an asthmatic to pray harder during an asthma attack. You would tell them to suck on that inhaler.
Same thing.
3. A person struggling with mental illness can't lead in ministry.
Read the Bible. It's filled with cray ppl like us killing it for God.
Oh. And you are crazier than you think you are.

Listen…
It's not easy.
I wish God would take it away.
I wish I could go more than 5 days without having a mild or major episode of anxiety or depression.
But as of now I can't.
And the church needs to get over it and stare this dirty little secret in the face.
Because when they do…
It will unleash a whole army of Christians who, at the moment, feel like they don't have enough faith to lead.

It's better that way...
Los.


For more from Carlos Whittaker go to http://ragamuffinsoul.com.  I am grateful for his honesty and his gifts to help the church take greater strides to learn and to love.  Thanks, Los!

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