Panic attacks at church

My husband went alone to his family’s church’s easter program last night.

I went last year, and we took the boys, and before they were acting up badly, I was having a panic attack. We left pretty early on in the program. I couldn’t handle being in a church, hearing the songs, it was all too much. This was when I was still trying to be a christian, albeit a liberal one.

That was one of the last times I have been in a church. I went once more to my inlaws’ church this summer, for family night of VBS. We had spent the day with my mother in law, and then went to church for the service and dinner. But the boys were acting up and we had to leave. I was kind of glad to go, honestly. It was very difficult watching all those indoctrinated children, lined up and spitting back out songs and lessons like they’d been brainwashed. Knowing that they were taught not to listen to their doubts, I was nauseated. This was after I became an agnostic.

The next to last time I’ve been in a church was to see Rachel Held Evans speak, right around a year ago, at a church I’d never been to in my hometown. This was during my brief stint as a ‘none’, but while I was still hoping to become a Christian again.
As if being in a church without Luke wasn’t stressful enough, i had forgotten my cell phone, and Luke had dropped me off. I wasn’t sure he would know when to pick me up, without me texting him to say it was over. Forgetting my cell phone made me feel trapped and lost. My panic mounted until Rachel got up to speak. She was a great speaker and distracted me from my panic. But then she was done. I stood there feeling sick as people mingled, until I finally got up the courage to ask a lady, if the church had a phone i could use. She kindly led me to it and walked away.

I tried dialing, but couldn’t get through. I remembered you probably had to dial a number before the call to get outside the church’s network of phones. At least that’s what my old church was like. I was trying to figure it out when another older church lady came up. She seemed offended that i was using the phone. She asked me what number I was dialing and i told her and she insisted it was a long distance number. I don’t know. She griped and fussed about it being a long distance number, instead of helping me figure out how to get the call to go through. I was so triggered by being griped at, i felt like i was suffocating, and i was about to have a total break down.

I mumbled something like ‘I’m sorry, i have to leave’, practically ran out of the building, and collapsed on the sidewalk sobbing and very embarrassed. Just then, Luke drove up to get me. I ran into the car. Because of my panic attack, I hadn’t even got to say hi to RHE.

And that was one of the last times I have ever been in a church. I’m not eager to go back. It seems I can’t be in a church building without feeling like i’m suffocating.

I know many people find comfort in church, in sermons and in songs, but it all just gives me nightmares.

Seriously, when we went to my husband’s family’s church, with their weekly invitationals after the sermons, I used to have recurring nightmares about the floor tilting really steeply, and I was sliding away from my seat towards the front, grabbing on to the legs of the pews for dear life, trying to catch hold of something. I felt like the earth was trying to open up and swallow me.

My difficulties being in church are not new to being an apostate. I used to get sick – now I recognize it as a symptom of depression and stress – every Sunday and Wednesday. We went to church faithfully anyways. I was unhappy there but learned to swallow it back and pretend like everything was fine. I think I’ve been unsettled in church for well over a decade, even through the years that I was totally on fire for God. I tried and tried to be happy at church, until the day I finally quit.

I can’t even go in a church now, without having a panic attack. I’m not sure I’ll ever be back.


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