Going to Church & Having A Panic Attack

October 6, 2017

I stopped going to church over four years ago. I didn’t stop going because I lost my faith in God. I stopped going because it became impossible. My illness left me too disabled.

I was bed bound and didn’t have the strength to sit up for long periods of time. When I regained enough strength to go out in my wheelchair my nervous system was still too vulnerable to deal with being in public. People singing, multiple conversations going on in the same room and loud noises were painfully overstimulating. When I finally started healing through mold avoidance my sound sensitivity resolved but I was too reactive to mold to spend time in buildings. I still couldn’t go to church. It was really difficult to feel cut off from God’s people for so many years.

Well guess what? Last Sunday, I went to church!

Brett went in first to check out the building and ask about water damage history. The news wasn’t good. They had been dealing with a leaky roof for quite some time. But I was looking forward to going to church too much to just give up. My reactivity has come down a lot. I was going to try anyway. My heart was pounding in anticipation and dread as we walked up to the doors. I desperately wanted it to work.

When I walked in I felt a little something in my throat. Not dangerous swelling just some mild irritation. I reminded myself that I’m a lot stronger than I was and can handle some mold exposure now. I was determined to do everything in my power to help my body stay calm.

We went into the sanctuary and found a seat. The people sitting in front of us greeted us warmly. It felt so good to be in church again, surrounded by so many others who love Christ.Β It was like being with your family again for the first time in years.

When everyone stood up to sing, I burst into tears. Brett hugged me and I buried my head in his shoulder and wept. We both understood the importance of that sacred moment. I was worshipping with God’s people again. Oh how I missed this! It was surreal. I didn’t sing even one word because I was crying the entire worship service.

When it came time to sit down and listen to the preacher I noticed that new symptoms were popping up. It wasn’t just a sore throat anymore. My joints were achy and I was getting a headache. I tried to redirect my thoughts but there was no denying it. I was getting worse. Still, I did my best to relax and focus on the sermon. I made it to the end of the service but decided we had to leave immediately so I could go home and take a shower. I wasn’t feeling well and even my mood was starting to go downhill.

When we got home, we both showered immediately. I felt better but my energy was still low and I was feeling gloomy and overwhelmed for no reason. After lunch we decided to spend some time outdoors hiking. There’s a park right behind our apartment complex with amazing air and beautiful trails. I felt much better after the hike and we were able to talk to my family over Skype.

But in the evening something mysterious happened. I had a panic attack. The kind of panic attack where I lose control of my mind. Where I hide in the closet, scream, and become afraid of the people who love me most. It was bizarre. I hadn’t had a panic attack since the beginning of our tent camping journey. Thankfully, Brett knew what to do and I didn’t have to stay in that panicked state for hours like I have in the past. He gently and calmly coaxed me to come out of the closet and decontaminate in the shower. I felt much much better after.

That experience left us a little perplexed. The only thing I’d done differently that day was go to church. Brett and I tried to come up with another theory that could explain the panic attack but nothing else had changed. We can’t know for sure what caused it but it makes sense given my previous experiences that spending time in a moldy church building increased the overall inflammation in my body and left my brain in a more fragile condition than it would have been otherwise.

So, it looks like I’m going to have to wait a little longer to start going to church. We have hope that my reactivity will continue to lessen and eventually I’ll be able to attend regularly. I’m trying to keep my chin up but I’m pretty disappointed.

By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.

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  • Laura Davison

    πŸ’•πŸ’• sending all the love and hugs your way.

    October 6, 2017 at 1:03 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thanks so much friend! πŸ’•

      October 7, 2017 at 9:50 am Reply
  • Lizbeth

    Aww! I am so sorry to hear that! I’ll keep praying for your full recovery. Perhaps a newer building would help?

    October 6, 2017 at 2:16 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you Lizbeth. Yeah… I definitely think a newer building would be better. It’s just hard with church because there’s so many other factors that are also important…

      October 7, 2017 at 9:52 am Reply
      • Lizbeth

        Oh. . . yeah. I wouldn’t want to go to a brand new church that’s Catholic. . .

        October 9, 2017 at 11:58 am Reply
  • Lisa

    So disappointing Ana! But you are making progress!

    I had a thought (ok, maybe several) about factors that may have added up to your oanic attack. Just possibilities mind you, but just in case they’re helpful, I thought I’d mention them.

    Your last blog post you were feeling overwhelmed. I think that was just the other day. Your system was taxed. Today you stayed in an exposure for an hour? Not saying that wasn’t good, and I get wanting to worship together (I haven’t gotten to that point yet;-), but it is a likely factor. I think I recall you mentioning when previewing your apartment that you sensed a little bit of mold by the dishwasher. Maybe all things leading up to your panic attack lowered your resistance/cushion/etc just enough that that little bit of mold pushed your system over the edge. Just a lot of maybes. No certainties. And only you can evaluate you and your experience.

    You are precious Ana! You’ve made such progress. You’re still in the running. Keep going! You’ll get there!!!!!

    October 6, 2017 at 5:08 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thanks Lisa! I do agree that it was likely a combination of factors that wouldn’t have bothered me if it wasn’t for the exposure at church. But like you said, I’m making progress!

      October 7, 2017 at 9:53 am Reply
  • Nanette Fenn

    Gosh, Ana. It’s all so very crazy, isn’t it? I am thankful that you share as you do so we can learn and glean this process. The big why is not so much the panic attack but why did it come later, right? If it were to have come after the church service then you would have felt certain it was the building, yes? What a mystery. Then your second decontamination did get you back to normal. I always think it’s so radical and shocking and amazing.

    Have you seen the movie, Cast Away with Tom Hanks? I cried at how he had been so disconnected from life from his years on the island. I cried when Wilson was swept away in the waves. Both you and Petra know that deep disconnect and very deep sorrow that many cannot understand.

    I think you are quite brave and I pray for God to bring His healing of heart, mind, soul, and body. πŸ™‚

    October 6, 2017 at 5:48 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Yes, exactly Nanette. What was weird was that it was so delayed. πŸ™‚

      I haven’t seen that movie but it sounds like something I could really relate to.

      Praying for you and sending love as you move Petra to the new location! πŸ’•

      October 7, 2017 at 9:56 am Reply
  • Hailey

    I know what it is like to miss church because of being sick; however, I don’t know what it’s like to miss for that long. Praying that you will be able to attend soon. And I know that one day we will do nothing but worship Him together =)

    October 6, 2017 at 6:58 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Hailey! πŸ™‚

      October 7, 2017 at 10:00 am Reply
  • Natalie Julson

    Praying for you Ana, sending hugs your way. I hope that when the time comes for you to have the strength to go to church, I hope that you are able to do it without any anxiety.

    October 6, 2017 at 8:43 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Natalie! I really appreciate it! 😊

      October 7, 2017 at 10:01 am Reply
  • Sharon Cleek

    Be encouraged, sweet girl. God is at work and it is miraculous. And we are praying and crying and hoping right along with you. May God’s favor continue to rest on you and may His face be turned towards you always. Love you.

    October 7, 2017 at 6:18 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… Thank you so much Mrs. Cleek. This is so kind and encouraging! πŸ’•

      October 7, 2017 at 10:02 am Reply
  • Carolyn

    Maybe look for a church without water damage? I wonder if it would help to use an oxygen tank while in the building? I’m avoiding mold per doctor’s orders, and am not going into ANY buildings, at least until I’ve finished the treatment process. My understanding is that even small, incidental exposures will derail the recovery. Hope you can bounce back quickly!

    October 7, 2017 at 11:19 am Reply
    • Mary B

      You are totally correct. Shoemaker has found that even 5 minutes of exposure can lead to noticeable increase in inflammatory markers within an hour. For those of us who have been made very ill from mold exposure, I don’t think any exposure is a good idea even after recovery. The reality is that you will get exposed if you go out in the world, but it’s important to avoid known unsafe places. And, there are many, many of the latter, including doctor’s offices, courthouses restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

      October 10, 2017 at 2:14 pm Reply
  • Vonni

    Ahh, tis OK.`Just a wake up call.
    Everyone with some kind of environmental illness has done it – ignored the little signs from our bodies and convinced ourselves we can stay somewhere/ do something/ eat something because we really wanted to, and had a crash. There can be no recovery without testing the boundaries.
    This is a great article to share for the mold skeptics to see that the crash for some of us is delayed – they may not necessarily recognise the cause-effect relationship.
    I’m sure you’ll be OK in 2-3 days , as your background health status is so much better now. Keep kicking butt!

    October 7, 2017 at 5:05 pm Reply
  • Ruth Meyer

    Glad you made it through a whole service, even if it was a lot, Ana! I went to a ladies conference once, where I had the worst panic/anxiety attack I’ve ever known. It wasn’t mold, though, I don’t think. There were flowers everywhere, some in pots, and the ladies all around where we were sitting had on super duper heavy perfume. My heart started pumping like crazy, I was about jumping out of my skin, and I wanted to run out of there, throw up, anything! But, I stayed. I probably should have just excused myself and gone out. But, I managed to switch seats with my Mama, so I was at the end of a pew, further away from the perfume. I made it, but I was incredibly miserable. It was so discouraging, and I felt like all my recent improvements had been a waste. But, they weren’t! I was much better the next day, and after we got home from the conference. It was still an incredible experience, and worth going. But, I definitely understand having to avoid going places where there are just so many variables that can potentially affect your health. I would have cried too, Ana! Continuing in prayer for you.

    October 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm Reply
  • ashley nicole

    Aw well don’t let a little set-back discourage you, friend. These things take time, and patience is the key! It’s definitely disappointing to not be able to worship with God’s people, but it makes it so much more special when you will be able to. So many people take church for granted, but this experience is only making you appreciate it more and more! Keep fighting m’dear <3

    October 7, 2017 at 7:28 pm Reply
  • Alexa

    Aw, I’m so sorry! Praying you continue to improve and are able to enjoy church often again!


    October 8, 2017 at 12:38 pm Reply
  • Hannah Edlin

    So glad you were able to visit and sit with the church family again in a service!Sorry to hear about the evening though.
    McKendrick started finally napping in the afternoons so church has become so much easier and we are actually going. I know we had a choice so not trying to compare, because we could have kept him up, which we tried and it was not good haha. What I am trying to say is even after a short time of not attending it was hard. So I can’t imagine how it was for you. I am sorry for the separation you have felt. So grateful the Holy Spirit is ever constant with us and not just waiting for us in a building somewhere. I will be praying you find somewhere to attend and that you keep improving so much more. that you can have energy strength and be symptom free to dance, sing, clap and rejoice with the congregation ❀️

    October 8, 2017 at 6:48 pm Reply
  • Ellie Peetz

    Oh, no! I’m so sorry, Ana! I hope you feel better soon!

    October 9, 2017 at 1:02 pm Reply
  • Mary B

    Yes, unfortunately, many churches have mold issues. Partly due to the fact that the HVAC is often shut off during the week and as you note, repairing physical damage that leads to mold growth often isn’t done soon enough. In my experience, the idea of being able to go into moldy spaces and not react isn’t something that’s achievable. I’ve been out of mold for over 10 years. I’ve had period exposures as I travel for work. My reactions are less intense and I do recover more quickly after nearly 11 years of leaving an improperly remediated house. But, I don’t think there’s a way to turn off the fact that mold toxins damage your body. Shoemaker’s research shows that 5 minutes exposure can lead to a noticeable increase in inflammatory markers within one hour. That’s been my experience. I do okay in bad spaces for about an hour, but then I get very anxious and need to flee or just deal with the inflammation. I always take CSM after those experiences . The worst take 48 hours to fully recover. But, in many cases, within a few hours, the symptoms are gone. So, I suggest you just keep looking for a church that is safe as opposed to assuming that one day, you won’t react. Not reacting doesn’t mean that your body is not being impacted by the toxins. I think what happens overtime is that our skill at dealing with exposures improves, which is a good thing. But, mold exposure will never be a safe thing for the majority of us. I have a multi-susceptible genotype and a mold genotype, so I may be on the extreme of the spectrum. But, my older son that is mold + low MSH crashed because he thought he could tolerate the exposure.

    October 10, 2017 at 2:11 pm Reply
  • Erin

    Well, that’s good and bad news all in one. I can relate! I’ve been discouraged about my book. I’ll pray for you!!! I already have been but I’ll pray more! Love ya! -Erin

    October 11, 2017 at 3:50 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww! Thank you so much Erin! I’m sorry you’ve been discouraged about your book. Don’t give up. πŸ™‚

      October 12, 2017 at 9:03 am Reply
  • Kim

    I can totally relate to crying into my husband’s shoulder all the way through worship. I used to play bass guitar on the worship team, so it’s emotionally hard to not be a part of of that. I often have to stand, pace, or kneel through part of the service due to pain in my spine but I’m oh, so grateful to be there.

    October 15, 2017 at 7:38 pm Reply
  • Andrea

    Hi Ana! I’m new to your blog. Pastor Kevin put me in touch with your blog/you. I have Chronic Lyme Disease and I now live here in Rapid City. I’m originally from PA. Tick country/your neck of the woods. I’ve been sick for many years but where we lived in NE and now in SD no doctor knew to test me for Lyme. I’m just now getting into treatment phase. I’d love to connect with you. Like you it’s been awhile since I’ve been to church.

    October 27, 2017 at 3:39 pm Reply
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