Sometimes it is hard to come out of our cages, because we have lived there so long. Our cages have become our safe place. In our cages we have a sense of control, we know what to expect, and we become comfortable with the idea of life without any big surprises. But the Holy Spirit has come to release us, to free us, to take us on new adventures, to climb new heights, to explore new depths.
Roy Lessin (from The Holy Spirit Book)
Before climbing aboard the “Wild Thing” roller coaster for the first time, I had some other new adventures to go on. One of them was grocery shopping at the supermarket where I had shopped many times. This uncharted thing called panic disorder capsized my frail vessel. I was sinking.
I learned a new word – agoraphobia. It is a type of anxiety disorder that can potentially turn your home into a cage. The fear of having further attacks leads to a pattern of avoiding places and situations that might cause you to panic, making you feel even more trapped and helpless. There are often these senses assorted with panic disorder: that your environment is unsafe, that you are going crazy – and even that you are dying.
Fear of anticipated or actual situations (such as using public transportation, being in a crowd, enclosed spaces, and even just standing in line) can immobilize you – especially if you decide there's no easy way to escape your surroundings or get help if needed.
In extreme cases, agoraphobia can lead people to never leave home.
The exact cause of panic disorder is unknown. It often runs in families, as it did in mine. Some of the risk factors include smoking, drug use, psychological stress, and a history of child abuse.
My first attack happened as the sun was setting on a beautiful summer’s night. I had gone off on a little trek with my son and some friends to one of Minnesota’s state parks, which I had often visited before. My friend and her son had never been there, so I was the captain of the adventure. We were having a grand time exploring the trails and rustic stone structures throughout the park where white-tailed deer, red foxes and chubby little chipmunks played (a delight to our preschool-age boys). In all the enjoyment, I lost track of time, forgetting how quickly the sun can set in a forest.
Thankfully, we made it out to the lot where my car was parked before total darkness set in. It was during the journey out of the park – with its twists and turns, rights and lefts – that an utter sense of lostness took hold. Panic began to grip me, and my mind became wild with fear IN THE BLACK OF NIGHT.
Up until that point, I had always loved exploring the depths of a wood and navigating unfamiliar trails. As a little girl, I was fortunate to have grown up in homes surrounded by woods and a green field or two. They were always such a marvelous place to escape to. I spent hours on end there when I could. It was a safe place where there was silence and a dash of hope that peace really could be found. I discovered in the wood and field a place to dream, explore and gaze heavenward, wondering about God.
Was He up there? Did He see me? Did He love me? Could He help me?
I often used to wonder if I would survive my childhood years. I'd already had a number of close calls with death in my young life. From that journey to the barn door in a blizzard ... falling fast asleep in a snowbank as a kindergartner ... a fall through the lake ice wearing skates as a young teen ... to the threat of our car being steered into oncoming traffic ... all these incidents made the world seem such a dangerous place for a child.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1 NIV