A Sermonic Panic Attack

So this past Sunday was quite an adventure in my illness. I had really been struggling with the sermon. It wasn’t working. I tried writing it three times. Nada. I tried working through one of my old sermons (been doing too much of that lately). Nada. Finally I settled on a sermon that a friend wrote whom I can usually “lift” without too much trouble. But it just didn’t feel right. I knew this, but I had just ran outta time in preparation. So it goes.

The service is going fine, but the sermon is just dogging at me. I can’t get it out of my mind, and not in a good way. It didn’t feel right. As I thought through it, I didn’t know what I was going to say. There was nothing there. Just nada.

We come to the sermon hymn. Thankfully, it has seven verses so I have a little time to think. My mind is racing, but it isn’t going anywhere. I just have no idea what I’m going to say. The manuscript is up there, but it’s like it’s not even though. I finally get up to start reviewing it before I’m on.

I start the sermon. But I can’t read. I get through a sentence, and it’s like the words have no relationship to each other. It makes no sense. I try off the cuff a bit, but my brain has become a black hole, sucking all thought away into a mindless void. I am as we would say in Hebrew class, tohou wa vohou, a formless void.

This goes on for 5-7 minutes. I really have no idea how long. I have no idea what I said. I’d read a sentence, and then try to say something offhand about it, but it wouldn’t make any sense. I’m sweating, fearful that I have now been FOUND OUT for the fraud that I feel I am all the time.

Thankfully, it ended. The rest of the liturgy went fine, and bible class went surprisingly fine. But the whole experience left me shaken.

I think it was a panic attack, just unlike any I’ve experienced before.

Blech.

God willing, tonight will go better.

So how’s your week?

14 thoughts on “A Sermonic Panic Attack”

  1. I am not sure I would characterize it as a panic attack. Panic attacks tend to feel like a heart attack. Breathing and heart rate go faster, limbs can become numb- when I get them I typically pass out from the hyperventilating. On average, they last about fifteen minutes (I know mine do- I have timed them!). My thought is that it was a severe anxiety attack. Usually when my anxiety hits an all time high, I obsess over the very thing I am afraid of. I can think of nothing else and everything else I try to do really doesn’t go so well because my mind has become a single track loop for one train of thought. It’s so hard to sit though, too, because no matter what I do, my mind keeps reeling back to that one thing that is bugging me. This type of action can and does lead to panic attacks for me, where the outward physical symptoms paint a picture of what is going on in my mind, and a pretty picture it is not. My severest anxiety has no reprieve without medication. In a way, it is a great picture of objective justification because there is nothing I can do inwardly to fix the situation. The best thing I can do is take the medicine and allow something outside of myself to fix the situation for me. Then I sort of stumble, sometimes very well, through the rest of the situation causing me anxiety, however, I feel rather detached and sometimes a little down on myself because I couldn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and fix it myself.

    The worst thing you can do now, though, is dwell on it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. That will only make things worse. Instead, set up a plan for how to handle this in the future, from asking a brother pastor for advice to calling up an old seminary professor. Decide what you are going to do if you do indeed decide that your sermon isn’t worthy of being said out loud before you even get near the pulpit. Places where my anxiety hounds me always need a plan of attack, even if I don’t follow the plan. The fact that I can retain some measure of control in a situation I have no control over in the first place brings my anxiety level down significantly.

    I hope this helps and God’s blessings to you this Lenten tide.

  2. I am not sure I would characterize it as a panic attack. Panic attacks tend to feel like a heart attack. Breathing and heart rate go faster, limbs can become numb- when I get them I typically pass out from the hyperventilating. On average, they last about fifteen minutes (I know mine do- I have timed them!). My thought is that it was a severe anxiety attack. Usually when my anxiety hits an all time high, I obsess over the very thing I am afraid of. I can think of nothing else and everything else I try to do really doesn’t go so well because my mind has become a single track loop for one train of thought. It’s so hard to sit though, too, because no matter what I do, my mind keeps reeling back to that one thing that is bugging me. This type of action can and does lead to panic attacks for me, where the outward physical symptoms paint a picture of what is going on in my mind, and a pretty picture it is not. My severest anxiety has no reprieve without medication. In a way, it is a great picture of objective justification because there is nothing I can do inwardly to fix the situation. The best thing I can do is take the medicine and allow something outside of myself to fix the situation for me. Then I sort of stumble, sometimes very well, through the rest of the situation causing me anxiety, however, I feel rather detached and sometimes a little down on myself because I couldn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and fix it myself.

    The worst thing you can do now, though, is dwell on it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. That will only make things worse. Instead, set up a plan for how to handle this in the future, from asking a brother pastor for advice to calling up an old seminary professor. Decide what you are going to do if you do indeed decide that your sermon isn’t worthy of being said out loud before you even get near the pulpit. Places where my anxiety hounds me always need a plan of attack, even if I don’t follow the plan. The fact that I can retain some measure of control in a situation I have no control over in the first place brings my anxiety level down significantly.

    I hope this helps and God’s blessings to you this Lenten tide.

  3. What kind of feedback did you get on Sunday? Did anybody ask what was wrong? Or did you get “thank you for the sermon, Pastor”? When things are hard for me, I wonder sometimes whether other people are as aware of it as I am.

    Hooray that tonight’s went better.

  4. What kind of feedback did you get on Sunday? Did anybody ask what was wrong? Or did you get “thank you for the sermon, Pastor”? When things are hard for me, I wonder sometimes whether other people are as aware of it as I am.

    Hooray that tonight’s went better.

  5. That must have been so difficult to get through. I’m glad my responsibilities are generally nothing that can’t be put off until later. Praying for you.

    My week has been so-so, thank you. I had a little meltdown yesterday out of stress over the disobedience of a daughter and having two cars which both have serious repair issues. At least now I know these relapses are part of my illness and there is a reason for them.

  6. That must have been so difficult to get through. I’m glad my responsibilities are generally nothing that can’t be put off until later. Praying for you.

    My week has been so-so, thank you. I had a little meltdown yesterday out of stress over the disobedience of a daughter and having two cars which both have serious repair issues. At least now I know these relapses are part of my illness and there is a reason for them.

  7. CSchellenbach’s advice sounds good to me. Have a back up plan you can use just in case. I would imagine that if this strikes again, it will be once in a blue moon.

    You might get together a kind of presentation you could do during the sermon time. Perhaps something like a hymn sing with introductions and notes on the particular hymns as you went. There would be some public speaking here, but it would be brief and another hymn would start before you had too much time to be too confused. Just have the text ready to go. And maybe an overall introduction that tied it to the season so it sounded in place.

  8. CSchellenbach’s advice sounds good to me. Have a back up plan you can use just in case. I would imagine that if this strikes again, it will be once in a blue moon.

    You might get together a kind of presentation you could do during the sermon time. Perhaps something like a hymn sing with introductions and notes on the particular hymns as you went. There would be some public speaking here, but it would be brief and another hymn would start before you had too much time to be too confused. Just have the text ready to go. And maybe an overall introduction that tied it to the season so it sounded in place.

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