Freedom from Christian Science and a Path out of Anxiety

By Karen, submitted via email. Karen is a pseudonym. For more information about how to share your story, please visit https://exchristianscience.com/about-2/share-your-story/


In my decades as a Christian Scientist, I read Science and Health all the way through at least three times. I even tried to do what one of my mother’s friends did: read the entire book in one week (seven hundred pages in seven days). Yet in all my readings, my favorite chapter was always the one set apart from the rest of the book: the final chapter, “Fruitage.” I loved the personal narratives, which I could latch on to so much more easily than the formal prose. I loved the healings; one of my favorites was from the Civil War veteran who was healed of a broken jaw from taking a log in the face when sawing wood. Yet, as I grew into my thirties, I felt increasingly that I was at the same place many of the “Fruitage” writers were. I was ailing, hurting, discouraged, lost, and wondering what it was all about. I yearned for relief. I had been a student of Christian Science all my life, yet I was in the place of these people who discovered Christian Science. Darkly, I began to think of myself as a reverse Christian Scientist. What did that mean for me? Would I ever find healing?

After I left Christian Science and, awkwardly, entered medial care, I began to accumulate testimonies of my own kind. I found freedom, redemption, healing, comfort—concepts embraced by Christian Scientists—in the sphere of modern medicine.
Of all these, freedom is the one that means most to me. I spent fourteen years living in fear of heart disease. The symptoms began in 2001: My heart would race and beat fiercely. My chest would ache. My breathing would become shallow, my hands would tingle, and I would feel light-headed. I knew very little about my body, but I knew enough to be convinced I had a heart problem. (I want to note here that these symptoms can be serious, so definitely learn about them and get yourself checked out by a doctor if you experience them.)

Thus began over a decade of suffering. I experienced these symptoms with varying degrees of frequency and extremity. Thus began prayer, reading, and calls to four different practitioners over the years: calls in the early hours of the morning sometimes, sometimes calls when I was too afraid to even speak. The practitioners were patient and kind. One of them assured me, “Your heart is strong.” That helped me.
After the first two years, the spells lessened. But they never left. The fear never left. It often brought me to tears. I stopped driving on highways, and I approached bridges with trepidation. I was afraid of having an attack, losing control of my car, and harming myself or others. I dreaded being alone in my house (something I typically enjoyed) because I might have a fit and die with nobody to help me. I was even scared in long lines at the grocery store or at stoplights, lest I collapse and hold up people’s progress.

When I left Christian Science and started medical care, I anxiously awaited my first physical: What will they find? I did feel some reassurance that I would finally receive proper care, but I dreaded the inevitable looks of concern, the tests, the diagnosis.
My dread turned to relief. Since my start with medical care in 2015, I’ve had various tests, some as part of regular doctors’ visits and some stemming from two urgent care visits. Among those tests, I’ve had two EKGs, neither of which caused any concern.
My heart is fine. They say I have an occasional murmur, so I take the doctors’ advice to
avoid caffeine, to exercise and eat well, and to cope with stress. My heart really is strong, or at least it’s mostly normal. Now I know that with an assurance I never had before. (Even if I had a problem, I would now be in the care of professionals. And I wouldn’t be alone: Heart trouble is experienced by many people around the world; it’s part of the human condition, and we make the best of it that we can.)

What, then, were all these symptoms that I felt? I still had episodes of shallow breathing. I asked my primary care physician about it. Her first question was, “Do you feel a lot of stress in your life?” She asked about anxiety—a term I’d never heard spoken except in the context of nervousness, like I-am-so-anxious-about-my-math-test. This lovely, perceptive physician referred me to mental health services, where I found a therapist that illuminated my world. She explained anxiety to me. She recommended two books to me (see the resources below). The books introduced me to the nature of panic attacks. I remember sitting on a chair in my bedroom,
my mind blown wide open as I went down a checklist of panic attack symptoms. This changed my life.

Since autumn 2016, I have had four panic attacks. They are horrible, and at some point I always end up thinking I am going to die. (There’s still progress to be made!) But I hold on to the thought: This is probably a panic attack. I ride it out with the tools I have been given from therapy and books. I can enjoy being alone again. Waiting in lines or at stoplights is a normal experience again. And I’ve been driving on highways more. I’ve had many victories. I have freedom. The contributors to “Fruitage” in Science and Health sometimes remarked that they were grateful beyond words for Christian Science. I am grateful beyond words for leaving it.

Resources

And many more! Look around for what fits you best.

2 comments

  • Dear Karen,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I relate to so much of it! I was in the hospital for heart issues – a rapidly beating heart (over 300 bpm) last week and am still trying to take it easy until I see my cardiologist for my first appointment ever, in a few weeks.

    I also have anxiety – about parking lots. And being in crowds. Grocery shopping and just going to parties gives me fits.

    I would like to know more about those tools your therapist gave you to help you calm down when you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, please? I was given medicine, and I took myself off it. My son reminds me to breathe, I hear him. It feels like a distraction and doesn’t actually seem to help me, frankly. Although I love my son & feel his compassion when he tells me this.

    I would like to know about other tools.

    Thank you again for sharing. Your post, I relate to it so much.

    Sincerely,
    Jodi B.

    • Karen C

      Dear Jodi,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m sorry to hear of your heart issues. I hope your cardiology appointment goes well. For myself, even when I get bad medical news, I’m glad to receive real care from professionals who know about the physical body and can help me.

      So, anxiety. I’ll share various things that have helped me, and maybe others can comment with their recommendations. And maybe you do some of these things already.

      In the middle of a panic attack, I try to use positive affirmations. I used to think these were silly, but I’ve since learned that professionals have found them effective in a lot of situations. There are all kinds of them out there. For example, “This feeling isn’t comfortable or pleasant, but I can accept it.” Or “I’ll just let this pass.” Or “I deserve to feel okay right now.” Sometimes I even sing things to myself, “I am freaking out, but it’s okaaaay…!” That injects some humor into it and helps break the spell. Even smiling can loosen the panic’s hold just a bit.

      I also try mindfulness, just observing the moment without judgment. I try to think of the anxiety as a wave passing over me. I try not to fight it: just observe. Or sometimes I try to focus on other things, for example, looking at and naming all the colors around me, or counting all the books on a shelf, etc. Being curious about my environment.

      Also, you mention your love for your son. Maybe you have ways of focusing on him that can help relieve anxiety. Just thinking about him or remembering a great day with him or something funny he’s said.

      Not for in-the-moment panic attacks so much, but to address anxiety on a day-to-day basis, I mostly use three resources:

      (1) Nature. I’ve done some reading about ecotherapy, and there seems to be a lot of evidence that nature helps with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even physical conditions such as heart disease or recovery from surgery. I find relief by taking walks outdoors, looking at the clouds and trees, etc. Even just looking out my window helps. Watching nature videos or listening to nature sounds helps, too.

      (2) Journaling. It really helps me work out my feelings. I learn about my weaknesses and appreciate my strengths. I vent and also record the progress I make.

      (3) Meditation. I’m not so good at doing this regularly, but I know it benefits me. I’ve found this app called Stop, Breathe & Think, which offers good guided meditations. And I’ve heard of the app Calm but not tried it yet. Some of these apps prompt you to check in with your feelings before and after meditation, which I think is useful. Also, I’ve tried guided visualizations (there are lots on YouTube). These help me sleep.

      It’s so weird/amazing to be writing about these things and to be able to say that they truly help me. For decades of my life, this stuff was forbidden because the only route open to me was to “pray about it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *