I was lying on the cool tiled floor of the office, the gentle hum of the computers filling the air around me as I struggled with my first panic attack in nearly two years. It had crept up on me slowly – like they always do – taking most of the morning to finally boil over around 1:30pm (Palestinian time). I had ignored the warning signs; the feelings of restriction, entrapment, and physical restlessness. I recognized that I was anxious, but thought I was being absurd. What was there for me to be anxious about? I had just returned from my days off at the Dead Sea and was, I thought, relaxed.
But there I was, lying on the dusty floor trying to breathe deeply, trying to slow down my mind and my heart. But it just wasn’t working. In an act of desperation, and with tremoring hands I grabbed my rosewood rosary and began praying. I was, however, praying in a unique and totally different way. This time it was personal.
I began with the usual, but when I got to the Hail Marys I changed it slightly.
“Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us anxious now and in the hour of our death.
I continued this way until I got to the first mystery. Instead of the usual ilk, my mind snapped to the portrait that Annie Leibovitz had taken of John Lennon and Yoko Ono right before his death. I imagined myself in Yoko’s place and Jesus – rather than John – wrapped around me, kissing my cheek, and enveloping me in peace, love, and stillness. I held the unorthodox image in my mind, sinking deeper and deeper into it as I breathed deeply, relaxing all my muscles and joints.
When I was ready, I moved onto my altered version of the Glory Be.
“Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, should be now, and will again
be, forever in a world without end. Amen.”
I continued through the next Decade with my altered Hail Mary’s and came to the second mystery. This time I envisioned the possession of the man at Gergesa; I was the possessed and my name was Legion for what was inside me was many; fear, anxiety, loss of control. I envisioned Jesus laying his hand upon my head, and driving these emotions away, into the herd of pigs and over the cliff to drown in the sea.
Again, I continued through until I reached the third mystery. I chose the raising of Lazarus – I, you see, was Lazarus. I was paralyzed by my own emotions, lost in the endless darkness of what feels like death in these moments. I envisioned hearing Jesus command the stone to be removed, and in flooded the glorious sunlight and clean air. As I lie there on that floor, eyes closed, I lifted my face to the sun in my mind, feeling its warmth on my cheeks and the cool air in my lungs.
The fourth mystery was the Crucifixion. I gave all my anxiety, fear, hoplessness, frustration, anger, restlessness – all of it – to Jesus so that it could die, there, on the cross.
Finally, the last mystery – the Baptism. I envisioned myself being plunged into the water, the final remenants of my panic attack being cleansed away from me. When I surfaced, I felt purified and consecrated to God. The heavens opened up, a dove alighted on my shoulder and I heard the words that I claim as my core identity, “This is my daughter, in who I am well pleased.”
I laid on that battered Palestinian floor for nearly an hour, diving deeply into each mystery, giving it everything that I had until my body relaxed and the panic attack was over.
My final prayer was one of gratitude.
So many of us Christians suffer from anxiety and depression, and we feel at a loss on how to combat it – especially when in the downward spiral of a depressive episode or panic attack. The loss of control – of ourselves, our emotions – is overwhelming, to say the least – I know, I’ve been there. You’re not alone, friends, we are suffering together – and we can help each other through! The next time you’re feeling shitty, I invite you to try this meditative practice and see if it helps.
Remember, God loves you, I love you and we’ll get through this together.
Blessings of Peace,