Monday, September 28, 2015


I can't tell you how many times I've started writing about this. I've wanted to be open about it, but have never found the right moment.
Over the last year and a half, I have experienced two incidents that have had an impact on my life and family.

Previously I had always heard people use the term, "Panic Attack" and I just thought they meant their heart was racing and their breathing was labored and basically how I spent the entire portion of my life feeling when I was in Scientology.

So when I was loosing consciousness one day, about a year and a half ago, when I was alone in my very rurally located house with my kids and hyperventilating I actually called an ambulance. I thought I was having a heart attack and dying. Actually I knew if it wasn't a heart attack it was a brain aneurysm. So when they, (the paramedics that I had embarrassingly called) told me that they thought I was having a panic attack my instant reaction could only be described as defensive.

Among my thoughts were, "that isn't even a real thing, its just something that dramatic people say", "I only panicked AFTER I was loosing consciousness whilst alone with my children, not before," and "just take me to the hospital now, because I'm about to die! "

I actually said, "Um, I've been through a lot of crazy stuff in my life, why would I be having a panic attack now?"

Over the next few weeks I would learn that panic attacks can happen at anytime to anyone, you don't actually have to be anxious at the time. It is a malfunctioning in your nervous system which misidentifies a harmless situation as something that is life-threatening. This is believed to be caused by some form of an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.

The doctor said she would give me anti-anxiety meds, but I instead opted to see a therapist because I felt it was an isolated incident and didn't feel like anxiety was something that plagued my every day life.

The therapist I saw was a wonderful lady. The only therapist I have ever seen since leaving Scientology. We only had a few sessions.

I feel like the assumption would be that my time in Scientology was finally catching up with me. And in a way, it was. But why now?

I should mention that during the week prior to the panic attack, both myself and Archie had multiple severe allergic reactions. Face swelling, hives all over, entire body bright red and burning resulting in multiple midnight ER visits, allergy testing and misdiagnosis that resulted in us being told we had a "chronic condition" and had to take allergy meds everyday for the rest of our lives. It was "impossible" that it was an insect causing this because this reaction was "systemic". Never mind the unlikeliness that we both were afflicted at the exact same time.

It turned out to be an insect after all called a Kissing Bug that we are both apparently very allergic to and also plagued the previous residents of the house we were living in. So we moved out and have never had any reaction since.

But these reactions and ER visits and seeing my little boy's face swollen like that, coupled by a recent heart attack and stroke in the family had me feeling very mortal. Therein lay my anxiety.

While none of this had anything to do with Scientology per-se, the fact is that I spent the first 21 years of my life KNOWING that when I die, my spirit "thetan" would just move on to another body and I'd live again. I don't know why, but this is the one thing that I never questioned growing up. I questioned a lot of other things but somehow I KNEW that I was a spirit who would live again.

Fast forward to 10 years later and I no longer believe or take for granted that I will live again. I believe that after wasting half of my life in a cult, I have finally worked hard to build a life that I love and this life is the only chance I will ever get to be with the most amazing people I will ever know and love (my kids and husband) and I'm finally in a great place.

The thought that it could all be over in the blink of an eye while driving, the bite of a bug, an unknown heart murmur, brain aneurysm, you name it and staying alive can start to feel like high stakes obstacle course with no second chances! I guess most people deal with this a lot earlier than I am and by the time they are my age, they have learned to live with it on some level.

My sessions with the therapist petered out because, once we discovered it was the Kissing Bug I felt more assured that I could control the situation and perhaps random chronic illnesses weren't trying to Final Destination me and my son. I had also moved too far away from the area for our sessions be convenient.

She had given me some tools to help ward off an oncoming panic attack because my biggest fear was having another one while driving or while alone with the kids. These definitely helped to ease my anxiety.

Over the course of the past year and a half since the original attack there were several times where I had the beginnings of another panic attack. But I became very good at managing it. I learned certain procedures like, don't call Dallas, only call my Mom and she would help me. Holding my breath for a few seconds was another trick (unlike the "Just Breathe!" advice) that actually worked very well for me. Nothing ever came close to being a full fledged attack again.

That is until last week.  I had this awful cough that's been going around that last nearly two months! I had pressure on my chest and there was rattling and wheezing going on making it hard to exist in general much less sleep. On top of that, I had just gotten a regular head cold. So now in addition to it being difficult to breath through my mouth, my nose was now blocked.

I went to the doctor and she prescribed me a steroid and so I was picking it up at Target when I started to feel like I was going to pass out. Winnie was with me, playing with her little toy. The feeling wouldn't go away and so I started to panic. In Target! I already couldn't breathe and that made me more frantic. So between trying to breathe and trying to stay conscious and being with my kid, I began having another panic attack and it was out of my control.

Unfortunately my Mom was out of town and so I was left with Dallas to call.  Although he did come and get me, I felt guilty about it which made me even more panicked.

I was finally able to get my wits together after an hour at home and things went back to normal. I haven't had anything happen since.

As I've been dealing with this over the past year and a half, the vast majority of people who I have spoken to about it have been extremely understanding when it comes up in a conversation. Many of them have had their own experiences and even talk about how they have dealt with it themselves.

Others have said things like, "just calm down" or "just learn to enjoy your life and your kids and relax."  This bugs me. Because I have a panic attack doesn't mean that I am unhappy or worse ungrateful, in fact, the very fact that I am happy is a huge contributing factor in why I panic.

Before last week's incident, it was something I thought I had under control and even conquered. Now it has popped up again and so I guess I need to figure it out again. The attacks always seem to be related to something medical. Who knows?- I may try more therapy if I think its necessary. Right after it happens I am freaked out about it, but then a few days later I think, "Its only happened twice in eighteen months, I'll be fine".

I guess the point to this whole rant is that sometimes in life, especially as we get older and have been through more, these issues crop up in ways you would least expect. It happens to all of us, whether we are someone who has survived a cult, or someone who is struggling with loss or even just someone who is a new parent (or not so new).

These issues are nothing to be ashamed of. Its natural to have some rough spots or issues to deal with in life and nobody should feel alone in this. We are all dealing with something, whether or not it is obvious. Some people won't understand, just like I probably didn't until it happened to me.

But I've learned that there are so many people who DO understand and for that I am truly grateful and also more determined each day to learn to be more and more that type person myself.


  1. Hi,
    I read your blog often and have found your story so fascinating. I read your book and am inspired by your strength and ability to overcome an absent childhood. So many who grow up like you do not survive. Michael Jackson comes to mind. I am in my 50's and so with a bit of life behind me and a wee bit of wisdom from living through some tough years myself I want you to know that panic attacks are fairly normal. I've had them, my sisters have had them and most people I know from time to time do. Getting help and yes even medication is warranted if they become more frequent but rest assured you are not alone. Just wanted to share that with you.

    1. Thanks so much for your sweet words. I appreciate all of the wisdom I can get! Thanks for caring enough to reach out and for making me feel like I have a little blog family that watches out for me <3 <3

  2. Hi Jenna, Thanks for sharing what you've been going through. Just wanted to say, I have no doubt you will make it through this. But the points you make are very good ones. Growing up in scientology, I have come to the same conclusion as you, what we have is the life in front of us. What happens when we die is anyone's guess as far as I'm concerned. I know one thing for sure, I don't know what happens then. Me. But that's just me. For me too, what is most important to me are my kids, my husband, and living the life I now have that I always dreamed of and never imagined actually having. I had a very close call myself in 2013, when my 3rd son was 6 weeks old, spent 2 days in ICU and was told I might get sepsis, something I'd never heard of prior to that, but which is a common cause of death in the US, essentially body overload from severe infection to the point your organs start shutting down. So yep, we've all had bumps in the road as you point out. Sometimes it's hard to keep those bumps in the road in perspective and it can feel overwhelming. I've had great luck with therapy too, I think one of the hardest things is to admit something is wrong, and yet that's the first step to dealing with it. Saying "Just calm down" doesn't deal with it at all. That's further pretending nothing is wrong. That doesn't help deal with a problem or get control over a situation. I've also found that I really had a hard time taking time off for myself, which I've always known goes back to the ingrained "guilt" in scientology - don't be self centered blah blah blah. I just turned 40 and I now hike every day. It is amazing to me how much mental and emotional clarity I gain from 45 mins a day just doing something I have found that I love. Anyway, that was probably a really long garble, so sorry about that. Just wanted to say we love you tons, and I know you will get a grip on this. Thanks for sharing your experiences so openly, and for helping others realize we're not all perfect. :-) xoxo PS. Absolutely love your blog and your posts! Your kiddos are amazing!

    1. Hey Girl, Wow, you amaze me. If anyone has had it even tougher than me it is you. I also feel guilty for having no idea that you had that scare in 2013. I know you also have a difficult first birth like me too.
      I can't name a single person who is more resilient than you. You have inspired me since I left 10 years ago and even years before that when I was a kid.
      I'm so glad you are doing the hikes and taking the time for yourself. You have always there for everyone else whether it is your family, friends or other people who have gone through tough times. It is so true about that ingrained guilt! I have that all the time! I was actually going to take up hiking as well. Well more like walking shaded trails with Winnie on my back.
      Thanks for being my friend, for the books you have recommended of the years and for sharing and giving me encouragement now. Love you tons and always have! xoxoxo

  3. Hi Jenna
    I've only recently started following your (lovely!) blog, after having read your book that a friend recommended to me. :)
    And while I luckily have never had a panic attack myself, I know friends who had and who are deal with it as best as they can and yes, look forwards in life and "deal with it when it does happen" (which luckily isn't often). I think maybe nowadays it's much more possible to talk openly about this - sure there will always be people who want to give you their "advice" of "just calm down and breathe" and stuff like that. If they thought twice about what they're saying they'd realize it may not be ideal... or useful at all. It's a bit like telling someone who suffers from depression to *just cheer up*. Makes me think they might think they're talking to a moody teenager or something... which is not cool. But then again there are many people who understand or at least try to and who are supportive. And that is great. :)
    Hmh, maybe keeping a diary about when you feel an attack coming up may help you see a pattern (if there is one) such as that it's more likely to have one when you're already sick from a cold or something like that allergy, etc. I'm definitely not a doctor, but it somehow makes sense to me that one's body may react like that when it's already "weaker" and when you're not at your full strength and maybe keeping it under control is more difficult. Just an idea.
    Oh and by the way - great inspiring blog, and always beautiful photos. :)
    Greetings from over here in Switzerland,

    1. hey Marta - you were posting what I was thinking......

      Hi Jenna - I'm the friend Marta is referring to.... and I'd totally second her comments.... Well done for sharing difficult topics as well - and good luck!
      also thanks for the really lovely blog! (and also thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment/message about your book a few months ago)

    2. Thanks so much ladies! Both for reading my book and taking the time out of your day to read my blog and to share and give support … and all the way from Switzerland!!
      What you (sunreel) said about the attacks coming when I am weaker or even sick is so true. I never realized that before.
      You two are lucky to have each other! Thanks again for your kindness and support!
      Sending hugs to both of you from San Diego <3 <3

  4. Jenna, I had my first "panic attack" when my daughter who was in the Air Force was visiting for a week then I took her to catch her plane to go back. I looked into the empty bedroom of where she had been staying and saw her jacket hanging as she asked me to mail it to her in Afghanistan as she did not have room in her suitcase. I had heart palpitations and felt like I could not breathe and a feeling of doom. I did have the support of my Mom who said lets go sit outside and look at the trees and sky. It was cool but it did help me to get my focus changed a little. Anyway, I have panicky moments while driving and trying to deal with that now, they came out of nowhere. You have been through so much from Scientology and I really feel like various experiences build up and hit us at times that we may no trigger or may not.

    1. Yes I think I would have a panic attack too! Thinking about the future when one day kids move out of the house already makes me cry.
      I get those moments while driving as well. I'm usually able to come out of it, I notice when its really hot out it makes it worse for some reason.
      Thanks for reading the blog and for sharing <3 <3

  5. Hi Jenna,

    I was in France, on holiday (vacation) with my husband and then-small children. It was a beautiful afternoon; we'd just left a fish restaurant in the nearby village; the sun was beating down from a brilliantly blue sky and I could smell the geraniums in the air. I turned to my daughter with a big smile on my face, genuinely happy and full of the joys of life when I suddenly dropped to my knees, clinging to the road, convinced I was having a heart attack.

    The next 2-3 years were a nightmare as I found myself having to plan my days around my inevitable panic attacks which could see me bent double over my son's buggy in the middle of town, or sliding down a wall to stop myself from keeling over. I was having up to 15 per day and eventually I stopped leaving the house altogether.

    In hindsight I have no idea why it took me so long to seek help from my family doctor. Almost immediately after my first big attack I realised it was panic attacks, not heart attack. It helped that we were on holiday with a nurse who talked me through what was happening. But for some reason I decided I would "get over it" by myself.

    My doctor sent me for cognitive behavioural therapy - free of charge on the British NHS - and only then did I begin to examine what might have triggered the attacks. Geraniums. There were geraniums planted at the funeral home where my sister was taken after she died. Smell is such a powerful sense, and just the smell of the geraniums in the salty sea air triggered intense anxiety-related emotions in me, dating back 10 years; emotions I hadn't even been aware I was feeling.

    6 weeks of cognitive therapy cured my panic attacks but it was some years before I began to deal with how I felt about my sister, which had been the underlying cause. I have been free of attacks for 16 years. Mine were particularly bad, in that I was having so many per day, but I was cured, and you will be, too :)

    With love, Andrea "i-Betty" Garner

    1. Wow. It really can happen at any moment! How cool that you were able to find the trigger. That is amazing and who would have thought it was the flowers! That that is very encouraging to hear that you were able to cure them.
      I remember when I had my first one I was sitting on the floor cutting out a sewing pattern with Archie sitting next to me. I've heard they are very curable that is almost silly not to get the therapy for it.

  6. Hi Jenna, I have never had a panic attack but I suffered from very deep depression. I tried to commit suicide some yrs. ago. I was so ashamed of it that I wouldn't talk about it to anyone. I then realized that I needed to talk about it. So, anytime someone mentions that they had attempted to kill themselves, I would share that I too had been there as well. This helped me get over the shame but more importantly, it helped someone from feeling all alone. We were so conditioned in the cult to admit that we weren't at cause over every single thing that happened to us. You're sharing here has, undoubtedly, helped someone. It is a brave thing that you are doing. Just as it was a brave thing to have written your excellent book. I find that when I am in a creative mode, I don't have to worry about becoming depressed. Don't ever forget how loved and respected you are to so many of us. Hugs and love, Marsha

    1. You are incredibly brave, too, Marsha. x

    2. Marsha, I second Betty, you are incredibly brave. It takes a lot of strength to talk about suicide and to do so to help other people not feel alone is pretty cool. Its amazing how much a little kindness and "I've been there too," can make such a huge difference. I know it does for me. This is one of my favorite articles, it always makes me cry.
      And thanks so much for your sweet words and for reaching out! Lots of love and hugs! . xoxoxo

  7. I definitely know how you feel. All my life I have had generalized anxiety disorder. I would become anxious for almost no reason. In the last seven years I have had a chronic illness which has hampered my quality of life and I am only thirty five so sometimes I just have horrible panic attacks for no reason and it's hard to explain to family because they assume something pressing must be wrong. I have chosen medication and prayer, but definitely try to find what works best for you. You and your family are in my prayers.


  8. I love your blog! You are super creative and I love your photography! This post however, really hits home with me. From the time I was 13 until I was 17 I suffered with horrible panic attacks. They obviously happened mostly at school or social situations and then when I began driving they really reared their ugly head. I had no social life whatsoever because if not for having a panic attack, or worrying so much about them that I would end up having one, I felt different from everyone else and embarrassed about my "problem". I kept it secret for a little over 4 years. I was so humiliated and ashamed. Once I told my parents what was happening (I didnt even have a name for what was happening to me) they got me the help I needed. When I finally got the nerve to talk about what was "wrong" with me, more and more people I spoke with had this problem or something similar. I wasn't weird or crazy!! It was so comforting to hear that I wasnt alone in this! From then on life got better. The panic still came but I have learned how to talk myself through it before it becomes intense.I can honestly say my last panic attack came 10 years ago at my moms funeral, and I only halfway count that because it was an actual stressful situation, and not a false alarm that triggered all the other panic attacks.:) I applaud your openness and honesty about what your going through. I can assure you, it will be the most comforting support you can get! You are definitely not alone!!!