Peace of Mind

03/11/2017 .
Karen Koczwara  .  Volunteer Storyteller

Scott Morse’s first panic attack came at age 18 — a frightening, unwelcome intruder. While watching Bonanza one lazy Sunday afternoon, Scott’s heart began to race. He retreated to his bedroom, but his heart only beat faster. Sweaty palms and out-of-control thoughts soon followed. “What’s wrong with me?” he panicked. After a couple hours, the paralyzing feeling subsided. But two weeks later, it returned, taking him off guard again. The attacks continued for the next several years, imprisoning Scott in a world of fear and helplessness.


Many times, he awoke in the middle of the night, jolted from sleep by his racing heart. Sometimes, the attacks came during the day, taking him by surprise while at work. He also developed tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears.


“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re fearful of,” Scott explained. “You just wake up in the middle of the night for no reason. You start thinking you’re going crazy. It’s like that jittery feeling you get when taking cold medicine — times 100.”


He faced each morning with dread, wondering when the next attack would arrive. His appetite waned, and he lost 25 pounds. At work, he struggled to focus. He spent time at the gym to ease his anxiety, but at home, they always returned. More restless nights ensued, sometimes with only an hour or two of sleep.  Depression and exhaustion set in.


Scott married and tried to move on with life, but the panic attacks continued into his adult years. Though he managed to hold down a job, he spent much of his time researching cures online, desperate to find answers. “I became obsessed with curing myself on the Internet,” Scott admitted.


Scott’s wife remained supportive, but his panic attacks took a toll on their relationship. He became short-tempered, lashing out when she tried to help. Scott grew more helpless. One night, while visiting relatives in Arizona, he awoke in the middle of the night with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” he thought, at the end of himself. The dark thought eventually disappeared, but dread lingered, holding him captive. He resigned to a life of anxiety and sleep-deprivation. At his breaking point, he considered giving up on life, but a miracle hovered on the horizon, offering the hope Scott so desperately sought.


In 2005, Scott confided in a co-worker. “I told her I was really struggling,” he said.


“Could I pray for you?” she asked. Scott did not object.


After praying, she handed Scott a copy of Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Scott, who had not spent much time in church growing up, began reading the book with curiosity. The very first words of the book, “It’s not about you,” struck him profoundly. He kept on reading, intrigued by the idea that he had been created for something greater in this life. “Rick put faith in such realistic terms that it really resonated with me,” Scott said.


Scott began attending Saddleback Church with his wife and was encouraged by the messages he heard there. Something began stirring in his heart. He continued reading The Purpose Driven Life and started reading the Bible too. The book of Psalms were especially meaningful to him as he read about David, a man who’d suffered greatly too. Slowly, he began to understand what it meant to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, the only one who offered hope in a broken world. Meanwhile, Scott also began seeing a therapist to help with his panic attacks.


“Trust me, there will come a point when you will be glad you’ve gone through all this,” the therapist told him.


Scott wondered if that could be true. Be glad he’d suffered for years?


One day, plagued with excruciating tinnitus, Scott visited a local walk-in clinic, where a doctor prescribed him anxiety pills. Scott wanted to avoid pills at all costs.


“You have a lot on your plate,” the young doctor said gently. “Would you mind if I pray for you?”


Again, Scott did not object. The doctor prayed for Scott, asking God to heal him and give him peace. As Scott walked out the door, he looked up at the sky in awe. “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid,” he said. “I believe in you, God.”


From that moment on, Scott’s panic attacks disappeared, as did his tinnitus.  He invited Jesus into his life and began a relationship with him. He and his wife began attending Saddleback regularly, plugging in to the church. Scott found true hope and healing for the first time in his life.


Several months ago, Scott came down with flu symptoms and returned to the same local walk-in clinic he’d visited before. To his surprise, he saw the young doctor who’d prayed for him years before.


“You probably don’t remember me,” Scott said. “But you prayed for me years ago, and I just wanted to thank you. You showed me God that day, and I invited him into my life.”


The doctor’s eyes lit up. “Thank you so much for telling me! It feels so good to hear that!” he cried.


Today, Scott enjoys a life free of panic attacks. He and his wife love spending time with their three grown children and two young granddaughters. They attend the Rancho Capistrano Saddleback campus and enjoy growing closer to God there. Scott has discovered several great tools to help keep his anxiety at bay, including yoga and meditation. But he finds his greatest help in God, the one who’s turned his life around.


“Whenever I grow anxious, I remember my favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” Scott said.


As Scott reflects on his journey, he often remembers his therapist’s words, “There will come a point when you’ll be glad you went through all this.” At the time, the message confused him, but he now sees the greater picture.


“Not everyone gets evidence put right in front of them,” Scott said. “God knew a guy like me needed proof to believe. And so he put me through the fire to show me a way out.”


Thanks to the prayers of strangers, a best-selling book, and a powerful God, Scott has now found the best gift of all — hope in Jesus Christ.

If you (or someone you know) lives with mental illness, you're not alone. Find help and support at saddleback.com/mentalhealth.

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