BISMARCK, N.D. — She can feel the all-too-familiar panic begin to take over. She loses control of her body — all she wants is to feel safe. She hugs herself, but she cannot compete with the numbingly excruciating terror that has embedded itself into her life.
Senior Alyssa Buetow was in the sixth grade when she began to have intense anxiety. Although she says her anxiety originated from the fear of getting sick in public, she realizes now that it really had more to do with losing control of her surroundings.
"Anxiety is kind of something no one can really control," Buetow said. "It's not like a sickness you can really just take some medicine for and be 100 percent OK."
Before she recovered, Buetow was plagued by her anxiety attacks on a daily basis. Starting in the sixth grade and continuing through middle school, Buetow always tried to miss as much school as possible in order to try to cope with her fear.
"I would say that it gets really embarrassing, especially if you're around people when you're super nervous," Buetow said. "When you're in the midst of it, you just want it to end and you want people to know that anxiety's not who you are, it's just something that you struggle with."
Buetow was diagnosed with anxiety as a sixth-grader, and was shocked and saddened with the news at the time.
"I think the hardest part would be just taking the step of actually acknowledging, 'OK, I have anxiety' — that you might need help or you might need medication," Buetow said.
Buetow's parents were just as taken aback as she was, and it was a challenging time for them as well. Buetow's mother, Suz Buetow, remembers Buetow being so upset she would lie on the floor of the car and hyperventilate because she was so afraid to go to school.
"I was very angry that my child had to go through something like this. I had no way to stop it. And I could see she wasn't doing it on purpose — I mean, she was as devastated by this and frustrated by it as I was," Suz Buetow said.
Even though Buetow's parents knew what the primary cause of her anxiety was and tried to educate themselves as much as possible on ways to overcome the condition, they still struggled with exactly how to go about tackling such an intense fear. Today, Buetow only occasionally experiences the same feelings of anxiety she used to encounter daily. It took a wake-up call from home and a resulting growth of faith to begin to overcome her condition.
"My mom got really sick and that was the turning point, because she almost died and it was almost like I didn't have time to worry because there was enough worry in the house. So, I had to turn to something else and that's when I turned to my faith," Buetow said.
"I just remember laying in my bed one night and looking up and saying there's gotta be something that can help me. I felt like I had no one because my family was at the hospital. And then I started going to New Song and that's when I realized that faith is more than just picking up a Bible and looking at it. It's a relationship and it's the best thing ever," she said.
New Song Church teaching pastor Aaron Schuler was one person who really helped Buetow get through her anxiety. They met regularly for a few years to discuss ways to think about life differently.
"When I first met her, she was very locked up. For most people, it was maybe not a huge deal or situation, but it would get her really afraid. She had some issues with just going through the day-to-day stuff," Schuler said. "We just talked about how to get free from that and not worry about some of these things and to not be afraid, and as we did that we kind of talked about why. How God doesn't want any of us to be afraid in our lives. That was just kind of the main point, seeing her grow and learn to trust Him and to now being very, very carefree and caring and loving and relaxed at most times. It's been awesome to see her as she's grown to trust God more."
Buetow's involvement at New Song was the start of her recovery and ultimately allowed her to get off her medication.
"It was really awesome because (Aaron) understood and walked me through it and then basically showed me there's no time for anxiety because God had such big plans for my life," Buetow said. "And so when I grasped that, anxiety just cut off and I started getting involved in church and school."
Senior Tyrza Hoines has known Buetow since preschool, but the two didn't become close until eighth grade, around the time Buetow began to strengthen her faith. Hoines is another person who has helped Buetow overcome her once-severe condition.
"I know that with her anxiety she tried other means of coping with it, such as medication, but she didn't truly overcome it until she brought the issue to God. By doing so, she has become so strong, not only in her faith life, but overall as a student, worship leader and woman. I've always tried my best to be at her side and help her when she needs it because she is my best friend and sister in Christ," Hoines said. "And, if anything, this has definitely brought us closer, because I would do anything for her."
Hoines is very confident in her faith and is very optimistic about Buetow's future as a person and a Christian.
"I'm so proud of her and that she has God centered in her life," Hoines said. "I'm excited to see where he takes her and the amazing things she’s going to do in the future."
Buetow's parents, although always strong in their faith, have been amazed by Buetow's transformation through prayer.
"I think that's the biggest attribute that helped her with her situation more than anything," said Buetow's father, Terry Buetow. "I think she really conquered her anxiety just through her faith. That was her strongest element."
Suz Buetow agrees and is thankful for Buetow's strong recovery.
"Seeing what faith has done for her has made it even that much more personal for me. She's taught me a ton about my faith," Suz Buetow said. "I have a stronger faith because of her and I'm a better person because of her."
Buetow and those who have witnessed her growth also attribute her recovery to her passion for music.
"It's really good just to sit in your room and pull out your guitar and just play," Buetow said. "Especially when you're having anxiety, because you're letting it out through music and not any self-destruction."
Schuler recognized Buetow's musical talent from the beginning of their relationship and told her how to use that in the face of anxiety.
"I believe that God has given each of us something inside of them to offer the world, to help it be a better place to grow or to be better. And so she started playing music and I was, like, 'You realize the great gift you've been given to play music and how this fear and anxiety is blocking you out from experiencing this incredible thing.' It helped her not focus on the anxiety or the fear, but focus on the gift. It helped her to focus less on what isn't so real," Schuler said.
"We would talk a lot about how, like, 80-90 percent of the fear you have never comes true. No one wants to live a life fearing what doesn't ever happen. And I think most people understand that there's better things out there living without the fear."
Now, Buetow finds release in her music and faith, and can now handle the "what if" questions that used to assail her to the point of an anxiety attack. Her change in perspective undoubtedly helped her move on from her condition.
"I would say that I have way more compassion towards people who struggle not only with anxiety, but with depression or just any thoughts of them feeling worthless, because I've been there and now I can say that you do get through it," Buetow said.