It has been awhile since I’ve shared my own personal experience with fear, anxiety and panic attacks. Even as I read my story on the Season of Peace website, I realize it’s actually quite old and needs to be updated. So much has happened in my life since then.
Most notable, however, is how much my perspective has changed on freedom. Most of my experience with fear has been spent coping, covering and numbing the pain. It has only been in the past year or so that I’ve actually begun pursuing true freedom–the kind of freedom where coping, covering and numbing are no longer needed.
My story starts decades ago, when I was a child lying in bed at nights experiencing this overwhelming sense of fear and dread. I would lie in bed trying to go to sleep, my mind wandering anxiously from thought to thought. Then, one night, I had this thought about dying and being trapped in a lifeless body unable to move, staring into darkness for all eternity. This terrifying thought would trigger waves of panic in me. I would often jump out of bed and run to mom, screaming at the top of my lungs. The fear was incredible intense.
In the 70’s, there was no name for this “condition” that we now refer to as panic attacks. I spent countless hours in the doctor’s office trying to describe this indescribable feeling. They would often diagnose me with stress, prescribe some tranquilizers and send me on my way. I was just 16 years old when they started medicating me for this unknown “stress” condition.
I pushed through high school with sporadic outbreaks of panic. I would sit in class like any other day and all of sudden, my body would go numb and my heart would start racing. Fear would hit me hard, but I wouldn’t move. I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on. It was incredibly terrifying.
When I started college, I discovered a form of self-medication: alcohol. It was cheap, effective and readily available. The problem is that alcohol created these incredibly-anxious, morning-after experiences. One hungover morning, while driving to San Antonio for a job, I was hit with the most terrifying panic attack I had ever experienced. My mind was racing uncontrollably and I thought I was losing my mind. I kept thinking to myself that I was going crazy. This is what going insane must feel like.
After a few terrifying hours of complete panic, I was able to get back home and try to sort through all these confusing thoughts. Still, I had no answer for these crippling, terrifying episodes of fear. A few years later, when the attacks started to increase, I met with a psychiatrist in Austin. After one visit, he pulled out this big, black book and had me read a section titled “Chronic Panic and Anxiety Disorder”. I read through that description and was totally shocked. All of sudden, this “condition” had a name. And not only that, there were others struggling with this disorder. I sensed a bit of relief that day.
I moved to Dallas after graduating college to go to work full time. Even though I now had a name for this condition, the anxiety and panic attacks continued. In 1991, at my wits end, I started looking for a church. I was very curious about faith and if anyone could help me find healing, I knew God could. I found a church in November of 1991. Shortly after attending a few times, the pastor began sharing his own experience with panic attacks. It was amazing to find someone who had experienced what I had experienced, and he was willing to work with me.
Over the years, the attacks would come and go. There were seasons of good and season of bad. But in 2000, I decided to get off all medication and focus on fitness and nutrition. That kicked off an amazing season of peace in my life.
The year of 2000 was also the start of a new mindset for me in this battle against fear. I decided not to give into fear any more. If fear said, don’t go there, I would go there. If fear said you shouldn’t do that, I would do that. With God’s strength, I faced every fear. And even if I was afraid, I would do it afraid. It was an amazing season of victory after victory. And soon, the panic attacks stopped. It was incredible!
Last year, however, something odd happened. The fear and panic came back with a vengeance in September of 2010. Out of nowhere, I was hit with wave after wave of panic one weekend. I wasn’t out of shape or eating poorly. Quite the opposite–I had been training for my first, half Ironman triathlon. I was in the best shape of my life. Something else was going on, but even now, I can’t pinpoint what triggered it.
It was also last year that I began this incredible quest for true freedom. I wanted a deep, soul-cleansing, stronghold-breaking freedom. So, I started reading freedom books like Think Differently, Live Differently, Free Yourself, Be Yourself, Escaping the Matrix and Seeing is Believing. Books like these and videos like these were incredibly life changing. I’m still growing and experiencing incredible depths of freedom to this day. I haven’t experienced a panic attack since that terrifying weekend last September. I’m still hit with the occasional “sense of fear” and “dumps of adrenaline”, but no full-blown panic attacks. I’ve also come to recognize just how much stress plays a role in panic attacks and fear.
My understanding of freedom continues to grow each and every day. If you’re struggling with fear, anxiety and panic attacks, know this: God is fighting for you and he wants to help you experience complete freedom. And, he has given us freedom through Christ. I encourage you to dig into some of these resources and learn about God’s plan for freedom in your life.
Prayer: Father, open up my heart to your plan for freedom. Show me more about how to get completely free from the fear, anxiety and panic attacks.