Every breath is harder to take than the last. A few heartbeats skip while others palpitate quicker. Tears sting my eyes, but I’m scared to let them fall because they reveal my defeat. My mind races down the spiraling stairs of tragic thoughts and ultimate death. The air is thinner as I go down, and my vision begins to waver. My reality is continuing without me as I lie flat on my back, paralyzed with panic. I have succumbed to yet another anxiety attack.
The above recollection was my daily reality for years.
At first, anxiety only interfered with small parts of my week. It would attack when I was in the car left to my own thoughts or just suddenly while I was doing the dishes. My heart would race a little, and I would squander time along the bunny trails of my mind. I could still get out of it, though, when others were around.
However, it slowly began to alter my day with fiercer attacks and longer episodes. The time spent with myself in my own mind became more prominent until one day, I shared my whole life with anxiety. Every decision to go anywhere was controlled by the level of panic I might feel when I got there. Large crowds and church services were my greatest triggers (as anxiety sure likes to isolate its target.) I snuck out of the middle of rows at church by lying about needing to use the restroom. I had become a permanent resident of anxiety’s world.
One morning, I couldn’t catch my breath. I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet, but my heart pounded out of my chest, and the ceiling was spinning around me. I called 911. I was whisked away in an ambulance due to the severity of my heart rate. It was that of an older obese man under cardiac arrest (the mind is a powerful force). After numerous tests and thousands of dollars wasted on an ambulance and ER visit, it was confirmed that I was battling an invisible but costly disease.
It’s not the kind of disease you tell your friends about. Nor is it the kind of prayer request you readily post on social media. The reason being that it’s something you are responsible for. It’s not like cancer that just creeps up on anyone at random and destroys his or her body. Those are the sick people who need an intervention from God and deserve our fervent prayers.
My disease was different. I was just weak, and God’s attention was needed elsewhere. These were all things I believed. Mostly because the first couple of people I talked to about my anxiety basically told me it was an easy thing to get over and that I should just get over it. Therefore, not only did I live in constant fear, but I lived in constant shame and condemnation too.
If I could have woken up one day and gotten over it, I would have definitely saved myself the years of torture as would any sane person. It just wasn’t that easy. Telling someone who has been battling fear and anxiety to simply move on is like telling addicts to go about their lives without their drugs as if nothing had ever happened. The mind must be renewed, restored, and re-trained just like the body coming out of addiction. I absolutely believe in the miraculous power of God, and I know that He has instantly healed many. Though sometimes, and I’d be tempted to say a lot of times, the healing is a journey.
It was for me. First I had to make a decision to be free. I had to decide to fight instead of taking a beating with gloves off and weapons down. I picked up my weapons again, my Bible, prayer, warfare worship, and motivation. I settled into enemy territory and decided to camp there until the war was officially over. There was no more hiding or retreating. It was on, and I was finally ready to kill the thing that almost killed me. The thing that distanced me from my God, separated me from family, and stole my time was finished. It was time to die to myself.
Even though I was ready for an all-out war, I knew I didn’t want to do it alone. One of the biggest steps I took was to finally ignore the fear of critics and talk about it. Eventually, I found people who had been set free in their own processes, and they helped me tremendously as I healed. God created us to be in community with one another. We have to see that in Scripture. But we desperately need to work on having each other’s backs without judgment or criticism. Within that kind of safe place, growth is inevitable.
As Christians, it can be difficult to swallow our pride and recognize anxiety for the ugliness it is. Maybe it doesn’t feel justifiable, but it is a real burden to carry and is easier to overcome with a tribe. I encourage us to be there for our brothers and sisters who are fighting against it or who are even too weak to begin their battle yet. My freedom didn’t come overnight, but it came. It will always come. During the process, let’s listen and pray. Let’s really be Jesus without limitations on what we think is real or important.
Finally, if you are lost in the cycle of panic attacks or you are living an anxiety-ridden life, put your guard down and reach out. I encourage you to pick up every weapon you can find and climb out of the darkness. You’re not alone, nor are you the first person to drown in anxiety. The good news is that He will meet you on the journey, and through Him, we are all overcomers—every single time.
Featured Image by Sasha Freemind