The following was submitted by a member of our TSAL Community. We all have a story to tell. Share yours with us!
Studies show that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
It is so heartbreaking to know so many people are living life held back by fear, worry, and anxiety.
What I find even more heartbreaking is how the world tells people they should just accept it and live with it forever; to accept it as normal for themselves. And people are listening.
We are not born with a spirit of anxiety. It’s through some sort of life event that we ‘learn’ to be fearful and anxious.
I remember my first panic attack. Mine was when I was about 7-years-old. I remember being very sick and had a nightmare, I woke up feeling that cold grip of a panic attack for the first time. It then tormented me every night for many years. It would be bedtime and I could already feel my little heart racing, cold on the inside but hot on the outside, breathing would be difficult and crying, inevitable. The thought of lying alone in the dark where anything could get me (yes, I thought the bogeyman was real!) would have me up and running to my parent’s room every night. Either that or the fear that one of my parents were going to die!
While I don’t know the logical reason as to why that experience caused me such fear, it was the first time I felt that anxiety, it was the open door and fear came sweeping in. My childhood was a relatively normal one, but it had many unstable moments (as most of us have) and I struggled to feel settled and safe. That then was the breeding ground for the panic attacks to follow me from night time to daytime. I was a Christian from an early age but didn’t know how to find the security I needed in God and therefore I just let fear rule my life, thinking I had no other choice.
Into my teenage years, they got worse, leading to a couple of breakdowns that left me exhausted and afraid of fear itself. It had become this pit I felt I could never escape and I couldn’t bear the thought of living the rest of my life with this terrible companion. Out of pure desperation, I tried to find many ways out, most of which hurt me or others around me.
There were many days where I wanted to give up. I would have a panic attack in fear of having panic attacks forever and would just crawl into bed and sob my heart out. It felt like this cage, closing in on me, and the more I fought the smaller it became. It even drove me to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. It was just all too much to handle.
After years of trying and trying, something changed when I was about 22. I got to a point where I did give up. I gave up trying to run away from the fear and decided to face it.
I remember praying to God and telling Him that I was tired and fed up of feeling that fear and anxiety; that I needed Him to fight for me now. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make it through life, that I would eventually stop fighting and just let go. And I told God that too, realizing that He wasn’t shocked by my weakness, instead, He was moved with love to defend and protect me.
From that moment on I realized that anxiety is not something we can outrun, we cannot get rid of panic attacks on our own, they are far too great, but when we take our eyes off those problems and keep them on Jesus, we find peace. As long as we are running away, something is chasing us.
The knowledge that God is greater than what I feel sank into my heart. I stopped questioning why He wouldn’t just make it all go away and came to realize that maybe He wanted me to go through this to be able to help others and grow closer to Him. I can tell you now that I would not be as close to God as I am if it wasn’t for the way I had to totally rely on Him during all this.
I started facing the fears, giving them to God, finding help and whatever answers where available. I gave up trying to hide from the fears and instead, hid IN Jesus.
Of course, it took some practice. Hiding in Jesus should be our first instinct, but it just isn’t. I put into action, some small practices that gave me something tangible to hold onto when the attacks would come.
For example, I brought [bought] a small Bible that I could carry around with me and highlighted every single verse I could find on fear, on God’s love, His peace and how He fights for us. I would not leave the house without that Bible! I then brought [bought] a little black book and started writing down whatever I learned that really helped me. What I came to realize was that if I prepared myself for the attack I was more capable to get through it. I knew that once the attack hit me, my mind would be racing and I wouldn’t be able to do much at that point, therefore having that book and Bible full of reminders of the truth really helped during an attack because I didn’t have to try to figure it all out, I would just read and pray and have the answers right there. I felt prepared and that got rid of a lot of fear.
Which brings me to the point where I found the ‘answer’ to overcoming anxiety and dealing with fear and panic attacks. It’s this: “The truth will set you free.”(John 8:32)
Understand that fear is a lie. While what you are afraid of might be valid, like death, being alone, big crowds, the fear itself is a lie. You need to find the truth that counteracts that fear and you will defeat it. Come against fear in the opposite spirit. For example, you may be afraid of being alone. The lie is that you are alone. The truth is that God is always with you and will NEVER forsake you. Forget what you feel is true, and CHOOSE to believe what God says is true and your feelings will follow.
It took me a few years for all of this to sink in and become truth to me. Many times, I went backward and fell into the pit. But every time, Jesus picked me up and I was stronger than before. You may be reading this and still feel panicky but if you settle your soul, deep down you will feel a peace in these words.
Know this. Overcoming anxiety IS possible. It can be defeated and you do not have to live in fear. Change doesn’t always happen overnight, but you will get there.
There are days when I feel the fear and anxiety trying to creep in, but every time it is because I am not as close to God as I should be. And the moment I fill my mind with His word, refocus my eyes on Him and spend time with Him, the fear goes away.
We all have weaknesses and for some of us it’s mentally, but through God’s love and grace, we can live a life of peace and freedom. But you need to be willing to stop settling for a life of fear, you need to decide today that you have had enough of the attacks and do whatever you need to do to break free. Know that it’s only through God, only He can do this, but you have your part to play. You need to not let the fearful thoughts take over your mind, read the Bible every day, find someone you trust to talk to, learn to know yourself and how to avoid triggers.
Let me share a page from my diary with you.
“Be prepared and ready with what you know works to overcome the attacks. Have verses, quotes and truths you know ready to read. Write them down as soon as you learn something new. Ask God to give you insight. Seek Him diligently and pursue Him. When attacks come get your Bible or notebook, find a scripture verse, and focus on it. Distract your mind from the bad thoughts and focus on the good thoughts and verse. Have Christian music playing, find a light movie to watch. Thank God for your blessings, go talk to someone. Learn to distract your mind and fill it with good things. Don’t focus on avoiding or forgetting, simply focus on something else. Especially the love of God.”
I’ve been in that dark place, and I found my way out. Jesus is the way out. He is the way, the truth and the light. He is everything you need to fight this darkness. I am here to tell you that you can be free from this tormenting way of life. God can set you free.