Panic Attacks: My Fight Against Fear
[Guest Post by Dr. Gail Bones – We met through our mutual friend and mentor Pam Farrel. I appreciate Gail for her heart of integrating ministry between older women and younger women. Also, this is an excerpt from her new book that JUST RELEASED this month on Living Cross Wise. Hope you are encouraged!!]
I’d just put my baby down for a nap when a tsunami of irrational dread and fear swept over me.
A feeling of impending doom, accompanied by a terrifying sense of unreality took hold, and my heart began to pound. As the room spun, a suffocating panic gripped me. My mind raced to find an explanation for what was happening.
Was this a heart attack?
A nervous breakdown?
Was I dying?
As I struggled to maintain consciousness and control, I fumbled for the phone and speed-dialed my pastor, crying out in terror that I feared I was losing my mind.
The voice on the other end of the line remained calm. The pastor—more John the Baptist than gentle shepherd—matter-of-factly responded,
“You’re not going crazy; crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.”
He prayed forcefully, asking God to comfort me and commanding Satan to leave me alone. After urging me to just get a grip on myself and trust God, he quickly hung up.
But waves of fear continued to grow in intensity.
My sanity seemed to be slipping away, and I felt paralyzed. Unexpectedly, the doorbell rang. My brother, who lived in another state, was on my doorstep! We hadn’t seen each other in months, but that very afternoon, as he was driving home from a business trip, it occurred to him that he was near enough to my home to surprise me.
God had sent help!
In the days that followed, I worried there might be a recurrence.
Was there something physically wrong with me?
Was it all just in my mind?
Or was it simply, as my pastor believed, a spiritual attack?
Or could this unsettling experience have had more than one cause?
My doctor simply called them panic attacks and reassured me it wasn’t uncommon for new mothers: at least 1 in 5 people experience them.
Fluctuating hormone levels and physical exhaustion after having a baby were obvious physical factors. My emotional vulnerability most likely stemmed from feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as the relentless demands of motherhood. But as I read what the Bible said about fear and spiritual warfare, the Holy Spirit led me to conclude that a third element was at work.
Recently, a depressed young neighbor had turned to me for help. Day after day, I spent hours listening as she talked about her many problems. One day, she prayed with me to receive Christ and I watched her outlook begin to change as God gave her joy and strength. Her husband, however, wasn’t pleased with her newfound faith, and he filed for divorce. In the nasty custody dispute, he named me as a cult member who’d brainwashed his wife. This false accusation was my first exposure to the reality of spiritual warfare—the counterattacks launched by our enemy whenever we threaten the kingdom of darkness—and it distressed me deeply.
As time went on, a seed of fear began to grow.
I regularly had to ask friends to pray that I could cope with situations most others would not find threatening. I took to heart my mentor’s advice to memorize Scripture that would help me stand strong and fight this battle.
Four years elapsed before I had another panic attack. It happened on the freeway, a few months after the birth of my second child, as I was on my way to a Bible study.
This time, however, my response was different.
As I handed my baby to the sitter, I asked her to pray for me for the courage to get back in the car and continue. I’d come to understand that Satan uses fear to limit our lives. As I’d matured as a Christian, God had given me both an awareness of the spiritual nature of the war I was fighting and the battle plan that would lead to victory.
The most important weapon I had in my arsenal that day was 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV):
“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.”
I hung on to that verse as tightly as I did to the steering wheel as I drove the remainder of the way to the church. Walking up the path to the sanctuary a few minutes late, I heard the chorus of feminine voices, beautifully blended in a soul-stirring hymn.
Shaken but still standing, I was glad I could join in their song.
(Excerpted from “Living CrossWise: Hope and Help for Navigating Transition.” Nashville: Treasure House Publishers, 2013).
Dr. Gail Bones, a former English teacher and professor of education, has been engaging audiences as a speaker, Bible teacher, songwriter, and worship leader for more than thirty years. Gail and her husband Jeff have two children and one adorable grandbaby. She lives in San Diego, where happiness means always having one or more of the following in her hands: a dog leash, a sailboat tiller, bicycle handlebars, a kayak paddle, an acoustic guitar, a big fat book , or a hazelnut coffee. Connect with Gail on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.
[Photo: barryskeates, Creative Commons]