I paced my home trying to think of the best place to lie down in case I died. My heart was pounding, and I felt an immense amount of chest pressure and pain. I was light-headed, weak and I couldn’t catch my breath. My husband was at work, and all my children in the house were asleep. My red sofa seemed like the most appropriate place to perish, so I slowly made my way over, curled up in a ball in my favorite morning coffee groove and dialed 911.
The paramedics found me right away—a pale, shaking, hyperventilating woman on a red couch is a fairly easy thing to spot. They calmly assessed me and asked, “Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”
My dramatic near-death-experience was a panic attack. “We can take you to the hospital to make sure, but we are confident that this is a panic attack and you are not in any danger.” The ambulance pulled away, and I crawled back into bed—humiliated, terrified, still trembling and completely unaware of the journey that lay ahead. I was stepping into the darkest season of my life, and this was just the prelude.
That one day of panic turned into a full-blown panic disorder, causing me several panic attacks a day and continuing for months. I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t drive my kids to school, I couldn’t eat, and some days I couldn’t even leave my bed. I feared going crazy. I lost total control over my body and mind, and I felt drained of all stability. I was afraid for my life and I was afraid of my life.
Breakdowns Can Happen to Anyone
This was not supposed to happen to a strong woman like me. I was a ministry leader at church and a mom of five children, who once lived happily on a diet of stress and chaos and browsed Pinterest for inspirational meals. People looked up to me. I was the writer who encouraged people to stay strong in their faith. I was the friend who counseled and comforted. I was the life of the party, always making others laugh. I was superblogger, oldest child and devoted wife.
These breakdowns weren’t supposed to happen to a woman like me; they happen to broken people and to people who don’t know the Lord.
I tried to convince my family doctor that I wasn’t that bad, and then after I finished convincing him I was doing better, I had to pause our conversation for another panic attack in his office. My husband squeezed my left hand as my doctor, who was also a Christian, held my right hand.
“Even Jesus got weary,” he comforted, and I sobbed. I was desperate for relief yet ashamed at the same time.
When God is All We Have
I pulled into the garage after an exhausting evening out with my children. I sat in my messy minivan and stared vacantly at my hands as they gripped the steering wheel. I began wringing the wheel back and forth like a dishrag. A new intense thought was flooding my mind, a thought I had never had before: I’m just so tired; let’s just not do this anymore. I heard the sound of the garage door close behind me, and for the first time in my life, suicide became an option. I quickly unloaded the kids and ran into the house. I deeply understood in that moment, that I was not just fighting for peace of mind anymore; I was fighting for my life.
Concerned by my frantic behavior, my husband asked, “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” I lied, as I handed off the kids for bedtime. I hurried to my bedroom. How does God deal with suicide? Would I really go to hell? How would my family deal with it? Would I ever actually have the guts to do it? I locked my door, longing to leave these forceful thoughts on the other side of it, but they followed me to my bed, the place I always ran to when I was afraid, the place I had been spending most of my days. I grabbed my Bible and flung it open.
I was desperate for God to jump out and just hold me and promise me everything was going to be OK. I didn’t want to read it. I just wanted it to work.
This is when I had a standoff with God and my Bible. “I either trust you God, or I succumb. Your Word is either true, or I lose everything.” What choice did I have at that moment?
What else is there when the thought of death is comforting? I couldn’t talk myself out of terror anymore; God had to. I couldn’t reason with the suicidal thoughts; the Scriptures had to. It was my last resort.
As I began to read, speak and pray God’s Word, I often felt like a child dressed in oversized armor, tripping over their own feet with no strength to lift a sword. I didn’t know how to make the Bible verses I read work—how to “take my thoughts captive,” how to let “perfect love cast out fear” or how to “meditate on His Word day and night.” All I sort of knew was that this Bible—the one I had spent the last 15 years of my life reading figuratively—could renew my mind. It was then that I made the decision to take each word that God breathed literally.
Healing The Whole Self
God led me through a journey of healing through the guidance of His Word. I now live free from crippling anxiety, panic disorder, suicidal depression and OCD. God was faithful to renew my mind, restore my hope and grant me the peace I desperately prayed for. Through this God-led journey, I learned a lot about our minds, our emotions, our spirits and our physical bodies, and I slowly began to discover truths that were key to my freedom.
I soon understood that healing an anxiety disorder was not just a physical problem fixed by medication, nor a spiritual problem healed by prayer, nor a mental issue prevented by therapy. It was not any one of the above, but rather all of the above. Each part of our being is interconnected—completely dependent on each other and affected by our actions. When I began to take all aspects of myself seriously, nurturing it all, I began to see the greatest breakthrough in healing I ever had. God needed my body whole, my mind whole and my spirit whole. Why? Because he loves all of me!
Adapted from the book Fearless in 21 Days: A Survivor’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Sarah E. Ball. Copyright (c) Sarah E. Ball by Faithwords. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Sarah E. Ball is a blogger, speaker, and mom of five children. She uses her platform to minister to people suffering from crippling anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and depression. She now regularly appears as a host and guest on several national television programs. Learn more at Facebook and saraheball.com. Follow her on twitter as well @saraheballblog.