In the fall of 2014 I experienced my first panic attack. I was on an airplane waiting to take off from the Toronto airport, on my way home from a conference I’d been speaking at. A weekend that was supposed to be full of fun and connection left me feeling insecure and vulnerable to the lies of my past that said, “You’re not good enough. You’re insignificant. Someone else will always be chosen over you.” On top of these toxic thoughts was the news I’d just received that my uncle, who was in the battle of his life against kidney cancer, was close to the end. The cancer had spread to his brain. As I sat on that plane waiting to take off, replaying the hard moments of the weekend and the news of my uncle over and over in my brain, my heart started racing. I felt cold and hot and my fingers and toes began to tingle. Waves of nausea rolled over my body and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
In the months following I experienced half a dozen or more similar experiences, one of them at the memorial service for my uncle who passed away weeks after that first attack. I began a journey of trying to uncover the roots of my anxiety, determining in my heart that this was something I was not going to live with. I saw my doctor who prescribed medication I could take in case of a panic attack and began to meet with a counselor to talk about the underlying issues. I changed my diet, took supplements, exercised regularly and tried to get enough sleep, and all of it helped manage the symptoms.
But none of it set me free.
Somewhere in that year I realized two of the roots of my anxiety were these two fears:
- A fear of dying
- A fear of people’s opinions of me
Watching my uncle deteriorate in those last weeks of his life was one of the hardest experiences of my life. And weeks after he passed away I got my own genetics results that said I had an 80-90% chance of getting breast cancer. So my internal dialogue became, “I’m going to get cancer and die”. Every time I felt off, or tired, or a strange twinge of pain anywhere in my body I was on the internet trying to figure out what type of cancer I had. You should’ve seen my google history.
And after four years of being a full time stay at home mom, the online world had become a place I looked to for comfort and connection. But instead of finding real, authentic, do-life-together community, I found myself pulled into people pleasing and performance more than ever before. I wanted so badly to know I wasn’t alone, but found than no amount of “likes” or comments on Instagram could push back the isolation crowding in around me.
So I coped. I went off of caffeine and sugar (or at least I tried) and avoided busy places like the mall and Costco because they would send my head spinning. I did deep breathing exercises and doused myself in Stress Away essential oil.
But none of it set me free.
Then I moved to Redding California to attend Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. I was full of hope and excitement about how God was going to build on all the amazing work I’d done to manage my anxiety. I knew He was going to bring me into total freedom. What I didn’t know was how He was going to do it.
On the second day of school I ended on the couch in the office of my brand new pastor, having a full blown panic attack. I was shaking and crying and completely mortified that this was happening. I felt further than I’d ever been from wholeness and healing. But what I didn’t realize was that I was actually closer than ever before.
What followed was a month of coming completely undone. A month of crying every single day as I encountered the love, grace and kindness of God through the amazing people leading me, the community forming around me, and the incredible times of worship and teaching. I confessed my fear of getting sick and dying and was surrounded by people declaring the truth over my life – that God was actually good and was directing His goodness at me. I brought my fear of man into the light and had performance and people pleasing broken off through prayer, confession, declaration and practice. Every time I felt like giving up or running away, I ran to my leaders and community and they embraced me and spoke words of grace and peace to my heart.
Slowly I started to partner with the Lord and forge a new path in my mind, a path of peace rather than anxiety. A path of life rather than death. A path that rejected the lies and agreed with the truth. I learned that my body wasn’t my master, nor was my soul, but rather my spirit who is one with the Holy Spirit. So even though my body and emotions told me I was anxious, my spirit was full of peace and I could actually tell my body and soul to come into alignment with my spirit. I discovered some roots of my anxiety were attached to unforgiveness I was carrying and when I forgave, more freedom came.
And one day near the end of October I realized I wasn’t feeling anxious anymore.
I didn’t experience an instant healing, but rather a process of being made whole. When I asked my pastor about why God wouldn’t just heal me in a moment she said
“Heather, this process is about longevity. If God healed you in a moment would you know what to do next time you felt triggered? Or would you be able to walk anyone else into the freedom you now have?”
For weeks I didn’t tell anyone I was free because I kept waiting for it to come back. But though I was triggered every now and then, my symptoms all but disappeared and I can now safely say that I am anxiety free.
What I hope you hear from this more than anything else is that God did a miracle in my life and He can do the same thing for you. Please know that the power of my testimony is what Jesus did, not what I did. And if He did it for me, He will do it for you too.
So for any of your struggling in a battle with anxiety, I release the peace of Jesus over your life. In response to everything He’s done for me, I say “do it again Father!” My breakthrough is your breakthrough because His breakthrough is our breakthrough. This is not the end. Don’t give up hope.16