September 6, 2015
One night, exhausted from a long, hard week of work, I got in the bathtub to relax my tired body while Kathy lay sick on the sofa with morning sickness. An hour or so later, I started to get out of the tub to dry off. But as I stood up, an intense thought hit me: I am going to die!
Like everyone else in the world, bad thoughts were not foreign to me, but this was different. This thought was so strong that it caused panic to rush through my whole being like stampeding cattle! My entire body began to tremble as my heart pounded out of my chest and my pulse raced uncontrollably. All my strength drained from my limbs, and I struggled to get out of the tub. I fell back into the water, shouting desperately for Kathy to help me. Eight months pregnant, she labored to get up off the couch, then she rushed into the bathroom where I lay helpless, scared and white as a ghost. I could barely talk, but I managed to mumble something about having a heart attack. She strained to help me out of the bathtub and onto the couch. Then she ran into the kitchen to call our family doctor, who was a customer of ours at the auto shop. He relayed a few questions to me through Kathy and concluded that I was having a panic attack, not a heart attack. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a three-and-a-half-year journey through hell.
Touring Hell and Calling for Heaven
That first panic attack initiated a constant state of fear in me. Going to work became really tough. It took all the strength I could muster just to get out of bed each morning. All throughout the day at the shop, high levels of anxiety overwhelmed my soul like waves crashing on the seashore in a violent storm. It was everything I could do just to concentrate on my job. As difficult as the days were, the nights were much worse. The panic attacks continued, turning into endless, tormenting nightmares. Horrible images filled my mind as I imagined terrible things happening to me or envisioned myself doing dreadful acts. Although I knew in my heart that these images and thoughts were illusions, they still felt so real. I often wondered if I were losing my mind. I could not sleep much, and I soaked the sheets with sweat every night.
A few months into my ordeal, our daughter Jaime was born. Kathy and I were so excited to have our first child, but the added stress of the baby intensified my battle. Kathy was amazing through it all; getting up several times a night to take care of the baby or to comfort me was more than most women could take, but Kathy was rarely shaken. I can only conclude that God had given her a special grace for the battle. She was a solace in the storm, a force of peace in a very troubled situation.
No Relief in Sight
A year passed without any relief. Finally, Kathy and I decided to quit our jobs and move up into the mountains to find a slower pace of life. We relocated to Lewiston, California, a town of about nine hundred people way up in the Trinity Alps. Living in the wilderness was definitely slower than the traffic-packed city we left behind. But it turned out that this only served to heighten my awareness of the rat race that was going on inside me.
As time passed, the fear intensified, affecting every aspect of our lives. I became claustrophobic to such an extent that I had to drive with the windows down in our car (even in the winter) so I would not panic. Although my personality is naturally outgoing, I became reclusive and never wanted to be around people. When friends came over to visit, I had Kathy get rid of them. I could not be in crowds, which eliminated shopping, restaurants, movies or doing anything in public. Although I continued to attend church, I sat in the back and got up to go outside several times during each service in order to reduce some of my crowd anxiety.
True to form, Kathy continued to take it all in stride. Though she was young, she somehow possessed great faith that we would get through all of this. Looking back, I can see how the Lord had prepared her for this battle from the time she was young. Kathy’s mother had severe epilepsy and suffered forty to fifty seizures a month. With her dad gone most of the time, Kathy was the one who stayed home from school to take care of her mom. Even as a young girl, she became the stabilizing force in the family. I thank God that she brought that same dynamic into our relationship.
Terrorist Attacks and a Prison Break
We opened a small automotive repair shop in Weaverville, California, a town about twenty miles from Lewiston. Although business was good, finances were tight. We got up early most mornings, put Jaime in a car seat, and went fishing for food in the river down the street from our house. Transitioning from two fairly significant incomes in the city to living on one meager salary out in the sticks was quite a culture shock. (The Little House on the Prairie lifestyle is definitely overrated!)
Two more years passed with no relief. Then, just when I thought it could not get any worse, I began to experience demonic visitations. Demons literally would come into our room at night and torment me. Lights went on and off, and pictures spontaneously fell off the wall! The phone rang every few minutes with people saying crazy things on the other end of the line. I am aware that many people do not believe in spirits, demons and angels, so this paragraph may be a little hard to swallow. But if you are reading this book and have had or are having these experiences, I hope you believe in them now.
Three Years of Hell
By the third year of this terrible storm, Kathy had had our second beautiful daughter, Shannon, but my life was becoming unbearable. The stress had caused my equilibrium to go crazy, making me nauseous all the time. Food ran right through me; I had diarrhea continually. I loved my family so much, but my inner torment was so intense that I did not want to live anymore. I was not going to kill myself; I just thought my family would be much better off if God took me home and Kathy found a “normal” husband. I cried out to God repeatedly, but He seemed distant . . . even uncaring. It seemed that the love I had known the first couple years in my walk with God had vanished, replaced by intense fear.
The Moment of Truth
Then, early one cold winter morning, something startling happened. The four of us were still living in Lewiston, and as usual, I could not sleep. I got up about 3:00 a.m., wrapped a blanket around myself and went into the living room. I turned the stereo on low and lay down next to the speaker so I would not wake my family. We did not get very good radio reception in the mountains, but I thought I would try to find a late-night talk show to help get my mind off my condition.
Finally, I tuned in to some preacher. The static was so bad that I could only make out about every third or fourth word of his message. Yet, in the midst of the noise, I heard him say something that would forever change my life. He quoted Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, nkjv). Then he went on to explain, “Fear is a spirit! Some of you are thinking you are going insane, but you are just listening to the spirit of insanity! Not all your thoughts are your own. Evil spirits talk to you by giving you their thoughts.”
I was stunned! I had been taught that Christians could be mentally ill but could not be demonized. What I did not realize until that night was that I had been educated right out of my solution.
I turned off the radio and asked Jesus what I should do. Immediately I heard a Voice inside my spirit say, “You have been listening to the spirit of insanity and the spirit of fear. Tell them to leave you right now!”
Lying on my back on the living room floor, I said in a quiet but confident voice, “You spirit of fear and you spirit of insanity, get off me right now in Jesus’ name!”
I could not see anything, but suddenly I felt something get up off my body. It physically felt like a lead blanket, the kind dentists use during X-rays, and it was being lifted off me. My shaking completely stopped, peace filled my soul and my mind was clear again. Joy overwhelmed my heart, and I laughed out loud for the first time in more than three years. A miracle had happened in my life, and I was eager to tell Kathy and the world about it.
One of the pivotal truths I have learned through my journey is that we are new creatures in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17) and therefore our battles in life are never with our old nature. Our flesh may be weak (see Mark 14:38), but it is no longer corrupt. The enemy works hard to convince us otherwise, so that instead of resisting him, we turn against ourselves. Self-sabotage is the common denominator in all forms of anxiety and depression, whether rooted in the body, soul or spirit. My main goal for this article is to help you gain insight into the ways we sabotage ourselves, give you wisdom for how to break free from these destructive patterns, and impart courage to you to face the real battles in life—battles you were made to win!
Has the Lord freed you from torment? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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