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Thirty minutes before the evening service, just as I always did, I was conversing with people and waiting for the service to begin. From nowhere, in an instant, all my strength went out of me. My body went limp in the chair, my heart rate skyrocketed, and my blood pressure rose so high that I could feel my entire body shake. I wasn't sure what was happening. • I went to my office and lay down on a couch. In about 15 minutes, everything subsided, and I went out and preached. I noticed that afterward I had an unquenchably dry mouth. Something wasn't right. I went to the doctor, who had me hospitalized. I eventually learned I was having an anxiety attack or panic attack.

Upon reflection, I can see I'd had signs of its approach for two years. There were mysterious instances of what I can only describe as a strange and frightening feeling. Now I know that it was the approach of anxiety produced by high stress and overwork—an anxiety that would ultimately crescendo into panic attacks and full-blown depression.

I had noticed that in the spring and fall, my body would ache. I thought I was developing allergies, but the fact is that while the post-Christmas season and summertime gave me a chance to rest, church programs always cranked back up in the spring and fall, and the aching would begin again.

After three days in the hospital, I felt some rest and relief. I had taken a break from preaching on Sundays, but on the horizon was the 800-person conference on the book of Romans called "Romans, Texas Style." The conference was going to be taped for a high-quality video series. The people coming had paid for admission. The pressure was on. In 12 sessions, I would teach a book that I normally take a year of Sundays to preach.

The most important attribute in all the world to me is duty—fulfilling my responsibility. So this was like getting the flu fifteen minutes before game time. It was something I couldn't control. I could preach in a cast or from a gurney, but not when in the grip of this "thing" that was struggling for control of my life.

My hope was that as "game time" approached, my body would rise to the challenge, adrenaline would kick in, and I would muscle my way through Romans. Then maybe I could take some serious time off. But that Sunday night something went terribly wrong. Sleep was impossible. At 2 a.m., an intense heightening of anxiety (although I still had not defined it as such) jolted me awake. All I knew was that it was a god-awful feeling I could only call sinister. It was as though something was hijacking my being. I read a book until about 6 a.m., then I tried to go to sleep again. But another jolt of distress hit me, rousing me from bed.

I went outside to take a walk. The feeling was building in intensity. As I walked, I recited Scripture—Psalm 23, Romans 8—constantly looking to God as this whatever-it-was enveloped me. My wife, Teresa, was up by ...

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From Issue:Callings, Winter 2013 | Posted: January 16, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 13 comments


February 18, 2014  5:04pm

When at rock bottom I called an elder brother from the church out of total desperation and confusion at what was happening to me. He paused and then said "Underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33 vs 27). Thirty-eight years later I am so thankful for that word of comfort. Yes, it may have taken a further 6 to 9 months for physical and medical symptoms to be addressed (as the writer so helfully describes it) but truly God has been faithful to His word. The Lord be praised.

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April 26, 2013  1:19am

I was suffering from panic attack too and in fact it develops agoraphobia. Better that you have your friend that at least supported you. Me, I am suffering from this 10 years and still, sigh. I want GOD to help me with this. I am fine, just having a little back pain and a little difficulty of breathing. I maybe worry of this. And since then I wasnt diagnosed for this agoraphpbia of mine which is under panic attack due to I was working before and I don't want to be absent. Also, no one has to take care of my hospital bills when I will be in the hospital. Sigh. If one can help me with this, and give me encouragement, please please I need your advice.. Email me at je_bb@yahoo.com in case. Hope that GOD will stregthen me in my everyday life. in Jesus Name Amen!

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April 26, 2013  1:12am

Sorry, my email address is je_bb@yahoo.com, I was the one who posted a message above.

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April 26, 2013  1:09am

I've been experiencing panic attack for 10 years too pastor. And have this agoraphobia already. Can't eat in a restaurant, go in some places like I did before. Short distances made me tired, I have a lot of worries and fears. Better that you have your friends at least and something for the medication. Me, I never went to anyone for this because I was working before and nobody has to take care of my hospital bills when Ill be absent. Till now, I am still suffering from this. I hope I could have your medication too. Please please, if you can help me with my problem to this, just email me in my address and give me encouragement. I've been with this for 10 years now.

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Joe Pritchett

February 28, 2013  12:55pm

Glad it went relatively quickly for you. I'm five years into the journey and have more good days than bad, but it can jump back on me in a hurry. It helps to hear others' stories as a way to hold onto the hope that it will one day pass.

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