“There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” 1 John 4:18 (The Message)
The first time it happened, I was driving on the highway heading toward my office. I was ill-prepared for the onslaught of raw emotions and sensations that suddenly overtook my body. I remember saying out loud to myself, “God, is this the way I will die? Should I pull over right now? Why is my heart pounding so quickly? Why can’t I seem to breathe without gasping? Why are tears pouring down my face like a torrent?” With all of those words pouring out, I had the presence of mind to pull off on the side of the highway before I lost the ability to steer my vehicle. After safely pulling off on the shoulder, I picked up my phone and called a sister who had always been able to talk me through hard things. I remember her telling me, “Charice, you are having a panic attack. Try to take deep calming breaths to calm down your breathing. It will pass.”
Are you kidding me? This felt like my whole world was exploding all around me and my heart would pound out of my chest. A panic attack? Me? I had weathered the storm of my husband being deployed three times. I had survived the terror of delivering my daughter with complications that required two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for two weeks while in a foreign country. I mourned the loss of three people that I loved dearly all within the span of a year. The list of what I perceived as my emotional “accomplishments” kept coming up in my mind. How could I be having a panic attack? Why was I having a panic attack? Would this happen again?
For the life of me I can’t tell you what triggered the overwhelming feelings that day. What I do remember is feeling distraught and overwhelmed in that moment. I wanted it to stop and go away. I wanted to feel “normal” again. Since that day, almost eight years ago, I can clearly see God’s hand guiding me to trust Him even in the midst of these powerful storms. He was working through His word, through the loving disciples in my life and through amazing mental health professionals to lead me through this emotional minefield.
I battled for many years with the thought of needing anything else besides my Bible and prayer to help me overcome. The first time that I trusted my emotional journey with a mental health professional, I felt so guilty and frightened. I wondered how people in the church would react or if I just was not spiritual enough to pray these overwhelming emotions away. I knew that I needed a different type of help to overcome the deep sadness and fear that I was feeling all the time. I also felt that someone who believed in God was necessary for this spiritual and emotional journey. Reaching out to a mental health professional was the first step in trusting God and moving towards healing. I came to realize that God allowed for the creation of resources, like mental health professionals (and in some cases, where needed, medications), to assist me in my journey to overcome the sadness, fear and anxiety that had threatened to control my life for so many years.
What counseling taught me was that sometimes you need more than the Bible and prayer to overcome the deeply rooted emotional and mental barriers in your life. I learned that seeking help was necessary in teaching me to stop stuffing and ignoring the sadness, bitterness, anger, and other emotions that seemed all-consuming at times. Counseling educated me on the importance of dealing with my true feelings (the ones that sometimes feel too scary to share out loud) so that they didn’t become destructive and harmful.
On this journey what has become apparent is that God and counseling don’t stop the feelings of sorrow and pain that are part of this broken world. God and counseling have given me the tools that I need to wrestle through the tough times. Even with these tools I have still mourned the deaths of people who have positively impacted my life. I still feel overwhelmed with circumstances that are disheartening. I still navigate the pain of watching those that I love make decisions that have dire consequences to themselves and others. I still cry, have outbursts of anger, isolate myself from others at times, and have experienced panic attacks. I still get tempted to allow my momentary troubles to take shape into hopelessness. What gives me hope is leaning on God, remembering the skills I have learned from counseling, and being transparent with my sister circle. I remember that God loves me in spite of the fact that I have a tendency to worry too much and be anxious about things I have absolutely no control over. He wants me to come to Him with my burdens and lean on the resources that He has provided so that I can have peace (Philippians 4:6-7).
This year, March 8th, I celebrated 22 years as a disciple of Jesus. 22 years of growing in my faith. 22 years of falling down and getting back up. 22 years of learning that the hard times are the exact fertilizer I need for growth. 22 years of reading His word for guidance. 22 years of seeking advice from other sisters and brothers all over the world who are wiser than I. 22 years of fear and anxiety that seemed to crush me, but only served to refine my character. 22 years of loving and being loved by the Creator of my life! I pray for more years to grow as His daughter; for the ability to share my story with others who may need to hear that they are not alone. Fear does not have to control our thoughts, actions or emotions. You see, the perfect love of God continues to give me hope of a day that I won’t be overpowered by my fear. Until that day comes, I will continue to trust God and those He has put in my life to aid in my healing.
Editor’s Note: We love this piece by Charice. Her courage in being so honest and sharing her journey with us is inspiring! Here are some scriptures we thought of to encourage anyone who might be feeling the way Charice was at one point — “what’s wrong with me, that God and the Bible isn’t enough?” — feeling like maybe there’s something wrong with seeking professional psychological or psychiatric counseling:
Malachi 1:5 God is great, even beyond the borders of Israel
Daniel 2:19b-23 God is the one who gives wisdom to the wise...
Have you walked a similar path? What Scriptures have you found that have ministered to you? Feel free to share with us!
Charice DeGuzman is a disciple in the Palouse Church of Christ in Pullman, Washington. She and her family moved to Pullman five years ago to assist in planting the church at her alma mater, Washington State University. She has been a disciple for over twenty-two years and was baptized in the Nashville Church of Christ while she served on active duty in the United States Army. She and her husband, Torino, have been members of sister churches in Jacksonville, FL; Savannah, GA; Seoul, South Korea; Tallahassee, FL; and Seattle, WA. She is currently serving as the Executive Director of the Mack Strong TEAM-WORKS Foundation where she uses her School Counseling degree to mentor middle school youth. Her dream is to someday serve as a mental health counselor assisting young men and women on their mental and emotional health journeys. Charice and her husband, Torino, have been married for almost twenty-three years and have two children; Adrian (20) and Anissa (16).