Panic Attacks and Unexpected Grace


I’m sitting on the couch when it comes, cycling through my usual websites with a growing sense of dread.  I feel frozen, unable to move on to something else even though I know I need to. 

A wave of heat washes over my body, rising up my back, my neck, engulfing my head and then searing with an intensity I find hard to believe.  Is this what a hot flash feels like?  My heart rate jumps and the heat is followed by fear; fear of panic, a fear so dark it’s like the fear of fear itself.  

“Maybe nothing has changed, maybe it will never get better,” these are the words the darkness whispers. 

This is the beginning of my first full-on panic attack since leaving the psychiatric hospital. 

I sit frozen, afraid to move, trying to stay calm, afraid I won’t be able to move.  My children are upstairs resting in their daily “quiet time” and the time I have to deal with this is limited. 

I shut the computer, place it on its shelf.  I get up and head to the kitchen to busy myself washing dishes or moving laundry from washer to dryer.  

Passing a window I see the vegetable garden, nearly spent, a riot of decay sitting at the bottom of the yard’s gentle slope.  Waves of squash beetles tore through our zucchini and cucumber plants then moved on to the winter squash and watermelons, their destruction leaving me furious and overwhelmed.  The tomato plants, poorly staked, lean and sprawl, hap-hazard yet clinging to their heavy fruit. 

The garden draws me through the kitchen, past the laundry and out into the wide open green laid out beneath a sky of blue.  I walk among the tomatoes picking their luscious fruit, some over-ripe, some not yet fully red.  The plants are broken and bent, but bearing still and moving among them I’m surprised by the yield.  A pile of red grows in the green grass as I work my way around the garden, the picked fruit creating a border to the chaos and decay. 

Bending, breaking vines, I feel the shadows of anxiety moving still around the edges of me, like wisps of a spider’s web.  

The sky is blue, the sun is warm and there are too many tomatoes to carry, so I fetch the red metal wagon, pulling it down to the garden’s edge.  It fills with tomatoes like the disciples nets were filled with fish, unexpectedly.  God is there with me in the garden, in the abundance of the soft red fruit, in the overflow of sunlight and sky, this much is easy to see. 

But I cling to the truth that God is also with me on the dark leather sofa, in the heat and darkness, in the fear and the fear of fear itself; God’s love displacing the fear.  

This vine will not be cut down despite whatever decimation may come.  Though broken and bent, I will cling to the fruit that this season also may bear witness to the One who planted me, who tends my life through seasons of both abundance and decay.  And when this season also passes, I will be surprised by the fruit that comes, like always, as unexpectedly as grace. 

This post is linked with Unforced Rhythms and Playdates with God


  1. Kelly, thank you for this. I struggle mightily with my *thorn* - terrible anxiety, crippling fear, and endless worry. I am so exhausted sometimes by the struggle. And then, on top of it all, I call myself a *bad* Christian for feeling these things. "Where is your faith?" I bemoan.

    This line from your post leaped out to me: "God is also with me on the dark leather sofa, in the heat and darkness, in the fear and the fear of fear itself; God’s love displacing the fear." Yes, dear one, oh yes! This is the comfort I hold on to so much...

    Thank you. You have blessed me tremendously today with your most encouraging words.


    1. I'm so glad you visited today, Sharon. Yes, it is a truly exhausting struggle. I hope you will continue to find love and grace and support in the midst of your journey.

  2. Kelly, there's a passage in Exodus Ch. 3 (vv. 21-23) where the Israelites plunder the Egyptians and carry treasures away for themselves. These precious materials when they come out of bondage become part of what they will use to build the tabernacle, God's habitation. That occurred to me as I continue to read of your journey through this difficult time--WE are receiving treasures, you are receiving treasures, little gems of gold and silver as you come out of Egypt.... (I hope that makes sense.) God uses everything for His glory. Everything.

    1. What a beautiful picture, Jody. That's the story everywhere in the bible - isn't it? Redemption and purpose from the most unlikely (and even unwanted) places. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. It's a gift to be getting to know you.

  3. Several things, Kelly...

    First, my heart hurt reading this, imagining you and how this must have felt to experience again. And then, the beauty of seeing how Jesus met you here - in the garden, and on that leather sofa...

    Second, can I just say how your story touches me? How I appreciate your openness in sharing what is hard to say? Just today, I found myself fighting off my own anxiety, though it comes less intense than yours. I was trying to find words to describe it to myself, how it felt, and the best I could do was spider webs... just as you said here. Your words have helped me put my own journey into words.

    Thank you. There is so much beauty here - and more to come, I know.

    1. Amber, doesn't it seem quite clear that God connected us at just the right time in both of our journeys? (ok, so God working through Kelli Woodford, but you know what I mean ;) ) Thank you for walking with me, it helps so much.

  4. Groundedness comes for me, also, in the physical touch of things rooted to the earth. It's like they call me home. ... And I do think that anxiety is something that so many people deal with but so few write about with such clarity. Thank you, Kelly. You are a light in the darkness.