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Fearless in 21 Days
A Survivor's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
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In the summer of 2013, family and friends watched helplessly as author Sarah E. Ball spiraled into the darkest season of her life. A passionate woman of God, wife, mom of five, and popular blogger, Sarah nevertheless found herself abruptly taken captive by a severe anxiety and panic disorder that left her bedridden for months. Those around her were shocked at her fast derailment because she had always been a very strong, dependable woman. With time and perseverance, her determination and faith in God led her out of anxiety and into a place of complete freedom.
After Sarah found deliverance from mental illness she was determined to reach back into the pit and pull the next person out. She began sharing the intimate details of her breakdown and recovery with her readers, creating an online series Fearless in 21 Days as a daily guide to overcoming anxiety. After the series gained an increasing amount of attention, Sarah expanded the series into an award-winning full book manuscript.
In Fearless in 21 Days, Sarah takes the readers through 21 revelations that focus on healing the whole self-body, mind, and soul-and bridging the gap between effective mental health therapies and Scripture. The book begins with practical tips that can dramatically reduce the immediate symptoms of anxiety and then dives deeper into spiritual and mental truths to create a hope-filled guide to freedom from anxiety so that readers may boldly and bravely fulfill their purpose in Christ-fearlessly.
Panic to Praise
I paced my home trying to think of the best place to lie down in case I died. My heart was pounding, and I felt an immense amount of chest pressure and pain. I was light-headed, weak, and couldn’t catch my breath. It wasn’t a great day to die, really, because I had my five kids at home plus two more kids sleeping over. How would I explain this to their parents? My husband was at work, and everyone in the house was asleep. My red sofa seemed like the most appropriate place to perish, so I slowly unlocked the front door, made my way over to the couch, curled up into a ball in my favorite morning coffee groove, and then dialed 911.
The kids slept through the whole ordeal as the paramedics knocked on the door and excused their way into the house. They found me right away, since a pale, shaking, hyperventilating woman on a red couch is a fairly easy thing to spot. They calmly assessed me and asked if it was okay to sit on my IKEA coffee table. “Have you been under a lot of stress lately?” one asked. “We can take you to the hospital to make sure, but we are confident that this is a panic attack and you are not in any danger.”
My dramatic near-death experience was a panic attack.
I was instructed to get some rest and was told I would feel better in the morning. The ambulance pulled away, and I crawled back into bed—humiliated, terrified, still trembling, and completely unaware of the journey that lay ahead. I was stepping into the darkest season of my life, and this was just the prelude.
That one day of panic turned into a full-blown panic disorder, causing me several panic attacks a day, continuing for months. I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t drive my kids to school, I couldn’t eat, and some days I couldn’t even leave my bed. My body trembled relentlessly, I constantly felt like my throat was closing in, my chest was heavy and tight, and my heart raced uncontrollably, even as I slept. The worst part was the horrifying sensation of impending doom and death. Fears dominated my thoughts, and thoughts ignited my fears. There were no specific triggers (unless you call a wind gust a trigger, or a doorbell). I feared going crazy. I lost total control over my body and mind, and I felt drained of all stability. I was afraid for my life, and I was afraid of my life.
When I realized that this was not going away on its own, I entered counseling. I was desperate and ready for God to take me through whatever healing I needed (or so I thought). I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible, because I wanted out as fast as possible.
My first appointment with the counselor was an hour long. The last thirty minutes were spent debriefing why I was there, but the first thirty minutes were spent talking me down from a panic attack, right there in the office. How humiliating. But even with months of counseling and prayer, I was still battling panic attacks and anxiety daily. As months passed with no progress, I began to grow weary of the day-to-day anxiety battle, and soon that battle began to manifest as depression and despair. Like Scripture says, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression” (Proverbs 12:25 NKJV).
This was not supposed to happen to a strong woman like me. I was a ministry leader at church and a mom of five children who once lived happily on a diet of stress and chaos and browsed Pinterest for inspirational meals. People looked up to me. I was the writer who encouraged people to stay strong in their faith. I was the friend who counseled and comforted. I was the life of the party, always making others laugh. I was superblogger, oldest child, and devoted wife. These breakdowns weren’t supposed to happen to a woman like me; they happened to broken people and to people who didn’t know the Lord. “Pride precedes destruction; an arrogant spirit appears before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ISV).
At the urging of my pastor, my husband, and my friends, I went to see my family doctor. I tried to convince him that I could get through this without medication, that I wasn’t that bad. And then after I finished trying to convince him I was doing better, I had to pause our conversation for another panic attack in his office. Score: two for two. My husband squeezed my left hand as my doctor, who was also a Christian, held my right hand. “Even Jesus got weary,” he comforted, and I sobbed. I was desperate for relief yet ashamed at the same time. I could not handle another moment, another attack, or another thought.
My decline was now exposed. No more have-it-all-together, no more supermom, no more “How do you do it all?” Agoraphobia, the fear of leaving my home or being around a lot of people, was crowding in. I had lost fifteen pounds; I couldn’t take care of my family anymore; I trembled when I talked; I avoided people and declined invitations. Then it got worse.
I started noticing myself hiding medications that were lying around. I wasn’t hiding them from my children; I was hiding them from myself. I had this intense fear that if I got hit with despair I might take them all, or maybe I would lose my mind during a panic attack and try to end my life.
But it didn’t stop there. I became so afraid of potentially harmful objects that I once grabbed a stool and put the bottle of bleach on the highest shelf in the laundry room, out of my reach, so that I wouldn’t drink it. I started avoiding using knives, plastic bags, and ropes—anything that could ever be used to harm myself or someone else. I double-checked and triple-checked harmful objects. I needed to ensure that these items were safely stored away. From me.
I was developing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or, to be more precise, harm OCD. I was bombarded by an irrational fear that I would lose control and hurt myself or, worse, someone else. The repetitive habits and checking that we commonly associate with OCD were growing in me, just to ease the thoughts and dissipate the anxiety.
Now, we all get bizarre imaginative thoughts from time to time, such as wondering if anyone would miss us if we drove off a bridge. We dismiss them as bizarre and then go on with the day. But a thought like that to people suffering from OCD can have them in the fetal position, avoiding bridges altogether or creating a ritual to ease the fear when they cross over one. I thought OCD happened to other women who were more uptight than I was and obsessed over cleanliness.
And then it happened to me.
Then what? you’re probably wondering.
I pulled into the garage after an exhausting evening out with my children. I sat in my messy minivan and stared vacantly at my hands as they gripped the steering wheel. I began wringing the wheel back and forth like a dishrag. A new intense thought was flooding my mind, a thought I had never had before: I’m just so tired; let’s just not do this anymore. I heard the sound of the garage door close behind me, and even though I had been trying to fight off harmful thoughts for quite some time, this was the first moment suicide became an option. I quickly unloaded the kids and ran into the house. I deeply understood in that moment that I was not just fighting for peace of mind anymore; I was fighting for my life.
I was clammy and panicked. I did not want to be alone, but I also unquestionably did not want to share these thoughts with anyone else.
Concerned by my frantic behavior, my husband asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I lied as I handed off the kids for bedtime. I hurried to my bedroom. How does God deal with suicide? Would I really go to hell? How would my family deal with it? Would I ever actually have the guts to do it? I locked my door, longing to leave these forceful thoughts on the other side of it, but they followed me to my bed, the place I always ran to when I was afraid, the place I had been spending most of my days. I grabbed my Bible and flung it open. I was desperate for God to jump out and just hold me and promise me everything was going to be okay. I didn’t want to read it. I just wanted it to work.
This was when I had a standoff with God and my Bible. “I either trust You, God, or I succumb. Your Word is either true, or I lose everything.” What choice did I have at that moment? What else is there when the thought of death is comforting? I couldn’t talk myself out of terror anymore; God had to. I couldn’t reason with the suicidal thoughts; the Scriptures had to. It was my last resort.
As I began to read, speak, and pray God’s Word, I felt like a child dressed in oversize armor, tripping over her own feet with no strength to lift a sword. I didn’t know how to make the Bible verses I read work—how to “take my thoughts captive,” how to let “perfect love cast out fear,” or how to “meditate on His Word day and night.” All I sort of knew was that this Bible—the one I had spent the last fifteen years of my life reading figuratively—could renew my mind. It was then that I made the decision to take each word that God breathed literally.
Healing is a process, especially healing complex conditions like anxiety and depression. When it comes to restoring the mind, a miraculous healing would bring relief like gulping in air after being held underwater for longer than we can handle, and I believe it’s possible. However, if we do not take the time to labor through the tearing down of false mind-sets, lies, habits, and other sources of our anxiety, we will always risk returning to captivity. To be truly set free is to walk it out with God, even if it seems like the long way out.
God led me on a journey of healing with the guidance of His Word. What I was surprised to learn through that process was that God needed my body whole, my mind whole, and my spirit whole. Why? Because He loves all of me!
I now live free from crippling anxiety, panic disorder, suicidal depression, and OCD. God was faithful to renew my mind, restore my hope, and grant me the peace I desperately prayed for. A single day has not gone by where I have not thought about all that God has brought me out of. I praise the Lord that He was the One who brought me from panic to praise, and I know in my heart that His desire is to bring you there, too. I hope that my story and this book will help you to reclaim your life, find that lost hope again, and begin to live your days in joy and fearlessness.
I know you probably aren’t completely convinced, because you are weary. Weary of waking up trembling, if you slept at all. Weary of your life revolving around your anxiety. Weary of fighting off panic attacks daily. Weary of praying the same prayers for peace; weary of the torment, the thoughts, the physical sensations, and the mental anguish.
You are not sure how you got to this point. Am I right? Chances are you were once a very strong, independent, busy, capable person whom many people depended on, but now you hide in bathroom stalls to talk yourself down from panic attacks. Maybe your story is that you have dealt with this from childhood or adolescence, and you have finally reached a point where you want freedom. Or maybe you have decided that this is just who you are, and now you are looking for a book to help you cope better. Your desire for living a joyful, fearless life has faded.
You have tried everything, haven’t you? You have prayed one thousand prayers and you have read every book on anxiety, yet you are still panicked, still avoiding crowds, still depressed, and still white-knuckled when you have to drive.
Whatever your story, however you got here, I am here to tell you that you can live a fearless and joyful life. I didn’t think I would ever survive it, either. Yet I did, and I am living proof that you can overcome anxiety, too.
When I was in the depths of my mental breakdown, I could not find the right words to describe what it felt like to be subjected to daily anxiety and panic attacks. Then one day, I stumbled upon a different translation of 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (NKJV). Tears poured down my cheeks, because I had finally found a word to describe what was happening to my mind: torment.
Tormented daily for months, I could not sleep, eat, or function. Showering was terrifying, the phone ringing would send me into a panic, and running my household of seven became an impossible task. I was once a very strong, capable, and busy woman, and then I became a mental health statistic. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada1 and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America,2 12 percent of Canadians and 18 percent of Americans will have at least one episode of anxiety disorder in their lifetimes. Welcome to the club.
When I began writing and speaking out about my illness, I began to hear from others who were tormented by the same illness—people you would never suspect, living in anguish, just like me and just like you. I realized very quickly that I was not alone, and that 12 to 18 percent is a very big number. I began to recognize the signs of people who were living with chronic anxiety—like the guy who paced the back of the church on Sunday mornings, the lady who rambled a mile a minute at dinner parties, or the man who never left his house. I began to see and recognize the plague of anxiety, the people it affected, the complexity of it all. I became sadly aware that anxiety can ravage anyone—all races, all ages, all religions, and all sexes. Anxiety doesn’t care who you are; it torments whomever it wants.
Fear chose me, and I was completely overcome and desperate to find a way out. There are hundreds of conflicting techniques, programs, and advice for treating anxiety, but most of the information I found was about coping with anxiety, not eliminating it. There was no way I was going to have this noose around my neck for the rest of my life. So I kept digging, researching, talking, asking, and reading. Most of all I kept seeking God for a breakthrough. A good Father listens to His kids, and God began showing me the way out.
Like a woman on a mission, I searched everywhere for answers and solutions. I went through therapy, read books, begged God, followed programs, listened to sermons, begged God, visited my doctor, begged God some more, and wore out my Google page. I was so desperate for deliverance that I would do anything to be set free. I began to sift through all the information I could find on curing anxiety and panic. There was a lot of nonsense, but there were a lot of treasures, too. Through this God-led journey, I learned a lot about our minds, our emotions, our spirits, and our physical bodies, and I slowly began to discover truths that were key to my freedom.
I soon understood that truly healing an anxiety disorder was not just addressing a physical problem that could be fixed by medication, nor a spiritual problem healed by prayer, nor a mental issue prevented by therapy. It was not any one of the above, but rather all of the above. Each part of our beings is interconnected, completely dependent on one another, and affected by our actions. When I began to take all aspects of myself seriously, nurturing it all, I began to see the greatest breakthrough in healing I’d ever had.
So many times when we seek freedom in certain areas of our lives, we search for one tool to repair our brokenness. Often people suffering from anxiety will opt for only medication, or try naturopathic treatment, or seek healing only through prayer. But the secret to overcoming a disorder like anxiety is treating the whole person. We must begin to understand that there is a powerful connection between our thoughts, our physical habits, and our relationship with God. Without a healing attention to all three—body, mind, and spirit—we will never fully recover, because God created us as one.
When I fully grasped this truth, that healing must take place throughout my whole self, I began to focus on whole healing—all facets of my being: my body, my mind, and my spirit. I soon began to experience total healing through the miraculous power of prayer, the nourishing support of nutrition and exercise, and the empowerment of taking my thoughts captive. That discovery led me to a path of freedom, and that freedom has led me to you.
I grieved deeply at the idea of another person being tortured by their mind, day and night, like I was. I knew that when God pulled me out of this dark pit, I would reach my hand back and pull others out. My compassion made me determined to help others like you.
Many of my blog readers and Facebook followers followed me through my breakdown season. I never intended to write much about my anxiety, and I for sure didn’t want to talk about my OCD or depression. I kept it hidden for a long time. I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I didn’t know how to get out. As I began to catch my breath, God began nudging me to share. He kept calling me to vulnerability and challenging me that my story, this testimony, was not mine to keep. He had a purpose through all of this, and I chose to answer the call.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony.
REVELATION 12:10–11 NIV
I labored and wrestled with vulnerability. What would I share? What would I reveal? I forced myself to sit down and write as honestly as I could. I opened up about my journey through the anxiety, the depression, the OCD, the despair, the strain on my family and my friends, and my anger at God. I held nothing back. Some days I cried, feeling exposed to the world. Some days I wrestled to hit Publish. Then, slowly, my posts of deep suffering and vulnerability became posts of victories, celebrations, revelations, and joy, and ultimately out of that came Fearless in 21 Days.
I created the “Fearless in 21 Days” series on my blog to give people hope, to lead them to God’s healing power, and to pass on practical wisdom. I just wanted to help people in a tangible way—spiritually, physically, and mentally. What I didn’t expect when blogging the series was the response from readers, the shares, and the referrals from anxiety sites, nurses, friends, and other blogs.
These responses taught me one thing: Anxiety sufferers don’t want another self-help book on breathing techniques. Trust me, I know. They want to be heard and understood by someone who has lived through it firsthand. Someone who can relate to the feeling of disassociation or the fear of going crazy. Someone who can empathize with the irrational but intense fear of bridges, bleach, and sickness. Someone who can describe the absolute terror a thought can bring on or how humiliating it is to be seen trembling in social situations. Sufferers want real knowledge, real hope, and real answers, but most of all they want compassion. Don’t you?
I am not a therapist, I am not a doctor, and I make no claims to being a medical professional, but I am you, healed. I am you, better. I am you, whole. I am you, fearless! I know how one simple thought can ravage your body, putting you into shock, or how fast you can lose the ability to be around people due to the fear of having another panic attack. I am an expert at splashing cold water on my face just to snap out of the anxiety fog and clear my head, and I am an expert at not being able to get out of bed to fulfill my greatest mission as a mother. I still have the get-well cards my children wrote me as I lay in bed, wasting away and trembling for months on end.
May I ask you this? How many people have told you that you will get through this, and you just want to punch them? Sorry to tell you (as I duck), but it is true. You will get through this, and I believe God has called me to show you how.
How to Use This Book
This is not a breeze-through book, and you do not have to let your drive and perfectionism tell you that you have to complete it in twenty-one days. Read it at your own pace, prayerfully, and with commitment. It is up to God to show you the way you should go, but it is up to you to walk yourself there.
Before you begin, I encourage you to have a conversation with your doctor. It is important to ensure that what you are dealing with is indeed an anxiety issue and not an underlying health issue. Also, a thorough checkup can help ease any underlying health fears. This book is not meant to replace medication, therapy, or your spiritual support; everything is to be discerned by you and those who are responsible for your spiritual, mental, and physical care.
Journaling is an important part of working through this book. Journaling helps us to see our progress and go back over what we have learned. You will need your Bible for reference, and you will need people who can pray with you through some of the things I will be showing you, especially when we cover spiritual deliverance and healing the past. Most of all, you will need to hold on to the hope and joy that freedom is possible!
Creation of Fear
Fear makes us feel our humanity.
—BENJAMIN DISRAELI, VIVIAN GREY
- "FEARLESS IN 21 DAYS is the remarkable story of one woman's victory over her anxiety disorder. But it is much more than that. It's a resource and guide to help conquer the fear that's at the heart of this disorder. It uses biblical truth to clear up many of the misconceptions that swirl around this mental illness, and yet it emphasizes the importance of well-rounded therapies that address a person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Best of all, it provides a day-by-day plan that puts readers on the road to recovery, too."—Jolene Philo, author of Does My Child Have PTSD: What To Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out
- "A recommended read providing candid, common sense on a debilitating mental health issue. The author's own struggle to overcome the crippling effects of anxiety, is both elementary and encouraging. This is a book that neither simplifies the issue nor shames the one who struggles, while giving proper place to both the power of prayer and the importance of medical intervention when required. I particularly liked the focus on healthy mind, body and spirit interventions and will recommend it to colleagues and clients alike."—Marion Goertz, DMin, RP, RMFT, CTS, RST, CEFT
- "It's pretty easy to be fear-filled in today's tumultuous world, but whether your anxiety is overtaking you or is just a subtle theme in the background of your mind, Sarah Ball's own epic battle with depression and anxiety brings incredible hope to all of us. Your reality today does not have to be your forever and Sarah shows us step by step how to walk out of full blown anxiety into a life of peace and hope. This is a must read!"—Cheryl Weber, Co-host & Senior Executive Producer, 100 Huntley Street
- "FEARLESS IN 21 DAYS is your breakthrough in a book. Whatever your story, Sarah will show you that you can live a fearless and joyful life. She thought she would never survive anxiety and depression, yet she did, and she's living proof that you can overcome too. The wisdom of Sarah's whole life approach shows that healing an anxiety disorder is not just a physical problem fixed by medication, nor a spiritual problem healed by prayer, nor a mental issue prevented by therapy. It is all of the above. Following Sarah's insights will give you a prognosis for wellness."—Bob Jones, Lead Pastor, North Pointe Church, Edmonton, Alberta
- "As a speaker/author and someone who struggles with mental health I have been thinking of writing a book on the subject. I was halfway through the book and said to myself there is no need to write a book because Sarah says it all. Biblical, practical, vulnerable and basically something for everyone no matter where you are in your journey. Moving towards wholeness from brokenness. Must read for anyone struggling with any form of mental health."—Brett Ullman, speaker, author, blogger
- "FEARLESS IN 21 DAYS has set me on a new path in life. A path of freedom. I have suffered with fear, anxiety, and OCD for 23 years. Through Sarah's practical daily applications, I was able to one by one kick them to the curb. She weaves the entire book together with God's word, grace, and especially his love. By being so vulnerable and transparent on how God has freed her, she is even more capable to show you how to take God's hand and walk toward your freedom."—Regina Hernandez
- "From the moment we began our interview with Sarah Ball on Lifeline Today, we knew that her story was one that had to be told. FEARLESS IN 21 DAYS is an instructional and faith filled guide to overcoming crippling anxiety. As pastors and television ministers, we will be placing this into the hands of as many anxiety sufferers as we can. For ministry leaders, this book is an invaluable tool to better equip you to counsel others. Sarah's vulnerable story of her personal journey out of anxiety, OCD, and depression, along with practical tools, spiritual truths and unwavering faith makes this book beyond inspiring."—Dick and Joan Deweert, pastors of Third Day Church, founders of Dominion Media, and cohosts of Lifeline Today
- "I am so excited for FEARLESS IN 21 DAYS to get into the hands of so many people who need to hear this message. Not only for the people struggling with anxiety, but also for the loved ones in their life in order to help them understand and overcome. This book carries such an amazing message of hope and encouragement that is so needed in today's society. Her story from beginning to end is a perfect representation of how the Father restores all that anxiety and fear have taken away from your life. This book has definitely impacted me and will continue to be a guide to look back on again and again on my journey to wholeness. Thank you, Sarah, for releasing such an amazing message to the world."—Delia Wollmann
- "Sarah meets us in our place of hardship, where anxiety has a stronghold on our lives, and through her conversational style, her own life experiences, moments of humor, and biblical discernment, guides us on a journey towards a whole healing of our mind, body, and spirit."—Sally, Christian, wife, and mother of two
- "Sarah Ball's personal stories are relatable to women drowning in their own anxiety and depression, yet she throws them a lifeline of hope and light. Her candor and humor are also refreshing in a society where so many feel they need to hide behind a curtain of shame. Many thanks to Sarah for writing a book that will no doubt help thousands, if not millions, of women overcome their deepest pain... and then encourage them to be fearless!"—Elizabeth Oates, author of Mending Broken Branches, co-founder of Project Restoration Ministry
- "In a world where anxiety and depression is the highest mental health disorder diagnosed daily, Sarah Ball writes Fearless in 21 Days with a brave voice. She is fearless in addressing issues that are taboo in society and that people don't want to talk about or afraid to expose of their lives. She isn't afraid to get her hands messy and share about panic attacks, medication or what it takes to face crippling anxiety and pressing forward to a life of freedom. She makes no qualms about the journey, but doesn't stay stuck on the negative either. She is realistic and bold. With practical truth, tools and humor, this book is refreshing. This book will not only help hundreds, but thousands who have been held captive for so long who aren't sure how to handle their deepest wounds. Sarah has written a book that has the reader learn to live fearlessly and joyfully. Her approach is different and is one that applies to your entire being; mind, soul and body. This is a great a book and wonderful resource. I highly recommend this book and truly enjoyed it. I give this book 5/5 stars."—Goodreads
- On Sale
- Jan 23, 2018
- Page Count
- 192 pages