Category: Anxiety, Panic Attacks & Depression Recovery
There are nearly 6000 followers on a Facebook page with the same title above created about three years ago. I am hoping those who are in recovery will appreciate the insights that will be posted here.
To learn more about my professional therapeutic services please visit: https://www.anxietycentre.com/Stacey-Ellertson.shtml
I understand the despair and challenges of severely debilitating anxiety. My struggle began almost immediately when I spent the first year of life in the hospital, and the next nine years in and out of hospital due to multiple surgeries.
Because of these early life experiences, my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood years were filled with fear, loneliness, and a sense of loss of control and inferiority. Consequently, I learned to live anxiously, expecting that bad things would continually happen to me.
I did my best to try and feel better, by trying harder and harder to be better and better, however, the persistent thought of, “It’s never enough,” continued to pervade in my life.
To relieve the “gloom and doom” I was feeling, I began to sleep excessively, because I found that my dream life was safer than my real life. As a result, I often slept sixteen hours a day. Nicotine, caffeine, and immersing myself into work also became my drugs of choice, all in an attempt to relieve the heaviness and fear I was experiencing.
In 1991, I experienced excruciating panic attacks, social anxiety, and deep depression. It was during this time that I seriously considered suicide.
I hold a Bachelor of Theology degree from Gardner College in Camrose, Alberta; a Master of Arts degree in Christian Ministry majoring in Marriage and Family Counselling; and a Master of Arts degree in Leadership and Management with a major in Organizational Leadership. Because of my personal experience with anxiety and depression, I am passionate about helping others. I specialize in offering support to adults and teenagers who are experiencing:
Debilitating anxiety, stress, and/or depression
Conflicts in the family, blended-family or marriage
Separation or divorce
Loss of meaning in life
Loss and grief
Fear, anger, or rage
Confusion or low self-confidence
And may find it difficult to:
Be in healthy relationships
Be satisfied and productive at work or school
Make good choices
Engage in appropriate parenting
Cope with life’s stresses
Stay committed to a recovery program
I am an associate member of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, and own the Southwest Family Life Centre in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.
The Folly of Fear
I have spent the last twenty years of my life serving people as a professional counsellor. Thirteen of those years specializing in treating people with debilitating anxiety, stress and depression. It continues to be the most challenging and rewarding calling of my life. I am grateful for the opportunity to help others overcome their fears. I myself suffered from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. I grew up being programmed to behave apprehensively. It used to be automatic for me to assume the worst case scenario. I could have taught a course on how to worry destructively.
I am pleased to state I have been fully recovered for years now. For all those anxiety sufferers, please know there is hope. Full recovery is possible! I see it in my clients all the time. There are however a select few who really struggle with applying the cognitive strategies. They rock the physical and struggle with the cognitive. Why? They have become afraid of feeling afraid. They struggle with obsessive intrusive fear thoughts all day long. It begins nearly the moment they wake until they are able to fall asleep again.
There are two primary types of fear responses: instinctive and learned. We are all instinctually afraid of death, pain and suffering, rejection, loss of freedom, and loss of worth. We learn to become afraid of many triggers that connect to those instictive fears. Suffice it to say that extinguishing these learned fears is difficult to say the least. But, with patience, trust and persistence those fears CAN be extinguished.
Many ask, “why I am always trying to figure things out?” It’s a great question. Fear is compelling. Fear compells us to figure out how to stop the feeling. We often choose to resist or fight the fear, run from it and/or are often paralyzed by it. Again, fear is compelling. The fear centre in our brain is designed to get our attention and motivate us to do something about it. Our most natural response is to react in one of those three ways.
There is however a fourth option. We have the option of choosing to intentionally contain our response. We have the power to choose. No matter how compelling fear is, we can choose to respond with calm passive acceptance. In order for us to extinguish fear we must choose over and over again to passively accept the emotional arousal response of fear. It’s a biochemical response based on the context of our experience and/or perception. What if our experience and/or perception is distorted?
This is perhaps the greated folly of fear. Just because we can think something fearfully and feel the emotional response of fear, does not mean the thought is automatically true. When we allow ourselves to believe the feeling is always reflective of truths, we deceive ourselves. Feelings are not facts. They are only reflections of our thoughts. My friends do not fall for the folly of fear. Fear controls only when we allow it. #justsayno
His Voice Matters
There are many voices fighting for control of your mind. There are voices literally shouting at you to stop thinking for yourself. Voices, not just telling you what to think, but how to think. Many voices are being censored, bullied, harassed, shamed and guilted. We must learn to differentiate what voice really matters. His voice matters.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”John 10:1-5
Many of us have no concept of sheep herding but many have a dog. Your dog knows your voice. Your dog recognizes who you are. A dog that knows its master will not listen to or follow other voices. A dog will not follow a stranger. A dog listens to the voice of its master. Jesus is our shepherd. Jesus is our master.
Many are running around trying to figure out which voice to listen to; which voice to trust. The result? Mass confusion, distraction and division. There really is only ONE VOICE THAT MATTERS. His Voice Matters.
How distracted are you these days? There are several reasons to lose focus. I have spent the last month (February) narrowing my focus on what really matters, not what the MSM want us to think matters. There are so many sources of misinformation that it is hard to know what to think, let alone what to focus our thinking on. The bible provides some helpful guidance on the matter of focus.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!Galatians 5:22-23
Further, Philipians 4:8 states:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philipians 4:8
What could be more noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy than love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Will you take some time to focus on these fruits?
Love: Let our primary focus be one of love. Not the worlds “version” of love but God’s love.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Joy: Where exactly can we find joy in so much joylessness? Is there really anything we can be joyful about? The answer is, absolutely! We focus our joy on what matters. What matters? God matters! In times of trouble focus on the goodness of God! Acknowledge the Lord is God! Give thanks for all of God’s blessings! Trust in the everlasting love of God!
Peace: There really is only one way to be at peace despite the troubles of the world. I am reminded daily that the peace I seek can only be found in my faith. Prior to Jesus crucifixion he sensed his disciples were worried and afraid. He went out of his way to console and reassure them. He said,
32 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”John 16:32-33
Patience: Even when we know the outcome it can be hard to be patient. What about when we don’t know?
2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
Kindness: Being kind is hard, especially when there is so much unkindness. There is a great example of kindness found in the book of Ruth, Chapter Two. If you have not read this chapter, I urge you to do so. Kindness is helping others when they least expect it. It’s a kind word, deed or gesture. There are many who are struggling. Show them kindness.
Goodness: When we focus on goodness, we focus on doing what matters. It is said that goodness “is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”
It’s not easy but keep your focus on doing good in this world. When you do good, rest assured it makes a difference.
Gentleness: Have you ever met someone who literally epitomizes gentleness? I find these people to be incredibly attractive. I am envious of their ability to reflect such a spirit of gentleness. I remember such an experience when I was a nine year old boy in hospital. I was recovering from a rather painful and uncomfortable surgery. I recall laying on my side feeling sad and lonely. All of a sudden I felt a nurse rubbing my back. I told her she did not have to do that. Here reply, “I know. I want to.” A kindness I have never forgotten. Her name was “Grace.”
Self-control: There have been many times when I wish I had more self-control. I grew up an abused and bullied kid. I have little tolerance for abuse and bullying these days. Despite the many reasons why it would be easy to justify losing our cool but in the end it serves us well. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting a “Karen” maintain your self-control. Losing control will only encourage others that they control you.
Focus matters and what matters must be our focus.
Journey to Freedom
Have you, or someone you know, ever fallen into the bottomless pit of abuse or addiction? Then this book is for you. I pray that as you join me in my life journey you will find hope and encouragement in the midst of your own.
My book cover illustrates the broad and narrow roads as recorded in the Scriptures: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
The narrow road illustrates the beauty and peace that can only be found in the presence of knowing God as one’s own personal Saviour. The other gate leads to the broad road of destruction caused by one’s own sin due to fleshly desires (Examples: alcohol, drugs, sex addiction, gambling, etc.).
For the majority of my life, I have headed down the broad road to destruction.
I am a mother of three wonderful children (two girls and one boy), and I have an awesome man. I have always tried to be the best mother, companion, and friend that I could possibly be, but it has not always been easy. Throughout my adult life, I have had to walk through many dark tunnels of trauma, not knowing exactly where I was going.
My life journey of survival actually started at the age of five. At that crucial time, when a child should feel loved and adored, I was being rejected. I hardly ever remember my mom showing me affection or telling me that she loved me. This left a big gaping hole in my heart and had me questioning what was wrong with me. By the age of twelve, rejection seemed to be following me everywhere.
Rejection is known to be the most painful emotion. Many addictions, abuse and suicides develop out of this emotion. As the root of rejection grew deeper, I isolated myself in fear of being rejected once again. The pain was so unbearable that at times I believed that I could not go on another day and thoughts of suicide entered my mind. What I really needed in this season of my life was to begin building a real close connection with God and accept His love for me. In return, I believe I could have learned to love myself. Unfortunately, my identity was already engraved with lies from the enemy.
Still rejecting God and any professional help from the outside, I only fell deeper and deeper into the pit of destruction. I believed that my value solely depended on what others thought of me and not on how I was seen through the eyes of God. After all, if my mom rejected me, how could God love me and why would He be putting me through all of this pain? I truly believed God would not be doing this to me.
To find acceptance, I quickly became a people pleaser. As time passed by, I began to lose sight of my own needs, desires and dreams. I also began to fall into poisonous relationships because of my love addiction. My love addiction developed out of my irrational fear of being alone. At times, I lost touch with reality–especially during the times when I was physically and sexually assaulted. These assaults led me into a rapid downward spiral resulting in me losing sight of my own identity.
Still having unresolved trauma about my relationship with my mother, I began to crave a long-term relationship and longed to bear children. I had the belief that having children would fulfill the void left by my mother. Eventually, I did marry. Unfortunately, shortly after we were married, he became a drug addict. My second husband became a sex addict. And my third partner was an alcoholic. In each of these relationships, however, the Lord did bless me with a beautiful child. My only regret is that each child also went through so much pain.
Trauma upon trauma led me to increased depression, anxiety and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I had trouble holding down jobs, lacked joy and contentment, and it seemed like with every step I took I had to hold on tighter and tighter to the very little hope I had that my life would ever improve.
The Lord finally brought me to Himself in April 2017. As I fell to my knees, He opened my eyes to all the destruction in my life and the realization that I could no longer live without Him. Yet I was in the midst of more trauma as He put division between my alcoholic partner, myself, and our two children (my oldest daughter had already left the nest). He also brought an end to my relationships with my parents and siblings. Truly, I had no one left to turn to except for my Saviour.
My emotions and feelings were running into each other. I cried, shook uncontrollably at times, and had some days when I could hardly get out of bed even though I had to be strong for the kids. I had days when I was full of anger, shame and guilt. I definitely didn’t know what true forgiveness was and the unknown filled me with fear. How could I have locked the Lord out of my life for so long? To this day, I still cry knowing that I made such a mess for both my children and I. Truly, I had believed I didn’t need the Lord.
Over time, the Lord has shown me how to forgive my family, my ex-husbands and partner, those who I thought were friends, myself and my Saviour. Forgiveness to me is like taking a key, unlocking the prison doors and removing the shackles and chains. This has allowed the Lord to soften my heart and renew my mind. He has promised that as long as I abide in Him, He will abide in me (John 15). I have learned that I can abide in Him by studying His Word, attending church on a regular basis, praying and worshipping Him. Besides spending time with Him, I try to work on meditation, gratitude, positivity, visualization and “I am” affirmations every day. Healing is a continuous journey until the day we enter the heavenlies.
Since being born again, my relationships with my parents, partner, and my two youngest children are growing stronger every day. Also, the Lord is restoring my peace, joy, contentment, love for others and, most of all, love for myself. I see the Lord now directing my life towards helping others in their healing journey. With God, everything is possible and He will continue to transform our lives as long as we abide in Him. One thing that no one can ever take away from us is our salvation. PRAISE GOD!
Now that you have followed me in my life journey, I ask you, have you already accepted Jesus? If not, I ask you, are you willing to accept Him today? He would like to walk hand in hand with you on your journey.
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot live my life without Your presence. I trust in your Word and that You have died on the cross to bear my sins. I believe that after three days You were raised from the dead and have guaranteed me that there is the promise of life after death. Help me to surrender my whole life over to You and be assured that You will help me walk through my life journey. I pray that, from this day on, You will mold me and that I will learn to trust in You.Prayer of Salvation
Journey to Freedom book and e-book available on Amazon.
Being an anxiety disorder recoverer, I have an intimate understanding of worrying destructively. I used to worry about everything: what people thought of me, do they like me, do I have some kind of life threatening disease, am I going to get in trouble etc. I even worried I would die by the time I was thirty (I’m fifty two) for no obvious reason. I just felt like I would die by the time I was thirty.
What exactly is worry? The best definition I know of is this, “using your imagination to make yourself sick.” I could not agree more.
Throughout my recovery from my anxiety disorder I learned a valuable lesson about worry. Most of them with either NEVER happen and/or there is absoluty nothing I can do about them. Those worries I can do something about are actually exceedingly rare.
I have adopted a realisistic yet optimisitc approach to life. The optimist in me expects good things to occur. The realist in me knows I have no clue what the future holds. Only God knows my future. All I can do is imagine what it could be. I have learned to dismiss those worries I can do nothing about and only address those that have a relatively high probability of occuring I can do something about.
There are so many moving parts going on in our world right now. So many things we can get caught up worrying about. I personally choose to dismiss those I have no power to prevent or prepare for. I choose repeatedly to pray those worries over to God.
Spend a little time differentiating between those worries you can actually do something about and those you obviously cannot. Focus only on those that have a high probability of occuring. Let the rest go by the way side. Focus on what you do control. Focus on what you know, NOT what you can imagine.
Where Does Your Power Come From?
We are all in this together. Is that really true? Are we all in this together? Are we all on the same page? Do we all agree? NO.
Every day I work with people helping them to find their way through the chaos around us. They suffer terribly from anxiety, stress and depression.
Is it really any wonder why?
We are all being constantly indocrinated to be afraid. Over the last year the rhetoric of fear has been amped up like never before except maybe during World War II.
Fear and division seems to be all powerful. It’s not.
There is so much going on we have no control over, politically or socially. It’s not surprising so many are feeling so powerless, hopeless and trapped.
The only thing most of us have in common is that we all feel the same way. At different levels of course, but generally the same.
Most of us are sick and tired of the constant fear mongering, lockdowns and governmental regulations.
Two weeks to flatten the curve has turned into a year of mandates, regulations, political gamesmanship and disinformation.
With so much out of our control where does our power come from? I suggest it comes for your power to choose. I am in control of my own behaviour. No matter what is going on, I like to focus on what I do control. For example I chose to censor Facebook and Instagram.
In reading my devotional this morning, I was reminded to not become distrated by the world. In every way to focus my attention on Jesus. The message I have been receiving the last several days is to focus on HIM, trust HIM. One day at a time. One step at a time. A renewed mind is a presence focussed mind. I am seeking more and more His voice, His light.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.Romans 12:2
When All Hope Seems Lost
Truth. Where do we find it? It’s nearly impossible to know what is true these days. There is so much corruption, disinformation, deception and bold face lying going on, it’s easy to lose hope. Piled on top of this, is the obvious censorship being imposed upon truth tellers and those who are desperately seeking truth. It is easy to lose hope. Prior to sitting down and writing this blog God reminded me to:
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.(Ephesians 4:2)
As a therapist my goal is to provide a path to healing built upon hope. I wanted to share with you what keeps me strong when all hope seems lost. In a nutshell, it’s my faith. Jesus said,
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. I am the way, the truth, and the life.John 14:1 & 6
The source of truth and foundation of hope is found in what is unseen NOT what is seen.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
6 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. (2 Corinthians 5:1-7)
For we live by believing and not by seeing.2 Corinthians 5:7
I’m aware we all have our losses and this perspective is not easy. I only want to encourage you to have faith in Gods long term plan. God’s Word is unchanging. Jesus is still the same, yesterday, today and forever. Looking for hope from the world is a hopeless endeavour. Let God be your hope.
Confronting the Guilt and Shame Based Agenda
Every day we are confronted with the same dilemma. A choice. A difficult choice. A choice that will inevitably pit ourselves against someone who have made a different choice. Why do we make the choices we choose? Decisions are difficult. They require wisdom, courage and conviction. I don’t know about you but there have been several times over the last year when my choices have been criticized by those who have made a different choice.
I have always believed that each person has a right to their own opinion and their own choices; the right to make our own decisions. I also believe we have a responsibility to respect another persons opinion even if we disagree. Lately it seems more and more like this right to our own opinion is one sided. I’m not going to identify which side are disrespecting my opinions or decisions. I will leave that up to the reader. The truth is, there appears to be an all out effort to guilt and shame those who do not support and agree with the public message. For example, if you don’t agree with mask wearing or getting the vaccine you are just an uncaring, insensitive jerk. We have fondly identified these shame makers as “Karens” or “Maskholes.”
I have personally been labeled an “asshole”, “jerk” and “unloving.” I’ve been told to “believe the science” even though the science is different depending on the subject matter. Science sure has become politicized and opinionated. I would love to trust the science, government and medical leaders. Sadly, the evidence over the last year have only validated my distrust.
How do we weather this storm of division?
It’s not easy.
Most often we make decisions based on two sources of data: emotions and/or expectations. Both are valid and important sources of information. The problem with emotional decisions is that our feelings often lie to us. Emotional decisions are often very misleading. The issue with expectations is our inability to please everyone. There will always be someone who holds a different expectation. So we cannot go through life trying to meet everyones expectations. The trick is learning to screen those emotions and expectations through our core values. The problem is we don’t all share the same core values.
Are you clear what your core values are?
If you are clear what your core values are those values become your guide. Not your emotions or the expectations other have of you. I have three core values that inform my decision making: Faith, family and integrity. I refuse to make decisions that require me to compromise these values in any way. The problem with making value based decisions is that not everyone will share those values. So it is inevitable we will meet people who reject what we hold dear. That’s okay. It really is. It means that sometime we have to let those people go. We have to allow them to live with their own decision while we live with ours.
Never allow anyone to shame or guilt you for values that are different than theirs. Stand up for your values because if you do not your life will be miserable. There is nothing worse than bartering away your values for a facade of acceptance and love. That’s not acceptance. That’s called coercion. Guilt and shame are being used to coerce people into submission.
It’s hard. It really is. But, your values are far more valuable than acceptance. The bible says, “You are in the world, NOT of the world.” My friends, the world is trying hard to coerce us into a concept of worldly subservience.
I for one, REFUSE.
The Power of Presence
Todays devotion reminded me of Jesus message, “I am with you always.” Presence is a power our world seems hellbent on eliminating.
It was not that long ago (11 months) when we would have heard that people spend too much time on social media, too much time on their phones, too much time on the gaming console. We would laugh at the silly selfies and at each other when we realize we are all on our technology while sitting in the same room together. We would be together but not really present.
It’s amazing what can happen in eleven short agonizing months. Now, all of a sudden we are told to stay home, don’t have friends and family over, and basically live our entire life in isolation on social media. Hmmm. Even school is online.
When I was in bible college, I spent an hour every day for an entire semester sitting with palliative care patients. Most often these were folks unable to speak. You would just sit by their bedside and read a book, watch television or talk to them. The silence was so awkward. But, in those times I learned the power of presence. The power of just being “with” someone.
Human being are not created to live in isolation. Social media and technology is toxic to human development. It stagnates growth, empathy and connection. We need people to be in our life.
Children especially depend on social interactions. Social interaction is a primary source of identity development. Without healthy social (in person) interaction we struggle to know who we are in this world. It is in those social interactions (at least in part) we develop a concept of self. The division, in many ways we see going on in this world is creating more long term damage than Covid19.
We live in a world where we can be more connected than ever but we are so apart.
I thank God every day Jesus is a fundamental part of my life. I try reminding myself that no matter what Jesus is with me. But you know what. It’s not enough.
There is a story of a little girl who had a bad dream. She awoke crying out for her mom, “Mommy mommy, I need you. I had a bad dream.” Her mom replied, “It’s okay, Jesus is with you.” The little girl says, “I know Mommy! I need someone with skin!.”
Yes, Jesus is with us. Praise God! But, God knew how important it was for us to have someone with skin. That’s why God created Eve!
Have a blessed day!
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