Ascent Publication
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Ascent Publication

What To Do When Fear Grabs You By The Throat

photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

When You Realize You’re Stuck in Quicksand

I was trying to finish a great writing course, but I kept veering off course — pun intended.

First, I missed a webinar. Then, I just couldn’t get around to finishing my assignments.

I started seriously falling behind. Then I was afraid to open their emails, because I couldn’t explain what was wrong.

Because I had no idea.

The course is great, I love the instructor and his staff. They’re all so motivating, so talented.

It’s Not Them, It’s Me

What the h*** is going on?

It was like pulling teeth to get myself to work on the assignments.

I could see they were offering exactly what I needed to develop my skills.

Instead, I kept jumping out of my seat, as if my laptop was contagious.

I was getting really frustrated, cleaning the house, catching up on laundry, watching videos on truck campers and eating way too much chocolate. At least it was organic, but —

Before Somebody Gets Hurt

I put down the chocolate, closed the drawer and took a few deep breaths.

“Calm down,” I told myself.

Sometimes, when you’re stuck, it’s a good thing. It forces you to stop and look around.

The worst response, I’ve found, is to pull out your phone and see what’s happening on Facebook.

Photo by eniko kis on Unsplash

The best thing, is to be still and listen. But I don’t do well meditating at home.

I went to my favorite place, an old stone chapel by the Hudson River, a beautiful place, open to the public. It’s a very good place to be quiet ’cause no one talks there.

They just smile and leave you alone.

I look around. It’s a gorgeous, bright sunny day. Birds are singing, all’s right with the world.

A Scenario Inspired By Hannah Hurnard’s Book Hinds Feet In High Places

Why do I feel such foreboding? Oh, yeah. It’s me. I’m stuck in Doubt and Fear, Anxiety and Self-Loathing once again. I’ve been here before. It’s familiar and safe. I know this routine so well, I can do it in my sleep (and probably have).

Here’s the usual scenario: I screw up on one of my goals and jump onto a well-worn path, thinking, “I can’t do this.”

Hearing his cue, Doubt enters, followed closely by Fear. Fear doesn’t like to travel alone, so he brings all his cousins along for the ride: Bitterness, Anger, Frustration, Self-Loathing, Irritation, Gluttony, Anxiety, and Panic. They’re a large, noisy group — so obnoxious, I can’t even think straight.

I yell at them, in my head, and they just laugh.

Anger steps up, center stage, and takes a deep bow. He’s been keeping me on a short leash for years. I try to bury my feelings, act like I’m in control. Then, when something goes wrong, I snap at people. Sometimes I push people away with harsh words, even the ones I love.

Self-Loathing peers at me from under his dark hoodie, pulled low so I can’t see his narrow forehead and beady little eyes. He wears a heavy trench-coat so I can’t see how fat he’s become. I’ve been over-feeding him for years.

Exhaustion and Anxiety poke at me with their umbrellas as they pass and I realize how tired I am. I’ve been so worried about so many things, for a very long time.

Gluttony waves enticingly from the kitchen, reminding me there are plenty of sweets in the cupboard. Maybe I should grab a bag of chocolates, put up my feet and watch a movie. I’ve been slogging away at this post for at least 45 minutes, time to rest a bit. Calories don’t count when you’re tense. Everyone knows that.

But it really is a beautiful day.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Whatever Is Lovely, Think About These Things In Philippians 4.8

I close my eyes and turn away from all the strife. Something lovely — I imagine I’m back home at my mom’s house in San Francisco, the house where I grew up. I go home twice a year, just to hang out with my mom and relax into that California state of mind. I’m fourth generation. It’s part of who I am.
I grew up in a beautiful old turn-of-the-century house with four gables, lovely transom windows and ten foot ceilings. I open the back door and walk out into the garden. The camellias are blooming, giving off a heavenly scent. The lemon trees are heavy with fruit. I pick a few and smell them, filling up the old wicker basket Mother keeps on the porch. As I brush past enormous bushes of basil, their fragrance wafts past my nose. I pick a few bunches and toss them in the basket as well. I can fix some lemon chicken tonight, with lots of fresh basil in the salad.

What was I worried about? Oh yeah, the same old fears. In my mind, I tie them to balloons and watch them float away beyond the gathering clouds. It will rain tonight, and we’ll hear the foghorn sounding across the Bay. Further south, the drought is nearly over. One less thing to worry about.

You’re Not The One I Want

Then it hits me: did I make the drought go away by worrying about it? Does my ceaseless worrying accomplish anything? Sure some minor worries may motivate people to get up and do something, but this was constant, pushing me into overwhelm, day after day.

I don’t like to take pills, to cover up symptoms. I always figure my body is trying to tell me something. Or in this case, my mind.

Why was I having so much trouble carrying out a few simple goals? I love writing for other people, ghostwriting their books or coaching them through the book-writing process. It’s a wonderful way to earn a living and I absolutely enjoy it. Only, I promised myself, this year, I’d take some time to work on my own writing. I’ve blocked out some time, just for me. It’s a big step, but I’m ready for it. I even signed up for this great writing course, to keep me on target.

So what’s this Voice, urging me to doubt and fear, anger and self-loathing?

That’s not God.

Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash

When In Doubt, Pinterest Has the Answer

Sorry, I couldn’t find the author (if you do, please let me know, ok?) but here’s what he or she wrote:

God stills you, reassures you, leads you, enlightens you, forgives you, calms you, encourages you, comforts you.

Satan rushes you, frightens you, pushes you, confuses you, condemns you, stresses you, discourages you, worries you.

Based on that research I figured, “nope, whoever’s bugging me, it’s not God.”

And I realized that that meant. I was serving the wrong guy. Heck, that’s idolatry, listening to someone else, following their guidance, believing them, putting them first, instead of God.

Why would I serve Satan? I don’t even like him. I certainly don’t want to spend eternity listening to him.

In fact, I don’t want to spend one more minute of my life listening to his trash. I’m done.

Ready to hit the road? I’m kicking you out, Satan.

And take all your demons with you.

Satan’s Tricks Exposed In Galatians 5.19

As I sat there in that beautiful chapel, I opened my eyes. The light was slanting in through the stained glass windows at a different angle. How long had I been here?

Something happened, while I sat there, in His presence. My mind had been swept clean and filled with peace, something I’d never experienced before. It made me think of a passage from Galatians 5.19–23 on the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy peace..and a bunch of other ones. Peace feels amazing. I felt lighter, like I’d just lost ten pounds.

The devil’s been tempting me for years with anger, rivalry, dissensions and divisions. And envy. I think that was the one that caught my attention when I first read Galatians. As a single mom, raising five children on very, very little money, I often envied what others had. I wanted to give my kids everything, but I couldn’t.

And as long as I remained trapped in Fear and Doubt and Self-loathing (and all their buddies), I wasn’t going anywhere near success. I nixed any chance of improving my life — or theirs.

Because Of Your Lack Of Faith

I didn’t believe it, so it didn’t happen.

I was devastated to realize I’d kept my children and myself in poverty for so many years. How could I make it up to them? There was only one way — commit to some goals and achieve success.

I get it. I was on the wrong path for a long time.


Turn around.

Say “thanks” and let go. You want to write, then write.

The point is, don’t let evil or Satan or pesky little demons trip you up on the way to where you want to be. You’re on a mission, get going.



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Barbara Carson Todd

Barbara Carson Todd

Writer, editor, advocate, occasional organist/cantor. You can find me at or on