Dear loved human being,
I was born with a tendency for anxiety and depression. We are all born with tendencies. It’s how we deal with them that counts. When I was a teenager I sometimes used to sit on the school bus and think about death and scary things happening (thankfully this was interspersed with other more normal thoughts including a certain Morten Harkett from the band A-Ha! ).
My first significant episode of anxiety and depression happened to me just before my 30th Birthday. It had a huge impact on me and my lovely flatmate. I don’t think either of us knew how to cope. I blamed God, my circumstances and others, and felt a desperate need to change everything and even considered moving overseas to get away from everything. Thankfully I’ve learned over the years, it’s me who needs to change and be healed, not my circumstances.
At the time, I was signed off sick from work for 3 months. 3 months!! I couldn’t cope with the simplest of tasks like being able to telephone the washing machine repair man or deciding what to cook. I didn’t want to accept what was happening to me and that I was functioning at such a low level. My legs were like lead weights, I couldn’t sleep and at my worst I couldn’t feel any emotion. Nothing, nothing at all. I felt out of control. I couldn’t face anyone, and I kept going over things in my mind.
This was the start of a special journey with God which would lead me into a greater understanding of my soul and my mental health. A greater appreciation of who I was in relation to Him and about what it meant being in relationship with Him and others.
My most severe bout of anxiety and depression was just over 2 years ago. Even though I had learned a lot about coping with it, both professionally and personally, I just couldn’t seem to put it into practice. I am not a particularly easy person to be around when I am like this. I started to drink at night to help me relax and sleep, which scared me, and after a few weeks I went back to my GP who offered me medication which I accepted. I had never been so close to the edge and felt my mind was going to fracture into a thousand tiny pieces. If you have seen the ‘’The Scream’’ painting by Edvard Munch you might visualise how that felt. On several occasions death was preferable. My husband found it hard seeing me struggling like that and later confessed he had been so concerned that he had removed the block of knives from the kitchen. Again, medication and exercise worked, and I was able to continue to work, which was therapeutic.
Recently my dad died, and this came at the end of a busy year of extra responsibilities at work. Grief stops you in your tracks. Two of the most helpful things people said to me were: ‘you only get given enough strength for today’, and, ‘you can’t run away from your pain -you need to hold it and embrace it for as long as it lasts.’ I chose to accept both bits of truth.
So, what are the key things I have learned (and keep on relearning!) in my journey so far?
1. Be thankful and accept yourself. You and everyone else are unique human beings made in the image of God,
2. Prayer matters, and it works.
3. Take medical advice and consider all the help offered, drugs included, God made Creation scientists and counsellors.
4. It’s ok to be weak and human. Sharing my struggles and latterly grief, has been a blessing to me and to others. I am neither better nor stronger than anyone else. I need God’s help just like the next person. When I am weak, He is Strong.
5. My identity is based in my belief that God loves me, Jesus died for me and was resurrected, and, God’s Spirit came into me when I accepted him into my life. As much as I love my job and involved in other projects, my identity is not in what I do or don’t, or in what I or others think. It’s in who and how I love.
6. If you feel overwhelmed, break things down into manageable parts. Congratulate yourself for just getting out of bed, then getting to the shower and then getting your clothes on – that can feel like a mental marathon and you most certainly deserve a gold medal.
7. If you get intimidated by others, how do you know they don’t feel intimated by you? Maybe like they, like you, are good at hiding it
8. When you are up against it, ask for help. Disclose what you feel able to disclose and ask friends and/ or family for as much reassurance and encouragement they can give you, and, to keep reminding you of the facts and truth of the situation.
9. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with God and others. Cry with God and others.
With love x