Faith and Recovery from Pychosis and Clinical Depression
When I started suffering from psychosis, I was acting as a consultant in government policy, making in-roads into politics. I had also gained a degree in Psychology at University, and understood mental illness theoretically. I had two children under two years of age at the time and life was stressful and lonely as a new mum, as my husband worked long hours. During this time, I grew extremely paranoid about MI5, the CIA, and the Police watching me, spying on me, bugging my house, conspiring to torture me and my family and my church. Although this is clearly untrue, at the time not even my husband could convince me that this was not the case. I was utterly terrified, to the point that I was physically sick on many occasions and at the worst point, did not eat, and stayed awake two full nights straight in case my children were taken from me by these, imaginary spys.
When the episode was at it's worst, I felt my only option was to end my life, because I could not think anything other than these persecutory thoughts. I couldn't fight anymore. After escaping my house, thinking someone was sending me messages to kill myself there, I sat in a coffee shop with my daughter strapped to me in the sling and my son, in the buggy and felt like the only way out was to end my life. I have never had suicidal thoughts before, and as a result something in me clicked that there was something wrong. At this point I phoned for an ambulance.
I was not admitted to a psychiatric hospital, but was cared for at home by a specialist community mental health team, and was prescribed anti-psychotics and sleeping pills. My husband, close friends in my church, my parents and family, were brilliant and helped us at this very traumatic time.
I have been a Christian since I was a teenager and although have had a fair amount of trials, I have never been tested in my faith like this before! My mind had completely 'gone' to the extent that actually my view of God was distorted and reading the bible was unhelpful for me during the psychosis, because my mind distorted everything I read. I have a particularly sensitivity to hearing from God (prophetically), but being sick in this way, meant that I was thinking God was saying things when He was not. One morning at church, I felt God was telling me to go to the front and confess my sin, and that afterwards I was going to be shot by someone! I resisted the urge to go up, as I didn't want to be killed that day. I genuinely believed that I (and my family and friends) was going to be eternally seperated from God, and spent one sleepless night agonising over this, to the point of being physically sick.
In trying to explain this it can be easy to simply say this was a demonic episode, particularly if we don't fully understand the physical and mental aspects of a condition like this. I began to understand that this was a biological condition of my brain, where an unbalance of chemicals caused me to experience these disturbing thoughts. I am amazed at the functions and capacity of our brains which are vastly complex, fascinating and an incredibly well-designed organ.
In my case, there was no instant recovery or miracle that helped right my mind straight away. I had to process the trauma, come to terms with what had happened to me, and see that the beliefs I had thought were not real. This process takes time! During my recovery I was in a state of numbness for a long time and developed clinical depression, which was another very difficult experience to go through. A double whammy of mental illness! The medication did reduce my paranoia and lifted me out of depression, which was good.
Worship on a Sunday morning and concentrating on a 45 minute sermon during the year I was recovering was extremely difficult. The anti-psychotics made me feel horribly lethargic, demotivated and sleepy. I felt I could not engage or connect with my heavenly Father like I used too. Some of those closest to me were concerned that I was not going to be the same person again, and that I could be like this for the rest of my life. I was not content with how I was and yearned to 'feel' again and to connect spiritually like I used to with God. It was a profound experience of feeling a separateness from God at this point. A good friend encouraged me to start reading the bible again which I did start to do, and this was ok and not distorted like before, but the separateness during worship and in experiencing the Holy Spirit did not go away. I do think this was due to a combination of the medication and something spiritual blocking me encountering my Father, although I started to fight again in believing the truth that I was not or never would be separated from God. This is a significant truth for people experiencing brain illness of any kind.
I went along to a few evening meetings at my church, which emphasises and welcomes the Holy Spirit, and asked for prayer over a couple of months. One evening our church leader and friend of mine laid hands on me and prayed, and from this time onward things changed. I continued to take the anti-psychotics, but things were clearly different and the block I was experiencing had gone. This suggested to me, there was a spiritual aspect to this, than medication side effects. I could engage in prayer, worship and meet with God in the way I had known before. I could enjoy being in His amazing presence! This was a breakthrough and I knew I was getting better.
I am now fully recovered and back to normal and deeply thankful that this did not develop into a long term serious mental health problem. As a result of this very challenging experience, I am much less afraid of mental illness, and am moved by the fact that some people experience such a dehabilitating long term serious mental illness. There are scores of people where the medication doesn't work as effectively, for their mental illness such as schizophrenia, and who endure troubling thoughts for a life time. What torment! I want to see these people be set free.
I am extremely thankful for the wisdom and experience of friends in my church who handled my issue sensitively and cared for me throughout. Many came alongside me, and I know God used all sorts of interventions to help me get better. Those who hoovered my house, chatted over tea, hugged me, invited me around for dinner, bought me lunch, looked after my children, texted me bible verses and laid hands on me. God used all of these things in my recovery. I am thankful my experience wasn't overly spiritualised, but that people didn't shy away from the spiritual. The whole person approach is essential, mind, body, soul, at the appropriate times. This is a good balance and we need much wisdom to know which things to concentrate on first, when helping people with mental health issues.
I have not followed the same career path, but am now really content and happy working for my local church administratively.
My church is an exceptional place of love and community and my hope is that people with and without mental illness in Edinburgh, experience good churches where they can meet with our amazing and faithful God.