Christian Mum - seeking sanity
I have been a Christian for 30 years. For most of those years I have been healthy, content, busy .....' normal'. Getting on with the life God has put in front of me and not giving my mental health a second thought
And then fifteen years ago I got married. And had babies. Three of them in quick succession. I was 34 when I married and I left my home, my friends. my church and my family to move countries and embark on the new adventure of family life. It was a huge shock - I had no idea how much of an impact all those changes in such a short time would have on me. I was terribly lonely. I missed my church and the prophetic community I had taken so much for granted for so many years. I struggled to make new friends and found being pregnant and having very young children exhausting, boring and very unsatisfying. You arent allowed to say that are you - as a mother? That you dont like being one? That your children suck the life out of you and that you need sleep and adult company and that if one more person talks about nappies you will scream.
But thats how I felt - for the best part of seven years. God had told me clearly years previously that I would have three children. So three it was. By faith. Cos after number two I seriously didn't want another. But somewhere deep inside I knew I would have three... however hard it might be. Young children are isolating. They drain you of sleep. As an introvert I found the constant demand on my person and my very being absolutely destroying. There was no escape. No peace and quiet. But I did recognise that this was a phase which would pass so I gritted my teeth and dug in for the long haul
At the time I suppose I didnt know anyone in church well enough to tell them how I was feeling. And I didnt have anyone with whom to share the load. I did make one friend who lived locally and who had children the same age as me. We would meet weekly for coffee and chat and she was a great support. But then her husband got a new job and they moved three hours away. I cried when she told me she was moving. I felt abandoned.
I suppose the sleep deprivation coupled with the loneliness and the absence of my husband who disappeared into his work when the children were small were all contributory factors to the depression. It crept up almost unnoticed. I would put it down to tiredness. And whilst you can pray for sleep, when you have small children there's no getting around the fact that you are going to be tired. No amount of prayer is going to make your baby sleep through the night when he needs a feed. Or is teething. God was there. He was involved. He was speaking to me and doing stuff all the time. But the feelings slowly began to slide
Over the next couple of years I got prayer on various occasions and as soon as the children were old enough to not need me all the time I got back into worship and threw myself into being on the praise team in church. It wasnt possible to go to housegroups much or be as involved in church life as I had always previously been involved. I missed that. I missed lots of things. I missed my old life. I knew God had called me to this life - but it was hard and I hadn't expected it to be hard. I wasn't prepared for how hard it was. It felt as though I was being stripped naked and God was showing me what was really underneath. And there wasn't much there.
Things did get a little easier as the boys got older. By the time they were all at school and I finally had some time to myself again I began to realise that the low mood could not be put down to tiredness any more. I was getting plenty of sleep - well, enough anyway. But my mind was starting to go places which were not helpful. I spent all my time looking forward into a future which held more of the same. More picking up socks, cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning. More loneliness. No vision. And without vision people perish. I was perishing. I could feel it. I felt as though the things God had said to me when I was much younger could not now possibly come to pass. That I had missed the boat somehow. And then the thoughts would go back to the past. Had I made a big mistake in getting married and moving my life over the water? Had God really said......
During those times I revisited the things I KNOW God has done for me. Incotravertible evidence of His involvement in my life. A time I experienced deliverance. A very specific dream I had about getting married. And I reminded myself of the truth. That I was here because God wanted me here and this was His will.
That was tough. Cos I didn't like His will very much. But hey, lots of people didn't like Gods will - Joseph, Jonah, most of the prophets and probably all of the martyrs. Its not about having a comfortable and easy life. It's about letting God mould and make and form and break you till you look like Jesus. So I tried to suck it up and get on with it
I was unfit and starting to put on weight so for the first time in my life I decided to do some serious exercise. I started running. People said that I would love it. That it would make me feel great. That I would lose weight and get fit and it would help my mood. It did none of the above. I ran three miles most days for about a year and a half. I hated it. I hated that I didn't feel any fitter ( although I know now that I was) and that it hurt and I didn't seem to get any better at it. I didnt enjoy it at all - but I have running to thank for finally pushing me to the very edge and ending up at the GP
As I ran every day along the road I would look at approaching cars and imagine throwing myself under the wheels. I would never have actually done it.. but I thought about doing it. And then I’d think about the poor driver who would have to deal with the aftermath of having killed someone - and I’d push the thought down and keep running. I would also think about my kids. Suicide leaves such a horrendous trail of devastation in its wake. I would not do that to them. But I would have given anything just not to have existed. It was all pointless and was going to continue to be pointless. We are just in a holding pen waiting for heaven. no more tears, no more pain or loneliness or washing cooking and ironing. Endless praise, joy. peace and Jesus. Yes please!
One day whilst running past the cars and thinking about not ruining my childrens' lives by throwing myself under the wheels I had a thought. ' I know, I could kill the children too!'. In that moment of complete clarity I suddenly understood why people do that. Why they strap their kids into the car and lock themselves in the garage with a pipe coming from the exhaust. Why they drive themselves and their kids over a cliff. Because that really is a solution. It ticks all the boxes. It was crystal clear.
I went straight to the GP
Who listened, took me very seriously and asked me if I thought I might be menopausal. I was 47. So yes, I guessed I might have been. He immediately put me on a dose of citalopram and told me I was not alone - lots of people feel like this at my stage of life and with my circumstances and that these pills would make me better.
When I walked out of the surgery I felt ten stone lighter. It was amazing. Just the very act of speaking it out loud had made such a huge difference. But then that's not surprising cos God says that if we bring it ( whatever it is - all of it, everything ) into the light then the light will shine and our darkness will get lighter. It works.
Ive been taking the pills ever since. They didnt ' cure me' but they have most certainly made a massive difference. Over the course of about a year I noticed a gradual and marked change in the way I was thinking. You don't realise how low you have been until you are no longer that low and you can look back and see it for how it was. I started to be able to live in today again. I wasn't constantly projecting forwards or harking backwards. My raging temper settled down hugely and my children started to comment that I was smiling again - they hadn't seen me smile for a long time. A slow journey from drowning to swimming again. I am very thankful to God for medication. I feel it has restored a balance to my brain.
Every year I write an Advent blog. I post it on Facebook for my friends to read if they want to. Two years ago I decided to write a post about depression. The response was phenomenal. Christian friends all round the world messaged me and commented on the blog thanking me for talking about it and sharing their own experiences. I was astounded that so many of my friends were also struggling with depression. That year I very directly told four friends that they needed to get to their doctor right away. And they went. All they really needed was for someone to say ' Hey! Its OK if you arent coping. It's Ok , as a Christian, to say it out loud and ask for help. It's Ok to take medication. You dont have to be perfect. Life is hard. Sometimes its rubbish. Sometimes we can't do it. So let's ask for help because help is out there ' I actually think that my Advent blog quite possibly saved a life or two. And that is really something. God works all things together for good. Eventually. Somehow.
Things are changing rapidly. Mental ill-health is being de-stigmatised all the time and understood and talked about much more. Churches are, by and large, pretty good at understanding, praying and supporting. If people are willing to open up and talk about it - which is the hard part. Depression tells you that you are making a fuss about nothing - that you should be able to handle it - that you have nothing to be depressed about - that you dont matter enough to get help - and that the world would be better off without you. Depression is a liar. It lives in the dark. Speak truth, read truth, listen to truth and tell the truth. Because its TRUTH which sets us free. And bring your whole self into the light. Because that's where your healing is to be found.