If I had a pound for every time someone said to me ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me, don’t make a fuss or I don’t want to be a burden’ I would be a rich woman. In our modern day society that screams ‘I can do it all, all alone’, it is deemed weak or bothersome to require help, support or assistance. We are all supposed to be able to live blissful independent lives, juggle the demands of work/family/life, breeze through deadlines and ill-health and laugh in the face of adversity. Why? Because isn’t that what everybody else does?
Mental health affects one in three people in the UK each and every year, and perhaps because it is an ‘unseen’ affliction that is rarely talked about, it can cause the sufferer to feel even more isolated and misunderstood. To avoid being judged (or avoided) individuals often learn pretty quickly to stand on their own two feet, smiling wide in a defiant display of positivity and independence that belies the turmoil rising underneath their cool calm exterior.
I have always been fiercely independent, to a fault at times, and the first time that I truly realised I could not cope without help was after the birth of my second son. I am not talking about practical help, although this is beyond valuable to new parents who are wading through sleepless nights, sore nipples and soiled nappies, I am talking about mental, emotional support from others. Five weeks in to motherhood for the second time and I found myself sitting on my bed at my mother in laws sobbing as I stared at my new baby. I knew within a matter of days after having him that something wasn’t quite right with me, but I simply kept putting it down to long days with two boys and even longer nights with a newborn.
On the outside I was my normal, bubbly self. I got up, got dressed, put on my make up and went out to face the world with a smile on your face. But on the inside I was dying, confused that I wasn’t enjoying these precious first weeks and terrified as to why. I kept going to toddler groups with my then 3 and a half year old son, nodding and smiling in all the right places as friends cooed over my newborn, when all I wanted to do was to grab someone – anyone – by the shoulders and say can you help me? can you take my boys for an hour so I can get some sleep? can you explain why I just want to run away?
It wasn’t until five months in that I was diagnosed with post natal depression. The overwhelming relief I felt at the doctors words were overshadowed by the shame and stigma that I felt at being labelled as having a mental health issue. I mean, how would I tell other people? What would my family and friends think of me, bubbly, outgoing Rachel who had been going about her normal life without so much as a word of the struggles she was facing, suddenly announcing a mental health condition? So all of a sudden I had gone from capable mom to mentally ill mess that needed medication and support? Moreover, what did I say about my faith in Jesus Christ, that I could have my world rocked so completely whilst claiming to be clinging to the rock of my salvation?
Some of these days were my darkest, yet God never left my side once. As soon as I had been diagnosed He gave me peace about taking medication to rebalance my topsy turvy hormone levels, He showed me that my mastitis and subsequent failure to produce breast milk was necessary in order for me to take the medication that would help me rekindle that spark in my soul again. And rekindle it did. But God needed something else from me, He needed me to share my struggle. He told me right from the start that I need to tell everyone who would listen about my PND, in order to raise the awareness of depression and lift the taboo of talking about it.
Over 2 years on, I am completely depression free and passionate about talking about mental health issues, especially PND. I will happily recount my tales to new and expectant moms, not to frighten them but simply to help them know that PND is not a weakness, it does not make you a bad mom, it is no respecter of age or circumstance, and it can affect ANYONE. My boys were both planned and wanted, born into a loving family with everything they could ever need. I was a positive, outgoing Christian woman, supported by an amazing husband, my family and a network of beautiful friends at my church Renewal, yet I still suffered with it.
Why would God make me go through this you may ask? I have pondered the same thing over the last two years, and then I started to notice that God was bringing many people into my life who had suffered with or were still battling a mental disorder of their own. I don’t write this to glorify me in any way, or suggest that I had any expertise in the diagnosis or treatment of mental health, but what I did have to offer those who crossed my path was empathy. What I could do was understand to some small degree how hard and how lonely it can be fighting a battle in your mind, how embarrassed and ashamed you can feel when labelled with a mental illness and how draining it can be to endure the rollercoaster ride of emotions and feelings each and every day.
I don’t pretend to have any answers. I don’t claim to have the solution to your specific problems, but what I can offer is a welcoming embrace and a friendly face. Seeking professional help is essential, but I would also urge you to seek God. He created you. He knows your innermost being and this situation you find yourself in is no surprise to Him. Just as you would consult the Haynes manual for your car, we need to consult the human handbook, the Bible. You can find peace in God’s promises in the Bible. This book has the power to transform your life and is truly the Haynes manual for every human on the planet.
You are unique, exquisite and valuable. God has a purpose and a plan for your life and He can and will work any circumstance out for good. He can make beauty out of ashes, He can give you peace in your prison and He can give you freedom in your frustration.
For I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
The battle for your mind is a real one, and so we need to make sure that we fill it with God’s word, His truth and His promises. Paul said in Philippians;
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. Philippians 4:8-9 The Message
If you are battling depression or any mental illness, or know someone who is, then fear not my friend. God is with you, He has gone before you and He will bring you out of whatever situation you are facing today. Get into His word today and allow Him to shape your tomorrow.