11 August 2008

My Journey with Depression

Me (aged 7)
I turned forty recently. What a landmark. A milestone. I made it this far alive and still kicking, in spite of some pretty rough water the past few years.

Rough water caused by the storm of Depression. Black clouds and thunderheads have threatened to capsize my fragile little boat. But I’m still here. By hook or by crook, here I am firmly planted on planet Earth, telling my story to you.

I'm one of those types of people who can be very hard on themselves, very driven, it's all-or-nothing. I was a perfectionist as a kid, a bit of a loner, shy, arty, sensitive; I loved books and escaping reality. My dad was a pastor (who burnt out when I was 17).

The state of the world always bothered me so I spent my twenties trying to change it by getting involved in youth work. I had great leaders around me who warned me to be careful and take care of myself... but did I listen? Of course not. There was a world to put to rights by next week! (Maybe I subconsciously thought I could finish what my dad had started?)

Me and My Dad at my Bible College Graduation in 1996

As a single gal, there was nothing outside myself to force me to slow down. I slept, ate and breathed youth work.

At the age of 27 I started up an education programme through our church (Equippers Auckland) for at-risk kids who had dropped out of mainstream school.

Watching the movie Once were Warriors moved and inspired me. It’s a tale of family breakdown, violence, sexual abuse and teen suicide all filmed in my hometown. After seeing it, I spent all night crying over these kids who were so broken and lost. I prayed, "God I know I'm just a middle class white girl with no qualifications, but if you can use me to help these kids then show me how."
Within a couple of years a whole bunch of "Once Were Warriors" kids had started coming to our church youth group, which I was leading. A series of conversations led to a decision to "use what we had" and start something for the ones who simply would not go to school.

With some CLS Students, 1999The programme, Creative Learning Scheme (CLS), is still going strong and is now the largest "alternative education programme in NZ.

But it was heavy stuff - after three years I was totally depleted. I'd tried to carry the weight of these kids' extreme problems myself - broken families sexual abuse, violence, drugs, crime. A huge shock to a sensitive soul like me!

It was around about this time I met my husband.
I finished working at CLS, we got married and I thought, "Hey I can relax now, my dreams have finally come true; my prince has come and my troubles are over..."

Wedding Day, November 2000 All hell broke loose. Within three weeks of getting married I was having panic attacks and felt like I was drowning. It felt like I was literally losing my mind: I didn't want to pray, couldn't face reading my Bible, cried every time I went to church. I was having panic attacks, I couldn't face crowds, busy streets, or noise. I couldn't make decisions or handle any kind of stress - my thoughts would get into a traffic jam. My anger would erupt without warning, and then other times I would feel like I was falling down a deep dark hole, where I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.

I had no enthusiasm for life, it felt like a heavy burden to me. I couldn't face the thought of having to go on living for the next fifty years - my husband was planning a long future together and I was just wishing the world would end.

The thing that perplexed me was that on the surface of things my life was finally what I had dreamed of - I had a husband, a new house, I got to travel, had a great job and a new baby coming...but on the inside I was in hell.

Art Therapy: "Burdens"

Finally my husband dragged me to see a counselor when I was six months pregnant, pouring out his concerns about me to this very wise old gent, Brian McStay, who looked at me and said those words, "I think you are clinically depressed."

I hadn't been very good to myself, physically or emotionally. I was running on empty and was terribly unhealthy. Looking back over my journals from my twenties I see a recurring theme - I would go 100km an hour, without putting anything "in" to my emotional tank. I would drag myself to the end of each year by sheer willpower, feeling like I just couldn't face another year. Then after a few weeks holiday I would feel so much better and dive back into it again, only to repeat the pattern. I don't know how I lasted as long as I did. In this depleted state, it didn't take much to trigger me into full-on depression.

I’m still here all these years later, still walking the road, making progress slowly, surely.

Sure, I may “walk with a limp”; depression and anxiety are a weakness, a vulnerability I have.
But I’ve had to learn to be kinder to myself, to recognize the warning signs and to not take on too much.

Art Therapy: Refuge in the Desert

One of the things that really helped me is Art Therapy and Visual Journaling. Discovering art therapy was like learning to speak my mother tongue; it helped me connect back to God again in a new and non-striving way. Getting out in the garden, going for a walk, sipping coffee in the sunshine… they all help lift me on the days I feel a bit under a cloud.

A DVD by Dr Grant Mullen has also helped tremendously. Dr Mullen explains that Depression is the only physical illness with spiritual symptoms, which confuses many people and adds huge heaps of guilt to the torment Christians with depression are already facing (lousy Christian, not enough faith etc).

He says that since Depression affects all three areas of our lives - body (biochemical), soul (mind, will and emotions) and our spirit, unless we sort out the biochemical problem, how can we get our thoughts and emotions into order?

I started out trying to manage the depression without taking medication but as more babies joined our family, I found that the anti-depressants were necessary after all. But there’s no shame in that. Medication work on your brain the way a cast helps to mend a broken leg. Meds provide support to hold your thoughts in order so healing can follow. Nobody would ever judge someone for having a cast on their leg, would they?

I share quite openly about my journey through depression here on my blog as I’ve always felt it was crucial to be honest about my struggles, as so many others struggle in the same way but often feel all alone.

I was inspired to write a post called "Broken" a while back - my revelation on how God fits into the Depression picture. As my journey has progressed I have become better at recognising the early warning signs, and am able to head off "the black dog" before it gets loose.

Art Therapy: Sorrow for My Family

A Little Rant about Depression

Depression is still little-understood and those who suffer with it often have to endure well-meaning advice from those who have never been there - or worse - rejection and judgement.

Depression is not something we can just snap out of. Oh how I wish it were! It’s a debilitating illness that manifests itself with spiritual and emotional symptoms. There is no quick fix.

What we need from those around us is Love. Your love, support, kindness and acceptance do more than any medicine. We need your Faith in us as worthwhile people. And to borrow your Hope that we will come through the storms when they blow up. As they will.

With your support we will come through, and afterwards the grit of pain and difficulty will have been turned into a Pearl of Wisdom. Something precious to offer the world.

Art Therapy: The Forest of Unforgiveness

I have already heard from many of you who have emailed me after reading my journey. I count it a privilege to be able to share with you. You'd be surprised at how many wonderful women battle this Black Cloud. Remember you are not alone!

If any of this has struck a chord with you, I would love to hear from you. You can email me on greatfun4kids@live.com.

Art Therapy: Breaking Storm

Need Help...?

If you are reading this and wondering if you may have depression, visit one of these websites and do the self test:
Don't suffer alone. Speak to your doctor. Find a wise counselor or psycho-therapist (ask around for recommendations). Share with a close friend. Ask for support from your spouse and ask them to come with you for a few sessions with the counselor so they get the same understanding you do. Believe me it will make the world of difference.

My Other Stories on Depression

Love and hugs from

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Virginia said...

WOnderful Simone. So proud of you - you are an inspiration. Thanks for your honesty and courage. xx Virginia

Valzy said...

Hey friend.....I love it God is unlocking things in you again...you are awesome!! so happy yay yay yay 4 uuuuuu luv Val this will help so many!!

Simoney said...

By the way, the illustrations are taken from my Visual Diary; one of the ways I have found to help me work through stuff. The colourful Arabian-looking tent, is of a resting place in the desert, which I also wrote a poem about.

Valzy said...

Hello friend, I have just given a lovely lady your web address she is new at E South and I know your Blog will bless her so much!! xx Just had a read awesome as usual...ps her name is Megan if you get any emails

Slow said...

Wow! Am so very blessed by your posts and wanted to thank you somehow for the opportunity to peek into this lovely window of the world via your blog. Sweet!

L Mac said...

Simoney: I'm so glad I finally got a chance to sit down and read this post. Obviously, what you wrote reminds me of myself in so many ways. You "get" what it can be like. When I first had depression I could barely get out of my own way, and what you explained described what I was feeling. I'm looking forward to getting to know you better, and continue reading this great blog! Lets be sure to keep in touch.

Bundle 2 Baby said...

What an inspiration you are Simone! I battled PPD after the traumatic birth of my daughter. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. Your blog is a blessing and comfort to those who suffer. May God continue to bless you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you simone. what an honest and heart-felt blog. so many of us have had similar experiences in many ways throughout our life, but not everyone feels able to share them. i aim to read the rest of the stuff here as soon as i can!
ps i have written a few things on mummy perfectionism and guilt and what we are doing to ourselves! we are obviously on a similar page.

Anonymous said...

arrgh...that's so me. It's strange how similar people affected by depression actually are sometimes.
I'd really like to take some meds, because I feel like I'm going nowhere with these hormones and stuff...but my therapist refused because of my heart issues (which are probably psychosomatic)...everything's a little difficult at the moment^^

Yeah, I'd really like to connect.
New Follower over here^^


Real Live Preacher said...

Boy this struck a chord with me. I've been there. Humbled to need medication, struggling spiritually. There are no heroes when you deny depression. The day you snap no one knows the years you held it together. You're just a dad who yelled at his kids. Thanks for your honest writing with this.

amy in peru said...

I definitely have passed through times that after the fact, I would say that I was most likely depressed. At the time I described it as a dark cloud... that is EXACTLY the feeling. And I could. not. get. out. By the grace of God, I am not there now, but I know I could be again. My family history also shows hints of depression. Thank you for talking about this. I think it WILL help people who seriously don't know what is happening to them. I certainly didn't at the time. Now, I know a little more what signs to look for, and how to take better care of my sanity ;) But always I am SO totally thrown at the feet of my LIVING and intimate Savior.

thanks again for sharing this!

amy in peru

Kathleen said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story - the pages from your visual journal (in particular the dark cloud one...) remind me a lot of the ones I drew when I was in counselling working through my own depression. It's amazing how knowing other people have been there too can really help! You're a star :)

Darcel @ The Mahogany Way said...

Found you through MBC. I'm so glad I clicked on your link.

Thank you for sharing your story. It takes courage to talk about depression. Each persons story is so personal.

I'm going through it myself right now, and think I'm finally ready to talk about it on my blog.
Thank you for the encouragement!

Di said...

One of my ex's struggled with debilitating anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. It was awful for him and he used alcohol to cope which finally killed him. Going through that experience I was immediately able to recognize anxiety in my husband and get him the help that he needed. He's off medication now and just going to therapy once a month. Thank you for sharing this with others so they too can help someone else!

Unknown said...

This was a beautiful post! I love that you found comfort and solace in visual journaling. I too have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a young teen. It is a daily balance to maintain peace in my mind, my heart, and my soul.

Your post truly moved me. I am glad you made the decision to write about your life and your struggles in addition to the parties and fun you have with your family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post Simone. I am in tears after reading it, to know that someone can describe how I feel is comforting. In the past I was led to believe I should keep my "crap" to myself. After a few years with a good, Christian counselor, I no longer try to hide the pain!
Blessings to you for sharing yours...

unsolicitedious said...

Hi again Simone! Thank you so much for sharing your story - like you say, it is a big dark cloud that no one likes to talk about...despite the wonderful efforts from Depression.org and John Kirwan. People still attach so many stigmas and stereotypes to something that affects so many people in NZ in so many different ways. Interesting that depression meant you struggled to express your faith in the same way. That had a huge part to play in the change in my views and convictions on things as I have been diagnosed with depression too.

Coincidentally I have also decided I wanted to write a blog about it. Not because I had a revelation or anything, but because I wanted to for me. Its still in its draft stages as I am weighing up how personal I want it to go. I experienced it in a very different way to Churchill's Black Dog, but it was still crippling nonetheless.

The other thing I want to comment on is your youth work - your huge heart for at-risk kids is similar to my own yet you had the strength to ensure that translated into actions. You're an absolute inspiration! Even if this work consumed and depleted you, the fact that you were able to do it is amazing. I personally wouldn't have the emotional strength to cope with the issues faced by those children. Thanks again...I will try not to comment on every wonderful blog of yours! R.

Dee said...

Wow! Thank you so much for sharing so honestly and eloquently. You are one inspiring woman. Seriously.

Your art is incredible. 'Sorrow for my family' brought me to tears. It is amazing how well your images evoke the feelings you are expressing. I have a little quiet place in my mind that looks so much like your 'refuge in the desert'. My place is exactly like that but on a rocky beach-side (very Count of Monte Cristo)!

Thanks again for this. I look forward to trawling through your posts...

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