19 September 2012

My Journey Through Depression - Revisited

This post was one of the first to ever appear on my blog. I went from party planning to depression in one inspired leap, as I felt compelled to share with my readers the reality of what I battle with. I have always wanted this blog to be a place of encouragement and hope through sharing honestly about my Life's Rollercoaster. I've updated the post over the years since I first wrote it, and now here it is again for you: My Journey through Depression . . .

I turned forty a couple of years ago. 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, with the support and love of my husband, the grace and mercy of The Big Guy upstairs, and some incredible wisdom from some amazing people… here I am firmly planted on planet Earth, telling my story to you.

It's no mystery how I got myself into such a mess. I'm one of those people who tends to be very hard on themselves, very driven, all-or-nothing. As a kid I was a perfectionist, a bit of a loner, shy, arty, sensitive; I loved books and escaping reality. My dad became a pastor when I was ten and burnt out when I was 17. Our family moved around a lot; I went to ten different schools. Starting over again and again got harder as I got older. I became something of a nerd.

The state of the world always bothered me so I spent my twenties trying to change it by getting involved in youth work. There were 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 and if I didn't do it, who would? (Perhaps subconsciously I also thought I could finish what my dad had started.)

[Me and my dad 1994; Graduation from Bible College]
As a single girl, there was nothing outside myself to force me to slow down. No boyfriend or husband or kids with any claim on my time or energy. I slept, ate and breathed youth work. At one point I was even ordained as a minister.

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.

[CLS girls up Mt Eden; February 1999]
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.

The 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.

[Read about how I started CLS here]

[Wedding Day; November 2000]
It was around about this time I met and fell head over heels with the guy who is now 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..."

All hell broke loose. My new husband wondered what had hit him - who is this screaming maniac he had married? He had no idea this nice Christian girl knew the kind of words that sometimes spewed out of my mouth.
Meanwhile I thought 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 just errupt 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 finally my life was what I had dreamed of. I had this great guy, a new house, I got to travel, had a great new job and a new baby coming. There was no external trouble but I was in hell.

[Art Therapy: "Burdens"]

Finally my husband had enough and marched me off to a counsellor when I was six months pregnant with our first baby. He poured out his concerns about me to this very wise old guy, 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.

At least now I had a name for this black cloud.

Brian explained that what I was experiencing was like what happens to soldiers in battle - while they’re in the thick of it, they have to hold it together. But when the pressure comes off, everything crashes down on them and they freak out.

Just like those soldiers, I was coping until the pressure came off.
"Then," Brian said, "Those parts of yourself you have neglected start screaming for attention."

I’m still here ten years later. Still walking the road. Making progress slowly, surely.
I have now found an amazing counsellor and we are really starting to make progress. I now understand myself so much better, and have identified the reasons I ended up in such a state.

It's the Pendulum. I swing from taking on the world and pushing myself beyond my limits to collapsing in a heap, depleted and dependant, anxious and overwhelmed. Sometimes I swing in a day. Other times it can build up for weeks before I "swing".

So I walk with a limp, depression and anxiety are a weakness, a vulnerability I have.
I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. To recognize the warning signs. Not take on too much.

[Art Therapy: Refuge in the Desert]

One of the things that has really helped me is Art Therapy and Visual Journalling, being a bit of an arty, creative individual. For me, 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… these things all help soothe me on the days I feel a bit crazy.

A DVD by Dr Grant Mullen also helped tremendously, especially in explaining things so my hubby could understand them. Dr Mullen explains that Depression is the only physical illness with spiritual symptoms, which confuses many people and adds a heap 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) 
  • spirit (the part that connects with God)
Unless we sort out the biochemical problem, how can we be expected get our thoughts and emotions into order?

When I was first diagnosed, 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. There’s no shame in that. Medication works on your brain like putting a cast on a broken leg. They 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?

[Art Therapy: Sorrow for My Family]
I share quite openly about my journey through depression here on my blog. It’s not the focus, but I’ve always felt it was crucial to be honest about my struggles.

Quite often I get through each day by the skin of my teeth, but I'm doing my best and I am finally starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

My amazing counsellor, Jane, says that as I "find my voice" and discover who I really am and begin to live authentically out of that (rather than trying to please others an conform to external expectations) the Pendulum will stop swinging. I won't even need the meds any more.

That day is coming closer. I've already been able to reduce my dose from 225mg of Effexor per day to 75mg - something of a miracle.

[Art Therapy: The Forest of Unforgiveness]

A Little Rant about Depression

Depression is still misunderstood by many 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.

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. 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. You are not alone.

[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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