Category: living with low mood

Two years ago today, I woke up with my mental health in meltdown.  My GP signed me off work and referred me to the community mental health team.

It took me eight months to return to work of any sort and over a year to build up to full-time hours.  I have a time-frame for the medication I am on that still has eighteen months to run.

There is rarely a day go by that I do not have to face the legacy of what happened.

My world looks very different now.  I am very different now.  And it is good.

It hasn’t always seemed that way.  Sometimes it’s seemed far from being that way.  But God has gently led me the whole time.  He continues to lead me – and everywhere he leads me, everything that He leads me to, is good.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

I don’t know what your experience of these issues is, but you probably know someone who struggles.  In any one year in the UK, 1 in 4 people will experience difficulties with their mental health.  Depression is said to cost the economy £9bn a year and the highest suicide risk group is now men in their 40’s.  That’s not what I expected to read either.

And if you are struggling with your own mental health right now, be assured of this: you have a future.  God can lead you through this time and into great blessing.  Trust Him.  Walk with Him.  He is good.

mental health relapse

In November, I experienced a relapse in my mental health.  It was nowhere near as severe as my meltdown of 2009 but was still a disappointing setback after a good period of steady recovery.  This time around I was able to see the signs a little earlier and take some evasive action, but when the emotions broke they were as fresh and powerful as they had been eighteen months earlier.  I had to process many of the same things all over again.

As I prepared to meet my GP, I spoke to a couple of close friends about a subject I felt would be an inevitable part of that consultation: medication.

When I first became ill I was consistently offered antidepressants and I consistently turned them down.  This was primarily because I felt that whilst they may have dealt with the symptoms of my poor health they could not address the cause – and that if I could tackle the cause, the symptoms would clear up as well. 

In counselling, I came to see that my health reflected how I had come to feel about myself and to see myself.  The solution was to change my ways of thinking – and this seemed to be consistent with my understanding of the bible, influenced by Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ material.

In truth, I still agree with that view – which is why I felt that the decision presented a dilemma.  On the other hand, I knew that without decisive action I risked slipping into a steeper and more damaging decline.  My GP was clear that subsequent setbacks could be increasingly difficult to overcome.  I was also advised that my low mood may have a chemical cause which medication would help to address and since re-training my mind and lifting my self-esteem seems to be a long-term process, I opted for the extra help that the medication would give me.

Beginning a course of antidepressants has been a strange journey in itself.  Some of the side-effects are just weird, and we may not have the right dose or medication yet but I’m meeting my GP regularly and waiting for some further counselling.

I have delayed posting about this because it’s taken me a little time to gain the confidence to do so.  It feels embarrassing.  Close friends, though, have been very supportive.  One friend told me how they had recently heard that having a breakdown wasn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign that you have been strong for too long.  There is some truth in this that I draw comfort from.  But I have also drawn confidence from some of the things that God has been speaking to us about as a family.  I know that He still loves me and wants to work through me, He still has good plans and a future for me.  Being a child of God does not make life easy but it does give us great hope.

It’s important to get your theology right isn’t it?  Get it right and live by it.

This morning in our meeting we were singing a chorus centred on Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  The song is Nothing Shall Separate.  It’s a lovely song that has been really helpful in my worship since I first heard it and the verse has been special to me ever since my wife underlined it in my bible 24 years ago and told me to live in the truth of it.

It’s a truth that has deepened in significance as life has gone on – and all the more so over the past couple of years.  Why?  Because when you go through really tough experiences it’s verses like this one that you re-examine and hold on to. 

It’s all too easy to throw this out as a gentle platitude to people when they are in a difficult time – as if knowing this makes everything right again.  It doesn’t.  The truth of this verse does not diminish the pain of our experiences, the suffering caused by our own sin or the sins of people against us.  They are real and sometimes incredibly difficult to process.

The verse doesn’t say that everything that happens is good.  Not everything that we experience is good.  We mustn’t under-estimate the damage that can be done by suggesting otherwise.

And it’s not an excuse to live badly – the idea that we can do whatever we want and it will turn out all right in the end because God will make sure it does as though we are, “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” Jude 1:4.  Or that the fact that God works good into our lives, that He continues to show us grace, in some way justifies our own sinful choices and decisions.  It doesn’t – that He does continue to show grace is a testament to His goodness, not ours.

But the verse is an assurance that all the wrong that we suffer, all the pain and hardship, all the repercussions of sin (whoever it is perpetrated by), all the damaging  blows life, people and the enemy throw at us, are used by God for our good.  That doesn’t make life easier.  I’m not sure it lessens the blows.  But it does give us hope and it does give us grounds to be thankful.  And when we can look back and see exactly how God has used those experiences for good, it gives us a great story to tell.

Maybe one day, I’ll tell you more of mine.

When I posted recently about facing my fears I was referring to preaching again after a long break.  I have written about some of my thoughts for that talk since then but if you would like to listen to it in full you can find it on the Jubilee website.  I hope you find this helpful.

facing my fears

Every now and then we have to face our fears, don’t we?  Face them or flee in the face of them.  Fight or flight.

This weekend, I faced some fears.  My mental health difficulties have left me, when I feel under pressure or tired, with a stammer and an inability to think of the words I need.  Sometimes I have a complete mental blank – I was driving down a really familiar route the other week and suddenly couldn’t remember how to get to where I was going.  And of course, at times my emotions can still be all over the place.

Not the best condition in which to preach again – if that’s how the pressure was going to affect me. 

It’s been more than eighteen months since I last spoke in this context and my deteriorating state of mind that day meant that I’d really struggled.  Standing at the front of our new church family as people welcomed me was like sitting in the driving seat of a car that hasn’t been driven for a while.  When I turned the ignition, would there be any life under the bonnet?

I had no way of knowing what was going to happen. 

But it went OK. 

My recovery (and my whole walk with God) has been about taking steps.  Some of them are quite small steps, Sunday’s was quite a big one.  But faith is about putting into action what we believe, it can’t simply be something in our head that we don’t live out.  If we’re going to grow in character and gift, if we’re going to see things we haven’t seen before, if we’re going to go forward rather than stagnate, we have to keep taking those steps and trusting that God will be with us as we do.  

I don’t have all the answers and I still have a long way to go.  But I’m facing my fears and following Jesus one step at a time.

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