A disclaimer again: This is my own story. Everyone walks a different road. I am just relaying what helped me personally.
Warning: Christian jargon ahead! Haha.
Maybe you've read this far to find out why I didn't try and commit suicide even though I was in that stage, diagnosis-wise. I think it's because I had a deep, deep sense of purpose. I knew that God loved me, and that my parents loved me. So despite my lack of will to live, I didn't consider suicide. Not once. Ever.
If I did not believe in Jesus I am quite sure I would have tried to kill myself at that point. I felt so, so worthless. People in deep depression are easily able to convince themselves the world would be better off without them, so suicide is an unselfish act in their own eyes. They think they will be doing all their family and friends a favour. NOT TRUE! Depression is a massive ploy of the enemy. It steals HOPE, JOY, CONFIDENCE, CREATIVITY... the list is endless. You believe multiple lies about yourself. The lies seem so very real. What you're left with is a person with such low self worth and in such tremendous pain, that they honestly feel there is no point in carrying on. In most cases your brain chemistry is a mess so it's physically impossible not to feel that way. If you don't wage war against these illnesses, you will either end up committing suicide or be debilitated for the rest of your life. Either way, the devil has won. Don't let him win. Fight. Arm yourself with God's presence and remind yourself: "Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world". [1 John 4:4]
I know Christians who HAVE attempted suicide, and committed suicide. Each person had their own reasons for doing so. I spoke to one friend who explained that she saw the world in black and white. She couldn't feel God anymore. She knew heaven existed, and she wanted to go there rather than stay in her circumstances. To her it was a simple decision. However, knowing my friend's relationship with God NOW which has grown exponentially, I am quite certain she would never try it again no matter how low she felt [she verified this]. Another friend thought about her family and realised even under the black cloud, that this act WOULD cause them pain. So she postponed her attempt. Thankfully before she could try again she got better.
A scary part of severe depression is that you don't feel God like you are used to. You feel very numb. Numb to everything. That does make Spirit-led people feel that He has left them. A woman who walked a similar road a few years back, encouraged me by saying that although I wouldn't feel God - I'd see in retrospect that He was there. This was true, but amazingly I heard His still small voice even in the darkest times. I started to write things down on my phone. I wrote down verses people sent. I would watch preaches online, listen to worship and take note of anything I felt God was saying to me. In that context I am so grateful for the internet. When I look back on those notes I'm in awe of how MUCH there is. It's actually crazy how much content I have. Then at night I would read through the notes, slowly. At times when I felt absolute despair, I clung to those notes. They were my way of communing with God when I didn't feel Him tangibly anymore. Later when I ventured back into the world, started attending church again and went to a conference, I was given SO MANY prophetic and encouraging words from people. Most of those people had no idea what I'd been through and all of the words were spot on accurate. Beautifully so.
Below are some tools that help me put on the armour of God. [Ephesians 6 vs 10 - 17]. These tools are incredibly life giving and they will help you in any crisis. I know this NOT only because of my story - which pales in comparison to so many others. I have watched people walk through some of the most difficult life experiences: intense and constant physical pain, death of a loved one, divorce, financial ruin.. and yet come out OKAY on the other side, because they know their Creator. In fact, sometimes they end up more than just okay (borrowed some Switchfoot lyrics there).
Almost everyone would agree that there is something about music. Something that moves you; that stirs in the depths of your soul when you hear it. Everyone has different tastes. For some, opera moves them to tears. Others get through their day with heavy metal blaring in their ears. Music can make you feel terribly upset or it can uplift you in a moment. It's very powerful. Music combined with the Holy Spirit is next level powerful. Worship played a big part in getting me through last year. Many Christians are disillusioned with popular worship music at the moment. Can I challenge you to find a song or an album that doesn't make you roll your eyes, and listen to it. Play it if you're a musician. See what happens. I had a very long playlist on my laptop and on days when I just couldn't get out of bed -- from the ulcer, depression, whatever it was, I would lie there and let the music wash over me. At one point it was the only thing I could tolerate. Every night I played a YouTube clip of a recent live worship song and praised with hands high in the air, despite how I felt. An amazing friend sent me a message from the other side of the world. It said: "Don't lose your song." The power of worship is not a new idea. It's everywhere in the bible. One story that comes to mind is that of David playing the harp for Saul [1 Samuel 16:23]. In July when I was a lot better, I attended a conference and during the worship time I experienced the remaining depression lift off me like a cloud and JOY filled me instead. Since then, whenever I play my piano and sing with conviction - the same thing happens. I felt like I'd discovered a weapon that I had in my arsenal all along. We need weapons to fight against the lies that we hear and often believe about ourselves every day. We need to fight for our hope and joy. Fight to get back into God's presence and to hear HIS truths. The best way to do that (for me), was to worship again. I made a PLAYLIST HERE of the songs that were on repeat last year. It is not going to be for everyone, but maybe it will uplift some. I know that it has already encouraged a few people and that's good enough for me.
This one may strike a nerve with some readers. Millennials in general are becoming more and more anti-church, and I was one of them. Slowly but surely I became convinced that all churches had unforgivable faults. I also let other people's opinions become my own, which was not healthy at all. I still have conviction about certain issues, but they are personal convictions from personal revelations.
When I stopped leading worship and started attending church sporadically, I began to have my first panic attacks which eventually led to the burnout I describe in Part One. I don't think this is a coincidence. Church is God's idea. Church is good for us. God doesn't need me to go. I benefit from going. By "church" I mean: the act of coming together to worship, hear the Word and be in community with people who share our faith. It's not about a building or a weekly event, and yes we ARE the church. The structure of it has evolved to accommodate the majority.
Our generation has many strengths. We work hard. We are generous. We love to learn. One reason Millennials leave church is out of frustration due to genuine concern for the community. However, our weaknesses are: entitlement and flightiness (naturally I'm generalising). It occurs in our jobs. We always feel we deserve more. The job should cater to our needs, fit our dream, fulfill all our wishes. I've seen it. I've BEEN that person. We do the same thing with church. We want the church that suits US, that lives up to OUR picture of what it should look like. That's a possible basis for why so many Millennials are leaving. There is NO SUCH CHURCH. Unless Jesus comes back to lead one before the world ends, there never will be. I am definitely not advocating joining the first church you visit, and many people have legitimate reasons for leaving. I just want to prompt you to think about why you really left.
When did we lose our grace with the idea of weekly meetings? People do their best with what they have. I've been on church leadership twice and I can tell you that they run things (whether you think it's right or not) with their congregation top-of-mind. The majority of churches want to help YOU. One of my previous lead elders was a talented engineer, but he gave that up because when he encountered Jesus he became so passionate about people. He loved people SO much that he wanted more than anything else: to start a church. Money, fame, comfort.. all of that faded away. "And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace". If you truly can't find a church in your area that you can handle then maybe meet with some friends once a week, take out the bible or just chat. There may be no churches near to where you live. Maybe you can watch preaches / listen to podcasts online. Sit under a tree and spend some time with God. Whatever you need to keep that fire burning. I'm not telling you to go to church. I have no right to do that. Everyone has their own journey with God. My personal testimony is that since I've been well enough to go back, I'm finding myself again.
We are always learning more about our Creator, but my foundation is based on what the bible says: the fact that God is GOOD and God is LOVE.
I believe God heals. Actually, I know it. I have seen hundreds of people properly and obviously healed in the same room as me on many occasions. People have been healed after I prayed for them and I'm amazed every time! Other times I pray and no-one gets healed. I don't understand why some people (including me) aren't healed even though they have huge faith for it, but that doesn't change who GOD is. I love this quote by Bill Johnson: "The walk of Faith is to live according to the revelation we have received, in the midst of the mysteries we can't explain". I think he said this just after his own father died of cancer. The mystery is: why wasn't his dad healed? But the revelation is: God is still Good.
If I believe in God's power to this extent then why did I go onto medication? This is such a heavy subject among Christians, but it shouldn't be. Natural remedies are wonderful and I DO NOT recommend popping pills without good reason, but I was so debilitated that I needed the medication just to get out of BED so that I could actually start the natural remedies. I used to hold my head every day and pray over myself for healing. My parents prayed for me. My friends prayed. It's not that there was no praying going on! I could write an essay on this, but thankfully Kris Valloton already has. Click here to see his explanation and views about meds. He goes into much more detail on this in his book Spirit Wars.
Brian Johnson, a worship leader from Bethel, also has some helpful things to say on the subject of anxiety because he experienced a nervous breakdown in July 2015. Melissa Helser has an intense skin and bone disease that causes tremendous pain and discomfort, yet she writes some of the most powerful worship songs of our day and never stops preaching the goodness of God OR the healing power of God. I love that these well known leaders are so open and honest about their stories. It is part of what inspired me to write this. Kris, Brian and Melissa's testimonies gave me SUCH hope. Friends who messaged or visited me to tell me stories of their recoveries gave me more hope. Hope carries us through the valleys of life.
I'm not ashamed to be on medication for as long as it takes to get better and I still trust wholeheartedly that God can heal me at any time. That's His number one plan. I have a friend who was totally healed of OCD in one moment of prayer after years of struggling with it. There are so many incredible stories like that out there - even just within my own circle. Someone messaged me TODAY about a miracle I witnessed a few weeks ago. Her Physio did all sorts of tests and she's definitely drastically healed! So keep trusting, but if you really need meds then take them for now. My next step is to maintain the natural remedies and slowly wean off the medication when my doctor feels I'm ready, unless I'm healed of the lingering anxiety first (yes please!). Update: Since I started writing this post I have had two experiences where people prayed for me and something shifted in the spiritual realm. One was called a Sozo, which is kind of like a counseling session but inviting the Holy Spirit into it. There's bad press out there about Sozos. There's bad press out there about everything it seems. Find out about Sozos from people who've experienced one, not from Google. I knew and trusted the person who led the session. I felt a difference in my mind.. a new peace. I'm much further along than I should be at this stage. I'm on less medication than I am meant to be on right now. I'm weaning off it fast and I honestly feel way, WAY better. So let's see what happens! Walking with God is SUCH an adventure. Why? Because He can do the impossible!
"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed". [Luke 5:16]
If you are healthy but on the verge of burnout, I urge to you not to lose the beauty of the quiet place.
When I first crashed, I suddenly equated silence with horror. To be alone with my thoughts was a terrible thing. As I mentioned in Part One, I experienced a lot of insomnia so was always tired. If I tried to nap I'd have a panic attack due to catastrophic rumination. The beautiful, peaceful times I used to have with God were stolen from me [John 10:10]. The quiet place became a nightmare. I strongly believe this is part of Satan's scheme. Get Christians as far away from the Father's presence as possible and we will quickly turn to other things to distract us. For some it is substance abuse. People and work can become idols. For me it was mostly TV and the internet.
To drown out my thoughts I kept my mind as busy as possible. Quietness was not an option - except at night when I was forced to lie in the dark and try desperately to fall asleep and not dream. After a little while though, I realised I didn't have to turn to NEGATIVE things. Since I could not be alone with my thoughts, I could bring LIFE GIVING distractions into my mind. In retrospect that realisation must have come from the Holy Spirit, who never left me. So I started watching preaches. I listened to pastors who I find overtly positive now, but their words were just what I needed to hear at that time. Nothing they said had even a hint of negativity. I read God-inspired books about overcoming mental illness. I played a LOT of worship music. I read my bible. I started bible reading plans on my phone. Instead of staring at Facebook, I stared at the words and scriptures I'd been given. It wasn't always a smooth road and I often fell back into old habits, but I felt the difference when I switched back to positive content which motivated me to carry on. The same way that sugar intake is related to diabetes, so thinking patterns are related to anxiety and depression. Give your brain a positivity overload! [Phil 4:8]
Then came the small victories. I remember when my mom pointed out that I'd had a nap during the day and didn't end up in a panic. I remember when I spent a long time in silence and it was okay, because my thoughts were happier. I'm finding strength in the quiet place again. I love to sit at my piano and sometimes just wait. Recently I clearly heard God speak. I'd been asking Him something, and He answered me in the quiet, because I had given that time to Him. I wasn't drowning Him out with ANYTHING else.
I pray that if you are suffering with a mental illness, you will find the quiet place again. If you cannot sit in silence without difficulty yet, you can still create a life giving environment for yourself. Also remember that you are never truly alone. God is with you, always. "..he will never leave you nor forsake you". [Deuteronomy 31:6]
I encourage you to be open with your story. Even if you're only at the beginning. Our testimonies carry power. The entire bible is made up of stories. Our best example is Jesus, and we learn so much from the story of His life, ministry, death and miraculous resurrection. We also learn and are inspired by OTHER biblical figures, none of which were perfect beings. I heard a portion of Steve Backlund's book "Victorious Mindsets" where he mentions the issues that many heroes of the faith had. The most profound one is Lazarus. He was DEAD. I mean, you can't get more 'disqualified' or have a bigger problem! Yet Jesus got him out of THAT issue and the story of Lazarus is told to this day. So let's realise that God can use us in any situation. You are not disqualified because of <your issues here>. God used me last year even in the beginning. I don't know how He did that. I felt I had nothing to give, but I had my story. A few people heard via the grapevine that I had this burnout, and it's led to them finding a path to freedom. Why? They thought I had life all figured out. When they discovered that I most definitely did NOT, it gave them courage to seek help. So I decided early on to be transparent and have had numerous conversations with people who have gone through similar journeys. Some are just starting out and I can help them. Some are further along than I am, and those people really inspire ME. Your story matters. Your past does not disqualify you, and your future has the potential to inspire millions. When we give our lives to Jesus, we get to cast our burdens onto Him, we have the power to renew our minds daily and drown out the voice of the enemy with God's beautiful truths about us. We get to live in freedom. Never forget who you are: a child of the King who made the universe. I will leave you with this, my favourite scripture since I was a young girl:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Below are some resources that really helped me in this journey and gave me new revelations about scriptures I've known my whole life. Naturally I don't endorse every single word in these books and talks, but the content of each one helped me immensely. I'm so grateful to all the authors and pastors and songwriters who created them.
I only bought one of these books and one audio teaching. The rest were either given to me, are available for free or were part of a church course I was doing. One book was even in my local library (props to my hometown!). I hope you are able to get hold of as many of these as you need, and that they help you as much, if not more than they helped me. I'll add to the list as I continue to find more gold out there.
Spirit Wars by Kris Valloton (book and e-course)
Switch on your brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf (book)
Abounding Hope & Joy by Steve and Wendy Backlund (video / audio teachings)
Boundaries by Alyn Jones (audio series)
Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer (book)
Brian Johnson story (video sermon)
Melissa Helser story (video testimony)
The Pursuit of Peace by Joyce Meyer (book)