My personal foreign country
Lesley Barnes shares her experience of depression
Between 2003 and 2006 I entered a foreign country. I didn’t want to be there. I was held against my will.
It began when I was made redundant from my teaching job of ten years. I got a part-time job in a very tough school which I enjoyed, but the contract was for a year so I started supply teaching. It was a good nursery school with a very experienced nursery nurse, but just before I began I started to get nervous in an irrational way. Although the teaching was going well, I could not settle.
My husband’s business began to struggle and we had to re-mortgage immediately and put our family home of 21 years up for sale. This was the final straw.
One lunchtime I was in the classroom preparing for the afternoon session when a terrifying black wave of anxiety rolled towards me. The deputy head immediately called a Christian colleague who took me away for a while. We sat by the canal talking until I felt calm enough to return.
I thought that once the term was over I would feel better and I would recover over the summer. However, the nightmare had only just begun. The anxiety was overwhelming; I lost weight dramatically and found it difficult to be alone. Mundane household tasks became impossible and I stopped sleeping. Eventually a friend came with me to the doctor who prescribed antidepressants and referred me to the local mental health clinic for psychotherapy.
My family were coping as best they could. My children were as helpful as they could be, but they had their own lives to lead. My husband was patient, but had to carry on with his demanding job alongside coming to doctors’ appointments and holding things together at home. Friends helped by taking me shopping, doing the garden, even changing the beds.
Alone with the Samaritans
However, the psychiatrist decided that I was getting too much help and that I should get on with things by myself. I felt abandoned and spent hours alone, pacing the kitchen floor and ringing the Samaritans each day, feeling suicidal. I would stay in bed till midday, too frightened to get up, and couldn’t read or watch TV.
What was happening to my spiritual life? I was a mature Christian attending a good church. Didn’t I have the wherewithal to cope with an assault such as this? Didn’t I pray? Yes, but my prayers were the cries of a baby begging not to be abandoned. Did I read the Bible? Yes, but the words of Scripture swam before my eyes, incomprehensible. Did I go to church? Yes, but sermons were a jumble of words that I could not concentrate on, hymns brought tears to my eyes and the people were just too happy. They were kind, but my despair was too deep so I stopped going.
At first this was a relief, but I had been attending this church for 30 years and if I stayed away I would starve.
After a while I had the idea of going to the evening service. There were fewer people and often, by then, I felt a little better. I was able to spend time with the close friends who drove me there and back. Sunday evenings became a little oasis of calm. One evening the pastor asked me to read the Scripture in the service — I was amazed when he asked. He actually saw me as part of the church rather than a nutter that he had to remember to pray for. A little step of healing took place.
I somehow got through each day. One of the Scriptures that helped me was about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I know it is impossible to compare his suffering with mine, but it was a comfort to know that he was ‘sorrowful unto death’. I took that to mean that he would have preferred death to going through with the crucifixion. Although I would never have had the courage to go through with it, I wished that death would somehow happen to me.
I was still seeing the psychiatrist. They gave me a cocktail of drugs and an anti-psychotic which seemed to help. The first one I took made me momentarily peaceful and it helped me to sleep when I took it at night.
My sister invited me to go and visit and we all hoped that a stay in the country would be what I needed to recover. It wasn’t, but the loving care she showed in being prepared to put up with me touched me more than I can say.
I will always remember the friend who took me to the supermarket every week. She never knew what state I would be in. Now I cannot walk into that shop without thanking God for her and praising him that I can now enjoy shopping again. Another friend came every week to walk our dogs together. Sometimes she had to talk me into putting on the lead and venturing outside and had to walk round the park with someone who had nothing to say.
Of course, through all of this, I was aware that people were praying for me. I never took that lightly. I was even prayed for in services when I was present and the elders came to pray and anoint me with oil.
Plans to sell the house were being made by my husband. When the estate agent paid his first visit, I begged my husband to be there because I couldn’t face it alone. Every visit by a prospective buyer was a nightmare and I was very anxious about the amount of stuff we would have to get rid of. 21 years of clutter! One day, someone quite new to the church offered to help me. ‘No way!’ I thought. ‘No one is going to see the horrors in my cupboards’, but in the end I was so desperate that I said yes. It was a wonderful experience being helped by this gentle person to let go of the past.
My recovery was very gradual, but God had thought of everything. Before long I was referred to an anxiety management class and being with people who understood how I felt was incredible. Our grandson was also a little bundle of healing and I was able to look after him once a week from very early on. I will love all my grandchildren equally, but he will always be special to me because he is so closely tied to my recovery.
During that terrible time I felt that I lost emotional touch with my children and this was a painful grief. They continued to show their love for me, but I think it was a frightening time for them. Since then I have begun making up for that and have delighted in them more and more. My husband had borne the brunt of my illness while having to shoulder day-to-day responsibilities and deal with our financial situation. Yet he never stopped loving and supporting me. He fulfilled every one of his marriage vows and I thank God for him everyday.
God rescued me
Year on year I am recovering steadily. In fact, I am wondering how far I can go! I have not returned to work — maybe I never will — but my life is very full. I now have two grandchildren to look after, I volunteer in a local school, work for two Christian charities and take a full part in our wonderful church. The bewildered young pastor has grown into a first-rate leader (and pastor) and there is plenty to do. My experiences have changed me. I am much more sympathetic to the trials of others and have become very concerned about persecuted Christians. Having been supported for so long by the prayers of others when I couldn’t pray myself, I am determined to uphold others in prayer.
Since then not a day has gone by when I have not re-lived that experience. It will always be a part of me and I will always be amazed that God rescued me. Do I ever fear a relapse? Yes, I do. I keep taking the pills; but I am in the hands of God and among his people. There is no safer place to be.