Thank you for your warm and encouraging response to Shona’s article yesterday in which she began to share her terrible experience with depression. Here’s the second part of her story.
During this dark season I would sleep with exhaustion, but then awaken in an instant several minutes later, unable to stop the rage of mental torment. I concluded that the Lord had given me over to the Devil, that I could not be a Christian, and all that remained was for me to fall into hell. Long before my alarm clock went off each morning, I awoke suddenly like a startled bird. While the rest of the house slept, I had to get up, to get away from this pain. Waves of tormenting thoughts crashed on the shores of my heart: “What’s going to happen to my children on the way to eternity? Who will bring them up? What a tragedy of immeasurable consequences; a mother who lost her mind and her soul. They will have to live with that. What about David, my poor husband, who sees that something is terribly wrong with me but can’t fathom it? What will happen to the baby I am carrying, for whom I feel no emotional connection?”
Reality versus Unreality
I tried to focus on verses of comfort from my Bible, with a ferocious intensity, but in so doing I became more and more obsessional. I turned all the Bible’s encouragements against myself and applied all its condemnations to myself. Adding to my mental exhaustion, I scoured books that I thought might rescue me from these dark depths: books such as Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan; The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall; and Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd- Jones. I gleaned some truth from these books that kept some hope alive, but it was all too intense and exhausting.
There were glimpses of reality but only occasionally and momentarily. Surely the Lord said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). He stilled the storm for the disciples. He would never cast away any who truly seek him. What were the last twenty-five years of my Christian life all about? He never saves and then lets go. That was my daily debate. Yet just as soon as I grabbed reality, delusional thoughts, subjective feelings, and deceitful unreality would crush all hope.
The beautiful sunshine and the singing of the spring birds were an agony. The beauty of the night sky and the array of stars, which testified of a faithful Creator, only served to break my heart yet further. I thought back to my childhood, when I would often sit outside my home in the Scottish Highlands looking heavenward and singing the words of Psalm 8:3–4. But now, instead of that free and happy childhood, life was over. I had lost the Lord—if I ever had him. He was gone forever. All hope was gone.
As a family doctor, I had treated many people in similar situations, and if I had heard my story in the consulting room, I would have objectively diagnosed: “Mentally broken and severely depressed.” However, the subjective side of me—much more persuasive and persistent—convinced me that my problem was spiritual, a lack of spiritual will or trust. If only I could have greater faith in God, then everything would be okay. After all, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). But I was in the eye of the storm, weakened and disorientated, which is not the best place to make accurate assessments.
Eventually, when I finally crashed on the rocks in March 2003, David and I decided to call in my father, an experienced pastor of fifty years who would surely be able to find my spiritual problem. However, when he heard my story, he was convinced that it was not so much a spiritual problem as a mental and physical problem with spiritual consequences. He said that due to many factors, including burnout and long-term stress, my body was run down and my mind was broken. The normal physical and mental processes were disrupted, and, as a result, the most precious thing in my life was profoundly affected—my relationship with the Lord. That was a massive turning point for David and me, and it led to God opening the door to a wonderful recovery and a beautiful refreshing of my life that I want to share with you in my book Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.
Spectrum of Suffering
Although your story may not be as serious or severe as mine, my subsequent experience of meeting and counseling other women has convinced me that many Christian women are trying to do what almost destroyed me; that is, run overwhelming lives at an unsustainable and miserable pace. Although not all of you will end up crumpled on the ground, feeling close to death like I did, many of you are suffering somewhere on the spectrum:
stressed —> anxious —> overwhelmed —> burned out —> sad —> depressed —> suicidal
By God’s grace my race did not end there, and yours need not either. In Refresh I’ll share with you how God taught me to embrace a grace-paced life in a world of overwhelming demands.