I sat on the floor in the kitchen in front of a clean dishwasher that needed to be emptied. After angrily telling Tim to “leave me alone”, tears ran down my face and all I wanted to do was pick up all those clean dishes and smash them on the floor. I felt like I had fallen into a dark pit, alone with no way to get out. I rang my sister. When she picked up I sobbed and sobbed into the phone and told her what was going on in my mind.
Before (when I was pregnant)
Amy was my miracle, my long-awaited baby! God was on this and He was with us, it was going to be amazing! I prayed that He would prepare my heart and that I would be a perfect example of His love to my kids. That I would represent Him well and be the physical manifestation of His heart towards my kids. I ‘rejected in Jesus name’ any of the negative stories that I heard about parenthood, because I was doing this with Jesus. Holy Spirit and I…. man we were tight. I knew how to hear His voice so well and I certainly had His joy living inside of me. I felt I had been through enough personal ‘fires’ to be prepared. I had been through a lot, including seasons of loneliness, anxiety (with heart palpitations) and the pain of a miscarriage; I had the tools to get through the tough stuff.
Worship has such a central part of my journey when we were trying to fall pregnant. I would worship God when I was in pain and instantly be lifted up and filled with joy and freedom. I (naively) dreamt that Amy and I would worship for hours and hours together. That the atmosphere in our house would be as it always was, a place of peace and rest, where the presence of God would be so tangible.
Additionally, I was so conscious of the negative impact that parents can have on their kids. Little people’s personalities are developed by the time they are four, so what I did in those early years really mattered. I didn’t want my kids to have to ‘forgive my mother for (insert reason here)’ in a therapy or sozo session years later.
During the first year
During Amy’s first year of life she cried – A. LOT. – and so did I. I clearly remember one Sunday afternoon she cried for 5 hours straight. I did everything and I really do mean everything: Feeding, burping, cuddling, pumping her little legs, leaving her to cry it out (it got worse and worse), every holding position I knew, bathing her, giving her Panadol, walking up and down the house, changing the nappy, praying in tongues, praying with words, singing worship etc. Nothing helped and some of it made it even worse. I had nothing left to give… absolutely nothing. I put her back into her cot, shut all the doors and with tears slowing rolling down my face, I sent out an SMS to a few people and asked them to pray. Amy fell asleep 20 minutes later and I sobbed on the bed. People may say “Amen, yeah she did, those prayers worked.” All I felt was my failure. I had tried everything and I was carrying the Holy Spirit with me. His love never failed, but apparently mine did.
Church life, which has one been a place of pure joy and freedom, become an isolating experience. Tim was on staff, so we rarely got to be with him during a service and he was unable to help me. I would drive to church and spend most the time in the nursing mothers room or unsupervised crèche. After the service one of my beautiful friends would usually seek me out for a quick hello, but by then Amy was in the ‘feral zone’ so I would dash off not having heard the message, been able to engage in worship or connect with my church community. I would then drive the 30 minutes home with a tired child screaming at the top of her lungs. We would arrive back home both in a mess of tears and totally exhausted.
I started to become angry and I wasn’t a naturally angry person. I thought things and said things in my head that I never thought would enter my life. I would hear people say how well I was doing or looking etc. and all I could think was “You don’t know the half of it.” I was also constantly told (by people who no longer had young kids) to “Treasure every moment, because it goes so fast.” So, I started stressing about ‘treasuring every moment’ and tried to put my energy into that. Turns out that ‘treasuring EVERY moment’ is hard to do when your little one cries a lot and you are running on empty.
Looking back, I clearly didn’t ask for help as much as I should have, mostly because I believed the lie that I shouldn’t. I prayed for this, I asked for this, this was my new ministry and my responsibility. I also didn’t think people would understand why I was in so much pain and I didn’t know how to articulate what was I was going through. I had also heard it said (unfortunately many times) that when Christians ‘burn out’ it’s because they aren’t getting their strength from God; that it is somehow a reflection of their relationship with Him. They are a failure. The thing was, I was actually inviting Holy Spirit into everyday, I would say it when I woke up and asked Him to help me constantly. I was trying to get my strength from Him, but I wasn’t able to spend time with Him like I used to. Plus, any time I planned a worship session at home, Amy would go ballistic and cry the place down. I was trying so hard to not become self-centered and continued to pour into other people’s lives like I used to. I spent a lot of time praying for and ‘counselling’ other people through their own pains. I wasn’t working after all so ‘I had the time’. I was giving out in excess, while feeling as though I was letting everyone down.
Just to add to the growing burdens that I was carrying, I knew there were many other people in the world who had it worse than me, which of course made me feel worse about feeling worse. I ‘should be able to do this’ and I ‘really didn’t have anything to complain about’. It was a downward spiral. I didn’t understand that I was burning through my serotonin levels faster than a mentally healthy person. All I knew was that I was somehow ‘failing’. Failing Amy, failing God, failing at this thing called Motherhood. What made it harder was the fact that I had prayed and dreamed about this season for over 3 years. Amy was a miracle, she was a precious gift, but all I wanted to do was be alone so I could cry without her seeing.
I asked God to help me. I asked Him to remove my heaviness, my sadness and my anger and yet… it remained. I meditated on scriptures, stuck them all around the house and yet it remained. I made declarations and proclamations and yet it remained.
The phone call
So, just before Amy’s 1st birthday, I sat on the kitchen floor talking to the safest person I knew – my sister. She listened and loved me so much. Looking back, she represented Jesus to me in that moment; a perfect example of God.
She met me where I was at and listened to the state of my heart. She loved me completely. She told me to go onto the BeyondBlue website and take their online questionnaire. We chatted for a bit and then she said she’d check back in with me every day for the next few days.
I did the questionnaire and it told me to see my GP ASAP because I was in the danger zone. Two days later, after being told I had post-natal depression, I started my healing process with the help of medication. They say it takes about 2-3 weeks before antidepressants work, but I honestly noticed a difference straight away. For the first time in about a year, I could think clearly.
And so my next journey began. Three years on I have come a long way in some areas, while others require a bit more attention. Honestly, sometimes I don’t feel completely victorious in these things but I chose to believe that I am a great Mother. With the help of Holy Spirit and others around me, I am gradually taking back the ground and replacing the lies and unrealistic expectations with truth and rest. I look back and I’m grateful for how far I’ve come.
My family and I were recently talking about whether or not God heals people with serious mental health disorders. The Flatt clan likes to talk about the deeper issues of life, like really talk them out and challenge each other… I seriously love it. This is where I land in any area of healing… Jesus is the standard. What I mean by that is when you look at the life of Jesus he healed EVERYONE that came to him. EVERYONE! So, regardless of my experience, it’s God’s heart and intention that everyone is healed and whole. If I pray for someone and they aren’t healed, I believe God still wants them to be healed. Really Jess? Seriously, read the Gospels, there is not one example where Jesus wasn’t willing or where he said ‘No, healing it not for you. I’m not doing it. It’s not my will for you to be healed.” So where does this leave us?
This leads me once again to the Goodness of God. He is so wonderful, so loving and so aware of our individual journeys that He meets us where we are. I prayed that God would remove my depression, but for whatever reason it didn’t lift. And so, He made a way for me. Does God want to heal depression? Absolutely. Did He miraculously heal mine? No. Wait a minute, does that mean He doesn’t heal depression? No. For me, my experience does not alter the person of God or His good intentions for His children. Jesus is my standard. Where there is a gap, He meets me where I am and continues to help me along my journey to healing.
If my leg was broken and after being prayed for it was still broken, I wouldn’t pretend it was healed just to prove my faith was strong enough. I would go to a doctor and get that leg fixed. Why struggle through the pain and possibly cause more damage and increase the healing time? I view mental health issues/illnesses in the same light. I will pray and believe for healing in the mental health zone, but if it’s not healed, I’m not going to pretend it is. I will take myself to a doctor and recommend others do the same. There is no point carrying guilt and shame, because you haven’t been miraculously healed. Would you judge someone else for taking a clearly broken leg to a doctor? I seriously hope not 🙂
My own journey
I am not ashamed to share this with you, but I do feel slightly vulnerable. To share my own journey and own perspective is a scary thing to do at times, but we each have our own story and there is power when we share them with each other. I can learn something from you and maybe you can learn something from me.
I hope you are encouraged by my journey out of the pit, because if you’ve never been there, believe me, it really does feel like a pit. If you are in that pit yourself, you are not alone. Many more people have been there than you realise, in fact 1 in 5 Australian adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year. There is hope for us, for you and for me. God has made a way.
Love Jess xxoo