Monday, January 26, 2015

The Mental Illness Perspective

Yesterday our church started a new sermon series (3 week series) on Mental Illness. Every year our church tackles a topic that they call an “Elephant in the Church”. Each year the series has been one of my favourites! This year I am particularly excited about it because I am someone who struggles with mental illness. I was/am very interested in hearing what will be said on the topic. I am particularly interested in hearing about people in the church who are mentally ill and leaders in some capacity. I feel like a lot of people assume that because you are mentally ill you can’t work or lead others. This just isn’t the case. It isn’t my experience. In fact I feel like people who have experienced mental illness have a lot to offer. I have no idea if that will be addressed in the sermons but I am eager to listen and see if it is.

Here’s the thing…I am working on a new ministry at our church. I don’t yet know if it will take off or not but it is a work in progress. Our church leaders need to see if this is something that they are passionate about, have time for and people for. A lot of work and planning goes into running a church of our size (not that I even know the half of what is involved) and figuring out how to use their “man-power” best is something that needs to be prayerfully considered. Most people are just really interested and excited to hear what myself and others are working on for this ministry but there have been a few who know my past with mental illness and have questioned me on whether or not I am capable of taking on something like this. Maybe you are nodding along thinking “Yeah….how can she do this?” or maybe you are sitting there and thinking “what? There is no reason why she can’t.” I get both sides. Of course it stings when someone questions my ability but all that shows me is that either their past experiences or lack of experiences with mental health is skewed. There have been 2 lows in my life (after each baby) where I wasn’t able to do much of anything. Caring for myself was too hard, let alone thinking much of others. I was chemically imbalanced. My body wasn’t adjusting well to hormones and I needed to get on meds to level off. It takes 6-8 weeks to see improvements when on anti-depressants and that is once you have found a medication and dosage that works for you. Each time I had 2-3 months of needing lots of extra support while I got onto meds and came out of (what I call) a dark pit. A really important part of my health and well-being is consistently being on meds. After having Jacob and needing to go on medication I stayed on those pills up until I was pregnant with Livia. I didn’t like the idea of being on my anxiety meds while pregnant so I went off them and decided I might as well be med free for the health of my baby and also went off my anti-depressant.  WRONG CALL….or at least I think I was the wrong call. I don’t know how the pills would have affected Livy but I wasn’t willing to risk it. Instead I risked my well-being and in turn could have potentially risked hers as well.

About half way into my pregnancy with Livia I started to cry a lot, feel really down about life and have little motivation to do anything. I would cry at every doctor appointment and my OB would suggest that I go back on my anti-depressants. I would always say “I will think about it.” One time she gave me a prescription and told me to at least fill it so I would have it on hand if I decide to take them. I never filled it. I just struggled through thinking that I was doing the best thing for my baby when, in actuality, I was potentially putting a lot of stress on her because of what my body was going through. Once she was born the “baby blues” wouldn’t lift. The anxiety crept in quickly. I spent a ton of time outside through the Spring and Summer. Lots of neighbours to hang out with and being social helps me a lot. As Fall hit I went downhill really quickly! I knew it was time to get back on my meds. I was no longer breastfeeding (knowing that I needed to go on meds played into my decision to switch to formula…stopping breastfeeding helped lift some of my anxiety so I thought I could cope without the pills but I was wrong) so I started back on the same meds I had been on before. In hind sight I wish I had at least stayed on my anti-depressant (Zoloft) throughout my pregnancy. The roller coaster of emotions and anxiety was so hard on me and my family. Now that I am on meds consistently I feel significantly better. I still have days where I feel more anxious or more down but I don’t stay down, I come out of it more quickly and I am able to see the signs more quickly and do some simple practical things to help my mood and lower my anxiety.  But doesn’t everyone have days like that? Don’t we all get overwhelmed at times and need a break. Can’t we all benefit from listening to our bodies and learning how to best care for ourselves? I believe so.
Am I mad that people have questioned my abilities based on the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety? No. All I am trying to get across with this post is that we (society) have a long ways to go with understanding mental illness. I am so happy that our church is lifting the veil on this topic. It’s so nice to hear it being discussed and seeing people genuinely interested in learning how to care for and love someone who is mentally ill. No one needs to fix my “issues” for me. No one needs to protect me from myself or from circumstances that could lead to another dip. No one is responsible for me. Those are my jobs. I need to be on alert for my own well-being. I need to talk to professionals for help. I need to avoid (or carefully engage in) circumstances that could lead to a low. If you want to help someone, just listen. That’s it. It’s pretty simple. J

I just need to quickly add that in my lows people have rallied around me in a really positive way! I have had great friends and family members who have just listened, dropped off a little pick me up, sent me a sweet text or facebook message letting me know they were thinking of me or asked me the best question, “What can I do for you?”  However, I know that my tendency can be to try and fix what I perceive to be other peoples’ areas of need. I need to check myself when I am caring for others. I need to listen more and talk less. Keep it simple, cause it is simple. 

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