Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Truth about Ministry and Depression

*Disclaimer: This post was written one year ago, almost to the day. I did not post it then for fear that it was too vulnerable, but I feel like I need to post it now. Too many people give into depression and suicide because we don't talk about it. I hope that this experience will give someone else hope that they are not alone, and that maybe they will, like me, take steps towards healing. If you (whether I know you or not) ever need someone to talk to, please contact me. We need each other in this world, and no one should feel the depths of pain alone.*

Written: May 2016

I've debated on whether I write about this too much. I've debated that maybe I don't write about this enough. So if it sounds like you've read it before, feel free to move on. If not, stick around. Probably this post is more for me than you anyways.

To start with, I think there is this misconception that if you are single you can work more because you don't have a family. This is dumb. Just because you are single doesn't mean you shouldn't have boundaries. But I didn't realize this was dumb until I wasn't single anymore. For years my ministry and my work came first, no matter what. It came before vacations, time and visits with my family, and my own personal well-being. Once Cameron came along he actually had to tell me that I needed to love him more than I loved my job, and that was something I actually had to work at. It wasn't healthy, my friends.

So as we all know last year I struggled pretty strongly with anxiety and burnout. Years of ministry without boundaries will do that to a person. It made me unmotivated, not very nice, tired, and pretty sad and anxious all the time. As I transitioned to a more balanced life of ministry, the fallout from my years in non-stop ministry didn't just get fixed over night, as much as I would have hoped it could.

As God moved me, or forced me really, into transitioning to a more healthy work-life balance, the impact was rough. I was pulled pretty forcefully from my way of life and it was kind of like a bad breakup between me and my work. I won't sugarcoat things, though there is a lot that doesn't need to be said, but the combination of having to understand a new life paradigm and the heartbreak of being treated really badly by people that I trusted led me to a rough new chapter of being a missionary.

A side note before I go on: I have been reluctant to post this in fear that certain people will think it is overdramatic or exaggerated. But the truth is that I don't have to care what those people think. We don't put enough emphasis on the toll that ministering to human suffering can take. We think we should suck it up and be fine, but that isn't me. There is only so much rape, murder, abuse, and neglect that I can take before I break. We need proper counseling and places of rest for missionaries. Missionaries get so caught up in their work and their need to write newsletters and convince supporters to stick around, that they don't take care of themselves for fear that people will think they aren't working hard enough. That is also wrong, and it is something that we need to come to terms with, both as missionaries and as those who support them.

Anyways, for the last six months I have struggled heavily with what I now realize was depression. My depression took a toll on our marriage, as neither of us really understood it at the time. I would burst into uncontrollable tears, as if someone had died, at random moments and I would be unable to stop. I was unmotivated at work and at home, I was tired for no reason, and I was sad basically all the time. For my husband this was difficult to understand because he was working so hard to provide a good life for me. It made him feel like a failure, but that wasn't it. I couldn't explain why I was sad and I didn't want to be sad, I just was. And with each stab of injustice as I tried to do what I thought was right, the cycle would start all over again.

Throughout this last year of my ministry on the reservation there were multiple times I had the thought pass through my mind that the solution was really just to die. This thought crept back in about a month ago. It is a harsh and evil voice that tries to make you believe your life is worthless and it is really really scary. I never would have followed through with it thanks to the strength of the Lord within me, but it is a scary and convincing voice that says you might as well just be dead.

And hello, that's called depression.

Until one day I decided that this was the last time I was going to cry over what injustice had been played against me. It was the last time I let other people control my emotions, my marriage, and my life. It was time that I let God work the healing in me that I had been rejecting for so long. 

I will tell ya, it has been a hard 2 years and a hard 7 months of coming to terms with a lot of things. I can say with such joy though, that I finally feel really close to complete healing. I have been able to see so much progress within myself over the last 7 months as I slowly became me again. It feels weird to wake up happy, content, and not be anxious for days at a time, but I think I could get used to it!

Small things have helped, like joining the softball team I mentioned in my last post. It seems silly, but joining the team shows that I am no longer isolating myself in a world of ministry and work. I am branching out of my comfort zone, making new friendships, and settling into a new way of life. My marriage has gotten better and better as C has learned how to take care of me and as I have learned better coping skills and ways to find joy in my life. And my ministry, surprisingly to me, has not suffered. Just because I had to take a step back doesn't mean that everything fell into a big pit. My kids still call, we still hang out, we still laugh together and have sleepovers. They are just as important to me as ever, I have simply learned that I need some space and some boundaries, and that is ok.

Like I said in the beginning, this post is probably more for me to process than for you to read, but maybe it will help someone else out there. Working in ministry is hard and we want to pretend we have it all together, but it is ok if we don't. It is ok to take a step back for self care even if others don't understand.

And don't worry. You don't have to send me emails or stop me on the street to ask me if I am ok. I am great and I am healing and I feel better than ever. It is like a dark cloud has lifted and I find myself laughing again and feeling happy again. Its a good thing and I know it is just going to get better. God never left me and He never will, and I know He will heal my heart fully again.

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