*Note: I usually do not speak of my faith on this blog however in the discussion of my two year journey, it was unavoidable because of the huge part faith played into my life. *
This is a blog that I have genuinely dreaded writing for years. There is never a perfect time to talk about it. I had this ideal that I wanted to be completely healed of it all and out of the woods before I actually opened up about the struggles that had taken place in my life – and the struggles that I continue to fight for in my return to health. It is something I have been open with close friends and family however never publicly – even though I knew many people could tell I was struggling. It is not a glamorous time nor flattering to me in any light. It is my heart in sharing this blog that people who have not experienced this would understand mental illness a little better and for those suffering know that they are not alone.
To start I was in a pretty bad car accident that involved another driver and a pedestrian (which was my fault) January 2nd, 2013. I suffered severe whiplash that I later learned cause swelling and scar tissue in my brain. This alone can trigger personality changes and symptoms like depression and anxiety. Because this was not caught early, things in my life began to unfold. I went from being a healthy, strong woman to someone I couldn’t even recognize.
September 2013, I was newly engaged to my husband and hiding the fact I was severely depressed and had severe and crippling anxiety. I lost about twenty pounds during that time. I lived in an absolute secret hell. I felt as if though people found out about my struggle that I would be judged for being weak, that my relationship with Christ would be called into question (which it was by many people who didn’t understand). I was worried my fiancé would think I was nuts and jump ship.. With God’s grace we made it through hospitalizations, constant medication change, my self medicating, and my self destruction. By October 31st of 2013, I went onto disability because working was no longer an option for me.
Rob and I married on May 23rd, 2014. In no way did this fix anything but we were all in. I had gained 70 pounds from meds and felt completely unattractive. I had developed agoraphobia (social anxiety disorder) and basically would not leave my house for weeks and would cry if I had to. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia which complicated things because not only was I in emotional turmoil but a lot of pain.
I kept a group of close girlfriends who loved me through it. I never felt judged but just pure love and acceptance by these women. They made me feel as though even though I’m walking through one of the biggest storms of my life that I was still Gwen and still worthy of their time. I can thank my family for their unconditional love and support ALWAYS. Rob was amazing and loved me through it even though I felt unlovable and a failure as a wife.
I honestly felt like this was the way the rest of my life would be. That the darkness would remain ever present.
There were people who gave good hearted advice: “Push into God.” “You are not trusting Him enough.” “You let fear into your life.” So many well intended souls but this advice from non professionals just pushed me further away into isolation. It was almost offensive that due to an illness my spiritual life was called into question. Would it have been if I had diabetes or cancer? I had heard people say to my friends, “You know she is sick right?” as if this somehow was my new identity. This just makes me realize how much further we need to go on breaking the stigma of mental illness.
During that time my relationship with God was at its strongest. I NEEDED him more than ever. I RELIED on him more than ever. I CRIED OUT to him more than ever. And He was always there, He met me exactly where I was at and loved me hard through it.
God brought two amazing people into my life who referred me to a doctor in Florida in November 2015. While there I had extensive testing done. It turned out I was near adrenal failure (Addison’s Disease), all my hormonal systems completely exhausted, all organs just struggling to make it through, and a large amount of swelling and scar tissue in my brain from a car accident and a few concussions in my life. All of these things can cause severe depression and anxiety.
However these things were all solvable with an anti inflammatory diet, supplements, and special treatments done on my brain while I was in Florida. It gave Rob and I so much peace that I had not gone crazy, but my body was so out of sync that it was affecting the hormonal release in my brain. I was not crazy, I was not a bad Christian, I was just sick and needing to repair my body. This repair may take years but we have seen consistent change and growth.
After two months on this plan we had a surprise pregnancy that we couldn’t be more excited about (I had questions of if I could even become pregnant with what my body was experience). Being pregnant however has also worked as a catalyst in bringing my body back into order. These past twelve weeks I’ve seen amazing things happen. I am not saying I still don’t have a long way to go in my healing journey. I know I still have many issues to work on and through, there are still days I am too anxious to leave my house, there are days I have an unbelievable sadness that I can’t explain, I still have new belief systems to concrete, I know my body systems and my adrenal glands are still struggling but I have something new: hope. Hope that this isn’t a life sentence and that life will one day be back as it once was. There is so much more at stake now because it is just not my life, but the life and future of my unborn baby. Because I am still working through does not disqualify me to share openly.
To summarize, here are 3 main things I learned from my darkest days:
1) Boundaries are Okay: there are many people who will NOT understand what you are going through. There are people who will JUDGE what you are going through. Stand strong and do the best you can. It’s okay to chose to not allow certain people to speak into your life. Surround yourself with those who love you, are patient, and want to walk through and out of the season with you. I even had people who judged my intentions for blogging during this time and it made me feel like I had no business doing it, that because I was “sick” what I worked so hard to learn over the past 5 years was disqualified (which I must say even through it all I never stopped learning). Out of that vulnerability my husband and I saw beautiful things happen in our lives and in the lives of others. It gave us a project to do together outside health issues and brought us closer together. It wasn’t about attention, it was about pouring the little energy I had into something that was worth while.
2) You Did Nothing Wrong: God is not punishing you with depression or anxiety or bipolar. He loves you no matter what and you are not “cursed”. We unfortunately live in a world with sickness and disease and we have to fight our way out (even on days when you have no fight left in you). You need to be your own biggest advocate and fight hard.
3) Mental Illness Still Carries a Stigma: no matter in religious communities, workplaces, or families, it can be very difficult for people to understand and chances are someone will offend you. It is not because they do not love you but it’s just a lack of information and understanding of the symptoms and causes (the majority of mental illnesses are caused by a physical problem). Remember that most people reach out in love even if they say or do the wrong thing.
Again my heart in sharing this (no matter how negatively it portrays myself) is for those going through this, those with loved ones going through this, and for those who have yet to encounter this. There is hope, there is healing, there are doctors who can genuinely help (it’s just finding the right ones). Please do not walk through this alone.. Because you never ever, ever are.
*if you feel like you are struggling with any form of mental illness I suggest you speak to your doctor, pastor, or friend. Please call the Crisis Response Line or visit your local emergency room if the situation is serious*