When the ground falls away

Trigger warning: This post talks about anxiety, depression and PTSD. If you feel this would trigger you, please feel free to skip this post. The numbers of Australian help lines are included on the bottom.

“…For we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” These words written by Paul to the Corinthians spoke to me last year when I was suffering through a serious bout of depression, anxiety and PTSD. I’ve never liked the apostle Paul, I always thought he was a misogynist know-it-all, telling everyone what to do when he wasn’t even there to see the living Jesus, while Peter, James and the other apostles who were taught by Jesus, get the short end of the stick. That opinion changed after reading 2 Corinthians 1:8 and hearing Paul tell the Corinthian Christians of his suffering after and incident in Ephesus. His words brought great comfort, suddenly this man who is painted as perfect was utterly human, most likely ill with depression and so over burdened, he didn’t think he would survive.

Last year like Paul, I despaired even for my own life. The burden I carried was so heavy and I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t think I would make it. I felt like I was going to die, and it was terrifying. One minute I was well, and the next, down a hole so deep that I didn’t know there was a way out. I wasn’t emotionally prepared to get sick like that, I’ve always been able to cope with whatever life threw at me until I just wasn’t.

It’s taken me a long time to even start to find my feet again, months of medication, therapy and support. If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you can’t rush with your mental health, things take as long as they take. And yes it’s often uncomfortable – feelings are things you feel and for me, I’ve experienced that as tingling in my hands and feet, since I first got sick in December 2021.

Of course there were reasons I got sick – two years of isolation in the pandemic, way too many changes at work, a supervisor I didn’t really connect with and then the accumulation of years of trauma. I also wasn’t very good at reading the signs that I needed a break, in fact even when I knew I was burning out, I kept pushing because I thought I was invincible. But I thought I could control it but the fall was hard and fast, there is nothing more terrifying than losing control of your life.

When the ground falls beneath your feet, everything breaks – your pride, your security and threads of the life you knew before. I found myself in a place of bewilderment, unable to find any sure ground. Only surviving mattered now, making it through a minute and then another until all the minutes added up to a day and then the days added up to weeks, and the weeks months.

In the darkest of times last year, I clung to the only life rafts I had, my family and my faith. Sometimes I wondered if I’d been abandoned by God, and like so many had been earmarked to suffer and die, so absent did he seem, yet there he was, always, working his plan out in me, giving me what I needed when I needed it.

Prayer became the rope that connected me to something beyond my current circumstances, a gift God given to help me find some footing. When I couldn’t find words to speak, I could always find words to pray silently in my head. And so I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, often with groans for help and sometimes with the yells of anger and frustration.

Paul goes on to write that he rejoiced in his suffering because it brought him closer to God, he had to rely on him more fully. While I can’t say I rejoiced in my suffering, I did rely on God more fully because I had to, there wasn’t another choice. I knew somehow he would help me get through the mess, not in my timing of course but in his.

The minister at my church told me that I had to find something to praise God for everyday. That was hard, so hard, how can you praise God when the words are like dust in your mouth? But I tried it and it lifted my heart a little and I started to keep a gratitude journal and write down I wanted to praise God for that day. Some days it was nothing more than I survived the day, or that the cats made me laugh or mum made me a cup of tea but it was something and I think it gave me hope.

When the dark time came last year, faith became less of a feeling, and more of a series of actions – pray, talk to God, read the bible, do a devotional, speak out bible verses. It became about going to God whenever I was overwhelmed, sad, angry, despairing. I told God many times that I hated and didn’t trust him, and I told him many more times that I loved him too.

The bible is littered with stories of people facing adversity and going to God in their rage and despair. David wrote many Psalms where he despaired of ever getting God’s blessing again. Job famously challenged God to explain himself and was surprised when he got a reply. I took a lot of courage from the story of Jacob wrestling with God for his blessing.

It’s okay to wrestle with God, to bring him your hopes, your fears and whether you’re unhappy with him. Learning to strip back the veil of politeness with my faith, was one of the greatest experiences of this journey. God doesn’t want me to be polite, he wants me to be real and if that means telling him I hate him then he wants that too.

Christian’s sometimes sugar coat the hard stuff or beat ourselves up for not being the perfect Christian during hard times. What I learnt last year, is that God doesn’t want this; he wants your doubtful faith, your hot mess life and your raw feelings – bring it all to him. And then wait, because in the hurt and the pain you find him as the light that tethers you and can never be extinguished.

If you struggling and need help

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

In an emergency call 000.