Warning: I will be discussing issues pertaining to mental health, depression and self harm.
Preface: This particular retelling/updated version of my testimony is the indirect result of a conversation I had with one of the amazing girls I served alongside at Keswick4Kids. Bryony, should you ever read this, thank you for listening to me while I rambled on. You were, and are, a real blessing and it’s a privilege to have got to know you better this year on team.
So, I “officially” became a Christian when I was 11 years old and was baptised on a sunny December (go figure) day. I had been a Christian before then but I have no idea when I made that decision, just that one day I realised that Jesus Christ loved me, died for me and took away my sins.
A couple of months later, I moved across the country to Wiltshire. I spent my teenage years relying on God to get me through school, church, social awkwardness, exams, stress, crushes, emotions and pretty much everything else. So I’m going to fast forward through all of that. If you want the messy, detailed version, I’ll need bribing with a chai latte. The main thing is that I came out the other side with a secure foundation in who my identity rested in, that Christ was my Saviour and that I had a Father who loved me. The fact that I now consider some of my closest friends to be people I once had emotional complications attached to during this time is through God’s grace. There is no other explanation for it.
Then university happened. I spent most of the summer leading up to it believing I was going to this huge mission field, I’d find a brilliant church, get involved with the CU and make amazing Christian friends. Maybe even find my husband there.
That Did Not Happen.
Instead I met some of the most open-minded, loving, kind-hearted, tolerant and liberal people I know.
They weren’t Christian. For some of them, I was their first Christian friend.
About nine weeks into my first semester, I started dating one of the guys from on my course. Though we are still friends today (a lot of healing went on to reach that point), it was a relationship I should not have entered realistically. The first two months were great. I mean, I had my first boyfriend and he was the “One” right? Sure he wasn’t a Christian but that could be changed! I even racked up a £40 bill texting him over Christmas. And then I went back to university and my first sermon in Holy Trinity was God basically telling me to break up with him. I didn’t listen.
So the next 4-5 months became some of the worst I have known. Tears more nights than not as I realised I couldn’t make him become a Christian. I even wondered if his life/the world would be better off if I was in a fatal accident. Not exactly great for my mental health! But eventually I did listen to God, instead of myself. But not before there were casualties. I had the worst birthday ever, falling out with my parents over my boyfriend. I reached the conclusion that I would choose him over them. But God stayed with me throughout everything. Eventually I realised one day I would have to choose between my boyfriend and God. I made the decision to choose God and broke off the relationship after our final exam, though the discovery that he had started social smoking did make it easier.
That summer was incredibly difficult. I must have been a nightmare on the K4K team that year but my friends, including Jon, Esther, Dave and Sophie, were an incredible comfort. Then university started again.
During second year, life with my coursemates was awkward at times but thanks to Diplomacy (a board game), my friendship with my ex recovered. However, my dream house of CU girls wasn’t living up to expectations. I found myself becoming bitchy, gossipy and frustrated a lot of the time. I preferred spending time with more “tolerant” friends even though they weren’t actually that tolerant of my beliefs. However, it was probably the smoothest year in terms of my mental health, though it laid the groundwork for my third year.
My second summer of university I dived into my second relationship. Having spent two intense weeks on a beach mission, a month after leaving the Isle of Man I began dating one of the boys from team. Long-distance! Bangor-Norwich and Wiltshire-Man is not great for seeing each other regularly. Though it wasn’t a bad time, I look back now and see how badly I treated him. Instead of investing in the relationship, I got hung up on how close two of my friends were becoming. This was when my mental health really deteriorated.
Foldback clips were my new friends.
I started off using foldback clips as a means to stop myself crying as my emotions became increasingly hard to manage. Just attaching them to my skin and focusing on the pain until I felt in control again. After I broke of my relationship in the January, this only got worse. I started using compass needles, screwdrivers and my nails to scratch myself. The only housemate I felt able to truly trust confiscated my scissors at my request. I was scared.
I was also throwing myself into life. Sunday-Friday I had the opportunity to do trampolining, CU or Church activities everyday. Saturday was often taken up either recovering from a house party or preparing for one. My alcohol consumption increased with every party. On top of all this, I was working towards a 2:1 and still trying to project an image of stability and sanity in my life.
Christ vs Mental Health: round 1
It was during this time that I almost lost my faith. I was so angry. When left on my own, all I wanted to do in my darkest moments was cut myself. But it was like a physical force stopping me. I knew it was Jesus but this just made me angrier. I wanted Him to abandon me. To just let me do what I wanted to do. To cut myself. To let the pain out. To let out everything inside me before I exploded. But He refused. He never left me. He took my broken, failing health and put it back together.
God the Father also saved me from myself but not without a fight. I wanted more than anything to be a children’s and youth worker. I am so glad that God did not have that in mind for me. Yet for another year I fought Him and kept applying for the wrong jobs. There were so many one-sided arguments, shouting matches, screaming fits and tears. But God just kept holding me.
During that time, two changes happened. 1) I started this blog. 2) I started to work at Stonehenge.
Starting CounterCultural. CounterCouture. was one of the best things I have ever done for my mental health. Though it is not about mental health, giving myself a creative outlet and connecting with people over Twitter gave me an external focus when I spent too much time looking internally.
Stonehenge, on the other hand, was a learning curve. I was incredibly happy to have a job but had not actually dealt with any of the problems from university. They had simply subsided beneath the surface. It turned out that Stonehenge was the perfect setting for a second bout of depression.
Christ vs Mental Health: round 2
I do not know if there was a spiritual element linked to working at Stonehenge. I do believe there are evil spirits and would not be surprised if practices linked to Stonehenge attracted them. But whether you believe in spiritual attacks or not, Stonehenge was not a good place for me. Yes, the team I worked with were brilliant. Yes, there were some lovely people who worked there. But between the misplaced grudges between the Ops Team and Management, the rudeness of the public and the stress of high season, I crumbled. By summer I was beginning to relapse with old habits becoming more and more appealing. I don’t remember when I started being scared of scissors again but it was during that summer. By the end of August, I knew I had to get out.
But then five things happened within a month of each other. You can call it coincidence but the impact on my life was so great I believe it was God. Firstly, I took part in KSFL UK’s #SugarFreeSeptember challenge. Giving up sugar has a huge affect on my mood, health and attitude to food. Secondly, I took two weeks off to volunteer on an archaeological dig as the educational visit assistant (I told kids how to scrape properly, not dig). Two weeks away from the Henge was amazing! Thirdly, during the second week I had an offer for a new job away from Stonehenge! Fourthly, I joined the gym and discovered the power of exercise as an anti-depressant. Finally, I started counselling with Anna in Frome. She was amazing and a source of so much help. My entire outlook on life did a 180 degree turn over September and October. It was incredible!
However, depression wasn’t letting me go so easily. I had to wait for clearance for my new job so couldn’t quit my job until it was confirmed I was cleared. One night in November I sunk to my lowest since university. It was around midnight and I was in my bathroom crying and screaming silently at God. I was gripping my sink so hard because if I let go, I was terrified I would go to the kitchen to find a knife. You see, three months later I still didn’t have my clearance. That light at the end of the tunnel was disappearing and I could only see one way out. In the end, I made the only logical choice (i.e. the only one not involving self harm) and gave my notice despite all advice to the contrary because I could not stay where I was.
That decision, which was out of desperation instead of faith, was so honoured by God. That very day I received the email saying I was cleared and could start work the first day back after Christmas. My last day was 23 December so I even managed to have the full two weeks of Christmas off! That day, Jesus won round 2!
Christ vs Mental Health: round 3
Round 3 is the longest round yet. It started off great as I came to the end of my counselling with Anna in the January and started my new job. Since then I have not had any significant relapses. However, there are still areas I know I struggle with:
- My identity in Christ has never been rebuilt properly since university. I spent so many years being angry at God that much of the foundation I arrived at university with has crumbled away. This leaves me vulnerable to basing my identity in people’s opinion of me, the response of romantic crushes, how well my blog is doing and what I “do”.
- Holy Communion is a really difficult service for me. Because I have felt the desire to scar my own body and spill my own blood, eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood, even metaphorically, carries a new layer of meaning for me. Though I no longer refuse communion, I do struggle to accept that Jesus cares enough to shed His blood for me.
- I find it easier to slip into the habit of blaming God. Though I believe it is better to let God deal with your frustration than yourself ( He can handle everything whether you can or not), routinely being angry with Him leads to a relationship based on negativity. This is where I was for 1.5-2 years and I am still recovering from it.
- My ability to trust fluctuates as I have put more faith in what I feel than in what the Bible says. This is something I am changing by spending more time in the Word and take quiet times more seriously. It does make me volatile and more likely to hold a grudge but fortunately I have amazing friends and family who are ridiculously forgiving of me.
While round 3 has not yet finished, I already know who the victor is. Christ defeated sin and Satan at the Cross. By choosing to be His and accepting His incredible, unconditional mercy, I can and will be healed.
So that brings us to today!
Telling my testimony is something I struggle with, particularly with youth and children. How do you tell a group of teenagers that the reason you are alive is Christ… literally? I was set on the road to answering this question, and a lot of the self-doubt tied up in it, while walking back from a morning session of K4K with Bryony. I’ve never really spent time with Bryony before 2016, which I now regret, but somehow we went from talking about the blog to talking about my mental health. She was such an encouragement and assurance that my relationship with Christ is no less relevant than anyone else’s despite or because of my history. If anything, she gave me the courage to accept that, even though I am still healing, I have a testimony I should not keep to myself. For that, I say thank you Bryony.