Good News for the Soul: My Struggle with Anxiety and Depression

Tarryn Murphy   |   September 8, 2021 

I remember my first panic attack as clear as day and yet I didn't know that was what was happening. It would take me nearly 10 years to admit that was what it was and that depression and anxiety were a part of my story. I was 24 and had just given birth to my first child. I always assumed I'd be a natural mother given my easy-going, flexible nature. At least that’s who I thought I was or who I wanted to be.

And yet, after coming home from the hospital and the excitement from others dying down, it started to dawn on me that this child was my responsibility. I sat on the sofa with my newborn and watched the day turn into night and as the sun sank so this panic from deep within my gut started to rise. It grew slowly but didn't stop and it seemed to fill my whole body until it got to my throat. It was as if it took up all the space, squashing my lungs and blocking my airways so that I could hardly breathe. My hands were cold and sweaty and yet I sat quietly on the sofa watching the sunset thinking I could fool the world into believing I was that peaceful mother enjoying her newborn. Nothing was further from the truth.

Post Natal Depression is fairly common and around one in eight women will experience it. At 24 I had never heard of it or if I had, I paid no attention because "I wasn't that depressive type". A pattern of not listening to my body followed for years.  It was deeply rooted in me being unable to accept certain identity "labels" that I didn't want to be associated with. I wanted to be strong, capable, stable and show the world my rock-solid faith in Christ. But I have learnt a few things since then that I'd love to share with you:

1. Being strong, capable and faithful to Christ  goes hand in hand with admitting weakness, inability and a heart prone to wander

These things may seem mutually exclusive but I learnt that in order to find the strength I needed, the capacity to cope with my different responsibilities and a deep connected faith to Christ, I needed to learn to admit my weaknesses and allow others into those areas of my life. I needed to see what I was unable to do and recognised that as a gift that tied me to others as God's perfect plan. I learnt that it was not I who held onto Christ but it was He who held tightly to me and therefore I needn't fear.

2. We are embodied souls

While all the issues of man spring from the heart we must not divorce our understanding of the heart from the body in which God chose to place it. Mental health struggles often present as things we readily think of as moral issues but this is not always the case. For example, if you are struggling with anxiety we think it must mean you aren't trusting in the Lord. If you did, then you wouldn't feel anxious? When we make oversimplistic correlations between the heart and our experiences we may misjudge not only to others but to ourselves and become unable to offer the grace and compassion that person needs. The apostle Paul himself wrestles with this struggle as he faces the reality of being a captive to a "body of death" (Romans 7:24).

3. Lean into community

This is completely counter-intuitive. When I was feeling depressed or anxious all I wanted to do was hide away. Most of us struggling in this way are prone to withdraw as interaction with others can be particularly difficult and draining. We think we need to "conserve" our energy in order to make it through the day. While it is fine to re-adjust your social calendar to adapt to your capacity, you should not remove yourself from community. Speak to one or two trusted friends or family members. Let them know what you are going through. Research consistently shows that we heal within the context of connected relationships. Prioritise connecting with Christ and his body.

If I'm honest I struggle with continually needing to learn these three things. Lessons learnt bring freedom but God is constantly at work to take these truths and bury them deeper within my mind and soul. It is in his kindness that he shows us that we never graduate from needing his daily Grace and as we walk with Him day by day He will lead us into life, no matter what dark valley we need to journey through first.

 

Photo by Kent Pilcher on Unsplash

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Tarryn Murphy

Tarryn Murphy is a church planter, mother of 3 and currently finishing up her Masters in Biblical Counseling. She has worked in ministry for the past 15 years and is passionate about helping others see and savour Christ. She loves running, house plants and Sci-fi movies and can be found sipping oat milk lattes on a daily basis.

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