As the hospital doors swung shut behind me I took a deep breath. If I was serious about never ending up back in the mental health unit then I had to take control of my life and get myself sorted and strong.
It was the last of numerous visits and stays in hospital after failed suicide attempts and self harming. The medical teams were excellent and the counselling helpful but unless I gained control over my own thoughts no amount of work from others could turn my life around. I needed their help but the decision had to be mine.
The decision came as I sat in the pool room, with a dusty pool table no-one ever used. All we did was drink coffee and smoke, these were the days when you could smoke indoors. As I gazed around the room, noticing the familiar faces from previous visits slumped in resigned levels of sedation, I realised this could continue to be the pattern of my life. It can become a comfortable, familiar and non threatening place to be. There is no responsibility, the hardest decision to make on any day was which choice of three lunches I would tick on my menu plan. Yes, there was comfort in the ease of it but it wasn't living.
I decided right there that this would be the last time I would grace these hospital rooms. Counselling and support in place, I squared my shoulders and walked out to grasp my life. It was down to me to decide how the rest of it went.
What I grasped was the increasing trend of looking after number one. Living for self through, self-help, self-preservation, self-focus, self, self, self. So, I got myself a job and a place to live. I focused on being self-reliant, self-sufficient, independent, strong and everything else that was sure to avoid the slippery slope back to the mental health unit.
I did it - I had a home, a job, money, friends (but not too close - don't want to get hurt), boyfriends (for fun - don't want to get hurt) and a couple of kittens to shower real affection on. I was no longer sedated, no longer drinking and I was living my life for myself - and I was empty.
In that cage went my emotions, feelings, reactions, softness, vulnerability and trust - all locked away. My ‘self life’ was a void filled with many ‘things’, life’s trappings that advertisers told me would make me happy. In reality they kept me distracted from the emptiness of a life void of real emotion.
A couple of years later when I let God into my life I began removing the meaningless friends and boyfriends, the drive for money and material things became less important and the emptiness widened like a chasm.
Everything that l was designed to be filled with; love, emotion, feeling, vulnerability, trust, was locked in the cage, bound up with my depression. God wanted me to open it, but you can’t let one thing out without the rest of it. As I grew in faith, leaning on God and learning to trust him there was no longer an option, I had to open the cage and with my emotions, gentleness and vulnerability, the dog of depression came bounding.
I was afraid. I didn't want to hit that slope and slide back into hospital, I didn't want to be in that place again where my life was in my hands. And yet, it was different. All of those things I no longer wanted to face were there before me but I could see them through a veil of being loved and known and held.
The fear of facing what had been locked away for so long had become a huge barrier and stumbling block to me living my life. Human beings are not designed to go it alone and I found I didn’t have to be self-sufficient because I have God to carry my burden. Is life easy now? Of course not, I still suffer from depression, maybe I always will but I have never, in the years since I walked out of those doors, been close to going back through them. I discovered in God that self-sufficiency is a lie of the enemy sent to disarm and weaken us.
I cannot survive by myself, I need God because I need to be vulnerable, I need to be emotional and I need to trust. If I do that alone, if I place my heart in the hands of any other, even myself, the need will not be met but broken.
I had to submit all I had learned about living for self to God, one thing at a time. I quit my well paid, bottom line focused job with no idea what I would do. I ended up as a personal home carer, not a job I would have chosen. God taught me the opposite of the ‘self’ life I had been leading through humility, service and literal foot washing. The pay was a fraction of what I’d been used to but the rewards were immeasurable.
I stopped dating. Men had been my comfort and I needed a constant flow of them in my life. Despite my previously active sex life I knew God was calling me to purity until I married. I had been sexually active since I was 15 and this was a whole new behaviour pattern that I worked on with God. It was this conviction and the scripture that got me through it that eventually led to me writing Let’s Talk About Sex and Relationships, I’d discovered a way of doing it differently and I wanted to share it with other women.
Through my eventual marriage God taught me how to trust and be vulnerable. This was the first healthy relationship I had never known and I didn't know what to do with it. Being loved and vulnerable was alien to me and without the patience of my God led husband and the persistence of God it would never have been possible. I still test my husband to the max with my insecurities and fears but they are less evident than a few years ago and unrecognisable to 10 years ago when we said our vows.
Moving from a life of self to one of submission to God and husband is an ongoing battle. There is still a path of thought in my mind that tries to steer me to be self indulgent and self reliant, but as the years pass, as I seek God and trust in him, that path becomes more overgrown and less used.