Honest reflections about marriage and mission work when dealing with the anxiety and depression

  • Charlie Clayton

21st February 2016 - A Diary Entry

It only consisted of 6 words, but was one of the most stark diary entries that I had written:

The darkness is trying to return.

I was experiencing a time free from intense depression. The winter months had brought much needed refreshing, relaxing with friends and enjoying time with our quickly growing little boy who was bringing so much wonder and joy to our lives. Yes there was an underlying anxiety, (and yes there were moments where the dark cloud would descended briefly during difficult situations), but all in all, life had felt free for a while.

I had been driving in the car, waiting for Sol to go for his morning nap. Now he was asleep, I decided to park up and enjoy some quiet time taking in the stunning views that Ibiza has to offer.

The early morning sea was like a lake. Beautifully still. The sky a beautiful tinge of purple and blue as the sun rose again on the White Isle (picture above).

Life was peaceful.

Of course it had been a strange winter too. The previous October, we had made the difficult decision to come home from leading 24-7 Ibiza after one more season and we had been planning not only the summer season, but also a house move, a new job and life back in the UK.

This was bitter sweet. On the one hand, I was hugely sad to leave our life in Ibiza, the wonderful friends who we would desperately miss, and a work that was intense but gave the most tangible sense of God that I had experienced. On the other hand, there was a part of me that was desperate for some normality, for full conversations in my own language, for stability, and for being able to feel less of a stranger in a different culture and language. For all the broadening of my character that going on mission in a foreign country brings (I would recommend it), a part of my character that expressed itself so freely in my native language and culture, had felt shut down.

But, although there had been a lot going on for us, I was looking forward to enjoying the final season.

Teams were full, friends from previous seasons were coming out to be part of our final weeks, it was going to be another summer of prayers, conversations and crazy situations. There was a lot ahead, but it was peaceful and hopeful.

And then it came.

The darkness descended. Not the fleeting cloud that might come and go when navigating difficult situations. No, this was the type that when it arrived, was here to stay for the duration.

It came from nowhere. Like someone pouring thick tar down a window, slowly running down my head-space, taking all that was crystal clear and still, and covering it in darkness. I tried to shake my head. I tried to clear my mind. I tried to wipe my eyes. But this was strong. From sitting in stillness, my precious son sleeping peacefully in the back and staring at the Mediterranean sea with hope in my heart, the world had turned black and depression glued itself to my face.

The darkness had returned.

Returning home that morning I knew that my world had changed for now and it would take all that I had to function as 'normal' until the darkness lifted again. I didn't know when this would be, but for it to come now, as we entered into a hugely transitional time, was terrible timing.

And it is the cruelty of depression; you don't choose when it appears, which circumstances it impacts or how it plays out. You just try to battle as best you can to maintain some sort of normality. Shutdown kicks in as you war with an invisible foe who seems to have unrelenting energy.

Little did we know at that time, and hugely regretfully, it was a darkness that would last the entirety of the season (and beyond), paralysing my ability to work, to be engaged in life, to be available. The amount of night shifts I was doing started to reduce until I was not doing any at all, I pulled out of most short term team meetings to the point where I would only really see them in passing. I limited daytime shifts and basically got to the point where I would turn up to speak at church once a week, and spend some time with the long term team. All I could do was cope with life and do my best to nurture and look after Sol in the best, but limited, way I knew how.

Our final season was supposed to be full of enjoying all the time we had left, soaking up the experiences and making wonderful memories, but it ended up being one of the toughest 8 months we as a family have ever experienced, leaving Abby to care for a family and run the season almost single-handedly - taking her to the brink.

But God is gracious and faithful, and towards the end of the season, a wonderful, honest, out-of-the-blue conversation with a lovely couple on our team gave renewed hope of change in our future. They described their journey with mental health and as part of that, how medication had felt like it 'lifted depression from their face' which give room to deal with the underlying issues. This description of 'lifting it away from my face' resonated so much - getting some distance from the fog of depression was what I desperately needed in order to look at it, understand it, and begin to tackle it.

It was this conversation that fuelled our pursuit of support since returning to the UK. It was such a relief to finally hear someone else speak to honestly about their struggle with depression and anxiety, and to learn that it is possible to find a way through it. Hearing someone else's story doesn't offer promise of fixing your own, but it gives courage, and helped me to feel less hopeless. That's part of the hope of this blog - to share honestly how its been, in the hope of strengthening the resolve of others who struggle too.

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