I was a normal girl, living in a normal family in a normal suburb-- nothing special and nothing bad. But my teenage years were a crazy, wild fun fair of experiences. I felt like I was the only person in a dull world who could go fast enough. Extreme highs, extreme lows, extreme decisions, extreme anger, extreme pain--and extremely confused parents! And there were many, many tears.
I entered young adulthood see-sawing up and down. I was the pretty, bright party girl who cried deep, wrenching sobs in my room. I trained to become a nurse and met my husband, who became my anchor through life and brought me into the Seventhday Adventist faith. Our lives seemed to ride a gentle road with the occasional emotional valley, which could always be attributed to life circumstances and the fact that I was "overemotional."
As I entered my mid-30s, I was severely depressed and I began to try and "fix" myself. People said if I could just "get a grip," things would improve. I refused medication and lost my battle month by month. My friendship with God slipped away from me as I sank into a pit of depression. I insisted that I was not suicidal but found death scenarios floating through my brain.
My disconnection from God and the world was complete and I cried without meaning to. The feeling of darkness was overwhelming, and tears filled my eyes and slid down my cheeks--as I fell asleep, while I made my children's lunches or fetched the post out of the letterbox. I desperately needed help--and I wondered why no-one at church seemed to notice.
My husband took me to the doctor who prescribed antidepressants and, within days, it was like someone had flicked on the light switch. Within weeks, I felt fantastic. I was happy, confident, filled with hope, strong, clever, invincible--I was completely manic!
I became aggressive, easily angered and felt as if I could conquer the world. I shopped in an erratic, crazy way. I still have eight bread tins for banana bread I wanted to bake but never did. I have pages and pages of artistic creations I thought were masterpieces at the time.
I managed a nursing unit and worked hours of overtime--until finally my manager called me in to discuss my strange behaviour. She was the first person to ask me if I had bipolar disorder. She was the first person outside my family to reach out to me. She probably saved my life. And still no-one in my church family seemed to notice.
My family and I entered a horrific time. Our lives revolved around my moods. Going to church was often impossible. Psychologists and psychiatrists counselled me and medicated me. Often I could not look after my family and my husband spent days sitting with me on the floor, as I rocked like a mad woman. I was lost, without a firm grasp on "normal." My boys became quiet and careful--also lost. My husband hung onto the ghost of our relationship, trying to look after three boys and a wife who had changed beyond recognition. And still our church family seemed not to notice.
Slowly, I got better. It was years before I could sing in church without crying. But my grip on "real" began to return. At the moment, I believe I am OK.
And now I know that my church family did notice. But they had no idea what to do. They were busy and did not want to intrude. They were unsure and thought someone else was helping us; they were waiting for us to ask for help.
Next time I will ask for help, if I can. Mental illness is terrible and often very quiet. Never hesitate to reach out. You may be shocked by the depth of the need.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. Psalm 40:2.
Kim de Waal is married with three sons and lives in Somerville, Victoria.