In August 2010 I headed to Coffs Harbour on the mid north coast of New South Wales, Australia, to start a new life. With a six week old baby and wife to a now truck driver, I found myself all alone, knowing no one. The grief hit me suddenly. My husband of three years, Nathan, would drive away at night and I would start crying.
I felt like it should have been the happiest time of my life. I was married with a baby, living at the beach, and attending a Pentecostal church. But it was the saddest, most miserable time I had ever known.
What I was experiencing was more than just temporary baby blues. When I burst into tears in front of a new doctor, I was put on anti-depressants and sent to a psychologist.
I had long relied on my biological family and the family farm. There was security, love, and acceptance. I kept going back to Inverell, a town inland three and a half hours away – the town we had left to move to the coast – the place where my Dad and Mum and sisters lived. I expected things to be better there. Initially, it helped. But over time, it made little difference where I was. I couldn’t run away from my mind. My troubles followed me.
Never before had I been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. But the black dog had me. I felt hopeless. I felt abandoned by God.
I grasped at anything or anyone that might help me. Church leaders, new neighbours, new friends and acquaintances. Instead of being a person suffering from depression and anxiety, I became depression and anxiety. It defined the new me that everyone was meeting. “Some people who accept the diagnosis of bipolar disorder go to the opposite extreme to denial, and see themselves ‘as’ the disorder.”
I was a mother who felt she was failing at every turn. To make matters worse, the doctors and psychiatrists put me on a string of medications, none of which seemed to work. The initial warning sign of mental illness was my mind racing all through the night, such that I got no sleep whatsoever.
Our church was big on quoting the Word. Finding scriptures relating to your situation, and standing on them.
The Bible says;
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down your sleep will be sweet.” (Prov 3:24)
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psa 4:8)
“For he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psa 127:2)
I would speak those scriptures and still get no sleep all night. It was discouraging. It wasn’t that God’s Word isn’t true. It was that my experience wasn’t lining up with His Word.
After getting no sleep I would pack baby Matty and I up and head to Inverell. My family came and got us a number of times since I was in no position to drive. The sleeplessness continued on the farm.
I was having Skype sessions with a private psychiatrist in Sydney. He ended up prescribing me sleeping tablets.
I had a frightening experience one night in Inverell. I hadn’t been sleeping well for a few nights. I was pacing the room when I felt overshadowed by an evil presence. I heard a horrible voice say, “You’re mine, and you’re going to die soon.” I felt it was Satan.
Now Satan is the father of lies and there is no truth in him. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
When I got back to Coffs Harbour, I phoned my pastors, and they met with me. They encouraged me to see my psychiatrist. Pastor Shaun wrote, ‘Whatever the devil says to you, the opposite is true.’ So I belonged to Jesus and I would live a long life!
They gave me two scriptures;
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” (1 Cor 10:13a) and “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7)
I had a vision as I was walking back from the beach one day. I saw Jesus being whipped and yelling out, “Nicki!” Of Jesus having nails hammered into His flesh and yelling out, “Nicki!” He asked me, “Would this depression be worth it if it saved people from hell?” I said, “Yes.” Jesus asked, “Would it be worth it if it saved one person from hell?” I said, “Yes.” Jesus said, “Nicki, I died for you.”
The Lifehouse “Everything” skit from YouTube hit home for me. Suddenly I became the girl who had been tormented by the darkness. “…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jam 1:14). Eyes off Jesus. Stuff getting in the way of Him. I love to watch Jesus in the skit. You can see His desperation. He continues to wave to get my attention. He continues to plead. And it is only when I’ve had enough of the darkness and gotten to desperation point myself that He pulls me out. When I look to Him, He fights for me. He is strong enough to ward off the darkness. But it takes a great sacrifice on His part – His very life. Death on a cruel cross, to ransom and rescue me. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col 2:15) Thank-you, Jesus, for rescuing me!
So spiritually the voice was like an attack of the devil. Medically it may have been a psychosis, as I experienced voices / delusions. This was in July 2011.
Early in the piece, I was on the farm and in my sister, Michelle’s, room. Michelle prayed and she had a vision of a strong man reaching down into deep waters. Slowly he lifted me up from my position; face down, rock bottom of the ocean. The resistance of the water was strong. It was a slow process. But He lifted me up and we broke through the surface of the water, into streaming sunlight. The strong man was Jesus himself.
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters…the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psa 18:16, 18b, 19)
Michelle drew a picture of her vision and included the above Bible verses. I kept it on my wall as a constant reminder that God was healing me.
I became pregnant with our second son, Ethan, when I was still unwell and not on a medication that seemed right. I was frightened. I was suicidal at times.
God knew what He was doing. Having a life growing inside of me assured me that I couldn’t end my life. That would be murdering my baby. I had some terrible thoughts. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the pregnancy.
But things started to get better. Maybe it was the feel good hormones pregnancy produces. It was probably a combination of a few things.
Acknowledging the chemical imbalance in my brain helped me to see beyond the spiritual. A lovely friend from church pointed out that we are body, soul and spirit, so each part of us needs caring for. She wrote up some notes for me about food affecting mood, and some recipes to try. Each Thursday, we met at the Growers Markets to buy organic food, and have a cuppa. Some good foods to eat that contain serotonin include; chicken, berries, mung beans, turkey, asparagus, sunflower seeds, cottage cheese, tofu, spinach, bananas, salmon/tuna and oats.
I joined a gym and started exercising. I started getting monthly massages from a new friend. In addition to medication, I sought advice from a couple of naturopaths. They prescribed various vitamins. Fish oil, B vitamins, vitamin D, iron etc.
In October 2012, after giving birth to my second son in May, I experienced a definite psychosis. Again I had minimal sleep leading up to it. I experienced hallucinations in the form of shiftiness in people’s eyes. When I left the house with the boys, I felt we were being chased and hunted down by evil spirits. I honestly felt that we weren’t safe in the house, that Satan had gained access. I phoned my pastor.
We ended up at a nearby shopping plaza. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was blacking out for periods, like being on automatic pilot. There are things I don’t remember. My husband and a kind lady from church ended up taking us back home. But the torment continued in my mind.
The police had to be called. I was wild in my psychotic state. I felt that if I had to go to hospital, I would go to hell! My pastor ended up driving me there.
I was given drugs – anti-psychotics. The next day, I was still looking at people’s eyes to find the shiftiness. Who could I trust?
I spent three weeks in hospital. Once you’re in there as an involuntary patient, you can’t get out without appearing before a panel of professionals and demonstrating insight into your condition. I discovered I had experienced both post-natal depression and post-natal psychosis. My lack of sleep had led me to see things wrongly and think about things wrongly. And I was probably on the wrong medication.
Now, I am stable on medication. I have been able to reduce the dosage a couple of times. I have come to see that healing comes over time. It is a process.
I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for God. I would certainly have ended my life if I wasn’t a Christian. In some ways I felt like being a Christian made depression harder to face. (But at the same time, facing such darkness without Christ must be unbearable). There was guilt that Christians shouldn’t be down. But many Bible characters were depressed, the best example of which is probably David. Reading Psalms can be an encouragement.
I think I am stronger as a person now. I also think my faith has deepened. Jesus is your rock through the growth days as well as the good ones. You can trust him to be with you and help you.
I am working on a book, a devotional for Mums with depression. If anyone would like to contribute their story, and/or answer some interview questions, I would love to hear from you: email@example.com
By Nicole Jeffery | Author
Nicole Jeffery lives in Coffs Harbour, NSW, with her husband and two sons. She has written an Ark House book called, “Faith Based Travels: A devotional guidebook for the faith-filled traveller”, as well as various articles for women.