Living with mental ill health and hope
Shelly tells her story as a member of a London Parish
About 11 years ago, I found myself in a Mental Health Unit as my life disintegrated around me. I’ve always had a firm faith in God and for me, the world just doesn’t make sense without a loving and benevolent Father.
This has never been more true than living with mental ill health - it truly only makes sense with God and His promises of a hope and a future.
My church has been instrumental in me surviving my breakdown and moving through the long process of recovery.
There are 4 main ways that I have been supported by my church family: Prayerfully, Practically, Financially and Spiritually.
Prayerfully seems an obvious one but being prayed for by my homegroup, having someone call me to pray every day during my first hospital stay and having friends come to visit me, to rescue me from hospital food and pray by laying hands, carried me through and made me feel lifted.
My vicar also was fabulous in this area, coming to visit and pray every single hospital stay even when that meant a journey to the other side of London.
Practically there have been so many things! There was a time when our church had a vegetable garden and the person in charge of tending it would deliver me freshly picked veggies most weeks. Others ordered an extra fruit box with their veg delivery for me, others still would do me a grocery shop when times were really tough. And then there were ALL the dinners. People in my homegroup especially would have me for dinner so I didn’t have to cook or eat alone, and there was a time when people would come to mine for a simple meal when I needed to get back in the habit of cooking. When I got my own flat there was a painting party where people came and painted every wall, accepting nothing but a pizza slice in payment. Obviously, all these things also have been helpful financially.
Financially At the start of this hideous period of my life, I was in financial dire straits. Those closest to me in the church were so kind and invested that I was able to open up about this and I was pointed in the direction of some really good debt advice (there are lots of charities providing this service, some of them operating out of churches) which made an amazing difference, I can’t recommend it enough. There were also people close to me who continued to support me in all things budgeting which was also a game changer. My church has covered the cost of me attending the church weekends away, allowing me to make a contribution within my means as my situation has improved, all done so lovingly and discreetly that shame doesn’t have a room to set in. There has also been the odd banknote slipped into my hand or pocket or handbag during the peace at church (it happened last week!) by more than one member of the congregation. Such a joyous little blessing.
Spiritual growth is a huge area of church support.
Along this journey, it has been super important for me to learn to accept help, to take a step back from being that person that does it all, and be able to assert my own boundaries depending on my capacity at the time.
Initially, this looked like coming off all the service rotas I was on, then being asked to do things in a way that respected my no (or yes.) When I felt ready to return to serving on various teams, I was not only welcomed back but felt supported in it too - people checked in to make sure I was ok. Being able to address my mental illness from the front of the church before I went away for a period of time (hospitalized a long way from my home church) gave me the freedom to be real and really changed the way people asked how I am. I would love the chance to do that again from the perspective of recovery (the journey, not a destination.)
Of course there has been the odd faux pas, a confidentiality breach and the odd insensitive question or comment but overwhelmingly my church community have been an amazing, loving support and absolutely instrumental in me navigating my mental illness from breakdown to recovery.