Motherhood and Mental Illness (Part One).

April 5, 2015
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Psalm 42:5
Last week a missions team from Sydney spent the week with our church to serve us and help us run some evangelistic events. One of those events was for mothers called “The Joys of Motherhood”. It consisted of a panel, three from our church, two from the missions team plus a speaker. I was humbled and privileged to be asked to be a panelist, representing young mothers in the trenches of raising littles.
Leading up to the event, I felt both excited and conflicted. I felt conflicted because there are so many other amazing mothers at church with young children. One of my friends has four children and another has three {with one adopted}. I have been a mother a mere two years, with two under my belt {and likely only two, unless God brings an adopted child into our quiver}. So often, I feel incredibly inadequate, confused and overwhelmed in my day-to-day mothering so I couldn’t imagine that I had many “pearls of wisdom” to offer. But for some reason, several people thought I could have something to offer, and for that, I am grateful for their confidence in me and God’s kindness in my weakness.
The few nights leading up to the event, with questions now in hand, I wracked my brain wondering what on earth I could say. There were general questions as well as questions specific to my stage in life. What could I say that would encourage other mothers? What could I say that might show God’s reality in my life as a mother to any there who did not know Him? The night before, I still hadn’t decided on my answers so I offered my words up to God.
I woke up the next morning at peace. I knew what God wanted me to share. There are many things I could have shared about motherhood because so much happens from the day you become one. But what is unique to me? What is my story in motherhood that I know well, from the heart, that I could be honest about and share to unite other mother-hearts with similar journeys?
One of the questions was “what didn’t I expect about motherhood”? Well, I didn’t expect to be a mother with a form of mental illness.
I should have had a clue since it’s been a “friend” of mine since my mid-to-late teens. Unfortunately, I never knew that was what it was. I didn’t even know it was something, it was just…me. It was only until I fell into one of my deep pits after the birth of my son Josiah that my doctor, who had seen it in me since the separation of my parents, kindly let me know that I have a cyclical anxiety disorder and that I would be okay.
It took me awhile to accept that this was true. But once medication started working and I could actually think with conscious action, I looked back on my life since my anxiety began and I could see this was true. Several major events triggered off difficult episodes and in between there were various episodes to lesser degrees.
Extreme anxiety, inability to think clearly, dark thoughts {both spontaneous and conscious}, tense muscles, emotional highs and lows, perpetually fearful of the future, a foreboding that couldn’t be explained, insecurities blown beyond proportion, irrational, stuck inside the mind.
This is, in general terms, what I am like when I am in one of my episodes. It’s a horribly dark place to be and, though not full-blown, is on the periphery of mild depression. And just like most forms of clinical depression, it is something beyond my control. Something clicks or “comes over” me, and for several months, inexplicable anxiety is the state I am in.
Motherhood is difficult on it’s own and no-one who is a mother can dispute that. But only mothers who struggle with mental illness {and any sort of illness} can attest to the incredible difficulty it is to be the mother you know you want to be when you can barely function as a person.
When I spoke at our “The Joys of Motherhood” event, I knew one or two women who struggle with something similar. I can empathise with their story, their courage. But I also knew that there were probably more women in that room that were like me before I was diagnosed – those low feelings, that anxiety, the uncontrollable fear, isn’t that just me? There could be more to this?
It’s hard being vulnerable to a group of women about something quite unknown and stigmatised. But it is also empowering: it helps me own my illness and it helps me give encouragement to any women who might not know, or who might be hiding, in a place of loneliness and fear.
Please come back soon to read how best we can get through mental illness as mothers and encouragement from God’s Word.
  1. Sarah, I'm so glad you were obedient to God's prompting to share of your struggle. As a neuropsychologist, I know how common the struggle is. And if people don't share, how will the stigma ever be broken? Share ON!

  2. Thank you! There is such a stigma everywhere, but I feel the stigma in Christian circles is saddening. There seems to be the mindset that mental illness is purely a spiritual issue or that it doesn't exist at all. I'm not sure where that comes from other than fear, and for good reason, mental illness is scary. But the gospel is all about being sick and it helps me yearn for Heaven more.

  3. Thank you for sharing this issue in an honest and truthful way! I am the mother of 6 and also have an anxiety disorder and I too did not know what it was for many many years! I know why you were chosen by God to be on that panel…you had a message many mothers need to hear. Your journey is important and I am sure you were an encouragement to the mothers listening! Thanks for having the courage to talk about this and know you are not alone in this journey! Sending MANY BLESSINGS your way!

  4. Hey Sarah, Thank you for being willing to tell your story <3. I know it is an encouragement to other mamas! I personally didn't realize how legit chemical imbalances and other mental disorders could be until experiencing the depression that accompanied my hypothyroidism in pregnancy. Until getting the meds I needed, I thought that I was just badly losing in a cycle of sin. Couldn't believe how the proper medication made me more like myself and able to function!! Thanks for shedding light on a sensitive issue. I look forward to your other posts in this series.

  5. Janelle, thank you! It is always encouraging to hear that other mothers go through something similar – not that I would want anyone too, but it gives me hope that someone understands and gets it. I pray blessings your way too, Janelle, and strength in God's grace and kindness.

  6. Thank you for sharing this Sarah. I go through many times where I feel lost and fall into a dark place that is so hard to get out of. Thankfully they are few and far in between but it can be hard to talk to others who haven't experienced it. I have become more aware of mental illness over the years as my mother suffers from a very bad form of it. It has taken me a long time to realize it's not her but a sickness. It is amazing to see the transformation in her when she is on medicine. It has really given me so much compassion for those who are suffering from this. Unfortunately it is not talked of and is hard to share with others. Thanks for opening up on this sensitive topic that I know God will use to minister to others.

  7. Thank you for opening up, too, lovely friend. We are jars of clay, so easily broken and not always functioning properly. When we're in dark pits, it is difficult to see anything beyond our turmoil. Psalm 40 has always been a strength to me. Hugs x

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