Motherhood & Mental Illness: When I Am Weak

August 5, 2016
This is now part of a mini-series found here:
Anxiety. Mental Illness.
They can be hard words to swallow about myself. But I do.
This week I have been reminded that I live in a frail and fallen body. It’s easy, when things are fine, to fool myself into thinking that I have it all together, that I am strong and able to cruise through life independently and alone. And then, something happens and medication isn’t enough to keep my anxiety at bay: once again, I’m thrust into the whirling pit of a speeding mind, the sense that something is very wrong, intense emotions and a body wound up like an old-fashioned toy.
I have been “fine” for so long. It’s two years since my last pregnancy and post-partum struggles. It’s been well over a year since I have tried to wean myself off my medication, only to have my old friend come creeping back through the brain stem of my mind. Life has trundled along – busy, routine, safe. I’ve been okay.

How I Went Under Again

Last week Tim was suddenly put on night shifts {who knew builder’s could be on night shifts?} and everything was turned upside down. I was sole parenting day and night; I was stressed trying to keep a toddler and preschooler quiet during the day in our small house so as not to wake Tim; therefore, we went out and about everyday. It was a struggle. By the end of the week, the muscles around my shoulders were sore from being tense all the time and, by the weekend, I could feel the unnamed panic starting to creep over my heart, my mind like a deer in headlights.
Now I wasn’t handling things as I normally do. Squabbles, disobedience, dawdling filled me with irritability at best, rage at worst. Long days in sole charge of the kids from sun up to sundown {Tim has night classes several times a week and is gone for work by 6.30am} built that pressure of responsibility to bursting point as I struggled staying on top of it all.
Finally, by Wednesday, I acknowledged to myself that I wasn’t well and needed to stop trying. This brought a sense of relief. It usually takes me a little to face my anxiety; I often keep going as before, productive and ignoring my rising tension. I think I don’t need help. And then, I realise I can’t – –
and I throw myself before God and simply ask for help. “Give me grace, O Lord. I just can’t do this without you.”

Why I Accept This Thorn

And that is what this thorn in my side is really for. God knows me so well. He knows I love comfortable and, more than physical comfort, I crave idolise emotional comfort. And He knows that when I ask, in trepidation, to help me need Him and desire Him more than anything else, the thorn shifts and I’m reminded that it is weakness that keeps us within the safety of His refuge.

Peace and safety certainly don’t come from striving for the perfect life or being the world’s best mother. These are the goals of my flesh. They war with the God-directed spirit in me – the new me – that only wants Him and His ways and His will. These two parts of me grate against one another like the plates of the earth, and it is my anxiety that is the earthquake, shaking me around a bit, keeping me at the foot of the cross.

Nothing in my hand I bring, 
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
Helpless, look to you for grace;
Stained by sin to You I cry –
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

I used to plead this illness away. I used to fight it and deny it and crucify myself for being so weak. I feel shame that I need such a quiet and uneventful life to keep me steady, that such a minor thing like Tim working night shifts can throw me off “my game”.

But part of the valley I experienced after Josiah’s birth helped me see it with a humble heart. I saw this world and our broken bodies differently, for what they are – tents, that flap in the wind a bit, and which pegs sometimes get ripped out of the earth. We are clay vessels, we’re easily broken.

Grace Upon Grace

Our culture emulates perfection – perfect bodies, perfect jobs, perfect families, perfect wealth. But what a lie. We will always come against the fallen. This world is not meant to be it.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

… So the power of Christ may rest on me. Did you hear that? We aren’t meant to strive in our brokenness. Rather, we are meant to rest in His grace, His power, His mercy, His blood. We can acknowledge who and what we really are, and divorce ourselves from perfection. We are to pursue holiness, but that is not the same as pursuing perfection. We are to pursue being a set apart people, who trust and obey God.
Now, however much I hate my illness, I accept it. I embrace it. I acknowledge that it is a gift from God. Yes. A gift. I would rather be sick, on my face before the throne of God in desperate need of Him, than cruising through life thinking I’m awesome and invincible. I would rather see myself as a weak wife and mother, than sit on my high horse, not able to be real and in the trenches with other needy women. I would rather experience the Gospel in pain than understand it in perfect theology, sitting comfortably, unscathed by broken. I am really, really grateful I’m broken. It makes me need Jesus.

Do you struggle with anxiety or another form of mental illness? How do you accept it as a struggling mother?

  1. So, so, so, so many good and deep thoughts here, we would have to meet for tea to have the time to discuss it all.
    I'm praising God with you for all He is teaching you through your difficulties. I wondered if you were okay, since I haven't seen your presence in my blog lately. I pray that you will continue to find peace in surrendering all, every moment, to God.
    Sweet sister, God is for you. He delights in you. You are on His mind 24/7. He loves you.
    I pray that His joy will fill you as you live your life in humble adoration of Him.
    You might enjoy reading a post I wrote back in May on this subject:
    Have a glory-filled week.
    Love in Christ,

  2. Lovely Ruth! I am doing okay. There is some anxiety still hanging around, the unexplainable type. But I'm good, asking God to help me give myself grace, keep my head down. During times like these, the verses from 1 Thess 4:11 are the guiding post of my life: living a quiet life, working with my hands and minding my own business. I find the internet can be a noisy place so I need to keep my distance. But I'm heading your way right now x

  3. Thank you for continuing to share hope and encouragement with the world! My heart and prayers are with you! I loved the image, too, and shared it to pinterest!
    Blessings and smiles,

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this Sarah. For opening up and being vulnerable. I often go through times when there are so many hard things going on that I just can't handle it and break down. But it really does bring me to the cross and helps me to see how much I need him. You are right, it's better to be weak or broken and at the cross than to think we have it all together and far away from him. One of the things that constantly brings me to the cross is trying to help my mom who has a very serious mental illness. I don't know anyone else who talks about mental illness so thanks.

  5. Sarah, I too experienced the difficulties and struggles that go with a husband being put on the night shift, and getting to the place where we give ourselves slack and press into God for grace to fill the gaps is such a sweet place to dwell. Our perspective changes as we open ourselves up to His help and His leading. So glad you are sharing this message and would love for you to share on Fresh Market Friday! Much needed message.

  6. Me too, lovely friend, me too. Well done you, being there for your mother. Mental illness can be really scary and lonely – but having someone there, keeping company or simply praying makes all the difference.

  7. Oh, night shift was hard – never, ever again, God willing! Giving ourselves slack and GRACE, pressing into Jesus, makes all the difference. I will come over and see your link-up! Thank you for blessing me with your comment x

  8. Sarah, thank you for this. I am speaking as an adult child with a parent who has a mental illness (BPD) – I want to encourage you by telling you that actually acknowledging that there is a problem and being brave enough to seek help is a HUGE step – both for you and your family. My parent with the illness has never acknowledged the problem, therefor has never sought help. After 25+ years of me trying to cope, I've had to distance myself. It would have been easier to cope IF this parent had admitted the problem. So, kudos to you, sister! It takes courage to acknowledge and to seek help. May God bless you because of your selfless courage.
    Thanks for linking up with Grace and Truth.

  9. Aimee, I think one of my parents has a mental illness as well, or at least, has it periodically. The pain that comes from having to distance ourselves emotionally to our own parents is really, really hard. I can completely relate. Thank you for encouraging me, friend x

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