“I had always been a messenger of hope; telling others to keep their faith strong and that I would pray for them —but now I was the one falling down a dark pit.”
It was an odd but life-defining moment in my mental health journey. One minute I was sitting next to my husband in church and the next, I was having a panic attack in a cloak room and being hugged by a clown. It was during a Sunday service in 2019, when I received a text from kid’s church letting me know our ADHD daughter wasn’t settling. As I walked into the kid’s area to find out what was going on, I got that familiar feeling: a damming internal narrative, shortness of breath and a sense of being overwhelmed. I started to cry. To cover my embarrassment, I walked into the room. A guy from our team spotted me and asked, “Sara, what’s up?” When I turned around, there was Mikael — one of our children’s workers —dressed in a clown outfit.
Without thinking, Mikael just hugged me. It was a poignant scene as he went from being a co-worker, to a family member, who would offer me immediate support in fight for my mental health. I had my first depressive episode at the age of twelve when my parents divorced and by the time, I was fifteen, I was suicidal. After giving birth to my first child in 2010, I got post-partum depression and I was low for eighteen months. Four years ago, my anxiety flared up again. I thought it was because life was busy, and I needed a break. I had three kids who each had strong personalities, and I was a leader at church — there was a lot going on. I wasn’t really paying attention to how I was doing, because I was caught up being everything, I needed to be for everyone else.
After having a vacation nothing had changed. I was back to having regular panic attacks and crying all the time. I didn’t have any energy and I couldn’t be around other people without my husband. Eventually, I took time off work and saw my GP who referred me to a counsellor — which was weird for me, because I had always been a messenger of hope; telling others to keep their faith strong and that I would pray for them —but now I was the one falling down a dark pit. During that time, even though I let go of a lot of things, I refused to let the depression define me and I felt strongly not to let go of God or my church.
That year, as I continued my fight for sanity, Pastor Brian put out a series on the Hillsong Channel called ‘You Are The One.’ I must have listened to that message eight times. It reminded me that God has chosen me for Himself — regardless of what I can produce, regardless of the giftings, regardless of my responsibilities. In comparison, nothing else really matters. In that same year, Pastor Bobbie spoke from Psalm 16:7, which says: “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me: even at night my heart instructs me.” That verse, and Pastor Brian’s messages, gave me courage.
I also came to understand that mental vulnerability is something I’ll have to guard against and take responsibility for. To counter my fears, I created a playlist on Spotify so I could wake up to worship. I started journaling. I’d write the date and how severe the attack was and what was going on at the time. As I journaled and realigned myself with the truth, I brought the dark stuff into the light and fear lost its grip on me. I became conscious of my inner dialogue. If I heard something on the inside that didn’t line up with the Word of God, I corrected it and re-centred. One time in church we were singing, “In My Father’s House.” I was thrown back into fear of abandonment and had a panic attack right there in the service. The memory hurt, but at the same time, I knew God brought these things up so I would deal with them and He could restore my true identity as a beloved child of God who will always be found in Him. One of my most powerful revelations was allowing others into my world. That’s where the deepest relationships have been forged. From that moment in kid’s church, Mikael (the clown), has been like my brother. They say you can’t choose your family, but you can — and church is the best family you can have — and God is faithful through it all.
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R U OK? Day (September 9th) is the national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that every day is the day to ask. “Are you okay?”