‘It’s hard to describe how depression feels. It’s unending grief and terror, blackness and a sense that you are experiencing the world through a dirty lens – everything is dimmer and murkier. The overwhelming experience of depression for me is one of exhaustion. Sleep is never enough to lift the tiredness that seeps into every cell in my body, making every step feel as though I’m trudging through lead.’
–Learning to Breathe, Rachael Newham, p24
In a time when we are supposed to be able to be more open about our struggles, we often find that it’s still too difficult, or too stigmatised, or simply too exhausting. In the case of struggles with mental health this can be even more the case. I picked up Rachael Newham’s new book with interest, adored the cover and wondered how the author would talk about this issue.
Sleep is never enough to lift the tiredness that seeps into every cell in my body, making every step feel as though I’m trudging through lead.
From the start I was drawn in to Rachael’s harrowing and, at times, heartbreaking story. From a young age, Rachael experienced a great burden of sadness on her, a sadness she didn’t understand or seem to see in others. By her teenage years, she was self-harming, unable to bear the burden of this depression her body forced on her, and by the time she was in her late teens she had twice attempted to take her own life.
Rachael weaved her story with beautiful prose and clarity, and as I read I wept for the girl who didn’t know why she simply felt so sad all the time. Many school days were spent in tears, and while her home and school were incredibly supportive, she couldn’t throw off the weight of the pain in her soul. She began to disassociate from people and situations, developing coping mechanisms in order to try and get through the day.
Brought up in a Christian family and a very caring church, Rachael always found God a comfort and help, although that didn’t mean she sometimes felt subsumed in utter darkness. She found teaching she’d heard about healing difficult, her experience not meshing with the idea that God would simply take the pain away.
When Rachael left home to go to university, she found the experience in turns terrifying and exhilirating. At first, she says, she wanted to run away – in fact, she did just that one day, but managed to return because of the care and support shown to her by her family and friends, and the community at the college who were so welcoming and understanding. It was that experience of friendship which would bring her through to a place where, instead of feeling she was drowning and couldn’t manage to keep going in this life, she was now daily ‘learning to breathe’, each breath a reminder of a God who hadn’t abandoned her, who wept in that silence and darkness with her.
It’s not one of those triumphant stories of victory, all fixed up lives and nothing but light on the horizon. But it resonates with me so much more for that. I don’t have a lot of experience with the darkness of depression – I’ve experienced some touches of it when my physical illness has become too much, and on one occasion with some post-natal depression, so can only begin to imagine how crippling it becomes and how life becomes too heavy. Yet our bodies are complex, and our minds and physical state more joined up than we know, and my experience of a life of physical illness and pain has led me to some of the same thoughts and experiences of God’s grace as Rachael has described. I, too, have found it troubling when faith has been held up to be some kind of get-out card; a button to press, an app to tap and then everything will be alright again. I, too, have found that it is in the wildness of the darkest places where sometimes the most dazzling light blazes through, soothing our minds and hearts. And I, too, have not experienced healing – at least, not in the way others have expected and hoped.
I, too, have found that it is in the wildness of the darkest places where sometimes the most dazzling light blazes through, soothing our minds and hearts.
I love the way Rachael pulls her experience together at the end of the book with a reminder about how we as churches welcome and care for people who are struggling with mental health issues. It’s a reminder that there is hope in the most desolate places, and even though churches can be broken and struggling themselves, there is so much to be done and held out to those who need that friendship and support. And when we do this it is such a beautiful thing, an example of God’s kingdom on earth. A beacon of light in the murkiest place of all.
Read this book. It’s beautifully written, heartrending and positive at once. It will help you develop more understanding of what it feels like to live in a world tainted and weighed down with depression, and it will leave you with a sense of hope and life as you walk this journey with Rachael.Beautifully written, heartrending and positive. It will help you develop more understanding of what it feels like to live in a world tainted by depression. #LearningtoBreathe @RachaelNewham90 @SPCKpublishing Click To Tweet
Rachael Newham is a twenty-something thinking, writing, reading, praying and singing theology graduate. She loves Jesus and people and coffee and beaches and pretty things. She writes about love, life, theology and mental health whilst running ThinkTwice, a christian mental health awareness and training charity.
You can buy Learning to Breathe here.
I have a couple of copies to give away! If you’d like to win, please do join my newsletter list below, or leave a comment in the comments section, and I’ll pick some names out of the hat in a few days.