It was the late summer of 1990. With two kids under three years old, and a husband who was working 70 hours a week, obviously my wife was going through “a tough stage”. She was having a hard time. I was working a lot, and not really completely tuned in to her struggles.
This stage will pass as the baby gets easier to take care of, I thought. My memory is a bit foggy on the details, but I remember that her doctor couldn’t really help her and she ended up in a neurologist’s office. He suggested an MRI to rule out a brain tumor.
What?! A neurologist wants to rule out a brain tumor?! It sounds pretty serious to me, now 24 years later. I knew then it would show nothing. She was fine. I knew my wife. She just needed to think more positively. Obviously, the results came back from her MRI – all was clear, no problems. I knew it.
She was a good soldier. A ministry wife. She did what she needed to do to serve the Lord and support her husband and church. But the struggles continued. They eased considerably while she nursed each of our four children. That should have been a clue. But, what did we know? We just prayed more.
Ten years later, in the summer of 2000, I fell asleep one night while she was reading next to me in bed. I woke up almost 8 hours later to find her still reading. “Did you…?” I asked. “No”, she replied. Sleeplessness.
She had a woman in her Bible study who couldn’t sleep and ended up in the mental health ward of the hospital. She thought, “what if I can’t sleep?” Sure enough, she started to have trouble sleeping.
When she experienced three sleepless nights in a row, we both knew we were in trouble. It was 2000. Pastoral families were supposed to have it together. Obviously this was a flaw. What was wrong with us? My wife had four children at home, and she was homeschooling three of them. She needed her sleep.
She spent the next night praying, crying out to God, and reading her Bible, along with every note she’d ever written in it. “God, I’m not asking for a ‘want’, I have a need, a big need, I just need to sleep. I have four kids God!” But the sleep only came once ever second or third night. God was silent. We had been abandoned.
And then the panic attacks became more frequent. We didn’t call them that then, we didn’t know. For no reason, in the middle of anything, my wife would begin to melt down. She needed to go home, to quit whatever she was doing. She needed to retreat.
After some terrible times, and honestly, after much personal suffering that I’ll never truly appreciate on my wife’s part, we broke. We were devastated, exhausted, and out of options. I called one of our deacons, who was also our doctor. I called him at home on his day off, because to make it a big deal in the doctor’s office just didn’t seem right. And, we wanted confidentiality. Ministry couples shouldn’t have these kinds of problems.
I explained to him what was happening. “Oh Jeff,” he said, “every single day I see people in my office for the same type of thing. The good news is, I can help your wife, the bad news is it’s going to take about two to four weeks.” Hey, that was ALL good news to me!
I could feel the dread leaving my body, and for the first time in many months, I had HOPE. I had hope that my wife would get better. I knew she was fine. There was nothing wrong with her. She was a wonderful woman, godly wife and mother, my best friend, and a good ministry soldier. She just needed to think positive, I thought.
The diagnosis? A chemical imbalance in her brain. Treatment? A pill. Wow.
Within two weeks she was sleeping. Way fewer panic attacks. Much less anxiety. In several months we had figured out what she needed by way of a prescription, and soon she was 95% better, which was a miracle for us.
Today it’s just called “mental health”. Some people have trauma or abuse, others have addictions. My wife’s only trauma was being married to me – but she simply had an imbalance in her brain chemicals – and when that was treated, she recovered.
Today, fourteen years later, she still takes half a pill, every night. She understands her brain, her emotions, and how she feels. She knows how to manage average anxiety, and she knows when she may be in for a season of needing the whole pill every night. She’s prescribed the whole pill. But mostly, she’s good with just a half.
I’ve given you a thumbnail sketch of what our struggle with mental illness was like. My wife could tell you story after story of her suffering from 1990-2000. Prozac was first prescribed in 1990. All these SRI drugs have been developed since the year my wife had an MRI of her brain. But today they are available for you, just like Diabetics and blood pressure patients have their own drugs.
If you are struggling with mental illness of any sort, please get help. There is HOPE on the other side. All my wife needs is 5mg a night to have her life back. It’s way worth it.
And, for us, none of it was spiritual. We prayed, cried out to God, for years. He was waiting for us to just go to the doctor. Oh, that.
I know that’s not everyone’s ailment and diagnosis, but it was ours. And, maybe it’s yours.
Get help. Call your doctor. Pastors and their spouses need to be cared for too.
This Wednesday on episode 88, we talk with David Craig, Jonny’s dad. David has suffered with Depression for decades, all the while serving as a pastor, and he tells his story this week on the 200churches Podcast.
Welcome to the 200churches blog! We have hundreds of posts covering every issue imaginable. So pull up a chair, pour a cup of coffee, and stay awhile.