It began with heart hammering, dry mouth, sickening dread and a turning away as feet chose to flee rather than face the path they should tread.
Days had passed when conscience, duty and a deep sense of commitment had pressed reluctance aside and forced me forward.
Days spent sink standing while bowls filled to overflowing as thoughts and any sense of time took flight.
Days drenched in sweat-panic, zombie-like trance of automatic responses, care-giving, making conversation of sorts, face and limb washing, giving the appearance of being present while stealing longing glances out the window. Let me escape this place.
For each pallid face and limb of the dead or near dying I washed was a stark reminder of another body laying cold on slab. Out of reach, out of sight, but never out of mind. Grief intruding rudely everywhere as if life is no respecter of it.
Voices giggling, whispering in the vicinity, or are they just in my head? Never mind which, I attend to my patients with all the dignity I can muster.
But I became lost to my surroundings as they pressed heavy with demands I could no longer fulfil.
I sought refuge. A coffee house, library, city centre. Hidden in plain sight. Yet plainly visible (had I been aware) in my nurse’s uniform as I often was after running away again.
Soon, my absences were noted. Soon, I would be unable to move out the front door. My room, my world; my head another world more real to me than any other.
Lost to loved ones. Unreachable. Just as dead as the person whose death sparked my breakdown.
My abuser – a person I loved and trusted as well as hating the things he did – was no longer here to be held accountable and memories rose up to haunt my days and cause me to fall apart.
Months sped by in the real world, yet days stayed the same where I now dwelt in virtual catatonic state.
My beloved kept guard. Refused to allow the men in white coats to take me away. Compromising only in making sure I was seen as a day patient, duly sedated, medicated, assisted, counselled and advised.
For just a few short weeks beforehand we were happy honeymooners. Newly married with life and potential spanning out before us in a glorious vista on the horizon.
Now I was foetal-curled, withdrawn, shut into myself as a way to shut out a hostile world as fear held me tight in its tentacles.
Our marriage clouded with distance and misunderstanding, coloured with pain, tainted for years to come as the stains of shame lingered on.
I remember little of those days. Just the searing shame and stink of failure that haunted thereafter when I began to recover. Confirmation of things I already felt deep down. Tainted already as damaged goods, unwanted and abused child. Tainted further by disgrace (as I perceived it then) of mental health collapse and failure.
God did not cast me off or forsake me. In His eyes, I was worth dying for.
But I forsook God. Stumbled under the weight of my own cross for years. Felt unworthy of love. Hugged the stain and reproach closer as it became my identity.
More years would pass before I could look at the woman in the mirror with anything less than contempt. The image repugnant. The reminder of all I despised, with ‘failure’ stamped indelibly on heart and mind.
The one who God saw as beautiful in His sight, the apple of His eye, dearly beloved – as He sees each and every one of us.
It would take much time, healing and renewal of my mind by Holy Spirit before I could begin to accept that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and He came to set me free from shame and disgrace.
My friend, you may have suffered (or are suffering) similarly with mental or physical health problems that have left you feeling stigmatised, less of a person in your own or society’s eyes.
A mind and a life can be overshadowed and purple-patched by pain. Yet when God’s light shines on it, like flowers pushing up to catch the sun’s rays, there is always hope of healing, new life to come as a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.
Where we see darkness and strangling weeds God sees light and new growth.
And there are no failures in His kingdom, only works in progress by His grace.
Remembering that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…the weak things..to shame the strong…the lowly..and the despised things…so that no-one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
I’d love to share that my life has been one long success story since, but that’s not the case. I am being redeemed and renewed bit by bit, day by day – and some days more evidently than others.
It can take a lot of time, much grace, and the perseverance of saturating ourselves in God’s word for a mind to be transformed in its thinking.
But I am living a life where the stains from my past that tainted mind and heart no longer get the final say in who I am and the same can be true for you too.
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