Stricken with PTSD and depression after my mum suddenly passed away, I thought my life was over
Jeremy Chan // October 9, 2018, 5:04 pm
Jesus, don’t you care? Where are you? Please take the pain away.
It was Mark 4:35-41 all over again, where Jesus was asleep in a boat with his disciples when a storm hit and threatened to engulf them.
An unexpected storm blew into my life towards the end of 2013, when my mom was suddenly taken ill. What we initially thought was just a fever and flu of sorts turned into seven months of our worst nightmare.
It had taken the doctors three months to diagnose a rare and incurable bone marrow disease; by then the sickness was so severe that we soon decided to take her off medication. Putting her into palliative care was the most complicated and painful decision we had to make as a family.
Within five days of taking her off treatment, she was called home to be with the Lord on the Good Friday of 2014. I have not attended a Good Friday service since.
I didn’t know then, but the shock, guilt, grief and great disappointment with God brought about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The intense emotional pain and anguish also led me down the path of severe clinical depression over the next two and a half years.
My relationships with family, friends, ministry and work broke down as my world sank into shades of grey. Because of the mental state I was in, I had a physical condition known as post-motor retardation (PMR), which slowed down my movement, especially walking.
Despite the medication and all the sleep I was getting, I was always exhausted and uninterested in anything in life. It took 16 months before my physicians got the prescribed medication and dosage right. I was like a walking zombie, dead on the inside but somehow still alive.
And no matter how I prayed or read the Bible, nothing changed. As the days passed by, I grew angry with God. Unbelief was slowly setting in, along with suicidal thoughts. Every day I prayed: “Lord, please stop the pain.”
Even smells could trigger a welling-up of emotions that would have exploded out of me if I hadn’t fought hard to contain them.
Formally serving in the worship team, I found myself unable to even worship amidst the congregation.
How was I to worship God or give thanks for anything after what had happened?
The flashbacks that came with the PTSD were unpredictable and crippling. Seemingly random places such as the mall, MRT stations or certain bus routes … Even smells could trigger a welling-up of emotions that would have exploded out of me if I hadn’t fought hard to contain them.
There was one incident where the song “Amazing Grace” caused three major flashbacks over the following week. During one such similar episode in church service I actually ran and hid in a quiet corner until it was over.
I saw a psychiatrist regularly, and it helped. On days I felt as though I’d hit rock bottom, I learnt to tell myself there would always be the next day, and I just had to get through one at a time. Breathe and sleep it off. This gave the verse “His mercies are new every morning” a whole new meaning.
I know I could have given up on hope many times.
But somewhere inside me, my spirit man was clinging on and crying out to Jesus. Whatever Scripture I could remember, I held onto. God, surely you saved my soul for more than this? You are making all things work together for good, right?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-5)
I believed that God could use this experience of mine to help people who were battling on the same front with depression and suicide, but the road to recovery turned out to be longer than I expected. It became so bad that I decided to stop working and enrol into Tung Ling Bible School‘s School of Ministry.
I learnt to tell myself there would always be the next day, and I just had to get through one at a time. Breathe and sleep it off. This gave the verse “His mercies are new every morning” a whole new meaning.
Tung Ling proved to be a place of rest and renewal, where I could experience the love of God again. During one of our ministry times, someone spoke a word over me: That Jesus was calling me as He did to Lazarus, to come out of the grave I was trapped in. Jesus was going to remove the veil of death over me and I would finally see the light.
I was greatly moved to hear this – Jesus was calling me out! This shroud of grave clothes that I had been walking in would be removed! I would rejoice again.
That was the beginning of two whole years of recovery. I remember meditating on Psalm 139 and feeling greatly comforted that all my days were written before one of them came to be, before the day I lost my mum. God was always in control. He was always looking after me.
It has been four years since the storm started.
I haven’t returned to the working world for the past two years, which can be frustrating and disappointing at times. However, I remember His promises to provide for me and give me peace and rest throughout.
By His grace, I have been completely off all PTSD and depression medication since April this year. I still have intermittent flashbacks, but they are much more manageable now. I even registered to further my studies at Tung Ling Bible School and recently graduated from the School of Leadership.
In the years to come, I would like to help break the stigma of mental illness with my story. To anyone out there who might be in the midst of the storm, there is hope. Jesus is in that storm with you. Caregivers, I also appreciate all your work, prayers and support.
I believe that we, as believers, are often the only face of Jesus that the depressed and suicidal will see. We must share and give them that same hope of life that Jesus gave us. As it says in Luke 1:79, we as His children are called “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Whether life feels too tough, or you just need a listening ear, there is always help available for you when you call 1800 221 4444.