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10 October 2021
Keryn is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Victoria, working with her husband, Aaron. Photo courtesy Colac Herald.
Journeying through depression with God by my side
October is National Mental Health Month in Australia. An initiative of the Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA), the focus is on advocating for and raising awareness of the mental health issues faced by many Australians, while promoting better mental health for all. The theme of the month is Mental Health: Post Pandemic Recovery Challenges and Resilience. Below, Keryn Coombes shares her journey with anxiety and depression and how, although she still faces challenges with her mental health, it no longer rules her life.
Words Keryn Coombes
I can’t believe that after almost 20 years, I’m still talking about the moment I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Why can’t I believe it? Because of the one question that bothered me the most amid all the thoughts and emotions that raged through my head during my battle with mental ill-health: “Why me?”
I could never understand why I was going through such a dark journey, battling to face each day and keep my head above water. Really, nothing tragic had happened in my life to reach that point. Here I was, going through a significant mental health battle, with no more than the usual stories of a young woman discovering herself through life’s twists and turns.
I felt so hard done by – not because I wanted something tragic to happen to me, but because there seemed to be no explanation for this monster that was stealing my life away.
I have had anxiety and depression since the age of 18. This illness affected my life the most between the ages of 18 and 30. I suffered both mentally and physically, and this awful, terrifying existence ruled my whole life. I refused to take the recommended medication, and I was more terrified of depending on meds than the illness itself. I self-diagnosed every single life-threatening disease that exists, and I had real physical symptoms to match. I gave up doing almost everything I loved in church and social circles because fear was raging, and fear always won.
It’s funny how we decide to turn to God when we are at our absolute lowest of lows. Yet in those desperate hours, when I wholeheartedly believed I was on the brink of death, I cried out to God and begged him to heal me. That’s how it started. Every time I had a panic attack, I started to call on God. I would pray, asking him to draw me close to him and remove the fear. I became convinced that if I stayed as close to God as possible, fear would eventually flee.
I remember getting angry with God because I was tired of dealing with this darkness. I remember laughing with God when he continued to provide me with opportunities to stretch my confidence. I had begun walking in a constant relationship with him, sensing him working in my life.
I knew that God wanted more of my life in church ministry, but I made many plans to make sure that would never happen. Everything came to the surface as I reluctantly attended a youth camp as a leader. I was encouraged to offer full surrender in his presence as I sat completely broken and confused about why God had not released me from these agonising chains.
I believe I was healed that night because mental ill-health no longer rules my life. It’s not absent completely – I still have some battles. But I know God, I know myself, and I know my relationship with him is strong.
After two decades of suffering from mental ill-health, I know that God has given me a story for a reason.
Without my suffering, I wouldn’t know my God or even myself intimately. I wouldn’t understand my purpose. I wouldn’t relate to the suffering in my community, and I wouldn’t have the compassion to walk alongside others.
I no longer ask, “Why me?” Instead, I say, “Use me”, and see what God leads me to next. Even in the dark places, God has been so good to me. Who wouldn’t spend their lives devoted to sharing that story?
Lieutenant Keryn Coombes is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Victoria.