Blind faith. I’ve had those two words written in my blogging notebook for the best part of year. Following tonight’s hopeful and inspiring #pndhour discussing the ups and downs of recovery from perinatal mental illness I’ve decided to finally put pen to paper on this.
Faith is a strange thing. The baffling idea that we’re supposed to believe in something so fully and completely without any actual evidence has never sat easy with me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been a fully practicing Christian. I love the idea of it but struggle to follow through without proof.
But sometimes it’s not possible for us to have evidence. It’s not possible for us to know with complete certainty how a situation is going to turn out. In fact, life is constructed in such a way that we have to live in this uncertainty much more often than not. And if you’re a control freak like me this is very unsettling.
And if you’re a control freak who is also suffering from a mental illness uncertainty is not only unsettling, it’s terrifying.
The anxiety I experienced when I had Postnatal Depression was crippling. I remember a time when I was supposed to eat but I couldn’t remember how to make toast. Or I could remember but I was so full of fear, confusion and endless, spiraling worries that the sheer idea of getting up and going to the kitchen, putting a slice of bread in the toaster, waiting, buttering it and – worst of all – eating it was utterly overwhelming. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s just toast. But if you’re struggling right now then you may understand exactly what I mean.
When anxiety or depression is that debilitating every hour feels like a week. Time stops having meaning because you feel there is no escape from your suffering. Thinking about the future is unbearable. You simply cannot imagine a way out of this, a future where you feel any differently to how you feel in that terrible moment.
Medical professionals tell you that statistics show you’ll almost certainly make a full recovery. Friends tell you that ‘this too shall pass’ and in a year or two you’ll have forgotten all about it. And blogs like mine will tell you it does get better.
It does get better, by the way.
But where’s the guarantee? Where’s the proof? My therapist told me all the time that I wouldn’t feel this way forever but my anxious mind continually rallied against this: “How do you know though? How can you be sure? When will I be better? When?!” CBT teaches you to look at the evidence, to focus on facts and not irrational thoughts & fears. To not catastrophise. And all of that is absolutely true and invaluably helpful.
But sometimes, what you also need is a big, fat dose of blind faith.
The majority of my recovery was painfully slow but I remember the concept of giving in to blind faith coming to me really suddenly one day. My mind was in it’s usual spin and it all at once occurred to me that I had a choice here. I could carry on as I was – wondering if I’d get better, waiting to feel happiness again and, subsequently, spending all my time obsessing about it. Or I could let go. I let myself have this weird, hippy moment where I imagined getting better, I visualised it, I saw a day where this was all just a horrible dream behind me. Instantly, I felt better. I’d stopped trembling. My stomach had stopped churning for a second. That daydream had temporarily wrapped me in a warm blanket and made me feel safe for the first time in weeks.
I didn’t know I would get better; how could I? Even though all the evidence said I would and I’d already made lots of progress I couldn’t be certain. But what if I just pretended I was going to be fine. What if I just believed it, completely blindly, the way a religious person believes in their god? That made me feel better, if only for that brief moment. There was no way out of this horrible illness so while I had to suffer why not just force myself to believe things would be okay.
I’m not going to pretend this mini epiphany cured me and I was instantly recovered. But it provided me with a comfort blanket. It was another tool in the arsenal I was building against anxiety.
If you couldn’t bring yourself to make toast today please remember that you will get better. Have faith.