Why and I writing about this? I hope it will help in three ways. Firstly I hope it will be cathartic to me personally. As an introvert I don’t often share or show what is going on within me. I hope by sharing It will help me. Secondly I hope it may help others locally who are themselves experiencing stress and depression. When you experience it you suddenly start to recognise and understand better what others may be going through. Some may find it helpful to know they’re not on their own. Thirdly I hope it may help some colleagues, as ministers we often don’t share our weaknesses. To know that someone else is experiencing stress and depression in ministry my be helpful.
At the end of May last year I went to see my GP. I was shocked that he signed me off for a month due to work related stress, depression and anxiety. I simply wasn’t expecting that as I didn’t think I was that bad. Looking back I was experiencing a breakdown and I really, really needed that time out. I ended being off for 6 months with the added addition of a cancer scare that was eventually found to be benign.
What happened to lead me to my breakdown? Early on I looked back over the past 5 years and recognised that I had been on a downward spiral for a period of years. I had experienced a number of stressful church issues over these years. Each on their own was difficult but not insurmountable but together they mounted up. Over those years I also experienced a number of stresses that many families face. The cumulative effect on my mental health was entirely different, and to me, unexpected.
Reflecting back I think the most difficult thing was the inability to share openly and the loneliness of leadership. Because of confidentiality and safeguarding there are things that a minister simply cannot share with others within the local church. This can often lead to misunderstanding which is difficult for ministers to handle. Others can sound off to friends and house groups etc. The minister simply cannot do this and rarely can say what is they actually feel and think. There was a sense that others can say what they like but the minister cannot defend themselves. That is possibly the most stressful area of ministry.
I’ve always thought I was fairly broad shouldered and could cope with pretty much anything without buckling. The last year has shown me how wrong I am. If only I’d noticed some of the signs earlier!
One of the biggest stress point was on the Sunday when for the first time I felt ‘I don’t want to be here!’ More on that in my next blog.