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The Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter explains why she hid her depression

todayAugust 18, 2017 17

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You’ve written a very brave account of your battle with mental health, and almost immediately from the start you said, ‘Life hasn’t turned out quite how you expected.’ What happened?

Well, life happened really. I think it’s very easy to idealise adulthood and think it’s going to be something where you’ve got all this freedom and you’re going to be able to go to bed when you want.

But then actually that’s not what life is, it’s more complicated than that, and for me it was depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue, it was relationships not working out quite how I expected, jobs not being quite what I thought they’d be.

You said, “Being an adult looked like a party where there was shed-loads of cake, I grew up and was very disappointed, there was lots of other stuff and not a lot of cake.” How old were you when that realisation sort of kicked into gear and what were the consequences?

I was 19 when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and I think by then I’d already begun to realise it wasn’t going to be quite what I anticipated or hoped for, so pretty much immediate. But the consequences of it, I suppose, was just that I think I drifted through life a bit unsure of who I was, what I was meant to be doing, how life was going to work, why was it so hard, all of that. 

There have been headlines this week focusing on your book, looking at your relationship with your parents and with your Dad and you’ve said it wasn’t easy to talk to them about the mental health problems you were struggling with, why was that?

Do you know many teenagers who talk to their parents? I wanted to deal with it on my own because that’s what grown-ups do.

I didn’t have a very close relationship with them, not for any particular reason, more just simply because I’d stepped away, I wanted to do my own thing. They were in Durham and I was in London, so geographically a big distance.

Who did you turn to?

I don’t know. I had a councillor. I spoke to some friends. I turned to God, largely. Actually at that point when I was 26 in 2012, when my breakdown happened, I think I spent a lot of time reading the Bible.

How did it impact on that relationship with God?

I had quite severe mental health problems for a long time and I drifted further and further away from God. So for a long time I’d say it drew me further away from God; I was very angry, frustrated and hurt that God wasn’t making me better.

Come 2012, I guess I don’t know what happened. I decided to take a different approach. I think it was just the friends I was with at the time. I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and drawing closer to him.

It does have an impact on my relationship with him, I still get angry with him for the fact that he heals other people but not me, but he offers me a hope that no one else can and that’s what it’s all about.

Was your prayer life sustained throughout your period of mental health or did you turn away from God and then come back again?

I’ve had poor mental health for the last eleven years, so it’s come and gone. Sometimes I’m closer to him sometimes I’m not.

At the moment we’re drawing closer after a period of not being very close at all, so it comes and goes. But I think anger works alongside and within relationship as it grows and changes. I’ve had very ill health since I got married- it’s got steadily worse. It’s meant to be a joyful time and I’m a bit like, ‘Come on!’

I thought there would be more health when I got married. I think the anger has been largely been comparing myself to other people who have been healed or who God has done miraculous answers to prayer, whereas to me he seems to go, ‘Nah it’s okay.’

You’ve written in the book that ‘the Bible contradicts everything I say about myself, it says I’m worthy of love, I’m valuable, unique I’m in comparable value to God.’ Why didn’t you believe that?

Well, I still think I don’t. It’s very hard to accept unconditional love when you feel quite flawed and broken.

I think there’s a difference between knowledge and feelings and I think knowing that you’re loved and teaching yourself to know that you’re loved to that degree can help you to combat the feelings that you’re not.

But it’s not going to fix it; it’s not going to take away that doubt – I don’t think. Or it might do for something people but not for me.

Since 2012, since you had that breakdown, what’s God taught you about where you need to root that identity?

Through marriage I’ve learned that I need to accept love, because it’s quite rude to reject your husband’s love and God’s certainly been involved in that.

I’ve written this book about learning to love yourself because I don’t love myself and because I want to learn to.

I’ve got to the end and I’ve certainly embraced myself more and I’m certainly more content accepting love, accepting God’s love and understanding that he’s the one I need to go back to for that grounding.

Has becoming a mother recently helped with the mental health?

I’m not sure it’s helped with the mental health, there’s something new every day! It’s very intimidating and anxiety provoking.

It’s certainly helped with understanding God’s love for me. I’ve been quite overwhelmed with the love I’ve got for my son and quite taken aback by it. I don’t feel like I’ve had a choice in loving my son that’s just been automatic. It’s helped me in understanding God’s love for me.

Is there a passage, or a parable or a Psalm that means a lot to you?

Exodus 14:14 is one of my favourites, “All you have to do is stand and I’ll fight for you.” When you’ve got no energy to fight it’s quite nice to know God’s got your back.

On the darkest days when you’re sitting at the bottom of a pit and you can’t be bothered to do anything and knowing that you don’t need to, is quite comforting.

What would say to anyone listening who’s either battling with this themselves or has a close friend or family member who is?

I’d say, “I’m very sorry”. It’s very difficult to be in either position. But I think if you are the person suffering then I think talking is essential, talking to those around you, those who love you and if you can’t talk to them then talking to the Samaritans, talking to a therapist, talking to your doctor is essential to survival.

If you’re family then understanding that people won’t always want to talk to you but to stay there. People might push you away and that’s fine, let them push you away but only to the point that you’re respecting their boundaries, don’t actually abandon them because they do actually need you and they need to know that you’re there when they need you.  

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Written by: Miriam Emenike

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