Sarah shares with us very bravely and openly her struggle with mental health and her diagnosis with Autism. She shares some deep wisdom with us about relationship, service, and discipline.
Sarah mentions the verse Hebrews 12:11 ‘No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’
She also mentions a sermon which can be found at stclementskingston.org.au/teaching and the particular sermon was on the 5th August 2018.
Ruth: Hello! We’re here today with Sarah. It’s very exciting to have you here with us Sarah. I always get super excited. OK, so a little introduction for those of you who don’t know Sarah as well as I know her, because I’ve known her for a long time. Sarah and her husband Mark have two daughters in early primary school. And Sarah works as a teacher and she volunteers at church and she plays the piano for church and then she accompanies one choir?
Sarah: one choir
R: Yes I wrote, ‘At least one choir’ I wasn’t sure because she does other things as well. And she works with our Mainly Music team which is little children – I’m telling you all the stories that I’m going to ask her about later. Anyway, Sarah is a pretty busy person; she loves craft; she loves music, obviously, and at the moment she tells me she’s desperately in love with her garden. So that’s Sarah. And I’m going to ask you some questions.
Can you tell me what you do for a job?
S: OK, well I guess my first job is at home. It’s my first place of work – the unpaid version. And yeah that keeps me busy. My paid work is teaching music in a primary school. Which I enjoy. I have a couple of days doing that. And then I also accompany and sometimes conduct a choir, actually there’s two in the area that I’m involved in, more one than the other. That’s part of a national network of choirs. So yeah, I enjoy that.
R: So they’re the super-special choir of highfalutin’ singers or is it …
S: No, it’s a wonderful community choir that welcomes anybody in. And we have a wonderful time together.
R: Singing is so important isn’t it?
S: Absolutely, yeah.
R: It lifts the spirits. Why did you choose to be a music teacher?
S: Yeah I was thinking about this and I guess two memories come up. One is when I was in grade four, I was part of a grade 4 choir class, and I remember the girl I was put next to was sitting there and I would be helping her to understand the work. In my own peer way, teaching I guess. And she was in grade 5. I guess that became sort of normal and so that was the teaching aspect. And I guess I really fell in love with music in about grade 7 when I could read enough music and back before we had all this internet technology and you actually went to the shop to buy your music.
R: Oh we’re showing our age now.
S: But I could actually hear a song on the radio that I liked, I could go get the music, I could read it and teach myself. And that’s when I really fell in love with music. And by grade 9 I knew I wanted to be a music teacher.
R: Wow, that’s really early on. I know that in grade 5 & 6 that’s when I decided that I didn’t want to be a teacher. Because we were so horrible. As a class. It’s nice to hear somebody who’s decided they do want to be a teacher at that time.
Next question, I always lose these, yes, how did you become a Christian?
S: So I was born into a Christian family. I grew up attending church and reading the bible and going to youth group and all those sorts of things. But my faith became real for me on an Anglican Camping camp. At the beginning of year 10 I’d only found out about them the year before, they’d been going for years but I hadn’t heard. So I went on this amazing Anglican Camp canoe camp in year 9 . But it was the last year I could go to this flat water one. So year 10 I had to go to the white water camp and that was more of a challenge that tested me beyond my limits.
The weather was true Tasmanian weather, it was wet, it was dreary, it was cold, it was horrible. This was January.
R: That’s exactly when you want to be on the water
S: Exactly. And just every day. So the days are organised so that you gradually build up. You don’t do the river in order. You do it in order of difficulty. So each day is getting harder and harder and every day I just hated being on the water. And it was just really hard.
On the last day of paddling, the hardest day, when we got into the river the first rapid was already pulling you towards itself. And that day also had a small waterfall. Just another day in the life.
R: Doesn’t sound like fun.
S: And as soon as I hopped in the water I was just like, ‘God I can’t do this. You’re gonna have to get me through ,because I can’t do it.’ And I hate water in my eyes, always have, still do. And at the top of this 1-2 metre rapid that you have to actually steer down, you don’t go straight down a rapid you have to steer your way and follow your instructor to get the right way down. And I get water in my eyes at the top, so my eyes are closed, I’m just sort of doing this. I get to the bottom and my instructor says, ‘I think you got the best run of everybody.’
S: And I’m just like ‘thank you God.’ And the rest of that day, which remember is the hardest day, I just had such peace, I could actually look around and enjoy just how beautiful it was out on the water. And I did do the waterfall. Only once. The people who enjoyed it went round and round and round. But I did it.
And that was the beginning of God being real for me. And everything started from that. I was able to read my bible every day from then on. And just that prayer is real and that God answers. That’s right. And that year I started leading youth group. I started being part of a youth band and just my faith I guess became service as well as relationship. And it just all came from there.
R: Yeah wow, that’s very interesting that you say ‘service and relationship’ that’s two important parts that go together.
S: Yeah, I’ve only just thought about that just then really, and our Sunday’s sermon. They did really go together.
R: Sunday’s sermon can be found at StClementsKingston.org.au? Quite possibly? I’ll put it in the show notes. With that thought in mind, how does your faith affect your life now?
S: I guess, that’s probably what it looked like for ten years or so, being that was fifteen. Now it’s very different.
R: Having two children does change things. You can’t have a one-hour quiet time every morning.
S: No, and I have missed that. I really have. But I think it’s deeper and more real as time has gone on. I think through the ups and downs of life God’s shown himself faithful time and time again. And has really shown different ways. I’ve been really blessed that in some of the dark and busy times particularly of early babies which we had some struggles through those early years as well, that it would be the middle of the night, reading my bible while feeding; it would be music in the car; it would be just being able to pray in the moment, on the go, and hear God answer in the midst of everyday life. It was often the times when I didn’t have time, it wasn’t that I was choosing not to sit and have quiet times, but they just couldn’t happen. But God was faithful in those times.
And then the times where perhaps I was choosing not to make the time and God so graciously pulls back and says ‘no, you seek me’ and I can really see how the last eight years have been cycles of that. Of times where God is close and faithful when my heart is right, whether there’s time or not, and then those times where yeah ok it’s time to put more intentional effort. Does that make sense?
R: Yeah absolutely. And it’s nice that it’s not like one size fits all. It’s like you say, he’s a person, he can say ‘you’re heart’s in the right place but you don’t have time’ or he can say ‘your heart’s not in the right place so let’s do something about that.’ For sure.
And can I ask about mental health?
S: Yes. That’s been, I mean, that’s a journey I’m still learning. And it’s been really tough. But even coming here I was thinking as I got out of the car, I am so thankful for God’s journey for me. I don’t wish any of it had not happened. Because God has taught me so much through the journey.
R: Just for people who don’t know, there’s just been a bit of a struggle over the past few years?
S: Well, many years. My lifetime really, and the interesting thing is that the more I learn, the further back it goes. So the first signs were my first lot of postnatal depression when my first daughter was 8 months old, which coincided with Christmas, which was really tough to take. My daughter’s first Christmas and I was barely there. And that’s something I can’t ever get back. So that was tough.
But just before that postnatal depression the beginning of it was really this sense of, I felt like I was feeling my sin for the first time ever. The weight of it. And I just was burdened by that I guess. And I remember walking along the beach with my eldest daughter in the pram and I just felt so rotten. And I just said, ‘God, whatever it takes. I don’t want to be like this. Change me. Whatever it takes.’ And he very clearly said to me, ‘it’s going to hurt’. And I said, ‘that’s ok, God, whatever it takes.’ And he said again, ‘it’s going to hurt.’
And I’m so grateful for that because I held on to that for the next couple of years. And God reminded me of that over the next few years.
So then I had my first round of postnatal depression and I remember going ‘this is tough, but that’s ok God said it was going to hurt’ and then it got worse. And you go ‘I thought that was it! But oh my goodness, OK, you said it was going to hurt, alright’ And we sort of went through a real dip and it was tough. But God was carrying me through it all and teaching me. It was all training, it was all diamond polishing. And yeah all of the tough stuff was showing me things that I needed to work on and giving me that opportunity to do that.
And then we would kind of have a reprieve and you’d kind of find, it was a survival mode. We didn’t, we really haven’t thrived for years. But we find that survival plateau and have a bit of a rest and a breather and you’d think things were ok and then we’d have another dip.
I would say that I actually had depression just before my second daughter was born which I didn’t recognise until I was looking back. That was 18 months later. So another dip. And just all these times of God just giving what we needed, the reprieve, or the learning times. And he was with me through it all.
After that, it was probably another year or two, another couple of years before I actually, my older daughter was five. So say four years from that first postnatal depression to actually, God taking my husband to India, so that we couldn’t rely on the façade that we’d been putting up where we thought we were ok. But I wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning if my husband was around to be able to manage. And so God took him away so that I had to crash and it was the best thing that happened.
R: He was away for about two weeks?
S: That’s right.
R: And that was just long enough for everything to fall apart.
S: Exactly. But once again, so beautifully, it was on a Sunday morning and I just managed to send my kids into the row at church with my parents-in-law and then turn around and run out the door because I was about to absolutely bawl. And the beautiful women who followed me and cared for me and just there was so much freedom. I didn’t even realise the masks I’d been putting on to just keep going. And so all of a sudden there was so much freedom in being about to go ‘I’m not OK. I’m not coping. And we can’t keep going like this.’ And that was God’s gift.
In our own strength we would have kept going and things would have been worse. But God’s beautiful timing and gift and to be able to just go, ‘yeah, this is where I am’ and to release. So I had a while of not doing anything that didn’t need to be done. And it’s very easy to say no to everything.
R: So you’re saying you weren’t working …
S: I did manage to keep working but that’s the only thing.
R: So no connect groups, no studies, no going to fairs …
S: That’s right, no playgroups, I pulled out of everything, music team. Everything stopped and it was just my family. I was blessed to be able to keep working.
R: And at that stage you went and saw a GP and got a counsellor and whatever.
S: and got myself sorted, that’s right. And that was another thing from my husband being away. I had to wait until he got back. And it was that decision of I’m doing, once again, whatever it takes, this is the journey. And that meant medication. And that was one of the best things I’ve ever done. And that’s been a hard journey. Every time I think I’ll be able to get off it I realise I’m still needing that. I hope one day I will be able to. And I believe I will. But if not, that’s ok. This is what I need for my body to function the way that God wants it to. And so that was just so the right thing to do.
And I think that’s why I want to share things. Because there’s just so much around all of this.
I didn’t recognise I had depression until I absolutely crashed. And I think the night before I crashed I just happened to be googling … I thought, ‘I wonder what stress leave is, I wonder if I qualify for stress leave’ and looking through my work memorandum thing, whatever they’re called EA – the agreement – and looking through for what it was, I didn’t really find anything that was useful but I ended up just googling ‘What is a mental breakdown?’ And I ended up on the beyond blue website and watching a video and just going ‘that’s me’. And that’s how God showed me I had depression.
And so then I just lost it the next day.
R: Knowing where you were.
S: That’s right. But God’s timing, God’s place, God’s way. And it was just such a gift to be able to stop hiding what I didn’t realise I was hiding. And then the journey of getting help, medical help, I went and saw a Christian counsellor, and that was helpful for a season. And that must have been a three-year journey from there. Because I finished with the counsellor but then a little while later I realised that I still needed more help. So I ended up going to a psychologist. And that’s been really helpful too.
And part of that journey is that I worked out along the way that the depression didn’t actually come first. Anxiety did. And untreated anxiety eventually led to depression. Had I realised the anxiety and dealt with that I may never have dipped to depression, I don’t know.
And now further on again I’ve learnt that the reason I have an issue with anxiety is that I actually have Asperger’s.
S: Autism it’s just labelled as now. But not realising that that’s what I’ve dealt with my whole life and now so much makes sense. And I can work specifically on different things that I struggle with. And God is just amazing the way he gives us these little bits. That we can cope with.
R: Don’t have all the information at the beginning. We can just take it as we go through.
S: And in reality it’s been a backwards thing, you know. Depression first, but that actually came last.
R: But let’s work through that.
S: That’s right, and then the anxiety, and then the thing that actually came first. Autism/Asperger’s. So now I can actually work through that.
R: So we’re still in the middle of the journey.
S: We really are. But God is so present in that. The day after I had my diagnosis I remember standing out at the washing line, which is where I often think and talk to God because it’s a bit peaceful, and I’m a bit still. But just getting this real sense of, ‘I’m the same person today that I was yesterday.’
R: Even with the diagnosis.
S: That’s right. Nothing’s changed. Except for understandings that I can work with that actually help me live my life. But I’m still the same person. I’m still loved by God. I still have the same gifts, skills, and abilities that he’s given me. A lot of which stem from Asperger’s.
R: Who you are.
S: That’s right. So that is a real gift too. So it’s been a diagnosis that I have embraced. With those understandings. I haven’t shared it very openly yet.
R: Until now…
S: Here I am! And it’s been a real journey working it out. But I’m very passionate about all these things that we don’t talk about and we don’t know. I’m 37 years old and I found out nine months ago. And if I had’ve found out when I was young …
R: It may have been a whole different ball game.
S: That’s right. So that’s what I’m passionate about. It’s that we talk about these things that haven’t been talked about.
R: Can you tell me when you feel closest to God?
S: It remains the way that I developed in my late teens and early twenties which is through music.
R: That makes so much sense
S: So that one hour devotional time that I had then was putting a CD on and praying through my worship. So often I wasn’t, I’d start by singing the words but then I’d actually sing my prayers. And that sort of thing. And reading the bible and that. So I don’t get that now but I will still, one of the ways when I’ve been really not coping to actually self-soothe and to arm myself has been to go and sit at the piano and play worship music and then through that playing, once again to pray and to pour my heart out to God through music.
R: And your girls love hearing that at night, to go to sleep with Mum’s music in the background.
S: They do, absolutely.
R: Alright, final question. If there was one thing that you could tell the world about God and Christianity, what would that thing be?
S: He’s real. He loves us so much. And he is such a faithful God. That father heart with his children is just way more gentle than I am. I still have so much to learn about parenting from God. But he’s just so gentle and he’s perfect. He knows exactly what we need. But he’s the loving God that doesn’t avoid the discipline. He says that it will hurt but it will be worth it. And the benefits far outweigh the pain. Hebrews 12, I think that comes from.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time but brings all the good things. I forget the next bit. Check it out.
R: Hebrews 12. We’ll put it in the show notes. Thank you so much Sarah, thank you for sharing so openly with us and I’m sure it’s gonna bless so many people. Thanks.
S: Thanks Ruth