I Never Understood Burnout or Depression—Until It Happened to Me

– [Ryan Griffith] David and Shona,
thank you so much for being here, and excited to hear
more about your all’s experience. Shona, we wanted to hear from you about
your experience of burnout, and how you, what kinds of lessons you’ve learned from
that experience and maybe how you would counsel others who are
finding themselves in that situation. – [Shona Murray] Well, in 2003,
I lost my Christian joy. I found myself falling off a steep
emotional cliff into a sea of, ocean of
darkness and depression and despair. I’d gone from a strong multitasking,
homeschooling mom, pastor’s wife, and working part-time as a doctor,
to a broken shell, a major crash, no joy left,
just sadness and despair. But the question arises,
well how did that happen? And to give you a
little bit of the background, I’ve been a Christian
since I was very young. I don’t know the exact date. I struggled a lot with assurance
in my young years, teen years, but I’d got to a kind of established state
where I felt more of the joy of the Lord, I had assurance,
and I wanted to be spent in the Lord’s service,
I was very conscientious. My personality was also very determined,
very focused. I’d gone to med school, you know, I focused on
studies, routine, discipline, and all I had
to worry about was myself. So I could work really
hard but I could relax too because of
no other responsibilities. But things were
building up in my life and the other thing that was very significant
is that I wasn’t someone who would ask for help, I always had this view like,
you know, everyone’s busy, I didn’t want to
bother other people. I also had
unrealistic expectations of myself, way beyond what
God has and God did have. I thought I was responsible for everyone
and everything that came into my radar, not just partially,
but 100%. If you’re needy and
you need help, I can help. And, you know, it was ultimate total
responsibility for areas and things that I had, God never
expected me to have. When I got into my 30s,
I was then married, pastor’s wife, working part-time
at night as a doctor, not catching up on sleep
the next day, adequately. I had a seven-year-old boy,
and a five-year-old, and an
18-month-old little girl. I’d started homeschooling and done it for
a year, and again I was very focused. I was very focused on their spiritual
well-being, took responsibility for, as well as David, but my children’s
salvation was ultimate, and I almost measured everything minute-
by-minute with the thermometer, if you like, which
is very unhealthy. We’d just gone through a ten-year church
split, a church debacle, if you like, which culminated
in the church split in 2000, and that left a massive fallout,
like a nuclear fallout. It impacted the Free Church of Scotland
throughout the country, families, friends,
everyone was impacted. I thought I’d got through that very well
but hadn’t anticipated the impact, I live beside aging parents,
felt responsible for them, two marriages of people very close to me
in my life broke up and they were Christians and it was
devastating to me, you know? I’d never experienced that and, you know,
how does that happen to Christians? So, at the same time,
there was a lot of bad news in the world. The war on terror had begun, you know,
2001, I remember watchingTeletubbieswith my little boys and
as the World Trade Center coming down. And at this particular time, I was
swirling in a sea of pregnancy hormones. I was four months pregnant with my fourth
child, and over a four-month period, I began to go through an emotional decline
where I became very sad and very tearful, beginning to feel isolated and detached,
even from people who loved me like David or my kids, like an island,
like a cork bobbing in the ocean. God began to feel very far away. Physically, I began to feel,
I lost my appetite, started losing weight, I started getting a lot of feelings of
fear and terror like a sense of a weight sitting on my chest, panic, anxiety,
an inexplicable fear, I don’t know where did it come from. I knew I wasn’t dying of anything physical
because I understood panic attacks, but I hadn’t
really understood it. This is living terror. And the terror became then very kind of
almost spiritual conceptually, and when I’d be reading
the Bible it seemed worse. I began to imperceptibly,
began to think God was against me, God was my enemy, I became terrified of
God, He felt far away, I wondered, “Was I ever converted?” Satan, I was terrified of him. When I read comforting things in the
Bible, I would drive it all against myself, and anything that was
condemning, that was me. So it’s almost like
I had a slow, delusional state developing that I did not realize because
out with that, I still had my wits about me
and my full faculty and function. I began to plow through books,
Christian books to try and get a solution to this, what I know had come to conclude
was primarily a spiritual problem. I would readGrace Abounding to the Chief
of Sinners
by John Bunyan, andThe Christian in Complete Armorby
William Gurnall, trying to find an answer, but the problem was the more I delved,
the more I studied, the more exhausted my mind became, and I could no longer
concentrate on reading the Bible, so I would sit
looking at the same words over and over again and
I just couldn’t penetrate my mind. Eventually, the whole thing became so
major that I could no longer function, I couldn’t sleep, I was having nightmares,
I was fighting Satan in my mind with Scripture, and then I began to wake
up wide awake like a terrified bird at 5:00
in the morning. At that point, I realized I was broken. The pressures of life,
the stresses had all culminated, like Jenga blocks and that
last one toppled the whole thing. My emotional world had fallen apart. God rescued me
and God gave my joy back, and just to summarize
that, he gave me gifts, graces. I received counseling from my dad who had
been a pastor for years. He knew the difference between major
depression and spiritual backsliding, and he was able to help me see the
difference and that my spiritual symptoms were actually on the
back of a mental breakdown. I received family support through
David mainly, practical help, my family, I even took on a cleaner,
although sometimes I would clean before the cleaner came,
that’s how crazy I had become. And I began to take breaks. I began to make sleep a priority,
exercise a priority, walking by the shore on my own every day
not trailing kids with me and sorting out,
refereeing fights. Walking by the ocean just outside,
the sky, nature, places where previously God had really
ministered to my soul. I also received
the gift of medication in the form of an antidepressant,
and over time, I began to improve. My devotional life
became more realistic. Prayer was so difficult, all I could cry
often was, “Lord, help rescue me.” And instead of sitting for a half hour or
an hour trying to get through, I would take a verse or two verses,
five minutes, sit read it, reread it, pray very briefly: “Lord, help me,
speak to me through the Word.” And then physically get off
my knees and get going with the day. And all these things, God used to help. And the other very helpful things called
CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. In essence, you find that in the Psalms
where David reminds himself that he’s seeing things and is concluding wrong
thing, come to wrong conclusions, but God comes along and
helps him to put the correct perspective and correct thoughts
on the same situation. And I learned that, and I still, you know,
that’s very important in my life. Moving forwards, the recovery of joy,
recovery from burnout is a process. It doesn’t happen at once, it was over
months, even years to some extent. The physical-emotional aspect was
recovered much quicker, but the spiritual took
longer and I began to see more of God’s work
in my life through providence. I was here, I thought I was dying,
I thought my life was over, David’s ministry was over,
and now I’m here. What I dreaded didn’t happen. How did that happen? God did it. And that helped me begin to reconnect with
God, and he has not let me go and that began
to refuel my joy. I learnt two very important lessons. Before depression, before I had gone
through burnout, I didn’t know, I never would have believed that I could
…that could happen to me. Clinically, I had had some training in
psychiatry for family practice and I’d seen a lot of people,
treated a lot of people. I never understood how bad
it was and how deep it was. I guess I figured it was mainly genetic
predisposition or depressive personalities or major life events,
but what I discovered was, I was a happy, outgoing,
energetic, Type A, lively Christian. I wanted to be spent in the
Lord’s service and I literally imploded. God taught me a big lesson:
“No one is strong enough to avoid some of the most common
ailments that afflict human beings. Everyone can suffer burnout,
everyone can suffer depression.” Post-depression, I’ve come to value the
importance of caring for, not just giving out and caring,
but receiving. I need to refuel so that
I can effectively minister to others. And if we’re in it for the long haul,
if you want to live a long-fulfilled, a Christ-serving life,
you have to pace yourself. You cannot run a marathon running the
first mile like the way you would run a hundred-meter dash,
you just can’t do it. I learned therefore that God gives me
graces, fuel that I have to receive every day, particularly sleep,
adequate sleep. Exercise, I was also a child who was
running and playing and energetic and I had to ditch these things
because I was so busy serving others, and my body was craving for a release of
that energy in a physical running around way instead of all of this mental
energy expenditure which leads you into almost like
a constant state of fight and flight and there’s nowhere
for this adrenaline to go. I learned that
important connection and I built a regular exercise
pattern back into my life. Fulfilling relationships as well. You know, in ministry,
as a pastor’s wife or a pastor, wherever you’re serving,
you’re always on the lookout for the people who need someone to come alongside
them, but if these are the only connections you make, you, yourself
are going to finish up drained, and it’s important that you are in a
position of receiving as well. And God gives us other friendships in our
life so that these friendships fuel ours, and it’s not just me praying for other
people, I need other people to pray for me and
this takes humility. And, you know, when I think about it,
pride can sometimes drive us along too, being strong, and I learned that the
humility and the acceptance of God’s gifts is so important to
effective Christian service. There are other things like regular
breaks, family vacations, days off, Sabbath, all these things are important
and David will address these too, but, in essence,
I got my joy back. God gave it back but God used means,
and one of the key things was this temple of the Holy Spirit is not just a living
sacrifice, it’s a temple that needs to be maintained and
that way we keep our joy. – [Ryan Griffith] Thank you.


  1. mental illness…such a difficult topic for Christians to talk about it…but the Church needs to talk about it and provide resources and support.
    Thank you for sharing this 🙂

  2. I am in this. I cannot seem to shake off the feeling that God did not choose me. That he doesn't love me. It didn't start out this way. Arghhhhjjjjhhhh I am so in pain and feel like I'm betraying God's love for me.

  3. Thank you for sharing your deep personal experience. What an amazing model of teachableness! I can see you are an intelligent and wise woman of God! I greatly appreciated this interview.

  4. Thank you so much for this TGC … I really needed to hear this. Thank you for sharing your experience Shona and sharing some tips on what has been helpful for you thus far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *