Find out how talking therapy and prayer together helped improve mental health and wellbeing during the festive season lockdown.
“I am not my sister’s keeper, I am my sister.” – Iyanla Vanzant
These past weeks as my mental health started to sink deeper into the darkness of anxiety and depression, I got to fully experience what Iyanla Vanzant meant by her powerful words when my older sister, who lives in Germany, gave me a call to find out if I was doing Okay.
After patiently listening to me for nearly twenty minutes, she realised, with her background in psychology, that it was time to take me on a mental and spiritual healing journey, as I had lost my mental health and physical stamina, and I was about to lose my faith in God.
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All of this was happening during my favourite festive season of the year – Christmas. For the first time in my life I did not feel Christmassy at all. My all-time favourite Michael Bubble’s and Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs were no longer enough to cheer me up and lift up my spirit from the dungeons of depression and anxiety that had taken hold of my mental health.
I knew my mental health had hit rock bottom when daily motivational sermons from Pastor Joel Osteen and Bishop T.D. Jakes together with my weekly trips to my local parish in Wimbledon Village that intellectually resonated with me were failing to reignite my spirit. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.
For the past months I had been working insane hours all by myself to get my new business off the ground, whilst navigating the National Health Service (NHS) bureaucracy to access gynaecological care for a surgery I have been on a waiting list for since November 2017. The surgery was meant to fix a previous open surgery I had less than a year earlier that yielded poor health outcomes, leading me to lose heavy blood clots daily that no prescribed medications and a badly fitted mirena coil could not stem.
To my own surprise, the only thing that appears to reduce my daily blood loss to keep me relatively functional is the Double Dragon Organic Green Tea I buy from Holland & Barrett. I do not understand at all the science behind it, but it simply works for me together with my MegaFood Blood Builder iron supplements and organic hibiscus tea that I take twice daily.
With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, my physical health further deteriorated to the point that I now need another medical intervention in addition to the one I am on a waiting list for. And with the pandemic travel restrictions, I cannot go overseas to access better healthcare in light of my health circumstances that put me at a high risk of contracting the corona virus. And based on personal experience, private healthcare standards here in the UK are simply not better than the NHS.
The much deeper concern that I raised with my sister was that, whilst I was affected by the circumstances I was experiencing, what pained me the most at soul level was the absence of my family, and the way we were taught to pray together when faced with incredible odds.
I raised the fact that since we moved overseas, we have been communicating very sporadically and we are almost estranged from each other’s lives, because somewhere in our psyches we have forgotten who we are as Africans and the importance of community.
I then went on to remind her of all the numerous miracles that defy Western science that people in our family have experienced when the elders of our tribes have come together to pray in unison to God and our ancestors until they see people’s circumstances turn around.
In African indegenous communities, the development of individuals, their talents and life purpose is interwoven with the community’s common purpose, whose health and stability in the physical and unseen worlds depend on the community’s ability to nurture its peoples.
In response to my plea for help, my older sister suggested that we spent nine consecutive days, speaking and crying out to God from the heart for divine healing and guidance by invoking the spiritual power of our African ancestors and parents from all our family lines.
Each evening after work, we embarked on a healing ritual with the belief that God together with our ancestors were all present with us and within us, without knowing the shape or the outcome that our prayer will take, but simply trusting in the healing process itself.
We trusted that what truly needed healing would be revealed to us, as we sincerely engaged in unpacking our life journeys over the last decade through honest and heartfelt thirty-minute conversations before beginning our spontaneous prayers for divine healing and restoration.
At the beginning of each session, my sister who is gifted at praying for people, will set the intention for our prayer. She started by calling on God together with our ancestors to heal me from all my mental health sufferings, to renew my strength and vitality, and to set me free from the forces of darkness that are hindering my life path at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.
We also asked God’s forgiveness for our own shortcomings and those of our ancestors, and more particularly for not having taken the time to honour our ancestors for their souls to rest in peace, and for us to remain connected to each other as family members and to our roots.
As we prayed from the heart every evening, I noticed that I started sleeping more soundly – I no longer woke up at night full of anxiety, my mental health began to improve significantly each day, I felt less physical pain in my body, and I started to regain my inner strength. Day-by-day, I am experiencing a new surge of energy and vitality. Every day I am regaining a zest for life and greater mental clarity.
Within the same prayer timeframe, things started to fall into place and doors began to miraculously open in my life. Feeling reinvigorated by healing waves of positive energy, I was able to figure out the best way to navigate my situation by first changing my life perspective about my current circumstances.
With a more positive mindset and resilient attitude, I cut through the NHS layers of bureaucracy and I directly contacted all members of the interdisciplinary medical team handling my health case at primary and secondary care levels. In less than four days, together we pencilled in dates for my gynaecological interventions that will be carried out very early next year so that I can quickly regain my health. Within the same period, I also received a large refund from my former electricity service provider I had been trying for months to recover. On the business side, opportunities have also started to gradually pick up, and the beginning of next year definitely looks very promising.
As I got better and better each day, our initial prayers for mental health healing and my full restoration became a common prayer for positive generational change in our lives and our family line for us to gain the wisdom and the spiritual clarity we need to improve ourselves.
We used our convening time to start re-assessing individual goals, setting collective goals, and formulating plans for our future. We are also working at defining the practical steps that we need to take daily to quantum leap our lives in the upcoming decade, by unlearning unhealthy behavioural patterns, developing better habits, living more intentionally, and being more committed to our dreams.
In ancient African societies, the method of prayer we spontaneously engaged in is defined as Ritual. In his book The Healing Wisdom of Africa – Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community, Shaman and Scholar Malidoma Patrice Somé explains that:
“Ritual in the indegenous world is aimed at producing healing and the loss of such healing in the modern world might be responsible for the loss of community that we see. The problem experienced in the West, from the pain of isolation to the stress of hyperactivity, are brought only by the loss of community.”
That succinctly summed up what I was experiencing after living in London for over a decade.
Two days exactly after the end of our nine-day prayer, I attended a mass at Sacred Heart Wimbledon Roman Catholic Church, during which the priest, who happened to be African, centered his sermon on the importance of honouring our roots and praying for our ancestors. Linking his message to Jesus-Christ’s genealogy reading, he continued by saying that anyone who does not honour where one comes from has already lost half of one’s value. The message so deeply resonated with my spiritual experience that I knew The Lord in his mercy had indeed answered our prayers.
The sincere prayers and conversations I am now having more regularly with my sister have indeed tremendously helped improve my mental health and wellbeing, they have changed our respective life perspectives and have renewed hope in our spirits. Hope for a better present, hope for a better future, and hope for positive new beginnings.
In Matthew 18:20 of the Holy Bible it is written: “Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.”
As I continue my miraculous mental health recovery with support from my older sister, more than ever I believe in the divine power of collective prayer. Prayer changes situations. Prayer changes people. Prayer can move mountains.