In the early noughties, my life was peachy. I had my own business running a shop and was known in the local community for my skills as a buyer and a seller. I was living with my partner, Jim, who also had his own business. Combined we were earning around £100,000 a year. We also had a big family – he had six children from a previous marriage and I had three. You might say I had it all. I was standing at the cash register in my shop one day when a customer came in. It’s a cash-only shop so she had to pop out to the cash machine down the road. When she came back, I had no idea who she was.
Years later, I discovered I’d developed prosopagnosia, or faceblindness, which meant I couldn’t recognise the faces of the people closest to me, let alone retain the information needed to run my business.
The shop started to go under and, in a desperate attempt to pull it back, I borrowed £25,000 from my sister. Within six months, the money was gone and the business was in an even worse state. My losses were mounting: my shop, my mental state, and now my relationship with my sister.
As well as the memory loss, I was struggling with Asperger’s – as were all of our children. It got to the point where Jim had to give up his business to come home and look after us all. I couldn’t cope alone, but this meant even less money was coming in.
For months, we spiralled further into a financial no-man’s land. Every direction we turned towards seemed to lead to more hardship. None of us were eating properly and we were all losing weight. We couldn’t heat the house properly. Arguments were an everyday occurrence.
Struggling to pay the bills and make the mortgage repayments, eventually we were forced to move. With a family as big as ours, finding a place to fit us all in was a nightmare. We ended up in a tiny place and my eldest had to get his own flat. It broke my heart that he was forced to go, not least because he was having problems with drugs at the time. That wonderful life I’d once had was crumbling.
Having become severely depressed, suicidal thoughts were not an uncommon occurrence. I tried to end my life on several occasions and had a constant image in my head of me hanging from the tree in our garden. I’d find myself waking up in the dead of night, walking outside and just staring blankly at the tree.
The moment of change
It was a man from the council who referred me to Christians Against Poverty (CAP), a charity which provides practical and emotional support to people struggling with debt. When the manager from the local CAP centre, Lorraine, came to visit me at home for the first time, I was the lowest I had been. We were feeding six mouths on £30 a week and my mental state was in tatters.
Jim and I exchanged a dubious look when Lorraine offered to pray for us. I had a Catholic background growing up, but had since moved far away from Jesus. Thinking it couldn’t hurt, we let her pray. That day, in my dingy living room, I felt a light switch on. From then on we knew something had changed.
Sadly I lost my brother not long afterwards, but just before he died, he came back to Jesus. It was a poignant time, and through his death I reconnected with my sister, to whom I had not spoken since I lost her money.
My sister wasn’t well, so Jim and I started walking six miles every day to look after her, since we couldn’t afford to take the bus. These daily excursions started to take their toll, however, and we decided we had to move closer. While we were walking there one day, we came across a bungalow for sale and were chatting outside it when a woman approached us. She told us her son was about to put his house on the market and insisted it was better than the bungalow. The craziest thing? Her son’s house was right next door to my sister’s! Within a month we’d moved in.
I was understanding more and more about God’s love; that he had never forgotten me, even when I had forgotten him. It wasn’t long before I was attending an Anglican church every week. Six months later, I was baptised.
Giving something back
In February 2015, Jim and I were married. Nine months later, with the help of CAP, we finally became debt free.
CAP has this amazing affinity for giving; for selflessness. I wanted to be a part of that and give something back. So last year I trained as a CAP release group coach, to mentor people with life-controlling dependencies and help them find freedom. It’s the most fulfilling thing to see someone released from such pain, and to see them finding God in the midst of it.
Jim and I recently teamed up with our local parish to create a brand-new charitable business, buying, restoring and selling furniture. Named ‘Rebuild, Restore, Renew’ after a passage in Isaiah 61, our vision was born from the same source. The income will go towards maintaining our church and supporting the people who work there.
Of course, the prosopagnosia and Asperger’s still make my life tough, and as a family we still struggle from time to time, but thankfully we’re now stronger, spiritually richer and more optimistic, and it’s all thanks to God. He took my seemingly perfect life, shook it around like a snow globe, and settled me back down, gently and in one piece.
Theresa Henry was speaking to Gemma Pask from Christians Against Poverty (CAP). To find out more visit capuk.org