Undaunted - Motivational speaker battles clinical depression

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 06, 2012

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A clinically depressed motivational speaker may appear to be an impossibility, but it is Heather-Dawn Small's lived reality.

Women's Ministries Director of the Adventist World Church, Small was diagnosed with the mental condition in 1998. Since then, her illness has been a constant companion as she travels the world to meet and counsel women who are struggling to make sense of their lives.

Small has so far travelled to 96 countries in an attempt to meet with the over 12 million women who make up the Adventist church worldwide. But while these travels have given her the opportunity to inspire women, the stories of abuse and the level of poverty experienced by some of those she encounters, have never failed to trigger her condition — despite the fact that she is on medication.

According to Small, clinical depression manifests itself in a number of ways.

"[They include] having a sense of intense sadness, also not wanting to socialise, not wanting to leave the house, sometimes not even wanting to leave the bed, becoming very emotional about things, crying a lot and not even knowing why you are crying and what you are crying for," she told All Woman.

"It is a very dark time and you try to function. [However], I think that adds even more stress because you are trying to hide it from people and you are trying to behave normal when you know inside that you are not normal. And so you can spiral very quickly to a place where your life seems very hopeless," Small added.

For herself, she has never been ashamed of her condition, although she wouldn't mind being completely healed. Small shares her story wherever she goes, and has come to realise that it makes her appear more vulnerable to the women who are inspired by the fact that she is able to accomplish a lot in spite of her illness.

"That is one of the reasons why I believe God allows Christians to have problems; so we can connect with people who are not Christians on a real level and not be up here trying to talk to people down there," said the women's advocate.

While she has no doubt that God can heal her if He so desires, Small, who is a pastor's wife, said she tends to pray more these days for strength and joy to deal with whatever the day brings. She also takes her medication, although she has been chided for doing so by those who feel she should rely completely on God to get her through the day.

"People have told me to sing songs when I feel depressed. They have no idea that when you are depressed, singing songs and praying are the last things that you have any motivation to do. You just want to crawl into a little hole and stay there where nobody bothers you," she explained.

Small first became the Women's Ministries director of the Adventist World Church in 2001 with a focus on improving literacy and health care, as well as tackling issues such as poverty and gender-based violence which affect a wide-cross section of women around the world.

"We try to help women in these areas and so the main thing for us was educating these women as to what these issues were and helping them understand what issues were in their community," she noted.

Small, who was born in Trinidad, was the Women's Ministry leader for the Caribbean Region prior to going to the World Church. She also served for seven years as the principal of a special needs school she started in her home country.

She was a teacher for 15 years altogether and doesn't disguise her passion for education. In fact, one of the things that struck her during a visit to Jamaica last year was the structure of the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation where pregnant teenage girls are given the opportunity to continue their schooling while preparing themselves for motherhood. It's something she said she has never seen before in all her travels.

Small's visit to Jamaica last year also saw her helping to launch the End it Now campaign in Ocho Rios. The campaign is a global initiative aimed at addressing the issues that women face.

"So we are trying to look at things like dowry murders [and] son preference where a baby girl may be killed because she is not a boy child. We [also] have problems of human trafficking and so we deal with all those issues," she said.

Small noted that Jamaica is not exempt from having to deal with the issue of domestic violence, but she has noticed something she considers unique among Jamaican women.

"I was pleasantly surprised and pleased when I came here and realised that Jamaican women are not docile women. They are willing to speak up, not only on their behalf, but also on behalf of their sisters," she said.

One of the goals of the End it Now campaign is to get one million people to sign the petition to end violence against women. So far, they have received approximately 800,000 signatures and the aim is the make a representation of the petition to the United Nations who has described violence against women as a pandemic.




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