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Letters and learning

I possibly did something a little foolhardy last week. I’d been thinking a great deal on the last interaction I had with the person from my church whom I (misguidedly) confided in, when I was at my illest last year year, who subsequently broke my confidence (apparently I was suicidal enough to justify that, whilst leaving me alone, knowing that she was going to do that was absolutely fine…..cue dangerous situation) and made it incredibly difficult to both access the help I needed, and also go back to my church at all. We haven’t spoken since – although I sent thank-you emails after a sermon she gave to the students, she didn’t reply. It’s been pretty awkward. I don’t feel bitter or angry about it (though some of my friends would still quite happily lynch her) – but it felt so unclosed that I needed to do something.

So – I wrote her a letter, basically apologising for putting her in a difficult situation, but also asking that if she finds herself confronted with someone in a similar situation again, that she acts differently, as if someone is serious enough that you need to get someone else involved – they shouldn’t be left alone, and also that if she’s going to volunteer for being a pastoral support to someone, that she honours that by answering emails and actually getting back to them when they need it. We’re all learning – I am learning, you, reader, are learning, and she is learning – but there are some places where acting incorrectly puts someone else in danger, and I think people need to know where they’ve gone wrong so they can do better the next time. Last year was a mess, and no one knows that more than myself. To move forward though, we have to repair what’s gone before as best we can, we have to put the protections in place to prevent history repeating itself. We are all learning. I also said that I still pray for her, and that I am sure God will use her and her faith.

I’m not sure at all what I expected back – maybe just a short note saying that next time, she would better know what to do when faced with someone in crisis, maybe even an apology if I’m perfectly honest. I got a one-line email informing she’d received the letter and no other comment. Harsh? Possibly. There’s not much grace, there.

In some ways, this demonstrates well that I am better off with her having absolutely no involvement in my life, faith, illness, or recovery. It also shows that as I knew, we are very different people, and that I am glad for that, because I wouldn’t want to be like she is. When I first met her, I thought she had such a good faith and was such a ‘good Christian’. Now, I am not so sure. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I am not short on compassion (possibly over-imbued with it, at times) and I am not ashamed to admit mistakes and learn from them. Her reaction says a lot about her, I think. I hope that she does learn something, from our encounter – and sometimes I think that maybe that was God’s plan from it, that something good could come from my deep despair, that someone could benefit from my deep depression.

In other news, I saw the GP again on Tuesday and after hearing (and seeing my panda eyes) that I’ve literally not slept since starting the sertraline, she gave me some zopiclone (non-addictive sleeping tablets) to try. I was pretty wary of them, but after trying one, slept so much better and felt so much more alert the next day, that I think it’s ok to use them to get me through the adjustment period on the new medication. I’m still feeling very nauseous and am generally very flat, but I’m hoping that if I sleep  better (ie at all), things will improve.

I also met with the organiser of the paeds module this week as mostly due to said lack of sleep, I’ve just not been performing that well and have struggled to get everything ticked off. He was so lovely it took me by surprise – everyone else from the medical school has made me feel like a slacker, or a problem, or a weakling, but he was so kind, and knowing that I don’t need to panic quite so much about everything makes a huge difference. Hearing someone say ‘it’s not your fault, well done for getting things in place, and let’s see what we can do to make this easier’ was something I needed to hear. I’m so thankful for him.

So – it’s been a mixed week of blessings (at last, a lovely GP who listens and acts), the paeds guy, and some of my friends, who have been wonderful – and this not-quite-closure of the letter and its response. I feel like I did right though, by writing, even if the response wasn’t quite what I expected.

thanks, guys.

Alongside all the up-in-the-airness of the last few weeks, paediatrics has been really quite lovely. I love children. A baby can get me smiling when frankly, little else will. I had a nice week on neonates, essentially following a doctor and sticking my pinky in babies’ mouths to comfort them whilst they got prodded and poked – and loved it. The hard side of paeds, is, of course, when children get exposed to things they shouldn’t be, whether that’s a serious illness, family hardship and disputes, or more sinister things like abuse. We see all of this – and nothing makes me question those big questions about life and fairness and morality, quite like an abandoned, disabled baby with a history of neglect, does, and such complex needs that few fosterparents will consider them. Some people just are not born with fair chances. I hate that.

One of the things people associate with toddlers and small children are the temper tantrums over trivial things – but for me, this is a good thing. Firstly because I’m patient and young enough that screaming children don’t put me off and don’t make me love them less – but also because when a child is crying because they didn’t get their choice of ice-cream, or DVD, or jumper, or whatever – it means they’re still shielded from the worse parts of the world. It means they are still innocent from the badness and hardship that happens to everyone, eventually. When a child doesn’t cry at those things, because they are frequently  beaten, or hurt, or demeaned, and used to real pain, that’s so much worse. When they stop crying when you take blood because they’ve been through so many painful procedures, it’s so much worse than when they do. It’s difficult, seeing these babies with what the professionals call ‘frozen watchfullness’, before they’ve learned to smile. It’s hard, hearing the sound of a baby withdrawing from methadone, which is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard. It’s hard, seeing the photographs and hearing the stories about the depths to which human cruelty can reach.

We all ‘grow up’ at some point. When I was at school, I remember being jealous of all the other kids who didn’t have a father that drank himself silly or was always on the cusp of violence. I envied their freedom and security. The petty disputes meant less to me, as I had so much more to handle. The arguments over boys, meant less, when I was spending evenings visiting in rehab, or hiding the whisky bottles, or making sure my younger brother was ok. I sometimes think that I grew up far too quickly, and missed a lot of milestones due to my families difficulties, and then started going backwards once I hit 21, and tried to see if drinking the same as everyone else would make me feel less different. It didn’t make me feel less different. It made me feel more alone, as no one else struggled with it as I did. Both drinking and not-drinking isolated me for a long time. My early experiences coloured everything and made me see things in a different light.

I have a happy-ish medium now, in that I am confident in choosing not to drink when I don’t want to, but can also enjoy a glass of wine occasionally without starting to panic about following in family footsteps. This has probably been the single best thing that’s happened this year, as having a healthier attitude towards drinking makes so many things easier. And yes, my early experiences do mean that sometimes I find it harder than others, and that I’m not comfortable around people who have drank a lot, and am actually quite scared of them – but I get by. I’ve found a vague balance.

I was back at the GP’s today, and she really is a good, lovely doctor. She asked me if I’d had bouts of depression before, and now, it’s easier to see that I have had periods of low mood, probably since I was sixteen, if not longer. And when she asked why I hadn’t seen anyone, all I could say was that my family was preoccupied with other things, and no one noticed that I was fading into the background. No one noticed at all. As for me, I thought it was normal, and it wasn’t until recently that I read my old journals, that I realised just how sad and lost I was, so determined to escape. It wasn’t until I came away that I realised just how hard my family life is.

I don’t remotely suggest that my own childhood even comes close to some of the things unfortunate children go through – but I do mourn, when I see that something has stolen their childhood from them irreparably, I do mourn, when I see that they are forced to grow up too soon and act in ways beyond their age. I wish that all every child had to cry about, was the wrong sort of icecream. I wish that all every teenager had to worry about, was whether some boy knew their name. We don’t live in a world of fair chances.

Glimmers of hope

I’ve done five days on the new drug now, and the good news is that although I’m feeling continually nauseous and extremely jittery (I literally startle at every sudden noise in the vicinity)  it’s not making me as dangerously unwell, as my first drug trial did. This gives me hope that this might be a solution.

On Wednesday, we got the scores back for our junior doctor job applications (in a nutshell, you get scored across various domains including ability to write 200 word answers to questions about team work/communication etc, and then choose job options depending on score, with higher ranking candidates getting preference. Jobs which include paediatrics, emergency medicine, neurosurgery are higher ranking, as are jobs in popular hospitals). I’d panicked a bit about this as I dropped some academic marks due to last year – but I got a high enough score that I can essentially apply for whatever I like and be likely to get it, as my score is above the minimum needed for every job in my area. I’m so excited about this – looking at the options and realising that in a year, one of them will be mine, is amazing. It means I can go for programmes with neurosurgery and paeds, it means I can avoid jobs I don’t really want to do in the first year (vascular surgery, urology – urgh) and it means I can stay in my city, where my roots are, for another two years. It kind of feels like a sign that after everything, I’ve come through. It was a good week, to hear this, with all the anxiety over medication.

It’s been quite a rough week as I’ve felt so ill, but also rather lovely as I’ve been on the neonates unit, and despite feeling pretty unconnected to a lot of things at the moment, small, sick babies make me remember why I’m in medical school. I want to look after them. And it reminds me how amazing medicine is, that a baby born at 24 weeks (four months early), can survive, sometimes with minimal problems (though sadly often not). It reminds me of my faith, as Jesus was not so different to the newborns I checked over this week, dependant on his mother, just as we are supposed to be dependant on God. It reminds me of hope, imaging what these babies will grow up to be – the leaders of out future, the workers who will improve the world.

There’s still a lot I need to sort out, as although I’ve managed to physically go to placement, getting everything signed off has been a bit much when I’m feeling jittery and unwell enough that I’m not really that on the ball. This could prove problematic with el medical school. Despite feeding back about my GP app as instructed, the Dragon also hasn’t replied – though she often doesn’t, it still annoys me when that’s her job, and I have questions I need answers to. My mood is still very low, and the sertraline is messing with my sleep a lot so I’m continually exhausted, and not able to do more than an hour or so of anything academic before getting fatigued. I think the best description is that I feel ‘sickly’ – weak, wobbly, and queasy. There’s also a lot of small print stuff to sort for my elective – but I am feeling that little bit better, now that there’s more of an action plan in place.

Sometimes, it’s so easy to feel as though God, in whatever guise you find him, has turned from you. It’s so easy to feel adrift and off the rails, and misguided. This week I’ve really felt that inspite of how difficult these last few weeks have been, both in terms of how I’ve been feeling, but also interms of long-term decisions and fallout, that God has come through for me – I have a high score that will get me a job I love (hopefully), I have a plan to get me through the next few weeks, and I have some brilliant friends who drop their own lives for me when I need them. I would like to feel a bit more on the ball, though!

Hoping the drugs work

I had my GP appointment yesterday, with a new doctor I’ve never met, but who is meant to be ‘good at mental health stuff’ who I was hoping would make me feel more like a person with a problem, than the problem itself which was a bit of an issue last year with stereotypicalgrumpymiddleagedmaleGP.

It’s been one of the hardest weeks I’ve had for a while, though some of the worst things aren’t really suitable for public writing – but believe me when I say that last week was a struggle. I kind of feel like someone’s flicked my ‘off switch’ and I just can’t get it back on – like I’m stuck back where I was, stuck in apathy and exhaustion and endeavour, and unable to climb out. This is not who I am. This is not who I am, at all.

I told the GP that after a few months of almostifnotquiterecovery, I think, or know that I’ve relapsed, and she did a good job of asking for once all the questions you’re supposed to ask someone in that situation, and seemed nice. She agrees that I need to try medication again, and also agreed to let me try another SSRI, so I am now on sertraline, starting this morning, with another appointment to check in next week, and when I need to decide if I need or want to be referred to psychiatry.

I’m feeling pretty dented – but I know that I’m sliding down so fast that I needed to do something whilst I still had enough insight to book and turn up for an appointment. And I’m afraid of what the next week or so will bring, whether this new drug will just push me further over an edge like the last one did, whether I’m really going to lose my grip and ruin things. I’ve emailed the Dragon again to get her up to speed and am starting to accept that I’m going to be entering another phase of endless meetings and trials – but I am also hoping so much, hanging on, so much, to this new tablet working and taking this black mood away. It kind of feels like a last resort, though I know that’s just my messy head talking. I’ve got to be stable before I go to Nepal though, or try to sit finals, or start my first job. I’ve got to be stable.

It also made me a bit sad when this GP was asking a lot of questions about why my family know nothing about last year, or this year for that matter, and why it is that my relationship isn’t as strong as it could be, and why I’m single at the moment. I can’t help where I come from. And yes, sometimes I’m pretty jealous of people of my age with very supportive families, or who are fortunate enough to have found the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with. But my family has its problems, which I manage by finding support in other places, and depression doesn’t really help you find a partner either. She made me feel quite alone, particularly as things with my flatmates are pretty difficult this week. It’s taken almost a year of counselling for me to accept that all the patterns I grew up with put me off trusting people quickly, or wanting to have close relationships that had the power to harm as much as heal, when things go wrong. And I am learning, and getting better at letting people in, and have strengthened some fantastic friendships because of that – but I don’t really need reminding about my lack or roots, this week.

Anyway – at least things are a bit more in place now, I can plan a little easier what’s going to happen. I’m not in limbo any more. I’m a patient again.

Two years of learning

As everything feeling like it’s tumbling down around my ears at the moment, it feels like a good opportunity to write about something different, that I’ve thought a lot on in the last few weeks. Distraction, and all that jazz.

Two years ago, I was finally coming out of a pretty hefty (and probably pretentious) existential crisis. Many of us have these stages at some point, and yet for me at least, my own one felt like something so deeply personal, so totally confusing, that no one else could possibly understand the conflict I was under. This is the human condition, my friend. I had started going to church in late spring, when I suddenly found myself leading a new student charity I’d set up, starting clinical medicine, mourning my first major breakup, and in desperate need of guidance. From the outside, I was soaring – I’d done very well in my neuroscience year, had just finished my term as elected president of one of the universities biggest music groups, and was totally embroiled in my patient volunteering scheme. In reality, I was sinking pretty fast, and using my drive and busy-ness to avoid thinking about things I didn’t want to face. Church seemed like a strange country with a language I didn’t understand – all of these common experiences I’d not had, all of these discrepancies and expectations and exuberance, when I was not exuberant at all.

Being analytical to the extreme, I tried to assuage my doubts by reading as many books about faith that I could get my hands on. By autumn, I’d read all of CS Lewis and moved on to Tozer, and yet still felt so very far from what a person called by God, should be. I fell in love with the familiar rhythms of the scriptures I had heard as a child, but found no chain to link them in to my own faltering courage. As a young person still reeling from difficult family years that were dealt with by pure denial, the idea of a God who saw right through me was just too painful. As a young person who had forged a path of survival by doing a lot of hiding and a lot of glossing over, I felt beyond grace and beyond Jesus. I did not know myself; how then, could God know me?

As I learned more of God in those winter weeks, I ran further and further away. The idea of a distant, obsequeous deity in the sky was one I could handle, someone to follow who did not not look too closely or notice when I wasn’t there. This promise I encountered of a trustworthy, constant care-driven God was more than I could manage. I had little experience of being looked after. I was used to going it alone, to independance and reliance on my own terms. The concept of God as a father pushed me further away; I’d already been there. I’d already been wounded. I didn’t want a God who could see through the layers I’d built around myself. I could not handle a God who knew me for what I really was.

At some stage, my church opened a prayer room and called everyone to go. Being generally quite ingenuous, I took this pretty literally, and, in all of my agnosticism and doubt, with all of my tangles and messes and fears, in I went, always in the smallest hours when my mind stood still and the silence threatened to drown me out. A quiet prayer room, in an empty church, on a November night, with the clock striking midnight, was where I learned to pray. Those prayers were not eloquent, lengthy or self-assured. They were not loud and proud, or certain in audience. They were small prayers, slight prayers, hesitant, stumbling, hoping, seeking.

Somewhere in those quiet, restless hours, I started talking. I starting talking about all those painful things I’d never told anyone – about my family problems and my dad’s alcohol problems and how so often my issues resulting from those made me feel so very cut off, so very isolated. I talked about how confused and afraid my heart was making me. I spoke of my reticence to believe what was laid down in the book open in my lap. It was not easy. And at some stage, I realised that it didn’t feel like talking to thin air, like talking to an empty room. It felt like someone was listening, at last. It felt like someone was caring. It was as though after years of being invisible, suddenly someone saw me. Someone, was there.

That was when I crossed the line between uncertainty and belief, when I changed from feeling lost to knowing that even when I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m heading, God does. God has only ever been gentle with me. I cannot say the same for our world. I am someone in dire need of shepherding. I am someone in dire need, of rescuing.

These two years have not been easier than the ones before, or lighter, or less disorientating, but without my dependance on God and his Son, I don’t know how I would get through the challenges I meet. God binds my wounds when I am bleeding, he steadies my feet so that I can keep going. He calls me through the white noise of depression and sends his star to guide me home. As a medic, I see pain and suffering and loss every single day, and it never gets easier. But with my faith, I also see grace every single day and it never stops coming. That bond never breaks. I don’t have all the answers, or many of them at all – but knowing that someone does, is a comfort. Knowing that there is a plan, gets me through.

Even now, my faith is not a loud faith, a hands-in-the-air faith, or a faith I shout from the rooftops. My faith is the certainty that in my most silent, most dejected hours, there is something there alongside my heart that keeps it beating. It is the hand on my shoulder that stays with me as I mourn. It is the bursting joy that, on the rare occasions that it comes, tells me that anything is possible and that everything is a celebration of creation. My faith is my own.

I got an email yesterday saying that Susie from STPT chose my blog as one of her five picks for the ‘Liebster Award’. Liebster is a German word that means dearest, beloved, or favorite. This award is from fellow bloggers and must be given to blogs that have fewer than 200 followers, which is definitely me! It’s been a really rough week and this was such a lovely perk. Susie, thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone, and thank you for your blog, which is such a testament to the faith of a strong women who is strong in God.

So –  please check out my nominee, Susie, at her blog http://sptp2011.wordpress.com/. Now, here are my ‘top five’ in no particular order, who I think should get this award too.

1) Linda Krushke at http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/. Linda has been a real encouragement to me, and her posts are an endless source of grace.

2) Sarah Moon at http://moonchild11.wordpress.com/. I haven’t read this for long, but I can tell that Sarah is AWESOME. Required reading for any young Christians, male or female.

3) Moon Tree at http://recoveryandback.wordpress.com/: MT just comes across as totally lovely and very determined. I’ve learned a lot from ehr.

4) Debbie at http://iftodaywehear.wordpress.com/ Debbie has also been so supportive in the last few months and I really feel blessed to have her as a ‘blogfriend’.

5) Flo, at http://disabledmedic.blogspot.com/: Flo is at a similar stage of training to me, but with very different obstacles. Her posts often make me smile, and want to do better.

So folk, have a wee look if you’ve got some time, and for my ‘favourite five’, have a fabulous day and pass the ‘Liebster love’ on to another five bloggers.

Still

The last few days have felt both frighteningly familiar, and brand-new, all at once. On the one hand, it seems like every day brings more confirmation that I’m ill again, and yes, I am afraid of being back here, of falling down again. I am afraid.

However, now that I’ve accepted my lapse, and done the practical things (doctors app, seeing ‘the dragon’ today), I’m in a bit of a stalemate  now. Unlike this time last year, when I wasn’t really willing to accept just how bad I was, this time, I’m putting things in place. It’s almost out of my hands now – until I’ve seen the doctor and talked things through, all I can do is keep going and hope for the best. That’s not saying I’m giving up and spending a week with my head under a blanket – but just that there’s not much more I can actively do, now, aside from try to keep things ticking over.

I met L after meeting the dragon today (the phrase ‘glutton for punishment’, comes to mind) and am feeling pretty bulldozered by it. She seemed to start panicking when I told her I knew I was going downhill again, and said maybe I should see someone else – which is ridiculous as I’ve only got a few more weeks till we break for Christmas, after which I’m going to Nepal – and I didn’t really know what to say to that, apart from feeling pretty cross and upset as I wasn’t quite expecting that reaction. I sort of rely on her to NOT panic and be calm – and it threw me off. It’s the first time I’ve felt angry with her. And then she started going on about church healing rooms and suggesting I think about it – which also confused me as I’m really not one for asking for people I know to pray for me, let alone strangers, and to be honest, it sounded like a last resort – as though I’m in need of a last resort. It’s nothing to do with my faith in God not being strong enough, to find healing in these places – it’s that (as she knows) people have inflicted quite a lot of damage by using prayer to say things they had no right or reason to say, and I don’t trust other people with my faith, especially when I’m vulnerable. Not at the moment. And what I needed was for someone who has heard my reasons for fearing medication, to encourage me and tell me that I’ve done right in making these appointments and gearing myself up to try them again. I didn’t need that decision glossing over and marginalising. Her suggestion was so completely out of my range that it makes me wonder if she’s been listening at all, these last few months. Feeling like a lost cause, is never a good thing.

And yes, it’s just this latest drop that making me feel as though the rest of my life is going to characterised by many more troughs than peaks, and yes, it’s just this depression that makes me feel so relentlessly unable to fathom how I’ll manage that – but it’s how I feel, today. It’s how I was feeling after seeing the dragon and being up since 6am after a sleepless night. It’s how I was feeling after finding church on Sunday more painful than its been for such a long time. It’s how I was feeling, as I realised how much I’m playing for at the moment.

I know, that mulling over things isn’t going to help and that there is no gain in regretting past decisions or thinking over mistakes I made – but if I can’t rock up at counselling after a crap week with a pretty big realisation, and cry and say that I don’t know where to go from here, and how I’ll get through another period as black as last year if it comes my way, where can I say that? I have acted to sort this out as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean that my mood hasn’t plummeted, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not devastated at the moment by this latest change.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next week. Part of me doesn’t want to see L again. Part of knows that I probably need someone keeping an eye one me. It’s hard, sometimes.

Thanks to all who’ve been thinking and praying for me. It helps.

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