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Archive for June, 2011

I’m at home for a week at the moment after really needing a break from my university city – at the moment, with the amount of spare time I have, it’s just too full of ghosts from the past year. I needed to get somewhere different, and as the friends in other cities, who I would usually target for a few days, are all away or busy at the moment, I’m home with my parents.

I’m kind of used to feeling like a stranger when I’m home, and a square peg, but this week is tough and although I’ve only been here two days,  I want to be back. I really don’t want to just rant about what it’s like at the moment as  I don’t think that helps anyone  – but sometimes, I sort of wish I had a family unit who accepted me as I am, a family who still stood by me when for whatever reason, they realise I’m not just a pile of academic achievements and good exam results. A family who knew that that’s only one part of me, the most superficial layer, who didn’t make me feel so broken and damaged, so weak and washed out. Sometimes I think that this year of depression isn’t even the real problem, as with time, moods lift and that weight of sadness fades, whereas all this damage  amassed over the years is here to stay. Being home always knocks me back, I know that – but every time, I sort of think it might be different, that somewhere along the line, somehow, I’ll come back to find a house that doesn’t seem to be collapsing in on itself, where secrets lay across the floorboards and cry out whenever you put a foot wrong. I come here and feel myself growing down, feeling once again like the child I was, confused by the drinking and the mindgames, desperately yearning for stability. I feel raw and vulnerable, as though this house strips me of my armour before I come in, and on cue, I shrink and wither. I hate it. I really, really hate it.

Anyway, I hope you are having a better week than I am! I do have another post I’ve been thinking on – it just doesn’t quite fit in with how I’m feeling at the moment. In a day or two, perhaps.

 

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Although I am generally more of a Jeremiah girl than an Isaiah one, I’ve been thinking about this particular book and its prophet a lot recently. Isaiah, like most of the prophets of the Old Testament, doesn’t get much air time in an average church – he’s brought out at Easter and Christmas to remind us that, as Christians, we believe that Jesus’ coming and actions were predicted long before his birth, that promises and prophecies do come true, and that with him, the harshness Mosaic law died to the gift of grace, the gift of the Son, but aside from that, he’s kind of like the weird spices you buy on a whim that just sit on a shelf gathering dust, out of sight behind the ubiquitous mixed herbs and chilli powder, just waiting for the day when you’ll get your act together and cook up something a bit different.

I sort of forget sometimes that although my Bible is in a single, nice, portable volume, that’s not how it was written – that the little book I carry about with me represents centuries of documentation, hundreds of authors, thousands of revisions. There’s something amazing about knowing that the apostles (the Jewish ones, at least) would have read the OT as I do (and much more regularly, I imagine!), that they would have read about Elijah and his fierceness for the Lord, and Jeremiah and his tentative courage, and Isaiah, the picture of zealousness, with his strange visions of a man, pierced and beaten for the sins of the Earth, sent for redemption and returned broken and bleeding, to God. And, inspite of Jesus laying down history in front of them, like a well played hand at cards, they would still fail to make the connection, they would still fail to realise that the prophecies they had heard from the cradle, were being fulfilled before their very eyes, under their roofs and around their tables. The old has gone, the new, has come.

I was thinking about the eagles in the last part of Isaiah 40 again this week, about running and not growing weary, and walking without stumbling. In the last few weeks, despite feeling so much better, something still hasn’t been sitting right. I’ve been feeling so much better, making plans for moving forward, getting new projects on the go, and thinking of how to reduce the impact of this year – but something still felt like it was jarring, sticking somewhere. This passage cast some illumination on that unease, as, to some extent. I got through the depths of depression by relying a lot on my faith, weak as it was – and then, once it started, finally to lift, it was as though I turned to God and told him ‘I’ll take things from here, cheers for the help, but now, I’ll go my own way. Again. I’ve got this under control’.

I do not have this under control.

God doesn’t just sustain me when I’m at breaking point – he sustains me every day. I need to stop thinking I can act out of my own strength, and get by without His input, aside from when things crumble and I get truly desperate. He’s not a last-chance God that I stick on a shelf until all other avenues have failed – I need to get better at relying on Him permanently, through the easier times as well as the hard ones. I’ve made myself busy with all these plans, but I haven’t really prayed about them, or relied on God’s hand to guide me through the decisions, and because of that, once again I find myself wearying and tiring. Depending on God is something I don’t find easy – having grown up being fiercely independent, making my own decisions and not really having anyone to ask for guidance, learning to pray and ask for this, and to stop being so self-reliant, was a lesson that took me a long time to learn, and even longer to put in practise.

Sometimes, we talk about God’s power to rescue as so situation specific, when really, we need that rescuing every day, as every day, we live our lives under sin, outside of godliness. We need grace, every day, not just the day we commit to Jesus, not just in the darkest hours when all hope seems lost, not just in the lonely hours before the dawn, when our separation seems most painful. My need for rescuing doesn’t change; my need for Jesus, doesn’t change. If anything, I need God more now, that I’m trying so desperately to stay on an even keel. I need that guidance to keep me going, to lead me as far away from the grip of depression as possible, to stop me wearying and tumbling down. I need a steady hand and a level road. I need God, who weighs the islands and names the stars, who brings down nations, yet still gathers the lost as sheep, who knows us, you, me, by name. I need that man, pierced for my transgressions and hung on a tree before the crowds. Salvation isn’t a one-day event that tarnishes with time or wears out with use; it’s eternal, unchanging. I need to remember this.

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Strange parallels

I’m on holiday for another two weeks before starting my final year of medical school in early July. I’m still in the city I study in, in my flat, though may go home for a change of scene sometime next week. The last time I had so much free time, on my own, was in the run up to Christmas when I was really falling apart at the seams and was much more unwell than I realised at the time. I’m in two minds as to whether this time is doing me good or not; on the one hand, I know that I need a good rest and that having proper time to reflect on the year is important, but on the other hand, I feel like I’m mulling over things too much and overanalysing, which is something I’m prone to.

Counselling is leaving me feeling really vulnerable at the moment, like a lost child – and I think part of it is that I just don’t have it in me to fully trust that L, like pretty much everyone else I’ve spoken to in the past, isn’t going to let me down in some major, painful way. I push through, and try and get all of this stuff out of me and into the air between us, but it’s a false trust, and really, I’m just waiting for something to go wrong and knock me back again. It’s all in my head, I know that – she’s done nothing to suggest that she’s going to let me down – but still, my track record speaks for itself, and of everything, cynacism is a hard thing to fight. And at the moment, I’m afraid of falling back into serious depression, now that I’m finally on the way out – nothing scares me more. It’s eclipsed all other fears. I was lucky to get out alive, this time, and I am only too aware of my own limitations and that in the future, I might not be so lucky. I don’t think I could do it again, I don’t think I could survive feeling that way again. Between everything, I’m just feeling worn and vulnerable and small. It’s seems like I’m always on the run from something, and that as soon as one chase finishes, there’s another one about to start, whether it’s running from the past, or running from God, or running from the shadows of depression, desperately trying to keep on the right side of the track, but always having a sense that something is gaining on me and that sooner or later, will overcome me.

I went on a long walk today to one of my favourite areas of the city. It’s a nature reserve, hilly and wooded, and once you’re deep inside, there’s no noise of traffic, nothing to indicate that the bustling city is just outside. It’s tranquil. It’s one of the places I’d picked as potential places to die when my depression was at its worst and my grip on things was weakest. Being back today, with the trees in the green of summer, the brook flowing and not frozen over, the sun fighting through the branches, was strange. The seasons have turned and I have changed, like the scenery I have come alive again, and yet, they would have done that even if I wasn’t here. There was a period when I honestly thought that I was seeing everything, and everyone, for the last time; being back there under the trees, was strange, disorientating. I’ve come a long way since every waking thought was about dying but I know I’m not out of the woods fully yet, and may never be, I may spend the rest of my life fighting to keep depression at bay, fearful that it may return.

The major difference is that now, I can feel God there, whereas before, all there was around me was empty space, a painful void that could not be filled. Now I’m better, I feel connected again, part of the circuit again. I feel God in the trees and the brooks, in the space between two breaths two mornings. I feel Him there again, brushing against me, pushing me onwards, leading me, behind and before. It’s a good feeling. All it took was a change of time.

I’ve been rubbish at replying to comments recently – and am sorry about that, I really do appreciate them, and it’s at the top of my to-do list for tomorrow. Thank you for your continuing support, xxchar48

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It’s been so wonderful to finally feel like ‘me’ again – but it brings its own challenges. I’m so grateful and excited to feel like my normal, hectic self that I keep wanting to run before I’m really walking. There’s so much I want to do to make up for this year – I want to get some extra research projects on the go to make up for the drop I’ve had academically, I want to start serving again in my community, I want to dig in and find new ways to help and lend my hands and change the things I want to change. It’s so good to care about things again – I really do think that for me, it’s apathy that brought me closest to the edge. It was losing the pulse of caring that drives my day to day life, that left me so incredibly bereft and disconnected, and now it’s back, I’m like a child at the beach, running into the waves before checking the depth or the current, high on excitement and flushed from the sun. I want my old drive, my old self, my old skin back. I want to move on from this year so desperately, to leave it behind and fix my eyes on the future, and not look back. I want to feel connected and capable, involved and interested.

But I know that I’ve got to tread carefully, and really be careful about what I take on. If I want to keep the even keel and stave off a relapse, I’ve got to think carefully, and not just jump at a hundred oppurtunities before really thinking about what my abilities are. It’s hard – it’s like I’m straining at the bit, against a leash, tensed and waiting for a starting pistol to go – proving once again that I am not someone who can sit still and just ‘be’. It’s as though after months of having engines that won’t start up, all the pistons have kicked into action at once and are trying to make up for lost time. It’s like my eyes have opened and just want to capture all the colours I’ve blanked out for so long, and like a camera, I’m flashing all over the place (camera flashing, that is – not the other sort!)

I’m really excited this week as I’ve had an email back from one of the obstetricians I was placed under about doing an extra project in her field, which is foeto-maternal medicine (in a nutshell, problems with mums to be that are dangerous for the baby, and problems babies in the womb have that can be dangerous for the mothers, as well as to the babies themselves), and then I had a meeting with someone from the medical school about setting up a mentoring scheme for students lower down the curriculum (off the back of some one-to-one tutoring I did earlier in the year) – and both are things I’m passionate about, and want to do well at. I’m pretty confident I can do both of these – and also, that if they did prove too much, both are things I can either scale back or drop if I needed to,  but I do need to be watchful about overloading on busy-ness. I LOVE organising things and juggling people and tasks – there is literally nothing I love more than writing a list of what needs doing, and DOING IT. I love it. I’ve not been that capable of it for the last year, and now, it’s like something inside me has woken up and is all ready to start alphabetising all over the show, itemising as though its life depended on it. I need to be careful.

There’s another aspect to this too – as usual, I was in counselling again yesterday. It’s been a rough few weeks, and for the first time yesterday, I really felt that L didn’t really understand where I’m coming from. She’s fairly insistent that my ‘tendancy to busyness’ comes from some deep seated need for approval (ahh, middle child syndrome rears its head again)- and though I recognise that there is probably an element of that, a lot of it doesn’t – I just genuinely like to help and I like being busy, and when I don’t like something, I try and fix it. Which apparently is also not too healthy – the trap of ‘caring too much’ – I do sometimes think I can’t bloody win – and that if I dilute all of these things down too much, yes, I might be more ‘textbook healthy’ but I’d also be 2D, I’d also not be me at all. It’s a fine line, between being busy but not too busy, still but not sloth, caring but not too caring, self aware but not self absorbed. It makes you wonder how any of us manage to even remotely lead normal lives. It makes you wonder, what normal is, anyway, apart from just managing to get through the day without losing yourself in the process.

So – I’m counting on you, readers, to stop me going overboard with stuff. xxchar.

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Last Sunday was the first time I’d been to church in about six weeks, the longest I’ve been away since I started going there two years ago. Having some space has been good for me, but being back also felt right, and as it was the first service that’s not reduced me to tears for about a year, I think both the break, and the return, were well timed.

The pastor was preaching on Psalm 23, which must be the most famous, and beloved, passage of the entire Bible. It’s a psalm we learn as children, a psalm we grow up with, either in church communities, or on film and in books, as it’s the passage so often fished out for both the joyous, and the not-so-joyous occasions. It’s about the shepherd-God, the King who takes a position reserved for the most lowly, the poorest boys who have no option but to chase their flock over mountains and valleys, no option but to sleep in the open and cook over a campfire, no pay, except the wools and skins from the animals so tenderly cared for. It’s about the tireless worker, guiding his charges, binding sore feet, and counting, counting, counting their number to make sure none have gone astray.

One thing he said was that it’s when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death (or, VOTSOD) as I always think of it, never underestimate the power of a good abbreviation etc) – that we feel God most closely guiding us.

I  don’t really agree with this.

In my experience, and if you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know that I don’t believe that the distance between us and God changes at all – it’s out perception that does, our interpretation that always comes up wanting. When I was, quite literally, walking with the shadow of death, I was desperately trying to find God, any God, any where, in the mess I was in thanks to a hefty bout of depression. I was scouring the horizons and praying for hours, and searching, searching, for this shepherd who was supposed to be guiding me, and yet, the skies just seemed completely empty. There was no-one there beside me. There was no footprint next to mine, in the valley. There was no shadow up front to guide my way. My faith turned to one dependant on hope – surely, one day, all those promises would find their way to me and I’d find a bundle of hope with my name on it just when it was needed, surely, this elusive God I’d madcaply tried to follow would turn towards me and gather me, as a lost sheep into his arms. Surely, surely, one day, that day, would come. Depression cuts you off so acutely from the world; it convinces you that you have no part in it, it severs any connections to people and places, it steals hopes and dreams and aspirations and leaves you with nothing except an angry energy that won’t sit still, a nervy desire to get out of your own head, out of your skin, at all costs. I felt cut off. I felt alone and abandoned, in the valley.

It’s now that I am (hopefully, gratefully) coming out of the other side of this year, that I realise that the shepherd was there all along, though I could not see him, through all my panicking. It’s now that I’m on steadier ground, that the promises and gifts of God come into focus, that I see clearly, that He IS faithful, and WAS faithful, and WILL BE faithful. I am, that I am. It’s now that I am out of danger that I understand that Psalm 23 is both antero-, and retro-spective, in my opinion – it may be the truth, but it’s not about the experience of the VOTSOD. It may be what you believe will be the case before the tough times hit you, and it may be what you realise afterwards, but in the eye of the storm, you still feel on your own.

I guess what all this comes back to is that the inconstancies are all on our side; God’s distance never falters, his presence never falters, but our perceptions do – and they are what follow through each day. As the writer of the book of Hebrews put it, ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen’. Its foundations on human weakness and tendency to wander make it fragile and malleable but its focus on God, who is strong and unchanging, make it beautiful. Psalm 23 is a passage that has relevance to me before, during and after those hard times. The image of the shepherd is one of my favourites in the Bible. This is a flock I am happy to be in.

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Timelines

First of all, exam results went up today and I passed well – though when I compare how my mood was in this last set to the other two seasons this year, it’s not that surprising that my results were much better. I even got 93% in the obstetrics/gynae written paper – which is the best mark I’ve had in some time. Now I’m just waiting for my project to be marked, and then I can really breathe a sigh of relief.

I was back in counselling yesterday – I wasn’t that keen to go to be honest – after handing in my project, I quite wanted a break to be honest and just have the day to myself, but L was keen for me to go, and as she was away last week, I agreed. Something I’ve thought about a lot recently is what I want out of this – and as someone who’s not that good at ‘I want’ sentences generally, it’s taken me a while to get up the courage to admit it to myself, and then to L. I won’t go into what we talked about right now – I’m still ‘processing’ it (ahh, therapeutic language, here we come) and as before yesterday I’d not told a single person about what we covered, putting it on a blog is frankly a bit much.

I think one of my problems is that for as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as inherently broken. Sometimes I wonder when I started thinking of myself like that, as someone who would always be falling apart at the seams, at least, behind closed doors, if not in the open. I wonder when I painted myself with the feeling that I’m just wired wrong, that I’m put together wrong, that my foundations are on sand and not stone, that I’m missing something crucial, a horn from my unicorn, a mane from my lion, a shell from my tortoise, something so important that without it, I am incomplete, at risk, and outside the herd.

And I wonder, was it when I was twenty-one, and recovering from my first heartbreak, or eighteen, starting medical school and realising that I couldn’t cope with people drinking in my halls of residence and sitting crying in my room, or at sixteen, visiting my dad in rehab and hospital wards and feeling terrified, whether it was at fourteen, when he started drinking and suddenly the house was veiled in secrets, or twelve, when I was picked on for months at school and no-one did anything to help, or when I started secondary school, doomed to have my name forgotten for the next seven years as everyone just called my by my sister’s name, and thought nothing of it. I wonder whether it was age six when we moved back to the UK from a few years in the US and I was labelled the kid with the accent and the dungarees and the smart-alec attitude or whether it stretches ever earlier than that, from the moment I became the most stereotypical middle child I could probably be, sandwiched between my older sister, the attention seeker, the cleverer, taller, prettier one, and my younger brother, the perpetual baby of the family, going through life with luck continunally in his back pocket.

And sometimes, I wonder if I was just born like this – whether I was marked from birth with a stain of depression and a glass-half-empty attitude, whether I was determined from the cradle to be stuffed full of issues and never really sure, who exactly I was, or am. The faith I follow tells us that we are born broken, in sin, that since the day when eating an apple meant more than Eve getting her five-a-day, mankind is tainted by iniquity and cut off from God by the severing knife of disobedience, so perhaps I am just aware of this more acutely. Perhaps I am just more aware of my own brokenness, my own fracture lines, than I should be. The logical, Biblical answer would be that thanks to Jesus, none of this matters – he is the goat, chased into the desert, bearing our sin. He is the lamb to the slaughter, spilling his blood, so that  ours keeps flowing. He is the glue that sticks us to God, the interpreter opening the lines of communication, the intermediary who stands in the way and shelters us from the world of judgement. One of the things with faith, though, is that head knowledge and heart knowledge are often out of step, and the discrepancy only increases when you’re fighting depression. I’ve lost a lot of ‘heart knowledge’, this year, but it’s coming back, it always, always, comes back.

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Mission: Accomplished?

I handed in my project yesterday – although it’s nowhere near the standard it would have been if this year hadn’t been so difficult, posting it under the college office door, felt quite emotional. I’ve been on this rollercoaster for a year now, if I take the ‘start point’ as my final clinical rotation of third year, and for so much of that period of time, I really didn’t know if I’d make it through the year academically, or, in perfect honesty, at all.

These last few weeks have suddenly felt different, and it is such a huge relief. I feel like myself again and I find myself making plans and getting excited about things that for months, have left me cold. I’m actually sleeping for a full night, which hasn’t happened for a long time. I’m not spending hours every day crying, hours every day wondering if all this effort was worth it, if I was even going to make it through. It’s like that moment in the Wizard of Oz where the scenery suddenly changes from monochrome to colour, from the drab Kansas in the grip of the depression (oh, the irony!), to the joys of Oz (joyful until those monkeys appear, anyway) – as though after months of living in complete darkness, the light has come, the dawn has broken, the sun has come forward. God’s really come through for me, in these last few weeks. I’m also incredibly grateful for that. Many of you readers may not be believers – I don’t know whether you are, but I can say that I owe a big part of my recovery to that focus God gives me on the promise of better things to come. Without God, I am hope-less. With him, I have something to fix my eyes on, something to lean on, someone I hope and pray and yearn to come, and bring me out, bring me home at last.

I’ve posted one of my favourite hymns, that I’ve not listened to for a while – for many months, I just couldn’t bear it, it had no relevence. All was certainly not well, with my soul. Today though, I feel a sense of peace that has been so very elusive. I feel a sense of stopping, safe and still, that has been so resolutely absent. I’ve been to the bottom, I know it, I’ve met it, I’ve returned. I still have a long way to go to find my feet properly – my confidence has been seriously knocked this year, and there is , of course, still the weekly counselling with L to get through – but feeling like I’ve found that nook in the rock halfway up to rest is wonderful. I’ve not always managed things that well this year, and although partly that comes down to the things depression does to your personality and judgement, it was also partly due to me just being stubborn and needing something to rile against. That I’ve come through it, this episode at least, mostly without medication, without rest, and without getting myself to the help I probably needed, amazes me.

I used this video as it also has a bit about the background to the song, which I think is one of the reasons I love it as much as I do.

http://youtu.be/T8_EfDqF7YI

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