Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

This New Year seems a little odd as I’m leaving for Nepal in just under two weeks (Jan 14th!), so am certainly starting the year in a different way to any that have gone before. I’m not usually one for lots of resolutions and reflections on the year, as for me, having been in full time education for nineteen years, the year starts in September, when I move forward academically and get to buy a new set of highlighters. In spite of that, given that I turned 24 a few days ago, this turn of the year does feel a little different.

2011 was certainly a year of challenge and brick walls, more than I could have anticipated. It was also however, in the end, a year of triumph. I beat the challenges. I scaled the walls. I did not give up, although at times, I was so perilously close to doing so. I started 2011 on such rocky ground, unstable on medication that was making me dangerously ill, terrified of starting counselling, and with the odds more than stacked against me academically. I started 2012 on a new medication that I think is working, (despite the first three weeks being pretty awful), with counselling behind me, and the promise of a first doctoring job that I will love come August. 2012 is starting with hope for the future, whereas its predecessor began with nothing more than apparent desolation and a need to dig deep to find a promise of hope.

When I was first starting out on my journey into Christianity, two things that held me back were both a disbelief that God can heal anyone’s wounds, and that He certainly wouldn’t bother touching mine, but also a staunch fear of being healed and changed, of laying down arms and seeking guidance and solace from the road I’d been on. I believed I was too broken to ever even attempt wholeness. I thought I’d be fractured and empty forever. I was certainly not living life to the full. I was half dead.

I’m not saying at all, that now I am completely healed, that I went into last year with seams and came out the other end seamless; but I’m a lot closer to feeling whole than I was. That gaping, aching hole, is starting to fill. God stuck with me through last year and stayed with me as I tossed and turned away from Him. I believe now, that God does heal, with time, as a slow process in many instances, so slow that you doubt it’s even happening. It does happen.

Happy 2012, guys!

I leave for Nepal a week today and am planning on setting up a travel blog that will be completely separate to this blog. Once it’s set up, I’ll post the link up in case anyone wants to follow what’s happening.

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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.

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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.

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First of all, this is apparently my hundreth post – I never thought I’d have enough to say to fill that many! Thanks for sticking with me guys. Let’s see if I’m still writing when I get to the seventy-times-seventh post. I had some thoughts about what my centenary should be about – but then, what follows came up and I felt quite convicted by it, so here we go!

As you will know, I’m a student. I do many student things; I eat dodgy combinations of left-overs, walk three miles to get somewhere to save bus-fare and have a definite penchant for fancy-dress, preferably involving facepaint. My time here at medschool has been shaped mostly by the clubs and societies I’ve been in, lead, and founded, in addition to my studies. Last night was the annual society fundraiser at the union, where every club and society who have people going, are given some money. Now, I’m not a massive fan of clubbing, as so often, it’s dominated by people drinking enough to make me uncomfortable (let alone themselves), and stereotypically, lads who think that drinking five pints gives them a right to grope you (NB it doesn’t). This night is different however, because it’s held for the people with the greatest passion for what they do, the people who hold the fabric of the university together and make our student experience the terrific thing it is. Band geeks and history buffs don’t tend to attempt the drunken grope. They are too busy being dressed as tenor horns and Henry VIII.

I was there last night with my girls voice choir (complete with painted treble clefs on our faces) and have also gone in the past with my patient visiting group (dressed as an old person) and windband (dressed as a clarinet, using some imagination). Although everyone is dressed more than a little ludicrously, I actually love it – it’s about saying, this is what I do with my time, what I love. This is what I think is important. This is what I will encourage you to get involved with. This is my identity, my clan, my family.

I find it interesting when older people say things like ‘I still feel twenty-one’ – when what I think they really mean, is that they still feel passionate, they still feel alive. When you are actually twenty-one, you’re usually still finding your way and working out where you fit with things, and have not yet got the confidence and stability that comes with maturity. It’s actually quite painful, or was, and to some extent still is, for me. But often, we in our early adult lives, are also full of passion and excitement. We are the can-do generation, unladen with children and their ballet classes, mortgages, or elderly parents. We have the freedom to try to change things. We have the freedom to spend three days a week visiting patients in hospital, or to run a concert band. Our lack of ties, whilst sometimes isolating, is also the essence of our abilities. I know that when, or if, I have children, I will chose my son’s football matches over my choir practises, and my daughter’s piano lessons over whatever charity I’m involved with. And this is how I would want it to be – but is also means that now, before that phase, is my chance to make my mark and make a difference.

So often, churches talk about the apathy of the people and how we’ve lost the meaning of the message in between a culture of wanting, and the pull of consumerism. I hear preaching on getting off the treadmill and getting out of our bubble and getting in to our communities.  Last night however, all I could think was that I was in a room full of passionate people intent on making a difference somewhere, whether it’s in running the lacrosse team, raising funds for wells in Africa, reaching out to international students, or publishing the university newspaper. It’s always  inspiring, being in a room of people with conviction, big dreams, and action plans.

I had a ‘Christian first’ recently as I bought the new Tim Hughes album, my first foray into having Christian music on my ipod. The track I’ve posted is a good one for early mornings, but it’s also kind of flawed in labelling current Christians as ‘the freedom generation’; we’ve been the freedom generation since Cavalry. We’ve been free, since the man we follow and sing to and cry to, died on a cross. We are not the freedom generation. We’re a part of the freedom genealogy, the freedom family tree. It’s not about being a twentysomething with little to tie them down and no shackles from taxes and pension plans. It’s about following our hearts and keeping that conviction, that passion to change and better and fix, alive, as we go through the valleys and mountains of our years. I don’t want to lose my can-do spirit or my indefatiguable love of pushing boundaries. I want our freedom family tree to extend until it includes absolutely everyone. I don’t want change to be a task for one generation. I want it to be a task for one, enormous, family.

What are you passionate about?

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One year ago today, I finally went to see a doctor about a low mood that hadn’t shifted or improved for several months. One year ago today, I was so tired of trying to fight against something I couldn’t see that I gave in and gave up, and accepted that sometimes you need a medical solution to a medical problem. One year ago today, I picked up my first prescription of antidepressants and felt like the bottom was falling out of my world. One year ago, I thought I’d crossed a line and that those first tablets marked the start of a new phase of recovery. One year ago today, I thought things, at last, would turn a corner.

One year on, and I am more able to evaluate that time. The GP I saw had a brusque manner and made me feel guilty for feeling so awful. He took months to refer me as he seemed to think that my medical student status would somehow magically help me cure myself of depression. He didn’t offer to change my medication when it made me feel dangerously worse, and didn’t really seem to care if I got better or not. When he did refer me, it was with such a bad attitude that I was too scared to go. By the time I’d spent months changing doses on my first medication, I was too terrified to try another. Those small pills I started taking a year ago today, did not help me turn a corner; rather, they very nearly shoved me over a pretty dangerous edge. Those little pills did not mark the start of recovery.

Who was I then? I was afraid, alone, incapable. I was unable to make good decisions regarding an illness that fragmented my judgement and overshadowed the person I had been. I was on autopilot, still sitting exams, still seeing patients, but not seeing, not really. I was in a haze. I was in a different season, a season of endless winter.

Who am I now? I am still, often, afraid that this depression still lingers, stuck to my shadow. I get frustrated that I am still hemmed in by the fallout from last year – still shackled to inner-city attachments, still tied to constant monitoring and questionning of my mood, still tethered  to counselling. I am the girl who got left behind herself. Sometimes I look at last year and can’t even believe it was me – me, so close to the edge, me, crying desperately, resolutely, endlessly. I can’t believe it was me. It was a year of being so far from who I am, that I feel detached, as though it was just a year of empty space, a year I stepped out of and never found the way back in. I cut myself out of that year and couldn’t patch my way back in.

This year has been the hardest of my life. I’ve learned who my true friends are – which has been both incredibly painful, when people let me down, sometimes pretty impressively, but also incredibly comforting; I’ve got some brilliant friends. They’ve stopped me sinking. I’ve tackled a huge fear and got myself, repeatedly, through a counsellor’s door. I’ve also learned who my God is – that although I often think he leaves me, he never does, that I often think he ignores me, he never does. Although Christians try to act like Jesus on a daily basis (and should), Jesus is more than any of us will ever be. We make mistakes. We injure each other, accidentally and sometimes, deliberately. God does not do this; He binds our wounds.  This is a very fortuitous thing.

I got through this year. Sometimes, I think the only thing we really have to deal with, to get through, is time, unfortunate, as it waits for no man. I am still learning.

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Hand-me-down grace

Do you have older siblings? If so, like me, you probably spent your younger years clothed in their cast-offs, that were too big, too small, too long or too short more often or not. They weren’t your choice or your preference. They didn’t fit you as they should and didn’t have your stamp on them. Someone elses name was in the collar. My big sister went through a major tom-boy phase where she cut off all her hair and wore only items of clothing featuring the ‘teenage mutant hero turtles’.  Four years younger, I was also a kid who spent a childhood up trees and down holes and hanging from bars and falling off fences – but I was happy doing it in dresses, too. I didn’t want her old ‘boy’ stuff. I hated that I only got to wear her clothes. I hated having her old school jumpers and her old jeans. I hated that I wore t shirts for camps I hadn’t been on and places I’d not visited. I hated it.

What made it worse was that people confused us so much, as we were both academic girls in a non-academic school, with brown hair and a tendency to be picked on, who both played the clarinet, both were involved in Girl Guiding, etc etc, ad infinitum. I went through school as ‘bigsister’sname-nowaitwhat’syourname?’.  Her name was written on my school reports and in the labels of my uniform. Looking back, my teenage years were a mess of a long-played identity crisis- she drowned me out. Even now, I often define myself as what she is not, rather than what I am. When my families problems kicked off, I was left muddling through, and made the mistake of defining myself on circumstance, not substance. Through all my counselling, it’s become clearer that I chose the wrong things to define myself with, when I’m able to at all. One of the things that most awes me about God is that He is who He says He is; I am that I am. If I asked you, ‘who do you say you are’, would your answer be the same today as it was ten years ago, and will be ten years in the future? Unlike God, e change, we grow, we alter, we question. God is not someone who has ever had an identity crisis.

When it comes to my faith, sometimes I kind of feel as though the grace set aside for me is just grace that someone else first in line didn’t use – that I’m a left-over Christian standing at the back of the queue, waiting to see if someone else before me has some scraps I can scavange to save my soul. It doesn’t feel like it fits me and my issues and my anxiety and my doubtful nature. It feels as though it should be worn by someone clean and sure and spotless. It makes me feel as though I’m wearing a robe that’s so long I trip over the hem, or a hood that falls down over my eyes so that I cannot see – and item woven for someone else that I somehow stumbled on and inspite of all my hoping, all my longing, still marks me as an outsider, without an invitation, standing in the dark at the back amongst the brooms. As a late comer to faith, often I make the mistake of thinking that God will only get to me after he’s dealt with everyone else – that my prayers haven’t racked up enough church-time to be taken seriously, that until I can list the books of the Bible forwards, backwards, and upside down, I’m stuck on hold.  My hand-me-down attitude to grace is hard to shake.

However, sometimes I remember, again, that the grace God gives me has been reserved for me since the beginning; it’s not second hand, or second best, it’s not handed down or man-handled, it’s not too big or too small or too long – it’s just the right size, the right fit, and would not match anyone elses need the way it matches mine. This reminds me that even when I’m feeling small and vulnerable, more hedgehog than eagle, God has me written in his book (an address book? I think so) and in his story. His Goldilocks grace gives me a firmer place to stand and the courage to stand there. This is one of the reasons I hate it when people talk about the ‘unchurched’ – because they might not be destined to stay that way, and God has their grace cut out and on hold, until they get there. We’re all born ‘unchurched’ at the end of the day. Our grace is enough.

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I’m on a general surgery attachment this month, and am with the emergency team this week so have been spending long days clerking patients and following surgeons as they charge round the hospital. As ever, I’ve had a high volume of patients with serious problems induced by alcohol, which longterm readers will know is something I struggle a lot with. This time, however, I’ve literally been the first person to assess them before I’ve handed over to my seniors, and there’s a responsibility, and opportunity, that comes with that.

Something I’ve noticed is that ‘problem drinkers’ tend to fall into one of two categories; they either are completely adament that they are ‘not an alcoholic‘, that they can stop when they want, and that this somehow makes them ‘better’ than others they see labelled in that way – or, as soon as you meet them, they tell you that they are an alcoholic, in this defeated way that suggests that they kind of know that not much is going to be done, aside from patching them up and shipping them home again. It’s as though the second group think that if they own up, we’ll tar them with a coat of hopelessness, and give up on them. We won’t fight for them. We’ll leave them be to carry on, which is probably a lot easier and less scary, than sorting their problems out. Sadly, this is often what happens; most healthcare workers only see the problem of the ‘revolving door’ patient, who comes in again and again, and never seems to change, regardless of whether it’s an issue of access to help, or ability to ask for it. I want to be someone who has time.

The interesting thing is that often these patients, in either group, don’t have the right label for themselves, at all – dependancy, afterall, is a syndrome, characterised by both physical (such as withdrawal symptoms) and more psychological aspects (such as narrowed repertoire, and salience of alcohol over other substances and past-times). I ended up having a long conversations with two of my patients, one of which lead to him realising that he does in fact have a dependancy on alcohol, and is quite a long way past the ‘social drinker’ he had classed himself as – and the other with someone who is a longstanding ‘known alcoholic’, trying to get to the bottom of what else could be done to help, and work out why it is that he’s got such a poor view of himself that he didn’t think anyone would bother to help him sort his drinking out in the first place. I guess a learning point here is that often we don’t have accurate views of ourselves, whether by lack of awareness, denial, or selfloathing. We sometimes need another perspective to get things straight. We all do this to some extent.

As always, I found talking to these patients hard to do, – and as always, every time I speak with a person with substance misuse issues, I think of my dad, and the years we all lost to his drinking, and all the hang-ups I’ve garnered from them – but I was also glad to be there, as someone  supernummary who has a bit of extra time to spend with patients, and doesn’t just fob them off as a no-hope case. I was glad to be there, getting the story out in the open, listening to the reasons they had drank more than usual, and being able to answer honestly, about what they were doing to their health. I was glad to be there to stick up for them when I reported back, as I like to think someone might have stuck up for my dad when he was at his illest, and not just stuck him in a corner to sober up. If we don’t stick up for them, they will never get the help they need. If we don’t stick up for them, they’ll keep that revolving door swinging until one day, they die before their time. I know that it’s so easy to get ‘compassion fatigue’ when you’re working in a busy unit with a high turnover, and are always on the go, but I want to help combat this.  My dad probably wouldn’t be alive today, if someone hadn’t help us get him into rehab, when they did. He’s alive because someone had the time to help and the time to care. I don’t want to find one day that I have someone’s blood on my hands (figuratively, but possibly literally given my line of work) – because I didn’t care enough. I want to make sure other people get another chance. As a Christian, I’m only too aware of how much we all need second chances. The God I follow, is a God of second, and third, and seventy-seventh chances. If I’m going to follow, I need to be a person who gives these chances too, as well as receiving them.

I know that it’s likely I may always have shaky moments when I’m managing these sorts of patients. I know that sometimes, when I’m already fraught and tired and emotional, it may break me a little, for a while, and make me cry in a corner somewhere, for a while. It’s one of my struggles, one of my wounds. We all have them. It reminded me of this post here. But I also know that I’m learning, all the time. I’m learning. And sometimes, I think that’s the best we can hope for, the best we can aim for. As long as I keep learning, I’ll be fine.

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