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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

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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The gift of a child

I’m just back from a week at home.

Christmas has previously been one of the hardest times of year for me as despite my dad’s current sobriety, of which I am very proud, much of our family gatherings still seem to revolve around alcohol, who’s drinking it, who’s not and why, and an unhealthy dose of finger-pointing. At home, I feel blurred at the edges, out of focus, faded. I’m not myself. It sucks something out of me.

This year however, was so much better than I expected. My older sister (who is working in Australia at the moment) brought over both her current partner, and his six year old daughter, to meet us. Different? Yes, you bet. This child seemed to realign everything, she seemed to shift the focus from the tangled adults, back to her own needs and place in the family. I love children and spent a lot of time with her, convenient for the boyfriend as he was so jetlagged, and my sister who isn’t that maternal.  I already love her. One little Australian girl in a fairy outfit, singing ‘six white boomers’ (officially the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen) refocussed our entire family from anger and disputes, to something altogether kinder. It also gave me something to focus on rather than revision, or medication side effects, or depression so was a blessing in more ways than one.

I think we were more cemented than we’ve been for years. It was the first Christmas day where no one cried, or collapsed, or felt dangerously wooden. It was the first Christmas day where I felt as though there could be a hope for me and my dysfunctional family. It was the first week I’ve had at home in years, where I was a little sad to go.

Here’s a photo of me and my almost-niece:

Of course, this all reminded me of the child who really did change everything for us; as my family are pretty anti-religion, my faith can get a bit drowned out at Christmas; Jesus doesn’t come into this time of year anymore than he does any other period, so I am left trying to keep my mind focussed on what the holiday means, whilst surrounded by a more consumer driven approach. This is my third Christmas as a Christian, and in many ways, the most stable. The first one, when I was just a month into faith, was a pretty confusing time. Last year, I was sick on my first trial of medication and so depressed I thought it was going to be my last Christmas. This year, I am finally more stable on medication, sleeping better, feeling a bit better, and crucially, my faith is still strong, and as always, I think of that baby in a manger and am amazed by the promise he was delivering. I think of the nativity story, and as always, am amazed that most of the people guided to the birth of Christ were pretty run-of-the-mill, normal people; what hope it gives me, as a run-of-the-mill person, that I can also follow on.

I’ll be writing the obligatory new year post at some point in the next few days but in the meantime, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you every blessing for the coming year.

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I had my last counselling session with L today. It’s been almost a year since I first met her, almost a year of our weekly meetings, almost a year of my tears and frustrations and setbacks.

Given my track record for people letting me down when I tried to trust them as a youngster, or the bad attitudes I got from people who either knew about my dad’s drinking, or just expressed a general opinion towards alcohol misuse, and coming from a family so emotionally desolate it could be the Sahara, it’s no wonder that I was so afraid of trying to open up. It’s no wonder, I found counselling such a challenge.

Sticking with it, is possibly the biggest proof I will ever have of my tenacity and determination. I never missed a session, even when it was the last thing I wanted to go and do. I’ve had a year of being totally drained on a weekly basis, and then having to go and try to live normally in the spaces in between, until the next strike. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do – a year of finding bravery. I’ve managed to purge a few of my demons and get some light into the parts of me that were pretty disordered and dusty. I’ve learned to accept and give my issues with alcohol a name, and because of that, because I’ve come to terms with having different thresholds and boundaries for dealing with it compared to a lot of people, it’s that bit easier – I don’t need to drive myself half crazy with it, anymore.

I’ve said before that I have a feeling that had L and I met on other terms, we would have got on very well. I’m going to miss her, in a lot of ways. Having a constant person in my life over the last year, has been a lifeline, even if that was really mostly because she’s so nice I didn’t want to upset her by failing to turn up, or worse. I have her some homemade shortbread and a thankyou card today, and was shocked when she looked genuinely sad and said she’d thought about getting something for me, but wasn’t sure about protocol – I was pretty touched. I think she’s sometime more open and puts herself on more of an ‘equal par’ with me than a counsellor probably should – but I also like that she’s been that bit more interactive than a more experienced person might have been – I always quite like it when she got visibly angry about the med school lot being rubbish, or something going wrong.

I never thought that when I finished with L, I’d be back in the middle of depression. All of this, is pretty bad timing, with me going away in January. But even in spite of feeling flat and low and empty, even in spite of being jittery on meds and exhausted from not sleeping, and anxious about my workload and all the rest, having untangled myself that little bit this year, makes it so much easier – I’m on more solid ground, I’m not coming from this emotional poverty, this inner warfare, that plagued me for so long. I’m thinking straighter, more able to formulate and follow a management plan.

It’s been a strange year, so marked by a struggle to get through that other landmarks sometimes went uncelebrated. Academically, I beat a lot of odds – I passed and passed well, when no student in my situation had done so for several years. I got a high enough score that I can get a job I will hopefully love. I delivered my first baby, fed my first lonely newborn, saw my first death, compressed my first chest in hospital. I preached my first sermon and learned about the power of the church community to heal, as well as do harm. I stitched my first scalp and sited my first cannula. I went on my first roadtrip, with two good friends and one grandma. I came close to losing my faith, and yet all it did was grow stronger and knit itself even closer to me than it had been before. I learned to talk about my past and issues and to find a voice that had been lost for years. I learned how to begin to heal. I learned how to let God, heal me. L was there through all of that – and I thank God for her, every day. With counselling ending for the time being, and the letter/email last week, I kind of feel that although I’m in this new phase of depression, last year is over and a new phase has began. I think this phase will be better.

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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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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!

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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.

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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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