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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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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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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It’s becoming increasingly clear that  at the moment, I’m just not ‘quite right’. I’m feeling a lot more apathetic and tearful, and just can’t quite be bothered with a lot of things. I’m struggling to work productively and find myself crying a lot more than I have for some time. I find myself thinking about things I haven’t thought of since my last ‘fall’. I can’t sing at church either, which seems to be quite a good signpost for things not being right.

In short, I think I’ve officially lost the race against depression again.

This isn’t really that surprising – after all, I’ve had a good five months of recovery after the last and worst dip, but doing these things cold with no medication, is not the best way. And no matter how much I argue that it was ‘best for me’ and ‘the only way I could manage’, it probably wasn’t. I should have pushed to be put on something that didn’t make me so suicidal.  I should have had more courage. I should have realised that like everything on this earth, depression isn’t something you can beat using your own willpower alone. Apathy is my greatest enemy, at times.

The defining moment was realising that my thoughts are getting progressively more negative and dangerous, and although I suppose it’s a good thing that I recognise that they’re coming from an illness which has a solution, and not myself, I’m pretty devastated. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like I’ve lost the war, at last.

The thing is, I’m afraid to try medication again. I’m going to Nepal for my elective in January, to work in hospitals there, for two months, so there’s not much time to play with drugs and doses. Last time, no one, let alone myself, quite made the connection between how ill I was, and fluoxetine. This was one time when being the eternal perseverer, did not have a good outcome for me. I can’t feel like that again. I’m terrified of feeling like that again – but I’m not sure I have any options left. I feel like a total hypocrite after spending so much time convincing my flatmate to try them, but it feels inevitable. I’m also not really looking forward to going back to the doctors after spectacularly failing to refer myself to the psychiatrist/renew prescriptions/do what patients are supposed to do. It feels like this is all my fault, and that if I’d been just a little less brick-headed, just a little less obstinate, or, dare I say, it, just a little less depressed and incapable, this fall back might not have happened.

I’ve not got much time to play with as I’ve got two essays that need writing in the next fortnight, and there’s a lot to learn in paediatrics too – so I know that I need to act quickly. I know I need to stand up to this and stop thinking I can do it on my own. I know I need to accede the point and then start again from the beginning. It’s like a dreadful homecoming, an unwanted baseline. It makes me wonder if this pattern is going to be all I know, now, of a few months rising and then, repeatedly, falling back and losing everything I managed to salvage. This is a house I don’t want to be in, a party I don’t want to crash, and yet, here I am. I’m stuck  inside the walls again. I’m looking for God in this, and not really finding him.

So – let’s see what happens. I hope all my readers are having a better week than I am.

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I realise I’ve not written too much about my counselling with L of late – mostly just because other things seem to have subsumed them, or my posts haven’t gone up soon after a session.

It still seems odd as the longer I know (as much as you can ‘know’ your counsellor, anyway), the more it seems that if we’d met in other circumstances, we’d probably have got on very well. It’s like that Thomas Hardy poem, ‘the man he killed’ – except unlike in the Boer war, bloodshed is very much frowned upon in therapeutic circles…. The concept is the same though – in other times, in other places, on different terms, our relationship might have been more equal, more balanced. I’ve thought a bit this week about how I’m now past the mid-point in counselling as once I leave for two months in a Nepalese hospital in January, L and I will probably never meet again. I also had an email this week from an old teacher at school, which has also made me think a great deal, as she was the first person I ever told about my dad’s drinking, after I came into school one morning after sitting overnight in A and E, and just completely broke down. She was the first person who listened to me – and when I refused point blank to try any form of counselling, she didn’t push me, and supported me through my final years of school by giving me books (she was a very stoic English teacher and very much subscribed to ‘reading through the pain’ – as do I) and generally being lovely. She also never breathed a word to my parents, which must have been a hard decision to make, but one I am eternally grateful for.

I was sixteen, then. It took another seven years for me to get myself into a counsellors office and capable of staying there. Growing up in a substance misusing household changes your perception of risk, gain, and potential for harm. For me, the risks of opening up were just to great, for too long. I’d lived under the shadow of a tabboo topic and couldn’t break it. There was too much at stake, and too many ways that it threatened to push me over the edge. By the time I had no choice but to go, I was already as far over that edge, that I could go. And it’s taken more courage, each week, every week, than I can often describe.

Yesterday, I hadn’t been thinking too much about what to talk about, but then had an extra half hour to waste as I headed over as I got away early from the childrens hospital, and as I was walking, realised that I’ve felt pretty flat recently. And yes, I’ve been busy and harrassed, and busy again – but I’ve also been a little numb, a little flat, in a way that being busy and somewhat misguidedly listening to the latest deathcab for cutie album,  just doesn’t quite explain (everyone has a band they should have outgrown, but never will – deathcab are mine). I was already crying, by the time I got there. I was already crying, and wasn’t even that sure why. It’s that feeling of mourning something, that I can’t quite shake off, that feeling of being without something, of being tired out and work out and desperate for some relief from the heavy days and all of their requests. I can cry in front of L, now. It does get easier.

Part of it is that I’m over-reacting a bit about a meeting I’m chairing next week for the medical school mentoring scheme that I set up (it’s going very well, which is nice) – and asked for a member of the medical school’s pastoral care counsel to come along to speak to us. The person they allocated is a psychiatrist that the student support person (aka ‘the dragon’, for longterm readers) told about my depression, without my consent, when I took myself off medication and went more than a bit haywire. And although I should be able to say that he’s a psychiatrist and this is what he does for a living, and that he probably won’t remember me by name alone anyway, I’m also terrified that he will and will say something, and I’ll start crying. I’m fed up of feeling as though every single time I feel like I’m getting past all of this stuff, something jerks me back. I’m fed up of feeling like I’m tattooed for life. I’m fed up of feeling as though I will always be judged first on my history of depression, before anything else comes into play.

L was pretty good about all of this, and I do find that I trust her opinion, which after six months, is a good thing. Counselling still leaves me exhausted though – it’s not as simple as being a release, or an outlet. It wears me out. Sometimes everything just feels so dramatic and difficult. Simplicity is a wonderful, enviable thing.

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I kind of feel like I’ve stepped back into the fire since I got back from my trip away – as though a week of peace tricked me into a false sense of stability, and that letting things go for a week just made them come back amplified when I turned my attention to them once again.

In church on Sunday evening, I found myself crying and crowded out, the first time I’ve had that total, overbearing feeling of weight, that leaves me short of breath and panicking,  thinking,   pleasegodjustmakeeverythingstopandslowdownbecauseimjustnotbigenoughforthisanditstoomuch

I’m finding it hard at the moment with F and her depression, alongside trying to get myself as firmly sorted as I can. It’s exhausting. And sometimes, just sometimes, I can’t bear to be kind and clear and brave and supportive when she talks about ‘not wanting to give in’ and go for counselling, or ‘being strong enough to not need or benefit from it’. Sometimes, after cheering her up and stopping her crying, it’s me that ends up crying next door – I’m not nice enough to fully accept that she doesn’t mean to cause offence or that it’s not a personal gibe at me and my issues. Part of me just wants to start yelling that if she thinks I ‘gave up’ last year, she’s bloody wrong. If she thinks it’s an easy option, she’s wrong. If she thinks it takes more courage to bury her head and not try something that’s pretty well evidenced to work, than give it a shot, she’s wrong. Sometimes I get so annoyed that I can’t get away from depression at all, whether its mine or someone elses. I just want it to leave me alone. I just want to have a few months where it doesn’t rule every thing I do and think about, and choose. I’m no saint. I’m running dry again. I wish I could handle this better.

I’ve also realised that the last few weeks have been so busy and irregular and stressful, that once again, I’ve got myself off the right road and I’m feeling lost. I’m panicking. I stopped fixing on God, and lost sight of him. There’s been so much to think about that I didn’t notice when I stopped praying and stopped talking. And although I know it should be easy to get back, for some reason I just feel blocked off and shut off, shut out. And I feel like I need someone who knows me and know about last year to pray for me, and pray the right things, but there’s no-one at church I trust enough with it, not after last year. I feel like I need to find the way back home, back to God, but I can’t see it. It doesn’t feel right. I usually hate being prayed for, due to a combination of hating feeling like I’m the ‘centre of attention’ (please don’t look me in the eye, God), and other reasons. But right now, I feel like I need it. Right now, I feel like I need someone alongside.

As of next week, I will have been a Christian for two years, and yet so often I still feel so green and uncertain. After last year, depression moved my faith backwards and I had to unravel all of the wrong things it fed me. My faith is a panicking faith, an onmygoodnesspleasehelpgodpleasehelp faith. My faith, and the things depression did with it, almost killed me last year. My faith, and all the things God did with me, got me through, last year. And yet, at the moment, I feel like I’m shouting against white noise, into the wind. I’m trying to be still, and know. I’m still learning. I have so much to learn. I have too much, to learn.

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