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Posts Tagged ‘learning disability’

It’s been a busy week. I’ve been feeling quite run down and as my city’s in turmoil with a major arts festival, the noise at night has pretty much ruled out the chance of a good nights sleep.

My new GP practise is…….kind of hard, actually. The staff aren’t really that welcoming, and just really don’t have any love for what they do. General practise can be demoralising, particularly since the changes to the NHS mean that it really is made to focus on running as a business, not a service, and resultantly, there’s a lot of box-ticking and back-covering. I can see how it really can seem like it’s just day after day of conveyer-belt healthcare, with constant streams of patients, many of whom aren’t always very respectful and in some cases are downright rude (WHY can’t I have a sickline? Who are you to say I’m not ill!- err – that’s what doctors do, and you are not ill enough to need one!). Two of them also had some fairly harsh things to say about patients with mental health problems, which I find hard to listen to – both as a ‘patient’ but also as someone who gets fed up of the stigma and the lack of interest from many health practitioners. Antidepressants aren’t just ‘smartie placebos’ – and though I do think that they are handed out too much as an easy option, when the best treatment for mild to moderate cases is a course of psychotherapy, which has such huge waiting lists and is so underfunded, a prescription that costs about a pound a week suddenly looks enticing, and for many people, they do work. They do get people through a rough patch. They do get people sleeping again. I’m not saying they’re wonder drugs – but they’re not just a waste of space – and if doctors think they are, then they should be more active in campaigning for better alternatives. If you don’t like something, you should work to change it. People who put down, and complain, but do not act, get my goat. I need to be more accepting.

I’m trying really hard to be positive, but it’s hard, when I find myself disagreeing with the doctor I’m mostly attached to – he just doesn’t seem to care about patients and is a bit sloppy. He’s going to be assessing my consulting skills, so I need to get my head around being able to look and learn from him – but at times, I think he’s a complete eejit. At least I’m learning how I don’t want to do things – which is often valuable in itself, if slightly infuriating. I’ve got another three weeks, and in that time am hoping that it’s just first week blues, and things will pick up as the staff get to know me more, and I them, but it could be a hard slog, and after this I’m off to surgery for a month and I am so not a surgeon type, so it’s not even as though my next placement is something to really look forward to…

I talked at the LD group yesterday, on Zaccheus, after being invited for tea beforehand with the man who leads both my group, and the one I was speaking with. This man is so lovely – he’s got such a huge heart for these people, and is probably the best example of a Christian I will ever come across. Getting to know him and his wife is lovely – I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve been invited to dinner with non-students in my entire time at university. They are honestly so full of love for the lord that I think they might actually explode at some point! Anyway – the talk was a bit mixed as a lot of the group didn’t come, and the ones who were there, were more towards the lower end of ability – and I realised that they probably wouldn’t quite engage with what I’d written, which was pitched more at my group’s level, who are slightly higher functionning (living in sheltered accommodation and holding small, unskilled jobs, as opposed to needing round the clock care). This was a bit nervewracking – but I just went for it and sort of changed my style from a more standard preach, to more of a story-telling structure (with voices – oh yes). It seemed to go ok.

Sometimes I think that with these groups, and even with church as a whole to some extent, it’s not actually the ‘gospel’ bit or the preaching that’s important – it’s the community we build that really enables people to grow. You can have as many theology degrees under your belt, you can have read the Bible umpteen times, but if you’re not in a community that show you and guide you, and support you in your faith and life, what sort of Christian life do you have? With both my group, and the one I visited, the part I love the  most is the sharing of people’s weeks over coffee at the end – I really love seeing our members being supportive and caring towards each other and taking charge of a small task like putting sugar in tea or handing round the biscuits – but a lot of them don’t get much chance to help in their homes, or don’t feel confident doing so. I love listening to them pray aloud (something I struggle with still) and hearing their faith in their voices. It makes me think about all the emphasis on the ‘greatest and the least’ in scripture – these people I love, they lead small lives, by many definitions, but they are still such rich lives.

Sometimes I sort of wonder if I’m pushing myself enough by helping with yet another LD group or cause – which I’ve done on some level since I was a young teen, helping with the support base at the local primary school. It’s an area I feel comfortable with – thought sometimes I wonder if I should be throwing my mission hook elsewhere in another area that I’m less familiar with. I find it so easy to love my group, and others like it – but should I be seeking out people I find it harder to love, to see Jesus in? Should I be actively trying to think where I need to learn to see differently, on a practical level? On the other hand, I know I can’t just chase after every single good cause I hear of (though I do try…..there’s that restless spirit again) and that finding an area I love and feel comfortable in, is such a blessing in its own right. I guess, only time will tell – I’m 23, after all. I’ve got plenty of time to do stuff. There’s no rush. Sometimes I need to slow down.

And after a week of being completely unable to get that Zaccheus song out of my head, if you have been similarly afflicted, please accept my most sincere apologies…xx

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I’ve helped with a church group for adults with severe learning disabilities for about a year now, and it’s honestly been one of the things that has the biggest impact on my faith. It’s true – I’ve heard some brilliant sermons and sang some heartfelt songs, I’ve listened to famous preachers and read books by some of the leading Theologians of the last century, but spending time with people who need to take the Bible at a bit of a slower pace than I do, is the thing that has taught me the most, both by looking at the more experienced leaders build a loving community that churches speak of often, but rarely attain, and also by having to pare back my thinking when I’m given the responsibility of leading a meeting.

I imagine that there are some similarities to teaching sunday school in that there’s a focus on parables and stories, and less of an emphasis on Bible history or theory – but it’s also different, as our members are adults with adult problems, although they don’t have the same capacity to understand or manage, as others do. They have problems with people jeering, being unkind, and taking advantage. They have worries about their loved ones health, and often have a lot of medical problems themselves. They get stressed when their carers change frequently and don’t seem to know them. They struggle in their workplaces when they feel overwhelmed and sometimes undervalued. This is why the group is so wonderful – it truly values each person and actively loves them. It’s ‘church’ at its best. Although, when I hear about some of the stuff they have to put up with, it makes my blood boil and I don’t always remember to have a very Christian attitude towards some of the people who quite literally persecute them. People can be cruel.

I’ve been invited to speak at one of the other groups, that I am not directly involved with, on Thursday. I’m a bit nervous – no matter how many times someone says ‘but ANYONE can preach the gospel!’, I’m still a bit unsure – can I do it? Or more importantly, can I do it well, accurately, lovingly, confidently? I don’t know this group so pitching the right level  is a bit trickier than when I talk with my own, whom I know. As I’ve been preparing it’s made me think about how much you can learn from really taking something back to baseline. I’ve been asked to talk about Zaccheus (Luke 19) and fascinating as it was reading about the symbolism of the sycamore tree, my eyes have been opened by having to look at how I can strip the story back and make it accessible.

Zaccheus is often a bit of a figure of fun – he’s a little, seething, greedy man. Sing the song – you know you want to. You don’t have to go far these days to see or hear the ire directed at bankers and their bonuses – and this is how the people of the day would have seen Zach – beyond reproach, with no thought for anything except the money lining their pockets. And when Jesus picks Zach, out of everyone from the crowds, their response is telling – why is he being favoured, when he is so hated, so very flawed? Why am I not being given that honour, when I tithe what I should and give money freely….. The crowds put themselves above Zaccheus, they get prideful and think that even if they’re a sinner, he’s more of one. He doesn’t deserve Jesus. They’re indignant. They question Jesus’ choice. Even though Zaccheus shows up to see Jesus just as much as they do, and has gone to the effort of shinning up a tree (and I don’t imagine he was all that graceful a climber), they don’t think he’s worthy. He should be made to wait his turn, and when the grace runs dry, miss out and go home empty handed.

More importantly is Zaccheus’ response. He seeks Jesus, meets Jesus, and is driven to change. He suddenly goes all Robin Hood on Jerusalem and gives back what he’s taken and repays the interest four times over. The Holy Spirit changes the biggest obstacle Zaccheus has, that keeps him from living a holy life – and Zaccheus steps up and delivers, in front of the masses. Could you do that? Could you publicly admit the places where you go most wrong, and in the open, put it to rights? Zaccheus gets bravery from following Jesus. This must have been a total high-five moment.

Having to teach on Zaccheus reminded me that anyone who is open to Jesus, deserves Jesus. It reminded me that I need to pray more for people I don’t see eye to eye with, and that sometimes, it’s easy to start marking ourselves up against another person’s flaws and find them wanting. It reminded me that even though it doesn’t always seem that way, the Spirit is working in me to change the parts of me that aren’t, as my church would say, ‘worthy of the kingdom’. I may not be an overt usurer, but I’m certainly not perfect. Whether you’re identifying with Zaccheus, given an honour he doesn’t deserve, or the crowds, we all need Jesus.

Zaccheus is a good example for modern life, I think – when we think of ‘sinners’, the things that come to mind immediately are people committing violent crimes, extortion, prostitution, theft, the list goes on – not the wealthy worker, quietly building up their savings by taking advantage in a fashion that’s not really illegal – but does harm, nonetheless, even if constitutionally, it’s ok. Grey-area, middle-class sinning is still sinning, and realistically, it’s this sort of sin that most of us are much more susceptible to. What if we started being Robin Hoods with our finances, time, and resources? What if we started giving back into the situations we’ve maybe used for our own ends? What if we started owning up and making amends? Scary? You bet.

Are you brave enough to do a Zaccheus?

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A big part of this blog is charting my journey through counselling in an effort to get closer to ‘recovery’ and further away from ‘relapse’. I was back in counselling yesterday, and I think I’m finally settling into it. I did write some stuff to use as prompts if I needed it, but ended up managing to work my way through without it mostly. One thing L had me do was to make a list of all the characteristics I like about myself. I’ve never really been that full of self-esteem to be honest (I went through school as a chubby, bookish kid who didn’t touch alcohol – what chance did I have, really?) and I find things like that very hard. I don’t really like admitting that either – I think a part of me is always terrified that when I start listing all the things I don’t like about myself, and all my faults and idiotic tendancies, that people will just completely agree, or change their opinion of me and start to hate me. Irrational? Yes. Understandable? Probably. Beatable? Probably not. Today, after a lot of pushing, I managed a lift of four things, which then made me collapse spectacularly into tears, as all of these things I like most about myself – my determination, my work ethic, my empathy – are all things that depression has stolen from me in recent months. I can’t concentrate like I used to, I can’t pack as much into as day as I used to, and sometimes, I am so overcome with dark emotion that I feel completely  blinkered from others, and feel myself slipping into overwhelming apathy. I don’t care as much as I want to. I don’t lead as I should, or manage to be a fully supportive team member. I hate it. A lot of the time, it’s as though all the things I hate about myself have amplified themselves to gargantuan proportions, and the things I would usually classify myself by, and use as my flag, have quietly keeled over in the background and died. Sometimes I wonder, will I ever be the same, will I ever have that get-up-and-g0, that no-problem-is-too-big ethos back? Will I ever feel connected again to the world around me? Will I ever start the day with a smile that isn’t forced, and a mind that isn’t weary from lack of sleep?

I was feeling quite vulnerable and negative when I got home, and was delighted to see a letter had arrived, unexpected, from a dear friend. I met the writer, C, at the US summer camp for people with both learning and physical disabilities, that we worked at four summers ago. C has a lot of qualities I would love to acquire more of – she is, to the untrained eye, one of the most confident, competent, caring, young women I know and will ever meet – but when you get that bit deeper, she is even more beautiful when you catch a glimpse of her vulnerability. Her letter really picked me up today, and I’m so thankful for her friendship  – it’s patches like these when having a group around you, is so important.

Friday night was interesting – I was helping out at a fundraising concert held for the learning disability group I help with, which was basically a lovely chilled out set from a Christian Singer-songwriter who is apparently quite well known in these parts. I really really love it when a community manages to be completely inclusive – I love the people in this group so much, and I hate it when they tell me that they’ve had a bad day because some kids yelled something offensive at them, or the bus-driver was cruel, or the shop-assistant didn’t have time to help them. It makes me switch into ‘social vigilante mode’ and start wanting to defend them at whatever cost – this does not always go well! At this concert, everyone was counted and loved. The performer got a few of the younger girls up on stage doing backing vocals, a young man banging some bongos, and it was brilliant. So many of them just ‘get God’ in a way I find hard to myself, and they are so aware of the value they have in His eyes.

I went up today to check in with the little cutie from my last post, and he is doing well, settling a bit more, and the methadone doses are going down every day. I wrote a note to go with him when social services pick him up, just to say that I met him and held him, and thought he was perfect. This might seem sentimental and risky, but I want him to know that he means something to someone, and has an incredible value, today and forever. I don’t want him to feel alone. Life – too painful, too beautiful, to do alone.

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The end of the week’s been busy – but it’s been much nicer than the grim start to the month! My lectures have been interesting and I know I’ll enjoy the specialities I’ll be doing in the next few months. There’s something incredible about watching a baby being born, or seeing a tumour shrinking thanks to chemotherapy. Being a medical student really is an enormous privalege.

Tonight also marked a first for me; I preached for the first time. True, it wasn’t a big preach, to a lot of people, and it wasn’t very eloquent, but it was still the first time I’ve ever been trusted to give my take on God to someone else. I volunteer with a community group for adult Christians with learning disabilities, and over the last year it’s really opened my eyes to what the Bible means when it talks about having the faith of a child, as many of them have quite a high level of disability so I think there is a parallel there to some extent.  The people who come are so easy to love, and have such a trust in God that I often feel they have a much better grasp of faith than I do with all my questions and doubts. I was teaching on prayer this evening, and a lot of what I was saying that was relevant to them, came from my own feelings of inadequacy with my prayer life – in the company of others, I stumble and stutter, and mix up words and tail off. I’m most comfortable talking to God on my own, without the external pressures of people listening and wondering what angle I’m coming from. I’m not a big fan of admitting when I’ve messed up and done wrong – I always try and convince myself that I can hide from God and conceal my mistakes. During my depression, I’ve had long periods of avoiding God all together, but, like the sun resolutely shining in your eyes when you’re driving, there He always is. I’m too afraid to come and say, ‘I’m hurting so much I have no words to describe it. I’m so afraid I have no reference for it. I’m so tired of all this that I feel blanker by the hour’. I’m too afraid sometimes to just sit and let God sit with me, to be quiet. But, God doesn’t care if we use big words or small words, long phrases or short ones. He doesn’t mind when we don’t say much, for want of words, or need of healing. As long as the line of communication is open, He’s happy. Sometimes I forget that.

I need so much to grow in faith, but part of that is growing down in a sense, abandoning my pride and my independence and committing just to follow on, to let God lead me. It’s not just about reading the works of early Christian writers, or sitting down for a few hours with some John Stott. It’s not just about understanding all the things the cross is thought to have achieved, or the political set up of Jerusalem in the time of the gospels. It’s about going back to a child’s faith, the blind, loving faith that does not question, but merely looks for comfort. It isn’t easy. It took about six months of going to church, an alpha course, going to a prayer room four times a week at the crack of dawn, and some heavy mentoring to get me to learn to lean on God and commit myself to Jesus. I didn’t want to accept that, in this world, this wilderness, I need help, just as we all do. It took a long time to break and say, ‘OK, here I am, please help me’. The people in my group don’t have this problem, or at least, not in the same measure that I do.

Just as I love the way the leaders love the people who come, and cherish them as equal members of a community, I love how the participants teach me how to follow. It’s awesome. In deconstructing the Bible to a level they can get involved with and understand, it helps me to get to the bottom of it as well. It’s all very well reading the Pentateuch and learning all about sin offerings and burnt offerings and what to do if you’re an Israelite and your house has mould on the wall – but really, the Lord’s prayer says it all with a simple  message of ‘Please God, make this world as good as the next will be, give me what I need to survive and forgive me when I do wrong. Help me learn to forgive others and keep my on the right path, away from evil’. That pretty much sums up everything we need to pray for ourselves. There’s a reason Jesus was so in favour of that passage and why it is beloved of so many denominations.

This week has been a challenge, but one that I have managed to overcome. And I’m learning, all the time, to trust that God has me, by his right hand. There’s a line in Psalm 139 that I love –

‘you hem me in, behind and before….you have laid your hand on me’

as it always makes me think of God putting a safety net below me to catch me when I fall, but also setting limits on the heights I reach when I’m running at a hundred miles an hour and at threat of burning out. I’m well known as someone who packs in a lot and is always on the go – slowing down is something I find difficult and sometimes refuse to acknowledge a need for. He keeps me in that safe, balanced middle ground and does not let me, or anyone, go. He tells me to slow down and check my bearings, and reminds me to breathe easy every once in a while. He softens my falls.

God, please don’t let go.

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