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Posts Tagged ‘weakness’

I went back to see L yesterday and it’s ended in a bit of a nightmare. I had rallied myself up for it, thought about what I needed to talk about, set my teeth and prepared myself for a painful hour, but what did happen, while not exactly unexpected, was unanticipated. I hadn’t quite factored in that going home leaves me completely numb and drained, every single time. I hadn’t quite cautioned myself that I feel a need to withdraw completely for a  few days, after every trip back, and as soon as I was sat in that chair, I just caved in. It was too much for me. My walls literally caved in, and all those intentions and topics disappeared like smoke. And I sat there, knowing that my tears were on full show, knowing that thanks to the neutral decor, there was nothing to fix my eyes on so I didn’t have to look at L, and knowing that she was looking at me with that carefully trained eye giving no chance of escape. A strange tableau indeed; two young women in a room, one crying, one silent.

Sometimes I wish I was better at shifting words from my mind, to my mouth. I’m crap at counselling, and knowing that for L, our sessions must be like pulling teeth, makes me feel even worse. I’m pretty crap at recovery from depression in general, to be honest.  Something just clamps down, and my sense of self preservation rises up and I lose my words. I go blank. I can’t get them out. I can’t bring myself to throw them into the air and let them hang there out of my control. Today, I just sat and cried, quietly, resignedly, and L kept trying to find a way in and it just wasn’t working, so then she started reading all of the Psalms you would predict in this situation, giving me no choice but to listen and feel as though the writers were so far from me, them with their constancy and courage, and I, whose faith seems to dwindle daily, and relies on hope flimsier than cotton. The words fell on the silence and just seemed to lay there, dead weights and meaningless, and then finally, I gave in and admitted just how awful I’ve been feeling, and the places my mind wanders to when I leave it unchecked, and this disclosure didn’t feel like a weight off, it felt like another nail in a coffin, another flame gone out. Like coming another step closer to dying. And now, I have to go back and face her again and I don’t want to. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to do any of the things I’m supposed to do – I don’t want to have to go back to the GP’s, I don’t want to meet with The Dragon, I don’t want to meet my supervisor, I don’t want any of this. I’m sick of the hurdles. I don’t want to jump over them anymore. I just want the world to stop.

Do you ever feel as though you’re standing against the world alone, impossibly small? I try to tell myself that God knows what He’s doing, that nothing doled out is beyond me – but at the moment, everything seems completely beyond what I’m capable of. I feel completely overwhelmed. I feel like I’ve fallen past the limit of grace. I feel like I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth. I’m rising on the wings of the dawn, I’m settling at the far side of the sea, and it doesn’t feel like God, or anyone, is there.

Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.

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Two Chairs

I’ve had a pensieve few days – my counselling session on Monday pushed a lot of buttons and has made me think a lot about my family’s ups and downs over the last ten years or so, and then earlier, I made the mistake (or at least, that’s how it seems at the moment) or re-reading some of my journals from the period between November and February.  Although it’s so clear that I have improved a lot from how scarily depressed I was then, it has also unsettled me, as those dark thoughts aren’t completely gone yet; I still have a long way to go. I so desperately don’t want to slide back to that. It’s shaken me quite a bit. A lot of the time, I feel like I don’t have much control over my depression. I hate feeling driven by something I can’t even see.

I wrote this on Monday afternoon after seeing L and learning that we have more in common that I would have guessed. It’s called, ‘Two Chairs”

It’s a quiet room, warmed by the afternoon sun, lined with the usual comfortable chairs, pot-plants, boxes of tissues, inoffensive paintings on the walls that are customary to these sorts of places.

In one corner, you sit there, you sit there, deliberately turned to a slight, supposedly reassuring angle, body open, honest, face encouraging. You are quiet, still, calm in manner, at peace. Your eyes refuse to leave mine, they sink in deep, asking, always asking, always waiting for answers. And there, across a table, hunched over, tensed and shaking, am I. I am broken down and crowded out, trying to avoid looking you in the eye, unable to speak freely, afraid. Two chairs face each other in a silent room.

We are alike in some ways, you and I.

We are both twenty-somethings, Christian (or trying, at least), Western, educated young women, living in the same city. We wear jeans and t-shirts with coloured cardigans, simple jewellery. Our long hair is tied back, practical, our make-up is sparse, we write notes to ourselves on the backs of our hands. We both dig into communities, pitch in, volunteer, and according to our friends, have kind eyes. We share a family story, we have carried similar weights and grown up in similar circumstances. But here, here the similarities end.

I look across at you, who, in a word, survived. You came out, taller, stronger, older, wiser. You got through. And I, I am still left behind you see, still floundering. I am still lost at sea, you see, still drowning. I am still reeling from those years but you made it through, you won your battle, the battle I feel I am quietly losing.

Now, in this quiet room with its two chairs, you put a hand out to me, and beckon me towards stable ground and I as always, as sure as stone, hang back untrusting. I cannot find the words I need. I cannot shake this engulfing sense of futility in trying to find a way to mend something so very broken, so far beyond repair. Wasted labour, wasted time, surely? Sometimes, we should just let those sleeping dogs lie a little longer. Seeing you here, calm and confident and stably anchored, hurts all the more – the expanse between us seems to widen. I fell at a hurdle and never got up again; you kept on running and made it over the finish line, you got to the cheering crowds, and I am still here in the dust, alone.

I am not jealous of you, just reminded once again of my own weakness and failure to recover. It proves that people do get through this, but reminds me that a decade on, I am still struggling, still trying to find the right glue that will finally hold me together. I am not jealous. Sometimes, this broken-ness feels like such a familiar part of me, it’s like an extra hand that I have learned to use day by day, it’s become intermingled with what I was before so that I cannot untangle it and learn to heal. It’s been alongside me so long, whispering all the way, that at some point I turned and started to disbelieve that recovery would ever happen. It’s grown with me, through adolescence, through leaving home, through young adulthood, an old and strangely comforting ghost. I thought that those past years would define me forever. Yet now, God puts you in my way, and makes me question whether I should ask for more. It hurts, sometimes, a little. A slight discomfort.

I find this hard, sitting in here, opening these boxes of memories previously hidden, stored so safely. They seem so much bigger than the space we’re in. I worked so hard to tune out and forget that I don’t even know what memories remain that are mine, when all is said and done and I have unpacked them from layers of tissue paper. I silenced myself for so long, and now, you encourage me to speak and I find myself once again, struck dumb. Have I learnt a new language since the last time I spoke honestly, so that now, I stumble over words? Or am I just as ever, awkward? You are patient, almost annoyingly so. You give me space to breathe, and, like a child exhausted after a tantrum, I can feel myself starting to put down my weapons, and am afraid of what disarmament will bring.

What do I remember of those years at home, anyway? I remember that no matter how hard we tried, every glass in the cupboards always smelled of gin, drank straight. I remember laughing with my younger brother as we topped the bottles up with water, a game we were sure would work one day. Some game. I remember holding towels to his arms as he bled buckets from the smallest scratches, once his liver started to fail. I remember long nights in waiting rooms outside hospital wards, too young to be allowed to see him as he sobered up, sitting alone on plastic seats, ignored by the staff. I remember raised voices, raised fists, high tempers and higher expectations. I remember like a blow to the head, the cloud of foreboding hanging over the front door each time I returned home. I remember the silence, when he had drank himself to sleep, and as night fell, I sat and watched the stars through my window and counted them to stop myself crying in the dark.

In that second chair, you sit there, knowing, listening. You sit there, telling me with your kind, wide eyes, of a new promise of spring, a new promise of flying, if I am only brave enough to take it. I, in my crowded-out chair, just don’t know if I can trust you with this part of me. I don’t know whether I can give you that glimpse of the things that make me feel like I’m bleeding out, without breaking down and never getting back up. I don’t know. I am lost.

Two chairs face each other.

 

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I love to sing. It’s become my favourite form of musical expression after leaving my very battered, but ever so faithful, piano behind when I came to university five years ago. Just as there’s something so physical about playing piano, as though there is a direct connection between your feelings and fingers, when I sing, it’s a way for me to get my emotions out and into the open, a way to channel my frustration and make something come of it, however fleeting. It validates it somehow – I can hear the quavering in my voice, and the force behind the lyrics, and for someone who struggles with identifying emotions, it can help a lot. It tunes me in when I feel like all I’m surrounded by is white noice. (nb I am not GOOD at singing – I am just enthusiastic. When I founded my choir, we had to make it non-auditioning just so I could sing in it myself. People never seem to believe this until they have the misfortune of standing next to me and realising that when I say I can’t sing, it’s not self-deprecation, it’s actually a massive understatement. The surprise on their faces would break several mirrors. Perhaps this is why I’ve had bad luck recently…)

I am someone who literally sings to bursting with joy (when it comes for a rare visit), and, when I’m down and out, turns readily to literally singing the blues. I’ve found that my ability to sing at church is a direct expression of how I’m feeling towards God at the time – in the most painfully isolated weeks where I was so very convinced that God had once and for all abandoned me to my misery, I could not sing at all. I couldn’t open my mouth and force out songs of praise, faith and healing. Unlike David in Psalm 40, there was no song there to be had – I was spiritually struck dumb. There’s a wonderful verse in Job about a harp being tuned to the sound of mourning, and that’s just how I feel sometimes – no matter how hard I try, when I’m being pulled under by depression, I just can’t shake it, can’t find a new song to sing. I’m tuned to the key of grieving and hard as I try, just cannot modulate away from it. In those weeks, I couldn’t locate the heart that drives my songs, couldn’t find my soul in amongst so much emptiness and despair, and found that in standing silently amid the worshippers, my sense of detachment only exponentially increased. Music binds us together so often, but can also tear us apart when it so choses.

Just as when I cannot pray I turn to the Lords prayer in it’s simplicity, sometimes when I feel most wiped blank and most like an untamed wilderness inside, I turn to singing hymns, as the words are already there for me to say to God, and all I need to find is a personal yearning behind them to make them resonate with truth. This week I’ve had this song at the front of my mind a great deal, and in singing it so often, I’ve realised that I actually sort of disagree with it.

(this isn’t my favourite recording of this, but due to the limits of youtube and my patience, it will have to do)

Let the weak say, ‘I am strong, let the poor say, ‘I am rich’, let the blind say, ‘I can see’, it’s what the Lord has done in me…..– There’s no doubting that these are true, and beautiful words. We do find strength, spiritual wealth, and new insight when we find God. Certainly, when I became a Christian, it was almost like seeing the world with a new lens, in a different light, with sharper focus and a greater sense of unity. I was looking through a glass, darkly, no more. The air seemed crystal clear. However, in order to find Him, to greet Him as our own God, our Lord and saviour, first we much admit that without God in our lives, we are not as strong, or rich, all-seeing or all-knowing as we previously thought. We are weakened to the point of dying, impoverished of fulfilment, and blinded to what we so greatly need, unseeing of  our place in the world. We are lost, ungrounded, and dying of independance. We open our eyes, and see that we are lost in unfamiliar territory. Being a Christian is all about finding fortitude, beauty and hope – but first, we must see a glimpse of the world for what it is when we continue to live a life wthout  God and without the sacrfice of Jesus; hopeless. We have to lay down our pitiful attempts at strength at the foot of the cross; we have to resign all riches and belongings over to the Lord. We have to accept that our pitiful attempts at independence are nothing but mirages that vanish when we most need an oasis to quench our soul’s thirst. Let the strong say, ‘I am weak’.

I sometimes think that Adam and Eve’s mistake wasn’t in the eating of the apple, but in the fear and self-disgrace they expressed when they realised that unlike God, they were naked and vulnerable, when it occured to them that as created beings, they were terrifyingly mortal and could provide no match for the supremacy of the Lord. Perhaps, if after eating that apple of truth, they had sat under that fated tree and waited for God to come, then said, hands out and brave in their vulnerability, ‘God, we have tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge and now realise that we are naked, afraid, and uncertain, we realise that we depend on you, more than ever, for clothing, shelter, and comfort – please, forgive us our trespass and show us once more how to be strong, now that we know so truly the pain of weakness, and understand that our riches account for nothing without your hand to guide our steps’ – perhaps, the Israelites would have been spared an awful lot of misery, and Jesus wouldn’t have had the impetus for such a dramatic rescue; perhaps if from the very beginning, mankind had recognised its pride and fragility, and let go of this idea of strength coming from somewhere other than God, the world wouldn’t be the mess it still is today. We cling to those mirages when we should be clinging to God. I don’t know the answer to this.

I do know that it’s during those silent moments after I have broken down completely, abandoned all notions of  personal weapons, armor, and ability, that I feel God most strongly, a hand on my shoulder, or a soft whisper in the dark, that now I have admitted that without His guidance I am so firmly at rock bottom, He will help me to start the long journey back upwards. It’s when my strength of self is gone like leaves in the wind that I receive, in weakness, strength from God to keep going, and realise the strength He provides me with is so much better than the pallid shadow of it I had before.  It’s when I look about me and see that although I own many possessions, I am poor in the possessions of faith, that God puts His gifts in my trembling hands. It’s when I stop staring at the problems and worries of my weeks and days, and, taking my focus from the world and  fix my eyes instead on God, that he shields me most and stops me from getting lost in the crowds.

There is something beautiful in those moments when I am closer to having a child’s faith than ever, in those quiet minutes that never last long enough, when I am overcome with the sense of futility in trying to do this life alone. Life – it is too painful and yet too wonderful to do alone. At the moment, I know that I am weakened. I know that my sense of self is flickering and my reserves of hope are often low. I know that I am bleeding out from everlasting exhaustion and often given over to despair. All I can do is to keep kneeling, keep breathing, and fix my eyes on God and remember that it is written on my heart as on tablets of stone that He will give me true strength that will not buckle under pressure, and the riches of faith that will see me through these dark hours.

Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’. Let the strong say, ‘I am weak’. Two sides of the same, human, coin, surely?

 

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