Monthly Archives: March 2012

Balancing the Ethical and Pastoral

As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’m currently writing my third year dissertation on ethical and pastoral responses to the suicidal.

It’s a challenging project, not least because of some of the pro-suicide sources I’ve had to engage with.

And yet, above all that I’ve learnt, am learning, is how to balance the ethical and the pastoral. How to be faithful to the biblical text whilst also serving the struggling and the suffering. Particularly with the issue of suicidality, it can be all too easy to either neglect the ethical or to simply judge and criticise. Neither of these approaches are helpful.

We have to try and get this balance right. I really hope that I’m going to manage it! I feel burdened more than ever to reach into the word and reach out to the suffering. Suicidal feelings are distressing and can devastate lives. It is my prayer that some of the research I’m doing is going to make a difference. That the study of such a despairing topic, will, somehow bring hope.

Springtime Blues?

I’ve heard of winter blues, but it occurred to me today that spring makes me sad. It has made me sad for quite a long time. When the scent of the air is thick and sweet, smelling of blossom and freshly cut grass stirs in me so many memories that hit me in the solar plexus. I wrote about it this time last year and I thought I would share that writing here, in case any others feel the same.

“Today is a sunny, bright day.

The smell of freshly cut grass reminds me of those Bank Holidays and Saturdays when Mum and Dad would be outside gardening, or clearing the garage out and I would be inside, by choice, hiding from the sun to sit at my computer and write stories full of death and destruction and loneliness.

Later I would sit in the same seat working myself into the ground; colour-coding notes, reading textbooks and studying diagrams. The sun reminds me of the days when Mum would be reading the paper in the garden and Dad falling asleep in front of the telly.

Of days in Mr. Besant’s garden with Jessie, building dens, lying on our stomachs in the grass chatting and reading for hours on end. Going to the park, playing on swings, having picnics.

Wandering to the ice cream van to get sweets with Jessie to enable us to survive two hours of music theory.

Having lunch in the forest with Michelle and Freyja, before returning to school for afternoon lessons.

Walking in the sunshine to the sandwich shop near Avon House, getting a sandwich and a diet coke each for Liz and I. Sitting in the pub with Nancy, glass of wine in hand, putting work and the world to rights.

The sun reminds me of sunny afternoons, getting the bus to see my psychologist after work, scars irritated by the heat and feeling faint. Of listening to Marya Hornbacher on my iPod. Sitting in Andrew’s office. Crying. Catatonic.

LST. Sun shining. Balmy evenings at the Gate. Short bright skirts and picnics on the grass. Watching the boys play football whilst lazily flicking through revision notes.”

The sights and smells of spring awaken in so many memories. Some are lovely and precious, others are unimaginably painful. I don’t think I am alone in this. That the sun can hold as many bad memories, as good ones. The Spring, the start of the sunshine awakens these memories from the cold chill of winter.

And yet. There is hope. Hope because memory means survival. Hope because there is opportunity for more memories, better memories.

I end with a poem, written around this feeling of the darkest of times remembered in the light of summer sunshine.

There is something about the sun

That shines in my memories

My darkest days, I remember in light

Of hiding from the happiness

That came with the sun

Behind closed doors

And curtained windows

I delved into my depths

Searching my darkness

For the light

There is something about the sun

That casts its harsh glow

But makes everything seem ‘right’

So easy to hide from reality

Blinded by the sun

Searching the dark

For the truth

Of what’s within

Wanting the depths

Of the darks’ comfort.

There is something about the sun,

That rises and sets

The beauty of normality, ritual.

It pierces the pains

A glimmer of hope

A new dawn,

A new start

Emerging from the dark

Guest Blog by Hannah Malcolm on Depression

It is strange to think that 4 years ago I was essentially a happy and content teenager. That’s the thing with depression as a result of circumstances beyond your control – it is a dramatic alteration of your personality and basic outlook. I have close family members who have struggled with much longer-term depression, a kind of permanent setting in the brain that lasts a lifetime. Often, it takes a while to recognise that in someone, but when it is acknowledged, it is clear that it has a lengthy underlying basis. Depression as a result of circumstance is harder to understand. Horrible stuff happens to lots of people, and they largely move on with their lives and live quite normally once it’s over. For me, a series of unfortunate events when I was around 16 have affected me in ways I never thought they would at the time. I thought that by now I would be back to ‘normal’, back to how I was before and not still relying on medication and checks with the doctor every couple of months to assess my progress – generally not promising. I had hoped I would just need a little chemical boost to help me get through the nasty stuff before I got on with living.

That’s not what has happened. This morning, my eyes filled with tears while I was looking at a flying bird. Why? There is no rational explanation for such a response. I was just suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of disconnectedness to the rest of the world, and longing to feel part of it in a way I don’t feel I am, past the wall of numbness that seems to define me a lot of the time. That is, of course, a nonsense – and over the last year or so I have got increasingly frustrated at myself because of my failure to ‘get better’, despite the fact that actually my life is incredibly blessed in many ways. Some things are still hard, but not to any kind of extreme. I think other people find it confusing, too. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why a painful past would actually alter my personality so permanently, and I have had to acknowledge that the likelihood is that I will be ‘sick’ for a long time yet.

As I have mentioned in other posts on my blog, this change has led to my becoming incredibly sensitive and guilt ridden – not only in the choices I make, but in the very fact that I am depressed. I feel ashamed that for some reason I don’t feel that deep joy and peace that we are promised as Christians. I feel angry that God won’t lift this burden from me, and then I feel guilt at my anger. I feel fear for the future and whether this will ever go away. I fear the way it will affect current and future relationships with those around me. Life feels very, very long. Of course, medication (and for a long time counselling) has helped me enormously. I feel entirely ‘functional’ (whatever that means!) the majority of the time, and I do experience wild moments of joy like other people. But I don’t want to be reliant on pills. It’s hard to accept that about myself. I want to be stronger than I am.

Fortunately, Christ is more than sufficient, and his strength is made perfect in my weakness. It’s important to know these things about the one who has longed for us from eternity. A lot of the time, I don’t feel them, because my feelings are damaged. I have to know them instead – to lock them away, treasure them up in my heart and turn to them, running to the arms of one who has known deep grief, rejection and anguish, and accepting his love.

Hannah Malcolm,