Monthly Archives: August 2012

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”

One day, a long time ago someone said similar words to me.

“You are stronger than you think”

I was fifteen and I felt far from strong. In fact, I felt weak and pathetic – because no-one else was crying every day, no-one else was falling apart at the seams.

We are all stronger than we think.

Our limits are undefined until we are pushed up against them (sorry that sounded very “self-help” didn’t it!?)

It’s not just the strength of the human will, the desire and drive to survive. I believe it to be something more than that, something deeper. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 it says “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

This verse speaks powerfully to me in two ways.

Firstly, we are not alone. Whilst each situation is doubtlessly unique, no-one is alone in their suffering. In the words of R.E.M “Everybody hurts”, but more than that we have a God who has experienced the most acute suffering and agony. We aren’t alone because He has gone before us.

Secondly, it may sound obvious and flippant, but God knows us! He knows us better than we know ourselves and He knows our capabilities and our limits. Although He may allow us to be pushed right up to our limits – He doesn’t allow us to be pushed beyond those limits.

One of my favourite Mother Theresa quotes echoes my own sentiments rather well:

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”

And it can feel like God trusts us too much. But we can rest in the knowledge that God knows us better than we know ourselves and will not push us beyond our limits. It seems Christopher Robin got it right:

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”

 

“A scar means I survived”

Scars can be a massive issue. Whether they be the marks of childhood illnesses such as chicken pox or from surviving an attack or fire. Sometimes they are a constant reminder of a battle with self-harm.

Scars can be hard to come to terms with. However they came to be, it can be be painful to be reminded again and again of something which made such a mark on your body, on your soul.

I used to hate my scars. I used to be disgusted by them because for me they represented weakness and I so desperately wanted to be strong. I hated that every day I was reminded of all I had been through, the lengths I had resorted to in order to keep the pain at bay.

I remember very clearly the day I began to see things a little differently. In Chris Cleave’s book “The Other Hand” he writes the following words;

“We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means “I survived”.’

A scar means “I survived”. They were words which jolted right through me. Perhaps, my scars were not as ugly as I thought they were. Perhaps they didn’t mean I was weak. Perhaps, instead my scars were a sign that I had fought. Fought with all my heart and all my mind.

It does not mean to say that I chose healthy coping mechanisms or that I should continue down that dark and difficult path. But it did mean that I could stop punishing myself for my past.

It meant that I could begin to be thankful that it was over. I could be thankful that I was beginning to heal.

Linda Hogan expressed it in the following way:

“Some people see scars and it is the wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact they’re healing.”

Wounds heal.

The past can heal.

That does not mean that the pain ceases to exist. It doesn’t mean that you never have to face up to the pain.

It does mean that we can be freed from shame.

Why?

Because of the scars of another. Scars that marked the palms and side of Jesus Christ. Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote

“I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them.”

And so it must be with scars. They will remind us. It might be painful. But it is not the end. We do not have to lose more by gazing at the pain and remembering the shame. Instead we look up and look around, acknowledging where we have been. But not allowing it to stop where we can go.

A scar means “I survived”

A scar means we have a life to live, with all the pain and joy and confusion that life can hold.

Noise

The second in the series by a young man with depression.

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Have you ever been in a club or at a gig and you have really wanted to communicate something to the person next you but there is just too much noise to even hear yourself think? Such noise can be overwhelming; so dense it is almost as if you were suffocating beneath it; choking on the thick fog of sound that is crashing against your ears. It is relentless and merciless, giving no space to utter even a syllable in any meaningful way.

Well, for a number of months I lived in just such a place. From the moment I was diagnosed with depression, a wall of sounds came crashing down upon me. To this day I cannot recall much of what was said as the noise was lost in translation; words reached my ears as if they were another language – flooding into my mind and simply swirling around in a vortex of confusion. Oh, what I would have given for a moment of stillness; a tiny twinkle of silence, just enough for me to rest. Be still. Do…nothing. Take in everything that was happening to me and in me.

This wall of noise came rushing in from all around me; different people all trying to speak into my situation. Concerned and caring people around who all wanted, so desperately, to help the once-confident person who was now sat, broken, on his bedroom floor. The problem was not with their intentions but rather what it denied me: space.

So many words of advice. So many requests for an explanation. So many prayers. They ate up the space around me and slowly choked me. At the time, sifting through the various comments and suggestions seemed like climbing a mountain with lead boots. When getting up seems like an exercise in futility and even basic tasks exhaust the mind and body, working out the whys and hows of your own depression is simply impossible.

At this point, I must inject a confession and an encouragement. I must confess, before depression was my struggle, I was always too ready to speak and too slow to listen. To those to whom I did this, I am truly sorry.  And the encouragement: if, like me, you have at one point or another been part of the noise please know this – those you spoke to will know you did so out of a deep love for them and an honest desire to reach out to them. Do not feel condemned or as if you got it wrong. Rather, let us consider the quote I began this post with. ‘[w]ithout silence words lose their meaning…without listening speaking no longer heals’. If our words of counsel are to be meaningful and a source of healing, we must first embrace that awkward and often unsettling space: silence. We must be ready to simply ‘be’ with those that are hurting, embrace those that are breaking and walk with those that are stumbling.

Depression can be a lonely and confusing journey. I challenge you, indeed, I dare you, to walk silently alongside those struggling in this way and rather than offering words, to offer yourself with the same kind of self-emptying love that Christ perfectly modelled to us.

Free Falling

This post is the first in a series of three submitted anonymously on the reality of being a christian struggling with clinical depression.

For the man who has fallen from an aeroplane and is now plummeting towards the earth, telling him to simply get it together and get back in the airplane will do little. Indeed, if he could stop twisting, spinning and flapping long enough, he would surely strangle you for making just such a suggestion.

To the man trapped in a dark, dank room, its floor being slowly sodden by sewage, its walls slowly creeping in, enveloping its occupant in cold darkness, an exit no more than a mythical concept at this point, telling him to simply leave and abide in a place of positivity will do nothing but further the gloom.

I have been both of these men in recent times. Sometimes at the same time. Whilst in a season of confusion and cold darkness, the spotlight was turned sharply onto me, as, almost in interrogation style, those around me searched for a spiritual reason for my struggle and a get out clause that allowed God to save face. Repeatedly, and with many different tones, I was confronted with the idea that somehow I had caused my suffering and that I was responsible for me restoration.

This post will not offer a theodicy – we are not going to dialogue about the different reasons we encounter suffering. Instead, I want to suggest that in our hurry to defend God and make sense of suffering and, in my case, depression, we have reduced ourselves to the same level as the friends of Job, failing to offer comfort as we stammer to offer explanations.

One of the things that has always struck me about the story of Job is how odd and perplexing the behaviour of the friends is. How many of us can imagine approaching a man who has lost his home, his wealth and his family, with words of accusation and condemnation? How many of us would think to offer an explanation to someone’s suffering rather than offering comfort and compassion? And yet, all too often, the stories of those who struggle with mental ill health, me included, unearth that with alarming regularity; this is what the church is exporting.

Much of this seems rooted in our inability to say a little, yet profound phrase: ‘I don’t know.’ It appears we are so unsettled and disturbed by the unknown that we would rather attempt to explain others’ suffering and tell them how to fix it than admit we simply don’t know. Of course, whilst we are developing our lofty theodicies and preaching at the broken, we are missing the point entirely and fail to sit with them in the ashes, bringing comfort and community to their broken place. Surely this, above all else, is our mandate for approaching mental ill health; to sit in the mud and the ash with those who suffer, and in doing so, bring comfort and community to their broken places. Enough of our ego trips and attempts to sound wise and intellectual – we are called to serve the broken and hurting with self-emptying love, meeting them in the places in which they are trapped and ensuring they do not travel the long journey alone.