Monthly Archives: August 2013

Birthday Blog

If I’m honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing when I set up ThinkTwice. I had a passion, rooted in the pain I experienced on my darkest days and I almost felt like I had no choice. I had to do something to help, had to try and make a difference, had to try and make something out of everything I’d been through.

I was twenty – I had no idea how to run a charitable organisation – at the beginning, I didn’t even really know what I wanted ThinkTwice to achieve. I just wanted to fill a hole, get people talking, make people realise that they aren’t alone.

Three years on and we have trustees, a web following and our awareness and educational resources will be ready by Easter 2014!

I hope that over the past three years, people have caught the vision. The vision for a society, led by the Church which doesn’t say things like, ‘Real christians don’t get depression because they’re supposed to be full of the joy of the Lord’ or ‘You aren’t allowed to have an anxiety disorder because it says in the Bible not to be anxious’.

We’d really love it if you could pray for us as we enter the next phase of our work, it’s exciting but also quite terrifying (particularly for Rachael!)

Over the next year we really want to send our resources to press and we’d love it if you were able to donate a little bit to our cause! If you feel so inclined, you can donate either by writing a cheque to ThinkTwice and mailing it to

ThinkTwice

London School of Theology

Green Lane,

Northwood

HA6 2UW

Alternatively, you can drop Tom a line at thinktwicetreasurer@mail.com and set up a bank transfer or regular standing order.

Here’s to our fourth (and hopefully best) year!

 

Mental Health and Asperger’s Syndrome – Guest Blog by James Read – Part 2

You can read the first part of James’ blog here.

The church I am now a part of is very supportive and understanding of my condition. They are an exceptionally welcoming church and I’ve grown as a result of being there. In no way do I want to fault them personally. My take on the church’s attitude towards mental health applies generally; from my observations, there are two main issues that need addressing.

Firstly, mental illness seems somehow hyper-spiritualised by many Christians; that is to say it tends to be seen more as a spiritual rather than a medical problem. To illustrate: Let’s say that someone in a wheelchair is invited to a church event that is to be held in an upstairs room. Would the more common and appropriate response be to A) reconsider the venue, or B) to pray for God to give that person the strength to climb the stairs? Now switch the person in the wheelchair for someone suffering from severe depression or a condition such as my own that makes socialising emotionally and mentally draining. They may even find it a strain to get out of bed in the morning and at a social event, be close to break-down. My experience suggests that in the case of mental health the proposed solution would more likely lean towards option B, i.e., prayer alone rather than any practical intervention.

I’m in no way suggesting that solutions to mental health problems are easy – it requires patience, time, openness, co-operation, understanding and education. Nor am I suggesting that prayer is not essential in any situation or that God cannot miraculously heal any kind of ailment. My point is that the church’s attitude can often differ markedly between physical and mental issues, simply because we don’t appreciate or take the time to understand the underlying causes of mental illness and appreciate how ‘real’ it is. I don’t believe in dichotomising prayer and action. The problem is that as Christians we understand that prayer leads to action with more obvious and tangible problems, but those associated with mental health are often by nature, ‘invisible.’ This situation won’t change unless we try and improve mental health’s ‘visibility’, so to speak.

The church must create an atmosphere of openness and encourage people to talk about mental health struggles they face, without fear of being labelled an attention seeker, backslidden Christian, or any name you’d care to insert. As well as providing emotional support, this can be a start to educating ourselves as to the nature and reality of their condition. Becoming informed enables us to show genuine love and care through befriending, counselling, assisting with and providing access to the right support etc. I recently invited my counsellor to give a talk to my church on Asperger’s Syndrome. We advertised this around many local churches and Christian groups, resulting in a very impressive turn-out. I would encourage churches to consider inviting specialists to speak on mental health issues. Yes there may be a potential clash of Christian and secular worldviews, but I don’t think to an insurmountable degree, and there is much to be learned. In the case of A.S., when you take the time to learn about it (which generally most people still need to do), you will hopefully see that there is more to the issue than lack of faith, demonic oppression, apathy, or lack of will power.

Secondly, mental illness sufferers can be made to feel unnecessarily guilty over their condition when in church or among Christians. That is, to hear the message that the solution lies solely in your hands or even that God cannot bless you until you somehow make that extra, somehow elusive, bit off effort. Such attitudes appear to be increasing with a current trend for preachers, Christian authors and the like to adopt a life-coach/self-help approach in their ministries. The truth is that none of us are worthy of coming into God’s presence apart from His grace, by what His Son has already achieved for us by dying in our place and rising again. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to and loved by God through our own efforts (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9).  For anyone experiencing the drain and despair of mental illness, this life-giving message of grace is surely what is needed. It is the only sure foundation on which to build, as I am now doing and with His grace, will continue to do. Anything else is only to put ourselves in the centre rather than Christ. Simply encouraging a depressed person to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, however well-meaning, can be like a kick in the ribs while they are down (not to mention robbing Christians of the desire and joy of serving the Lord). That is what the world offers, but the body of Christ can give them something so much better. Even though life is still an uphill battle and there are days when I feel my batteries are completely flat, I know I can rest in God’s grace. That is always the recharge I need.

I often find myself thinking about what my life would be like if things had turned out differently: What if I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome earlier, learnt about this part of who I am and been able to explore and manage the symptoms from an earlier age?  But I have made the decision not dwell on this, but rather remind myself that from the beginning, God had a plan. He brought me to where I am through my experiences, helping me grow into His image, providing opportunities to serve others, so that he can work more powerfully through my weakness (2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me).

My journey has taught me of the need for us all, including the church, to be educated about the nature of mental illness and how people are affected. We must be informed as to the support we can offer. Above all though, it has brought home to me the need for the refreshing good news of Jesus Christ, of His forgiveness and healing and that we can be confident of receiving these gifts when we ask (1 John 1:9).

If you would like more information about Asperger’s Syndrome, here is a good place to start:

www.actionforaspergers.co.uk

Mental Health and Asperger’s Syndrome – Guest Blog by James Read – Part 1

The first in a two-part series looking at Asperger’s and mental illness.

My journey through the mental health maze began in my late teens/early twenties. I’d always struggled in social situations and into adulthood this became increasingly debilitating. It led to severe anxiety and depression, finally to the extent of having to seek professional help. All this roughly coincided with the time I became a Christian.

 

I had read about Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism, and was eventually diagnosed with the condition (though it had been suspected earlier). A.S. is a neurological condition characterised by an impaired ability to read other people non-verbally, i.e., to imagine what someone else is thinking through reading facial expressions, body language and host of other subtle clues. This is a major barrier to communication and social interaction. Another characteristic is a lack of thought flexibility, or conversely, acute single-mindedness. This can of course be a great advantage but it makes so much of the outside world a complex, confusing and hostile place for ‘Aspies.’ (This is a name we often call ourselves, while referring to those without A.S. as ‘Neuro-Typicals’, or ‘N.T.’s.)  While my diagnosis came as a relief, it also turned out to be the beginning of a personal learning curve, with a lot of previously suppressed symptoms coming to the surface. It turned out that I’d had a relatively small grasp of all the implications of A.S. and how they applied to me. Finding appropriate aftercare on the NHS proved difficult.

 

After being diagnosed I went through a time of distressing and confusing episodes where the outside world seemed increasingly hostile. I found myself having to rethink a lot of what I thought I knew about my own abilities and identity. There was also all the guilt: Was this a ‘real problem’ or was it just my attitude or sense of perspective that was holding me back? One member of my church is on 24-hour life support; did I really have any right to complain after comparing my life with theirs and their family? Perhaps I didn’t have enough will power, wanted everything my own way, was unwilling to pick up my cross and live up to ‘biblical manhood.’ It was all a fair bit of soul searching.

 

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I found a good counsellor who runs an A.S. support charity in my area. With her empathy and expertise I was able to shed more light on what made me anxious and why; really dig down into how the condition affects me and as a result, give voice to my struggles. My involvement with the charity has made me all the more passionate about the need for informing the wider public about this condition; this is badly needed across all sectors of society, including the church. I would guess this is the case for many other mental health-related conditions.

 

I am happy to say that I am making progress and this is a continuing journey. But however far I have come or will go in the future is solely dependent upon the bedrock of God’s grace. This is where my faith is vital, as is the support of my church.

Part two will follow tomorrow.