Monthly Archives: May 2016

Friend in Need? #BeAFriend

I used to feel quite sorry for my friends.

They’ve had a lot to put up with.

Depression ravages the best relationships. And it’s not just the obvious things.

Aside from the fact that I get very tired and sometimes disappear off the radar for a week or so every now and again – there are the unseen effects of depression.

Personally, one of the ways depression manifests itself in me is what the psychologists call “inappropriate or excessive guilt”.

Some of my friends actually banned me from apologising because it took up half of our conversations! At my darkest – I apologised for my very existence.

One of my favourite writers on mental illness (and you will know this because I quote her a lot in these blog posts!) Kay Redfield Jamison, writes

“Mental illness sabotages the best of relationships, and even in the most steadfast, generates an unrelating bone-weariness.”

It is not easy to be a friend to someone in the grips of depression.

They may flicker between wanting you there every minute of every day, to sending you away – claiming you’re too good for them.

What your friend really needs to know – is that you aren’t going to run a mile. Equally, you can’t be there 24 hours a day. It might be appropriate to ping them a text to see if there is anything they need… but less so to camp out in their house!

Listen to what your friend needs, don’t barge in with what you think they need.

Friends with depression might not be the easiest people to be around – but they’re still good friends – friends with the ‘flu might not be great company either, but they’re still good friends!

Friendship can’t cure depression… but it can make it a load easier to bear.

How Can You #BeAFriend When You’re Unwell? Guest Post by Abbie Robson

There are articles all over the place about how to be a friend to someone who has mental health issues or a chronic mental illness. My Facebook newsfeed is full of “what to say to your friend who has anxiety”, “how to support someone who self-harms”, or “what I wish my friends understood about my depression”. These aren’t bad things, but they leave a gap: how do you be a friend when it’s you who has the mental health problem?

When I get into thinking about this, there are lots of thoughts that start running rampant in my mind, and if I’m feeling a bit low I get stuck on a train of negative thoughts:

“I can’t be as good a friend as I’d like to be. I always end up letting them down. I feel so guilty that they worry about me, and that they always end up having to do things for me.”

I’ve battled with this for years. When depression seems to have taken charge it’s hard to remember why anyone would want me as a friend. Then when hypomania creeps in, I think I’m a better friend than I am, because I don’t always see how much input my friends need to have to keep me safe.

My best friends are my prayer triplet, and they are wonderful. We’ve seen the best and the worst of each other, and after what we’ve been through together, I reckon there can’t be many friendships closer than the ones I have.

But, despite my illness, it’s not just me relying on them. We rely on each other, and know that what’s happened to all of us over the years has made us stronger. What it has taken me a long while to learn is that I’m still a person with attributes that are nothing to do with my mental health. My friendships with other people didn’t suddenly change when I was diagnosed with bipolar. Friends see the best and worst of each other, and the badness of the worst makes the best times even better.

I used to think of myself as being ‘the needy one’, and that I’d never be able to do anything helpful or useful. Most of the time it was the depression talking, but a little bit of that mindset crept in, always threatening to take up permanent residence. Having friends, and being a friend, is what counteracts that. I know that there are things I can do for my friends that no one else can, and, through them, I know that I have qualities that make me a good friend. Recognising those strengths is what gives me the confidence to offer friendship.

I can always find things that, as a friend, I should have done differently. I went through a stage where I constantly felt guilty for not being the friend I ‘should’ be. I hate some of the things I’ve said to them, even thought I wasn’t in my sane mind at the time. I feel bad that I’ve put my friends through so much, and often think I should constantly be seeking their forgiveness. But they don’t see my bipolar as a sin – and as they say, that’s what friends are for. Their love for me isn’t diminished by my illness.

But the greatest pressure, I think, is that which comes from inside. I know my friends don’t think about me the way I think about myself. And while I might be the one with a diagnosis, they need me as much as I need them.

The main thing about being a friend and having friends is that you can trust each other. My friends say I am a good friend. We have serious times and we have a laugh together (often at each others’ expense, which I reckon is the best kind!). If my mental health is flailing they are right there for me – but I am right there for them too. At the end of the day, I’m just a friend who loves my friends, and I can be as good a friend as the friends I have.

And when I don’t believe them they are right there to remind me – because that’s what friends are for.

To get involved with the ThinkTwice #BeAFriend campaign, Facebook or tweet your ideas, with a picture of you doing them if you want, using the hashtag to @ThinkTwiceInfo or ThinkTwiceInsta if you prefer Instagram. 

Abbie Robson is the author of two books on self-harm, “Secret Scars” and “Insight Into Self-Harm”, she is also a Mum of two and blogs at https://pinkandbluemummyland.wordpress.com.

This post also appears as a part of our Threads takeover!

Sad Dad #MHAW16 – Guest Post

My name is Luke. I am married to Kelly and we have 2 sons, Reuben (3.5 years old) and Judah (6 months old).

I have depression.

I don’t remember not having depression or something resembling it. One of my earliest memories is being very small (maybe 4 or 5) and hitting my head against a wall because I was frustrated with myself. When I was around 9 or 10  I wrote a letter explaining why the world would be a better place without me in it.

My school handed the letter to my mum, it was devastating for her.

The rhythm of depression, low self-esteem and struggle carried on for years. The worse I felt about myself the deeper my depression became. The deeper the depression the more I felt I needed to earn the right to be me, to be loved, to live my life.

There were occasional highs, but largely there were devastating lows.

In January 2012 I learnt that I was going to become a dad. I was so excited; being a father was all I had ever wanted. I was also terrified; what if my son was like me? What if he had the maddening frustration, the sense of despair, the dark thoughts and shadowy corners in his mind? What if he one day decides that the world is a better place without him in it?

I had 2 options, either to continue in my current pattern, or to attempt to break free of it. Option 1 wasn’t really an option so I explored option 2.

I returned to frequent exercise, I took on a more disciplined sleep routine, and I started taking vitamin D supplements. All of these things were useful and beneficial but there was something more fundamental missing.

I started meeting with a lecturer at my university. We talked and explored a lot of issues. He highlighted things to me that either I had known but not addressed or that I had simply never thought through. We prayed together and he gave me homework to challenge myself.

In the midst of this I was also working toward a research masters, writing about fatherhood in Matthew’s gospel. The image of fatherhood I found in Matthew was one whose child had walked away from him and who was desperately calling him to come back. The more I read and prayed and listened, the more I realised that God was calling me too. He was calling me because I did not yet see myself how he saw me.

I had been labouring under the impression that I needed to do things to be worthy of love. I had rejected works of righteousness, I knew I was saved by grace, but I had a sense of needing to earn God’s love or pay back what I owed after I was saved. Obviously it was a debt I could never repay and so I was working hard to fill a cup that was already full, frustrated that it was not getting filled. He already loved me. I simply needed to open my eyes and realise. That became a catalyst for recovery that has extended beyond my relationship with God into my other relationships and my self-esteem in other parts of my life.

All of that is easier said than done. One cannot simply choose not to be depressed, nor does the struggle with any mental illness illegitimate one’s faith. Rather, knowing God’s paternal love for me, armed with God’s armour, it is a battle I fight every single day.

Knowing God’s love has steadied me as a father myself.

I love my boys. Not because of anything they do, nor because of what they are like. I love them because they are. In everything I do with them I seek to be a reflection of God’s love, taking hold of the knowledge I have and feeding into their lives. Knowing the love of a perfect father I can be vulnerable with them, not hiding my depression from them but sharing with them the realities of life.

I have depression in the same way that a person who suffers with alcoholism might still call themselves an alcoholic, even if they have been sober for years. I know the dark that lurks inside my mind; I know what it is capable of. So I fill the spaces with all the light I can, knowing that if I am filled with light then the darkness must scurry to the corners. In doing so I hope too that Reuben and Judah will be filled with light and learn to pursue light themselves, no matter what darkness they encounter throughout their lives.

Luke Maxted is a Husband. Dad. Children and Families’ Worker at Chalfont St Peter Parish. Still figuring myself out. Twitter @LukeMaxted

 

Responding to the Mental Health Service Crisis with Friendship

It’s getting worse.

Suicide rates are rising.

It cannot be ignored.

If the rates of deaths from anything other than mental health problems were raising for the first time, there would be outrage.

Why are we not outraged that over 4000 people are taking their own lives every year?

Why are we not outraged that there has been a 10% increase in the use of sectioning under the mental health act?

What are we not outraged that 20,000 children are going to A&E because of mental health problems?

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by numbers when reports such as this are released (0r leaked) what difference can we make in the face of so many suffering?

And whilst it is true that we cannot fix a flailing mental health system as individuals, we can make a difference in the lives of the people we know behind those numbers.

For centuries, the church has been at the forefront of social care; food banks, care for the elderly, family support has been part and parcel of the church’s mission.

It’s time for us to step up.

We can’t fix the problems of mental health service waiting times, nor can we manage  the work loads of thinly-stretched medical teams.

What we can do, though, is speak up and reach out.

In Jeff Lucas’ book “Faith in the Fog” his words ring all too true:

“When the church is silent to a person in crisis, it can sound remarkably like the silence of God.”

We can’t be silent, because God isn’t silent.

Throughout the pages of our history, we can see God show up and speak.

He showed up in flames to speak to Moses, and in the small voice to speak to Elijah.

He showed up most powerfully and personally in the person of Jesus Christ, who reached out his hand to the untouchables and welcomed the most isolated in his society.

As Swinton and Vanier write:

 “The call of Jesus is to hear the cries of love and to move forwards in friendship and in perseverant love; a mode of friendship which destroys stigma and opens up space for all of us together to be fully human even in the midst of our wildest storms.”

In the wildest storms of an ailing system and hurting people, the church of Jesus is called to extend the hand of friendship, providing community and a listening ear to the hurting and hopeless of our society.

Whether it be a community cafe initiative, a befriending scheme or a fundraiser for your local mental health team – how can your church reach out the hand of friendship to the most forgotten in our society?

To get involved with the ThinkTwice #BeAFriend campaign, Facebook or tweet your ideas, with a picture of you doing them if you want, using the hashtag to @ThinkTwiceInfo or ThinkTwiceInsta if you prefer Instagram. 

 

This post also appears as a part of our Threads takeover!

5 Ways to #BeAFriend

When someone we love is struggling with a mental illness, it can make us feel completely helpless. We might have a vague idea that we shouldn’t tell them to ‘pull themselves together’, but we aren’t always sure what we should say. With that in mind, I decided to put together a number of ways you can support a friend who is facing the complexities of mental illness.

1. Listen

It can be really tempting to spout every piece of information we know about mental health at our friend so that they think we know what we’re talking about, but in all honesty one of the best things you can do is let them take the lead and listen to what they are feeling. You don’t need to have a theological response to suffering, you just need to listen to what they’re experiencing.

2. Relax

You don’t need to change who you are to support a friend – if you’re naturally quiet then why not suggest watching a funny film together, and if you’re more outgoing offer to accompany your friend out to a coffee shop if they’re feeling nervous about it. But while it’s good to encourage your friend to step out, don’t force them into something they aren’t ready for.

3. Offer

We’re pretty used to helping out friends who have physical illnesses, we might offer a lift to someone who’s broken their leg and can’t drive or cook a meal for sick friend. These things aren’t just useful for physical illnesses, quite often people with mental health conditions can struggle to take good care of themselves and so offering to take the dog for a walk, pick up some shopping or take round a lasagne – the millennial version of the quiche, I think – can be a real help.

4. Think

If you friend is having difficulty getting to church, remind them of the sermon podcast they can listen to or take round the new Rend Collective album so that they can still feel connected to the church community even if they can’t be there physically.

5. Lament

We don’t need to dress up our tears before God. The Psalms are full of cries of despair and lament, which still glorify God. Part of supporting a friend with mental illness is encouraging them that having a mental illness is not a sin and our emotions can be brought before God in the same way that our physical conditions can be.

This post first appeared here last year.

To get involved with the ThinkTwice #BeAFriend campaign, Facebook or tweet your ideas, with a picture of you doing them if you want, using the hashtag to @ThinkTwiceInfo or ThinkTwiceInsta if you prefer Instagram. 

#BeAFriend

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.” -Albert Camus

I wonder what it means to you to be a friend? Does it mean the occasional coffee or dinner party? Is a friend the person you call at 3am? Or does it mean that you lay your life down for them?

I think if you had asked me, before I became ill, what being a friend meant, I would have said that being a friend would mean “being there” for someone and having fun with them. Over the past 10 years, however, my view of what it means to be a friend has changed dramatically. It would have done anyway, I’m sure: but mental illness has heightened it.

For me, friends have not only been people to hang out with, but at times, friends have been the ones to pull me kicking and screaming back from the edge of some unknowable abyss. They’ve called me by name when I’ve felt lost, and held onto hope for me when I couldn’t hold onto it for myself.

I lost friends, too. Both the passage of time and the difficulty of walking beside me when I could do nothing but face the ground has pulled once-close friendships apart. But the friends who have walked beside me through celebration and devastation have changed not only the way I view friendship, but the way I view life, myself and God.

When mental illness stripped me of my name and identity, friends have helped me to piece it back together again. Friendship is the greatest weapon we have against the stigma of mental illness, because there is no room for stigma if we are to call one another friends. As theologian John Swinton writes: “Committed friendship that reaches beyond culturally constructed barriers and false understands and seeks to ‘resurrect the person’ – who has become engulfed by their mental health problems – is a powerful form of relationships.”

And for my part, friendship has forced me to look beyond my own brain. For life does go on. Depression does not stop weddings being planned, babies being born and jobs changing. Friendship is often seen as something weak and soft, but the kind of friendship that Jesus talks about in the New Testament is anything but. It’s a friendship that calls us to lay down our lives and to reach outside of our own comfort zones. It’s a friendship that called Zaccheaus, the most outcast of men, down from a tree and into a new way of living, and a friendship that invites sinners to sit with the son of God.

So to mark Mental Health Awareness Week this year,we are launching a #BeAFriend campaign. All too often, we think that in order to support someone with a mental health problem, we need to be a professional or act like a therapist, but what we really need to do is be a friend: whether that be through sharing a Happy Hour frappaccino, asking if they need help with a food shop, inviting them to the pub after church on a Sunday, or offering to go to the doctors with them.

We don’t need to be a medical professional or therapist to help one another; we need to be a friend and we need to let them be our friend, too.

To get involved with the ThinkTwice #BeAFriend campaign, Facebook or tweet your ideas, with a picture of you doing them if you want, using the hashtag to @ThinkTwiceInfo or ThinkTwiceInsta if you prefer Instagram.

Check out our the #MHAW16 series over at https://www.threadsuk.com and Rachael will be taking your questions about mental health on Wednesday lunchtime via a Facebook live chat. Log on at 1pm to hear her advice and answer your own questions.

Lament – Pursuit Talk

Last weekend Rachael spoke at The Pursuit on lament, for those who couldn’t be there – here it is!

“But please, please won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes.” The Magician’s Nephew

When I think of lament, I think of Diggory. The passage I just read from CS Lewis’ The Magicians Nephew, seems to me the most beautiful picture of not only lament, but God’s response to our lament.

It’s a picture seen in Jesus weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus and sitting on the Mount of Olives despairing over what is to come.

Lament is, in the words poet Dylan Thomas “rage against the dying of the light”. It’s the proclamation before God that this isn’t how it was meant to be, that life hurts and we don’t understand.

Lament is found in over half of our Psalms, from the forsakenness of Psalm 22, to the darkness of Psalm 88.

The Message translates it like this:

1-9 God, you’re my last chance of the day.

I spend the night on my knees before you.

Put me on your salvation agenda;

take notes on the trouble I’m in.

I’ve had my fill of trouble;

I’m camped on the edge of hell.

I’m written off as a lost cause,

one more statistic, a hopeless case.

I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out,

blinded by tears of pain and frustration….

You made lover and neighbour alike dump me;

the only friend I have left is Darkness.

Here, in our scripture, darkness seems to get the last word. It’s not the fixed smile of an “I’m fine thanks”, it’s a scream of pain and protest.

And yet the key aspect of lament, whether it takes the form of grief or protest, is that it’s addressed to the Father.

J Todd Billings writes in his book Rejoicing in Lament:

““[Lament can mean] grieving and mourning, such as those weeping for a lost loved one at a funeral’ or it can mean protest, a form of petition – seeking to take God to “court” to make one’s case.”

When we lament, we rage against the dying of the light and all the effects of the Fall and the distance between us and God.

But more than that, we rage in the presence of our Creator and Father.

It’s not a sin to express our pain and despair, it’s the act of coming before God.

“We only fully enter lament when we realise that we’re not just expressing ourselves to a human observer but bringing our burdens before the Lord, the Creator, the Almighty who – in light of our distress – is our Deliverer.”

Lament expresses our need for relief and deliverance, whilst also trusting that God can and will work in us and in our situation.

It was lament as the Jews cried out in their slavery in Egypt.

It was lament as Elijah cried to God from Mount Horeb.

It was lament as Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before this crucifixion.

And it is lament which brings our pain and places in the healing hands of God.

As Richard Foster helpfully puts it:

“[Lament Psalms] give us permission to shake our fist at God one moment and break into doxology the next.”

I love that idea, that we have a God who alongside enjoying our praises, lets us shake our fists at Him and rail at those things which are so far from how He create them to be.

More than that, however, God Himself modelled life and lament in the earthly journey of His Son Jesus.

Jesus uses the words of Psalm 22 “My God My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?” to express his anguish and desperation from the cross.

It seems to me that tears and song can give us the hope and the space to lament before God.

Tears are our bodies way of reacting to pain (or, if you’re like me, joy, anger, frustration and irritation) and the passage I read at the beginning from The Magician’s Nephew shows us just how much power tears hold in lament.

They say the things that don’t have words, they join with the Spirit who translates our groans and intercedes on our behalf. Tears are the wordless language of lament.

“Our own ‘loud cries and tears’ are not those of one blazing new trails into grief; they are a Spirit-enabled sharing in the suffering of the One who has plunged even deeper into the darkness than us- yet not without hope.”

And yet it was through the tears of Mary Magdalene that the risen Lord Jesus was seen for the first time, it was through tears that Jesus expressed his loss at Lazarus’ death and as Eugene Peterson writes:

“History is lubricated by tears. Prayer may be most prayer when it is accompanied by tears. All these tears are gathered ip and absorbed in the tears of Jesus.”

Our tears are not self-indulgent expressions, they are the heart cry of humanity when life hurts, there’s an old Yiddish proverb which calls tears the soap of the soul. How true is that!?

But tears will not have the last word.

Revelation 21.1 promises us, that:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Because one day we will see God face to face and everything we have ever grieved, everything we have ever hoped will fade at the sight of Him.

And even on the darkest days, lament points us on from tears.

It point us onto releasing words or art to paper, into song or exercise.

Lament is not something just to be done in isolation. Sometimes, it will call for solitude, but it also calls for communion. Lament asks us to come together as the people of God to pour out our tears and ourselves before God.

And I guess that’s my challenge for today.

To rediscover the lost art of lament which is more than moaning (because we’re good at that), more than sighing (because we’re good at that) but that lets our brokenness meet Jesus’ brokenness and  allows for transformation.

Right at the end of Harry Potter book 6, it says this after the death of Dumbledore:

“Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned to song..” 

And when we pour our tears and lament before God, he transforms it.

We just need to let him.