Monthly Archives: October 2016

Stigma… But not the kind you’re thinking of.

I experience mental health stigma most days.

I’m berated for my weakness when I’m exhausted after another sleepless night.

I’m ridiculed because my chronic tiredness sends me to bed at 10pm most of the time.

I’m told to “snap out of it” when I can feel myself falling into the darkest parts of my mind.

When I’m most desperate for an understanding ear and open arms, I’m greeted with a sneer.

When I’m laid low under the weight of the depression that has been an unwelcome guest in my life for nearly a decade; I’m called pathetic and crazy.

Once the pressure eases and the exhaustion recedes, I’m reminded that I’m not really strong enough to meet life face on.

Perhaps I should just give up, give people a break from my neediness.

The voice that repeats these things is loud and stubborn and I can’t get away from it.

Why?

The accusatory voice is my own.

I spend my life fighting the stigma of mental illness in the church and in wider society, but perhaps the place I have experienced the most stigma, is in my own mind.

I cannot recall feeling as worthless and guilty because I had an asthma attack at work. It was unpleasant, yes, but it didn’t leave me wondering if I was capable of doing my job.

When it was a panic attack however, within moments I had convinced myself that I would get the sack because of my incompetence. Everything I have worked so hard for would come crashing down around me because I was clearly mentally unstable – my fiancé would leave me unable to cope with my madness and I would not be able to continue work or be a valuable member of society.

Unsurprisingly, these thoughts did little to ease my panic.

What I feel above all, is hypocritical.

I am not practising what I preach.

I am all too aware that I would never to speak to someone else the way I speak to myself.

The disdain and disappointment is reserved for my ears only.

Much of the advice surrounding depression revolves around the idea of self-care. Of nurturing the mind in the same way that one might nurture the flu-ridden body with box sets and kingsize tissues. The problem is, all too often people suffering with depression don’t feel able to provide themselves with the care they so desperately need.

We will work ourselves into the ground, just so that we can keep our heads above water; punish our bodies to make up for the equilibrium our minds lack.

There is a better way.

In all honesty, it’s a way which is harder too. It involves that little bit of fight, the reserve that we cling onto just in case all else fails.

It’s compassion.

It is, as it says in Philippians “Being transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Easy, eh?

In truth of course, it is far harder than it sounds. It involves holding the thoughts that ensnare us up to the light. It kind of reminds me of the bit in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where the Devil’s Snare begins to tangle itself around Harry and his friends and they don’t loosen their grip until the light forces them to shrivel and retreat, leaving them free.

When we hold our darkest and most painful thoughts up to the light – their power begins to recede.

Light, if we let it, transforms.

If, for example, I hold the thought: “I’m weak because I’m easily tired and have to go to bed early” to the light its power is easily stripped away.

Of course someone who doesn’t sleep is going to be tired; this is not indicative of weakness. Going to bed early is actually a sensible decision designed to make the best of a difficult and exhausting situation.

When you think about it, self-stigma makes about as much sense as any stigma… that is… it doesn’t make much sense!

We all have an internal dialogue, those thoughts which may berate us for scoffing that last biscuit or sigh inwardly at another train delay.

We can rarely help the thoughts we have, but we can hold them up to the light and not allow them to dictate our worth or wellness.

Life In Abundance? #SpeakOfSuicide

There is much about living in the current climate of austerity vs obscene wealth, or the constant comparison of our real lives with the (carefully edited) highlights of others on social media, that feels pernicious and destructive. Depression rates in the UK across age groups and postcodes are at an all-time high. We are seeing a shift in the stigma around mental ill health as more people talk openly about their struggles and this is a good thing, a great thing in fact!

As it becomes clearer that most of us will struggle with issues like anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts at some point in our lives, so it is clear that we must not allow this to go unchecked; we must reach a point where we are no more ashamed by mental ill health than we are about cancer or other physical illness; we must encourage the people we know and love, as well as those we don’t, to talk about their struggles openly and without fear of judgement.

Jesus tells us very specifically not to judge others (Matt 7 v 1); in him we also see an astonishing view of God: the God of all things, the Creator of all things is a God who weeps when we weep. We see most clearly in the story of Lazarus (John 11): Jesus weeps openly for the death of his friend, for the pain felt by Lazarus’s sisters who were also friends, some suggest he is also looking into the future at his own death which follows just two weeks later. He feels our pain and struggle; I believe he feels our pain even when we can’t, which is an astonishing thing to say, and much more of an astonishing thing to experience for ourselves. When Jesus says ‘I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness’ (John 10 v 10 Good News Translation) I don’t believe he’s only talking about success, joy and happiness. After all, each of those is only made full by their opposites.

They were not part of the original plan, and they will not be part of heaven, but in our fallen world we can experience joy because we have known sadness and anxiety; we can know how it feels to be successful because at some point we have failed; and we can know truly what it is to feel happy because we have known profound despair and loss.

If you have known the despair of suicidal thoughts, if you have been impacted by the death of a loved one through suicide, or have known what it is like to support someone through a suicide attempt then you need to know that God weeps too. You are not alone, you can ask for help, please ask someone for help!

Jesus didn’t come so we would live in a perpetual glow of happiness, he came so we would know that when depression, sadness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are all we can muster, we have a God who walks with us and weeps with us.

Jenni Osborn is based in East Sussex and works as a freelance trainer in schools. You can find her online here or follow her on twitter @Jo_Ts_Co_Uk  

Running on Empty #OfferYourStory

This post is by Dr Claire Rush (@drclairerush), Advocacy Co-ordinator for Girls’ Brigade Ministries and Vice-President of GB International. She’s also a leader in a local GB group in Northern Ireland. You can read a longer version of this article in Youthwork Magazine here.

Eighteen months ago, I found myself in floods of tears. I was staring at a photo of myself in my mum’s house, taken at my graduation five years before. I didn’t recognise that bold woman in her colourful PhD gown filled with hopes, optimism and an unshakeable calling and faith to serve God wherever he would lead. Over the years since, God has placed me in a number of local, national and international leadership roles in different Christian organisations. I firmly believed that I was living out my God-given purpose, until 18 months ago that is…

Now I found my confidence in my calling and in my God-given gifts was spiralling out of control in a vortex of fear, anxiety, doubt, shame and a deep sense of failure as I faced challenges and obstacles.

I was spiritually burnout. I was barely surviving, rather than thriving, in any of my leadership roles. Something had to change…

Over the last 18 months, I’ve been on a difficult but necessary journey with God as I’ve been overcoming the identity thieves of fear, anxiety and shame. You can read more of my story in October’s Youthwork magazine.

Now I’m cultivating three disciplines in my life to ensure that I’m living the ‘life to the full’ that Jesus describes in John 10.10:

PAUSING TO RECHARGE

One of my favourite places on the planet is Iceland. I love watching its geyser explode right in front of my eyes. It’s fascinating. After the initial pillar of water propels itself into the air, the base of the geyser drains of all the water for a few minutes. Eighteen months ago, I was the human equivalent of a drained geyser: I was running on empty.

A wise mentor asked me: you’re so busy giving out, what are you replenishing yourself with? Busyness is not a badge of honour. Just like our mobile phones, we have a finite capacity. We need to ensure that we’re recharging and plugging ourselves into our ultimate power source: God.

Do you need to stop DOING FOR God and start BEING WITH him?

How are you plugging into God every day? 

CULTIVATING SELF-COMPASSION

Amid all the striving that causes us to seek perfection, it is powerful, counter-cultural and biblical to pause and remember: “I am enough”. Imagine if we all extended God’s grace to ourselves when we suffer or feel inadequate.

Some may perceive self-care as selfish but Alli Worthington in Breaking Busy reminds us that: “Self-care is one of the most other-centred choices you can make in your life. That’s because you can’t live the life God created you for, with space to be aware of his leading, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Doing things that give us joy – reading, spending time with friends, sports – are integral, not marginal to the “life to the full” that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.

For me, self-compassion is ensuring that I don’t just have a Sabbath on a Sunday but have a Sabbath hour every day: 60 minutes of doing something that lights up my soul. This could be reading for pleasure, or playing with my niece. Sabbath isn’t just a religious concept; God biologically designed us to need it. Our circaseptan cycle – heartbeat and blood pressure – rises and falls in seven day cycles. Our bodies and brains need rest on a weekly basis. A regular Sabbath reminds us who we are and puts things in perspective – we’re much more than just our leadership roles.

What does Sabbath look like for you?

DEVELOPING RESILIENCE

The Bible demonstrates through the example of Jesus, David and Mary (and many others) that following God’s calling is going to lead us into challenging and difficult situations. After all, one important component of our calling is our God-given passion, or as Bill Hybels says “our holy discontent”. Many of us throw the word passionate around so flippantly in our conversations. We’re passionate about everything – including chocolate, sunsets, Eastenders and good food. But the word passion comes from the Latin word ‘passio’ (to suffer). And here’s a difficult truth to swallow: our true passion should cause us to suffer. Our calling should lead us to the frontline of the spiritual battle. After all, we need to get close to the darkness if we’re going to punch holes in it.

Resilience helps us reject fear, one of the greatest weapons in spiritual warfare. Fear can often knock on our door and prevent us from stepping out and being all that we’re created to be. It’s no coincidence that “Fear not” is one of the most frequent commandments in the Bible. God doesn’t want us to live under a blanket of destructive fear. Resilience can help us face fear head-on and expose its lies with words of truth.

How are you cultivating resilience in your ministry and leadership?

 

Knowing it and Living it #OfferYourStory

This post is by Christina, you can follow her on Twitter @cjanebaillie

Knowing how to fix things doesn’t always mean we can.

I can point to many times, growing up, when I have felt low or anxious. In and amongst studying hard, trying to make friends, learning more of God’s truth, I struggled to see where I fit. I struggled to know what my place was and how to translate the truths of our infinite God to my confusion or sadness.

I have gone on to study a social work degree and work alongside lots of people experiencing mental health issues. It breaks my heart continually to see the struggle and know how often it is not easy to find help.

For me, as my anxiety has increased in the last few years, I felt frustrated knowing the theory. Knowing what is meant to make things easier, the things I would suggest to others in the same place, yet it not making any  difference. It led me to speaking with a counsellor, an incredible christian lady, and I found myself able to try afresh. Even the things I knew in my head, being told them by another, made a clear impact.

I continue to feel anxious about things in day to day life, yet speaking God’s truth over and throughout my life, while applying helpful techniques like actually identifying what’s making me squirm has been beneficial.

I want to be continually formed by my identity in Christ, not formed by the feeling of dread  in my gut.

I want to be joyful of being His child, not panicking over the insignificant.

I want to be assured that His grace is enough, not doubting my place amongst the community of Christ.

I pray you can also speak truth in those moments.

More Than A Story #OfferYourStory

 

Tell Me your story, show Me your wounds
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love looks at you
Hand Me the pieces, broken and bruised
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love sees you…
I see your story, I see My name
Written on every beautiful page
You see the struggle, you see the shame
I see the reason I came
Mac Powell, When Love Sees You

Sometimes when I look back on my relatively short life so far, I only see the broken and bruised pieces. I see the days swallowed by darkness and the nights lost in sleepless tossing and turning, I see my own staring eyes and weary limbs. I see a story which hurt to write and hurts to read.

I don’t think that’s how God sees my story, and I don’t think that’s how God sees yours.

God sees you.

All of you, all you’ve been through and all of your character, and He sees the reason He sent Jesus to walk through an earth and taste the darkest of human life so that we might see some of the light of heaven.

The story I live in isn’t a fairy tale. I write about mental illness, not as a fleeting moment in my past, but in the present tense as I navigate what it means to live within my restrains but hoping in a God who has none.

When we see the scars, God sees the healing.

When we see the shame, God covers it in His grace.

We can offer our stories  because we can trust in the Author.

We need to offer our stories because we need to show that there is more to our stories than mental illness.

We may have a mental health condition, but we are friends, workers, spouses, parents and much more besides.

So as we offer our stories, let’s put the chapters into context.

Mental illness is a part of my story – but it’s not the whole story.

It may be a part of your story, but you are so much more.

Vulnerability and Courage #OfferYourStory

Telling your story can be so powerful.

One of the most amazing evenings I’ve had was at a weekend spent with eight other girls. On our first evening together we all had the opportunity to share part of our stories, how God has worked in our lives, and our hopes for the future. We laughed together; we cried together, the vulnerability was just so powerful. Our vulnerability and courage in sharing our stories, no matter what they look like, can change so much for ourselves or those who hear them.

Anxiety has been a running theme throughout a lot of my life, even when I didn’t know that’s what is was. There have been times where I’ve not wanted to be alive. Things have happened that have really knocked me. I started to self harm when I was 17 and have had an up and down journey with it. God was so good and completely took this from me and I managed a year where self harm wasn’t part of my life at all. It then arose again, and now I still sometimes find myself struggling with it at 23, but I’m in a much better place and I know I’m moving forward. Many of these parts of my story used to be the bits that I didn’t tell, the bits I didn’t want to tell, but they are also the bits that have been the most powerful to tell.

Being vulnerable and sharing your story can give others the courage to share theirs, and that is awesome. You never know who you may be helping when you tell even a little of your story. Personally, I have found that sharing my story has helped me to process my feelings and situations in my life, as well as offering hope to others experiencing similar things. It has started conversations about topics such as self harm, which has led to other people having a better understanding of it and breaking those misconceptions. Sharing my story has really deepened some of my friendships, made me feel less alone and also feel more supported. Sharing your story can do so many things!

I used to think that I could only tell my story when I was 100%, but I’ve learnt that if that was the case, maybe I’d never end up sharing it! I’ve found there is something so freeing about sharing your story and being able to be honest about where you’re at now. Our stories will have different chapters, it’ll have its ups and downs, but the great thing is, our stories are still being written and who knows what the next few chapters will look like.

Written by Sophie

#OfferYourStory

Exciting news from Rachael, taking #OfferYourStory a step further!

Over at ThinkTwice we’ve been encouraging you to #OfferYourStory, whether it be to friends or to the worldwide web to celebrate World Mental Health Day and it seems like a good time to announce that parts of my story and some of the things I’ve learned about mental health and theology through my studies and my life so far will be published in a book due to be released in 2018 with SPCK.

I’m offering my story, not because it’s a spectacular story, but because the God who is writing it with me is spectacular. And so, in the words of Hemmingway, I’m hopefully going to

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for a very long time, in fact I started a pages document for this book when I was eighteen after I’d finished my A-Levels. Re-reading those initial thoughts I had…

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