Tag Archives: despair

Hoping and Healing

I do not have a victorious healing story.

I did not have a flash of light which made everything ‘okay’.

I did not wake up one day sick, and another day, well.

I have not been healed.

Yet I have hope.

For me, hope has been healing.

Choosing to hope when everything has seemed hopeless has taught me more about the God of hope that I would have dared to dream.

I’ve recently been reading Matt Bays brilliant book “Finding God in the Ruins” and in it, he says this:

“Healing has no map; every person’s experience is different. But if your journey is going to be successful, expect at some point to end up back at the scene of the crime. staring at the wreckage… And then you must tell your story without making it palatable.”

Quite often, when I tell my story, it centres around the parts which I found God. When mental illness went on a rampage but I emerged with a new calling. The darkest night in which the embryo of ThinkTwice was conceived, the times when I made the right decisions and found the light of a star in a dark night.

I’ve been challenged recently, however, about those times when I’ve surveyed the wreckage and not just found God, bit experienced something of who He is, without ‘making is palatable’.

The truth is, I do attempt to make my story palatable.

I edit my life to hide the parts of my story that I cannot face.

I do not let the light touch them.

It’s not that we need to tell our stories to everyone we meet.

 

 

But allowing those who love us to see us in the dark is a gift, not only to us, but to those who hear our stories and hear in our words that God moves even in the most unexpected of ways and in the most unexpected of places.

I have found hope and healing in telling my unpalatable story just a few times, because I think I’ve seen something of how God responds to us in compassion in the faces of my closest friends.

It’s still unpalatable for me.

But it doesn’t seem to be for others, perhaps because they see more easily a God who sits in the wreck alongside us and sheds light in the darkest places, and I have to believe that God created the darkness knowing we would find Him there.

As The Message Bible puts it:

“Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the life was Light to live by, The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” John 1:3-5

 

The Aftermath

In her critically acclaimed memoir “Wasted” , Marya Hornbacher she writes of the aftermath of her eating disorder. It is not the happy ending we would wish to read after a memoir of such an acute and destructive eating disorder. She writes the following about the aftermath:

“It is the distance of marred memory, of a twisted and shape-shifting past…And it is the distance of the present, as well – the distance that lies between people in general because of the different lives we have lived. I don’t know who I would be, now, if I had not lived the life I have, and so I cannot alter my need for distance – nor can I lessen the low and omnipresent pain that that distance creates.” (1)

I was chatting today with a friend about the effect a suicide attempt has. The effect on the family, but also the lasting damage and impression it leaves upon the one so consumed with pain that they thought death was the only way out.

We don’t like to talk about it. Who would?

It is uncomfortable and painful to think about that kind of despair, that kind of blinding darkness.

And yet as pastors and preachers, mental health workers, doctors, friends, parents and children, the likelihood is that we will meet someone in our lifetime who has tried to take their own life.

And the damage it causes can leave long-lasting scars in their wake. It scars families, when a member tries to remove themselves from the world.

Samaritans estimate that 5% of the population attempt suicide over the course of their lifetime – but what happens next?

It is my belief that something like attempting suicide leaves its own private and painful legacy. The guilt at the pain you’ve caused family and friends, the knowledge that you have pushed an invisible barrier to breaking point. The body is beautifully designed to protect itself, and once that barrier as been destroyed – suicide never ceases to be an option. It is this which makes a previous suicide attempt the single biggest risk factor for suicide.

It sounds like a hopeless situation.

And yet, there is something about great pain that allows for great compassion. A fight for life in whatever form that takes. One of the most beautiful things about the Christian faith is that Jesus shows us that our pain can heal. Not only that, but He forgives us when we repent – we are not left to dwell on our sins for our whole lives. Wolterstorff writes:

“And what of regrets? I shall live with them. 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. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”

A suicide attempt does not define you. It will always be a part of your story – but it isn’t the end of your story – far from it! With hope and help, it can be the beginning of a new chapter.

There is an aftermath. There is grief and regret. But there is also forgiveness and hope – the very ingredients of life.

This is a story of hope… Blog for National Depression Awareness Week

This is a story of hope…

And yet it begins with an almost complete lack of hope. As 2007 dawned, I had pretty much given up on the idea that the year ahead would hold anything to hope for.

Having been diagnosed with clinical depression three years earlier at 14 – life had seemed to get progressively worse. And I was tired. Of life, and living.

In medical terms, I was acutely and chronically depression – and yet, it was when I was hospitalised for a night that God planted a seed of my calling. Because amidst the blinding pain of my depression, I felt a flicker of something. How can we bring the light of God into this place? How can we get people to understand what others go through every day?

It was a spark that lay dormant and often forgotten about as I fought to recover. Recovery was, and is a long and difficult road – but the glimmer of hope I saw that night in hospital remained as the years that followed continued in a cycle of getting sick, well, sick, well, sicker and well again.

It was not until I went to LST that I began to think about that spark. It was ignited by people who loved and believed in me as I started to think about having a future. The desire to make a change in Churches and communities in the way mental illness is perceived was strong in me.

Because what had been my darkest night – ignited my hope – in the God I serve, His mission and the part I am called to play, amongst those suffering in the darkness of mental illness.

Night Falls Fast…So Bring a Torch

It has long been assumed that the biblical view of suicide is that it is both condemnable and unforgivable. For some, looking to christians for comfort during a period of suicidal thoughts, or in the wake of a loved one’s suicide served to add to their pain, rather than to help alleviate it. They received judgement, rather than compassion.

I am not going to speak here of my own personal ethic of suicide, because regardless of the viewpoint we may take, both those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who can no longer bear the weight of those thoughts.

Suicide is a tragedy. This seems to me to be evident in the narrative of Saul and his eventual suicide in the Bible. Commentator O’Mathuna writes:

“Rather than viewing Saul’s suicide as an isolated incident with no moral comment, this scene is the tragic conclusion to a literary masterpiece soaked in moral comment. Tragedy implies that what “is” is not what “ought” to be.” (1)

I do not believe that to be at that point of utter desolation can be what “ought to be”. It is, as O’Mathuna notes, a tragedy. It was a tragic conclusion to Saul’s story. It is tragic when a life ends by suicide.

Tragic for the lost potential of that life.

Tragic for the friends and family left behind, trying to pick up the pieces.

As Charlotte Bronte so beautifully put it;

 “God surely did not create us, and cause us to live, with the sole end of wishing always to die.”

As a christian who believes in the supreme love of God, expressed through the life, death and resurrection of His Son – I must share the view of Bronte.

I believe with all my heart that the most valuable thing we can do for someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts (or in the aftermath of an attempt) is to walk alongside them.

To hold their hand if they need it.

To show them that in the depths of their darkness, you are willing to step into that darkness with them – and hold up a torch.

(1)O’Mathuna, D. “But the Bible doesn’t say they were wrong to commit suicide, does it?” Suicide: A Christian Response, Kregel: Michigan, 1998, p359.

For practical advice to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts see here.

“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.

The Scream

It is a world famous painting. Edward Munch’s depiction of human despair and fear in all its stark agony sends shivers down my spine.

It is expected to fetch $80 million when it goes up for auction at Sotherby’s in May and I can clearly recall the first time I heard of this remarkable painting.

I was 10 years old and reading Jacqueline Wilson’s “The Illustrated Mum”, in it, the title character is in the grips of a mental illness and has countless tattoos all over her body. Whilst in a psychiatric unit she inks the scream up and down her arm, the recreation of this iconic artwork onto her skin sheds light on the dark insanity by which the character is gripped.

It is not only characters in books who suffer from the despair depicted in “The Scream”.

It struck me as I looked at a copy of the painting again that it is a remarkably disturbing image – not something one would want on your dining room wall – Munch himself describes the feelings which drove him to paint it:

I went along the road with two friends—
The sun set
Suddenly the sky became blood—and I felt the breath of sadness
A tearing pain beneath my heart
I stopped—leaned against the fence—deathly tired
Clouds over the fjord of blood dripped reeking with blood
My friends went on but I just stood trembling with an open wound
in my breast trembling with anxiety I heard a huge extraordinary
scream pass through nature. (1)

These feelings are not reserved for Munch, and it is perhaps precisely this reason that the painting has proved so popular. Most people who look upon the picture will remember the time where they felt deep despair and fear. Personally, I am catapulted straight back to a cold January night on a psychiatric ward nearly four years ago. The despair was all too visible, all too impossible to voice.
Perhaps this is the reason that paintings like Munch’s are so popular, so famous. Words are all too often inadequate to describe despair, our lexicon is limited to despair, desolation, depression – but in all honesty these words do not do justice to such pain. The pain which rips through life and leaves, in its’ wake the kind of destruction seen after a hurricane.
The fact that this painting is such an icon for our culture, speaks to me of the state of our hearts and minds. The fear, disillusionment and hopelessness.
It seems to me that we, as the Church must find a way to connect with this hopelessness – to walk alongside those at their wits end and hold their hands until the other side. It is something which is happening up and down the country, all over the world – it is our calling. It is my calling, to serve those who live amidst the scream.
And I am reminded once again (probably because I’ve just finished writing a section of my dissertation on it) of that morning when Jesus walked alongside Cleopas and his companion on the Road to Emmaus. When they believed all hope was lost and Jesus joined them on their journey and shared his scars with them.
This narrative seems to invite us to do the same – to share in the scream and agony – to walk alongside people on that journey and offer  up our broken and scarred selves to the Lord, trusting that He will use our pain to comfort others in pain.
That is my prayer.
That our screams may be heard and form those screams can come a song offering hope to others.
(1) http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/excerpts/munch.asp