Tag Archives: hope

World Health Day 2017 – Depression

“This weather is so depressing”

“I’m so depressed about Manchester United losing at the weekend”

Depression, depressed, depressing – they’re all rather overused words. And yet they don’t do justice to what the reality of clinical depression is.

“Sometimes”, says a fellow depressive, “I wish I was in a full body cast, with every bone in my body broken. That’s how I feel anyway.” Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog. (1)

It is a brilliant description for a terrifying and sometimes life threatening mental illness which affects 1 in 6 people in the UK – and this year its the focus of World Health Day. So often because everyone feels “depressed” at one time or another, it can be all too easy to trivialise clinical depression, easy to brush under the carpet, to instruct the sufferer to “pull themselves together”.

And yet.

Can you imagine what life is like for the person who lives each day desiring death? Where you wake up in the morning exhausted and stagger through the day in the same haze of exhaustion. Where food tastes like sawdust, your eyes struggle to focus and your heart is crushed with a heavy sadness. These are just a few of the symptoms of clinical depression and a diagnosis of depression can be made with five or more of these symptoms and it is vital to see your GP as soon as possible so that you can get the help and support you need.

Depression can suck the life out of people, and drain the energy and compassion from those around the sufferer.

There is, however, hope.

It is a serious illness, but it can be dealt with and helped. It can sound simplistic; but a healthy lifestyle with enough food, water, fresh fruit and vegetables with regular exercise can help to release “feel-good hormones”. Whilst these lifestyle changes don’t necessarily “cure” depression, they can go towards alleviating some of the symptoms.

Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and psychotherapy can equip people to deal with the things that have happened in their lives and the thought patterns which may have become entrenched.

Personally, what has helped me the most is the love and care of those closest to me. For the times when I have been unable to face another day, or to speak through my tears – and those I loved would hold me close and assure me that I am not alone.

Because that is often the depressive’s worst fear. That people would see the darkness within and run for the hills.

All too often, sufferers of depression push their nearest and dearest away. But in the midst of my own darkness, I found the following words profoundly helpful.

Andrew Solomon writes in his aptly named “The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression”

“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.” (2)

Above all, cling to God. When you feel as if He is further than He has even been – hold on. Because He is there and He will always be there. On one of the worst days of my life, I was given these verses to reflect on from Psalm 40:

“I waited patiently for the LORD, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.”

They are verses which have become my prayer and it is my pleasure and privilege to try to put some of the darkness to good use.

I will not say, cannot say that the darkness has gone completely. It hasn’t, sometimes it remains and drains me. But there is hope. Hope because I have learned, over the years to hold on. Hope because there are those who love me. Hope because we have a God who does not let  go. Hope because there is medication which helps to balance the chemicals in my brain which go a little haywire!

My message for World Health Day 2017?

There is hope.

Even when you can’t see it.

Even when everything feels hopeless.

There is hope.

(1) Brampton, S. Shoot the Damn Dog, London: Norton, 2008.

(2) Solomon, A. Noonday Demon, London: Vintage Books, 2002.

Guest Blog: A Mother’s Love – Mothering Sunday Special

She was a beautiful baby.  And so say all parents of their children!  But really, she was a beautiful baby.

To be honest it wasn’t a great start.  From the very first breath came problems with her health, and as one issue resolved or improved another seemed to take its place.  But these were physical problems, all thankfully treatable and eventually controlled to some degree, be it with time, or medication or both.

So as she grew it was perhaps understandable that she was a bit clingy, often reluctant to take part and always resistant to anything new.  She spent lots of time with other children, was taken along to places and put in situations where social skills could bloom; the constant prayer being that she would gain confidence and embrace life.  We tried ballet (dis-aaaa-ster!) and swimming (Mmmm…), theatre school (ok-ish) and trampoline (better!) and lots of activities based at the church we attended.

In some ways it appeared to work – she was lively and lovely and found her (singing) voice at an early age.  There she was on stage at school in the leading role of Mary and the ‘Littlest Angel’ singing her heart out, taking part in church productions, her small frame belying the huge and glorious voice that erupted from her often ineffective lungs when it came to simply breathing!

But then came the teenage years.  No, not drugs and alcohol and rock and roll.  Not staying out all hours.  Not shouting bitter words of recrimination at the restrictions of youth.  How I longed for those signs of teenage angst.  No, my beautiful baby was afflicted with an altogether darker, untameable malaise – depression.  A word does not even begin to encompass the width and depth and breadth of its meaning.

Watching your child fall into the abyss and not even want to climb out is soul destroying and unbearably painful.  Every time you think you avert one disaster, another potential tragedy lurks in the corner. You keep getting it wrong, you misread things, you make mistakes, you make errors of judgement. Oftentimes you feel an utter failure because she isn’t well and happy and ‘normal’.  Sometimes you cannot share it all with anyone else; the usual sources of comfort and support might not be possible for all manner of reasons – it can be very lonely.

But you never give up, you never relax, you never stop hoping, you never stop praying.  Because there is God.  God is there for you, even when you think he isn’t.  And God is there for her (or him), even when she (or he) doesn’t believe life is worth living.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  No easy answers and not always a happy ending.  But more often than not it does.  Maybe not always a fairytale ending – well, probably not ever a fairytale ending! -but slowly and surely the good days outnumber the bad and the bad days when they come, are a bit less bad.  She holds on to her faith.  She chooses life. You learn to breathe again – and more importantly, so does she.

She was a beautiful baby.  She is a beautiful young woman.

I thank God that I can write that last sentence in the present tense.  That she has come through the darkness of  those years and, together with her scars both inside and out, survived.  And not only survived, but blossomed and flourished and used her hard gained experience and wisdom to reach out to others so that they can access the kind of help that was not always available for her.  So that parents and friends and church leaders can access the kind of help that upholds and supports others like her.  Like me.

My beautiful baby is the founder of ThinkTwice.  She really was a beautiful baby.  She really is a beautiful young woman.  Thank you God.

Responding to Self-Harm #TakeCare

It’s seen as something attention seeking teenagers do.

It’s seen as a preserve of the ‘mentally ill’.

It’s seen as a passing phase, perhaps as ‘nothing serious’.

And yet.

It’s the leading cause of death for  adults between 20 and 24 according to a recent Lancet Commission report.

Self-harm is killing people.

And it’s important to note here, that these are not people who were necessarily trying to take their own lives.

Self-harm is not suicide.

Self-harm is a coping mechanism, a way to manage unspeakable pain in a tangible way.

People at the very beginning of adulthood are dying as they try to navigate their lives.

We can suggest countless reasons why young people in their twenties are self-harming; the pressures of debt, lack of affordable places to live, dissatisfaction, not to mention rising rates of mental illness.

Self-harm doesn’t stop as soon as people turn twenty, but all too often the sources of support seem to. From living amongst friends in university houses with student support and student pastors available to talk to, entering the workplace with a boss and navigating the career ladder can feel incredibly isolating.

How can we even begin to respond?

There is no easy answer, no one size fits all response which will remind  people that their lives are valuable and that they are valuable. Medication and mental health service input might be required, better systems of support and learning coping mechanisms are vital   but more than that; space, community and vulnerability are needed.

Space before God to understand who they are without the labels of ‘young person’ or ‘student’. Communities in which they can work out life in a safe place, and vulnerability to learn that no one is perfect, no one is sorted.

Recovery, of any kind cannot be done in isolation.

We cannot let a generation of struggling young people turn into adults who can see no solace outside of scars.

We need communities to remind us that all solace comes from a God who, through His Son was prepared to bare His scars.

New Year, New You!

You see them everywhere this time of year, don’t you?

“New Year, New Body”

“Change yourself – change your life”

“Spring Clean! De-Clutter for the New Year”

A new year is loaded with expectation, hope – and sometimes fear.

It can be tempting to pin our hopes on the clock striking midnight and a new year beginning. For many years I did just that, only to crash come the 5th of January when I realised that the date may have changed, but my life hadn’t.

I put so much pressure on myself and the new year that things would change – I thought the change of the date would mean that I’d get better – even though my situation, my illness, my attitude – none of it had changed. And I was sent reeling all over again when faced once again with what I’d tried to leave behind in the year that had passed.

And herein lies the problem, for the dawn of a new year can bring in a new era, and a new chance for change and hope. But at the same time, the world doesn’t reach perfection on the stroke of midnight on the 31st of December.

There has to be a way by which we hold onto the hope and expectation a new year can bring -without expecting change in life just because numbers on the clock change.

So this new year, perhaps it would be a good idea, to focus on a timeless hope. One that existed before the calendar began. The hope which may not mean a magic wand is waved – but does mean that we have a God who redeems and restores.

ThinkTwice wishes you the happiest of New Years, filled with hope and life.

And so I echo the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr for us all this year:

“God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I can’t change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

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

 

A Thrill of Hope

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O Holy Night is without doubt my favourite carol. There is something so poignant that speaks of the expectation of Advent, the hopeful waiting of a people waiting for their Saviour and on that night hope finally broke through in the most unexpected way.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

After all this time, hope has won. All the wars and fighting for home, the longing for rescue, made worth it because a baby was born. A new life that would herald a new hope for the whole world. A new hope because as The Message translates it:

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”

The Creator God of Heaven and Earth came to be with us. Emmanuel.

He came to experience everything human life has to offer, from filing his nappy, to dying the ultimate death and everything in between. More than that, he came to love us in our humanity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this:

“And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

And whatever this Christmas may bring, I pray that the hope that was born in a Bethlehem stable carries you through and that you may be able to rejoice, however weary your world is tonight.

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.