Tag Archives: recovery

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.

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.

Beyond The Scales – Guest Blog by Emma Scrivener #TakeCare

Eating disorders are about more than just weight. They’re about control, perfectionism, boundaries, families and emotions. They represent a way of thinking and relating, both to yourself and to others. Recovery therefore, isn’t just a matter of BMI. It means challenging long-held beliefs – e.g; that life can be seen in terms of black and white. That emotions are bad and sharing them makes you a ‘burden’. That control means safety.

Anorexics for example, are often far more focused on making plans, getting things right and getting things perfect, than other people. They find it difficult to live in the moment or let go of mistakes. They can quickly become obsessive and value routine and familiarity. They often have very little sense of self and look to others for affirmation and identity. In some cases their eating disorder is what gives them identity – they want to be free of it, but are terrified of or unable to imagine who they are without it.

I was first diagnosed with anorexia when I was about 13 and struggled with it for the next four or five years. Although by 18 I’d recovered physically, I found that psychologically I was at the same stage as I’d been when the disorder began. My emotional development had been frozen.

For me, anorexia worked by sublimating other fears into the desire to be thin. But instead of dealing with those fears, it just smothered them temporarily. As my eating habits normalised, they resurfaced. Getting better meant facing them and covering the emotional ground I’d lost. That was just as scary as gaining weight – but much more difficult to explain. I looked better – and older – on the outside. But internally, the emotional battle was just beginning.

From the outside, though, what was everyone thinking? Phew! I’m so glad all those difficult struggles are over. The scales are right, everything’s fixed.

Can you see a problem here?

 

Emma Scrivener was born in Belfast, but now lives with her husband and daughter in the south east of England. She suffered from life-threatening anorexia, both as a child and as an adult. She now writes and speaks about her experiences and how the grace of Christ speaks in the darkest places. Emma blogs at emmascrivener.net and her book, ‘A New Name’ is published by IVP.

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

 

Relapse

I mentally wrote this article whilst doing my cleaning job, yesterday and If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to write it. Even as I type, I’m not sure I want to. You see, in the past few months, I feel like I’ve gone a long way to putting the mental illness stuff behind me. I’m still passionate about the work I do and awareness raising – but I kind of thought and wished that my own journey through mental illness was over. I write about depression, I don’t live it anymore. After all, 2013, has so far been the happiest of my life. I love my family, friends, boyfriend, my work, my home – life is good. What is there to be depressed about?

And yet.

The other day I realised I was crying driving to a meeting with my dissertation supervisor. I’d cried most of the day before. I was heavily, bone-wearingly exhausted. The smile fell off my face as soon as I was alone and the tears came hard and fast.

There is some acutely painful about relapse. You forget, during periods of rest and wellness, the horror of it. You forget how exhausting it is, how the pain sits heavily in your stomach and at the back of your throat. For me, in the past few weeks, the months of feeling happy and lighter, have felt cruel. They’ve felt like a snapshot of what life could be. When I began to realise that the darkness was creeping in, I raged at God.

Why did I have to feel like this, again? I’ve done my time. I talk about mental illness, I don’t live it.

I felt like a petulant child, asking why? why? why?

Of course, there is no real answer to that question. There is no reason that it shouldn’t have returned. Depression has its’ own timetable. I am beyond grateful that this time, its return has been short.

Relapse, in any illness, is particularly painful. It feels like you’ve been let down by recovery, remission. It makes any work you’ve put into recovery feel pointless.

For me, I think I was putting so much effort into my work, so much effort into being the person I want to be, the 100% better version of myself, I began to forget. I began to forget that there are things I have to do, that help me stay well. Getting enough sleep, being one of them.

That isn’t to say that I’m to blame, it could have happened anyway. But it’s something to keep in mind. In part I resent that I have to keep anything about my own daily battle with the illness, ‘in mind’. I still wish it would disappear, never to darken my doorway again. And it might. I believe in a God who heals, sometimes in small steps and sometimes in dramatic flashes. It’s a hope I hold, but it is not a hope I take for granted. It might happen… but I might have to wait until heaven. Relapse is hard because it reminds me of that fact and I’m an impatient person. Relapse also reminds me not to take the light for granted, to appreciate it, for as Andrew Solomon so poetically writes:

“I can see the beauty of glass objects fully at the moment when they slip from my hand.”

If this relapse has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the beauty of the glass before it slips.

 

For more information about depression you can read our post here: https://thinktwiceinfo.org/2012/04/26/depression-awareness-week-2012/

Or visit www.depressionalliance.org/

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.

By His Wounds… Guest post by Kadash

I hate it when you go to those church services where people pray for each other and then they fall over. Why would you fall over praying? That’s just stupid. At least, I thought so but then one day it happened to me. I fell over.

How did I end up falling over? I had gone to one of those ‘prayer and healing’ services to see what happened. I’ve been a Christian all my life but still, I was sceptical of healing ministries. I was in a good mood that day, the sun was shining and I felt quite happy. But as I was praying I felt as though I should go forward and be prayed for. So I did. They asked me if there was anything I needed prayer for and I said “No, not really. Just pray for me please.” I shut my eyes and prayed and they held a hand up and prayed for me. In theory I was praying for my future, for guidance, but in reality I was just trying to hide from my past.

I can’t speak for others, but my story of self-harm started shortly after a traumatic break up with my then girlfriend when I was 17. During the break down of the relationship it seemed that everything I tried to do to fix things just made them worse. When we broke up, I blamed myself and it wasn’t long before I decided to punish myself. One cut a day for 50 days across my shoulders. Punishment. I told myself that was it, but it seemed that I could never go more than a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, before something would upset me and I’d cut again.

That time as I was praying, it had been maybe two months since I’d last cut myself but the urges were coming back and I didn’t know how long I could last. As I was praying for guidance, I fell.

I wasn’t pushed, and I wasn’t attention seeking. I just felt my knees crumple underneath me and I fell forwards and crashed down on my side. Half of me was still praying, the other half was like ‘What the ****?’ I half rolled onto my back and carried on praying, the other person placing their hand on my shoulder and praying in tongues for me. I sawimages flash before my eyes, but I don’t remember what they were.

And then it happened.

Everything went quiet and dark and I heard a strong but soft voice say: ‘If you need to cut, I’ll be your knife.’ Suddenly my brain was dancing around from thought to thought, Bible reference to Bible reference and it all made sense! I remembered Jesus and I remembered him hanging on that cross. Not the clean and mildly sexy Jesus of paintings but the bloodied and beaten Jew with nails through His wrists and blood flowing from gashes and wounds that covered His body. I remembered Isaiah 53.5:

‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.’

And as I remembered, I knew that I didn’t have to punish myself for the things I’d done wrong. Whether that was for the things I did wrong to my Ex or to God or to myself, I knew that the punishment had been dealt with by Jesus on the Cross. I knew that whatever my struggles or urges to cut, I could pray and Jesus would take them upon himself.

As I lay there on the floor I realised someone was still praying for me with their hand on my shoulder. Awkward, I was ‘done’. So I said ‘Amen’ out loud and opened my eyes and looked up to see who was praying for me. There was no one there; there was no one within three metres of me.

Since that day, I’ve only wanted to cut myself once and I didn’t. I prayed and five minutes later the urge was gone. I’m 20 and it’s now been over one year since I last cut myself. I may still have the scars on my shoulders, but I also have the truth that Jesus died for my sins on the cross and who was raised to life three days later to prove that he was greater than any sin we need to be freed from.

My prayer for you this Easter is that you’ll look beyond your circumstances, your past, beyond whatever is keeping you down and look to the Cross and the man on the Cross. I pray that as you look to that Cross you’ll see that sin and death are real, but that they cannot keep Jesus pinned down and I pray that you will join in the freedom of Easter day when Jesus came back to life as the Lord of all; our savour! Amen.