Category Archives: Faith

Survival strategy

I wrote this in my diary the night I missed Jon Foreman’s aftershow/solo show at the BCDO festival; it’s a survival strategy for getting through a depressive episode, so I have it to look back on the next time the ‘wolf‘ starts beating me around the head with painful thoughts. It’s the process I went through that night, and over the following couple of days, firstly to withstand the immediate assault, and then to calm myself down from it, and then to find God, and light, and hope, through it all, and eventually to recover.

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The little note at the bottom I added in the morning. It felt like sometimes you have to lose the occasional battle even when you’re winning the war, and that it’s ok that sometimes ‘chaos wins’. With no apologies for quoting a lyric, because it was one of the lyrics that shifted my perspective that night, this episode was the shadow that proved the sunshine; suddenly facing a (temporary) deep and scary darkness turned up the contrast on my life, and giving the tears to God as a desperate prayer I really did see hope, and joy, and every good thing, in a breathtaking light.

Hope is strongest set against despair.

The Light shines the brightest in the dark.*

 

*John 1:5, The Bible

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Being thankful

We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year! This has not been an easy year at all, personally or politically, but aside from liking the tradition and fancying the cooking challenge, I wanted to do this as I felt that actually I still have a huge amount to be thankful for from the past year, and that in a time when circumstances make it harder to see the good things and feel thankful, setting aside a little time to focus on what I am truly thankful for is a good discipline. The more I’ve thought about it, the more good I’ve spotted amongst the mess, and it has left me feeling genuinely grateful for those good things and a lot more positive about the year. So; my list:

  • Time at home. My new year’s resolution this year was straightforward after last year’s wonderful chaos; to do nothing! Well, maybe not ‘nothing’, but no crazy plans, no charging around the country(/world) week after week, and to focus on spending time right here at home, with our local friends and church family, and making progress on our DIY projects. And we’ve done that! It’s been really nice being a little more settled.
  • Living in Devon. Related to the last point – we live in a nice place! It’s been good to spend more time just enjoying where we live. Our main holiday this year was to Lundy Island, an island off the north coast in a protected area, which is therefore jumping with sealife. We saw so many seabirds, seals, jellyfish, rockpoolies and dolphins, and it was beautiful – all almost on our doorstep! And the walks and beach trips we’ve done closer to home have been wonderful too. We made an effort this summer to go down to the coast on nice evenings for barbecues or chips on the beach as the sun goes down. I can’t help but be thankful that my life looks like this after years living and working in and near London, it’s a real blessing.
  • The support for our whitewashing nonviolent direct action last year. I’ve been blown away by the amount of support I and my fellow activists have received since our action last November. A huge crowd of supporters turned out to our trial, some coming a really long way to be there. There were far too many people to fit in the viewing gallery and many stood outside in driving rain for us all day, praying, holding banners and looking after us. I’m so humbled! And on top of that, when we received a (much smaller than expected) fine, friends, family and supporters crowdfunded enough to pay it off in full! We checked the amount that came in a week after the verdict, and it seemed a random amount; but then we totalled up our collective fine and realised it was the same amount to the nearest pound! Shortly after this we closed the crowdfunder early as we had exceeded our target, despite not expecting to meet it, and found the amount raised exactly covered our expenses for the action too! I am profoundly grateful to God for so fully honouring our imperfect willingness to do this, and to our supporters, both for the obvious practical help this was, but also for the solidarity of knowing we had so many people standing beside us and willing to also pay the price of speaking out on climate change.
  • Good news on climate change. Aside from the ratification of the Paris climate agreement, it seems politically that this has been a bad year for climate, as in practice the political world has barely moved into action at all, and in many cases we’re still seeing the politics moving backwards. However; more and more this year I’ve seen signs of change, almost in spite of the politics of it all. The economics are starting to shift. As renewables grow, in spite of policies that hamper them, and the combined pressure from increasingly cheap renewable energy, financial disinvestment, uncertainty over the future under international climate agreements and the cost of carbon hits the fossil fuel industries, a real practical shift away from fossil fuels has begun. We have a long way to go, and fast, but this is genuinely encouraging. We need to keep up the momentum on fossil fuel disinvestment, which is really a win-win situation, whilst at the same time urging our governments to think progressively and practically get behind this shift, which would really speed the process up.
  • Vegan abundance! Going vegan ten years ago was relatively straightforward, with plenty of choices available in ordinary shops, and at least something you could eat in most restaurants when out. But there has been such a fast shift over the last year or so! Several vegan/explicitly vegan-friendly businesses have popped up all over town, raised consciousness means I’m finding it more common for non-veggie friends to know how to make really nice things for us, little innovations the world seems to have just discovered (coconut cream makes wonderful whipped cream, chickpea water works like egg whites…) mean vegan baking has suddenly become even easier and cafes are cottoning on, and even some vegan cheese seems to be finally starting to resemble the real thing! I’m suddenly beginning to realise how much self-control I’ve lost over the years, now that what was a ‘special diet’ is becoming so mainstream; I’ve been used to luxuries being just that, and therefore jumping at the chance to indulge when the chance arose from time to time, but suddenly it seems there are easy luxuries everywhere and I have to be restrained for the sake of wallet and waistline! But at the same time, what a nice problem to have – such great news for me, and for animals and the environment 🙂
  • The mental health services. Wow am I thankful for the help that I’ve found available to me this year as I’ve found myself battling depression! I’ve heard the horror stories and know not everyone gets the help they need when they need it, even when they do seek it, but my experience has been good so I know that’s only one side of the picture. I’d love to see the day when mental health is taken as seriously as physical health, because it is, and everyone can find help. But I’m very thankful that I have a good GP, have been able to take part in a well-taught CBT course for free, and have had help from my church towards paying to see a counsellor. Each of these things have been a God-send in an unpleasant situation, and I am so thankful.
  • Supportive family and friends. And again on a related note, I am deeply thankful for the community of people I have in my life who have treated my illness as an illness, been understanding as they can be, and been there to encourage me and share advice. I feel honoured to be able to reciprocate that to others too, and am grateful to have that chance through this circumstance. It’s brought me closer to myself, to others, and to God.
  • The RSPB. Last year I was volunteering for several different charities, often on my own and with irregular hours. This year I decided to change and focus on my work with the RSPB nature conservation charity, filling my newly-free days in the week by taking on some scientific support work in their local office, which means I’m now working with others and with pretty regular office hours, and getting to use my science brain a bit. Simplifying my work this year has itself done me a lot of good; but so has the RSPB directly. Conservation is not always the most encouraging world to work in, with so many species and habitats under threat. But working with the RSPB, I see an amazing array of good news stories as hard work saving nature really does pay off. Both internally and externslly there’s a real emphasis on hope and encouragement around this. The project I’ve worked most with this year has just celebrated a milestone as a little bird we almost lost from the country has been brought back from the brink and is increasing (you can read more about that here, it’s a nice reminder that good news is out there!). But even in addition to this, the organisation takes staff wellbeing seriously (as a volunteeer I am still considered part of the staff team) and has done a lot of work to raise the profile of wellbeing and mental health and promote activities and support that can help. I’m not sure I could be working in a better environment right now!
  • Being able to ‘do autumn properly’. It’s no secret that I love autumn! I felt like I missed out on it a bit last year in my busyness, so this year I made an effort to give time to enjoying it as much as possible. So we went on holiday in the Lake District, swam and bodyboarded in the sea, went for walks in the local arboretum and elsewhere, picked up colourful leaves, made some of them into pretty decorations or collages, went birdwatching plenty to catch the migration in progress, baked for halloween and used it to pray over the world’s darkness, went to the legendary Nottingham Goose Fair (enormous cheesy funfair, and something I haven’t done since leaving home), went to an apple day and made apple fritters to celebrate, had a Thanksgiving party and a Harvest ploughman’s meal, went to a fireworks display, and planted trees in the garden. I don’t think I’ve missed anything this year, and although it’s been unusually warm and dry and the trees gave us a bit of a stop-start display this year it’s been wonderful – and I have far too many photos! 😀
  • Switchfoot. I confess, when I drafted this list, this was the first thing I wrote! A lot of bad things have happened in the world this year. But 2016 was also the year Switchfoot brought us their 10th album, Where The Light Shines Through. And in a dark year, it really has been where the light has shone through for me, not just a highlight of the year for a fan, but also an incredibly timely album full of messages of hope and strength and light, so much needed just now. This band has done more than anyone else this year to encourage me to look for the points of light breaking through the darkness, keep my eyes on the Source of my hope, and work to become where the light shines through myself.

Melting ice ahead

Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

– Ezekiel 13:10-12, the Bible

 

A couple of weeks ago, on the first day of Advent and anniversary of the talks that led to the Paris climate agreement, I accompanied some friends as they delivered a symbolic bucket load of melting ice to the government to bear witness to the fact that we are headed the wrong way on climate change.
A year previously, we had all gone to the government department then responsible for climate policy to pray and symbolically paint whitewash on the walls (more about why here). With more forwards talk and backwards action over the past year, we decided to return with a reminder. We handed in a letter and held a prayer and worship vigil outside the building, whilst others put whitewash across the windows and went inside and emptied the melting ice on the floor – and set up wet floor signs saying ‘Caution! Melting ice ahead!’*.
Our government continues to whitewash the falling wall on climate change, like the Biblical false prophets, prophesying 1.5oC of climate peace ahead where there is none. ‘The wall will fall, and then all will ask you, where is the whitewashed wall?’ Where is the Paris Agreement? Where is the Climate Act? It seems as though our government imagines talk and written commitments are enough, that so long as we do something to keep ‘the green movement’ sweet that will suffice to keep the problem at bay. The talk is good. But it isn’t ‘the green movement’ that needs to be impressed; it is the climate itself, and the climate cannot hear our words, nor read our political agreements. All it notices are our emissions; and these continue to rise.
With carbon-heavy policy being pushed through in practice, what the climate sees is deeply alarming. The truth is, there is melting ice ahead and we stand on slippery ground. We need to turn around, prophesy the truth that we are heading for danger, and repent and cut emissions accordingly. Only then can we stop the wall falling.
As citizens of a (theoretical) democracy, we are complicit in our government’s actions, particularly in our silence, and so have a duty to speak out for truth and work as hard as we can to turn things around.
We are given melting ice, whitewashed with words; so as a witness to this, my friends gave the government whitewash and melting ice. I went along to pray and worship, help spread the word, and assist my friends should they be arrested. As it turned out, no arrests this time.
But the stakes are so high already; aside from the present and predicted physical effects of climate change such as melting ice, what I fear most is the social impact, which we may already be witnessing in increasing people movements, rising xenophobia, closing borders, insecurity, desperation and hostility. This is what we risk if we do not continue to speak out, so in light of this, how can we not take these small personal risks to make ourselves heard?

I pray for the church, all of us, to become braver and more visionary in pushing for a better world, more like the promised Eden-peace with God, and one another, and other creatures, and the earth we were put here to care for and work, and less torn apart by division, short term self interest, fear and greed.

 

 

*A double meaning; we genuinely did not want anyone to slip on it, but also meant it to serve as a warning sign of what is ahead on our current climate trajectory. Read more about the action here.

Cosmic washing lines

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the night sky recently, watching the Perseid meteors, the beautiful full moon, and admiring the Milky Way whilst on a camping trip and on long walks home after dark from various adventures. The more time I’ve spent looking at it, the crazier it seems. I had one of those incredible shifts of perspective on one such evening, where you suddenly realise you’re standing on a planet hanging in the vastness of space, looking out across the galaxy and seeing unimaginably huge and distant burning stars… it’s just breathtakingly mind boggling!

And then I see myself and my surroundings in that cosmic context. Stood in the overgrown and rather messy back garden of my house, on a very mundane housing estate, looking out at the vastness of the universe we are flying through… through a tangle of plastic washing lines!!

How does this all make sense?! How can our ordinary, everyday, washing line-filled lives be a part of this same, grand, immense universe as all those stars?

And yet, we are connected. We are a part of it. We, and our washing line lives, are in space, with the stars. And our God made every part of it, a part of the whole, including us, including the stars, and sees every part of it, including us, including the stars, and cares about every part of it – including us, including the stars.

We are tiny and insignificant, and we matter.

 

Here’s a song on a similar train of thought…

 

Self-help for anxiety and depression; part 2

I’ve now finished the CBT self-help classes I have been taking this summer. I wasn’t sure how to write this post as it isn’t such a personal perspective as the last, and I’m reluctant to turn this into a mental health blog in general; my aim is just to keep sharing where I’m at. But I felt I wanted to follow up my previous article on techniques for managing depression by sharing the treatment techniques we learnt on the remainder of the course, as I feel the more this information is shared about, the more we can help each other overcome our illnesses.

The second half of the course looked more at ways to overcome anxiety – first a session about understanding and handling panic attacks, then a session looking at worry and how to manage it healthily, and finally a short session on recovery and avoiding relapse*. I’ve been experiencing more anxiety than is normal for me since being ill, but not to the extent of being diagnosable, hence this being much less of a personal perspective than part 1; I haven’t had to deal with the symptoms to know how effective these treatments are. But here they are; they’ve helped me to understand anxiety more, and I hope they will help us to overcome any anxiety of our own, and to help others experiencing it:

Panic attacks – ‘Panic’ is one of those words that is in everyday use, and yet has a very specific meaning when talking about mental illness. We all ‘panic’ at times. But not everyone experiences panic attacks. Panic attacks are very common, affecting maybe 1 in 20 of us; they are extreme anxiety attacks, usually lasting just 10-20 minutes, that cause physical symptoms such as a pounding or skipping heart, breathlessness and/or hyperventilating, sweating, shaking, feeling like you will be sick or need the loo urgently, or feeling dizzy or faint, and feel terrifying. When a person is having a panic attack, they often feel like something awful is happening to them, for example that they are choking or having a heart attack. They feel so bad, people become anxious about having another.

The course leaders described what is going on here as being like a household smoke alarm, which goes off if there is a fire, but also reacts to burnt toast! Basically our brains interpret something as a threat, even if it may be a non-physical threat such as a deadline or a crowd, and release adrenaline, which would prepare our bodies for ‘fight or flight’ responses. The physical symptoms experienced in a panic attack are the direct result of this adrenaline, which increases heart rate, breathing, sweating etc to prepare our bodies for action in response to this ‘threat’; the symptoms may be scary but they are not dangerous, and the worst is not going to happen. Knowing this can in itself help break the fear cycle.

The anxiety the onset of a panic attack causes can cause a vicious cycle of panicking thoughts and symptoms, and afterwards, the fear of a repeat can mean that consciously or even unconsciously a person can begin monitoring their body for small changes – which can trigger the ‘smoke alarm’, and mean a panic attack can seem to come on out of the blue. And so, we start to avoid certain situations we fear may bring on an attack or be hard to cope in if it happened, and develop ‘safety behaviours’ to cope, things like staying near to exits, having something to distract us like a phone or music, or seeking reassurance. In the short term, they help us feel less anxious; but in the long term they reinforce the problem. What if these things were not available to you? Could you cope? If not, it is a safety behaviour. Using it is training your brain to be dependent on it and that without it you would be unable to cope, whilst never giving yourself a chance to prove that you can cope.

To regain your independence from safety behaviour and feel able to cope in situations that made you anxious, the treatment is again going to involve hard work and perseverance, but apparently really does help people overcome crippling anxiety. It involves facing your fears in a very careful way. The aim is to retrain your brain not to be afraid of fear, but to accept that anxiety subsides with time and doesn’t need to be run from. Anxiety symptoms are caused by adrenaline, and adrenaline wears off; this treatment teaches you to feel the adrenaline wearing off and become used to that as a normal follow-on to the feeling of it increasing.

Firstly, grade the situations that make you anxious – give them a score out of 100 for how anxious they make you feel and rank them. Find one thing that ranks about 40-50, and work with that until it stops causing you anxiety before moving on to something tougher. Identify any safety behaviour you use, and perhaps incorporate that into your scores; maybe something is easier to face with a friend than alone for example, so would score lower. Taking that situation that scores about 40, work on putting yourself in that situation regularly, at least four times per week, scheduling it specifically into your diary to make sure you do it. Do not allow yourself to do anything to lessen the anxiety of the experience or distract yourself; you need to be able to feel that initial anxiety to feel it coming down with time. Stay in the situation long enough each time to experience the anxiety levels reducing to about half what they were initially. This way you teach yourself by experience that if you expose yourself to this situation, the anxiety will reduce.

We discussed reasons it may not work, and they mostly came down to not staying in the situation long enough, masking the anxious feelings, or incorrectly grading our anxiety, which obviously takes some practise (if you pick something you think will be a ‘40’ and it turns out to be much more anxiety-causing than that, you may not be able to handle sitting it out long enough to let the adrenaline come down and feel that effect, whereas if you go for something that turns out not to make you very anxious you won’t feel much either). Basically this aims to retrain our brains out of triggering the ‘smoke alarm’ over situations that are actually not dangerous, and get used to the physical sensations of increasing and decreasing adrenaline, whilst increasing our self-confidence.

This obviously only works for situations that we can experience regularly; for one-off situations such as a job interview or party for example, we were taught to try behavioural experiments. The first step in this case is to identify the anxious thought (perhaps ‘I won’t know what to say if I’m asked a question and will look stupid’ or ‘no-one will talk to me’). Then identify any safety behaviours you might use (maybe taking in notes to read from, or taking your phone to hide behind). Then plan an experiment (Can I do this thing without my safety behaviour?). Plan out how you will do it, then predict exactly what you think would happen if your anxious thought turned out to be true. Write it all down to keep a record of to refer back to. After the event has happened, come back to your experiment, and note down the actual, honest outcome, and exactly how it worked without your safety behaviour. How does it compare to your prediction, and what does that say about your initial anxious thought?

Finally, when we came to discuss this as a group, several people said that the controlled breathing techniques we learnt previously really helped overcome panic, firstly by shifting the attention onto the action of breathing, and secondly, physically working with the adrenaline by increasing oxygen intake whilst slowing breathing down, which helps the heart rate to come down and stop hyperventilation.

Worry – When we’re ill, our worrying can feel out of control. There are basically three types of ‘worry’: Practical worries (about something we are able to do something about); Hypothetical worry (‘what ifs’, which we can’t do anything about), and ‘Rumination’ (going over past events and thinking what you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ have done or wishing it had been different – which again we can’t do anything about). We handle worry differently because of differing basic beliefs about it – some negative (for example ‘I shouldn’t worry’, or that it will get out of control), some positive  (for example thinking it helps motivate or prepare us for things).

We all worry, and that’s ok, but we can’t deal with worry by simply trying not to worry; that just makes us worry more. To deal with excessive worry healthily, try keeping a diary for a short while to identify your worries. Are they practical or hypothetical worries, rumination, or negative thoughts? Negative thoughts are better dealt with by thought challenging.

Set aside a short period 15 minutes of the day as a worry time – a time when you won’t be busy with other things and not too late in the day so you go to sleep with anxiety; you need time to relax afterwards. Through the day, write down all your worries as you go, maybe on post it notes so they can be discarded once dealt with, and put them aside to look at in that planned worry time – that way you acknowledge them rather than trying not to think about them but can shelve them for later; you can think about them but don’t have to think about it right now. Practise drawing your attention back to the here and now after writing down a worry, perhaps by focussing on your breath or on your physical senses (what can you physically hear right now for example). In the worry time, allow yourself to think about the things you’ve written down, but discard them at the end of the allotted time.

Any that turn out to be practical worries, you can think through a strategy for how you will deal with them. When you do this, think as creatively and even outrageously as possible to list all the possible ways you can think of to solve the problem: For example, if the problem is having no money for the bills, solutions could be to change jobs, cancel a subscription to something you don’t use… or rob a bank! Then go through the advantages or disadvantages of each, make a plan, schedule it, and once you’ve done it, review how it went.

I’ve found a massive difference in my own excessive worrying simply from categorising my worries; once I’ve noticed what I’m thinking it seems to have interrupted the worry process enough for me to bring me out of the worry. The techniques we’ve already learnt for motivating ourselves and challenging negative thoughts have also really helped me with worries too, meaning I get on with addressing practical stuff rather than getting into a cycle of letting tasks become overwhelming. As for rumination… I’m going to need counselling for some of that.

Recovery – It is normal to experience both good days and bad days during the recovery process. Keep a diary and monitor how you’re doing to see if the bad days are increasing or decreasing, and to keep a record of the symptoms you experience. If they’re increasing, you may be able to troubleshoot by looking to see if there’s a technique you’ve forgotten that could help, or maybe you need further help – in which case, do seek it out. The treatment techniques require a lot of practise so keep trying, and monitor how they are going alongside how you feel. Keep practicing them until they become second nature again.

So, how am I?

As I write, I am doing really well! For the past three weeks I’ve been feeling far more myself than I have for maybe a year or more. Maybe all my self-care efforts are paying off; maybe prayers are being answered; maybe the CBT is having an effect; maybe these are good days, interspersed with bad days on the road to recovery, or the end of the first wave of illness before the next hits. Maybe it’s the season – I find it hard to feel down when the autumn is coming in, although it’s also a season when vulnerable feelings make more sense. Maybe it’s a combination of things. But I’m feeling good just now. That said, I’m taking one day at a time; I can feel the depression-monster lurking somewhere behind my back, and I’m having to keep checking over my shoulder the whole time to stop it sneaking up on me again. I can still hear it feeding me lies, and it’s still taking deliberate effort to put these things I’ve learnt into practise and stay healthy. I’ve now started seeing a counsellor. CBT treats the symptoms of mental illness really effectively, but many of us need more than that to fully recover; counselling aims to address the underlying causes. I definitely feel in need of both tackling the symptoms and the causes. I feel now like I have strategies for coping and re-developing my resilience to pain. But I am still carrying that pain around, and I really want to address that, to dig underneath and understand what’s really going on. I’m hoping counselling will help with this. Another step towards kicking this thing!

 


 

*We also had a quick look at medication; I’m absolutely unqualified to talk about this medically, so if you want to know more about it, please speak to a doctor or pharmacist for advice. I can’t tell you about all the different types of drug, how they work and what they do, except that it’s to do with healing the way chemical messages are passed within the brain, which gets disrupted when you are ill. But the main points I’ve learnt are that there are many different drugs out there, which work in different ways and have different associated side effects. Most take a few weeks to take effect, during which time they may make you feel worse before you get better, so you may need to persevere to get the benefits. Most of the side effects subside in that time too. Different people’s anxiety and depression illnesses respond differently to different medications, so you may need to try more than one before you find one that works, and that may mean finding a good doctor to work with you and be understanding of you. They are not addictive. Most people are able to start coming off medication after six months or so, some need longer. Those I know who do or have used medication are really keen to tell me the difference it has made to their lives, that they are able to feel like themselves again and live a normal life. As for the stigma attached – if you had cancer, and were recommended medication to treat it, you would take it and no-one would criticise you for it. If you had a condition, diabetes for example, that meant you needed to take medication daily to be able to lead a normal life, you would take it and no-one would criticise you for it. Mental illness is illness. Mental health medication is medication. Let’s not treat it any differently.

Blackberries and grace

I went blackberry picking today, celebrating the first day of the year that everyone else seems to wake up to the fact that it’s autumn, even though I’ve known it since that first day back in august when the light changed, the morning felt fresh, the trees began turning colours, and the birds shifted their behaviour. Autumn is the most lovely time of year.

I hear you’re technically not supposed to forage on nature reserves; but then I can’t imagine anyone being concerned about blackberries. The bramble is, as far as I know, in no danger of extinction, and every year, the plants produce fruit at a rate that even the most voracious birds are unable to keep pace with. Most of the fruit goes over and drops well before it is eaten, no matter how hard we and the wild creatures try to gorge ourselves. So I picked a box full, now in my freezer to liven up our winter pancakes, the hedges still so weighed down with fruit after I’d left that it was as if I hadn’t touched them!

Blackberries to me are a powerful demonstration of grace. For the rest of the year, brambles are neglected and persecuted plants. As well as romping through the woods and hedgerows, they easily colonise the most neglected, abandoned and abused plots of land; overgrown gardens, derelict buildings, dubious alleyways, railway lines, back yards behind rows of shops, random scraps of wasteland where people dump rubbish and scrawl graffiti. We hack them back, dig them up, curse them for encroaching on ‘our’ spaces. I certainly count myself in this – my own sorry excuse for a garden produces little else, and I’ve spent rather a lot of time this summer repeatedly cutting back thorny tendrils threatening to take root in unwanted places, not to mention the great masses of them that I spend the winter pulling out of hedges on the very same nature reserve as part of their annual maintenance. The bramble is unwanted, unloved, and even many times unnoticed.

But then… blackberries!

The neglect, the weedkiller, the hedge trimmers, the rubbish and the cursing we’ve laid on the bramble the rest of the year are repaid with an outrageous generosity; simply too much fruit! No matter what our part has been previously in the bramble’s treatment, and whether or not we are interested in tasting it, it rewards us by overproducing, wastefully showering us with fruity goodness. My garden has already produced enough berries for two large cakes, a lot of snacking, food for the birds and ever-present snails, and still has fruit ripening and dropping. I find it humbling that a simple thorn bush can be so incredibly gracious, and every year it reminds me to take seriously the even greater grace of its maker. Truly worth celebrating!