Tag Archives: Brokenness

White Sky Church

One I wrote back in 2013 under similar skies and frustrations…

 

Oh! What to do with this world?

Some day these white skies have got to break

Black or blue

The haze that obscures You

As if the world would think we never knew You

Let the dark clouds gather

Deep convection of our souls

Finally do some good for this dried-up Earth

Oh! What to do with us?

Don’t let us off

Average as the concrete sky

 

 

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Wonder

Can you see the sparkles in the broken glass?

Can you see the stars through the streetlights?

Can you see the grass growing through the cracks?

Or the daisies on the wasteground?

Can you see the hurt child inside the hard man? Inside your enemy? Inside yourself..?

What innocence do your child’s eyes see in the broken places?

This is wonder;

Lifting your sights

Opening your eyes

Awakening you by surprise

Imagination calling you forwards

Where cynicism has no place

This is hope.

Will you follow its playful way?

Oh blessed…

At this time of year, with Switchfoot having toured here this same week in both 2015 and 2017, I’m unavoidably drawn into the memories, reliving all those powerful experiences. There are two experiences within all of that that really stand out; one, really connecting with Jon for the first time at the end of the 2015 tour, when for the first time I felt my fan-love was accepted. The other, that dark night in 2017, the shadow that proved the sunshine of the rest of the year, when I missed Jon play an impromptu solo show at BCDO South, because it happened at 10pm in the chapel, and I wasn’t allowed onto that part of the site till 10:30pm, and depression and anxiety won out.

Add in Switchfoot’s current hiatus, and that was a heady mix of feelings to be carrying when the opportunity arose to go to BCDO South again this year. To begin with I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. It’s previously felt a bit of an odd evangelical Christian bubble, isolated from reality in more ways than one. There were artists I did want to see, but did I want to see any of them enough to cross the country for? It’s a long way, and the costs would add up. And then, no Switchfoot. It would be the first time I’d gone there without them. Would I want to be faced with all those memories in their absence?

However. I have a second favourite band.

I could never really claim to have ever been a megafan of Delirious?; nonetheless, they’ve been a really big deal to me right from my introduction to them, at a signing in a local record store in early 2000. I ended up front row as they played, lead singer Martin Smith climbing onto the gear cases I was squashed up against and even standing on the CD of theirs I had just bought in the process! I was hooked by their engaging and energetic performance and big sound, and let’s admit it, those dark eyes..! The CD thankfully survived, so I lined up for the signing. I was 16, had never met anyone famous before, and they’d made quite an impression on me; I was starstruck, and they didn’t really have time for me. Ah well. It was amazing!

That was the beginning of the journey. Delirious? were immediately my second band (first place initially going to another band before Switchfoot well and truly won my heart), and over the next few years I followed them avidly. At the time I knew no greater high than the Delirious? post concert rush. In those early days I’d not learned what to do with my heart; I gave it all to my top two bands, obsessing to a crazy extent, finding out everything I could about them, and yet not really giving them a lot to show for it (of course, pre social media, that was a lot harder anyhow…). It wasn’t long before I figured this was unhealthy and that I needed to get things in perspective and focus on God. As a result, I reined it right in. As my love for Switchfoot grew, I swore I’d not be the same with them, that I’d pay them as little attention as possible, and just enjoy the music and focus my heart on God. I didn’t know their names, I wasn’t on their mailing list, I avoided their website, and I never saw them play live. Yet, I loved them more and more, and found God at work through what they do.

Delirious? and Switchfoot fitted perfectly together in those days for me: Switchfoot are American, Delirious? British; Delirious? I used to see a couple of times a year, and yet I never dared see Switchfoot till 2011; my Switchfoot obsession is centred around Jon Foreman and his lyrics and vocals, Delirious? It was always Stu and Stew and their amazing guitar and drums. Delirious? had a cheese-factor Switchfoot never did, yet soloed in a way Switchfoot at least never did in the studio. I’ve long felt almost as at home in Stu’s guitar tones as I do in Jon’s voice. Over the years their respective songs Come Like You Promise and Dare You To Move have both jostled for the position of favourite favourite song (Dare’s been ahead for some time now, but the former holds the endurance record!). Both bands inspired and challenged me with their lyrics (though Switchfoot more so), and I loved their music. Delirious? met my need for a band I could follow, ‘get to know’, and enjoy live, since I’d begun that way with them, whilst something even deeper was at work with Switchfoot.

I got hold of Switchfoot’s Nothing Is Sound and Delirious?’s The Mission Bell at the same time in 2005; I remember being struck straight away by the similar feel of even the cover art, but even before playing them I read through the lyrics to both. Goosebumps. These were powerful words that engaged with the world in all its brokenness, met me where I was, and inspired me to act to make it better. It excited me, and I knew I’d found my place musically.

And yet somehow something went wrong. As I journeyed into megafandom of Switchfoot, and then Jon Foreman more generally, somehow I began to take Delirious? for granted. They were always around. I didn’t even have to make the effort, sooner or later they’d be playing near me. There’d be the same old songs, the same amazing solos, the same goofing around and forgetting lyrics by Martin, that same high afterwards… The last time I saw them was at Greenbelt festival in 2007. I was tired after a long day, and they were playing a similar set to the last few shows of theirs I’d seen. I left half way through to get some rest.

To this day I don’t know what happened*, but the next thing I knew of them they were finishing their final tour. All that time I’d followed them, and been on their mailing list, and known everything about them, and somehow I’d missed their final album, split and last tour. Stew Smith had even been the first to leave the band some time before the end, and Stu G had emigrated to the USA. I was shellshocked and heartbroken. When I got hold of that final album, Kingdom Of Comfort, and discovered it to be up there with my all-time favourite albums, full of the most powerful lyrics, and made for the big stage, I was even more devastated to have missed that closing chapter. I had been a truly terrible fan!

Delirious? left a hole in my heart – both the pain of that bad ending, and the lack of a band to follow. The result? Throwing myself full into my love of Switchfoot, knowing now what I stood to lose, and embracing the megafandom for what it was. The rest of that story I’ve already told of course.

So, here I am in 2018. A decade without Delirious? and though time had softened the pain, I still felt their absence from my life and all my regrets. Meanwhile, I’d spent the past few years learning what it means to love (verb!) an artist, how to be a good fan whilst keeping things in perspective, how to give back, what it can mean to them too to do so, how to build connection. After what Switchfoot’s 2015 tour taught me, I realised I needed to learn from that with other artists too, and that included seeking out what Stu G was up to these days, getting onto his mailing list and social media, and finally showing up as a fan there too.

And now – Stu was coming to the UK to play BCDO (the festival spearheaded by Delirious? keyboard player Tim Jupp), and Martin was also on the programme, along with a few other artists I also liked, including Verra Cruz, also up there amongst my favourite bands. Ok, no more terrible fan. I booked, I went!

We arrived Saturday morning, pitched the tent in blazing sunshine, picked up a programme, and discovered that Stu G was playing almost immediately, so dashed over to catch his set. And oh wow! We arrived just as he started playing Delirious?’s Bliss, and despite him playing at the very civilised Tearfund Tea Tent, with most of the rest of the crowd sat at tables enjoying cream teas, we ran to the front and danced like it was 1999!

Although there as a solo artist, he had a band with him so was able to give us the epic, atmospheric rock he’s always done best, all smiles and clearly in his element. Bliss was followed by the moody solo hit King Of The Stars, the first time I’d seen this live and it was stunning. He then talked a bit about his Beatitudes project; for the past few years he’s been exploring, both practically and through musical collaborations, what the blessings of Jesus mean for us today, resulting in an album, book and film, all of which I can thoroughly recommend. He said that he had found the beatitudes to be less a list of targets to strive for, more a set of promises about how ‘God is on your side at the bottom of life’. And he played the opening song of the project, Oh Blessed, on acoustic guitar, having us sing the title lyric with him. It sounded lovely. Then switching back to electric we were treated to In The Middle from the same project, lyrically powerful and with the kind of heavy riff that Delirious? had been known for. And then, a precious gift – he played the song Kingdom Of Comfort! It sounded as amazing live as I’d always imagined it would, but never thought I’d get to experience. After effectively giving up some of my favourite songs for lost, to finally hear one of them was very healing. And he ended with Delirious?’s Investigate, as epic and soaring as it ever had been, Stu producing a killer solo and reminding me that he is still one of the very best guitarists out there. He looked really happy to see us enjoying it all, throwing a lot of smiles in our direction. Wow! What a way to start a beautiful weekend.

Afterwards he was selling CDs and his new book about the beatitudes Words From The Hill, so I thought I could make up for a lot of missed opportunities and bad fandom by getting hold of them. So I did, and he came out to meet us, and I got the book signed! It was so good to finally meet him ‘properly’; I got to tell him about how I’d been a massive Delirious? fan, had really missed them, how special it was hearing those songs again, and especially Kingdom of Comfort, and told him he was still my favourite guitarist. He was so touched both by our rocking out and my story! And whilst I was speaking, he signed the book:

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Oh my gosh! I may actually have put things right finally…

We saw another couple of bands, and then it was time for Stu G’s second set of the day, also at the Tea Tent. As he was setting up, Martin Smith came up and chatted with him, and there were smiles and hugs between them, and he even helped Stu set up the stage. That made my heart happy! This time Stu kicked off with Delirious?’s Sanctify, which sounded huge. There was a funny moment at the end as he had to sing the line ‘The cloud’s getting bigger now’; he paused, looking up at the perfect clear blue sky with a grin on his face, and sang it with a questioning tone, which made us laugh! Then he gave us Inside Outside, a Delirious? song that he’d always taken lead vocal on, it was great to hear this one live. Then we rocked out through Bliss and King Of The Stars again before having to leave and dash over to the Illuminate stage for the awesome Verra Cruz, whose set clashed disastrously with his! Seriously, that guitar work..!

We got word that Kari Jobe, on Mainstage that evening, would have some special guests 😉 So we rounded off an amazing day of live music at her set. And yes, something precious happened; part way in, she invited Stu and Martin up on stage together to play the old Delirious? worship hit Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble with her! She took the second verse, but it felt like old times, as though I was a 17 year old again at Alton Towers… I was struck by both the immediacy of the memories, and the power those words still hold.

Finally, we also found out that Stu was rounding off his time at the BCDO by showing a premier of his beatitudes film A View From The Hill… At 10:30pm, by candlelight, in the chapel!!! :O

I was so torn. I had sworn to myself and my friends that I wasn’t going to go near that chapel, leave last year’s memories where they were. Of course I wasn’t going to go there. But now… I really felt I should go, as support for Stu, and I felt God wanted me to, that somehow this had been deliberately set up…

So. I did.

I picked a flower to take with me on the way, giving a kick to the gate that had barred my way a year before, as we passed straight through this time. My first thought was that I was taking the flower for Jon, as a way to sort of say ‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m here now.’

Then I thought it was like laying flowers at the site of a tragedy to remember and leave beauty in its place…

The chapel was beautiful. I laid the flower by a pillar when we arrived. Stu saw us come in and recognised us and gave us a huge smile!! The film was so deep and powerful. I loved it almost as much as 25in24 and the messages and atmosphere of both fit really well together. It’s gorgeously shot, and follows his journey of discovery with Jesus’ words as he met those living them out and experiencing God’s presence in places of suffering, marginalisation, stories of mercy, or as they sought to bring peace and justice or stand in solidarity with the struggling. Interspersed, it also showed the creative process he went through with a host of other artists (including Audrey Assad, Matt Maher, Martin Smith, Propaganda and Michael W Smith) to craft an album of songs inspired by each blessing.

It occurred to me – that flower was also a thank You gift for God!

Far from feeling like a place of pain, I felt so much peace and presence and healing there. It was such a redemptive experience being there with my next favourite artist, showing him support and being inspired. God was definitely in it.

Stu took questions at the end, and M asked him about his experiences of challenging consumerism in the church, ‘holy troublemaking’ with the messages of songs like Kingdom Of Comfort, when it so often seems like consumerism must never be questioned, even within the church where people seem as trapped by it as anywhere else, when Jesus calls us out of it and to speak truth to power. Afterwards I went over to Stu and thanked him for being there and all he’d done that day and over the years, told him how much I loved the film, and we were able to thank him for being the highlight of a wonderful day. And everything had come full circle. We walked back to the tent with storm clouds flashing dramatically on the horizon.

My heart was content and my mind buzzing. This day had been such an unexpected story of healing and redemption! I’d arrived missing Switchfoot, missing Delirious?, and carrying the pain from both the previous year’s trauma and my unresolved ending with band #2. Suddenly all was well, and God had brought me face to face with it all and met me right where it had hurt, and made something truly beautiful out of it the way God excels at doing best.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’

The following day we saw even more great music, and enjoyed even more hot sunshine. The previous day we had met Marc from Verra Cruz after their set and I’d got to thank him and tell him that their album Emancipation Day was one of my all-time favourites too, and today a band new to us, Trinity, made the first move, coming to meet and greet their audience as we arrived for their set. They turned out to be great fun, interacting with the crowd to a Switchfoot extent, and showing themselves to have big hearts, so again we bought a CD and got to meet and thank them too.

Finally, the weekend was rounded off with a Mainstage set from Martin Smith. Accompanied by members of his band Army Of Bones and his daughter Elle Limebear, he opened with the refrain from Delirious?’s Our God Reigns. He got us all going with God’s Great Dancefloor, it seemed like everyone was jumping from the front to the back, and just when it seemed like it had finished, he decided to do it all again, pulling a group up on stage to dance, and from his grins it was clear he was having a great time with it, it was so much fun! Elle lent her beautiful lead vocals to Waiting Here For You, then Martin ditched his jacket and launched into Oh Praise The Name, spliced with Army Of Bones’ Love Song For A City and some powerful yelling. Oh how I’d missed those Martin yells! Then another special moment; Martin thanked the man whose dream had created BCDO in the first place – former Delirious? key player Tim Jupp, bringing him onstage to big applause and playing their very first song (and the song I had at my baptism), Thank You For Saving Me, together once more. Martin and Elle sang their latest single Jesus Only You together, which was stunning, before moving into a truly epic Come Holy Spirit. Finally, having given us Delirious?’s first song, Martin ended his set with their last song, My Soul Sings. Wow. Oh wow. Another from Kingdom Of Comfort, another I thought I’d never see live. And this song…

I tear up almost every time listening to Kingdom Of Comfort; I hear them signing out all the way through it in the lyrics and the music. It feels like a triumphant climax of an amazing career, finally embracing themselves for who they really were and telling it like it is, but also saying goodbye. And what a perfect ending that song is. If you don’t know it, give it a listen here so you can see where I’m coming from here; in my head, what happens in the music at the end of the song, and album, and band, is this: They are worshipping away, when the clouds part, and heaven opens and smiles down on them, and then they are lifted up into the sky, and for a while the whole sky resounds with the song of heaven… up and up, and eventually they are lost from our sight, and the clouds roll back in… and then we hear the heavenly portal close behind them. The End. Fanciful perhaps, but there’s closure in those closing bars, and it still gives me chills. And for this old Delirious? fan, there could be no better way to close out such a special weekend, reliving the journey, than this soaring worship epic. It moved me to tears.

I’d intended to stay for Matt Redman rounding out the festival, but that was enough. I felt like after all these years I’d finally got to see another Delirious? Concert. Sure I’d known that three of them would be there, it was even the main reason I’d been there, but I hadn’t anticipated anything like this. I totalled it up; we’d seen them play 9 different songs between the three of them over the course of the weekend, one song off each album bar my least favourite, and two from Kingdom Of Comfort. Deliberate..? Certainly healing. And it occurred to me; Delirious? the band are no more, and yet the music is still alive. I can trust God with it. I can trust God with Switchfoot, through all the current uncertainty. We headed off for some tea, hearing Matt’s set drifting over the site as we did, and then the sky was lit up both with celebratory fireworks, and God’s own fireworks from distant storms on the horizon once again. What a weekend!

No regrets. That was perfection.

I even wonder, did I enjoy it more without having to worry about bumping into Switchfoot, finding VIP check-ins or missing aftershows, or even having every performance after theirs feel like a beautiful letdown in comparison?! Maybe so…

So, my take-home message from my adventures in fandom? Artists matter, and God loves fan-love. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t allow yourself to fall so heavily into an obsession they obscure your view of God or get in the way of your personal relationships or the important work of your life, don’t become stalkerish (give them space, and stay out of all parts of their personal lives unless they themselves choose to share with you), don’t develop a reliance on them. But don’t run the other way. Enjoy what they do, go see them, support them, buy their music, their tickets, their merch, let them see your support, create a real, healthy artist-fan relationship; the blessings run both ways. Yes, I still make mistakes and probably always will. But I’m learning!

*Ok, somewhere in there I failed a PhD, got married, and discovered Verra Cruz and Jon Foreman’s Seasons, but even still, no excuse!

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

Resurrecting me

Like so many of Jon Foreman’s songs, Resurrect Me has played a huge part in my story.
I stayed up till 3:30am last night watching (amongst other things in the beautiful, honest, hope-filled evening that was TWLOHA’s Heavy and Light concert) Jon singing this song. In a whole evening dedicated to being real, opening up about when life hurts, and affirming that hope is real, it struck me again that this song was what first inspired me to seek help for my own pain about a year ago.
I’d been back and forth between ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ for some time, and keeping an eye on myself, aware I needed to take my mental health seriously but not sure at what point to reach out.
And then one day last spring I found myself listening to this song. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but that day one line jumped out at me: ‘I tried to drown the pain with a friend of mine, it didn’t seem to help, ah she’s got a pretty face with her wedding lace but I’m still waking up with myself
Suddenly it was obvious; if I’m not ok now, without a job, what makes me think I will be ok when I get one? Isn’t the problem right here, in me? A line in a book I was reading that same week confirmed it: Wherever we go, ‘We take ourselves with us’. I had to find a way to be ok with that!
Here is the truth. I was ‘ok’, but I was carrying pain that previous jobs had not fixed. Neither had my marriage, my relocation or my home. Maybe it was ok for that ‘ok’ to not be enough, and to seek help.
I can testify that it was absolutely worth it! There is help and support out there, none of us are alone in our pain, and as TWLOHA will tell you, hope is real, help is real and recovery is possible. I’m now on that road; I hope that I am learning to ‘take myself with me’ now, to be able to keep my eyes on the honest reality of the state of my soul and listen to both my ‘light’ and my ‘heavy’.
I don’t know where you are at. But if you find yourself waiting for something to complete you, I’d love to encourage you to find help to discover that you can be whole already, without that thing yet in place. If you’re not ok with yourself now, you will not be ok when that job, relationship, family, move, marriage, money, or home arrives. That pain is there, in you. And that’s ok. And you can be helped to find yourself whole, now.
Resurrection is real.

You can watch the whole of Heavy and Light here, I recommend the whole thing, a really affirming and honest event.

Fighting depression with truth

Depression lies. Lately it has been making me feel like a failure, a reject, someone who breaks all she touches, that maybe I have much to offer but that the world isn’t interested. But it’s not the truth. The lies are powerful, but ultimately truth holds a greater power.

Since I last wrote on the subject I have been to my doctor, been diagnosed with mild depression and as a result been offered counselling, and referred to a self-help group for learning to manage anxiety and depression. I’ve also been reading a book with a friend, which has given me some really helpful insights and ways of dealing with my illness. I want to share what I’m learning as I figure the more information is out there for people, the more we can overcome this stuff. I hope I can help demystify the treatment process a bit, and share the things I’ve found helpful.*

Despite my really pretty low level symptoms, my doctor listened when I described them, took me seriously and told me that what I was saying sounded important. Low level as they are, the symptoms were still enough to be diagnosable and worth referring for treatment, and catching it at this early stage should stop it becoming worse. It’s SO worth knowing the symptoms of mental illness, so you know when to seek help; you don’t have to just accept these symptoms as normal and suffer in silence, there is help, and as with so many illnesses, treating it early gives the best prospects of recovery.

So. My self-help group is basically a training course, teaching a group of us a set of techniques called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which basically aim to break the vicious cycles of self-destructive thoughts and behaviours our illnesses can lead us into. This is the main recommended treatment for mild depression and anxiety, and one of the most effective too for mental illness in general. It is front-led, and somewhat death-by-powerpoint, but as a result, none of us have to share anything personal or talk about our illness or circumstances at all unless we want to. I’m currently almost half way through the CBT course, and am already seeing some things change.

One of the most significant changes is actually that I’ve seen a massive change in the confidence of other participants. The first session I found heart-breaking; we were a room full of beautiful, broken souls, and so many were evidently completely unaware that they were not alone. People were surprised to hear that mental illnesses like theirs affect a quarter of people at any one time, and stories emerged of feelings of isolation, worries that they were ‘crazy’ or would be seen that way, years spent trying to just cope with the way they were feeling, unaware that there was help available, or that ‘help’ did not necessarily mean scary drugs and certainly did not mean being locked up, and all sorts of feelings of guilt, weakness or inadequacy in coming to this group. I realised how incredibly, unusually blessed I am to be surrounded by so many friends, family and colleagues who are open about their health and help to raise awareness and share solidarity with each other; as a result, I have experienced none of this. Four weeks in, people are no longer trying to sneak into the clinic unseen; they are talking more freely about their experiences, they are beginning to see how normal and common their experiences are, to speak of their illnesses as illnesses and not weaknesses, and there’s a general sense of solidarity, strength and pride breaking through. It’s lovely! Openness makes such a difference! Breaking stigma is one of our greatest weapons against mental illness, so please do what you can to open up the conversation around you; it truly makes a difference.

Anyway; back to the content. We have so far been learning techniques to help us improve our sleep patterns, calm us down when anxious, break cycles of destructive thinking, and motivate ourselves into getting active again when depression tries to shut us down, paralyse us into inaction, stop us enjoying the things we used to, or to regain control of tasks that seem overwhelming.

Sleep – sleep problems can be a cause and symptom of depression and anxiety, and tackling them can help recovery. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, smoking, eating too soon before bed, physical discomfort, exercising not enough and/or too soon before bed, lying awake, and using the bed for things other than sleep and sex, especially involving screens, are all detrimental to sleep. Apparently the amount of sleep we get is far less important than its quality, so it isn’t about going to bed or getting up at particular times so much as retraining ourselves to sleep well when we do sleep. We were advised to learn the difference between feeling fatigued and feeling sleepy – literally ready to fall asleep – and only go to bed when we are genuinely sleepy, and to get up and go somewhere away from the bedroom if we find ourselves lying awake, until we feel sleepy again. Keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks (no longer, don’t get too hung up on it) can help identify patterns.

Calming techniques – we were taught a breathing exercise to help us to calm down when feeling anxious. Instead of breathing quickly and shallow, it helps slow our breathing down and deepen it. Putting one hand on our chest and one on our belly we can feel the difference between breathing deeply and shallowly. When we are breathing deeply, from the diaphragm, our belly should move more than our chest, so focus on this. Count as you breathe in – maybe to four but whatever feels natural – hold the breath in for a second or two, then let the breath out slowly as you count a little longer – maybe to six, but again whatever feels natural. Focussing on breathing can help calm the mind in itself, but so does the deep breathing itself. We also learnt a relaxation technique where in your mind you think about each part of the body in turn, noticing how it feels, tensing the muscles there and then consciously relaxing them again, working down the body until we’ve noticed and relaxed all areas we’ve had tensed up.

Thought Challenging – healthy or unhealthy, we all have negative thoughts pass through our minds regularly. But when we are ill, they come at us more frequently, we lose resilience to them, and we can find ourselves in unhealthy thought spirals. Firstly, we learnt the difference between a thought and a feeling, which sounds obvious until you consider how often we might say ‘I feel…’ when describing something we actually think (for example ‘I feel stupid’). A thought you can rephrase into an ‘I think…’ statement (‘I think I am stupid’), and someone could call into question, whereas a physical or emotional feeling (‘I feel sad/hot/sick…’) no one can argue with. Secondly we learnt the different types of unhelpful thought patterns we might find ourselves in, so that we can learn to spot them. These include: Thinking in very black and white terms (that things can’t be partly good, only all good or all bad), Overgeneralising (thinking something is always the case), Taking things personally (eg thinking it must be your fault), Mind reading (thinking you know what someone else is thinking or coming up with reasons why something has happened), Fearing the worst, fixed ‘Shoulds’ that induce guilt, Focussing on the negative whilst ignoring the positive, or even Disqualifying the positive (eg putting down a compliment paid to you rather than accepting it), making Negative predictions that can be self-fulfilling (such as ‘I won’t enjoy myself’), and Mistaking feelings for facts. We were encouraged to keep a diary, noting down the negative thoughts we’d had as they come at us, to rate how bad they made us feel and how much we believed them, and through that, to identify the really problematic one that we’d most like to tackle. For me – ‘I think I’m a failure’. It should also help identify triggering situations. Finally, we challenge the thought. We were taught to put the thought on trial, to list the concrete, factual evidence for and against that thought really being true. Usually that will result in a list of points both for and against it. And from this, we can then work out a more rational statement to replace the original thought with; not an unrealistically positive statement, but a more true one, taking into account both sides of the facts. Identifying, analysing, challenging our thoughts and learning to believe the replacement thought more than the original negative thought will take practise, but I’m finding even beginning to practise is helping disrupt the unhelpful thought spirals that lead to my low moods.

Motivation – depression can easily demotivate us from doing anything; it feels like a weight pressing down on us, making even straightforward activity hard work, making us tired or overwhelmed, taking away enjoyment from things we used to enjoy doing, and adding anxiety to social situations that can make us avoid others. However, the truth is that withdrawing from activity is one of the very worst things to do; it perpetuates and deepens the illness in a vicious cycle and can lead to it becoming really serious. Breaking that cycle takes a lot of effort, but is vital to recovery. The first thing we were advised was that motivation doesn’t necessarily precede activity; activity itself is often what causes motivation to increase. The technique we were taught to regain motivation I have to admit caused me a lot of anxiety even thinking about it, as it sounds like the to-do list from hell – but I do think it makes sense in breaking the paralysing effects of depression, so I’m going to persevere with making it work:

We were taught to list all our routine tasks (everyday things like showering and cooking for example), our necessary tasks (like work, paying bills, and for me at present, freecycling all the junk that’s in our garden), and pleasurable activities (including things we used to enjoy doing but are currently finding difficult, such as social activities or hobbies). The next step is to rate them in terms of how easy or difficult we are currently finding each task, breaking down those we’ve rated hardest into the smallest chunks we can, and then re-rating those chunks for difficulty. Then we are to plan out our weeks, scheduling in the tasks for really specific times so we don’t put them off, making sure we plan in a good balance of routine, necessary and pleasurable activities, and crucially, starting small. They emphasised the need to not try to take on too much to start with, but concentrate on the tasks we’ve rated as easiest, and also not to get carried away if we achieve something and feel good, and be tempted to do too much more, overdo it, and then feel low on energy the following day. Finally, at the end of the week, we were advised to review the week’s plan before planning our next week; what worked, what didn’t, had we taken on too much, could we do a bit more..?

Discussing this in the group after we’d given it a go for a couple of weeks, we found that breaking down the tasks as much as possible, and celebrating and rewarding small victories rather than beating ourselves up for stuff we hadn’t managed to do were really important, and I confessed that I’d found it hard to do with a rather chaotic lifestyle; I’ve been trying to apply the principle to smaller blocks of time, maybe a day or half day at a time, planning my time so I don’t get stuck on the sofa feeling low and overwhelmed but making sure I deliberately planned in little tasks to all my time, and keeping a good balance between routine, necessary and pleasurable activities. I now have a book in which I’ve started noting down small victories, things I found difficult on the low days but did anyway, which is encouraging.

At the same time, I have been reading a book with a friend called ‘Loving God With All Your Mind’. This is a book written by Elizabeth George, a Christian who discovered a similar treatment for depression and anxiety via the Bible. Having struggled with depression and anxiety for many years, she suddenly made a breakthrough after reading the words of Phil 4:8; ‘…think about what is true and honourable, right and pure, beautiful and respected. If anything is good and worthy of praise, think about these things.’ She suddenly had a revelation that actually the way she was thinking did not match up to these criteria. The more she examined her thoughts, held them up against these virtues, and questioned ‘but is it true?’, the more she began to break her destructive thought patterns and head towards recovery.

Truth in particular is an important one; it is so easy to begin to believe or worry about untruths, about ourselves, about others, and certainly about God. Some of my own are that I am a failure, that others are better than me at everything, and feeling surplus to requirements, even to the extent of doubting whether God has a use and a plan for me. There’s a little truth behind some of this; but are these things really true..? Honestly, no.

The technique is remarkably similar to that recommended under CBT, and has helped many people overcome depression and anxiety. Learn to identify the negative thoughts underlying your low feelings, and ask yourself ‘but is it true?’. I’ve been doing this a lot over the last few weeks, and although it’s early days, I know it is already helping a little. I’m still getting into negative thought spirals that mean sometimes I just cannot lift myself out of a real low, but just beginning to ask the question, is it true, is already starting to interrupt the vicious cycle a little, and causing me to focus on what I do know to be true in fact, even if I don’t necessarily feel it at the time. Good stuff. I’m only part way into the book so I can’t say whether the whole book is helpful or not as yet, but certainly I recommend these first few chapters, and exploring how this Biblical advice could help you.

We so easily lose sight of what is actually, really, true. Bringing ourselves back into a true perspective is tough when we’re ill, and takes a lot of time and practise. But at the end of the day I do believe the truth will set us free.

(2nd half of this post here, featuring my notes on what we learnt about panic attacks and managing worry.)


 

*I figure it is in the interests of the NHS to have this shared widely to potentially help others on the way to recovery and thereby possibly help reduce pressure on the overstretched service – though please do still go to professionals for help. What you won’t get from online advice is the chance to ask questions and advice of professional therapists, share difficulties you find when using these techniques, tips for making them work for you, and the sense of solidarity from being part of a group and learning with others in the same position.

Dirt and eagles

Maybe, sometimes, face down in the dirt is the best perspective I can get

I find myself, again, hemmed in by even the tiny foothills of the great and daunting mountains, which rise higher the longer I look at them

But yet, with You, who hold the very universe in the palm of Your hand

Silence.

Sometimes there are tears or complaints.

But the truth is, I’m all out of words and attempts to find an answer.

Instead, I bring You silence, and emptiness.

In silent humility, face to the earth, You resolve form in the darkness

Love and Life itself

Closer than my breath, and big enough to hold every thing that exists

And when I open my eyes, I find us soaring, so far above the tiny landscape below…