Tag Archives: Failure

Looking for Europe 2: BCDO South, finding the light shines in the darkness

May 27th

We were woken by distant thunder on show day #2. I’d arrived at the BCDO festival campsite late the previous evening and met up again with Jude, M, and some other fellow UK fans, and we were all camped together. We had a chilled late evening and morning hanging out on the campsite together, drinking Switchfoot related beverages, eating chocolate, dodging rain showers and jamming Switchfoot and Brooms songs together.

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Eventually we wandered onto the festival site, went over to Switchfoot’s merch stall where some of my friends picked up their first ever items of merch, and then went over to the interview tent. As hoped, the guys were indeed giving an interview that afternoon, so we all met up again to watch that.

You can watch the interview here. Romey and Jon were interviewed this time, we got a wave hi from them at the start. Bizarrely, and I’m still confused about why, Kitty Jon* got pulled up on stage and Jude had to explain it! They talked about honesty, hope, what success means as an artist… which is the heaviest vegetable… and as Jon was talking about the chaos and madness of what can happen in live music he shot just a tiny split-second glace in our direction with a twinkle in his eye! Jon got asked did they ever get told stories from their fans about what their music has done, and he looked at me and smiled, ‘Yes all the time, someone here was at our show in Amsterdam…’ At the end there was a great question about how they don’t like to be boxed in by labels but ‘where are you most comfortable, leading worship or reaching non Christians’? Jon’s response was very deep and wise and inclusive; we’re all searching, all hungry for something bigger, Christian or not, God doesn’t draw lines between us but sees us all as His children. But I noticed he referenced something I’d written to him (whether consciously or more likely not), that what he does is always his worship, ‘worth-ship’, when you sing you take people with you.

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The afternoon was rather dominated by chaos and chasing round trying to find out what was happening with VIP. Eventually through running back and forth we found tour manager Chico and got in. Tim was with his family so wasn’t there but I met the others and we asked each other how we were – they were much better having had a wonderful day off in Brighton with Martin Smith (who I spotted backstage too!), but I told them about my bus journey: ‘This is what I do for you guys!’ 😀 Drew asked what I thought of the festival, and I had to be honest and said it felt a bit of a weird bubble! A guy was there from the Philippines, he was so happy as it was his first time meeting them, and he got to speak to Romey. I got a hug from Romey, who asked where the cat was: ‘In here (pointing to my bag) – but I tell you what, I’ll let the cat out of the bag’ 😀 (Jon then made precisely the same joke!) I got a picture with Jon and Kitty Jon; real Jon said ‘Some people are cat people; some people are Cat People. I’m Cat Man – you got Cat Woman, we need Cat Man!’ 😀 On seeing the photo afterwards one of my friends pointed out that Jon was dressed almost identically to Kitty Jon, and indeed it would have been perfect if he had been wearing his hat! Switchfoot were talking to Jude about Amsterdam and she said  she loved how they improvise the setlist, so I jumped in and told them I was waiting for them to stick in Healer of Souls as so many British fans were into that one… let’s see 🙂

Jude also remembered to ask the question we’ve all been wanting to know the answer to; what is the little end track on New Way To Be Human?? Jon answered right away: ‘Chin 105 – it’s a fake radio station!’ :O 😀 It’s a jingle?! :O I told him there’d been a lot of theories going around; he liked ‘chew on a pie’! 😀

And then wow the concert!! We got pretty much front row or nearby, and were treated to a full hour of epic rock! They did not play Healer of Souls, nor any of M’s other picks (he’d said they would be neglecting their duty to rock’n’roll if they didn’t play that, Holy Water, Bull In A China Shop or Where The Light Shines Through!), but it was still awesome; they rocked up Gone again, and played us Stars, We Are One, Your Love Is A Song (that solo gets more awesome every time!), and opened with Float this time. It was a great set of songs that spanned their career, and I definitely felt they did not neglect their duty to rock! I particularly loved hearing them play so much from Nothing Is Sound, that album is very special to me.

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And then…

After a wonderful evening, we got word of an aftershow over at the chapel. And disaster struck. We rushed down there, to find a security guard and a locked gate; that part of the site would not be open until 10:30. The tweet had said 10. Tried another gate; same result. Went back. No luck. Tried the second gate again. By this time I had got separated from everyone, and the crowds were building up around the very small gate and beginning to press in. And I broke. The chaos out there and the chaos in here collided; the first thing was the heartbreak of being shut out from the aftershow. Then the pressing crowd and the anxiety around that; I felt like I might be hurt, I got scared. Then the despair on having to duck out and return to my tent. Then alone in the tent, all my most painful thoughts assaulted me…

Depression won that night. If he’d have said 10:30, and/or I hadn’t been ill, and/or his music didn’t mean so very much to me it would have been ok, but it was as it was. I just couldn’t stop crying. It went far beyond a missed aftershow into some very painful places. I let the thoughts assault me, let the tears come, and tried to hang on through it all, every let up in the assault a chance to take some deep breaths and pray and search for light and hope, until I could clearly see the brightness of everything good that had happened so far, and the strength of hope, standing in strong contrast to the excruciating pain.

M came back eventually and tried to persuade me to go over once it was 10:30 but by then I was too hurting and brain-fogged to be able to think clearly or to move. And then the others came back. They’d caught the end half of what had turned out to be a beautiful hour long solo set. I was, and especially now am, relieved and extremely happy for them that they got to see it, but at the time my heart just splintered into pieces; that was my dream, and I’d been shut out of it, and I felt like a failure….

 

*I should explain; Jude and I have a mascot, a soft toy black and white cat named Jon after the real Jon and his climbing abilities… and tendency to end up places he’s not sure how to get back down from 🙂

Read Part 1 here and part 3 here

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.

My mess, God’s grace

I’ve had an interesting few weeks lately. It began with me getting into a situation I shouldn’t have, and the result has been a crazy journey through temptation, failure, and God’s amazing grace. I feel like I’m at a point now where I’ve learnt a lot from the whole mess, so I’m writing about it now partly in the interests of honesty and partly so that I have it to return to next time I screw things up!

Let’s get it out there to start with; it’s slightly complicated but, having so far managed to avoid the obvious, I managed to find a whole new way to be unfaithful to my husband. Friends and family – we’re fine, I’ve been backtracking furiously ever since I realised what I was getting into, I think I’ve caught it before any real harm was done, and we’ve talked about it and although I’ve definitely crossed the line of what I think is ok, thankfully he doesn’t see it that way. We’re fine, and I’m an idiot. But it has been a shock to see what I’m actually capable of, that after almost 16 years as a Christian, just when I was beginning to see some progress in other areas I’ve struggled with, I’ve found a whole new way to sin that I hadn’t even anticipated being a problem. And it’s shaken me that I could let it get out of control.

However, I’m beginning to feel the whole experience has actually been good for me. It’s highlighted my weakness. I know myself better, and I also know God’s grace better, and my dependence on it. This last couple of weeks I’ve been working at a Christian festival, mostly on my own, so have had a lot of time to process this through with God, and it’s been a powerful experience of grace.

What I did was not ok, not good for me. Sin is a serious matter – Jesus went so far as to say if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, and though He was exaggerating, He did it to make a point about how seriously we need to take it. I’m not cutting out the external cause, but I have to cut out the sin. I’ve found the aforementioned ‘siren’ was not the external source of temptation so much as my internal response to it. Sometimes the best response to temptation is to run from it, especially if the source of it is something unhealthy, which in this case it definitely isn’t, but this time I feel I need to stand up to it and face it down – otherwise I know it’ll only pop up elsewhere. The problem is what’s going on in me.

This new awareness of my weakness has caused heartbreak, contrition, repentance, and ultimately a little more salvation; it’s breaking a bit of me down, bringing more humility, saving me. The more I walk with, struggle with, this issue, the more the heartbreak and humility bring me closer to God.

Losing faith in myself is essential to faith. We can’t fully have faith in God whilst we still have faith in ourselves, and sometimes we don’t realise we do have faith in ourselves until something shakes us and causes us to lose it. We cannot know God’s undeserved love and how incredible that is until we’ve grasped how much we don’t deserve it, and sometimes that understanding can only come through our failures.

I’m rejecting giving in to guilt in all this. Guilt lies, and tells us we’re failures and should just give up. Shame on the other hand leads to the contrition and heartbreak that bring us back to grace; we find ourselves a wreck we have no faith in, and find God accepting and loving us even at our lowest point, giving us a second chance even when we feel we’ve just blown our 100th chance and have no hope of changing in our own strength.

The amazing truth is that as far as God is concerned, every single time we come back to God with our mess and ask God’s help, we have a totally new start. Our next mess up is effectively our first ever, it doesn’t add to the pile. We are not condemned. God’s mercy is new each morning. God is with us even whilst we are wading through things that would bring us death.

I find it so hard to get a right perspective on myself. I tend to think of myself as more innocent than I am, and then when I screw up, and God declares me forgiven and innocent, I carry on beating myself up! My challenge is to truly believe both that I am capable of terrible things, worse than I’ve yet fallen into, but simultaneously to believe that I am innocent in God’s eyes and that I genuinely have a new chance at getting it right every single moment, regardless of how many times I’ve in reality got it wrong in the past.

So I think this really has been good for me; I may not have gained any of this perspective or understanding without getting into a mess (though I wish I had!), and being honest about it with my friends, my husband, and most of all with God has actually strengthened my relationships and helped me get my priorities the right way up. Jesus definitely has ways of making good come of bad situations if we let him.

Finally I think I’ve found two ways to break temptation’s power; the first is to be open about it and bring it all out into the light. Keeping this stuff secret allows guilt to creep in and keeps me from being accountable to others, so that the mess can build up in secret until it takes hold. In the open it looks smaller, and others can help me through it. It really deepens relationships when we can be real with one another rather than pretending to have it all sorted. Plus it isn’t going to become a scandal that makes a hypocrite of me. Secondly, God’s total forgiveness and grace breaks temptation’s power like nothing else, we really do have a true clean start and do not have to feel a failure. All our past mistakes are gone; let them go and move on.

Maybe…

Maybe… God has bigger plans for me than ‘success’…

Maybe… it’s just possible that all my failures and dead-ends were times God has saved me from it…

Maybe… I’ve been saved time and again from ‘successful’ careers that would have killed me…

Maybe it keeps me small and dependent.

Maybe the plan is more interesting and creative than ‘success’.

Maybe self-doubt is healthier than self-reliance…

If I choose every day to care, if I choose every day to hold on to my calling, if I push for what is right and meaningful, whatever the result…

Maybe I’ll never know my impact in this life…