Feelings

Most of the time I doubt that what I feel is real. There is that thing, always in the back of my mind informing me that I am a hypochondriac. That really I could do a lot more than I do, I am lazy, without drive. 

If I say I feel sad, I think I must probably be unworthy of the feeling. If I feel overwhelmed, I am painfully aware that I am just weak. If I feel trapped, I know I have trapped myself, because if I just pulled myself together, pushed through the pain, I would probably be fine. 

I don’t trust what I feel, as I know that often, what I feel is not what is real. However, that means that the impact of those feelings is often dismissed and ignored. I don’t really know how to find the balance, where I trust that the emotions I feel are real, even if they are there due to illness not circumstance.

My years with depression though, seem to have led me to distrust every feeling I have. The non emotional ones too. So currently, I feel a constant weight of guilt that I am not exercising, working and staying active. The reality is that when I do, I get dizzy, lose coordination in my arms and legs and start slurring my words, but all of this surely could be overcome if I just pulled myself together?

I don’t really know how to move past this inability to trust my body and feelings. To cut myself some slack for my current largely inactive state of being. Perhaps it is the deep and somewhat desperate desire to be able to live a more active life that is turning my illness into a weight of guilt. Perhaps it is the ongoing journey of recovery from depression, the decade long habit of guilt being the predominant response to any perceived failure I see in my life. 

I feel though that something has to give. I would like my health, physically to be the thing that does – that energy would suddenly appear, but I suspect it may in fact be how I respond to myself that needs to change.
Perhaps really, I need to just let go of the life I think I ought to have now, and find the joy in the life I am living. But saying ‘just’ seems to trivialise the enormity of that task. 
A friend once said to me ‘don’t should on yourself’ and I find that it was possibly the best and hardest advice I have ever been offered. So, my new adventure of attempting to let go of the ‘ought’ and ‘should’ parts of my life is going to begin. 
It ought to be fun….

Where is God?

I process the thoughts in my head through writing, it is how I work out where I am at and when I write it is sort of like unblocking a drain and watching the water wash away. Usually I write very quickly, in a rush of thought as I empty my brain, but on the subject of Gods location in the midst of struggle that doesn’t seem to work, I find myself struggling to verbalise the swirl of thoughts in my head.

I mention this because in my last blog I asked the question – where is God in the continual battle and never changing story? And I want to respond to this question – not in a ‘TA DA! I know it ALL!’ sort of way, more in a ‘here is my thinking’ sort of way. So here goes, this is where I think God is in the midst of the struggle of getting by day by day.

It is very easy when talking to someone who is struggling to get by to offer a trite and simple answer, but this more often than not – unless coming out of sincere relationship and understanding of the situation of the one you are talking to – makes the recipient angry! The bible however, is where I find an answer that is neither simple nor irritating, but real. Throughout the bible we meet character after character who lived lives that were hard. Some were hard because of poverty, some due to illness, some due to persecution, some due to God’s call on their lives. The reality is though, that finding someone in the bible who lived free of suffering is not possible.

This continues in the new testament – which is full of references to caring for the widow, the orphan and the slave. The happy news the gospel brings does not mean that accepting it into our lives means we will live happy, easy lives. The ‘happy gospel’ myth does a disservice to the apostles, the early church and to Jesus as it fails to acknowledge the words written that point to suffering as part of the world we live in.

The gospel I read is one about sacrifice and hope – the God who came down to earth in a sacrifice the likes of which I will never comprehend. He spent his life facing struggle after struggle, and came to a point where he asked God to take away the pain of it. He then handed it over to God and surrendered himself to His will. This story is the greatest comfort for me. It tells me that when I sit in tears, begging God to end the pain and he seemingly doesn’t answer, Jesus gets how I feel. It also tells me that Jesus, in his lifetime, surrendered to God, accepting that sometimes our most desperate pleas don’t get answered in the way we would like. There is no answer to the mystery of why some people get healed and others don’t, or why some people get children and others don’t, or some get married and others don’t or any of the other questions in life – but there is an understanding that Jesus knows what it is like to feel like God has forgotten us, and this assures us that even when it feels like it we know he has not.

The bible is my comfort, because throughout it offers hope in the middle of darkness. Psalm 139:12  says ‘even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you’ – this is a promise to me that says when God seems distant, when I cannot seem him, I am assured he sees me.

The thing is, when I read the bible I know that God heals, I know he could heal me, I know that if he doesn’t I have not failed him, I know that if life is a battle every day until the day I die God will be fighting the battle with me – for me even. The bible gives me hope in who I am, in who I could be, in who God is and how precious I am to him.

However, I find that that confidence fails when I hear testimony after testimony which is concluded with a happy, pretty bow. When I am asked, for the gazilionth time, whether I have asked God for healing, or am told a story of a healing that happened to someone just like me.

What I want to hear is how people live IN the fight. How do people keep up their hope, when things are not changing? I want to hear the testimonies of what God does when all hope is lost. My experience tells me that it is in the darkest moments that God does the biggest things, and whilst I might not have been physically healed, He has drawn me deeper into his love and grace. Showing me the lengths of his love for me and offering me comfort when all is black.

These are testimonies that both deserve to be heard and are equally valuable to the church. We need to learn how to walk alongside each other in the midst of heartbreak and suffering. To do this, we need to learn from the extraordinary depths of faith and hope that those whose situations are unchanging can find. We need to learn from the bible that God does extraordinary things in desperate situations – but this doesn’t mean that we will no longer suffer. We need to stop guilt tripping and answering complex questions with an absurd simplicity.

Where is God? He is here. With me. Enjoying my moments of hope and holding me in the moments of brokenness. He is the promise of a future, he is light in the dark, he is everything.

In sickness and in health

I am feeling pretty desperate at the moment. Between Mike and me, there is such a range of physical and mental ailments that at times all feels lost. There comes a point when the question must be asked – how much more can we take?

Since getting married, my mental health has deteriorated, then stabilised, just in time for my physical health to decline. In our first year of marriage, we had one month when only I was ill, but all 11 others we both were ill at some point. So far, our second year gave us an initial false hope. Mike seemed better – my health remained poor then fell off a cliff, and now we are once again in a position where half the time both of us are sitting at home wondering how life got so darn hard.

I find that recently I feel increasingly isolated, not because we don’t have a strong network of people who love and support us, but because when I see people, I find more and more I have to find some energy from the puddle that used to be a lake. I have to think about the consequences of every encounter, I have to plan ahead, because the puddle is refilling so slowly that in any given week I need to account for every drop so as not to use it all up.

I am scared now, I look forwards and struggle to see how we will cope. We are both so tired and drained, and there seems to be little comfort to reach for.

I find that increasingly when people talk of healing I want to switch off and walk away. I don’t want to hear hopeful stories of people like me being healed because I don’t believe it is going to happen for us – my experience more often than not, defeats my faith. The fight to keep it alive often takes more energy than I have. But I want to keep up, to have a clean, organised and tidy house, to have work, and a social life. I want to be able to go to church and homegroup regularly, I want to go out for date nights more often than we stay in for them. I want to see something shift, but the practicalities of life get in the way of my hope leaving me lost.

Where is God in the continual battle and the never changing story? Where is the hope of health? The daily slog seems to be draining the comfort I find in God and yet, I am in a place where that comfort is easier to find than ever. I feel like there is a battle raging in my mind – the hope vs the despair. I don’t know which is winning, but today all feels lost. I want our lives to change. I want health, I want hope to be fulfilled, I just wish I knew how to get it.

So, we plod on, in sickness and in health. Understanding more and more of what that vow meant. Waiting, hoping, longing for change, and going through the peaks and troughs of hope and despair. Life is a roller coaster I guess, I just wish there were less vomit inducing loop the loops….

A rapid descent

My usual posts talk about the struggle I face with my mental health. Generally, I post when I am struggling to verbalise what I am feeling inside. There is something about writing it out that makes it so much easier to understand myself, and therefore, I suppose for others to know what I am feeling.

This time though, my mental health is no worse, no harder, no different to any other time I write, and yet I find that I am feeling overwhelmingly sad.

I was at a wedding at the weekend, and as I stood there talking to strangers I realised that the woman who used to exist, the one who loved social anything, who loved to chat to people, always wanted to know peoples stories doesn’t exist anymore. Not because I have drastically changed, but just because I no longer have the energy to find the words to ask questions. Small talk, never a strong suit with me – I prefer to just dive into the deep and meaningful – has become a near impossibility. I meet strangers and either become a loud and over the top character to compensate for the mist in my brain, or I just smile and feel increasingly frustrated that the words that used to be my norm seem entirely lost somewhere in my head.

I have often talked about being exhausted, but these past two months I have experienced what can only be described as a rapid descent into the kind of exhaustion that takes away my words, makes me ache, makes me dizzy all the time, means that my diary has to look like I am verging on lazy and still I cannot keep up.

I am fortunate in an enormous way to have a husband who is willing to take so much more of the load around the house, to carry me to bed when my legs stop working, to give me emotional energy when all I feel is heavy. But I worry about what this state will do to him, to our marriage, to my life.

I can’t say this exhaustion has come on quickly, in fact I would say it started after I had glandular fever aged 16, but I would say the past 2 months have descended so quickly and so suddenly that what was possible even 4 weeks ago is now a no go.

My dr’s are exploring CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) and other related possibilities, and an answer would be great. But really, what I want is for all this to stop. I am TIRED. I don’t want a new battle, a new fight. I don’t want to have to deal with another heavy load. I don’t want to be a victim of anything anymore. I am TIRED. I just want it all to end. For something to change. Exhaustion makes it harder to fight off depression, it makes it easier to become anxious. Exhaustion just makes life slower and harder and longer.

Honestly, I don’t know what my next step is. I don’t believe this is the way it will be, there is some hope in me that expects that in a year I will be fine again, but that niggling voice keeps pointing to the past decade which has only seen my health deteriorate, even as my happiness increases, and leaves me wondering… Will it ever actually end?

My mental health – MHAW15

Mental health is a huge label to put onto the illness I have. It is sort of like going up to someone and saying ‘I have really bad physical health’ and them just sort of going ‘oh, I’m so sorry!’. It’s a great start to a conversation about where you might be at in life, but it doesn’t really give the other person any tools to support you.

Specifying the problem you have makes it a whole lot easier for friends and family to support you. The umbrella of mental health is as big and diverse as physical health. Yet, it is part of our terminology when talking about any specific mental health condition to refer to it as often by the umbrella term as by the specific.

Making the term ‘mental health’ overwhelming. However, the point of mental health awareness week is to make us aware of mental health, the fact that we all have it (emotional needs to be addressed), we all need to care for it and there are many ways in which it can go wrong. We don’t need to know the specifics of them all, in the same way we don’t know the name and symptoms of every physical health ailment – we just need to be aware of the existence, compassionate  in the meeting and accepting of the individual who presents themselves mental health condition and all.

So I am going to talk about what I know – depression and anxiety. I find it hard to fully describe what happens in my brain because honestly, I don’t know what is normal and what is not, but I will give it a go.

Getting up in the morning is the hardest part of any day, not because I am lazy, but because waking up hurts. I am so tired every minute of every day, that there is always a need for more sleep, but, I have to get up so I do. This is the first battle I face each day.

Then all I need to do is survive the day. From the moment I am up, I battle negative thoughts. For my whole adult life, I have been unable to look myself in the mirror as me. I always pretend to be someone else, it’s been easier that way. However, recently I have started to be me and it is very hard not to look at myself and hate what I see. This is not about my image so much as just seeing the face of someone you really don’t like so close. Learning to look myself in the eye and seek out something about myself that I actually like takes enormous energy and effort. This is the next big battle of my day.

The cycle of negative thoughts in my head is pretty non-stop, and this leads into my exhaustion. I fight the thoughts (as often as I have the energy) whenever they appear, but this takes up the majority of my mental capacity.

This means that I have very little capacity left for work. Which doesn’t help the negative thoughts. I work about 2 days a week, and that is the absolute limit, at the moment, of what I can achieve. This leaves a significant sense of failing as I look at all the things I hope to do and achieve, I watch friends who have larger issues than me, who survive and even thrive on a day to day basis. I am reminded by my capacity each day, that I am weak.

On top of this, I tackle the anxiety – a crowded space, unexpected change in plans, a stressful situation, or just those days when my brain is battling the negative so hard that there is no hope left in my head. All of these situations cause my heart to race, my breathing to speed up, my hands to sweat, my eyes to dart and my fear levels to shoot through the roof. It is as if I am under attack, but the attacker is inside my head and the only way to fight that attacker off is to beat my head with whatever is to hand.

I rarely have a day that ends with a feeling that I have won the battle, but I fight hard enough that I rarely end the day feeling like I lost. Me and my enemy are dug in trenches, each equally determined, each exhausted by the battle, but reconciliation feels like an impossibility.

I am exhausted by the fight. I feel like I am drowning in my own mind. I feel lost and broken, weak and hopeless. This is what mental health means to me. This is the life that I live, and the fight that I fight.

Despite it all, I have learnt compassion, empathy, joy and hope through journeying through the darkest places my mind can offer. I am happy with my life. I would prefer it depression and anxiety free, but for now – this is where I am at.

I’m sick

Yesterday morning I collapsed. Not mentally – I actually physically passed out. I even bit my lip in my unconscious state. It hurts. Since, I have mostly been in bed or on the sofa. I have felt sick, had a temperature, been all wobbly and shaky etc etc.

The thing is, I actually find myself feeling very satisfied when I am so visibly and tangibly ill. It is such a relief to know that I don’t need to justify in some way my not being up to doing stuff. I can cancel meetings, barely move and not be questioned as to why. Because, quite frankly, it is very obvious. When I stand up there is a risk I might fall over.

My point – and it will be brief, as the light of the laptop is kind of hurting my head, is that I don’t think it’s fair that I should find myself happy to be physically ill just because it is a nice relief from the mental illness explanations. I am sad that it is so much more understandable when you mention that you can’t come because you fainted, than that you can’t come because your brain is playing a merry game of ‘I hate myself’.

Maybe I am just whining because I am sick. But I am allowed to today. Because I am sick. Visibly so. And I like not having to explain that that is so.

Now back to sleep….

Fear

I have discovered in recent weeks that I am afraid. Very afraid. Life is such a huge adventure and I have hit a point  in the adventure where I don’t know how to move forwards. For a few months I have been hiding behind the half valid excuse of my mental health which impacts on every part of my life – but more recently it has been ruling it, in a way it does not need to.

I want to do a lot in my life, I want to live. But the fear I am living with is paralysing me, glueing me to this spot, where I am dreaming big and doing very little to achieve those dreams. I have been hiding behind the fact that, after business of the new year (for more info on what I was working on see here), I needed a break, time to recover. In February I really needed the space, at that time my mental health was needing me to stop and recover. March though, was a different story, I began to hide.

There have been so many changes in my life this year, I find I don’t know where to turn. Every fear I have ever had, every doubt in my own skill, every worry about my character has come out to play. How could I possibly achieve my dreams? How could I possibly fight for others? How could I live life in all it’s fullness, when I am just me? Weak, sick, not an expert in anything other than my own life and little more than the over vocal ABCD.

In my last post I talked a little about the absence of hope I found myself in, and as I regain the hope I find I want to fight harder against the crushing weight of fear that is currently dominating the skyline of my future, but I have no idea though where to find the courage to start.

The always wise Wendy Beech-Ward put me onto ‘Love Does‘ by Bob Goff. Here is a man who is ordinary and yet extraordinary. He is a man who DOES. I wish I was someone who did, but I am always holding back. What if people think I’m stupid, or even worse – I fail!?

But this book opens up the opportunity to do. I am inspired by his ability to respond to the situations that arise in his life, to take it all as a lesson rather than a test. It seems obvious, the do not fear thing, but it seems that all my theories have remained just that. I want to learn to step out and do. To be fearless.

Having said all this of course, I have no idea really of where to start. Maybe I will just begin with yes.