Category Archives: Faith

Why is it called GOOD Friday?

Most people know a couple of days before Easter Day is Good Friday, some people know it’s the day Jesus was crucified on the cross but if that’s as far as your knowledge goes, why on earth would a day when someone was bruitally murdered be called ‘good’?!

We usually associate the word “good” to meaning pleasing, strong, well, correct or generally something positive. In this context however the Oxford Dictionary cites that good is used to signify something that is morally right, or righteous. This dictionary has also accepted that Good is now in general use when used with Good Shepherd to mean Jesus and The Good Book to mean The Bible. This therefore helps us makes sense that it could be called ‘Holy Friday’. If fact, this is its other name as the week leading up to Easter is Holy Week.


The dictionary does not however fully explain why the day is so specially and necessary in the Christian calendar!

There are some thoughts that it originates from God’s Friday and that the word has evolved. Regardless, the name Good is entirely appropriate, let me explain…

Jesus was born on Christmas Day and this is often celebrated as the most important day, and yes, Christianity would not exist if Jesus had not been born. But on Good Friday, Jesus, an innocent man was accused of committing crimes so serious he was put to death. Christians believe God sent his son to Earth (Jesus was both fully God and fully human) to die for our sins (every human that had lived and would ever live in the future). On Good Friday, this is what happened, Jesus took every sin I have every committed and will ever commit, he took them to the cross and died for me so that I will not die but have eternal life. So although for Jesus’ followers at the time, the day was the most devastating they had ever experienced, we understanding the meaning behind it and I think this is not just good but pretty awesome!

Surviving a festival with a mental illness

I’ve come away, for the first time, to Spring Harvest (a Christian festival/conference) with my husband. I’m very fortunate, at the moment, to be mentally well but I’m always aware of how much my mental illness impacted my life, either stopping me enjoying things, or stopping me doing things altogether.

I’m not suggesting anyone will be able to strike out to the next festival mid crisis but when on the road to recovery, we need things to challenge us and this might be just the thing…I hope this blog will help someone think they could cope with coming away to Spring Harvest (or similar) even if they are still struggling. A Christian festival is fantastic place to find support, friendship and fellowship with people who could draw you closer to the ultimate healer.
I just have a few pointers on how to ensure you get the most out of it even when times are hard.

  1. Be prepared – If anxiety is a problem, predicting that every disaster that will happen will come as second nature but a few simple plans can reduce fears. Ensure you have confirmation emails ready and/or wrist bands etc. Ask people who’ve been before how to prepare/what to pack etc, phone or email the organisers, explain you’re concerns, they’ll be more than happy to help, they’ll want to put your mind at ease. 
  2. Pack something comforting – whether your favourite food, a teddy, a cosy jumper or your iPad, have something with you that reminds you of home and you can call on to if your having a wobble.
  3. Go with someone you know well – talk to them about any apprehension and ask them to watch out for signs you’re not coping. Let them know they do not necessarily need to look after you, as you can look after yourself but if they’re there for support, it’ll help.
  4. Don’t try and do everything – when you’re faced with a programme packed full of events it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and think you’ll miss out if you don’t go to everything and pack your time but the reality is, you cannot do everything and you’re there to enjoy yourself, you won’t if you’re dashing around! Take time to look at the planner, mark what you want to do so you don’t forget, then just do it.
  5. If you’ve come in a group you don’t have to do everything with them – being in a group can be reassuring so take advantage of that! But it can also be exhausting so make sure you do the things you want to do, on your own, or just with 1 friend. Be aware of what your character needs, when recovering from depression a good balance of time with people and time alone is important. 
  6. Make sure you have food plans – mental instability plus lack of physical energy is not a good combination, make sure you have plans for regular meals. This can be tricky and depends on the exact nature of the festival. At Spring Harvest, there is a great choice of self catering, buying meals on site or a half board dining package. If you have an eating disorder, self catering is often best but recovering I have found half board really helps as it’s helped me break unhelpful disordered habits (such as sticking to salads etc). 
  7. Plan relaxation time – if the weather’s nice, go for a walk or find a safe place and just spend some time sitting reading or having some “down time”. Don’t worry about missing out, what’s the point of sitting in a seminar if you’re not really listening or listening to a band if you’re mind’s elsewhere?! Take time to recharge.
  8. Make sure you take all you treatment – if you need medication, a week before you’re due to go, make sure you have enough so you have time to put a repeat prescription in. If you have therapeutic techniques you need to practice or worksheets you need to fill in, make sure you set aside time. You may be going on holiday but recovery is a full time occupation!
  9. Have a back up plan – make sure, if things get too much, you have a plan for what you will do, will you stay in the chalet? Want a friend to stay with you? Or will you need to have a way of getting home? Often, if we have a “get out plan” we don’t need it, just having it there is all the reassurance we need. 
  10. Remember why you’re there – if you’re struggling at a Christian festival, focus on God or ask for prayer; people willing to lend an ear or a hand in fellowship will not be in short supply! At a secular festival, focus on the music, remember loving music is part of what makes you you, mental illness does not have to define you.

So, if you’ve been to a festival before or you’re considering one for the first time, be bold. Put your mental illness, where it belongs, on one side. There are many to choose from. Spring Harvest have kicked off the 17:21 campaign, a scroll is visiting 22 festivals celebrating what unites us as Christians, including:

Give it a go!

Goodbye my friend, choosing to forgive

TW – Trigger Warning – contains suicide theme

A dear friend of mine died as a result of her own actions. We do not know if she intended to end her life, she was deeply unwell and the only way she knew how to cope with the despair was to repeatedly take extreme risks with her life and it was one of these actions that finally took her from this world.

broken

She was beautiful, inside and out. A bright light in the world. She was an inspiration to me. I first got to know her when she was facilitating an eating disorder recovery course I was attending. She been through the pain that is anorexia and she showed me it was possible to come out the other side. We grew to be good friends, but her vulnerability to mental illness continued and it took its grip once again.

At her funeral, I was very fortunate to be reminded about the power of forgiveness and how essential it is at times of grief. I needed to be reminded that holding onto sadness, anger and guilt won’t help anyone, the only way to move forward in life is to manage these emotions in a healthy way.

  • Days before she died, Mary (not her real name) had applied for a job and she was rejected by email because she’d previously been suspended relating to her mental health problems. Of course, I do not blame this person for her death, the world is full of triggering events, but this was a contributing factor to how she felt. I need to forgive this person for not giving her the chance she needed.
  • Mary’s husband had some difficulties which Mary really struggled to deal with. A lot of her friends tried to persuade her to leave him but I listened to her while she wrestled with her thoughts and feelings saying I would support her with whatever she decided. She decided to forgive him, I need to follow her amazing example and forgive him for putting her through such pain.
  • Before going to hospital Mary had received inadequate support from the community mental health team. This could have been for number of reasons. It’s sad that people with Borderline Personality Disorder often receive poor or disjointed care due to lack of understanding, stigma and discrimination. I blog, aiming to improve understanding of all mental health conditions, it’s one small way I hope I can help. All mental health services are stretched due to lack of funding. We can all join campaigns to improve the state of mental health services. Instead of feeling angry and let down, I need to forgive and use my emotions to act and improve things.
  • According to newspaper reports of the inquest into Mary’s death she’d been assessed on her admission to hospital and the doctor did not pick up that she was a suicide risk or at risk of harming herself and did not therefore recommend she be on a high level of observations. In my mind, something went wrong in this assessment. questionsWas Mary given the opportunity to tell someone how distressed she was? Did Mary feel she couldn’t tell anyone? Was she so distressed, she didn’t want anyone to stop her acting? Did Mary tell someone but they didn’t act or even record it? Was Mary so impulsive, she had no idea she was going to do what she did? These questions could go around in my head forever but I will never find the answers, no one can ever ask Mary what happened from her perspective so I need to forgive and let them go.
  • I need to forgive the ward manager who smirked during the hearing and had to be removed from court to be told how to behave. He has no idea how hurtful his behaviour was.
  • It is really hard to admit I feel angry at Mary for doing something so dangerous and putting her life at risk so many times. But I know she was ill. Mental illness is powerful and the voices accompanying the darkness can persuade the sufferer to act in uncharacteristic ways. Admitting I’m angry with Mary is the first step towards forgiving her.
  • I believe in God, as did Mary. The existence of mental illness doesn’t make sense but the brain is an organ like any other that can go wrong and get sick. God bears the brunt of much anger from anyone and everyone, whether they believe in him or not. Some people seem to think, when  all else fails, at least there’s God to blame. But holding onto anger doesn’t do anyone any good. Accepting that we live in a fallen world may be the only way to get past this one.
  • I wish I could ask Mary for forgiveness, I’m sorry for:
    • Not being there for her
    • Not making people step up and give her the care she needed
    • Anything I did that added to her distress
    • Anything I should have done but didn’t that could have prevented this tragedy
  • Ultimately, I need to forgive myself…

forgive-yourself

None of these people will know the process I’m choosing to go through but if I don’t forgive them, I will be choosing to hold onto my anger, sadness, guilt and despair. Keeping myself trapped in these emotions will gnaw away at me, it will not bring Mary back and it would devastate her if she knew I was doing that to myself. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s a choice. I must follow Mary’s example of how healing forgiveness could be. I will never forget but the only way to ease the extreme pain is to forgive.

not-for-other-people

Me, my mental health and God

I’m not one for putting my faith out there too often but in Mental Health Awareness Week with a theme of relationships, for me my relationships with God is one that I cannot miss out.

I think it’s fair to say my mental health has been rather rocky. So has my relationship with God. I was brought up a practising Christian and this has remained constant but as the chemistry within my brain has a pronounced impact on my physical health, so too has it impacted my spiritual health.

For many years, unconsciously, I placed my relationship with food and the troubles I had with my mental health at the centre of my life. Obviously things have been a lot more complicated than that but this meant I was very self centred. It is hard to admit this. Although I had God in my life, I wouldn’t turn to him for help, it was hard to imagine how he could possibly help. I often felt (despite having much support around me) that I had to fight the mental torture on my own.

Having had a powerful spiritual experience as seen in “When my mind broke my body” it occurred to me that since my mental, physical and spiritual health are interlinked and can influence each other negatively, surely, they could influence each other positively too?!

Through research, I came across Helena Wilkinson leading a day on Insight to Eating Disorders at Waverley Abbey – this lead to me attending her week long retreat on Overcoming Eating Disorders at Nicholaston House. With trepidation, thinking I wasn’t actually “ill enough” to be attending I went and it literally changed my life. It was explained that by putting God at the centre of our lives freedom from the all consuming eating disorder could be found.

nicholaston chapel

I found myself in the beautiful circular chapel, on my own, and was overcome by a compulsion to lie flat on the floor – no idea why, but I just had to do it. Looking directly at the ceiling, the simple structure, like the spokes of a wheel demonstrated  to me how simple it was to place God at the centre. This was not going to eradicate my illness but it would be displaced into one of the areas away from the centre.

God’s made himself known in other parts of my life too. Steve wasn’t looking for a divorcee my age who wasn’t sure about children and yet my profile on Christian Connection kept being offered as a possibility. We believe God really knew what he was doing when he brought us together and yet we didn’t ask him to! I also see God in the people around me. Sometimes it’s been a small gesture but it can touch me in a really special way.

When I’ve felt distant from God, I’ve found the parable of the lost sheep helpful. Even if I’m feeling abandoned and disorientated, I know the Good Shepherd will be out searching for me. The idea of God may be intangible so, for me, visual cues are important. I see God in nature etc and during my last hospital stay I put up pictures up to remind me.

lost sheep

You don’t have to be ill to know God. I don’t just turn to God in times of need, I know he carries me when I’m weak but he also celebrates with me when I’m singing and dancing.

Something new this year

calm#4

At this time of year many of us have fought with ourselves about whether to set New Year’s resolutions. Statistics show that of the millions of resolutions made, 80% will end in failure. Mostly, this will be due to unrealistic expectations; we unwittingly set ourselves up for failure.

In 2008 I pledged to make the year “better than the previous year” as 2007 had been a disaster, suffering from mental illness I’d been in and out of hospital with relationships and job prospects falling along the way. So, I thought the resolution couldn’t go wrong, things couldn’t get worse! Unfortunately 2008 was worse, I will not go into details but I was very unwell and not getting the support I needed. Since I’d obviously failed what I thought was a very simple new year’s resolution, come the eve of 2009 I wasn’t celebrating, nor did I think there was any point in looking forward to a “better year”, that hadn’t worked last year! As the New Year chimed in, I was in yet another hospital receiving treatment for a near fatal overdose. A few days into the New Year I reflected on the past few days and realised how powerfully unhelpful the sense of failure is, my belief that I was failing at life made me give up. I decided to turn things around – I did not make a new year’s resolution I couldn’t measure or one that I had limited control over. Instead, what I pledged was “I’ll take each day as it comes and manage as best I can”, with a couple of important additions “I will not beat myself up”, “I’ll notice the positives” and “I’ll put some faith in God”. When it comes to mental health, thoughts/feeling/circumstances are a bit complicated, some things you can control and others you can’t. I learnt:

  • There are good and bad days, both varieties come and go
  • Bad things happen, they are not always my fault, I do not need to beat myself up and start down a guilty spiral, I can just chalk things up to experience and move on
  • Something positive happens every day, you just have to look for it
  • Fully relying on God can be a relief, he does answer prayer and he’s always available (you don’t have to call, text or wait for him to be free!)

The bible tells us: “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new… I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19. This says to me do not compare last year with this; look forward, God will guide, even when lost in the wilderness, there will be a way forward, even when thirsty the desert, there will be water.

So this year, what will it be? Most people set a traditional one along the lines of giving up smoking, losing weight or to do more exercise. These are all admirable and I praise anyone who wants to be healthier. I’m posting this blog mid-January because many people will be struggling with their resolutions and I wonder, is there something more fundamental that needs healing? Do you need to improve your self-esteem? Do you need to lead a calmer life? Do you generally need to be kinder to yourself? How about one of these:

  • Start a positive/thankful/gratitude/praise diary. Each day write one positive thing or something you’re thankful for. My first diary, I started in the depths of depression, my first day I wrote “Minaise smiled at me” – she was a nurse in hospital who had hope in me even when I didn’t; this proved to me that positive things happen even when it doesn’t feel like it. Since that first day I have filled many diaries. Truly miraculous things happen every day; you just have to notice them!
  • Put a notice somewhere you will see it every day (maybe by your bed) saying “I am loved” – read it twice every day, make it part of your routine, eventually you will believe it!
  • Make time for yourself. Soothe yourself for 10 minutes per day. For some this may be stroking the cat, listening to music, a warm shower, colouring, a short walk or maybe some prayer time; anything that calms your mind and body. Perhaps try downloading the Headspace app or download some self help.

calm#1

  • Tell someone every day that you love them. Ask someone to make it their resolution to say they love you every day.
  • Laugh every day – even if you have to type “funny cats” into YouTube, it’s well worth it!
  • Learn and practice mindfulness
  • Stop caring what other people think…some of us are paralysed by fear of judgement from other people. Instead, whenever you feel judged or put down, tell yourself “God loves me just the way I am”.
  • Whenever possible, accept help and help others. Life is about relationships, we do not have to do anything alone. I am fiercely independent, it’s in the nature, but when I let other people in my life is enriched beyond what I can imagine.

Just pick 1 or 2, do not set yourself up to “fail”. If you do not manage your resolution every day, tell yourself “it’s ok” and try again the next day. If by the end of January you’ve lost momentum, try something else in February, then something else in March etc. Let me know what’s working for you by commenting below 🙂

calm#3

Is Christmas just for children?

children-at-christmas

A number of times this year I have heard people say “I’m not feeling Christmassy but Christmas just for children really isn’t it?”. What they are referring to is the excitement that exudes from children regarding the presents they hope to receive, the magic of Santa and the joy they show as they rip open present after present and begin playing with their new toys or latest gadget. And since, as adults, we have been through this process a number of times, the magic of Santa has gone and we generally have fewer requests for Christmas, you can understand that interest wanes. Some parents, perhaps even dread Christmas, all the stress of the preparation, having to make the day perfect, making sure all the food is cooked and on time, making sure that each child feels equally but individually treated. And then there’s the pressure of making sure you see all the family that’s expected, sometimes travelling great distances, trying not to offend anyone.

It saddens me that for so many people Christmas has been reduced to a materialism and trying to “get it right”.

The “Christ” has been taken out of Christmas. Of course, I understand, if you do not believe in Christ then the term Christmas is purely a term used to describe a season when family and friends gather, eat vast quantities and presents are exchanged. Many people can have a perfectly happy day when this is all that matters. But I’m struck every year but people saying they don’t get excited, the day isn’t that great and it can all feel like an anti-climax.

Mental illness can often feel like this – a feeling of emptiness, a sense that something’s missing. When I’ve felt like this, I’m very fortunate that I’ve not had to look too far to know that Jesus is right beside, even when he’s felt far away, I’ve held onto the knowledge that he’s suffering with me, in fact, he’s suffered a great deal more (when he died on the cross for me).

Advent, for me, is all about the anticipation, the active waiting, and the building excitement to celebrate the birth of the Jesus Christ. There is still a little stress, trying to get all the right presents to the right people in time, ordering and buying food to make it extra special and planning the day so it runs smoothly but, I hold central what truly matters is Christ. For me, the midnight service is the highlight! Yes, I love being with family and friends when possible, it’s great to see children excited and exchanging gifts is fun but keeping Christ at the centre and all the other things, as important as they are, matter less.

There are people who will not be surrounded by family or friends, they won’t have any special food and won’t give or receive any physical presents but they will be enveloped by the greatest gift anyone can receive, the knowledge and understanding that God entered the world as a human baby and later died to save us. The mystery and myth of Santa is soon put into perspective when considered against awe and wonder of Christ!

So, yes, Christmas is for children but it’s equally for adults, young, older, old, Christ is for everyone! As my faith and relationship with God deepens my understanding of what Christ’s birth really means is more extraordinary each year. Keep Christ at the centre of Christmas and the mystery will never be lost!

Nativity_tree2011