Tag Archives: faith

Does prayer work?

Whether people have a faith or not, most are likely to have prayed at some point. Many of these prayers may be quick, fleeting, pleading types, a last resort when in desperation. And when they’re answered, more often than not we forget that we even asked for help!
Our pleads range from the simple things like when you’re late for work and you’ve lost your car keys, to more harrowing times, when a loved one is sick and we’re desperate for them to recover or be at peace.

My faith tells me that an active prayer life aids a closer relationship with my Lord and saviour, which, of course, is something I strive for. By ‘active’ I mean regular. I do not consider prayer a last resort, I pray throughout the day, including praising God, thanking Him, saying sorry as well as asking for things I desire, for others and myself.

The one I struggle most with is asking for things for myself. I also struggle to ask other people to pray for me. I don’t know why this is but it’s most likely something to do with not believing I’m worth it or that other people’s problems are far bigger than mine.

Recently I’ve been on crutches after an arthroplasty on my ankle. It’ll be hard for anyone who’s not been on crutches to fully understand the impact this has had on my life. Taking all my weight through my hands and arms causes a lot of pain, my ‘good’ hip is suffering, and I’m getting incredibly tired.

I planned to play a gig on my saxophony but it was a massive event so parking was going to be an issue. It’d been recommended that we use car parks further away, meaning a 10-15 minutes walk. But for me at the moment, 10 minutes feels like a marathon, I’d struggle to do get there, have to find places to sit down en route and would arrive physically broken! Not to mention that my roady would have to carry all my kit (although he’s a very willing roady, I feel bad!).

So, I worked out which was the closest car park and left plenty of time in case we had to try other places. As we arrived, it was clearly very busy and the car park was packed. I simple said “God, please sort us a parking space”. I felt pretty rubbish asking so selfishly for something so small when there are people dying in war zones but I felt I needed to.

But, would you believe it, there was a space in the corner of the car park? We didn’t even have to wait for anyone to leave. As I checked Google maps it turned out to the be THE closest car parking space to the performance venue, at just 30 seconds walk. I was very grateful and said a massive thank you to God!

Some would say this was a coincidence, Christians have another name for it, a God-incidence 🙂

I know God is omnipotent but it’s not his job to make our lives easy, an easy life does not make for a particular strong character. It’s incidences like this that strengthen my relationship with him, knowing that if he’s with me in the little things, he’ll be there when I pray for the big things.

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How do I believe in a God who allows suffering?

We are all too painfully aware of suffering and if we are touched by it we are bound to ask questions, we generally want to know why it’s happening?

If God exists, maybe there are a few possibilities, either:

  • he is not all powerful or
  • he is not all loving or
  • he just doesn’t care/can’t be bothered/is lazy.

I do not believe in a God who causes suffering, nor do I believe in a God who actively wants us to be in pain or sits back watching us in pain.

My experience

I have been to some of the darkest places on earth through suffering the torture of depression. At times, my mind was so broken that I could not see a way through the emotional pain so the only way it was going to stop was if I ended my life. Some people have experienced physical or spiritual pain that has taken them to a similar place.

I believe in a God who knows my pain, a God who experiences my pain with me. I am his child, when I’m in pain, his heart breaks.

I also believe God has experienced the ultimate pain of seeing his one and only Son be put to death for crimes he did not commit. And it’s by his wounds I believe I am free (but that’s another blog).

Illness and healing

When it comes to illness, the fact is, our bodies go wrong. What’s fantastic about our bodies is that they often get stronger as they heal. Healed muscle fibres are stronger, this would not happen if little tears didn’t happen.

When my mind was sick, I could have wished (prayed) for instant healing but I never did. When I could think rationally I knew the recovery journey would be worth it and make me stronger.

Our bodies are incredibly complex machines that require very fine balances to function, things will go out of balance for all sorts of reasons, some things we can control (and we chose not to at times), others we can’t.

Perfect isn’t so simple

Some could say that God should have made our bodies perfect and that they should not go wrong. Christians believe everyone of us is made in the image of a God and that we are all perfect in his eyes. Creating a “perfect” world is not as simple as is sounds. For example:

  • Would the body contain water? Vital for life as we know it but only a small amount is capable of drowning.
  • Would the body contain bacteria? Vital for digestion but can also cause deadly diseases.
  • Do we want a body that can experience pain? If we do not feel pain we would not withdraw our hand from the hot iron, nor would we know if we’d swollowed a fish bone.
  • We’ve been given wonderfully beautiful minds that have invested medicines and make great technological advances but we also use our intelligence to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

If everything was good and perfect all the time we would have no concept of good or perfect. How would we know things were good if we had nothing to compare it to?

Turning despair on its head

Some people are able to look at their disability or illness in such a way that it is a gift. To some this may sound very bizarre. It is a fact that mental illness exists, if I had not suffered, I would not feel passionate about raising awareness about injustices, stigma and discrimination. I have met a whole new world of people, some of the kindest and gentlest people I know. If I had not gone through therapy I would not have developed such clear understanding of how my mind works and my relationships wouldn’t have gained the benefits.

God as a parent figure

Some people find it helpful to think of God as a parent figure. Let’s consider the parent who protects their child from everything. These children are not allowed to play in the stream, they do not tear their trousers, they never graze their elbows, these children will not develop a healthy immune system. Children wrapped in cotton wool are not allowed to play conkers or tag, they do not watch upsetting TV programmes, are protected from anything that might hurt them physically or mentally and do not develop skills to assess risk and take responsibility for their actions.

My parents gave me opportunities to make choices, sometimes I have made wrong choices and these have harmed me, I have learnt far more powerful lessons from these times than if I’d just been told what I should and shouldn’t do. My Father God has done the same, I am glad I am free to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow. He has gifted me with free will.

Free will

God has overcome evil but he has given human beings free will to follow Satan if they choose to. God asks us to choose him but he cannot force us to, otherwise it would not be true free will.

So, if we accept that stuff happens, whether it’s illness or poor decisions, surely God can just put things right when they go wrong? The way I see it is that we would not learn to look after ourselves if someone else could automatically click their fingers every time we stuffed up.

Something God does offer, to help us through the tough times, is a unique relationships with him.

Who am I to say?

When we object to suffering we are suggesting that we have the right to decide what is right and wrong. But who are we to decide that our right is right and our wrong is wrong? One person’s right could be another person’s wrong. We’re all aware of the saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Even between my husband and I (who agree on most things) have opposing views regarding WMD (called a nuclear deterrent when we want to deminish their destructive nature). My black and white belief is that they are evil and every single one should be (safely) destroyed, my husband has more grey views, believing they are a political necessity (but would not have them in an ideal world). Who am I to say my view is any more right than my husband’s?

Perhaps we should take responsibility

When it comes to natural disasters, have you ever wondered why we build settlements on faultlines or in the shadow of a volcano? Why, as a world, do we allow the poorest of our world to live in the most dangerous places, meaning not only their homes but their lives are at risk? Why do we jump into action when the disaster happens, running crisis plans, blaming and getting angry at God for allowing it to happen? Why do we not act before the disaster happens? Why do we not use our intelligence and moral compass to declare dangerous sections of the world uninhabitable and make sure every single person in the world has a safe place to live?

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor do I have all the answers, these are just a few of my humble thoughts about how I make sense of it.

In conclusion I believe God chooses to use his power wisely, he does not callously decide some people will be in pain while others will be spared. When in the midst of suffering we may think things are simple but if we’re able to step back and consider the bigger picture, the subject of suffering is not as black and white as it feels. My experience is that God loves us so much, he offers himself as a companion in the pain, he doesn’t just watch us, he experiences it with us and carries us if we ask him to.

A broken world will throw trials at us, we have God given freedom to choose to go through our trials with him or without him.

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!

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.

6 conundrums of online dating with a mental health diagnosis

find love

Online dating is now the second most common way to meet people (after meeting through friends) and it accounts for over 20% current committed relationships and this number is growing. As an introverted, bottom of the career ladder, divorcee, the  advert practically wrote itself! In a world where “women’s desirability peaks at 21” once I was ready to be thinking about dating again, I was considered over the hill! I’d been in the mental health world for many years, out of work and my self esteem was pretty low. My last relationship had ended with my mental health playing a large role. I’d been hurt when most in pain and it was hard to consider trusting anyone again. I was ambivalent about wanting someone else in my life.

1. Am I ready? I did not want my mental health to dominate a new relationship, nor did I want my unhealthy behaviours to be considered normal but I felt, for my personal recovery journey to continue, having that someone special, just might be the key. I think it’s important not to look for someone who’ll fix you, that won’t work. I was on and off online dating for over a year, tried different sites, met a few people – I just had to take it all as an interesting experience. I think being at the right point is really important. You have to be ok with “putting yourself out there”, it’s important to feel ok with who you are and where you’re at…then start looking. Having said this, if you give it a go and realise you’re not ready, you’ve not lost anything, leave it and go back to it in a few months.

2. Do I put my diagnosis on my profile? If you consider your diagnosis to be part of your identity then yes. If you want to be judged (positively or negatively) because of your diagnosis then yes. If you only want to attract people who understand mental illness right from the start then yes.

I did not want anyone to make contact with me based on my diagnosis i.e. “Ah, she has anorexia, I like skinny girls” – I’m not skinny so this would not work, or “Ah, I know about depression, she’s vulnerable, I’ll look after her” – I do not need looking after, nor is this a good basis for a relationship.

Nor did I want to scare anyone off just because they didn’t understand about mental illness. I like opportunities to spread the word that we (people with a mental health diagnosis) are not aliens or scary, we’re just “normal” people but I couldn’t do that if they rejected my profile before we’d even started chatting!

I took the chance that I might get to know someone and then be rejected, but online dating is about being open minded, giving things a go and just seeing what happens. I am so much more than a diagnosis, it was fun (but really hard!) putting a profile together, it helps you think about what’s really important to you, what makes you tick. I would suggest a mental health diagnosis does not need to define you, it can be something you talk about later (like a cantankerous aunt you have to visit weekly).

3. Would I date someone with a mental health diagnosis? I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I said “no”! But it’s an interesting consideration because 2 people with mental health problems would be a lot harder to manage but we’d certainly have a lot more understanding and empathy for each other. I had to think carefully about people I came across who put their diagnosis in their profile, I wondered whether they considered it part of their identity or whether they were just trying to avoid starting to get to know people who would judge them for it. It did not stop me connecting with them per se but I knew I would only want to get to know someone if they had a similar attitude about their mental illness and recovery as I did (i.e. it did not define them). Of course, someone can become mentally ill later down the road so it’s worth considering when you get into a relationship with anyone – can I stick by this person, no matter what?

online-dating-accounts

4. Do I talk/write about mental health before meeting? I wrote some hints on my profile, such as “has been through some difficult stuff”, so people would know there was more to me than met the eye but I decided not to bring it up unless asked. I would exchange a few emails before meeting just to check out a few basics but to be honest, once the internet has done its thing of enabling paths to cross, I’d say meet asap – ultimately a relationship is in person so why put it off?!

5. Do I talk about mental health at the first date? I did not want to avoid the subject for too long, nor did I want it to be this massive “I’ve got something to tell you”. I decided I would look for opportunities to drop it in. I’m very fortunate that my job is mental health related so it’s a very helpful “test” conversation. Another way to drop it in might be to say you’ve just spend an afternoon with a friend who has depression/schizophrenia or whatever, this way you can gradually gauge the reaction and see what conversation arises. I’ve been pleasantly surprised people have often come out with “yeah, I had an episode of depression a couple of years ago” or “yeah, my uncle has schizophrenia” – obviously their previous positive or negative experience will influence how they feel about you sharing your story but there’s nothing you can do about that, you can only be honest about your experiences.

I’d always say it’s important to be open. If you’re asked a straight forward question, answer it! Living with mental illness, it’s easier to hide the truth when stigma and discrimination are rife but if you’re considering a committed long term relationship, this is not the time to keep secrets. 

6. What if I’m rejected because of my mental health? Stuff ’em – they’re not worth it. It’s painful but if you’ve done everything you can to make it work and if they choose to go, let them.

In case you’re interested, I met my husband on Christian Connection and you can read our stroy here

How do you marry someone with a mental health diagnosis?

meant to meet

Dating is tricky, but add the complication of mental illness and it’s even harder! On the road to recovery, while considering dating etc I’d decided I did not want my illness to be part of my future relationships but I also thought that dating and entering into a relationship couldn’t necessarily wait until I was fully recovered. During my recovery I dabbled in on-line dating, it was fun but nothing much to report until I met Steve.

On our first date, an informal drink at a pub, Steve and I agreed to go on a second date, out for a meal. I was desperate to look normal. One big problem – I’d not been out or eaten with anyone but my family for years. I fought with myself because I wanted to challenge myself so, in trepidation (I really liked this guy) I wrote a carefully worded email entitled “In hope I won’t put you off” and explained I’d struggled with anorexia, although most of it was behind me, I have a few hurdles to overcome. I wanted to “be normal” but asked if we could dial it down and if he could pick a restaurant where I could have a salad. That way the actually eating wouldn’t be as tough and I’d just have to tackle the eating out with a relative stranger aspect!

How Steve reacted to this email and therefore our future was in his hands:

How did you feel when you received the email? “It was a mixture of feelings. On one hand, there was the “poor girl, she’s been through so much” reaction. There was the feeling of shock, “could I handle this? How ill is she now? How to I treat/behave around someone with these conditions that I know NOTHING about (especially the anorexia)?”. Then there was the, “stuff it, I can’t be arsed” thoughts (these lasted about 2 seconds). Then, there is the fact that all relationships, especially romantic ones need a lot of hard work and graft (of which I was no stranger to, considering a previous relationship I had been in) and I was prepared to do it, because we had a right giggle on our first date (my fault!)”

“So going forward, I thought I would try and support her, by helping her take baby steps in facing challenges. I think I compared it to a marathon runner, they don’t start by running a marathon, they’d just fail, they start by running around the block. So we changed the plan. I said I’d cook some nibbles at my house and we could watch a film (hoping to take the pressure off the eating side of things). (I cremated the bruschetta, though I still think it was her fault….she kissed me whilst they were cooking!)”

I was used to taking baby steps, hence why I’d suggested a low key restaurant but Steve seemed to instinctively know that even smaller baby steps would help! I’m glad he still agreed we could eat since I didn’t want my old behaviours (of avoiding eating with people) to impact a new relationship.

What resources did you use to react to the email? “Firstly, the reason (in my mind) we didn’t have food at the first date, and only a couple of drinks, was because I was en route to visit my best friend, Tom and his family. I had no idea, she hadn’t suggested food for her own reasons. How stupid did I feel now?!”

“I was with Tom when I received the email and mentioned it to him and his wife. They didn’t really know anything about either depression or anorexia but we bounced a few ideas over together. Other than that, maybe due to the taboo of mental health, I Googled it and came up quite frankly, blank. There was a forum, where I registered and asked the question “how does one cope in this situation?”. They were as good as they could be, ramming home the idea that each situation/diagnosis was as unique as the person who has it. Totally! They also said how good it was I wanted to be with, and help this girl, I’d just met, and not in a patronising way. (The way I saw it, wouldn’t all people do this? It’s just human to want to help the person you like/frankly, want to impress)”

Not everyone is like this – many people would be put off by something they don’t understand. Steve genuinely has no idea how amazing he’s been at helping me (a relative stranger as I was then) through so much.

Why did you not run a mile? “On our first date we had a giggle together. She was (is!) also cute, and seemed keen to go one a second date with li’l ol’ ugly me. I’m not afraid of hard work, and in hind sight those first few months (arguably are the hardest of any relationship) I had lots of emotions ranging the full spectrum, but we grew through it, and learned to communicate early on. Pen and paper worked best for us, I think it started with a letter posted under the toilet door. This set, in my mind, a brilliant foundation for our relationship (if you want to know more, comment below and I’ll elaborate – it’s not anything dodgy!)”

When most distressed I’ve always struggled to talk, I don’t know why, there’s some sort of block. Steve and I realised we could write to each other – might sound odd but it worked 🙂

So, moving on, Steve and I decided we’d give a relationship a bash, this turned into marriage. We’ve dealt with a few issues relating to my health:

What’s been the hardest thing about being in  relationship with someone with a history of depression and anorexia? “Other than eating 2 entire pizzas in Italy in one sitting because she got stressed out in a restaurant?! It’s the helplessness I feel when she’s upset. We started very early on going to her therapist together, something she was keen for me to do. This obviously involved a lot of emotions, and I will never forget one of the very first ones where afterwards we sat in the corridor, her crying inconsolably in my arms for over an hour. I am a man, we are famed for wanting to fix everything, and although I’ve learnt I can’t fix everything I still want to. I’m working on it, but when I can’t do it, I feel helpless, useless, a failure. That’s the hardest thing.”

I hate that my issues impact Steve, I’d rather manage my stuff on my own and prevent it affecting other people but that’s just not feasible! Letting Steve in (to my head) has been so important to our relationship.

lsw_6450_tv

What’s your worst fear and how do you manage it? “The unknown. Frances has had multiple hospital admissions, and some very intense treatment in the past for her illness(es). I’ve not seen her at her worst in this aspect. I’ve seen little dips here and there, but never hospitalisation. I treat every new expression of emotion with suspicion, is she getting ill again? If she is, how will I manage it, what if we have a child (the grand plan) and she gets ill and goes into hospital. How will I cope with that? As Frances will tell you, I am GREAT, the world’s best, at worrying. I worry about everything. To deal with this, I have to simply ignore it. There are no answers. She may not ever get ill again (woohoo!) but she may. I can’t fix it, so I beat it down and ignore that fear, and will have to cross that bridge when we, IF, we get there.”

If Steve’s concerned, he tells me. I’m honest and mostly try to reassure him. For me, I know how hideous being ill is so I’m not afraid of the unknown, I’m afraid of the known! We are doing everything we can to avoid me getting ill again, we talk about everything. If it does happen, I know we will tackle it together.

When considering to marry Frances, did you consider her mental illness? “Yes, when I started thinking about marriage I thought about Frances being ill, being vegetarian and the fact she’d have to put up with my farting in the middle of the night (seriously, I feel sorry for the girl on this one!). I just saw her illness as another thing that needs to be thought about.”

Have you had doubts about marrying Frances? “If I hadn’t, I’d argue I wasn’t human, or honest with myself. The first few months after marriage I felt trapped. Why? Who knows. Truth be told, having lived together for a year before hand, the only thing that had changed was having a piece of paper saying we were married. That was it. So I knew it was just me being irrational. I did some research as to why I’d be feeling like this and apparently it’s very common. So I thought I’d just move on.”

“If you asked me if I’d had doubts due to Frances’ mental health? Not once. It can be a challenge at times, it can be a fear, it can be a pain in the backside. But not a doubt. It has shaped Frances into the woman she is and the woman I love.”

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How will you cope if Frances relapses? “As I’ve said before. I’ve no idea. I have our friends, my family, Frances’ family (who’ve been there before) that I can glean comfort, wisdom and strength from. I have my motorbike that always helps clear my head when I need it to. We have 2 cats who never fail to make us laugh. I know Frances has been to hospital before and has always been discharged so there’s always a light. She is a survivor, not a statistic. She doesn’t want to be ill. All of these things I can hang on to.”

“My biggest fear is about how Frances will feel about me. I will do the only thing I know how to. Be myself. But if she’s that unwell, will she still be able to look me in the face and say “I love you”? If ever she can’t say that due to the numbness of depression, then I will struggle. But I have made sacred promises to Frances, and I am a stubborn ass, and she will break her promises to me before I do (but I know she won’t, because she’s even more stubborn  than I!!)”

I know I will always love Steve but he’s right – mental illness messes with your emotions so there’s no way of knowing (if I get ill) how I will feel or what I will think. If the illness takes over, I hope he can remember that it’s not me. He has my promise that I will fight to recover and I will never break the vows I made before God.

depression nest

What advice would you give anyone in a relationship with someone with a mental illness? “Have ‘you’ time often. I go down the pub most Fridays with my friend Phil, or play xBox with/without my friend. I talk to them about things I’ve found hard. Whether it’s been that Frances hasn’t eaten because she’s feeling fat or she’s come home from work in tears every night (thankfully a new job solved this!). I’ve spoken about it all. I’ve expressed my fears, I’ve not bottled it up.”

“THE bit of advice. The bit that works for mental health, physiological health, relationships, even cooking. Communication! Talk to each other. The “you” time lets you unwind from the stress of things. But doesn’t sort it. Why do you think you are fat even though you fit into clothes I thought small enough to give to a child? Communication isn’t just about the listening, its about the talking too, and about the working through things together. As a junior software engineer, I had the phrase “root cause” rammed into my head, over and over again when bug fixing. Something is wrong, don’t worry about what is broken, worry about what has broken it. (E.g. Bike engine not getting any petrol, you don’t put petrol in the engine, you trace the fuel lines all the way back to the empty fuel tank). Maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t need fixing and just needs to be expressed and WE have to learn how we can enable that expression in an appropriate way. If it can be fixed, often, the only way to figure out how to fix something, is to approach it from a different point of view.  How do you find those points of view? Explore it, with each other, with friends, with professionals, with family, and see what you come up with.”

Final word? “If, like me 3 years ago, you have come across this blog/interview looking of help and advice and/or answers to a new relationship with someone who’s just dropped this bombshell on you (and yes, it is  bombshell the first time of the 20 or 30 times you’ll read that email) ask yourself this. Why are you entering this relationship? It’s hard work. Take the usual hard work of a relationship, and add more into it. I count myself lucky, I entered into the relationship knowing about these illnesses. I’ve had friends who have had these illnesses thrust upon them after marriage. Some are still going strong, some have ended the relationship. It effects everything. Whether it be the knowing what to do about taking meds abroad, or the phone numbers of the CMHT in your phone. To knowing how to comfort this person when they are in tears for seemingly no reason. Everything will change, and your way of thinking will change too, be prepare to get offended by Halloween costume names that normally you wouldn’t think twice about! BUT, and its a huge but, if you stick at it, learn to identify the help your significant other needs, the help you need from both them and the people around you. You build the strongest foundations for the relationship. I love Frances, through and through, and whilst I have had nightmares about what might happen in the future, I wouldn’t change a thing about her. Except maybe persuade her to eat meat, oh and let me have a dog :P”

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.

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  • 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 🙂

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Is Christmas just for children?

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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!

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