Wednesday, 31 May 2017

'A rose by any other name' - receiving a Label, and having a plan

Image result for roseI remember my English teacher Mrs Storey (yes that was her real name, destined for that job?) when we were doing various bits of Shakespeare. And yes Romeo and Juliet was one of those we looked at 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet' - you are who you are regardless of the name that you carry, yet for them the names got in the way.  For others though names can be affirming, recognising something important to them.

Mental Health labels can get in the way for some - and they rightly protest that they are more than the label, more than the diagnosis. Yet for some of us the label can become a positive, something life affirming, that describes what we know and shows that someone has finally heard us and acknowledged it too.

At the end of last year I finally had a psychiatrist who listened to my history and took meaningful questions. He said that he felt bipolar explained my experiences - more depressions but with significant times of feeling full of potential and ideas but in a driven, must act now way that is not peaceful, nor productive as the next idea jumps in before following up the one before.  But the psych stopped short of formal diagnosis, as not seen me in that hypomanic state.

My next visit was with a new consultant (having been locums before that) - from that visit and then again a week ago, with notes and some pointed questions, he declared he was confident that I am affected by 'Bipolar Spectrum Disorder'.  Given the vagaries of mental health diagnoses a consultant being 'confident' is about as solid as it comes.

Image result for bipolarSo how do I feel about the label? Relieved to have been heard, to have had not just my experiences but also my own reading and self understanding has been validated.  I can recall the feeling when in the biggest depression crash (at college after a prolonged high period) I finally went to the GP and was told I was in clinical depression. I came back with a strange level of temporary positivity (well compared to where I was) it was not me being a failure as a human being but a valid recognised illness.  This week was not as dramatic but had some of the same sense.

There are consequences of labels though, and I have filled in the form to declare to DVLA as bipolar is one of the notifiable conditions, it should be straightforward as them writing to the psych and him confirming I am safe to drive, and many conditions from types of diabetes to heart conditions have to inform the authorities. But it is a very formal way of embracing a label.

Image result for Maps and Directions clip artPlans - the consultant I am with is very good at giving a sense of confidence in the plan he has for treatment. He talks confidently about how getting to a certain dose of Quetiapine whilst tweaking the antidepressant should really help me. The hiccup along the way is that increasing the dose of Q has side effects of deep sedation until the body adjusts to it. Hence this post taking days and days, with about 10 hours total sleep and up to the same again in vague grogginess leaves not that much time fully functional.

I am grateful to have supportive people who have helped me look at my diary and how to adapt during this side effect season that could be a couple of months. And I am very aware of the privilege of being in a role that has so much flexibility.

But if you see me looking even more vague than usual then blame the drugs, but we have a plan!!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

'Don't Panic Mr Mainwaring'

I am back quite quickly, it turns out that my last post set alarm bells ringing for some of you. I did add the line about being safe to try and avoid such anxiety.

For me, and many (though not all) living with depression, the presence of the mental thoughts about 'not being' and thoughts about how and why that could be is simply part of the normal range of mental activity. We can be surprised that others do not experience life in this way - and so how those of you in that situation read a comment we may post will be very different to how our friends on similar journeys read a post.

Last week I was in a bad place - but not different in kind to normal, more a difference in volume. My post was letting the scream out where it would be heard. Think of it as pressure cooker - I remember Mum cooking the Sunday lunch in one each week and it would suddenly whistle as the pressure reached a certain point. My post was a release of pressure, and the letting out of the scream was in itself the release that allows me to move forward.

The nature of a scream is raw and primeval - and so I realise my language was blunter than when you normally ask how I am when I usually try to filter it, maybe to make me look less mad. So the reality is a shock to you. But looking through previous blogposts I have been open about the range of emotions and struggles of life with depression, and mostly bipolar depression.

There is no one experience of poor mental health, not even one version of depression. This blog is my journey, and my journey of balancing that with life in the church.

I had already called on my support network and from that have had a wonderful person tackle the admin chaos that was one of my overwhelming things.

The beginners running course I was persuaded to sign up to after my parkrunning started this week which is another time out from under the duvet.

So don't panic, I am not in a great place, but a step better than last week,

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

waving not drowning

I have written a number of blogs over the months - well not written so much as voiced out to myself whilst walking the dog. Then I get home and she wants her dinner and life happens and the world ends up saved from my ruminations.

So what is different today? Well instead of deep and profound insights to issues in the big wide world, or at least round the corner, today is just a vomit of emotion that I need to vent.

Trigger Alert

First of all I need to say I am safe. I am not at risk of acting on these feelings.

When it takes all your energy to surface in the morning, when walking the dog through woodland provokes thoughts about whether a branch would take your weight or be high enough to ....

And I know that doughnuts don't really count as lunch but they fell into my hands at the petrol station.

Yes I turned up at a meeting, yes I went to lead a school assembly, but through it all I craved my duvet and yearned for the oblivion of hiding under it in denial of all responsibilities.

I am 42, an adult, a professional, even told I am good at my role as a minister. I go to national committees and actually feel more functional there than at local meetings where I expect my cover to be blown at any moment.

I live in chaos and clutter - not enough to drown me but enough to add to my sense of failure to be a coping adult. I don't recall happiness only lesser degrees of depression, Even my mad active times are not happy but driven.

This morning we were challenged to think positively and that was highlighted as the small plodding steps. But did they, could they, grasp what it is like when takes all the effort to merely surface each day, and to distract yourself enough from the scream in your head to be able to look functional? Some do I know. Yet still I feel alone, even knowing I am not. Such is the deep fog - a crowd can travel the same path but in isolation from those just two steps away/

I live. As one of those internet meme says 'So far I have a 100% success rate at surviving each day'

Friday, 23 December 2016

To what am I called? Being and/or doing

Following my last post I looked out this piece which I wrote when dealing with training for ministry and a depressive breakdown. I had gone to a weekend gathering reflecting on being in church and how those with impairment are a gift and not merely recipients of ministry.

This was my reflection on calling - to be or to do?


To what am I called?
    Called to be a minister
    Not to do ministry - though I will
In a hectic, speeding, work hard, play hard world
Called to be the stillness
To show another rhythm
Making God spaces.

To what am I called?
    Called to be a disciple
    Not to do churchy stuff - though I will
In a world that wants all the answers and wants them now
Called to be on a journey
Following and learning
Step by step

To what am I called?
    Called to be - simply be
    I am not what I do - though I do much.
Whatever the world may expect or demand of me
Called to be who I am
In weakness and strength
In giving and receiving
I am God’s

H Roberts, May 2008,
‘Uncomfortable Presence’ conference on impairment in church life,

Sarum college, Salisbury

Celebrating the privilege of being a minister

So it must be a busy time of year for you’              
                     (actually not as much as you think, and not as busy as so many non-church people)
Cartoons of clergy counting services
Newspaper articles about expectations on clergy at Christmas 
Comments from a minister about relaxing by still being in dressing gown after 9am
Facebook debates about how ministers might use their time and would we change our pattern if Jesus came tomorrow.

Yep - its Christmas....   

Season of clergy performance anxiety and competitive caroling - but only if we let it

I am a minister, I am a person,
I live with a dog but no people, I live with times of significant depression but not beaten

It is a great privilege to be a minister – the nature of the role and the opportunities to be with people and in the community is a big part of that, but I also recognise the great privileges it gives me in living my life.

Between risks of fatigue illness and the ebbs and flows of depression I would struggle to channel my work and focus into the preset hours demanded in most jobs out there, I don’t think I would be able to sustain it week in and week out and hold down such a role.  Ministry offers me the freedom through large parts of the week to flow with my body and soul, to not be up and dressed by 8.30 am when the sedating effects of medication still linger, or to send out emails after 10pm because that is when my brain is functioning best that day.

I have the privilege to not need to measure my contributions in hours or busyness, though this can be a challenge with the temptation to reach beyond normal hours. I have the privilege to have learned from my health limits about how to live with what I can, and who I am, and I have largely conquered the urge to feel guilty. 

Last Christmas I was on a roll, with energy and possibilities, learning the patterns in a new place, this year the rollercoaster is on the down dip, dragging myself to the carols and visits feels like ploughing through thick heavy clay.  I am there for what is needed, even smiling – then home to hide under the duvet, my charging method. Doing this means it will pass, the path lead upwards again, and my energy and activity increase.

I am deeply grateful for the privilege of a life as a minister that allows me to offer the fullness of who I am but in a pattern that allows me to fully be who I am.   Others find the same for different reasons, around family needs, different personalities, so many things.

So no I am not going to compete about how many Christmas services I will have taken, or worry about whether I write my sermons from under the duvet or not.  I will boast though in taking care of myself so that I can continue to serve, and I will fight off all guilt inducing comments whether they are intended to be or not.

After all  God was not in such a hurry that he didn't have time to come as a child and wait the years to grow.....

On this topic I have posted a reflection on being vs doing  from a number of years ago 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Being churches in community

Following a conversation on a Facebook group about this blogpost I am responding to this challenge   
‘The blog post is about one way to build relationships in the community; I would love to see a UK Methodist brainstorm on other ways to move from our internally-focused condition toward an externally-focused one.

I write as some-one who has been involved as a district mission enabler, now as a minister working in rural and semi-rural churches, and in my reading about and observations of others doing interesting projects.

Firstly – don’t assume that because the only thing in the church notices is next week’s preacher that this means mission and community engagement is not happening.  In some communities you will find that the church people are already deeply engaged with voluntary groups and the work that keeps the village flourishing.  Even if not overtly sharing their faith story they are recognised as faith led people.

When I was a mission enabler I found that people were anxious about inviting me to work with their church. They have a sense of falling short of what the church is called to and fear being told to do things that terrify them or feel impossible. Starting from affirming what is already there is critical to ease the anxiety.  Then I would nudge them about how to develop from what is already there.  We can be very good a service and struggle with talking about faith and life matters.  You don’t turn the existing lunch club or coffee morning into a Bible study, but offer a prayer corner, or invite people to stay on for a small reflection or service, always optional, but giving attenders small steps into considering faith, rather than expecting the huge leap into Sunday morning. And the small steps feel doable for the church and as they do the small steps they are encouraged to relearn how to dream and do.

So ways of engaging with the community I have known and seen in the British context –

1.    Primary schools – are often open to church volunteers in assemblies, a resource such as Open The Book makes it predictable for head teachers, and very accessible for a local team of volunteers, and the children love it.    Relationships can develop with volunteers listening to reading, helping as extra adults on trips, schools taking part in church events, contributing to the Christmas Tree Festival, older pupils helping with a lunch club at church, choir at carol service…

2.     Local businesses – get involved with the local chamber of trade, or business association.  The church is not a business but these groups offer insights into issues in the local economy. They are often involved in local community events, get a pitch at things that are happening and provide volunteers for all the work that is needed to make them happen.   From those relationships other opportunities are possible….  
Eg  Promoting the Christmas story in the community – some have sent ‘Mary and Joseph’ figures on a journey from shop to shop sitting in the display window for a day then moving to the next shop, people are encouraged to watch out for where they will turn up next.  Others have sheep or angels scattered around the town that can be tracked down.   Some churches have taken temporary shops at Christmas and Easter as a pastoral base and opportunity to have displays around our faith.

3.       Offer space to fill gaps as local provision is cut – a library link collecting books from the next town to run a monthly library at the village coffee morning when the mobile service was cut, hosting books for a voluntary provision when the branch library closed.  Some places go into the deep technicalities and legalities to host post office and village shop.

4.       Offer opportunities to talk about the ‘big issues’ people face – without making it all religious.  Death cafĂ© events, Happiness Course, Agnostics Anonymous, drawing on film and books in conversation groups.  Be a safe space for meaningful conversation without being conversion focussed.  We are companions on a journey and the other person leads about when, if ever, the conversation turns to faith. 

6.    Street Pastors and Street Angels do great work in many communities linking with the police 

And that is before considering ways of worshipping in more creative ways to enable those of different learning styles, ages, interests - Messy Church, Forest Church, Cafe Church, and so many more.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Two weeks in - low carb low calorie eating plan

So - the healthy eating/diet plan - just over 2 weeks in and mostly good with a bit of a wobble.   

I am following the Blood Sugar Diet (see here) and it sounds scary to be based on 800 calories for the 8 weeks. But those are nutrient rich and diverse calories, with good levels of protein and full fat product (but not massive amounts like the Atkins).  

There is a great online community on the website, sharing recipes, encouragement and also our confessions when we succumb to the sugar fix.  

So how has it been?
Well started with enthusiasm and lots of planning. Expected to feel deprived and hungry but with a commitment to 3 separate meals and those including protein - scrambled egg for breakfast - I was not feeling hungry until I broke rank at the weekend - the reduced price cheesecake, and the idea of a reward were my downfall.  After that - not just a single slice - it is like my sugar cravings were reawakened.  But it was different, it felt too much and too sickly, so my body is learning something.

One of my tricks on myself to avoid the baggage that too familiar numbers can bring is to measure myself in kgs - starting at 99kgs which for my height put me jut in the obese category for my BMI.  After 2 weeks I reached 94.5kg - and have just crossed back into 'overweight', not obese. A great first target. - but 15kg still needed, the weight of a sack of dog food.

Lost so far......
What I still need to lose

There may be some concern about a quick loss diet  but the science does consider this.  A lot of crash diets are focused on single items - cabbage soup, maple syrup - this one has a wide nutrient base, and is designed as a kickstart for a healthy eating habit, higher calories but same principles.  And it is missing the side effects of cabbage soup!

Shopping is quicker and cheaper - with all the aisles I am not supposed to go down, and the cakes and biscuits left behind on the shelves. I have been buying fresh fish, sometimes complete with heads (though gutted at least) and spinach is a staple.

So I will see where the next month takes me, and hopefully reach the autumn as less of a woman. Gabi dog though is a bit miffed and feels hard done by as my lack of snacking means a lack of titbits for her!