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!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Weight and depression - time for a healthy diet

I am munching my way through my last packet of crisps before the Healthy Eating weight loss diet starts in 2 days on 1st August.  Getting breathless walking Gabi this summer has got me worried.  I have been on blood pressure meds for 2 years already, and I’m only 41.   My BMI is no longer in the overweight category but I have crossed the line into obese.   I need to lose 20% of my current weight to reach the top end of the healthy range for my height.  

Image result for bmi chartThis is partly linked to my mental health.  A lot of mental health medication can encourage weight gain, mostly I think from giving us the major munchies, though some may affect metabolism too.  I also spent time on one that has a side effect on blood pressure.   But it is not all the medication.

Depression can be exhausting, acting ‘normal’ in the big wide world means coming home and flopping out. For me that puts meal prep way way down the ‘to do’ list, whilst duvet time is right at the top.  Of course at some stage my body demands input, and Now!  

That means quick calories and no effort.  So surface from duvet and reach the kitchen, problem is that making a decision is as much of an effort as anything else and I am left standing in the middle of a supply of food but paralysed by the decision process.  Default kicks in and I reach for the instant calories of a packet of oaty biscuits, or crisps, or anything instant, and retreat with the packet back to the duvet and munch, and munch, through the whole packet.

That isn’t every meal, or every day – but far too frequently, and in between are the ready meals or that sole meal of the day turns into eating both portions of the meal for two.  Basically my eating is rubbish and all over the place, and that’s before alcohol calories.

Image result for healthy mealsSo 1st Aug is the new beginning, I have been researching, I have produced a 4 week menu plan so that the effort of choice is taken away, and I have been shopping – with a strict list!   I had a trolley full of veg and fresh fish, some chicken and not much else – no biscuits, no doughnuts, no multipacks of crisps.

The discipline will be to eat at 3 specific points each day, the diet is low in carb and limited calories but full of healthy nutrients.  Yes it is a low calorie – quick impact diet but not in a faddish cabbage soup diet way.   I know my stickability to a new project is not great once the novelty wears off, so something that feels like it is getting somewhere is better for me.   And to start with a mild obsessio
n about the healthy eating project is good for getting off the blocks well.

So enjoying the last pack of crisps and last glass of wine for a while, and the church faith lunch tomorrow – then Monday morning I will rediscover proper breakfast.  I will let you know how I do.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Living with pain

I have friends who live with great pain in their bodies, not a mere paracetamol or ibuprofen pain, but the kind that gets offered the strongest pills possible which still only dulls the worst moments.   They don’t talk about the daily pains that often – it is enough to feel it without talking about it too, and they don’t want to bore you or themselves with saying that it hurts every time someone asks ‘how are you?’

I admit to being a wimp over physical pain, and don’t even mention nausea!  What my friends live with as normal would lay me out.  But life has to be lived, and my friends like so many others find a way to keep functioning with these pains.

Image result for pain
If only it were that easy - physically or emotionally
When they do mention how bad a day is – then it is a day when it is not just the permanent ‘normal’ pain (which the rest of us would consider a ‘bad day’) but an extra extra bad day when the meds are not helping much – or at least it feels they aren’t, though how much worse could it be without them? We all experience pain, but they live with it.

To understand depression is a similar distinction – yes we all have low days but to live with depression is to have as a normal what those without the illness know as a really bad day.  We may not tell you how tough living with that emotional pain as daily life is, like my friends finding a way to function with great physical pain, so those of us living with depression find ways to function in the big wide world.   Physical or emotional, you may not glimpse the limp or grimace with a wave of pain, we have got used to not letting it show.  But it costs us – this functioning and blending in.

Image result for empty purseAnd some days the cost is beyond our budget, beyond our energy overdraft limit – then we may say ‘I’m not too good today’. But remember we are likely to be using a completely different scale, so saying ‘I’m having a bad day too’ – unless you are using the same currency as us – is not really understanding.   In the same way as if I were to respond to one of my friends whose body is regularly wracked with extreme pain with the comment ‘yeah? I have a bit of a headache today too’.

I am sure that on a normal day they would be very willing to commiserate with my headache, but I should not be under any illusions that I understand their experience.

So when someone living with depression doesn’t talk about how it feels, don’t assume our normal is your normal.  And when we do say it is a bad day then believe that it is and give us space when functioning is a challenge.

They say that ‘grass is greener on the other side’ – strangely that is not the case here, at least for me, having learned to live with depression it is a housemate (lifemate?) whose habits I have got to know and learned to cope with at some level.  As said I am a wimp about physical pain and so the challenges of friends living with that seem much worse than my own journey. I wonder if they feel the same about depressive pain?

I write this on a functioning day, but where depression is as always lurking in the background, in the hope of helping anyone travelling with someone with depression to understand a bit of the difference in what we say and what that describes.