Monday, January 28, 2019

2 ways depression descends

Throughout the bouts of depression I’ve suffered, I have found on every occasion it descended like a storm cloud over my entire life.
To be clear, two of my significant depressions emanated through deep, dark life-changing grief. In another significant season it was as a result of an abusive relationship, and not being able to extricate myself from what I had experienced as a toxic situation. And my most recent bout, a few years ago now, was because of work that I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t good at, which indicated how important my work is for my mental health.
I have found depression descends two ways — acutely, without warning, and slowly and subtly over time. I’ve experienced both, the former many times and the latter enough to know.
The acute form is scary, and it leaves you anxious for just how subtle it creeps into the present moment collapsing your hope and crushing your self-esteem. I can recall times where things seemed okay, say in the morning when I woke, but by mid-morning the shroud of contempt would descend within an hour or even minutes. Or, I’d get through the day, and the still of evening would reveal my lonely inescapable reality. Instantly at these times I’ve felt like I’ve been drowning in a paradox of emotions — not able to control them, yet unable to feel them apart from the pain. Utterly untenable and unfathomable. It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced because it is completely an inside job, where your world feels like it is imploding, worse than dying. That’s how it feels.
When depression descends gradually over the weeks or months, it is scary in a different way. It comes with a great deal of confusion, which is deeply disconcerting. It’s like you’re searching for answers and they just don’t come. Something’s wrong, you know it, but you can’t do anything about it. I always found unexplainable bouts of either irritability or worthlessness (both at different times) was the tell-tale sign I was in the fog of the black dog. Sometimes I’ve seen in others unresolved grief that remains dormant within them, which turns them inside out, making them into who they weren’t, but there is good news…
The good thing about depression symptoms is they indicate where we’re at. I always found it more a relief to acknowledge: “Wow, yes, that’s it; I’m depressed!” It was always a relief to acknowledge that I needed help. It was always a relief to my wife and children also when I put my hand up and said I need help.
The fact that we can say “I need help” of itself inspires hope, because it is an admission that we believe help is available. Having made such an admission, life and hope and purpose isn’t far away, but of course, this is also dependent on other conditions. For very many people, there are chronic conditions that envelop them. For very many people their mental health is just part of the picture, and it becomes but an effect of other more intrinsic causes. 

Photo by Ryan Whitlow on Unsplash

Monday, January 21, 2019

Care therapy for those in chronic pain

Anger can be a response of empathy when we’re helpless, as much as futility can be the countenance of the faithful. Horrendous thoughts for self-harm are melded within the boiling pot of the most resilient of all people when pain afflicts. Chronic pain transforms the bravest of souls and sends them cowering into corners never previously imagined.
All this and more is up for grabs for those dealing with chronic pain — whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, and much of it a conglomeration of these.
Dichotomies and paradoxes float with sadistic buoyancy in the realm of unrelenting anguish.
They exhort us not to prejudge.
If you are angry without reason, without sense, without caution, with brutal candour, because you’re stricken with a cavitating, gnawing nemesis, you are not alone. It is enough to try the perspective of the gentlest saint.
There ought to be no judgement cast against those caught in the whirlpool of life without mercy.
Those who cannot escape their own self-recrimination ought to be stopped with love, listened to, graced with God’s presence in you for their encouragement, and cared for as they define care.
What is for them a living hell has no answers, so there ought to be no questions added to their burden.
There is such a thing as a full-octane living hell, and many there are who live it.
If it is your lot to be the bearer of such pain, do accept the best I can give: prayers. I believe prayer is a power beyond worldly precedent. If it is your lot that you care for such a person, every ounce and sinew of strength be yours, in the wee hours, in the temerity of the torment you endure for their sake. Hold on with all the hope you can muster.
There very much is the place for asking Almighty God, “What point is there in this?”
I feel certain that through such unheralded paroxysm, a peace is being sought after and will be attained.
Strive for it with stillness of gait.
Wait on it with a tenacity that does not give up.
And, trust God even more. Such is the enigma of life that such a trial is manifest for such a purpose.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Holding on when you cannot let go

Recently we had news that anyone with parents in their 70s could expect to get. Suddenly I’m more aware of others who have lost their parents in recent times, and how that must have hurt them so indescribably deeply.
I was sitting in a cinema with my wife a few nights ago when I suddenly became aware of that feeling that I cannot let go. I cannot just let my parent die. And yet, they will. There is nothing I can do to change the fact; it will happen. And now it is our time to prepare.
But preparation, in itself, is folly. It’s like a new parent preparing to have their baby. Once the baby is born everything changes. Once a parent dies everything, too, changes. No longer do we have access to this person who brought us into the world and who nurtured us and who we’ve shared all our lives with. All we have left is their memory.
It is so easy as a funeral celebrant to facilitate a beautiful celebration of a loved one’s life, so long as that loved one isn’t your own. I can empathise with people in their loss, but I cannot touch the pain they feel, until I experience that pain directly, viscerally, interminably, in my own being — when it is my own pain. This is why ministering with people in loss ought to keep us humble. Their pain is not ours and all our hearts can do is go out to them; to be in awe of them in the pain they bear.
I am thankful for the encounters of death and loss and grief I have had that in some ways equip me. But I also sense that in losing a parent I will be completely undone. Part of me struggles to hold on when I cannot let go. At this very point in time I feel as if I cannot let go.
It is all part of the grief process. What is overwhelming and impossible, that is the grief process. It takes us beyond our ability to cope. And somehow, over time, we learn resources that help. And in time, with the help we get, and our own openness to learning, we recover.
Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The word that changes everything

Circumambulation. It’s a big word. It means that we continue, throughout our lives, to return to similar circumstances, which elicit similar emotional responses, albeit it in different situations. Many of these situations we can find perplexing.
But this article is not about the word, ‘circumambulation’.
Circumambulation is about how instinctively we return to our understanding until our understanding changes.
This article is about the word, ‘until’.
Sometimes we’re continually thwarted by life’s events. Sometimes we go along merrily, privately thinking what’s wrong with others ‘who respond the wrong way’. Sometimes we wonder when we’ll learn, so frustrated are we with the steepness of our individual learning curve.
Sometimes we just never understand until
something happens that changes our perspective.
We may not believe in autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (believing they’re just poorly behaved children with bad parents) until we have a child who is diagnosed with it.
We might wonder why a friend is still grieving the loss of a partner, parent or child until we are thrust into a similar position.
We may think forgiveness is easy until we encounter a situation where reconciliation is impossible.
We might judge individuals who divorce, thinking they should’ve worked harder on their marriage, until marital infidelity or unforeseen forces rock the foundations of our own marriage.
We can think of men (or women) hooked on pornography (or anything else) as weak or immoral until we find ourselves drawn down a rabbit warren of sin in ten minutes of boredom ‘on the net’ ourselves.
We may think someone is whinging excessively in bearing physical pain until we or a loved one face the same excruciating reality.
It could frustrate us that the person’s child with special needs is drawing attention to themselves and should be quiet, until someone dear to us has their own child with special needs.
You might be a ‘resilience convert’, thinking that it’s what everyone needs, that the weak need to just toughen up, until you or someone you love experiences trauma, and find how impossible it is to ‘get over’ the things that might trigger that trauma response.
Someone loses their job and you can see their fault, regardless of how the situation truly was, and you view them as unwise, even stupid, until you suffer the indignity of losing your job. Or, you think someone is overreacting about being in a ‘toxic’ workplace or relationship, until you or a loved one experiences that same kind of preposterous situation.
If you ever feel certain mindsets or emotions or spiritual things are easier for you than for others, then you may be gifted. Or, you may be deceived. It may be a case that you haven’t had a particular kind of life experience. Could it just be that you might be wrong? If so, wonderful!
See how the curve balls thrown at us in life forge the resources of empathy and compassion in us? Exposure to suffering has the benefit that we’re no longer so cocksure of ourselves. See how suffering loss and change and trial and despair can grow us up?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Signs he might be a narcissist

We all have relationships with impossible people. Rick Warren calls them EGR people: Extra Grace Required.
Not all these people are narcissistic by nature, but those who are consistently exhibit these qualities. They:
ü    have no real empathy, but may ‘act in role’ as part of a masquerade of care;
ü    act entitled — their needs are always more important than others’ needs;
ü    demand people exalt them — are easily annoyed when their egos are unfed;
ü    exploit others through manipulation for their own gain — their true motive.
Narcissism is a most nuanced condition of humanity. It helps to simplify the language. Think of it in terms of low empathy with high entitlement, high need for exaltation, with high capacity to exploit.
The more I’ve studied narcissism, the more I’ve realised there are subtle forms of it everywhere, and in every single one of us. But those who are honest about this base sin have at least the hope that they aren’t as narcissistic as they may genuinely fear they otherwise could be. Christians should be least narcissistic of all, but that presupposes that Christians bear the fruit of daily repentance — the most obvious and required fruit of salvation. This demands that God truly is on the throne of their heart. This is only possible through momentary dependence of God. This being so, honesty is inherent to their daily modus operandi, meaning that honest reflection translates into behaviours that demonstrate others-come-first humility.
But those who are unable to be honest — who cannot, and worst, will not, comprehend their sin — are the worst of all narcissists, for they’re that weak they cannot bear to be wrong.
As tough as it is being wrong, most of us understand there’s no success arguing the fact. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. Best get on with the consequences of it, including making our sincerest apologies. If we recognise that our world doesn’t end in being wrong, we can bear the thought and experience: we all practice injustice, regardless of our intention, from time to time. We all do wrong. Anyone pretending that injustice always comes from others is the worst of all liars.
Yet, even if the narcissist could bear being wrong, they would find some way of attempting to capitalise on the matter through manipulation or coercion, all the while rage threatens to bubble to the top if they don’t get away with it.
There are narcissists within your church, your community group, and likely within your family too. They lurk everywhere. Few families and communities are saved from them. They’re the ones who cause trouble and do not care about it, and, such is the malignancy of their nature, their lack of regard draws the negative out of others. It always becomes the other person’s fault. There is never any genuine contrition. They truly lack any capacity for empathy. (And yet, if it serves the narcissist well, they learn the ‘skill’ of empathy, weaponising what should never be weaponised.) And most of all, because they crave power and prestige, where are they most commonly found? Wherever they may be showered in the glory their shallow souls hanker after.
If you read this with any sort of authentic wondering, ‘Am I a narcissist?’ you probably aren’t. Although we’re all capable of trying it on, and I’m a believer that we can certainly have seasons and situations of being narcissistic. I’ve had them. Pride is the sign to watch for. And times of weakness where we resent such weakness. If only we considered how close we are to God when we depend on him in our honesty when we’re feeling weak!
The paradox of narcissism suggests that anyone who can seriously consider they might be probably isn’t; yet the one who deplores the very thought, let alone accusation, there he is!
Note: ‘he’ isn’t the only narcissist, although males are more represented. Narcissism in women is not uncommon.

Photo by nic on Unsplash

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Love New Year?

Perhaps it’s the first time I’ve felt this! I said to my wife, again probably for the first time ever, that I thoroughly love this time of year. This year.
She asked me why. I told her that it seems so peaceful, with many of the set activities of the year still in recess, with the anticipation of events and opportunities still unknown, even as I sit in this liminal space.
I think I am so used to that ugly kind of liminal space where a dream has been dashed, and I’m in a kind of nothing holding pattern, that I’ve forgotten the glory in a different kind of liminal space — where hope is pregnant, where joy is apparent, where peace is affective.
Sure, it might be that the new year holds unforeseen pain, and indeed, that it could cost us dearly. It might be that you enter New Year languishing in grief. For all we know the new year could be an annus horribilis. Queen Elizabeth II had one of those years in 1992. Mine was 2016. And I’ve heard so many since, remark about their 2017 or 2018 years as theirs. Once we’ve had one it leaves an indelible mark.
But thankfully a hard year, even a tough decade,
doesn’t characterise the rest of our lives.
What we can say without the shadow of any doubt is this, in the words of Denzel Washington, that “ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” Whatever the world and our life situations throw at us this year, we just need to keep throwing our best selves into them. We maintain our goals, because they are precious to us, and if we keep working, and if we keep believing, we will achieve success.
Like any year, especially at New Year, there are virginal opportunities, because our hope has been freshened up a little. The sheen of our countenance glistens. And if we can bear the quietness of January, and just be at peace, knowing good things are coming, we may rest content in the most harmonious period of the year.
It may well set us up for the rise we’d long hoped for;
perhaps for something far beyond any dream we had.

Photo by Chris Gilbert on Unsplash