Blogger’s Block

Apologies for the radio silence. I have been suffering from blogger’s block. Funny thing: when you teach social media, there’s an immediate pressure on you, the teacher, leader, inspirer, to be exemplary in all of your online activities.

The truth?

After a week of teaching blogging, the last thing I want to do is to write a post. I give away all of my good ideas to my students and I am left with Instagrams of my lunch and a rating of one of the twenty-nine coffee shops Guildford has to entice you with. Twenty-nine coffee shops and not one of them is open past 7pm. That’s been one of the downsides of moving from the city to the sticks. Well, as stick-y as a major university town can be… No late night coffee shops to take my Mac down to and late-night blog, accompanied by fellow start-uppers, a chai latte and Train on repeat. I tried taking my laptop down to a local pub past 8pm and asking for a latte. I felt like a plank. Thus, my blogging has suffered.

I need to find a new blogging rhythm. Ideas welcome.

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Let’s talk about mental illness

It could be my heightened attraction to articles on depression, having been ‘officially’ diagnosed with the black dog four months ago, but I am noticing more and more public discussion on mental illness, particularly within the church. I am both grieved and elated – grieved to hear of Stephen Fry’s forlorn, unhappiness and loneliness in his eloquent exposition following his recent, high profile suicide attempt. I am moved by Katherine Welby’s reflections on hopeful depression, and her courageous conversations following media interest in her blog article. I joined with thousands around the world grieving the news of Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew, committing suicide after a life time battling with his mental illness, and was humbled by a Jewish Rabbi’s report of the Warren’s return to Saddleback, outlining their task to ‘mine hope from the hopelessness of such devastation.’

As tragic as these accounts are, I can’t help but feel an element of relief. Relief that people are talking about mental illness. Relief that health organisations have upped their anti and are increasing their campaign efforts. Relief that the church, in particular, is under more pressure to support those with mental illness.

My one place of refuge, the church, became my prison in the early stages on my breakdown. Instead of running to it, I found myself fleeing from church for the past year, after being told by individuals in my community that I ‘needed more joy’, that I should visit prayer rooms instead of doctors, or that my behaviour was increasingly inconsistent and, therefore, people were explicitly withdrawing from my company. I questioned my faith, with thoughts along the lines of ‘I can’t face seeing my home group this week’, ‘I don’t feel like worshipping this Sunday’, or ‘am I that problem person in the church: the one with all the issues that everyone is tired of?’ I even went as far as: ‘am I even a Christian if I’m struggling so much with life?’

Whilst I believe wholeheartedly in prayer, prayer rooms, etc., it wasn’t as if I wasn’t praying every day for things to get better. I was, as journal after journal of pleading with God remind me as I reflect on the pages searching for some answers. It was initially only my pastor who suggested therapy and who was subsequently there for me via telephone to hear of my diagnosis. No one else thought to ask, ‘do you think that you might be depressed?’

However, through being diagnosed and sharing with the closest of my friends – the friends that I knew wouldn’t judge me, the ones who kept calling me on the telephone over the months, even though I never picked up or returned their calls – I discovered a secret: that a vast majority of my Christian friends were suffering, or had also suffered, with depression and knew exactly what I was going through. I discovered that depression ran in my family. I began to be able to detect it in others. I realised that I was not alone, and this led me to discover true church: community, understanding, trust and acceptance, in a way that I had not experienced when I “had my sh*t together” and was frantically paddling trying to keep my head above water.

My boyfriend, who doesn’t believe in God, once asked me why God didn’t answer my prayers and miraculously heal me of my depression. I have asked that question myself, as I know that God is big enough to be able to heal me at the click of His fingers. But this is one of those things that will take time. Medication and therapy have been an answer to prayer in and of themselves – and no, I don’t think it’s a sin to take anti-depressants. Anyone who does think so can come and have a chat to me after a few days of being off them.

Through talking it through with God, I’ve resolved that it’s taking time because I need time: time to face some of the things I’d been avoiding all of my life to date. Time to re-evaluate what’s important to me. Time to learn how to be kind to and look after myself – and more importantly, to let God look after me. Time to build myself up again so that I can not just ‘last’ another 25+ years, but LIVE another 25+ years. Live in the sense of having life and life to the full. As Pete Greig outlined in a brilliant talk the other Sunday: so that I can become wine instead of raisins (listen to it here)

Will my depression ever go away? I hope that it will and I fear that it won’t. Is this one of those ‘it’s tragic but I’m glad I’m going through it sanctification through affliction’ type of stories? I wish. If I could live without it, believe me, I would. But while I am experiencing it, I am learning. That’s the beauty of life: we can learn something from everything, albeit in hindsight. That’ll be the book that I will write in years to come: The Gift of Hindsight.

For now, I will do all that I can to encourage conversation on mental illness, for conversation leads to understanding; the shedding of light. And where there is light, there is hope.

For information about Christianity and Mental Illness, check out http://www.mindandsoul.info/

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Now is a Good Time

Now, I don’t usually make a point of commenting on adverts… OK, who am I kidding? As my charity shop bag full of never-worn clothes dictates, I am extremely susceptible to advertising… However, I am loving the collaboration between Magners and poet Murray Lachlan Young for the Magner’s new ad: Now is a Good Time. Being a forward thinking, future-dwelling soul, this poem really got me thinking and has got me in the mood for a summer enjoying the ‘now’ – check it out:

When yesterday’s gone and tomorrow is near
Why look for a thing when it’s already here?
And tell me you never once asked yourself how
Some people end up in the middle of the now.

Now is the beat of the feet on the floor
Now is the then we were all waiting for
It’s the strike of the luck
It’s the go with the flow
It’s the sharing the love with the people we know.

See a wise fool once said kind of out of the blue
That life is a dream that’s already come true.
It’s the less of the what, of the where and the how
It’s more of the you, of the me and the now.

Things That I Forgot About Relationships

So, after 5 years of being single and a quarter-of-a-century-life-crisis, I decided to get dating. However, having been out of the game for so long, I soon realised that there were aspects of relationships that I had completely forgotten about. Here are some of the them:

1. Cost

Date nights (when did the cinema get so expensive? And when did it cost more to have a decent centre-of-the-theatre seat?!), eating out (especially at the start when you’re too embarrassed to pull out a 241 voucher…), dining in (cooking properly compared to my regular can’t-be-bothered-beans-on-toast dinners), travelling here and there, telephone bills, Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Valentine’s Day… Hello overdraft/worth every penny.

2. Absence

When you look back to previous relationships, you remember the time that you were together. You forget about time that you spent apart. I forgot what it felt like to miss someone. To crazy miss someone. To viscerally long for someone – teenage dream style.

3. Jealousy

It hit me, out of the blue, during a hypothetical discussion about top three hot celebrities. It was not logical; I am sure that the television screen is not the only thing keeping him and Anna Friel from being together. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel possessive and jealous. I was struck by how wonderful it felt to feel something so instantly and intensely – like a dormant organ located somewhere in my gut was defibrillated back to life.

4. Family

Nervous first meetings. Embarrassing conversations about you as a child. Better understanding a person by seeing them in context. And after a while, expectant glances at your ring finger/womb…

5. Sacrifice

Sacrificing personal preferences and viewing pleasures to accommodate someone else’s plans, favourite food and television habits. I am glad that I learnt how to make the most of being single by pursuing hobbies, doing what I wanted when I wanted (within reason), and learning what makes me tick, as it has helped to discern what I can and cannot sacrifice in relationships. For example, I learnt that I cannot sacrifice time with my friends, efforts to run my own business, and weekly creative time as they make me who I am and bring me to life, but I can sacrifice Made in Chelsea for a cricket match, or a fuzzy and very American Rom-Com for a heart-rendering Michael Haneke film. But deeper than that, there is something about sacrificing your time to welcome someone else’s presence, pleasure, and problems. Something that I forgot about when I just had me to think about.

6. Gender

Men forget things. Hanging the tea towel back on the rack, putting the seat down, or what you just said.

Women remember everything. Even that tiny comment about a ten-year-old, worn and puff-less puffa coat being ugly. IT’S COMFORTABLE.

7. Love

How difficult it can be to let someone love you. Sacrificing your self-sufficiency (I can carry that bag!) to let someone do something loving for you. Though, one of the benefits of being single for so long has been how easily being loving has been. I am so grateful for the opportunities to be caring and romantic towards one special person after five years or baking cupcakes and sweet treats for my colleagues…

Four Year Finance Freak Out

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was going to view a flat that seemed too good to be true. Turns out that it was better than I ever imagined, so I took it on the spot. It was back at the estate agent’s that I first felt it: a slight twinge in my chest. Dismissing it as a lack of lunch, I signed the contract and stated my conditions, one of them being a six-month break clause in the twelve-month contract.

The next day, the estate agent got in touch to say that my offer had been accepted and that every one of my conditions had been met except the six-month break clause; the landlord wanted a me to commit to a year. That was the second time that I felt it: a definite twinge in my chest. Desperate for security and sanctuary, I agreed, and after a while felt fine. More than fine – relieved, excited, and as if I was finally on the way to getting my act together, as per the elaborate life action plan established on my 25th birthday.

What followed was what can only be described as an adrenaline induced surge of suburban fantasising: Laura Ashley, Victorian style screen-prints, and useless home decoration, such as a bouquet of paper roses crafted from the pages of Pride and Prejudice or Mills and Boon – your choice. Hours of browsing, wish lists, catalogue requests… I was really getting in to it.

Then it happened.

I started looking for sofas and armchairs, and navigated my way to the DFS website. A colleague mentioned that he had bought his sofas there on four years interest-free finance and paid less than £10 a month for them – rather appealing to the administratively salaried. I found a couple that I liked, viewed them in Pistachio green, stuck them on yet another wish list, and proceeded to calculate the monthly cost on finance.

I started to feel the twinge return, this time over a sustained period of time. Initially, I attributed this to the mathematics that I was attempting, but after definite palpitations realised that I was having a minor panic attack. Four years. FOUR YEARS. I had not even been in a proper job for more than ten months, let alone four years. The past eight months I had been living out of cardboard boxes not knowing whether or not I was moving to America, temp job after temp job, singleness for five years, and… and…

The commitment was all too much. I slammed my MacBook shut and went foetal.

After some horizontal processing, it dawned on me that ‘this it it’: I am now a grown up. You would be surprised if I told you that I had never really felt like one until that moment, but it is true – despite the whole foetal position thing. If I ever wanted to leave behind my second-hand, temporary Ikea furniture, then committing to proper furniture, and potentially a finance plan, would be part of that. If I ever wanted to build a proper home for a season, then I would have to stop waiting around for the next get-out-clause and commit to being in one place for a longer period of time. And to afford all of that, I would need to leave behind my positively teenage mentality to the world of work and commit to my job for an indefinite period of time.

Then I remembered the profound words of a wise and beloved friend sent to me but a couple of weeks beforehand:

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Maybe, just maybe, a couple of armchairs, a steady job, and a year-long lease could be anchors. Perhaps the task now is to put the next voyage, wherever that may be, on hold and dock in the harbour of Smallesville for a while. However, the question circling my mind late at night is: do I really want to?

Too Good To Be True?

I sat in the winter sun enjoying brunch with one of my gorgeous girl friends. We were reflecting on the past year and how much things had changed for us both since last December. She looked radiant; her face lit up as she filled me in on her job, love life and her life in London, all three of which had changed dramatically over the past year – and for the better. “It…it feels too good to be true, Jules” she said.

I shared that I had found a property on my dream street in the new town I had just started working in. It was (fairly) affordable, within walking distance from walk and the town centre. However, the bathroom and kitchen had not been photographed. I was due to view it that Monday, and I was completely stressed out. “There must be something wrong with it. The kitchen’s probably going to be a mess and I bet that the bathroom won’t have a shower,” I fretted at her, “it’s just too good to be true.”

When did we become conditioned to expect bad things to happen and to be suspicious of goodness? As children, we approached the world with open arms. Yet somewhere along the line, we got burnt. We experienced a bad thing. Life got difficult. We got older. We grew cynical and ‘learnt’ that “all good things must come to an end” and that “if it sounds too good to be true, it is!” But what our relentless search for the catch is the thing that ruins it? What if our disbelief that something could be good, might work out, run smoothly, or be a fulfilment of a dream prevents us from the real truth – the truth that sometimes good things just happen?

What would life looked like if we lived a bit naively and took things at face value? Would we be more frequently disappointed? Probably. Would we be more happy? Maybe…just maybe…