Saturday, 10 June 2017

...Solutions! (Bad Ones)

In my previous post, I explained how problems are compiled; how some have grown from insignificance simply because of lower tolerance to stress etc, how some completely defy logic due to flawed premises, through falsely perceived issues. So if you already have skewed problems and have already used faulty thinking to get there, the solutions are going to be just as harmful, if not more so.

First thing we should note is that, because of this lower tolerance of stress - which encompasses the feeling of things just being "wrong" - you're often more willing to do drastic things just in order to make the feeling go away, and this is often just plain avoidance. The door that gives you a panic attack: don't go out, stay inside all day, all week, all month. That awful piece of work that makes you feel like you can't do anything right: leave it until tomorrow...and the day after (ad nauseam). That supermarket that's the only one around for ten miles but is just too full of people and crowds: starve for a few days before you absolutely have to go.

However, while avoidance in itself is an active process and can be very tiring (something I'll discuss in a later post), there are other ways you solve these problems, ways that actively "rectify" the "problem".

General example: some people use self-harm (another topic I'll discuss later) as a method of control. So their thought process might go something like this: "the problem is that I have no control over the things in my life. The solution is to gain control of the pain my body feels." Something that seems so counter-intuitive, that sometimes they themselves know is awful for them mentally and physically, becomes the saving grace they cling onto in that moment. It becomes the solution, even if just the short-term one.

Personal example with a bit of context: I despite catcalling. I imagine many people who have been catcalled do, but many other women - yes, mainly women - I've spoken to don't seem to have the same physical reaction I do. Sometimes when I've been out and a guy is paying a little too much attention to me to be comfortable, I've had to go to the bathroom so I can dry-heave and/or have a panic attack and/or calm down the acid boiling in my stomach. Even without the mental health difficulties. So when I was suffering and a guy on the street said I looked "sexy" in my skirt, my reaction was explosive.

I saw a problem but not as I see it now (ie catcalling is wrong). My problem was that I was too pretty. Three guesses what my solution was: make myself ugly. That inconsiderate and self-centred man was completely ignorant that his words set off a mental obsession in me, luckily one I never followed through with actions. For three months, I had a persistent fantasy of dragging anything sharp - although my fingernails, broken glass and barbed wire featured heavily - repeatedly across my face. I wanted desperately to rid myself of this problem, and I was prepared to do it in the most violent way possible if needed.

Then, of course, there is the solution to the most common problem that makes itself known that I mentioned in the previous post, the problem of being alive: the solution that people see is to end their lives.

These "solutions" seem to be the only things available to us, and sometimes even seem appealing; I know that, at some points, I wanted my barbed wire solution above any other, because its sheer violence would be a catharsis for the anger I felt at the time. These solutions don't make sense - or make a sick, unhealthy kind of sense - so, as with the problems, using logic and reason to dissuade someone may often not work. This is a part that is painfully difficult for someone caring for a sufferer; how do you stop someone from hurting themselves while not offending their currently fragile self-esteem and/or taking away their autonomy?

Whatever way you find that helps in the case of the particular person you're caring for, please know that your continuing patience and care for them/us means more than they/we will ever be able to express.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Problems...

Depression, along with many other mental disorders, completely messes with cognitive functions. That is, broadly speaking, the thoughts in your head, the logic that you follow.

Take the example of problem-solving. Practically, problem-solving takes two things: a problem and a solution, of varying numbers. I'll tackle solutions in my next post, but in this one I want to show you how problems change when seen through the depression filter.

Simply put, your problems will increase in number and intensity, because things you would never have even considered before will become sometimes debilitating issues. For example, before I had depression, here are a few of my problems: "I have a lot of uni work, and I want a good grade, but I can't be bothered to put in the work"; "I wonder if I have enough money"; "I still have washing up to do, but I don't like doing it". All pretty normal, if lazy, student thoughts, right?

Contrast the problems I had while I had depression: "I have a single worksheet to complete for uni, but I genuinely can't find the effort to do it"; "I'm such a loser, I can't even manage my money"; "I know there's that washing up to do, but I feel like a failure for not doing it earlier, so I feel like crying if I even think about it". Other examples include: "I want to go to church, but there will be people there, and I can't deal with people", "it's so loud", and "I have a panic attack if I even think about leaving my room".

Like I said, new things appear in the list. Leaving my room had never been a problem before - I mean, it's just walking, isn't it? - and yet now my bedroom door was the biggest hurdle I would face.

There's an expression: "making a mountain out of a molehill". It meas you're making something, often a challenge, bigger than it actually is, that you're making a big fuss over a minor inconvenience. Well, depression does that, except it's real. Those molehills actually do become mountains. And if the molehills become mountains, the mountains become.... I don't even know the right word. Either way, looking at all of those mountains before you pushes you to your knees before you've even taken a step.

Now the Bible says that humans are completely powerless. Not that we're a bit weak, not that some things are beyond us, but that we're completely powerless. We can do nothing...without God's help (see 1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 73:26, among others). This really takes a weight off us; we don't need to face those mountains through our own strength, and curse ourselves and our weaknesses when it's difficult. (Because it will be difficult; just because God is the one who gives you the strength to climb doesn't mean it's an easy ride.) When we fail, we don't say, "It's because I'm not strong enough for this". We say, "Maybe God will let me succeed tomorrow, and learn whatever lesson He is teaching me today."

Although, I do need to point out that it's also perfectly normal to have moments of despair and desperation and fits of crying before you can say that second sentence, even if you've been able to say it before. It's not a disappointing sign of weakness if you can't immediately - at each and every hurdle - brush aside and accept you're own weaknesses. It's a sign of humanity.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Where He Is

In my previous post, I gave my personal emotional experience of knowing God within my suffering. But, of course, in order to properly know God, and to test these theories and experiences, is to compare them to the Bible.

The Bible is what Christians call "God-breathed" which means that, although it was written by flawed and sinful human beings, God inspired these authors with what to write, almost like a dictation. So the words of the Bible are trust-worthy and perfect and correct, provided you take the context of the time and location and author into account. Jesus himself is described as the Word of God - the same name we give to the Bible - and so we cannot accept Jesus and reject the Bible; they are one and the same.

So what does the Bible say about where God is in suffering? The answer is simple; right beside you. It's hard to imagine, the Creator of the heavens and the earth holding you in His arms. Many people, including Christians, sometimes (or always) think of God as distant or aloof, either deliberately uncaring about our suffering or that He simply can't understand what we're going through. First, God definitely does care: 1 John 4:8 (read: the first letter of John, chapter 4, verse 8) says "God is love." He is love incarnate and the same verse says whoever knows love knows God, at least to some degree. Second, because God loves, he can understand our pain. Have you ever been so moved by someone else's suffering that you feel their pain on their behalf? Jesus did in His time on earth. Someone who loves feels other people's suffering, and as a God who loves all of Creation, he feels our pain. Keenly.

So, God is love and feels our pain. That doesn't mean He's with me now, does it? True enough. But there's more. In Genesis (Genesis 28:15), the Lord says to Jacob "'I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go'"; Psalm 37:24 reads "though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand"; Psalm 147:3 says "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds"; and Hebrews 2:18 explains about Jesus "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted [on earth], he is able to help those who are being tempted."

I guess my point here is that, because Jesus lived and because he is also God, at one with the Father our Lord, he knows. He feels everything we do, at the same time we do. When we're curled up in the foetal position and sobbing in psychological agony, He's there sobbing with us, clutching us to Him. As we're having another panic attack when we're even considering going out into public, He knows what it's like to be gasping for breath in fear of something you can't even describe. And as we're coincidentally standing on a bridge over a busy road, He knows that you're thinking about jumping off it. And it breaks His heart.

I take great comfort in music, it's one of the biggest...things in my life. I honestly can't tell you how much it moves me sometimes. So, naturally, some hymns/songs we sing in church really struck a chord with me at my worst time. I'll probably do a whole other post on some songs that have really helped me. There's a whole song by Casting Crowns called "Praise You In This Storm" on the subject of praising God while in pain, and it's wonderful. The lyrics are beautiful.

But some specific lines from other songs really helped me. The first are from a song called "Rejoice (Come and Stand Before Your Maker)": "All our sickness, all our sorrows // Jesus carried up the hill. // He has walked this path before us, // He is walking with us still; // Turning tragedy to triumph, // Turning agony to praise, // There is blessing in the battle // So take heart and stand amazed." The second set are from "From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable": "Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain // Joys and sorrows that I know so well // Yet His righteous steps give me hope again // I will follow my Immanuel."

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Where Were You?

Hey, guys! I hadn't meant for it to have gone this long before I updated. Sorry!

So, this post is going to address a rather tough question, but using only personal experiences; where was/is God when you're suffering? This post is just going to talk about my experience, so this will obviously not apply to everyone, and is not grounded in literature from the Bible at all. For a more Bible-centred approach to this topic, wait for my next post.

Well, in answer to the question about where God was when I was suffering...I have no idea. It might have been because of the Malignant Sunglasses (from the previous post) or it might have been because I was a new Christian so had never suffered while having faith, or a combination of them both. But, when I was at my lower points, I basically forgot that God was there. I didn't pray specifically for Him to make this pain go away, I just wished it would. I didn't, at first, even question why He was doing this to me - a very wrong question, the error of which will be discussed in a future post - because it just...was. I felt like this, and there was no reason for it. There was no one to blame.

I can't remember the specific point I forgot Him. I just sort of drifted. It didn't help that I wasn't into the habit of praying or reading my Bible regularly. But I tried to consider Him as much in my life as I could, as a new Christian. But, as the darkness crept in and thickened, my thoughts changed to what I should do, how I should help myself, what earthly action could I take to get better.

So I put my trust and my effort into counselling, into Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (a highly effective treatment for mental conditions, by the way), eventually into anti-depressants to help get me stable again. But then, after months, one particularly horrible night where I was crying in psychological agony, I prayed. I prayed and begged God to take away this pain, just to let me sleep if nothing else. And the pain went away. I was too relieved to think anything of it.

Then, as I was sleeping, I had a dream I still remember now. I'm almost certain this was God speaking to me because of the theme within it, the characters and backstory of the situation in it, and the fact that I had not seen this film for at least 18 months. For those of you who do not know The Chronicles of Narnia book series by CS Lewis, I'll give you the relevant details; four human siblings stumble upon another fantastical world, where they have to wage wars against tyrants. The perceived saviour of this world - based off Jesus Christ, Himself, no less - is a lion named Aslan. My dream reflected a scene from the film adaptation of Prince Caspian, where the youngest sibling, replaced by me in my dream, talks with Aslan.

Previously in the story, as the war had progressed, Aslan had yet to show himself and help, so most in the army decided to take matters into their own hands, with disastrous consequences. Everyone but the youngest sibling had given up on Aslan appearing and saving them. Then, when she goes out to search for Aslan as the final battle had begun, she found him, and was overjoyed. What I heard myself say in my dream was paraphrased from her lines in the film.

I said: "I knew you were there! All this time I knew you were there. The darkness wouldn't let me believe it though."

Aslan/God replied: "And why would that stop you from coming to me, dear one?"

It was one of the most profound nights of my life, the sheer joy of which I still carry today. As I write this now, my heart is leaping. God wasn't disappointed that I had forgotten about Him. He was just waiting for me to come back. Waiting for me to come back so He could call me "dear one" again.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Malignant Sunglasses

For those of you who, for whatever reason, don't know the meaning of the saying "seeing through rose-tinted glasses", I'll explain it; it means seeing the good in everything, but to a fault. It's not a fancy way of describing an optimist. If you're looking through rose-tinted glasses, you're seeing good that is false, that isn't even there, and obscuring and ignoring the bad things.

Depression is like that, but the complete opposite. When you're having an episode, there are no good things in your life, everything is a negative, and those things are are already negative become disastrous.

I'll give you an example, but first I'll provide two pieces of context. First piece of context, which may seem irrelevant for the moment: I love cats. I always have, and I want one when I have my own house. Less than two years ago, I was considering getting a cat for my shared house. Second piece of context: until fairly recently, my relationship with my parents was very strained, due to the simple fact that I was growing up, and we didn't see eye-to-eye on issues that were important to me. They were, and sometimes still are, a big source of stress.

After a particularly awful Skype with my parents - that I hadn't wanted - I was crying with my boyfriend comforting me, and a long and beautiful Facebook message from my closest friend open on the screen in front of me. And I turned to my boyfriend, the man I was in love with and who was in love with me, and said these words:

"I want a cat because I want there to be one creature in this world that isn't disappointed with me."

Do you see my point? I was almost surrounded by people who really didn't think I was a failure, and yet I was convinced that the whole world was disappointed with my existence. Depression is so good at completely blinding you to the truth, twisting and warping the good to non-existence and the bad to skyscraper-proportions. It doesn't listen to reason; no matter how many times you tell someone "it's really not that bad", it just won't convince them. So basically, if someone with depression is telling you that their world is ending in some way that you just can't understand, don't tell them to "snap out of it" or try and convince them with logic that they're overreacting. Just be there for them, see if you can make them aware or remind them that depression will make things ten times worse than they really are, but accept that the episode is happening, that there's nothing you can do about it, and wait the storm out together.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Sabotaged Pacifism

Here's a fundamental part of me: I hate conflict. I always have. I hate it so much, it makes me so uncomfortable, that when I see/hear conflict, even if only as a friendly argument, I have to try not to physically retch. After a childhood of watching two family members frequently use anger in a purely destructive manner, I have always tried to avoid feeling angry. I thought it was a bad emotion. It's not; it's a gift from God that is used to initiate change - if we're angry about something we want to change it - but that's a whole different post.

If you think you have no control over your emotions in general, depression takes that to a whole new level. It introduces you to emotions you didn't even know existed, that you'd heard about but never felt before, at levels you didn't even think was possible. Of course, most people just think that means a really low mood, being really, really sad.

That's the tip of the iceberg.

Remember how I said in my previous post that I have a child-like joy in the world in general? Well, let me now tell you that sometimes I could have easily gone into my favourite nerd-shop and left a bombsite. I'm talking windows smashed, tables snapped in two (don't know I would have done that - I'm pretty weak! - but I would have found a way), everything off the shelves and damaged in some way, the hooks they hung from on the floor and bent, all types of paper shredded by my own hands.... I would have wrecked the place, had I been given half the chance. The cherry on top of this was the reason for this massive overreaction; there was none. There usually isn't one. Your emotions can just pop up, at staggering intensity, following none of the patterns you may or may not have observed in yourself pre-depression.

There's one small consolation though; there's a reason for this lack of reason. Depression is caused by, amongst other things, a biochemical imbalance in the body. There are a lot of chemicals that have ridiculously long names that your body has to regulate very accurately and carefully in order to be "normal". It's pretty amazing to be able to do that in the first place. But studies have shown that these carefully monitored and controlled levels of biochemicals are really far off where they need to be in someone with depression.

For any sceptics out there who don't believe that mental health disorders are the same as physical disorders, chemical imbalances are found in many if not all medical conditions. Stroke and assorted difficulties? Chemical imbalances. Parkinson's? Chemical imbalances. Autism? Chemical imbalances. Mental health disorders and "physical" disorders are exactly as debilitating as each other. So the point here is that it's not a trick of your mind. You're not just being weak and pathetic, you are ill. You have as much to be ashamed of as if you had a broken leg instead. You just need time and resources to be able to heal.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Evil Ice-Cream Scoop

Hey, guys, it's Daisy. How are you all doing? Hope you've like my previous posts. Please feel free to give me some feedback on how I'm doing so far.

So the title of this post might seem a bit weird and comical, but it's the name I used for something that happened to me when my depression was harder hitting. Then and now, it's the best way I can describe what it felt like. This post will hopefully give you an insight into how some emotions - how generally feeling - was for me. Note the "for me" in that sentence: this is one of the areas that can vary widely from person to person.

Ever since I was old enough to know what emotions were and how to identify them, I've felt that I was always feeling something; mostly happiness and the sort of childish joy you might see in a six-year-old playing with bubbles (even now, when I'm 22!); then of course sadness in times when you might expect it; even boredom. There was always something there. My heart was so eager to experience things that I am what you call a sympathetic laugher/crier: I will cry and laugh simply because someone else is, no matter if I have no connection to that person or if I know what they're upset or amused by. If I am moved by their emotions enough, I will feel them.

Enter: depression.

A lot of people just think that it's feeling sad. Even if they acknowledge that it's more than the usual blues, they still just think it's sadness. For me, it started like that. But I would be sad for no reason. It's like my body would wake up and decide, with no previous information, that today was a bad day. And that was just one aspect. Another aspect was an impending sense of doom, just a general feeling that something and/or everything was going to go catastrophically wrong. And with the warped thinking that comes as a free gift with depression, "public humiliation" and "nuclear explosion" were counted as equally catastrophic.

But then, as my depression deepened, things changed. Like my body had just decided it had had enough, and it shut itself down as a self-preservation mechanism. For the first time in my life, I felt...nothing. I don't know if it's "normal" for some of you guys to just feel nothing, but for someone who has never experienced emptiness like that before, I find it very difficult to describe. Hence the title of this post; it was like the Devil had got his favourite ice-cream scoop and completely cleared out my insides.

This emptiness is reported by the majority of people with depression, but what varies is the reactions to it; some relish it because they had had enough of the pain that they were feeling before; some feel empowered by it for similar reasons. Personally, I hated it. It terrified me. Luckily I felt it only for two hours. But it was one of the most horrible evenings of my life.

This analogy may seem weird at the start, but bear with me. I have really bad circulation, particularly to my extremities. My feet are almost always cold, and my hands are only slightly better. So when I explain to people that I'm wearing microwaveable slippers because my feet are cold, they recommend thick socks. This is very kind of them. But each time they do, I have to remind them that socks - or any sort of heat-conserving clothing - only work if there is body heat being emitted in the first place, otherwise they are useless. The same thing could be said for my body when this ice-cream scoop was through me with; I felt physically cold enough to be shivering on the sofa as all my warmth, that I had at differing times both treasured and taken for granted, was robbed from me. I was a useless shell.

Luckily, I wasn't alone when I became empty that evening. My Christian boyfriend and very good friends were there, one of whom was very well-versed in the Bible and very in-tune with our Lord spiritually. He read me some verses that explain to me how loved I am by God when I was feeling that everything in the world hated me. I'm afraid to say I can't remember which verses they were (there are many in the Bible, though!). But I do remember how I felt while and after he read it and sat with me. If the Devil had emptied me of everything I was, God poured it all back until I was full. And then kept pouring. I was filled and filling up with this uncontainable joy and thankfulness and relief and safety. And it wouldn't stop; it just kept on coming until I had been sobbing on everyone's shoulder for half an hour non-stop.

The Devil had taken everything away from me, and I didn't intentionally cry out to God because I didn't even feel like I had the strength to. And He came anyway. He saw my agony, my emptiness, and filled me up with Himself out of love. And with God inside me, as I had forgotten He always had been, that ice-cream scoop didn't even bother returning ever again.