Sunday, 14 August 2016

The best is yet to come.

I am having what I guess could be referred to as a "crisis of faith". After months of really struggling to cling to a faith that was faltering and a God who seemed absent I went to New Wine looking for refreshment...or even just a hint that I should keep on keeping on.

Instead, I got poorly. Which quite frankly sums up my year. I feel far poorlier day to day than at this point last year and that is pretty hard to come to terms with at the age of 24. Whilst I rationally and academically don't believe God wished me to be so poorly at New Wine, the emotional side of me feels punished, forgotten, neglected. And as a result I'm finding it hard not to reject faith altogether.

Since getting home I've avoided church, my bible and journal are untouched. My house is no longer filled with worship music but the faith-filled art work remains on the walls. However, despite this I have been followed by one phrase throughout the past few months...

"The best is yet to come..."

I yearn for this to be true. I long for a better, brighter future. I don't want to lose my faith - I don't remember life without faith and I'm not sure I want to. My faith is so incredibly integral to my identity that I feel pretty lost right now. It's been just over a year since I moved away from Brighton and in some ways I'm lonelier than ever before. I have always advocated for authenticity and depth in true friendship but making myself vulnerable in this way also leads to me feeling lonely due to unmet expectations. This loneliness feels even more profound without God to turn to.

I really hope the best is yet to come...I just have no idea how to start finding it.

Monday, 16 May 2016

What's in a name?

My name is Laura. It's the name I was given 24 years ago when I was born. But recently, through studying Ruth I've been prompted to think about all the other things I have "named" myself and defined myself with over the years.

I am a nurse. A carer. Lover of babies. Reader. Saved by grace. A friend. Loved. A creative. Knitter. Chatterbox. Writer. Wonky bodied. Redeemed. Forgiven. And many more - but I am also...

Fat. A burden. Ugly. A failure. Unworthy. Anxious. Depressed. And this list too could go on.

I so often tend to cling to the negative names and dwell on the tough parts of life and forget the first list of things. Reading Ruth I realised I am often like Naomi...I take the name of "Mara" or bitterness. At the moment, I am physically and emotionally exhausted; my current placement on a mental health unit is really challenging me and like Naomi there are definitely times where I can't possibly imagine getting through this or how God will possibly step in and redeem this situation. However at times like this I need to stand in the truth that I am loved by a good God, and that I am named by Him, not by my circumstances.

Living my life always hoping that "tomorrow will be better" or the "grass is always greener" just leads to exhaustion and discontent. I need to learn to live in the present moment - acknowledging what I lack but that I also have plenty in Him.

If we are to follow Ruth's example we need to choose God and then all that is left is to wait, trust and obey.

Last week I wanted to throw the towel in and accept that I will never be a nurse. But my friends convinced me to stick with the exhaustion and to just keep plodding with it. Only for a few days later to receive my end of year exam results and be blown away with how well I had done. It reminded me that my hard work is paying off, that I am exhausted and struggling but that God can and will redeem me again.

Who we become and what we appreciate so often comes out of our biggest challenges and darkest places. Yet even though circumstances may change and develop us that will never overrule that we are named by a good God...that I am named Laura, blessed, redeemed, forgiven and always always loved.

Apologies for the jumbled post...I blame the aforementioned exhaustion!

Monday, 7 March 2016

"Be strong and courageous..."

So my last post ended, what next? And the past month has revealed an answer to that.

Since starting University (again...) in September, I've been in therapy trying to address some of the issues that keep me stuck in a cycle of  recovery and relapse with my mental health. The thing is...I am capable of living and functioning like a normal person, but that doesn't change the distressing mess that occurs inside of my brain. So, in reality - the times when I'm "recovered"? I'm actually just well enough to hide what's going on beneath the surface.

That in itself has been really difficult to come to terms with. Life has been very challenging over the years and the past significantly dictates how I am currently living in the present. My dysfunctional relationship with food, my incredibly poor body image, my crippling anxiety and need to feel safe, my constant need for affirmation and reassurance, the inability to rest and just be.

Next is some really hard heart work. It's time to stop learning to live with poor mental health and actually address the core issues no matter how painful and messy that may be. I believe that I am genetically predisposed to ill mental health, however I also believe that that does not define me and that I can live well despite that. It MAY mean taking medication to help, but it also means addressing what's going on beneath the surface, rejecting the notion that my past defines me and taking back control of my emotions and decisions.

My faith is always going to play an integral role in me rediscovering my identity and learning to live the life I was designed for. As such, I'm trying once again to be more disciplined with food and associating that with quiet time and worship. My quiet time is currently split between a devotional called "Untangled" by Jen Baker and a fantastic book called "God Loves Ugly (and love makes beautiful)" by Christa Black. Right now, I'm not able to read and interpret large chunks of Bible, right now what I need is stuff that speaks to my heart and motivates me to keep going. In the next couple of weeks I'm going to meet with a lady from church who has been praying and interceding for me. I've got lots of friends at church who I share things with but have been lacking regular spiritual guidance from someone more mature in faith.

Secondly, I've been referred for DBT which is a particular form of therapy that will help me to address the practical side of regulating my emotions and tolerating distress where I currently just become overwhelmed. It has proven very effective for people with disordered eating and I hope it will be applicable to general life stresses too! The waiting list is fairly lengthy so I will continue with counseling/talking therapy as needed until then. 

Thirdly, I'm going to persevere. I'm finding Uni so incredibly difficult emotionally and physically currently but part of the identity I've created over the past 5 years? That I give up. It's not that I have been academically incapable, instead that I have found it physically or emotionally challenging and not found or accessed the correct support to get me through. I could be a great nurse, I am passionate about it and I desperately don't want poor health (physical or mental) stop me from achieving that. It's so hard to believe and trust that I could complete this given the end goal feels so distant, but I'm giving it my best shot.


Sunday, 7 February 2016

Bend and Break

I sit at the back of church. I am broken and I am hurting but I cannot be vulnerable again. I'm tired of the same old vulnerabilty, the same old tears, the same old reassurances that "it won't always be like this"..."it's part of His plan". Whose plan? How do I trust in a plan when I feel like I'm forgotten and dying?

You know when your debit card expires and you bend it back it and forth until it breaks? I feel kind of like that. I feel like expired in August 2014 and I have been irreparably changed since. I feel like I've been stretched and bent and I am in so many little broken pieces I can't ever imagine being whole again.

I can't worship openly or genuinely because all that would consist of is tears. I go to church, I sing the words (sometimes), I do what others expect and want of me. Today, this evening I couldn't even honestly tell you who I'm supposed to be worshipping. Academically yes...but it has been SO long since I have felt God's goodness, comfort, guidance or strength.

My faith is the thing that I hold so tight to...or did...

What now?


Saturday, 5 December 2015

"...and she laughs without fear of her future"

Back in October, I was helping out with Adventurers (aka children's church). I've been seriously missing my Brighton babies and this was the first time I'd got to spend with young children since moving. The topic for the morning?

Does God know what will happen in my future?

My group are 4 and 5 year olds and yet they amaze me with wisdom and spending time with them teaches me, as much as I hope I help to teach them. I've been meaning to write since...but life has been overwhelming and anxiety has somewhat taken hold once more. Can't sleep tonight so finally sitting down to spend sometime thinking back on what those wonderful little people taught me.

As a group we were mulling over a few questions. Firstly...whether we need to worry about bad stuff happening?

There were a variety of answers from making friends to worrying about having nightmares. Rather than knowing whether or not to worry - the children tended to share some of their fears and worries. And so came teaching point number one:

No, we don't need to worry about bad stuff because God is always with us, is always good and will fulfill his purposes for us. (Jeremiah 29:11, Nahum 1:7, Psalm 57:2, Psalm 138:8). However, I am somewhat like the children - I am so often problem and worry focused that I forget there is someone bigger and better than all the bad stuff.

We then started to talk about what we do with our hopes and fears about the future and the most common response was "I talk to my mummy and daddy". Second teaching point:

Jesus is our heavenly Daddy and He loves to hear our hopes and fears for the future. It is so often easy to forget that God is our Daddy alongside all of the other awesome and powerful things He is. He wants us to learn to trust Him with our future. (Philippians 4:6-7)

For various reasons, I find it really hard to relate to God as my Father...and even writing about God as a Daddy feels totally alien to me, but it's an area of my faith that I desperately long to work on. I long for intimacy, to feel comforted, protected and like I'm held in the arms of the loving Father. Watching the kids run back into the arms of their mummies and daddies at the end of the morning reminded me of just how alien the notion of God as my Father is to me right now.

So where are things at for me right now?

I am definitely a long way out of my comfort zone. I am being stretched academically, professionally, personally and unfortunately that means I've somewhat neglected stretching myself when it comes to my faith. Quiet time went out the window about a month back (along with breakfast and general routine). I seem to be living constantly on the edge of burn out and when it comes down the cause? It always comes back to anxiety. I overeat, undereat, overwork, study too much or not enough, don't sleep, sleep too much, sleep at the wrong times and essentially the root cause is anxiety. That I'm not good enough, that I'm not financially stable, that I'm failing my degree, that I'm a bad friend, that I don't know what will happen in my future.  

That I'm overwhelmed and I just can't face life. 

Tonight, I was meant to be relaxing at a ladies craft evening and instead I spent the whole time in an anxious overwhelmed mess and eventually left having made barely any of the crafts, feeling thoroughly tearful and defeated. It's been over a year now since I was last truly free of anxiety, and by that I mean - aside from normal, acceptable levels of fear or anxiety. Yet one of the things that has followed me through these past months has been a particular verse...

This is a fairly jumbled post...but that seems to fit fairly well with where my mind is at. This weekend I'm spending resting in the presence of some of my favourite people and next week starts with a playdate with one of the cutest, bravest 2 year olds I know. Both of which I know are good for my heart. I'm also going to try and build back in some quiet time which would most definitely get my days off to a better, calmer start.  I would love to channel Proverbs 31 in the coming weeks and hold this verse close in the same way it's followed me through the past year.



Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I have a life changing illness. How am I supposed to cope?

Yesterday, I read this article about having cancer in your 20's and although there are some marked differences, it also in part rang true to being diagnosed and living with a life altering long term condition. For me, being diagnosed with autonomic dysfunction at the age of 20 was initially a relief - I finally had an answer, but equally? It is a diagnosis that will stick with me forever and that gives me troublesome symptoms every day.

At the beginning of my 20's my life was put on hold. I lost my degree, I struggled to maintain friendships and a social life and became deeply depressed about how this illness was stealing my life before I'd even truly got started. I contemplated moving back home to live with my Mum but desperately didn't want to lose my independence. However, in not losing my independence I was thrown into the tricky world of benefits and financial hardship. I had no savings to rely on, I was sick enough not to work full time, not sick enough to qualify for any benefits in relation to that. Being surrounded by people who shared my faith was encouraging - yet equally reminded me that I was dropping behind all the time my life was on hold. Friends were getting into relationships, getting engaged, getting married and having sproglets and me? I was just trying to stay upright through the day.

I am also constantly plagued by the feeling that I am a burden to those around me. Fortunately, for the most part I am stable and my symptoms are manageable, but there are times when I'm not so well and I rely heavily on my friends for emotional and occasionally physical support (in terms of bringing me groceries or the like!). I feel so guilty to be unwell, like it's my fault that somehow I should just get better and no longer have a wonky autonomic nervous system. If only it was that simple.

So how am I supposed to cope?

In truth, to begin with, I really didn't cope. At best, I survived. I muddled through day-to-day wishing it would all just go away and I could be a normal young woman again. But gradually as time went on I learned that to get my life back I needed to accept my diagnosis and take control rather than letting it control me.

Accepting you have a life altering condition that will possibly (probably) never get better is hard. To know that I will always be prone to fainting, to palpitations, to infection, to fatigue and exhaustion is hard and initially I rebelled against it. I wasn't compliant with medication, I didn't drink enough water or eat the right foods, I didn't rest when I needed to or listen to my symptoms. I felt it was unfair that I should have to change the way I lived my life to cater for having autonomic dysfunction. However, once I eventually accepted that I was ill and started truly complying with treatment and looking after myself? I had the control back. If I took my medication, ate well, drank enough and rested when I was tired I was in far better control of my symptoms that when I tried to just ignore them. 

After acceptance came the part where I began to rebuild my life. I started to socialise again with people who were understanding of my slightly wonky body. I got stuck back in at church and found huge comfort in my faith. I applied for realistic jobs whilst I regained my strength and eventually returned to working full time. There are stills days, weeks and sometimes even months where I'm too unwell to live the life I want to, no amount of looking after myself and complying with treatment will make this go away but having rebuilt my life and accepted my diagnosis coping has become a lot easier.

Living with a long term condition and particularly one that for the most part is invisible is by no means easy. I am very aware that I am very fortunate to have good symptom control but sometimes the persistence of living with a long term condition wears me down.
 


Friday, 14 August 2015

Childlike Faith.

I look back on certain photos from my time as a toddler and long to have that freedom once more. To lack inhibitions and fear and the "what if's" that so often overwhelm every day life seems to be a really joyful time.


I obviously don't really have any clear memories from this time - but from what other people have said, I was a fairly anxious child throughout primary school. To an extent - managing anxiety is all I've ever known as it's all I can ever remember. I wonder when I made that transition from joyful toddler to anxious child. I've had my faith in God for many many years (though not quite as long as I've had my old friend anxiety!) but so often I find it hard to trust in God and allow that to alleviate my fears and anxieties.

Over the past two months I've found some of that childlike faith again, upped and left Brighton to start a new chapter in Worcester surrounded by friends, closer to family and part of a fab church that I really feel connected to. There have been some fantastic times in Brighton but it is and always will be a place where I struggled significantly with my physical and mental health. Having enduring mental and physical health issues is something that I'm slowly coming to terms with - I hope that one day my mental health issues really will be a distant memory, but for now I need to accept that there is no quick fix.

The past month has been so overwhelming and full of anxiety yet with a constant undertone of enduring hope and excitement. It's been a time of reflecting on the past five years and recognising how much I've grown. I arrived in Brighton in 2010, a broken and desperate person who swung from one crisis to another and constantly longed for others to rescue me and make it end. 5 years on, I am far more self aware and far more in control of my life.

Prior to leaving Brighton I took a trip up to Beachy Head with Rich and it could not have ended in a better way. Beachy Head reminds me of a friends Mum who killed herself in 2005 and in general, although I hate to admit it I still often find myself feeling traumatised by coastal and cliff areas.As we arrived we saw the police and the Beachy Head Chaplaincy bringing someone down from the cliff edge. I found it hugely emotional and cried as we walked along the cliffs. On our way back to the car we spotted Mandy from the Chaplaincy Team and approached her. I explained my story and we prayed with her. It was such a positive and precious moment. Cliffs are and possibly always will be significant for me - but it was so nice to find hope in what can be such a desperate place for people.

Life feels somewhat like a whirlwind right now...I have a new flat, a new university, a new haircut, a new church and so many new opportunities. I am anxious and I'm overwhelmed but trying to focus on the excitement instead and trust that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)