Love

18 months ago (ish) I was invited to my step-daughter’s party. It involved being with another step-daughter, who I hadn’t had contact with for six years. I said, please invite my husband, it’s so wonderful he has a relationship with you, invite him and your sister. But I can’t go. I can’t put myself through the hurt that might entail.

As time went on I realised I can’t break up a family this way. My hurt didn’t mean enough. So I accepted the invitation and spent an evening with a daughter I had had no contact with since a nasty break-up six years previously. I was afraid. I opened my heart. It was wonderful. I had long forgiven her, at least in my head. But this was the time I put other people’s needs ahead of my own. My hurt wasn’t big enough to break up a family.

I have enjoyed being with my step-daughter since then. I love her. I always did.

Tonight she told me she’s so glad we’re friends again, she’s so glad we reconciled and she hugged me. Such a long hug, with so many words unspoken. This is true reconciliation. It’s everything my overactive imagination ever dreamed of, and I didn’t need to initiate it. It just is.

This is love.

My name means love. In the Bible, God is Love, that’s my name. I can’t ever be happier than right now. This is love.

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Through the veil of tears

Jesus’ defeat of death has a perhaps unexpected perspective for those who suffer from depression. I have come to believe over the years that depression is death. Death creeps upon the depressed. I live death, breathe death. My life is stolen from me. I dream death. I wish death upon myself. Hell whispers to me.

Preachers preach life, they preach heaven. They preach the door opening to heaven being right next to us. I wish myself through that door.

But I trust Jesus, my rock and my redeemer, more than I trust death. As I resist my impulses to poison my body with cigarettes, to drink myself into a coma, to drug myself to sleep forever, to hurt myself, to bring death upon myself, I see the door to heaven beside me. I meditate upon that door as I wade through the death of my life.

I trust that Jesus would love me even if I opened that door for myself, I do not believe that he would turn his face from me. He knows the rest and peace and light I crave. But even as I resent every tether to my death in this life, my rock, my redeemer, my Jesus is more important to me now. I am broken but he is God, he doesn’t snuff out my tiny, flickering candle of faith. An elder from my church preached that my sad, angry, tiny candle of faith is peculiarly displaying the glory of God. I do not often doubt my God’s love for me, not anymore. But on Sunday this elder shone a light on me and said that he does not just accept me and love me as I am, more than that he delights in my praise of him, the praise that even when surrounded by saints and angels worshipping can’t bring itself to open its lips, the praise that is dim and flickering. I believe that he is good. He is more valuable than my life. He is more valuable than my death. He knows just what I need before I know it myself, though it hurts me to trust that. When he is ready for me to join him I will gaze upon his face and death will be banished from my life.

Death, where is your sting?

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me
I see His wounds, His hands, His feet
My Saviour on that cursed tree

His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

Then on the third at break of dawn
The Son of heaven rose again
O trampled death, where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

He shall return in robes of white
The blazing Son shall pierce the night
And I will rise among the saints
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

Goodbye

Syria was full of smells. Dust. Tea. Tobacco. Sweet shisha. Petrol. Cooking meat. Tarmac. Exhaust fumes. Mint. Sunshine. Have you noticed the smell of sunshine?

I find myself in memories. Fragments have been cramming their way into my mind for the last two days. I curse my terrible mind because my friends have a more vivid experience of Syria than I do. I have bits. Flashes here and flashes there. I avoid my photos. I try not to remember. But the peaceful Syria I knew deserves to remembered and prayed for that God might end her suffering and restore her.

Sitting with my friends. Tiled floors. Tiled walls. Watching Gladiator. Eating. Laughing. We sat on cushions and leaned against the walls. I was very shy. Stumbling over my Arabic. Two men. Poor. Serving their country and their president. Homesick. Gentle. Big smiles. Friends.

I’ve asked God to let me go back and do it again but I guess I’ll have to wait until the war is over. Regret.

One friend is dead. His story is not mine to tell. His story is one of sorrow and courage. His life has been cut off. He’s my age. Was my age. But he’s dead now. A bomb killed him.

Friend, may God give you the peace that war stole from you.

Shifting, glittering emotions

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As I go through the emotional roller coaster that is my life and slowly dip my toes into experiencing my emotions rather than fighting them, I learn more about who I am. I’ve been on a mission my whole life to learn about who I am. I attacked books throughout my teens to learn about myself, to build a framework to describe myself and the way I see the world and find my place in it. But, as is evident from this blog, I was terrified of all my own experiences. They are so intense – too intense.

Part of me wonders why I’ve been so afraid of emotions. But then I remember just how powerful emotions are and I stop wondering. Over the last month I have trialled processing emotions – just experiencing them and waiting to see what they turn into.

Sadness. Fear. Pride. Guilt. More sadness. More guilt. More fear. Worry. A bit more pride when I remembered I was given a massive compliment. Shame because I allowed myself to feel pride. Excitement. Purpose. Anger. Fulfilment. Despair. Sorrow. Tiny glimpses of joy. I had some time off work and I did lots of quiet things that I enjoy. I watched tennis, sat in the garden, listened to an audiobook, knitted and baked. While I did these things I allowed myself to feel all these emotions. At first I wondered if I was slipping back into distraction habits that I have historically used to keep emotions at bay, but they were there with me all the time.

When I feel sadness I am swallowed by sadness. When I feel guilt I am swallowed by guilt. When I feel fear I am swallowed by fear. Fear is the worst. Anxiety pushes me towards suicide far more than depression ever does. It’s like being covered in wasps and I can’t get them all off me. I’m screaming and swatting and clawing but I’m still smothered. Every emotion I feel smothers me like that.

I waited to see what would happen to them. They shifted constantly and as the days passed I found new emotions and new ways of seeing the old emotions. In my sunlit bubble at home I accepted the worry and the guilt. I had the nightmares. I turned my eyes toward the emotions. I watched the sadness, fear, guilt, pride, shame. They are all part of me. They can momentarily swallow me but I’m slowly, sloooooooowly learning that the trick is to take a deep breath and wait for the emotion to free me and turn into one of the many baubles that surround me. They are all different colours, different shades. I can watch them shift and merge, catch the sunlight here and dip into shadow there.

The process never ends. I managed it, for the first time I think, this month. I came out the other side, looked back and could see the trails of burning emotions that were now settled into shimmering, glittering baubles around me. Just as I breathed a sigh of relief I was assaulted by another one. I didn’t handle it very well – I burst into tears in front of my boss and a little bit of crossness showed … and I felt ashamed for days. Then paranoia struck and I spent the last two days feeling the old familiar panic, awake for hours in the night.

It will never end. Emotions assault me and I treat them like my enemy. They are things to fight or to endure with gritted teeth. They are things to be got rid of. But they are not my enemy. Emotions are part of who I am. I feel them all. They allow me to help people when I tap into them instead of batting them away in a panic. The flip side is that they hurt me. They take my breath away and swarm on me like wasps. As one set of emotions transforms into shimmering baubles around me, another swarm of wasps covers me. In a few days my current wasps may be baubles once more.

I wish I could paint! I have such vivid pictures in my mind. My words will have to do. *Polishes pen*

Larger than a teaspoon

‘A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”
‘”Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have,” said Hermione nastily, picking up her quill again.’

(Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

In recent weeks I’ve helped someone and defended someone and believed in someone and fought for someone. I’ve been indescribably sad for someone. I’ve panicked about doing the wrong thing. I’ve provided insight and understanding for someone. I’ve been thanked by someone. I’ve asked for reassurance and needed more. I’ve been bewildered. I’ve felt suffocated and handicapped and then felt a rush of exhilaration, purpose and pride.

Yesterday, for the first time, as I stood squashed and hot on the tube, I thanked God for making me the way I am. I immediately looked round in fright in case someone saw this rash outbreak of arrogance, but I think it went unnoticed.

I thought I’d note here it for the record. 🙂

Glimpses

I hate that depression taints everything. In the past I’ve actually been unhappy when I’ve also been depressed. For years I was in a job that made me unhappy because I was doing something I wasn’t made to do. Now I’m doing something I was made to do and I love it and it’s tied to developing who I am but then I had to go and get depressed again and work out at the end of every day why I am feeling like this.

I had a fear at work the other day and laughed about it with a colleague. She described my thinking as fast, which is an understatement. My mind races. It goes from event to catastrophic fear in an instant and ties me to it. My thoughts go fast about a lot of things, so fast it’s hard to process them. I’m usually overstimulated so a lot of my free time is spent trying to shush that, to settle myself and not think.

So I knit. For three years during my MA my mind was constantly occupied. I was working and studying. It was an intense degree, full of things I love and abhor. Language, culture, religion, philosophy, theology, law. The law I abhorred, the language I adored. I was also unwell during a fair amount of that degree. I know it was bad sometimes but it could also be amazing. In one class I became enthralled with an Arabic word that conveyed so much meaning and was so graceful. I was so fascinated that I felt like I was fizzing as I discussed it with the professor and other students. That one word encapsulated the Arabic language and the way the Qur’an communicates. I had trouble sitting still and ended up almost bouncing around on the ceiling when I left. I was unwell and badly medicated and overstimulated but my mind was full and appreciative. I wrote an essay when I was off my face on medication. It was the best essay I ever wrote. I was with my family for Christmas and locked myself inside their conservatory to write – with breaks every ten minutes to do star jumps because it was too hard to sit still. My mind was whizzing. I saw details and connections through language that whirred through my essay. Sure, that was also the Christmas that I thought I might be able to fly and wanted to throw myself down a four-flight stairwell and land on a Christmas tree to be a beautiful broken dead angel, but that essay was pretty damn good.

I didn’t know how to keep myself occupied when I finished my MA so I learned how to knit and filled my mind with that. It’s completely addictive but now it serves a different purpose for my mind. It sedates it. I’ve been wondering what’s happened to me in recent months. I admitted to myself a week or so ago that I think I’m depressed so I want to know how I got here. My life is good so it’s quite surreal when I’m on a bus going to a job I love knowing that the way I feel doesn’t match that. It doesn’t make any sense. So did it happen out of nowhere? Do I really have the sort of mind that would just turn on me for no reason like that?

The knitting, the sedation. For a long time I focused on feeding my mind and for the last year I’ve focused on feeding my heart. The therapy I had helped me to uncover some of the things that make me me, or that I want to make me me. Kindness is one of those things and when I realised that I also realised I needed to do a job that enabled me to be kind for lots of my time, but more than that, a job that valued kindness. I didn’t actually know that that would happen so my heart has been filled whenever it does. When the person I am, the kind person, is valued.

So I’ve been slowing my mind and opening my heart. It’s been far more intense than I could have imagined. When I open my heart I see people, I see their hearts. I see sadness, insecurity, obsessiveness, fear, care, facades, hard work, torn minds, broken hearts, bullied children, intentions and lies. I play the roles of mediator, listener, teacher, helper. I do it at work and home. My heart has been opening and flooded with other people’s lives. It’s amazing and exhausting.

As that has happened I’ve also tried harder to create boundaries to guilt. I’ve become a little bit better at saying no in a couple of contexts where guilt or shame has previously ruled. I’ve become a little bit more selfish and in those contexts a little bit more peaceful.

I still get overstimulated. I’m around people a lot now so I try to keep myself pretty quiet when I’m not at work. I knit. I sedate my mind. My mind is still running in the background but I haven’t been feeding it, or not in a good way. Some things have been fed somehow because fear is increasing in my life again. Sleep is deteriorating as worry begins to dominate. My mood has crashed along with my energy levels and my empathy is erratic. The thing that originally set it off was tiredness, which seems an absurdly immaterial thing to do so much damage. I worked a few extra shifts when needed and then went into night shifts and I haven’t been able to recover.

Maybe I need to feed my mind more. I’m wary of doing that too much because it veers so easily into obsession. I’ve been wondering how to feed my mind. Perhaps reading. I used to read a lot before my attention span got shattered by illness and medicines. I’m reluctant to try for a simple, and probably silly, reason. I don’t want to stop knitting. I might be able to do simple knitting and test reading at the same time. I’ve tried audiobooks but they talk too slowly and I end up daydreaming and missing most of the droning voice. I wish I could speed them up to make them talk at the same speed I read and think.

Perhaps I could try talking. I don’t talk much anymore, not about the things that matter to me deep inside anyway. If anything does even matter, but I think that’s the depression tainting me. Maybe I’m an empty shell who just knits. No, things matter, but I sedate them instead of communicating them. I listen to others instead of asking them to listen to me. I don’t even write them. I rarely write here and I have a private journal that I don’t write in, except for one small thing. A praise diary. I note whenever someone tells me something good about me. I had no idea how starved of praise I was. But as for communicating heart things, I’ve not been practising that. I didn’t practise when I was well and I’ve not been practising since becoming unwell. Little bits. I’m happy. I’m low. I’m tired. All three things are true and they’re glimpses. I’ve allowed people glimpses. People do see parts of me. I don’t allow people more than glimpses and sometimes I’m OK with that, sometimes I’m not.

Or perhaps fuck reading and talking. Maybe I should just find somewhere green and quiet, spend my free time there and wait for everything to pass.

Dirt

I have a step-brother. And a step-sister. When I was 8 my brother was 18. My sister was 16. My parents divorced and my mother married their dad.

Sadly, it was not a happy-ever-after ending. My brother became an abusive shit. I watched him hit my mother. He chased me and my younger sister around with a knife. He stole things and was generally not very nice. We moved out and lived with my mum’s mum for a while. But sometimes he was very nice indeed – sweet and loving.

His sister, my sister, she was quite lovely. We have nice memories of her. Then she got pregnant and provided my step-dad with a granddaughter, which caused him to reject and abandon her, strict evangelical tosser. I despised him for that, whilst still loving him, especially when another sister did the same thing a decade or two later and he was fine with it and became very loving towards his grandson.

We moved when I was 9 and never saw my brother again. I haven’t heard a thing from him. I’ve stalked him and her on Facebook so I know they exist. They have smiling faces and small children.

A couple of days ago he made contact with my mum through Facebook, and 25-year-old family history swung round and metaphorically punched me in the face.

I’ve sometimes thought about making contact with my brother and sister. I don’t think I’m supposed to have compassion for abusers, but I do for this one. He was fucked up. His parents adopted him and then his mum suffered a long, horrible illness and died and then his dad remarried and brought a woman and two strange children into his life. His sister never did anything wrong but she was rejected by her dad. The two of them have no family at all.

Isn’t it natural for him to want to make contact with his family?

My mum is borderline hysterical about this and she utterly repulses me. From a tiny age, before all this, I was her prop, her support, her counsellor. I was told I was so loyal and she trusted me above all others and I was her closest friend and she loved me so much. I thought these were very good things so I stayed that way for a long time. But now not so much. I’ve worked hard to remove myself to a safe distance from her. What’s so great about being loyal anyway? If you can’t balance loyalty with discernment you just get fucked over and I got fucked over thanks to loyalty for a long time before I learned my lesson.

She’s telling me to block him and block my sister too just because it turns out that she has contact with him. Well, duh, they only have each other. Why should I block her because of that? According to my mum, he’s playing games, she always knew this would happen, he’s dangerous, not to be trusted. But her description of his words don’t match that and I think I’d like to make that decision for myself.

Right now I want him and her as far away from me as possible. They’re contaminating me. Filling my mind with the memories of an 8-year-old. A young man and flying fists. A woman falling, crying out. Me, hiding on the stairs. Me, listening to grown ups crying. Me, comforting my mother. Me, listening to my mother. Me, hugging a smiling young man. My dad’s house, dust particles in the air. My sister’s bedroom, me sitting on her bed. Me and my sister, in the back seat of our car as we ran away from our home.

Fuck that. Fuck all of them. Get away from me. I want to scrub and scrub and scrub the dirt off me. Their dirt. It’s disgusting. They’re disgusting.