#MHAW

#MHAW – Mental Health Awareness Week 

Its Mental Health Awareness Week this week. I will be blogging on a couple of things throughout the week (I hope) but felt like I wanted to re share something I wrote last year. I wrote it on World Mental Health Day after an exchange with someone on twitter. 

Stigma against people with mental health issues is well and truly alive. And it also exists within faith communities. For me that is the Christian community/church. 

There is some amazing work being done out there to address this – something I will write more about in my next blog, but there is still a way to go. 

This is what I wrote about having PTSD and depression, and not being demon possessed or a freak. 

‘Its been a while since I’ve written, but today is World Mental Health Day – a day in which millions of people have been tweeting using the #worldmentalhealthday hashtag, and under many others too – and I felt compelled to put a few thoughts down.

There have been some amazing blogs written today and I am under no illusion that this is going to be one of them. It isn’t.

This morning, on a rare day off I spent a few hours on the sofa, listening to music and catching up on the online world – on Facebook, twitter, emails, blogs etc. I saw a few tweets and then got into a conversation with some friends/people I’ve been connected with for a long time. And we were talking about it being World Mental Health Day.

And I got thinking about my experience. My experiences. Of mental health issues, and specifically of having mental health issues and being in a church on and off over the years.

I tweeted under the hashtag myself. A tweet that celebrated the amazing CPN I had involved in my life for 18 months, who I learnt to trust and like, without whom I’d have been dead (literally – he broke into my flat when I didn’t turn up for an appt and found me unconscious having OD’d).

And a couple of tweets that acknowledged the pain of churches that have gotten it SO wrong over the years whilst acknowledging that there are some that do get it right.

Then I wrote and tweeted this –

‘My name is Helen. I have PTSD & struggle with depression. I am not a freak and I am not demon possessed. #WorldMentalHealthDay #EndTheStigma’

Why?

Because I am not a freak.

And because my experience over the years has been of being told if I just prayed more, had more faith, or trusted God then I would not struggle with depression, or the issues surrounding the PTSD.

I’ve been told many times that I have demons. I’ve been told I am demon possessed. I’ve been told if I honoured God more/was more in love with Him then He would ‘take away’ the blackness.

I’ve been told by a Pastor that if I was truly a Christian my story would be erased from my mind, and I would not suffer because of it, therefor depression should not be a part of my life.

I’ve been told by another one that I was too much for him, their church, and probably God because the ‘Devil’ really had hold of me.

I’ve been told many things.

And we wonder why people fear being open and honest about mental health issues they face.

We wonder why the last place a person would think about going when in mental health distress is a church.

And we wonder why people end up more hurt and damaged by the responses of people, who not only misunderstand but who are often wilfully ignorant of the wider issues.

Not long after I posted the ‘my name is Helen. I have …’ tweet I got a reply.

From a ‘well meaning’ Christian, who firstly started off by joking. It wasn’t massively funny, and I spent a couple of minutes before I replied trying to work out if they were being totally stupid or if behind their words were deeper meaning.

It didn’t take long to find out.

To find out that they believe I need ‘deliverance’.

It didn’t take long for them to tell me I am not experiencing freedom and victory (because they know me oh so well right? As if).

It took a matter of minutes for them to become another one of the very many people I’ve had in my life speaking dangerous untruths. Thankfully I am strong enough to respond/respond/answer back now. A few years ago I was not.

A few years ago, for me personally, someone coming at me with those views were damaging. Damaging to me, to my life, and to my relationship with God, and the church. It contributed to making it non existent.

After our little exchange, and after being told I don’t live in victory I got thinking about what ‘victory’ means. And what it looks like. And how it looks different and unique to every single person.

Victory to me is waking up every morning and being OK that I am alive.

Victory to me is putting one step in front of another and keeping on walking.

Victory to me is not self harming for 4.5 years, and not trying to kill myself.

Victory to me is being 7 years on from the day I was raped.

Victory to me is overcoming each and every battle as and when they come to confront me.

Victory to me is when someone (I know) touches me/gives me a hug and I don’t flinch, freeze, want to cry, or hit them.

Victory to me is in the overcoming of big things, but also in the very small, tiny day to day things too.

Victory to me is looking the world in the eyes, holding my head up high and knowing I have survived.

So how dare someone tell me I am not experiencing victory, because I do. I experience victory every single damn day.

And thankfully too, God is now in that victory too.

Mental Health Issues are so misunderstood and stigmatised in society generally, and that is no different within the church.

Whether its deliberate or just pure ignorance its not good enough.

And we cannot continue to brush the topic under the carpet.

People like me are everywhere. We are next to you on the bus, in the shops, in your work places. In your schools, your hospitals, your libraries, your Dr’s. Everywhere there are people, are people with mental health battles happening. And that includes in the church. My church. And your church.

If you are reading this I urge you to, if you haven’t already, begin to educate yourself. Begin to assess how you respond and support someone with mental health issues, especially within your faith community.

And I beg of you to consider spending time on working out how you effectively support someone.

Because believing we are demon possessed is wrong. And damaging, as I said above.

Learn to love. Learn to accept. Learn to walk along side us.

Learn what we need. And for each and every one of us it will be different. What I do guarantee though is that it won’t be being told we have demons.

We don’t.

My name IS Helen. I have PTSD & struggle with depression. I am NOT a freak. AND I AM NOT DEMON POSSESSED’

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The day I got into a fight with a street preacher and what I’m learning since …

When I first published the post below, on the ‘fragz’ blog a bit back, lots of people read it and loved the fact I had been so bold as to confront a street preacher who was behaving outrageously, in front of a large crowd. What only one person picked up on, in this blog was the last couple of lines, especially the very last one. They say this –

‘I believe that Jesus loves people, including this merry man. That He is full of grace, and mercy, and that He cherishes and sees all as worthwhile.

I just hope/long for the day when l fully believe that that includes me too’ 

And as I sit here tonight, trying unsuccessfully to come up with some words that reflect the journey I have been on, especially in the last 12 months I was reminded of this blog and those lines. 

I  got into a fight with a street preacher, on behalf of someone else. And I truly believed those truths that I shouted out. About that person. But not about me. I didn’t believe any of it was for me. 

But as I prepare for a weekend which involves saying good bye to the old and rising with Christ and into the new I’m realising that slowly, and painfully at times I am starting to recognise those things I talk about are for me too. That Jesus IS for me too. That grace, and mercy IS for me. That I am worth something to God.

The post below was originally posted October 2013

‘I was reminded the other evening about the day, a few years ago, when I got into an eyes red rage fight with a street preacher. Actually, maybe it is unfair to say that we had a fight, because I never gave him the chance to speak. I’m amazed actually that I didn’t punch the guy.

It was in the middle of a city centre. That I was visiting. And waiting for a friend to arrive for coffee.

A few minutes earlier, as I was arriving at our meeting place, I could see the crowd gathered, so being the nosey that I am decided to go and see what was going on. I stood at the back of the circled crowd of about 60 people, with shopping bags in one hand and a smoke in the other. And I watched. And I listened.

I was starting to get a bit bored, but decided to stick it out a bit longer because my friend had text to say they would be 5/10 minutes as they were running late.

So I stuck around and continued to watch and listen. And that’s when it got a little bit more interesting.

Because that was when someone else, who had also been watching and listening decided to have their say too. Someone who looked like maybe he had been sleeping rough. Someone who looked like maybe he could do with a good wash, a shave, some clean/non ripped clothes and a good meal or five. Someone who maybe looked as though he had been in a few scraps. Someone whose words were slightly slurred, because they’d perhaps had a little bit too much of whatever cheap alcohol he had been able to lay his hands on.

Someone who looked like they just needed some love and care.

Someone who felt that he needed to respond to what the guy on the stool was shouting. Someone who felt that life’s darkness and pain was better dulled with alcohol and drugs, and someone who felt that we could find our own happiness. He was someone who needed to tell the crowd to just be happy being who you are.

This guy made me smile. Because despite his obvious dishevelled-ness and alcohol induced merriness he had a beautiful twinkle in his eye (the eye that was not black and healing from wounds) and an apparent desire, however big or small to cling on to whatever life was offering him.

I’ll never forget seeing the shock in his face, and I’ll never forget the horrified feelings I felt when, whilst addressing the crowd with his own ‘be happy’ message, the preacher guy, having stepped down from his stool grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him backwards, so he could get back up on his stool, and tower above the merry man, whilst still having a grip on the merry mans shoulders.

And with one hand gripped on his shoulder, which appeared to make the merry man powerless to move, with the other hand he started waving and pointing at the merry man below him.

And then it started. The preacher man, holding and pointing started shouting at the gathered crowd, which was getting bigger as each second went by.

Addressing the crowd, pointing at the merry man he was shouting at the top of voice –

‘do YOU want to be like this’, ‘do YOU want to end up looking like THAT because if you don’t follow God you will’

and a couple of other things I don’t recall. I simply could not comprehend or believe what I was witnessing. And then he yelled

‘do you want to be like him? a nothing, worthless, a no one’

What? Did I just hear that right? Well I didn’t have to question long because a second after he said it the first time, he repeated it again, pointing at the merry man and asking the crowd if they wanted to end up like him, a nothing, worthless, a no one.

The look of bemusement and bewilderment in the merry mans face will never leave me.

It was at that point I saw red. It flashed across my eyes.

I grabbed my bags, stormed through the crowd, up to these two men, one on a stool with a firm hold on a vulnerable merry man and intervened. And when I say intervened I got hold of the merry man and moved him out of the way, and put myself in his place, but instead of facing the crowd and having this guy looking down on me and berate me, I got my finger in face and started shouting back as loudly as he had been shouting at the crowd.

As I said at the beginning, I’m amazed I didn’t punch the guy. Or swear. But I didn’t. However, my mouth ran away with me (what a surprise I hear you say) …

I shouted at him how dare he. How dare he speak to someone like that, how dare he lay his fingers on someone, how dare he pass judgement on someone. How dare he abuse and mistreat the vulnerable. How dare he suggest that someone was not worth anything? How dare he?

I shouted at him that the Jesus I knew would love a person like this. That the Jesus I know and I have read about in the Bible would love, cherish and care for a merry man like him, that the Jesus I know about is a Jesus who believes in people, all people, including this merry man being worthwhile, precious, valuable and definitely not a no body. That the Jesus I knew about was a Jesus of grace and mercy and kindness. And on I went, for about 5 minutes, telling him and the crowd about the Jesus I believed in which was everything opposite to what he had been preaching.

I ended by shouting at him that the Jesus I knew about would LOVE this man.

At this point, the merry man had wondered off. I stopped to draw breath and realised I had run out of things to say, so I picked up my bags, turned on my heels, leaving the street preacher speechless, and a crowd clapping and shouting as I stormed back out of the circle and back down the street we were in.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, simply because I have been thinking about it. Every now and then over the last few years I’ve thought about the merry man, wondered where he is now, and hoping he is ok. I hope that he knew he was/is loved by someone. And I’ve thought about the street preacher and the continued untold damage he is doing in ‘Gods name’ and hoping those that he affects negatively are being scooped up by gentle souls who can whisper the real truths into their lives.

I think about the anger it stirred in my soul. The red rage that flashed because someone in front of my very eyes was being told they were not worth anything. That person could have been anyone. It could have been me.

It has been me, over the years.

I don’t believe anyone, who ever they are, where ever they have come from, wherever they have been, whatever they have done is worthless.

This is what stirs my soul into action, to speak out against injustices when I can/when I see it, such as this time, or other times when I speak out loudly on behalf of other people.

Its what stirs my soul to work with vulnerable people, be it young people, the dying, people with mental health issues, people with learning disabilities, people on the fringes of society for whatever reason.

I believe that Jesus loves people, including this merry man. That He is full of grace, and mercy, and that He cherishes and sees all as worthwhile.

I just hope/long for the day when l fully believe that that includes me too’

Easter poem

A baby sent. A life lived. A miracle maker. Grace giver. Leader. Gatherer of people. Lover of the lowly.

Mocked. Nails in hands. Raised up on wood. A crown of thorns. Blood. Pain. Agony. Death.

Waiting. Tears. Questioning. Silence. Stillness. Confusion. Wondering. Darkness. Mourning.

Shaking ground. Rolled away stone. Light bursting. Hope.
Breakthrough. Death defeated.
Risen. Alive.

6 years on from an overdose …

Today is the 11th of April 2014 and it is a really significant date for me – why? Because, on the 11th of April 2008 I took an overdose. An overdose that was not a ‘cry for help’. An overdose that was fully intended to make me sleep, and never wake up. Ever. Again.

Sometimes I can really accurately describe the feelings of darkness and desperation that had consumed life and overwhelmed my mind. And some days I can’t. Sometimes I can write down, talk through or speak out the thoughts that were running through my head in the time leading up to that day, the heavy heart and the pain I was in, but sometimes I can’t, like tonight – I simply cannot find the words that could adequately express just how bad it was. I’m not sure there are any.

My mind, and my body, battered and bruised from years and years of heartache and trauma could not take any more.

I remember it very clearly. I remember leaving my flat and walking to the bridge just around the corner. And I sat on the bench by the phone box for a few hours. Eating pills. One box after another. I had several bottles of spirits which I drank until I started to feel whoozy. And I walked from that place, the 3 minutes it took to get home saying sorry to God. For being a failure. For being a coward. For being a screw up. For being a mess. For being this wreck of a person who could only see one way out.

I was really really angry with God. Because I blamed Him. Because I was being told that God is good, and would do nothing to cause harm to His children. And that He ordains all things to happen so good can come of them. And I was angry, because my head was telling me this meant that God had orchestrated the abuse. He had orchestrated the violence. And the rape. So ‘good could come of it’. And that was not a God I wanted anything to do with. My favourite name for Him at that time was ‘sadistic nazi bastard’. Something I screamed at Him time after time. But yet, still, as I walked back to my flat, at the same time as my anger with Him was a deep sense of having gotten something really very wrong when it came to God and understanding Him. So as I walked that walk home, I said sorry, sorry for what I was about to do, sorry for not being brave enough to let my mum know, sorry for … everything. Because I was to blame too.

And so, I got home, and smoked. Ate more pills. Drank more vodka. And whiskey. And ate more pills. Until I needed to lie down. And then I just kept eating them – until I slept.

And I slept.

Until I woke up. In hospital. And how that happened is a whole other story in itself – but had it not been for the person who just happened to be passing my house (they usually drove a different route home) and thought to check on me I would not be writing this blog now.

So that was it – 11th April 2008 – 6 years ago.

The last few years I’ve been able to recognise this date, and celebrate ‘being alive’.  And its always emotional because for the first few years after not dying I was devastated. I was angry with myself, and the feelings of failure I was already feeling were even more intense than before, because I could not even manage to kill myself properly. And I was still alive. And I didn’t want to be.

But for the last few years, especially the last 3, the last 3 times I’ve seen the 11th of April come around its been a different story.

As the 11th of April has come along, it has become a time of celebration. A day of celebrating ‘being alive’. And being glad to be alive.

The most important words – being glad to be.

Because there were times when I was alive, just, breathing, just but I was not happy about it. But now I’m breathing, alive, and glad!

And as the calander years pass over and I mark this day, a sense of gladness and thankfulness is the running theme.

Because I am glad to be alive. I’m truly thankful to still be here.

This afternoon, after I finished work I drove back to the bridge (I live somewhere else now) and sat there for an hour, listening to music, watching the water, and the life pass by. And remembering that day, 6 years ago. But also remembering some of the events of the last 6 years too. Some of the life giving moments that have given me hope. Life giving people that arrived in my life, shortly after, who, despite distance have kept me going. And people who, like my housemate and best friend have seen me through.

As I sat tonight by the bridge, I realised why today, this year, this 6 year mark is so much different than any other year. Why it feels so much more emotional than ever before. And my memory went back to last year, October the 31st, when I had the most serious asthma attack my body has had to cope with (I was only diagnosed with asthma about 2 years ago, but its been pretty dramatic since). On the 31st of October, as they were talking about moving me to intensive care, and ventilating me, I was overcome with the seriousness of the situation. I was getting tired. My oxygen levels were continuing to worsen, and my heart rate continuing to increase because of the drugs they were giving me. I was told by the Consultant I was in a dangerous place.

I needed someone to pray with but I didn’t know who to call to ask to come from my church, I had not been there that long, and if they even could because I live a good 1/2 hour away from it. So I texted a friend who also happens to be a priest. Not expecting him to be free at all, but he turned up, 10 minutes later. And as I cried, and he prayed I realised that possibly death was closer than I wanted it to be. I had spent years dreaming of how to kill myself, and living with suicidal thoughts, but a few years later having moved on from those thoughts of wanting to die here I was close to dying BUT I didn’t to … I really really didn’t want to die.

It hit me, lying in that bed, praying, being so poorly, that I did not want to die. And yet it was entirely possible that I might.

I’ve been incredibly physically poorly over the last 18 months. And especially so in the last 6 months. More poorly than I ever thought you could be. And yet, whilst battling all this physical ill health, with several complex things going on, one of the most overwhelming things I’ve been realising through it all is that actually, I am alive and have a life and I DONT WANT TO DIE.

I DO NOT WANT TO DIE.

Coinciding with being so poorly has been landing on the doorstep of a new church, and the start of a new journey with God – that has and is tough at times, but also life giving. And is continuing to make me realise I do not want to die any more.

I want to live. I want to continue moving forwards. I want to continue the journey that has been started of healing, and restoration. Its been painful, but breakthroughs are happening. And I’m in no doubt that there will be some more painful times to come, but I’m living in and with hope that life will be different. Can be different. IS DIFFERENT.

Life is so very different to this day 6 years ago, I could be here all night telling you how. But trust me, it is.

And I am so thankful and I am so glad to be alive.

I took an overdose 6 years ago, but today 6 years on

I AM GLAD TO BE ALIVE.