When depression disrupts

It’s been a long time since I’ve written my thoughts down in any way shape or form, let alone written a blog post. I’m not going to apologise for my absence or make any excuses. It’s just life.

Recently, my to-do-list feels like it’s been never-ending. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, as I’d call myself fairly organised and motivated, however recently it’s just been getting longer and longer as my problems with depression have become more disruptive to my daily life. It’s not even that something has happened to trigger it, I just feel low all the time. Or at least, that’s my standard mood. There have been days where I’ve been happy or at least feeling relatively normal and able to get on with life, even enjoying it, but on the whole, I’ve just been feeling, well, flat. I know what things make me feel better – hanging out with friends, spending time in the outdoors, spending time with God, even eating well and exercising. I enjoy all those things, they make me happy. But recently, the motivation to do them has been hard to find. Even the motivation to get out of bed is sometimes severely lacking. I know that I’ll feel better if I get out of bed and go for a bike ride, but I can’t seem to bring myself to even come out from under the covers on some days. When did it get so bad? I don’t know. When will it get better? I don’t know. My to-do-list currently includes get out of bed, shower and go to work. This is often as much as I can manage on a day to day basis. I’m tired all the time and sleeping doesn’t help. Nothing seems to help, and I’m beginning to get fed up of trying new things.

This is depression. Knowing what to do but not being able to do anything about it. I’m tired of living with it, but I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s hard sometimes, so bear with me. Some days are slower than others. Some days are pretty normal and I get up, I go out and I get on with life. Today isn’t one of those days. Yesterday wasn’t either. But it’s a new week and for me that means a new start. Can I keep on going? Yes. Do I want to keep on going? Yes. Right now, that’s enough motivation to keep on trying, even when I don’t feel like it.

I don’t know the answers to any of the questions I have, but one thing I do know is that getting thoughts out of my head at least makes a bit more space in there for all the other things I need to be getting on with…

Just a small thought

Compassion. We all have it to some extent. It’s natural for us to care about others, something that has become increasingly apparent as the outdoor community has been dominated by the news that two climbers are missing on Ben Nevis. But why do we care so much about people we’ve never met?

I’d begin to argue that it’s because we’ve been made in the image of a God who is full of compassion. Although as humans we’re fallen and far from perfect, glimpses of God still show up in our personalities. Because God is compassionate, we by nature are also compassionate – that might display itself through caring for friends and family or through worrying for people we’ve never met. But they’re both responses of compassion that stem from the compassion that God has for us.

 

The most helpful Articles I’ve read recently

  1. A plea to the Church and those who are Struggling – This seems to echo so many of my thoughts. The church should be a place to seek sanctuary but for many, it ends up being a place of judgement. Hopefully the next few years will see a change!
  2. For those who have stayed – Another gem from TWLOHA. I am so appreciate of the ones who stick by my side when I’m struggling. I know it’s not easy for them, but they stand by me when I need them the most and I am so appreciative of them. I just hope they know that.
  3. Buzzfeed (a site that contributes to about 90% of my procrastination efforts) is having a mental health week this week. Many of the articles have been great – you can find all of them here
  4. Coping with Christmas – Christmas can be hard. This article gives some handy tips about how to survive.

 

When it all gets too much

When you have depression, life gets too much sometimes. No matter how much you try to keep it under control, depression always seems to rear its ugly head. For me, this tends to be just when I think I’m doing okay, that I’m surviving, that maybe, just maybe, I might beat depression. Deep down, I know that I’ll probably never beat it, but I like to hope that I will, that it’s just temporary. But 5 years down the line, that hope is becoming harder and harder to maintain.

As I sit here writing this, trying to gather my thoughts together and unjumble the clutter that’s currently occupying my mind as my depression fights to control my life, I should be on a hill day with the rest of my course. But it’s all got too much. The exhaustion, the effort it’s taking me to do anything and the constant struggle to keep going.

It’s been a battle for the last few weeks and I feel like I’ve finally cracked. It’s all got too much.

But that’s okay.

Depression isn’t easy. I know that. I’ve been dealing with this long enough to realise that sometimes I’m going to have days where I just can’t. It still sucks, it always will. But I’m determined not to let it get the better of me. I am bigger than my depression. My God is bigger than my depression. If I fix my eyes on Him and not on my depression, I can, and will, get through this. It will take time. There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be days that are just days.

But that’s okay.

This might be too much for me to handle. But it’s not too much for my God to handle. And that’s what I need to remember.

Transition

For many students, the fear of life after university prevails for much of their final year. It was no different for me until I realised in the February of my final year that I wanted to be a Relay worker, preferably in Bangor. This way, not only did I get to stay in Bangor, a place that I had come to love over the three years of my undergraduate degree, but I would get to work with the Christian Union for a year, helping them to share the Gospel with Bangor’s students and encouraging them in their faith. The Christian Union in Bangor had been fundamental to my growth as a Christian and to my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian, especially where evangelism was concerned, so the chance to help other Christians flourish in the same way that I had seemed like a great opportunity. Another key element of the Relay year was the study programme – 10 months studying the Bible and theology as well as leading Bible studies sounded ideal and like a great opportunity for me to grow in my faith and find out more about the God who created me, who loves me and who has a plan for my life (even though I wasn’t sure what it was). So it was decided, after many conversations with friends and lots of prayer that I would apply for Relay. After a fairly stressful interview process, I was successful, and as a side effect, the fear of the unknown was abated for a while whilst I got stuck into my studies and to helping the members of Bangor CU to live and speak for Jesus. I was loving Relay so much that the fact that it wasn’t forever almost caught me by surprise when I realised that I should probably find a job for September. The fear of the unknown was back and was haunting every spare moment I had. The more I thought about what I wanted to do, the more I realised that God already had it planned and that I needed to hand all my fears over to Him. As I look back, I can see that as I began to pray more and more for guidance, God began to show me where he wanted me.

I’d applied for a position as a trainee instructor with a Christian outdoor activities centre in North Wales and was offered an interview. In the lead up to the Interview. I spent lots of my time helping students with their events weeks (a week organised by the CU with the mission of sharing the Gospel with fellow students through a range of lunchtime and evening events covering a range of different topics). I began to doubt that outdoor education was what I wanted to do and I entered a period of uncertainty. But the interview came and went, as did a weekend back at Fellowship Afloat, where I did my gap year in 2010/2011, and I was reminded why I wanted to go into outdoor education. Despite the position in North Wales being perfect (it was near to my beloved Bangor, a place I thought I wasn’t ready to leave, it was a voluntary position so I’d gain qualifications in return for the work I was doing and the spiritual programme looked good) I was unsuccessful and soon enough, the fear was back.

Again I began to doubt myself and I battled with God as to what his plan was for me. Lots of time was spent praying in my quiet times, with my Relay supervisor and team-mates and with friends and I began to look at other options. I did some research and I found a couple of other options that I applied to. Amongst them was an outdoor instructor training course with another Christian outdoor centre based in Scotland. The course looked great, the only downside was the cost, and the fact that it was in Scotland. But encouraged by Matt, my boyfriend and one of the reasons I wanted to stay in North Wales as he had just returned from a year long exchange programme in the USA, I applied anyway. Little did I know that this was God working in my life. He was showing me his character, his power and reminding me of what he’d already done in my life. I could almost say the rest was history but that would cut this story short and leave the testimony to God’s power out. I applied one Sunday evening and by Monday lunchtime I’d been offered an interview a week later. So off to Scotland I headed, still unsure what I was letting myself in for.

My interview wasn’t much more than a chat over a cup of tea but during it I realised why God had taken me all the way to the middle of nowhere in the highlands of Scotland. He was about to show me just what he’d been doing in my life. As we chatted, I realised just how far I’d come since I became a Christian. I’d learnt how to trust God and his people, something that became evident to me as we discussed my depression. For years I was blind to the fact that something was wrong. As I found my faith and began to open up to friends about my struggles and fears, my eyes were opened to the fact that the desire to self harm, constant bad dreams, a repetitive cycle of hating myself and my life and occasional suicidal thoughts wasn’t normal. As I opened up to friends and prayed with them, I learned that I could trust people and they showed me that I could trust God. No one showed me more than the team I spent my gap year with as we grew closer together through good times and not so good ones. Eventually, one of my friends mentioned that they thought I might have depression, but it was a good few months before they could persuade me to go to a doctor, let alone admit that I was struggling with mental illness. But now, three years later, I’ve found that depression isn’t a mask to hide behind or a weakness to be ashamed of, but it’s something that has forced me to rely on God more, to trust people more and that’s shaped who I am today. As we chatted about my struggles over a cup of tea, I realised how far God has brought me. I can’t say that I’ve come through the other side, but I’m certainly a lot closer than I was. I might not ever be free of the grips of depression, but I can now say that I’m not ashamed of it and I’m beginning to see how God has, and will, use my depression to help others. So what’s the first thing God’s shown me? He’s shown me that He doesn’t abandon his people, that he answers prayers, that he continually gives good gifts in the form of people who care about me and he’s shown me some of what he’s been doing in my life.

The second thing I realised as we sat chatting through my application was how much my understanding of what it means to be a Christian has grown, especially during the 10 months I spent as a Relay worker. Despite this, I still wasn’t really sure why I was in Scotland. It wasn’t until I was offered a place on the course before I left the next day that I realised just why God had taken me all the way to Scotland. He had something to show me. He showed me that I didn’t need to be in Bangor to have a relationship with Him, that I didn’t need to be in Bangor to feel safe and supported and that I didn’t need to stay in Bangor because I was scared to leave. As I deliberated over whether to accept the position and all that came along with that (a hefty £9000 price tag, another year of being in a long distance relationship, settling in a new, very different church, and starting afresh with a new GP are just a few examples), God showed me how much I’d grown in my relationship with him over the last 8 or so months. I’d gone from a girl who was scared to leave Bangor and the support network I’d formed there to a girl who was seriously considering moving to Scotland. God was slowly showing me how he had been working in my life through Relay, He was showing me how to put what I’d been learning into practise and giving me an opportunity to really trust Him. I left it to the last minute, still weighing up my options. I’d applied to another centre in North Wales that same Sunday and had been offered an interview at some time in the future, but the deadline for Scotland had come. I knew deep down that God was leading me to Scotland but I didn’t want to admit it, part of me still wanted to stay in North Wales. I could see how God’s plan for me was playing out, after all he’d given me enough evidence! So after many prayers and much discussion, I accepted the position and to draw this story to a close, that’s how I ended up moving to Scotland in September.

I’d love to say that the transition between Relay worker and trainee outdoor instructor, between Wales and Scotland and between known and unknown has been easy. But it hasn’t. For the majority of the time that I’ve been a Christian I’ve been in Bangor where I’ve been well supported by Christian friends and a loving church, where I’ve been reminded to read my Bible and been prayed with when I’ve been struggling. But the reality of this transition is a few months at home, where I lack the church community, the Christian friends and the encouragement and prayer that they so lovingly provide. So it’s been a struggle. I’ve struggled to read my Bible, to go to church, to spend time in prayer and to reflect on all that I’ve learnt. But as a I prepare to move to Scotland, one thing is always at the back of my mind and that’s just how amazing God is. Even as I write this I’ve been encouraged, I’ve reminded myself that it isn’t what I do that means that God loves me, but that it’s what Jesus did that means that God loves me. I know that isn’t an excuse to not go to church, to not pray or read my Bible, but it’s certainly a reminder of God’s character. It’s reminded why Christian community is so important and I’ve realised that to ever think I could go it alone is a ridiculous thought, even if it is a thought that often accompanies a bought of depression. So despite the struggle of transition, I can continue to see that God is taking me on this journey to show me who I am, but more importantly to show me who He is.

The fear of the unknown still plagues many final year students but I can say that I’ve come through it (twice) and that if there’s one thing that I’ve realised it’s that the unknown isn’t really something to be fearful of. It’s something to be embraced, an opportunity to trust God, to allow him to lead you to where he wants to use you and something to be eagerly anticipated. God has shown me that the unknown isn’t to be feared, but he is someone who should be. So to all my recently graduated friends who don’t know what they’re doing next and to all my friends who are about to start their final year, embrace the unknown: you don’t know what journey God has planned for you, but it will be eye-opening.

Apologies for the long silence

Life has been MANIC. In between finishing Relay in June and starting a new course in outdoor leadership in Scotland in September I’ve been up and down the country criss crossing from East to West. I’m thinking about the future of my blog(s) and am in the middle of deciding whether to keep this blog for deeper musings and thoughts and blog purely about my experiences as a trainee outdoor instructor on my other site or to combine the two somehow, either on a new site or by giving this site a massive face lift. If anyone has any advice, please do let me know!

Some thoughts on the atonement

Every month or so I have to complete a study response as part of the Relay programme. In January we were studying the atonement and I chose to do the personal response. I really enjoyed the study and writing the response, so I thought I’d share it with you 🙂

In what practical ways does Jesus’ death on the cross affect your everyday life? 

If anything, this question made me realise how little the cross affects my life practically. I’m a relay worker. I go to church. I read my Bible. I pray. I talk about my faith with my Christian friends. I attempt to share the Gospel with non-believers, sometimes more successfully than others. I do all of those things because I’m a Christian who loves God. But actually, I should be doing all those things because of what God has done for me. I need to let the cross transform my life. When I think about the cross, the first thing that I think of isn’t always what it means. So often I am guilty of just thinking about life now and my own selfish desires rather than what it truly means to be a child of God. The reality is that God didn’t have to save any of us. We are not so important or worthy or great that God decided to save us. He could have easily let us chose our own path of rebellion. But he chose to save us. The only way he could do that was through sending Jesus to die on the cross.

The reality is that I’m not very good at letting things change my heart. I know lots of things in my head, but when it comes to letting shape my heart I’m rubbish. I can be so cynical without even realising – doubting that I’m wanted, doubting that I’m loved and doubting that I’m really worth it. But the truth of the Gospel is amazing, and it’s Jesus’ death on the cross that makes the gospel the gospel. If I’m honest I don’t let Jesus’ death on the cross affect my everyday life as much as it should.

Studying the cross and the atonement has made me realise just how amazing the cross actually is. At the cross, God’s holiness collided with his love and his wrath was met by his mercy. The more I think about it, the more I realise how incredible that is. That God, through his mercy and his love sacrificed his own son to die on the Cross for us. For me. In order for atonement to work, Jesus had to be both fully God and fully man. Only someone who was a true human being could take the punishment for sin, but only someone who was both fully human and fully God could take the punishment for everyone’s sins.

Jesus is God’s son. Who God sacrificed on the Cross so that we wouldn’t have to face his wrath. So that we could approach him just as we would approach a friend. God wanted a relationship with us so much that the only way he could get one was to send Jesus to the cross. When I really think about this, I can’t even begin to comprehend what it would be like to sacrifice someone who I really loved in order to save other people. Other people who didn’t even deserve it. But because we were created out of an extension of God’s love, He did just that. He wanted us to be able to come back to him so much that he provided the ultimate sacrifice.

I’ve been reading The Amazing Cross by Jeremy and Elizabeth McQuidd and I was particularly struck by one of the opening paragraphs:

Sometimes, we fall into the trap of thinking about the cross of Christ in a detached way. We think through the logic of salvation: we are sinners, God provided the remedy and we either accept that remedy or we reject it. But that is a very cold way of looking at the cross. It removes us from the passion that flows through the veins of God every time we look at the cross. The cross is about a Father ‘giving’ his beloved son, in the most extra-ordinary, bloody, offensive, heart wrenching, glorious sacrifice ever offered.

I am so guilty of thinking exactly like that – detaching myself from the cross. Not letting the fact that Jesus died on the cross for me warm my heart. I am a sinner though, just like everyone else, and therefore I will never be able to fully comprehend God’s infinite love that was poured out on the cross. If I’m honest, I think culture has distorted the modern-day church’s view of the cross. Not once have I been to a church service where the cross of Christ is preached in depth, or at least if I have, I don’t remember it. Maybe I’m just going to the wrong church. I wonder whether that’s because as a society we’ve become cold to the cross. We live in such a self centred world that the idea of the cross is almost completely alien to many non-believers. We live in a broken world – in a society where bad news comes every second of every day. It’s not a surprise to open the newspaper and read of horrific suffering in every corner of the world. But it’s so easy to forget that the whole reason we live in a broken world is because of Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden. No wonder so many believers and non-believers alike are asking ‘How can a supposedly all-loving God allow suffering?’ It can be easy to forget that God loves the world. And as a result, it can be easy to forget that Jesus was God’s way of restoring the world. That the cross was part of his ultimate salvation. As Christians, I don’t think we talk about the cross enough. Sure, we talk about the results of the cross – what it means for us. But we rarely talk about what happened on the cross – what it meant for God. We cannot fully understand the cross if we don’t understand the emotional relationship that has always existed between the Father and the Son. If we want our non-Christian friends to join us in heaven, then we need to explain the cross to them. Not just in airy-fairy language, but in a way that shows them that they need it. That the cross is for them. That although we live in a broken world now, when judgement comes, because of the cross, we will join with God, our ultimate Father, in the new heaven and the new earth. We need to explain that the cross is where God dealt with his own holy hatred of sin in the only way that can rescue us from judgement. We need to explain that he chose to pour out his wrath on Jesus instead of us and that Christ was willing to pay that price.

I am justified through Christ – declared righteous. The only way anyone can become righteous is through Christ. The only way to salvation is through Christ. But do I live a life that reflects this? Sometimes, I guess. Does that make me a bad Christian? It makes me a sinner, but a sinner who through Christ is declared righteous. Nothing I do, is ever going to change that. God didn’t just send Jesus for my past or my future, he died for my present too. So often I feel like I’m living my life just going through the motions. It’s especially hard to remember the truths of the Gospel when my depression takes hold. When the devil gets to me before I can turn to God. I need to live a life that reflects that I have been saved. I am so thankful that God loves me so much that he would send Jesus to die for me and I need to live a life that reflects this.

The atonement is not something God did in us, but something that God did for us. It happened externally to us – it was a payment that Jesus made for all the people and it was a payment that God accepted. We should focus on that rather than on our own experience. We should anchor ourselves in the events between the Father and the Son that accomplished our redemption. I definitely need to do this more. I need to spend time in prayer and with my head in my Bible, learning more and more about the wonderful character of God and what that means.

I guess this has been more me realising what I need to do rather than what I do already. Realising how the cross should be affecting my every day life rather than how it already does. Realising what the Cross actually means. It’s almost like I’ve had a lightbulb moment. If I’m honest, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Ever since I became a Christian, I’ve been realising more and more what it really means to be a Christian, but now I feel like I finally understand what the cross is really about. And that’s what’s going to transform my life. Not what I’ve done, but what God has done.