this will be rambly. it’s two in the morning, forgive me, I have rambly thoughts. they’re about how I’ve learned stuff. about how I’ve learned to learn… someone told me how he appreciated my humility. and I know he wasn’t … Continue reading
So yesterday I had to make a phone call and speak to someone who’s just lost her husband. The toughest thing for me about it? I had to do to her something I’d absolutely hate if I were in her … Continue reading
I wrote earlier about my battle with SAD, about choosing to listen to the voice of experience as opposed to the voice of doom and gloom – depression tells me I can’t do anything, depression calls me to give up, but … Continue reading
So… the clocks go back tonight, and these days I do tend to remember… unlike one year, when I managed to spend the whole day out of synch with the world around me…
First, you’ll need a bit of background to follow this story.
It was sometime in the early 90s. I was living in a small town in Surrey, and attending the main Anglican church there, called St Andrew’s. They had a smaller sister church called St John’s, and evening service was sometimes held there. (In those days I used to get up in the morning and go to the main service – I guess I had more energy when I was younger…)
Oh, and the other detail that is crucial to the story is that the time of evening service was 6.30 for about half the year and 6pm for the other half.
Okay, now that you’ve got all that, sit comfortably and I’ll tell you what happened…
I woke up one Sunday morning in autumn, and thought, oops, I’ve overslept, I can’t make it to church this morning. So I stayed in, I don’t remember what I did all day but it didn’t involve switching on the television or the radio at any point.
Seeing as I’d missed morning service, I decided to go to St John’s in the evening. So off I go to St John’s, but I find the church shut and dark and there’s absolutely no sign of life. Strange, I think to myself, but maybe I made a mistake and it hasn’t changed to 6pm yet? Maybe we’re still on 6.30? Okay, I’ll go for a walk and come back.
So I go for a walk around my little town. I go through the high street and see that the Chinese takeaway is closed, which is strange because I know they open at 5.30pm on Sundays. Then I get to St Andrew’s, the main church, and the church clock is saying the wrong time! I’m beginning to get a weird feeling, like something terrible must have happened locally today and I’m the only one who hasn’t heard.
I go back to St John’s for the 6.30 service but it’s still dark and shut. Now what do I do? Okay, I’ll go home then.
So I head home, and on my way I bump into the two elderly sisters who hold the keys to St John’s. They’re just on their way to open up for the 6pm service.
And so, at what I thought was nearly 6.30pm, I discovered that I’d been an hour out for the whole day.
And what I learned from this for life was how easy it is to walk around being absolutely sure that your watch is right and the church clock is wrong… to be certain that if everyone around me is saying something different, then they’re the ones who have got it wrong…
For some people, though, there’s an opposite lesson – some people, because of the hard knocks they’ve had in life, have such low self-esteem that their immediate assumption would be that they’re wrong and the other people are right. If you’re one of those people, then the lesson I learned is not for you. Because the truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle: we all get some things right and some things wrong.
At that time I was at a stage in my life when I needed to learn humility. This lesson came to my mind a few years later, when God was challenging me to review my thinking on a pretty big issue, and I realised that I had been refusing to accept that others around me may have been right about it whilst I had been wrong.
This hasn’t stopped me from swimming against the tide at times… as those who have been reading my blog know very well… (in fact, there’s one post coming soon…) but I know I’m only human and fallible, and even though I may feel 101% sure about something, I may have missed a point somewhere… I know from experience that there have been plenty of things I have felt 101% sure about but then later changed my mind pretty drastically – so somewhere in the corner of my mind, even as I stand bravely on my soapbox, I know that my watch may be… well… at least a few seconds out…
I blogged about this recently here and some interesting discussions came out of that, but I’d like to get back to what I really meant in my post. There are lots of different aspects to depression but there was one in particular that I was seeking to share – one that is a constant struggle for me.
It’s the struggle to know when I should go with my thoughts and feelings and when I should fight them.
Perhaps an example or two might help.
I’m sitting at the computer and feeling like I need something to perk me up. I think of chocolate. The truth: chocolate will perk me up very briefly, and the short high will be followed by a slump soon after. If I carry on with this pattern, the result will be that I will keep eating chocolate until I feel sick, I will not have had the nutrition that I really need, and in the long term I will also gain weight and feel worse as a result of that. Gaining weight means I will feel more unfit, less comfortable, and less energetic. This in turn will mean I’ll be less likely to do anything remotely resembling physical exercise and will therefore find it harder to lose the extra weight and/or to get any of my fitness back. Lack of physical exercise will affect my mood, making me feel low, and thus the cycle can continue…
So, going back to that moment of feeling the need for something to perk me up and thinking of chocolate – I have a choice. I can go with it, or I can choose to say no and to do something that is actually better for me. I can say: yes, I feel like chocolate but I know from experience that actually having some real food with real nutritional value is going to be better for me in the long run. I know what I’ll do: I’ll have that nice pastrame that’s in the fridge, and a glass of orange juice. And then maybe I’ll go out for a walk – get a bit of fresh air, get the circulation going, see the flowers outside. These things will actually make me feel a lot better than having a cube of chocolate and staying slumped in front of the computer.
So there is a struggle in fighting against that desire for chocolate, but before that there is the struggle in deciding whether I should – on this particular occasion – fight it. Because there are times when it’s okay to have some chocolate. And being an adult means that it’s me who has to make these choices. When to say yes to myself and when to say: actually, no, this is a temptation that is bad for me and I will not give in to it.
Same principle when I feel like resting instead of doing things on my to do list, whether they are things like ironing or coursework or whatever – there are times when it’s right to rest, times when a rest is what I really need; but there are times when the desire to rest is a temptation that I need to fight. times when a rest won’t make me feel better, it will make me feel more despondent. times when pushing myself to get one of these chores done will actually make me feel a lot better – there will be a sense of achievement, satisfaction, victory! as opposed to the feeling of despondency I can get from looking at my to do list and knowing that once again I have wasted a day and these things are still not done.
It is difficult to get the balance right – to know when and how far to push myself, without turning into a slavedriver… to know when to be kind to myself, and to be kind to myself in the right way, because sometimes true kindness involves denying someone what they fancy and giving them what is actually good for them…
Now I’m off to demolish that pastrame…
one of the tricky things about fighting depression is identifying which thoughts you need to ignore. because whilst normally listening to yourself is good and helpful, depression means that if you listen to yourself too much, you can end up dead. depression means my thoughts and feelings are very much along the lines of: I can’t do anything. whilst the truth is that actually yes, I can. I can do small things, I can take small steps, I can just do the washing up, just go out to the shop, just do the laundry, just do one little thing at a time and I will actually feel better having done these things, I will actually feel better having even a small sense of achievement, not to mention moving around instead of sitting/lying down, and getting out in the fresh air, and experiencing sunshine, and maybe getting an acknowledgement from another human being that you are both human (yes, it happens…) – I know from experience that the more I listen to the “I can’t” voice, the worse I feel, and that the more I choose to fight it and say “yes, I can”, the better I feel.
it is an ongoing battle. it’s not a one-off thing. and it’s tricky, because there are times when “I can’t” is true, there are times when having a rest is what I really need, there are times when listening to myself is right and helpful. God, grant me the wisdom to tell the difference!