The one where I visited some fairy woods…

So, it’s safe to say I’m pretty wiped out. Last week I struggled through with sore throat so I figured it was another cold  coming on care of the children of Edinburgh, but on Sunday I woke up with no voice. New self-diagnosis: laryngitis!

Suffice to say, it’s hard to do my work without a voice, so I’ve been resting it as much as possible today before I have to do some youth work stuff tonight. In an attempt to stay awake I thought I’d blog to share some photos from last weekend…

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For the first time in a long time, I rode in Davina. She is still green rather than blue but I’m pleased to say that I didn’t have to pray for her engine to start. Sadly though it was a grey drizzly morning at the beach…so no beam work. Luckily though, members of the church had this very luxurious RV with a canopy for everyone to shelter under. I say everyone, most of the kids wanted to climb all over Davina and run around in the rain.

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While people ate bacon rolls (I keep kosher) I sat in a camping chair snapping pics at strange angles in between having conversations. But this lad may have been my favourite subject to photograph. Even my friend who is an actual professional photographer saw pics and said “That is the most photogenic dog!”. He also woofs along when people sing Happy Birthday.

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While we were there we looked up to see a group who were galloping across the beach on horseback. I’ve only ever seen one or two horse riders at a time, and it was really cool to watch. Especially with the backdrop of Bass Rock in the background. I felt so sorry for the horse that kept lagging behind. I can empathise.

And after going back to my friends’ home to warm up and collect their lovely beagle, we ventured back outdoors to a wood where fairies live…

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I’ve also heard that some baby penguins have been born including a baby rockhopper (the Northern Rockhopper penguins are my faves…they always come to say hello through the fence, and they look like punks so what’s not to love?). It’s the first time in 8 years a baby Rockhopper has been born. Usually it’s only gentoos that hatch eggs. A visit to the zoo is on my to-do list. 🙂

 

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Quote of the Week: Friends don’t silence or oppress you…

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At the start of Black History Month, it feels only right that I quote from one of the great wise women who walks this earth, writes so eloquently and speaks such wisdom.

I walked through the door after being at the dentist the other day and my Mum saw me and was like “What’s wrong? Was it really bad? Did it hurt?” it wasn’t my mouth that was hurting. I was saddened by things popping up on my phone. A man, a prominent voice in the Scottish evangelical church landscape who believes that women are not of equal value to men. The sadness that I’ve watched two incredible young people go through teenagehood, become passionate for Jesus and be brainwashed by such teaching and become more excluding rather than welcoming. More superior rather than supportive. And another young adult who has been brainwashed by evangelical Christians who believe that Trump is some kind of messenger from God and that by locking our doors to people in need (despite the bible teaching us that we should do the complete opposite) it’s about loving our family, rather than fear and hate of strangers.

I made a decision last week to stop attending church because I realised that church seemed to demand my silence. It seemed to be denying my friends. After my friends (and my Mum I’ve since found out) were appalled at the way three other friends – all male, all “Christian” – spoke down to me about a subject they knew little about and I knew much about, and how they talked about some controversial issues with very strong and hateful language, I realised that I had not been affected by their speech. Why? Because I had become so accustomed to it during the years that I ran a pregnancy crisis centre. Over the last couple of years I have felt lost because I have not understood how this life of mine could be part of some plan God has for me (people in church often talk about ‘the plans God has for us’, usually taking a bible verse from the book of Jeremiah out of context in the process). The last two years have taken me out of a bubble and into the world, opening my eyes and heart to so many different people. These friends have not held me silent, and they’ve not denied my right to grow. They’ve been patient with my ignorance, they’ve helped me learn so much more about experiences I’ve never personally gone through. However, for many of them, when they’ve walked into a church community – they have been silenced and denied. Because of this, they believe God hates them.

I love community. I really miss being part of a community that studies the teaching, prays together, lives collectively, welcomes in strangers, learns to get along despite many differences. Knowing that inclusive church does exist,  I hope that some day soon I’ll find one in my city.

Quote of the Week: Walking with friends

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It’s fair to say that 2016 wasn’t the best year. In fact there were some very dark times, and I think the fact that I had trudged through 2015 and gone into 2016 with a little hope that what had been rubbish in 2015 would be rectified in 2016 made it slightly difficult to swallow.

But then…friends.

There’s nothing like going through dark times to find out who your true friends are. Friends who love you just as you are, who accept you in your circumstances no matter what they are. Friends who you haven’t seen in a couple of years who will come running round to clean a trashed flat when you post on facebook a cry for help. Friends who have their own stuff going on but accept you as a surf camp leader despite the fact you’ve been lying on the floor of a bathroom for 24 hours and less than prepared for your responsibilities. Friends who are in town for a short period of time and will take you running to their hotel room after work so you can at the very least watch the Great British Bake Off together in your pyjamas while eating homemade brownies before heading home to bed because you have to work the next morning. Friends who will text and what’s app and engage on social media when lack of finance and time off work mean you can’t afford to travel to visit during months and years of separation. Friends who will accept leaving on a road trip to a wedding at 11 p.m. because you need to work a late shift in order to get the weekend off to go in the first place.

They are worth more than  their weight in rubies, diamonds, emeralds (and any other precious expensive jewels). And I’d rather be going through rubbish times knowing they are by my side, than having a comfy life without them.

Because I know that in the times where life is great, all I want to do is share that moment. I remember being in Australia seeing a beautiful sunset and wishing a particular friend was there to witness it. I remember wandering the streets of Paris alone and wishing I had someone to experience it with. I love going to the cinema with a friend so we can discuss the film we’ve just seen after – whether it’s one we love, one we hate, or one that we disagree on!

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And when it’s cold and your face is being stung with hail on the first day of a new year, there’s no better people to do it with than with friends. Even when you’ve spent so much of the day in your pyjamas, you end up literally walking in the dark because January days are short in Scotland!

 

How to walk beside someone with Mental Illness

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It is Mental Health Awareness Week. So I think this is a good quote of the week to choose (because I can’t pick the same one two weeks in a row).

When you are struggling with mental illness, you may not have the energy to lead, and you may not have the capacity to follow. What all of us need is people to just be with us and saying “I’m here, and I acknowledge that what you are going through sucks right now.”

I still follow Zach’s Mom, Laura Sobiech, on facebook and have done ever since I read her book, Fly A Little Higher. I think about the Sobiechs and the Aiffs a lot every May as it marks the anniversaries of the deaths of both Zach and Chris. The same as every Christmas I think of Oliver, and every February now I think of Kylie. Laura works for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, and together with another Mom who has battled the conniving disease of cancer with their child they published a post today on the CCRF website called “What to say (and what not to say) to a family facing cancer“. It reminded me of a very similar post that Mark Myers wrote on his blog.

I’ve probably said several of the things on that What Not To Say list. And I’m really sorry that I have. Part of it is my overly practical logical side – years studying Health Sciences and spending waaayy too much time in the medical world caused me to learn too much. And makes me go ‘oh thank goodness it’s that type’ or inwardly think ‘there’s little hope here’. I’m trying to be better at filtering my thoughts so they don’t come out my mouth. Because they aren’t helpful.

I have a new hashtag. And it’s this: #cancersucks

However, as a friend is sharing daily tips about what to do/not to do with a friend struggling with mental illness, I realised reading that post, you could probably take that very same advice that Mark, Laura and Mindy have given…and rename the post “What to say (and what not to say) to a person facing mental illness”.

 

So What can you say?

This Sucks.

Don’t try to fix it, or make sense of the situation.

Because #mentalillnesssucks too.

It’s not the same as cancer. But like cancer there is no simple cure. There are many different types. Not every treatment plan works for every person. Sometimes it does result in death. You can think you’ve beaten it, go for years living your life only for it to come back.

I’ve been thinking of you today. 

It meant a lot for someone to send a text (which I could read when I felt able) to let me know they hadn’t forgotten me. Illness is isolating and often lonely.

Don’t ask me to make a decision

One of the things that struck me that both Laura and Mark mention were instead of asking “how can I help?” to offer something specific. I know so many times – when I was ill with CFS and when I’ve struggled on my darkest days with depression. I couldn’t answer that question. I didn’t even know how to help myself, never mind know how others could help me. But when someone text to say “I’m going to the supermarket, do you need anything and I can drop it off?” or “I could come pick you up if you’d like to go to church” (this was a godsend when I had CFS as some days I could barely walk). I could answer that with a yes or no. I could manage that! The same went for making any kind of decisions. I needed them to have a yes or no answer. And I also needed others to understand that if I had made an arrangement sometimes I could wake up and feel too awful.

Understand that I can’t plan how my illness is going to treat me on a day to day basis.

I also appreciated people understanding the nature of the beast I was fighting. One of the frustrations when I had CFS was that my immune system sucked. A simple cold that in the past I would have just carried on with life as usual would have me in bed for weeks. So there were times when my friends would let me know that they (or their kids!) had the sniffles and give me the option not to see them.

They also didn’t bat an eyelid when on good days I managed to get to church and was so exhausted by the effort that I’d have to lie down for most of the service at the back of the room. (Amusingly, I found out in later years that people thought I was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ and that’s why I was lying on the floor!). I was there, and participating as much as I could and that was all that mattered. No big deal was made. Sometimes I sang on the worship team, but I needed a chair to sit. It meant a lot to still be able to do something I loved doing and only once did one of the pastors comment on the chair telling me it wasn’t very godly of me to sing sitting down.

We love you and we’re here for the long haul.

Know that mental illness doesn’t go away overnight. It can stick around for months and years. Usually (hopefully) there’ll be periods where it is better than others. Endurance is needed.

Meals.

When you don’t have time or energy to shop, and don’t feel like eating. A meal that is pretty much ready to go is so helpful. Healthy things (and a few nice treats) that you can snack on are helpful as sometimes if you have no appetite a big meal is hard. But we probably need to eat as it’s going to help make us better (or at least prevent us getting worse).

Encouragement.

Knowing that our lives still make a difference does help. The reason I’ve kept writing all throughout my life’s journey in good times and bad is because of the encouragement of others telling me that somehow I’ve helped/inspired/encouraged them. It gives us fuel for our continued fight.

 

Of course, everyone is different, and you might not agree with all of the above. And perhaps there are things that I’ve missed out. Please feel free as always, to add helpful tips in the comments.

And to Mark, Laura and Mindy – thank you for sharing your tips on what to say (and not to say) to families battling cancer. Though I wish you’d never had to endure watching your children go through all that they did with cancer and cancer treatments, I am thankful that you were willing to share what you learned so that hopefully I (and others) can be a better friend to those going through similar circumstances.

Friendship, social media & mental health…

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There are lots of people who say that friendship can’t be built over social media. I really beg to differ. I began blogging this time 9 years ago. I had just returned back from Australia, started going to a new church in a part of my home city that had looked down on me as a teen and was getting over a pretty catastrophic relationship. Oh yeah, and I was about to discover that I couldn’t do the same job I’d spent the last year doing without going back to university.

However, back then I was barely 23 and had time on my side. As much as there was a huge amount change and upheaval that year I really had very few doubts that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

On the other hand, I was questioning a lot of things and trying to work out what I was meant to be doing.

That’s where blogging came in.

To be honest blogging was just a cathartic way of processing my thoughts. I’m an extrovert by nature so I’m always thinking out loud (just ask my friends, colleagues and family…). I never expected to find community in it. But I did.

People started to follow my day to day life (which boggles my mind, it’s not like I’m interesting) but also as I began to share some of my life story and on days where I was questioning my life and faith, I discovered that others were out there saying ‘Me too! I thought I was the only one‘.

The community has shrunk somewhat, as a lot of those original friends have stopped blogging and I really miss their writing. Thankfully there are a core few that I’ve stayed in touch with through twitter and facebook, and several that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person. Three of them even travelled to Edinburgh to stay with me because they were determined that I was to celebrate turning 30.

The two years since – well they’ve kinda sucked. Every time I start to think things are getting better, it feels like the universe says “HA! That’s what you think!”. It’s made me feel like a failure. I feel incredibly lonely as gradually a whole chunk of my close friends have moved away, and money has been so tight and public transport so expensive (another shout out to the government for privatising rail services…). Social media is the worst for letting you know how much fun your friends are having without you. Or any time they are in town and didn’t let you know so you could spend some time with them.

However, back to the benefits of social media. Two of these ‘online friends’ have over the years shared with me when I have shared with them (and the rest of cyberspace) about things relating to mental health, crisis, grief and loss. One of them has started sending me messages letting me know how she is thinking of me and praying for me. Another sent me a card this weekend letting me know she was there for me if I wanted her to be. I haven’t been able to properly respond in the way I want to, because right now every day is tough and talking about it makes me start crying. When people ask me ‘How’s university going?‘ or ‘So what are you going to do about [insert some kind of big life thing like employment or landlord responsibilities]?’ I can literally feel my blood pressure shoot up and want to scream, yell, burst into tears and feel like I’m going to throw up. So many nights I go to bed with a plan of how I’m going conquer the world regardless of all the crap thrown at me and what a failure everyone may think I am. And so many mornings I wake up and just can’t get out of bed or the house because the thought of facing it alone is just so depressing.

So, all a bit more than any of you needed to know. today I planned on sending an assertive e-mail, making a chart for Guides, reading some books, writing an essay, going into town to run an errand and all I actually accomplished was putting some clothes in the washing machine and  hanging them up to dry.

I share that just in case you’re also looking at the facebooks, instagrams and twitter of all the people who went on dates, family parties, sat in cafes, went on trips, ran marathons and feeling even worse about yourself as a result. Maybe you didn’t even manage to remember to get the clothes out of the washing machine (something that happens to me often, I’ve also found myself going to get loads of laundry out the machine that I’d already hung up because I have no memory of doing it). Well. Take heart sister/brother..

…You are not the only one.

Quote of the Week 16 – The friends in the limo vs friends on the bus

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I have a lot of friends. I’m a people person, I remember people even when I’ve only met them once (their stories, even if I don’t remember their names) and it’s a running joke that if there’s five degrees of separation, there’s only three if I’m added to the equation.

However, there have been some rough times in my life where I’ve realised that it’s true what Oprah says. Everyone wants to ride in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.

Being friends with me over the last few years – and the last 10 months in particular – has been no picnic. It’s not easy to be friends with someone who is (relatively) poor. I’ve quickly realised the friendships that have been based more on my own effort – because they are the friends that I’ve rarely seen (if at all) since being made redundant last year.

I’ve been lucky to have friends that have been willing to ride the bus with me since the proverbial limo broke down. Being friends with me means if you want to hang out, it can’t cost me too much financially. I can’t travel down on the train to see you because the train tickets are simply not in my budget. I don’t have a car to drive to you easily. For most of last year even a bus ride was an issue – that’s how tight money is. I actually became very depressed at the point where I couldn’t afford the bus – I went for weeks without seeing anybody. I just had to sit at home. Alone.

There were friends who got it and friends that didn’t. Some people have been fortunate enough never to be in my position. They’d be offended and stopped calling when you didn’t come to the pub because you couldn’t afford the drinks or the transport to get there and back.

And then there are the gems.

The ones who would invite you on a trip with them and give you a lift.

The ones who would invite you round to their house for breakfast or lunch.

The ones who would be willing to go to the cheap cafe rather than the reasonably priced restaurant (and understand that you would pay what you owed rather than doing the usual split the bill because you had to have every penny accounted for).

The ones who would be willing to go to the cinema when the cheapest tickets were available.

Something I was so grateful for, was that for my birthday last year I had been generously given a membership to Edinburgh Zoo. It was something I could do for ‘free’. I would pack my own snacks or lunch and friends that also had memberships would meet up with me and we could spend a few hours there and it cost me practically nothing.

I so appreciate those friends, and I hope they know it. I’m an extrovert and not having people around me, madness sets in quite quickly. Even something simple as washing dishes at someone’s house was a welcome invitation because it got me out of the house and doing something with my time!

I hope I’m a person that would get on the bus with a friend when their limo broke down too. Because they are the friends that are worth far more than gold.

Quote of the week 6: Learning from those we disagree with

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I had a small rant on facebook last week. The previous weekend my twitter and facebook had filled with overjoyed atheists and angry Christians sharing a link to a video of Stephen Fry going off on one in response to a question about what he would do if he met God (or something like along those lines). I’m a fan of Stephen Fry’s work – particularly on his documentary series raising awareness about endangered species, LBGTQ related issues and bipolar disorder – so I do follow him on Twitter and watch interviews with him on talk shows, so I’ve heard him and seen him talk in this way before. At times he is respectful of a person’s right to believe differently from him and other times he’s come close to suggesting or insinuating that being a Christian should be outlawed. And I do take issue with that latter take on things. It’s this kind of fundamentalism that I find quite terrifying wherever it comes from. Because I find the idea of trying to enforce people to sign up to one particular worldview (or that we should outlaw and stigmatise one particular type of worldview) very disturbing. Because you can take one look at recent history to see what it can lead to.

Genocide. Holocaust. Murder. Hate crime. Stigma.

A lot of people thought my rant was directed at what Stephen Fry said, but it wasn’t. It was at the comments several of my atheist friends had made while sharing articles and memes that the video going viral had inspired as a result which seemed to all take the view that if you believed in God you were uneducated and idiotic. I did make the mistake of taking them personally. My thought process on the sight of them was: “well, if that’s what you think about Christians, that’s what you must think about me“. I’m sure that in reality they didn’t give it a second thought when they shared stuff or how it could come across. I know I’ve been plenty guilty of sharing opinions in a ten second ‘share’ on social media that could be misleading to my actual thought process.

But just as I was posting my ‘Quote of the Week’ on my facebook (which I do every Monday or as close to Monday as possible after the post goes live) this appeared on my feed after being shared and ‘liked’ by a friend. The comments underneath it were all talking about how stupid and incapable of thinking Christians are.

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It was as they say ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. Had it not been the timing of seeing that, I probably would have sighed and moved on. But I do love my quotes, they do keep me going. Some of the quotes on my wall are passages that talk about love, grace and faith. Heck I have a Zulu word that means hope and faith permanently tattooed on my foot! Is it wrong to be inspired by acts of love, grace or faith? I’d had enough, and having spent the better part of the last 19 months critically thinking (whether I want to or not…just about my whole Masters is about critical thinking and questioning everything we are taught!) and the fact that pretty much anyone who has studied the bible or discussed matters of faith with me can most likely tell you how much I rant about the need for choice, to understand that preachers are capable of talking crap as much as they are capable of speaking truth, challenge and encouragement. Or my frustration at times when I’ve watched Christians lap up the words of the most currently fashionable Christian preaching celebrity on the block without critical reflection on their teaching (and whether it matches up with their application). Actually being church with me is probably quite exhausting.

And so with anger and hurt I took to my iPad…

Apologies to those disappointed in the atheist republic community that my quote of the week choices so far this year have not included fluffy flowery words such as love, faith and grace. Blessed was included last week so hopefully that counts and gives you a little fuel to make me out to be a brainless idiot who doesn’t think for herself. You may think I’m weird for believing in a God who gave free will to choose what we say, do and believe in because of course it does mean we have the ability to both help as well as damage the world. Maybe I’m weird for being glad we are not all programmed to think and act the same way. I kinda like having friends who can both share and differ with me on their beliefs about all sorts of things in politics,artistic taste, lifestyle choices, family culture, laws and the existence of god(s) or lack thereof.

People on Facebook seem to love a good quote meme. And most of my friends who told me I should keep sharing my favourite quotes and reflections on them don’t believe in god so I’m guessing they don’t find my thoughts on life totally offensive? I’m hoping they would tell me of they did. So I’ll keep sharing my “fluffy” quotes each Monday.

I’m off to wash my hair.

I just want to thank two of my atheist friends who were the first to hit ‘like’ on that status, and another who asked me about the rant the next day – leading to a great discussion outside a lecture theatre about religion, atheism, history and the way the institutionalisation of education is affecting our abilities to critically reflect and consider beliefs that we don’t hold ourselves. I really appreciated that and encouraged me that even if we don’t believe the same things about the existence of anything spiritual, we do believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion (for want of a better term) and mutual respect. Because I do love having discussions about the deeper issues of life…values, culture, morals, ethics. And I especially love it when I can radically disagree with a friend and yet our friendship not be damaged by disagreeing because we will take time to try and understand where each other are coming from.

I had respect for a friend who made this comment in response to my facebook rant:

I may not agree with your beliefs but I respect the fact that you stick to them. I admit, I find the idea of religion silly and I can only hope someday you leave your faith and come over to the dark side (we have cookies btw) but until then, by all means, post whatever you want.

I loved that, and had to giggle because I feel the exact same way – I respect my friends for sticking to their beliefs and feeling able to voice them, but at the same time would love them to know God the way I feel I do. But I would never in a million years want any of my friends to feel that I think they are dumb for rejecting the idea that there is a God or worse (as one friend once mistakenly believed) that I thought they deserved to go to some weird cartoon like hell with horned creatures, flames and pitchforks.

I feel I should also point out that I constantly question God, and spent a long time during my first years of faith being really angry at things that had happened in the world and to me as a child. A couple of years ago I really questioned if God even existed as I questioned the teaching of church leaders who I believe abused the authority they had been given. And I questioned whether the God of the bible had values that I felt I could follow. Did God and I agree on issues I felt passionately about? So I’m not sure how much I really ‘stick’ to my beliefs! Certainly I will stand up for them and voice them. But it would be wrong to say I have not had doubts, questions or that they’ve not changed as I’ve studied the bible and reflected on life experiences, books, art, culture and other media I’ve been open to learning from.

Oh, and PS I love this response to the Stephen Fry video very thoughtfully written by my good friend Rebecca. Rebecca is one of the most un-judgmental people I know and I don’t think she’d mind me telling you that we’ve had many conversations about life’s big (and small) questions. I was most disappointed to hear that, a bit like when our mutual friend shared about her atheist beliefs on her blog, some Christian bloggers stopped being friends with them. Their loss, I say. And I reckon Dudley Field Malone would agree.

Because we learn most when we disagree – and we continue learning when we learn can see past that to the human being, the experiences and thought processes that have led to their conclusion, and have them be willing to listen to how we came to ours too. Sometimes it means we will be shocked, sometimes it means our beliefs will evolve into something that looks a little different, sometimes it leads to us deciding we aren’t sure what we believe is right or wrong, and other times it plain just doesn’t matter but it has been an interesting conversation.