Saturday, May 2

A New Journey.

Dear lovely people. This is something I have wanted to write about for months, but just haven't had the guts to. I'm writing it now because there are assumptions made that I am tired of, and I don't want to have 300 separate discussions about a decision I have made in my personal life. I don't want your pity, your worry and concern, or your tears. All I want, for me and for anyone who will read this, is to have open minds, be accepting and loving, and respect my life choices.
I am no longer a 'Christian'.
That is not to say that I do not believe in Jesus as a divine manifestation who walked this earth 2000 years ago. 
That is not to say that I do not believe in Grace, and Mercy, and Integrity, and Faith. 
And it is not to say that I do not believe in a way of life that says "love your neighbour as you love yourself, give to the poor and the needy, look after this planet that is a gift we must protect".
I am not a Christian. Because I believe all of those things and more. Because I believe that if you can believe in people being raised from the dead, and oceans being turned into roads, then you can't draw a line. Well I can't anyway. I can't draw a line between this and that and say that I'll believe all of these supernatural things that I was brought up to believe, but not believe anything else. 
To call myself a Christian would be a straight-out disservice to myself, and to those who are Christian. THAT would be something to take offense over. 
I believe that we are all flesh and blood, sacs of organs and bones, and at the same time,  I believe that we are divine beings, that we are fundamentally made of that same stuff that the very stars and moon are made of, and thus we are powerful, magical and limitless. Our minds, which can be explained and deconstructed down to the smallest cells of brain matter, are capable of both monstrous and miraculous things. Humankind is inherently good, not evil, and we have a spark of starlight in us all that lights our paths and shows us our own way to go. I don't believe in God any more, I believe in gods. I believe in Mother God(goddess). I believe in Spirit and in light.
I can not go to church any more because that building is too small for me. My personal problems with church stem from not only hurts suffered at the hands of people I believed in and loved(yes, yes, I know I should have been believing and loving God instead, but when you can't hear, see or feel a thing, you believe and love the representative of that, eg your church leaders and mentors), but from hurt as a woman, as part of womankind, suffered by all women throughout the history of the church, and indeed most religious, patriarchal societies. 'Church' and all similar religious institutions, categorically continue to impose stereotypical gender roles(which oppresses not only the women, but the men, and of course the entire LGBTQ+ community) that brave women fought to overcome many years ago. Even our modern-day Western, secular society still perpetuates these oppressive ideals through many many layers of cultural conditioning and media, but 'church'(and temple, mosque etc) are even a few steps behind that. I would love to write a whole essay one day on how the church hates women, but that will have to wait. 
When I say I can not go to church any more, that is not to say that I am afraid of churches, or angry at them. If you invite me to your child's dedication, baptism or bar mitzvah I'll be there with bells on. Don't be afraid to mention church, God, or your faith, in conversation with me. This is about my personal journey of belief, not about any condemnation or judgement of you. If you are genuinely happy and joy-filled by your church attendance, and genuinely feel a sense of connection to a Judeo-Christian God, don't get me wrong; I am so happy for you!

At this present time, I don't want to belong to a religion. I am so tired, bone-weary tired, of being told what to believe and what to do and how to feel. I am so over being the odd one out, the outsider, loner and weirdo, standing at the back of church shifting from one foot to the other, wondering why I didn't feel anything that everyone else felt. And now that I've realised that I don't have to keep pretending that any more, it's incredibly liberating. 
Now I am on my Own Heart's Journey. I am actively looking, seeking, hearing. I have both eyes wide open, and it's exhilarating. The world is in the palm of my hand! I am finding all the things that resonate with me, that fill me with pure glee, and make my heart sing! And they are not things that I could ever find in a religion that was laid out for me by someone else, by a man or men who have dictated how my life should be. I am seeing things that I would never have seen, if I didn't know there was more to life!!! More, more, more! I am greedy now, consuming books and texts and articles, gazing at pictures that light up parts of my brain that were never allowed to light up before! For the first time since I was a child, I am allowing myself to explore faith and belief and spirituality from all different angles. 
(Yes, it's mostly buddhist/new-age/hippy stuff, if you want a name to it. I just don't want to jump from one box into another right now, so I'm not putting a name on it.)
It is a miraculous journey, and I am truly happy to be on it. My only fear is that those who love and care for me will be hurt, angry or hurtful in their reactions.

Please Note: I don't know what I believe exactly, just yet. I don't have a statement of faith. Keeping this in mind, please don't engage me in long conversations or online discussions about theology, divinity, spirituality etc.. I am sure you are all MUCH more knowledgeable than I on these topics, and I am happy for you to know exactly what you believe. All I need and want is your grace, and your assurance of our continuing friendship. If you feel personally offended by my choices, I would ask that before you respond to me, please have a long hard think to yourself as to how helpful it will be to me and to our relationship to respond in a hurt and angry manner. I'm done with drama and guilt in my life, so if you bring those things, I don't want a bar of it. All my love and blessings to you all.

Monday, March 30

Saving Grace or Harmful Ideology?

First, a waiver - this is my experience alone, and I acknowledge that. This is by no means an attack on any person, friend or foe, who believes differently to myself. This is my blog, which means that this is my journey. Please do not take offense at what I write. Also please excuse the style of writing, this was very much a stream of consciousness that had to be let out!

Those who would dismiss the idea of God as a man-made construct point to the fact that every ancient civilization has had some process or ritual around looking out and up instead of into themselves, saying that humankind, as a species, have an instinctual need for something external to worship, to point to as a creator or a reason for their existence. Some even claim that this is what makes us human, what separates humankind from the animal.

While indeed most religious belief systems adhere to a Creator or Creators theme, I can only talk directly to Christianity as the religion I am most familiar with. And at the moment, it is also the religion I am most struggling to agree with.
One of the key elements on which Christianity is founded is that of the nature of sin. Without the concept that we, as lowly humans, are inherently faulty, we would have no need for a Saviour.

(Now, there are multitudes of problems that I see in the gender division and sexism within the concepts of Christianity which I am not going to address in this post, but do not doubt that I will!)

One of the most famous treatises of the Bible-believing Christian is that ‘ALL have SINNED and FALL SHORT of the glory of God’. In the first chapters of Genesis, we are given the story of two perfectly created beings, a man and a woman, who make a fatal error of judgement, thereby tainting all their future descendants, the whole human race, with Sin.

This is my story, my family’s story, the story of my people. This story of sin, of judgement, of everlasting gratitude to a saving God who has rescued us from eternal fire. The concept of a newborn child being born already faulty, with a Human Nature(thus doomed), is an old one that I unconsciously accepted as fact(even as a new mother, all the time staring at this perfect creature and wondering which part was the Bad part??). The disobedient preschooler, the cheeky toddler, even the infant who becomes more wakeful at night, all prove this point. We are evil. Humankind is inherently flawed. The good side of this story then is that we are given a second chance, a chance to embrace the saviour who has sacrificed everything to save us. Christians then supposedly live a triumphant life, yes with it’s ups and downs, but also blessed with the honour of having a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. What is this relationship based on? To me, the basis of this personal, close relationship seems to be a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We have been Bad from the Beginning, but we are fortunate enough to be saved from this Badness.

Those who we hold up as Excellent Christians, ones who we wish to emulate, are those saints and martyrs who have emptied themselves completely, and replaced all their concept of Self with the Holy Trinity instead. How does one empty oneself of all Self? Well, recognise that you are Bad, replace any self-satisfaction or self-love with self-loathing, and then pour all of this Self out onto the dirt at your feet, and fill up with ‘His’ love for you. ‘His’ gift of salvation. You now longer have your own needs or desires, but are filled instead with ‘His’ will.

Now I want to reiterate here that these are my ideas and my experiences alone. This may not indeed be experienced or felt by any other person on this planet.

Part of my journey - not all!!!(sometimes I have to remind myself that it is not all) - is the story of my lifelong depression. The sense of dissatisfaction, of longing for something more in life, of loneliness, self-doubt and eventually self-loathing, can be tracked back into my childhood. Maybe it was triggered by things that happened or things that didn’t happen, or maybe it was there all along, a seed of discontent in my heart from the beginning. Again, that is a story for another time, not now.
Whatever the reason, this black dog has been my constant partner for all of my conscious life, as far back as I can remember. Despite various medicative measures, prayers for healing, and involvement with mental health services as an adult, it was not until I began therapy in earnest, a few years ago, that I started really unravelling some of the cords that bound me.

Part of this unravelling process was attending a ‘Compassionate Mind’ group. I’ll spare you the intricacies of DBT here(google it!), but there were several ‘A-ha’ moments in it, which made me start to question everything I knew about my faith and how I was brought up.
What if, at the heart of my self-loathing, was this belief that from the beginning I was marred? What if it was actually OK to like myself? What if it was OK to take care of myself, nurture myself, believe in fact that I was worthy of love, by first loving myself??? What a bold and ridiculous idea. It was posited that to truly love others and show compassion, one must first truly love and show compassion towards oneself. This was an uncomfortable idea to me, as I had always thought of myself as a compassionate, kind person. Was I only being kind because that was the ‘Right Thing’ to do? A tiny crack opened in my foundation.
For a second, let’s be diverted by this idea of self-care, and nurturing. We do hear a lot more about caring for ourselves now, even in Christian circles. Mainstream culture has exerted enough of an influence on the church, that now they run ‘women-only days’, ‘pamper-retreats’ and so on. But there is a difference between the motivation to learn to love and care for oneself purely for the sake of healing and becoming a whole person, and the motivation in christian circles to care for and pamper oneself in order that women can be better mothers and wives…. to serve others. Again I digress, I’m getting too far into the issue of gender in the church.
As I began to look inwards, at how my own beliefs about myself were affecting how I heard and experienced the world, a transformation started happening, deep within.
This transformation is still going on now, as I peel off the layers and look with new, questioning eyes at the world and the people around me. Even in the last few weeks, my life has been full of strange occasions and coincidences, where I have experienced a swelling of human kindness in my world. HUMAN kindness. That is, people without the motivation of religious beliefs who have impacted my own and my children’s lives in such amazing ways, because they are kind, generous-hearted people. Not evil. Not sinners. Throughout history, as much as people have been moved to harm and to hurt, people have also been moved to act, out of a pure and beautiful part of themselves deep within, a spark of the Divine that I believe is in all of us.

I do not deny that there is another realm, of wild and unimaginable beauty and chaos, that we have access to, on a real and daily basis. But I can no longer marry this image up with a harmful ideology that we, humans, are essentially Bad creatures in our heart, that need fixing. I do not deny the huge amounts of hurt, wrongdoing and genuine evil in this world, that we see every day on our streets, in our corrupt governments, in the global news, but I am starting to question whether this is a natural state or a taught/learned state.

There is darkness in all of us, just as there is light in all of us, and there must be a careful balance. For myself, I believe I MUST be guided by genuine kindness and compassion(that starts within), just as much as I must NOT be guided by guilt, self-loathing and indebtedness. My mental health, and therefore perhaps my very life, depends on it.

Saturday, March 14

Dear Last Thursday

Dear me, two days ago:

To the brave woman(even though you don't feel it right now) who is beginning to taper off one of her meds.
It's going to be ok. I want you to know that in just two days, you will feel ok again. Yes, you'll have to go through this shit again next week, or the week after. It might feel worse. It might go better. Let next week deal with itself, ok? So here are some truths that you should know, about today, next week and the rest of your life, whether that's medicated or not:

- You are not that person. The one you are so afraid of becoming. You are experiencing withdrawal symptoms and that is all. It's not you, it's them. It's chemistry. You are not an angry person. You are not a fearful anxious person. You are a good, kind and loving woman, who loves her babies, her husband, her cats, her job. You might feel like that was just a hoax, like the drugs were masking the 'real you'. This, my love, is a lie. In just a few days you will again feel calm, content, loving, patient, creative, inspired...  The list could go on. THAT is the real you, not this trembling half person that you feel right now.
- Use your net. Call the village. Get in touch with people who have been there, in that trembling half life between medicated and un-medicated. They will know what to do, what to say. They're so good at this stuff, just like you are, when you're not in this stupid place. Get someone else to pick up the kids from school. Get someone to take the toddler away for the day. Cancel your appointments and get back into your pyjamas. This is a type of illness, this half-life, and you should treat it thus. Call your husband, he's used to reassuring you that you're awesome. Write to yourself, write to someone else, just allow the sad angry words to pour out of yourself, it's so cathartic. The words need to come out, or they'll fester and dig their claws down until they become a part of you. Dig them out, squeeze them out.
- You're doing this for the right reason. You might be doubting that right now, you might think "what was so important that I thought I should try this lark?". If there was ever a reason to come off a medication, it's new life. It's the wanting of more new life, wanting to create life. It's the wanting to be there as other lives are transformed. It's that urge, that passion you have to be there for those women, just as you wished someone was there for you, someone passionate and capable and experienced and trustworthy and respectful. You want to be a placeholder, a sacred helpmate, a protector of that precious space where one becomes two. This is a GOOD REASON. Don't doubt it now. And don't doubt for a second that this is not what you were supposed to do... All of the threads of your life have been coming together to weave this story for you. It can't not happen.
- If it doesn't work, it will be ok. Maybe it's not going to work out, this breaking up with this medication. You'll figure something out. There will be other options. There are always other options. If there's anything you care about deeply (when you're feeling good), it's that we all have options, all the time. There are always other doors, other answers. Don't panic. Treat yourself like a client, remind yourself that you are in charge of your destiny (cheese alert!), that you just have to better informed. Be better informed, ok? You love researching stuff, research this. Know your options. Don't for a second believe that you are trapped in anything.
-You'll catch yourself saying a couple of times, it's not me, it's youThat is really good thing to say, say it more.

Dear meds, it's not me, it's you.

Know yourself. Trust yourself. Trust your team. Call the village. Be the village. In two days, you will be feeling so much better, I promise. Xx

Thursday, September 18

In Defense of Depression

     I guess if you've been reading this blog for a while you know I'm depressed. Yup, that's me. Least cheerful person in the room(except when I'm the loudest one making the worst jokes). It's been bad recently - but then, it's been winter, so it's kind of par for the course. My poor husband has been getting the texts-o-misery. "I'm having such a bad day".... "I don't know what to do" .... "I'm lying in bed and I don't think I can get up"... etc. You get the general idea. And there's this idea, that constantly pervades my life(both my own thought life and conversations with loved ones), which is that I'm Not Coping. This is a fair presumption to make, especially when I'm staring at the ceiling, huddled under my duvet, fighting my own brain to try and persuade myself to get up. But I've been thinking about this today, and wondering why it needles me so, to say or to hear, that I'm Not Coping. Especially given my proclivity for total openness and honesty.
     So I'd like to challenge this notion that long-term, chronic Depression = Not Coping. I don't believe that the above equation is accurate, that the one necessarily equals the other. Here's the thing. Are you ready for the thing? Here it is. I've had depression for, like, ever. But I'm not a mess. I'm doing just fine - maybe not great - but fine. Let's look at today's example.
    I wake up, as usual, around 7.30; I can hear the big kids playing and pray to whatever deity is in charge of morning routines that they will stay happily playing for at least another 2 hours. I close my eyes tight and try to go back to sleep. At 8 am, the big kids come in and bounce on me and declare their starvation to be at an all time high. I force myself out of bed, trying to ignore the howling sadness in my head at having to leave the blankets, and make them breakfast. I know they will want seconds shortly, but I still go back to bed again, bury my face under the duvet, pull the cat close and try not to think about the fact that it is another day. The alarm on the tablet in the lounge goes off at 8.31, as it has every morning this week... I wonder for the millionth time which evil creature set this random alarm, and trudge out to turn it off. M and L are asking for seconds, and when I say 'asking', I mean of course that as soon as I walk into the room they thrust their bowls in my direction and shout "More Weetbix!!" without taking their eyes off Ice Age: Continental Drift. I ask them to ask nicely and they both shout "more weetbix PLEASE!". At this stage FR is crying, and has been for about ten minutes. I make the kids seconds, FR's first bowl of brekkie, pour soy milk over my muesli and turn the coffee machine on. Like a waitress at a diner I speed back holding 4 separate bowls in my hands and arms, dump them down, and go retrieve the angry toddler. With her on my hip I am back in the kitchen making my coffee, thankful once again that we were given this Nespresso machine(yes yes they're the worst, I'm sorry) that enables me to make a decent flat white with only one hand free. When we used a good old-fashioned espresso machine I used to have to hold the steam button with one hand and the milk frothing jug with the other, with the baby clasped in between my body and the bench.
      Fast forward to an hour later, and at quarter to 10 everyone is dressed, including myself, and M is crying about something. But we are all dressed and fed, and not only that but I have managed a second cup of coffee, and semi-folded the washing that was hanging on the airers in our lounge. I find it incredibly hard to stay positive when my oldest is upset, because she is basically a small version of me, and her weeping and wailing over completely irrational things is driving me nuts. And yet, somehow, I don't even feel like crying. I repeat the same phrases to her over and over, albeit through gritted teeth, while I help the almost-2 yr old get the peg basket off the airer. I feel gratitude, yet again, that pegs were ever invented. I use my mindfulness skills, and placing my hand on my chest, observe and describe to myself my current feelings. Frustration, sadness, strength, determination. I let the frustration and sadness just be, and remind myself that, like all feelings, they will soon float away. 
    It is now about 2.30pm. Today I have had a visitor(educational psychologist), navigated two separate tantrums at the same time without losing my temper, successfully ignored a toddlers misbehaviour, taken the kids out to the mall to purchase tea-towels and kids shoes, bought the kids donuts for their lovely behaviour whilst out, come back home, put on a load of washing, fed a toddler her bottle and put her to bed(with her new shoes clasped in her arms, obviously), made myself and the biggies some lunch, hung out the washing, played a game of memory with L while encouraging M to write her little story for our school visit tomorrow, and now I'm writing a freaking blog post.
      You guys, this is not what Not Coping looks like. This, to me, is just what every single day looks like. I am guaranteed, today, to feel sadness, grief, anger, despair and frustration - and also to feel joy, happiness, gratitude and love. This is Coping. This has been my life for so long, and while every fiber in my being still longs for a day when I do not face into the darkness as I awake, for a day when the deepest most inner thoughts in my head are a swirl of black that I try to avoid, this is Coping. This is doing pretty damn well awesome. My kids are ALWAYS fed. My kids are ALWAYS dressed. They know that they are loved. My toddler wears clean nappies, has 3 bottles of milk a day and laughs, and makes me laugh a lot.
     Yes, some days are really bad. Some days I allow the cloud to overtake me, and I allow myself to grieve for my constant grief. I allow myself those days now, because I know they will pass, and I know that the best way to COPE on those days is to nurture myself as I would a small child, wrapping myself in soft comfortable clothes, pouring myself warm drinks, allowing the children to watch infinite movies, and simply let myself be. This is Coping. I am always glad for my 3 gorgeous children. I always think about wanting more children, that's how much I love them. I always smile when I see the cushions on the couch that I love so much. I always laugh out loud, every day.

 It's really really hard, every single day, and I'm doing just fine.
My depression is my constant burden, my ever-present darkness, and I do great.
Thanks for asking.

Tuesday, September 9

Little House on the.... Ok No.

       I've always fantasized about living 'Off-The-Grid'... y'know, tapping maple syrup from the trees, setting traps for bears(and then setting them free OBVIOUSLY), wringing out the cloth nappies by hand and slapping them on a rock. Unfortunately for the latter, my knees and ankles, oy, they're not so great, so my squatting abilities are not what they used to be(and I grew up using squat toilets, so I must have been good at some stage).
     My Pinterest boards are filled with pictures of tiny log cabins, kitchens with water on pump and giant tree slabs for furniture. I constantly envision peeling potatoes on the back doorstep with my children(again, squatting), or milking a goat, or our family clustered around a small open brazier, warming our calloused hands. I mean, I really want to do this stuff. But it's easy to dream about this idyllic life, while warming our hands by the light of a giant TV, eating takeaways and arguing about Masterchef...
     So last week when my friend announced that my microwave had just stopped working, I honestly just shrugged and said, 'ok'. And then when my husband was looking up microwave prices online, and trying to figure out were it would fit it in our budget(quick answer - it doesn't), I told him to settle down. We'd be fine, I told him. And I really thought we would be. I have several friends without microwaves who do FINE.
    And we have been, for the most part. One of my go-to, super-quick meals for the toddler is some pasta(precooked, in the fridge) with some grated cheese and mixed frozen veg, with some ham thrown in for protein.... pop it all in a bowl, zap it for about 30 seconds, give or take, stir it up so the cheese melts through, and you're done! Oh, and please spare me the lecture about giving your kids only fresh and organic food. My kids are well taken-care-of.
     So instead, Little-House-On-The-Prairie style, I popped it in a wee saucepan and stirred it over a low heat. So cute! So rustic! So time-consuming!
Curse you cheerios!!!

    Fast-forward to 6 days later, and it's taken me a day to defrost 2 tiny cocktail sausages from the freezer(again, spare me the lecture), and twenty minutes to slowly fry them on the stove till they're suitably cooked for a toddler. It's not so cute any more.

    I want to get some bread out of the freezer and defrost it! I want to melt some grated cheese over a bit of pasta REALLY FAST! I want to warm up a bottle of milk in exactly 25 seconds! I want the cuteness of the toddler in front of the microwave, chirping 'beep beep beep' hopefully!

    What I want is a gosh darned microwave. One that whirs and beeps and glows and heats.
 Rustic be damned.

PS let me know if anyone if the Auckland area has a spare microwave! Beep beep beep!

Saturday, August 30

Why I 'suck' at going to church

      They say that if you find the perfect church then don't join it, because it won't be perfect any more. Ouch. 'They' say that if you have had problems at more than one church then clearly the problem isn't the church, it's you. Ouch. These charming phrases and all of their less charming cousins should lead me to only one summation: That I am a 'problem child'. That I need to fix myself before I try to fit into another church. 
      Now, I'm no theologian, but the general gist of the New Testament, back when I read the thing, was that there was no such thing as a problem child. Indeed the whole 'vibe' of the Gospel seemed to loosely be that you didn't fix yourself, but went up to the Son of God and said, "here, work with this! This is me!" and then things fell into place. So this seems to be in contrast to those statements that say: You are the problem. You should not be here. You should just try harder to serve everybody and be happy. 
     So when I titled this post "Why I 'suck' at going to church", it was not actually me being down on myself or blaming myself. I'm about 75% sure that I don't 'suck' at going to church, and that's a pretty high score for a person with my self-esteem to give myself. But it is one of those areas where I can look back at the last 15 years of my life and say without a doubt that I have contributed to my churches. Countless youth missions and years working in Sunday preschool? Tick. Leadership at holiday programs? Tick. Contributor to and occasional leader of worship music? Tick. Helped start up not one, but two different Mainly Music programs at two very different churches? Tick. Washer of many dishes? Tick. So why haven't I done better at church? Why haven't I been happier? My church history reads like any evangelical 'good kid's yearbook. 
     The problem, I believe(my opinion only), is that my journey with mental illness has made it increasingly hard to be a fully included member of anything. I get it, it's hard to love someone with 'baggage'. I'm easily hurt, because I love easily. I attach myself unwisely to people who don't care anywhere near as much about me. Is this part and parcel of Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder? Probably. Does this mean I don't get to participate in church? I don't think so. 
       Having chronic depression, like a swollen tumour across one's shoulders and back, hobbling like Igor, messes with a lot of systems in my brain. Poor brain. In terms of faith, it means(deep breath)... that I have never personally felt the presence of God in my life. I've never felt that buzz. Does that make me doubt Her existence? Hells yeah. Which is why, for me, participation was the way that I felt tangible proof of my faith. I had to DO the thing so that I could SEE that there was a thing. For me, seeing and doing is believing. Maybe this explains why I never doubted God's existence and love for me when I was at a small conservative church where I could do as much as I wanted, no previous qualifications needed. I struggled so much with the politics, with the theology, with the gut content of every sermon at Church No. 1, but I could still sing on the worship team and help out in the creche and lead youth teams and preach at the youth services and help revamp the Sunday School. I could work out the Gospel with my hands and arms, and see it with my own two eyes. I left eventually after my post-natal depression climaxed with an overnight stay in hospital and yet I couldn't tell anyone at church about it. I didn't want secrets like that. I needed to be supported with my mental illness, not judged. 
     At Church No. 2 it turned out to be the opposite. I was drawn to it for its content, its slightly-more-liberal-reading of the Bible, its tolerance for different views, its stellar music. The leaders were funny, clever and erudite, yet somewhat unapproachable. What I didn't see at the beginning was that the strength of its purpose, its clever sermons and passionate talk of community, was that as a fairly young church plant, the inner core of about 20 or 30 people(all individually amazing, loving, faithful, awesome people) were close close friends who had long histories with each other. This made for a strong, passionate core from which to spiral off its various ministries. It also made for the most lovable non-snobby clique ever. 
     Unfortunately, my early involvement with this group, who were welcoming and affable and lovely, was untenable long term because of my lack of history with them, and ended in pain and hurt - for me.

"The feeling of being excluded, by definition, creates an intense loneliness... People leave church because they start to feel like an outsider, and that makes them lonely. It is an emotion that is painful, powerful, and given enough time, unbearable."

Now I genuinely do not believe that this was their intention, rather my own, rather innocent mistake. Instead of remaining on the outside, as I should have, being a newby, and making friends with other newbies, I fell right into the middle of the middle. That our friendships never progressed further than they did is no one's fault. I hadn't lived in London with them ten years ago. My children didn't go to the same schools. I didn't live in the central suburbs. All rather trifling details that meant we were never destined to be bosom buddies, but the damage had been done. I attached myself quickly and easily to them, too fast, and fell in love with them all. A more decent bunch of people you will not find easily. And so, my heart started breaking, especially as new people who ticked the right boxes were easily scooped up.
     The leaders and their group were the core of the church, and as such, it became impossible to become more involved. As a slick city church with standards of excellence, my ten years of experience contributing to and leading children and youth ministry counted for nothing, when I didn't have the right university degree. And as I kept pushing and applying and knocking, I began to get the feeling that my mental illness was an issue here too. At a lousy job interview they asked questions about how I would cope under pressure, how I would stand up under the stress of working part time and being a mother, how I would deal with my emotions. I began to also believe, along with them, that the limitations of my mental illness were far reaching. They were probably right, I probably couldn't cope, I'd probably go all mental.... And when they went outside the pool of applicants to headhunt one of the inner circle of friends who was not looking for a job, I knew my fate was sealed. I was just NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I had wanted the job, we needed the job(our income was and still is approximately half the average income there), but I just wasn't good enough. 
       In hindsight, at Church No. 2 I began(and continue) to have the opposite problem as at Church No. 1. Denied entry into such a competitive church 'industry', and unable to commit to the huge time involved with the music group(although I did 'pass' the audition - phew!), my hands were tied, and I began to lose my faith. I still sang along lustily to the worship music, but tears poured down my face. Eventually the emotional rawness of exposing myself to that atmosphere - where the melody and harmony soared, scooping you up on a wave of feeling, and then left you high and dry on the beach in real life - became just too much and I stopped singing along. My continuing struggle with depression - and the newly diagnosed Chronic Fatigue - left me unable to keep up with attendance.... and no one noticed... As I wept in the congregation, and then wept at home, no one called or emailed to see where I was. Why? Because I wasn't important. I wasn't part of the essential core. I hadn't been particularly useful or involved, so why would my attendance be an issue? I was - and am - a difficult person, a high-maintenance friend, and a super-sensitive soul. 
       I recently read this article, on the super-excellent Rachel Held Evans blog, about 'Mental Illness and The Church', where the author describes it as "the ‘'no-casserole' illness, meaning faith communities don’t always rally around a person or family suffering from mental illness the way they might a family walking through cancer." 
She goes on to explain: 
"When someone comes to us and says, “I have cancer” or “I broke my leg,” we don’t freak out and think, “I have no idea how to fix that, so I’m going to tell the person to get professional help and walk away.” No, we don’t feel a sense of obligation to cure cancer or reset the person’s broken bone. We know what to do. We pray for them. We ask them what they need. We bring meals to their house to feed their family. We give them rides and make sure their kids are taken care of and even do the laundry.
But when someone is having a mental health problem, our first thought is more likely to be something like “I don’t know how to help with that.” We might tell the person to get professional help and figure we’ve done our job and there’s really nothing more we can do. Why don’t we offer casseroles to people who have a family member in a behavioral health hospital or a depressive funk? Why don’t we make sure they and their families are taken care of?"
My family doesn't go to church any more. Don't even get me started on the problems we've had trying to attend normally with two kids on the spectrum who hate noisy kids programs. Do I still believe in God? I'm having a hard time with that one. I don't necessarily think that there is no God, I just tend to feel like He or She is rather oblivious and unconcerned with the state of things down here, but again, I know that is just my depression speaking. Do I still believe in Church? Yup. I think when it works, it works good, and its essential. I can't even imagine how people who don't go to church have babies... I mean, who makes their meals? Who does their laundry? What? No.
 Is church for me? I don't know. What I do know is that I need and long for a community that is tolerant, non-judgmental, and approaches you with open arms. I think I am the kind of person who needs church, because I need to feel loved. But it just doesn't always work out that way. 
I have been trying to write this blog post for years now. Because it's my blog, and it's my pain, and instead I've just bitten my tongue, and sat on my hands, and tried to be a good, non-complaining churchgoer. Which is why I'm trying really hard not to feel guilty about having written it now. If you read this, and you've been at a church with me, I'm sorry if you react with anger, surprise or hurt. I know I'm a hard person to love. But this is my blog. 

Thursday, January 30

Cure or Cope? The Drama of Seperation Anxiety

Well my dears, I have had 3 children, and they are in bed right now. And some might say that having 3 children makes me an expert. A parenting pro. In fact, when I mention the fact that I have managed to conceive, and keep, 3 whole beings(and one darling never-to-be-forgotten-'blip'-on-the-screen), I have received many random comments, including those who would flatter me for my apparent parenting skills. So it can be somewhat humbling to realise, every-single-freaking-day, that I am still learning. In fact, some days it can feel like I am totally new to this whole 'having-children' thing. So I do not, for a second, want you to think that I think that I am better at this than you. Because I am so so so not. But we parents and caregivers are a team, are we not? And I think that sharing our newly honed skills can be a good thing. SO.
Separation Anxiety. 
You've heard of it, yes? In fact, you've HEARD IT. The crying, the whining, the gently escalating hum of anxious baby noises as they pick up the clues of a departure. The roar down the corridor as you flee the scene, slam the door, drop the keys, pick up the keys, rev the engine...
 At times it can be flattering, a sideways glance and two fat-ringed hands reaching for you. Yes you. You're their favourite. And you know you should feel grateful that they love you. Gratified that they need you. But the crescendo of cries twists your gut, filling you with guilt, resentment, more guilt, anger, frustration, concern, a sense of feeling trapped... Oh man, I know it well.
So, separation anxiety. You've probably read a bunch about it. It's generally a good sign. They, our progeny, are strongly emotionally attached to us, their caregiver. If they didn't roar, flap their hands, toddle desperately after you, this would be a warning sign. You, Me, We, are their safe place. So first of all, give yourself a HIGH FIVE!

Now, how do we stop this craziness from ruining our lives?
I've had 3 different children, with 3 totally different styles of dealing with things. My eldest, M, who is now 8, would cry and cry, heartbroken sobs. Her kindy teacher, grandmother, sunday-school teacher, and whoever else was doing the awful deed would gentle peel her shuddering wiry frame off me, and would then be, in turn, in her death grip. It was utterly heart-wrenching. But M had a helper, a small white soft-toy puppy named, well, Puppy. And when I turned to leave, I would see Puppy clenched in her fist as she reached for me from beyond the bead curtain. And Puppy was there for her. In fact, at one enterprising child-care centre, a special home was made for Puppy, a much-painted and glue-spattered cardboard house, and thus M would leave me for Puppy, and then eventually, as her breathing steadied and the sobs lessened, she would leave Puppy in his lovely box, and venture forth into the sunlight. Thank goodness for Puppy!

I did not cope very well with M's neediness. I felt trapped, isolated and completely alone in the task of caring for her, despite my husbands desperate attempts to reach out to us, and my depression and her depression seemed to entwine into one mass of sad girl-dom. So I would leave. I had to! I would sneak out during nap-time, leaving hubby in charge and go to the beach and sit, watching the waves for hours. Or I would point at a bird, something shiny over there, or turn on her favourite show, all to distract from the fact that I was running away. I think all of us have probably distracted, or run, or hid... and at times it is entirely necessary. I still mis-direct small people daily, just so that I can run off and speed-pee. But I don't think it's a way to cure or even to cope with Separation Anxiety.

My second child, L, who is turning 6 in a couple of months, was a different kettle of fish. He attached himself to everyone as a baby, merrily swinging from arm to arm like a hairy little chimp. I mean, yes, he wanted me more than anyone else, but if I wasn't available, he'd just make do. He went through the usual clingy stage, and then eventually progressed onto the separation anxiety. But instead of weeping for hours, he chose to instead roar angrily and tearfully when clawed from my arms, and then, as soon as I was out of the room, he was fine. Like, annoyingly, cheerfully fine. And I would be left with the memory of his tear-stained face, his red open mouth, his flailing hands.... and feel like shit for the rest of the day. And L? He would dig in sandpits, paint anything and everything, swing on tires and generally enjoy an awesome day at kindy. Him I did not distract as much, nor run from. His kindy teacher, firmly clasping his twisting roaring little body, would carry him to the kitchen window where he could see me walking away, and I would always turn at the letterbox, and wave at him, blow kisses, and walk steadfastly away. Did it make it less awful for me? No, not really. But it felt more, I don't know, honest. I wasn't tricking him. I was showing him that I, his mama, was confident that he'd be ok, and I was gifting him my final wave to show: I love you, I'm going, I'll be back.

My third child, FR, is, again, a different person. Seriously, you'd think by now I'd have this sussed, right? FR was not clingy until about 12 months, a little bit late, and to tell the truth, when she did start needing ME more than HIM, I felt a bit relieved. What was this, an emotional zombie? But then she hit the big SA with a bang. I mean, big bada boom. This child can SMELL my presence, or lack of, even while sleeping... it's the hand-to-heart truth, ANY time I leave the house while she is napping during the day, no matter at what point in her sleep cycle, she lifts her head abruptly, sniffs the air like a hungry lion-cub, and then that's it. Snap. Caught out. Which means that if I leave while she's sleeping peacefully, she will always wake up and spend the next hour or so pacing around the house shouting at her darling daddy, demanding my swift return. Which in turn means that I should NOT try and run errands while she naps, because then her nap is ruined for the day. But you know what? I'm ok with not slipping out secretly. If I have to leave her, I try to make it a time when she is happy, well-fed and generally busy... but I don't hope that her play will keep her distracted. I usually walk up to her, or call her name out, and when she looks up at me, her head cocked to one side sparrow-like, I say to her: "hey FR, mama's just going to go out and do some jobs, nana's here now and she's the boss, ok? I'll be right back in a little while, I love you lots!" And if she starts to whimper or hold out her arms, then I go to her and pick her up and hug her really hard. And then I pass her to nana, or whoever is amazing enough to look after my children for me, or put her gently down at her game, wave goodbye, and leave.

Does this technique cure Separation Anxiety? Nope. Does Separation Anxiety need curing? I don't think so. It's a perfectly normal part of our children's development, another notch on the chart as their little lines soar upwards, and it WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. I can say that as a fact, because I know it, because I've seen it. There WILL be a time, with all honesty I'm telling you, that you will feel slightly miffed at the surly 'bye', the lack of any head-movement from a book or screen, and you will feel ever so slightly disappointed that your absence causes no pain. And when my big girl was little, I could not see the future, I could not see hope, I could not see that there would ever be a time when she would not need me with every fibre in her strange little self, and I was completely overwhelmed.
But I've seen the future. It's a future where your children, my children, wave merrily out of car windows or at doors, confident in your steadfastness, your promised return. It's a future where they trust you, an ordinary person, so much that they can leave you and step forward, knowing that you will not let them down. You will ALWAYS be there.
So let's do away with curing Separation Anxiety shall we? Let's put the tricks, the magic-disappearing-acts away in a bag for now. They can be used now and then, when absolutely necessary. Let's learn how to bolster up our own confidence as caregivers, how to trust our own decisions of child-care and day-to-day work, so that we believe in what we are doing. So that we believe that leaving our children is necessary sometimes, and we believe it's for a good reason.
 Don't hide from your baby, or run out the door in bare-feet, heels in hand, no, turn around, go back and say
BYE my darling precious one! I'm going OUT now, and I WILL be back. I know it is sad my darling, but I promise you I WILL be back.

I'd love to hear what your take on Separation Anxiety and Clingy Chimps is... how do you say goodbye to your little ones? Any advice, questions, or sob stories?
Hugs and kisses.
PS I am intending to add some links to articles I've found really helpful, but I'm also intending on folding the washing sometime and putting it away, soooo.... yeah....