Words of Encouragement (10): *Get strong, and have vision*.
In the UK we are more than half way through week one (at the time of writing, last week) of a type of ‘lockdown’ although we still have certain limited freedoms outside of our homes. I personally hope that our time at home will be longer than three weeks (retrospectively the update since writing is that it is likely to be several months), because we are almost a third of the way through and this pandemic is not abating, at least not yet. I think it would be a risk to life to reintegrate into society or try to establish some kind of ‘normality’ before the medical and scientific communities really get on top of this virus.
I have a couple of points for us to think about today.
Firstly, our time at home isn’t the same as our time at home say during the Christmas holidays. While I encourage people to relax and enjoy what you can, I would discourage you from spending most of your time in escapism or binge watching box sets (although, I’m not saying don’t do that at all….you do need time to destress and sometimes that can help in moderation). This isn’t a holiday. Because if we all make it to the other side of this, there will be a lot of ‘picking up of pieces’ in our societies for those who don’t come through as unscathed as we might. So during this ‘down time’ we are making the choice whether we will become stronger and more resilient in ourselves so that either we can cope better on the other side, or so that we are able to help others in need…because without any doubt there *will* be a *lot* of need after this.
If you are in need of help yourself, that’s ok, don’t worry. I’ve been there, and we all oscillate between how well we are doing, so be kind to yourself. But as you have this time, be purposeful in growing in your resilience. Get strong.
Onto my second point, about having vision. Right now we are in the midst of a rescue mission. All around us groups and efforts are cropping up, and people are coming together to strategize and figure out practical ways of helping others through this collective crisis. However, I would urge you to lift your eyes and look a bit further than this. God willing, for all of us, there will be life on the other side of this in our societies and communities. And we will all have to get used to a new ‘afterwards’. There have been thousands of deaths, and there will continue to be casualties. Casualties of various kinds, for example the physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically wounded. People will be traumatised. People will be out of pocket. People will have financial difficulties, and perhaps even family breakdowns, children may suffer. Please take care of yourself, help others, relax and enjoy during this hiatus, continue to work from home and volunteer where you can while keeping yourself and family safe, but remember that there will be an afterwards, and hopefully we will all still be here and all be part of that. Society will be deeply wounded. People will be grieving. NHS and other health care workers across the world, bin collectors, frontline staff of various types will be utterly exhausted. Some of these may be your colleagues, friends, family, neighbours. It might be you (and if you are one of these frontline workers, THANK YOU ❤ ❤ ❤ ).
Get strong and have vision. Get strong for yourself and family, but also think about what skills you have that we will collectively need in the aftermath of this. Don’t fritter away all of your time with useless things. People are making a great collective effort to help each other *through* this, but we also need to be thinking about how to build ourselves and each other up for the continued efforts that will need to be made *after* this time away from the world.
Get strong, and have vision, help others and build each other up….try not to be afraid, but remind yourself that this is far from over…think about how you will endure and how you will contribute, and how you will use your time, today.
I feel that God Is working on healing the deep things in me, an ongoing perhaps lifelong process, and that now His Love is gradually enlarging my heart.
Whenever I see a new ‘follower’, or one of you liking my posts, my heart is touched to know that He Is using the painful things in my life, and turning them around, to hopefully encourage, inspire or help other people.
His Love Is at work in my heart and I am seeing this less as a part in my healing journey and more so in feeling somewhat awed to know that there are people, real people, you in this same country, and you on the other side of the world who might have their burdens eased a bit in their day. And that means so much to me. Not just because of the significance of it in my personal journey, but because of God’s Pure Love at work in my heart.
Is it possible to love people I may never meet? Is it possible to care so much about your wellbeing from the other side of a computer? I think it is really beginning to mean much more to me. That’s what you mean to me. People precious to and loved by God, and so He Is pouring His Love for you into my heart.
It touches me to know that you might find some comfort from this little blog, and I will seek and pray for His will to show me how to be an encourager, how to care for those He loves, how to help you when you are down and how to be a friend, albeit behind a computer screen, when you feel alone or in need of some advice on moving forwards.
I write a lot about a lot of different things from creativity, lifestyle, mental health, depression, faith, anxiety, and encouragement to name a few things. I write a lot from experience, so it is authentic, raw and real. If there are any things you would like me to write more about that might help you, please do comment and let me know.
Everyone needs compassion, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.
My love and prayers go out to each and every one of you. x
It’s very easy for me to think of several periods throughout my childhood, teenage and adult life when I have felt like I was living while being ‘crushed’ and burdened by inner pain.
Intense emotional and psychological pain, fear, crippling anxiety, depression, low self esteem, rejection, helplessness, and feeling oppressed from a large part being ‘bullied’ (it’s such tame word for abuse) in childhood, for instance.
The physical pain from a nervous system all but wrecked by the overproduction of stress hormones, causing fight, flight, a sensitivity to pain sensations triggered by the smallest of things, in my brain, painful skin conditions, panic attacks, hyperventilation, dizziness, difficulty breathing, dissociation, stomach pains and physical ailments, nightmares, a brain / mind that feels like it is ‘exploding’ and might even self destruct.
And the mental pain from verbal and emotional abuse at an early and formative stage. The kind of pain that doesn’t come and go, but remains a constant for years, even as you try to make it through each day. The intensity of pain that makes you wonder whether there is a ‘way out’.
Can you relate? Do you know in your own life how tough it is, even if ‘on the surface’ it looks like everything is going fine, and even if other people think you have an enviable and ‘easy’ life?
There have been several times like that for me, that I have just had to endure, to cling on as the Grace of God holds and buffets me through the storm, and as He gently heals me through tough seasons of life. Enduring has been a challenge and in my pain and distress I’d find myself fearing that I didn’t have what it takes to keep going, fearing what would happen to me, how could I make it through, and so many other things. My reactions would be to focus on that excruciating pain, to cry out to people for help in my distress, and it was all so very hard.
Sometimes, the pain surfaces again, but the years of endurance are beginning to bear fruit. I realise that the gruelling years of suffering in these ways, even if they have been ‘invisible’ to others, have built my resilience. When you’re in the eye of the storm, thinking of the gain that pain will bring later is just an unhelpful cliché in the moment that does nothing to soothe the suffering. But just as an athlete, or as someone who puts their body through challenging exercises of endurance in time pushes past the pain to gain strength, definition, character, so too do we when we persevere through pain.
We push past our pain and develop coping mechanisms. And we cope.
But then we push past our coping mechanisms and begin to create.
We create avenues of growth, of learning, of character, of opportunity, as pain pushes us to exercise muscles of faith, as our character grows through endurance, we find in ourselves the definition of tenacity, and as we recognise that we no longer have to be oppressed by or negatively defined by our pain, we find a new, truer, deeper Identity.
WE become Overcomers.
When pain surfaces, we understand its familiarity. We no longer fear defeat, because we have pushed through every time, whether with tears or tantrums, or gracefully, but we have pushed through nonetheless to arrive at this point.
What have we learned? Mental endurance. Acceptance that this is an inevitable part of the journey but that it can be utilised as a means of growth and positive change rather than an instrument of suffering and distress.
We fall but we rise again. And with every instance of this we get stronger. Until one day we find that we are no longer merely lifting ourselves up, but reaching out to lift someone else up from the mire. WE train, and we become trainers. WE endure and we become inspirers. WE suffer, and we become overcomers. WE persevere and we change our futures.
When we take time to redefine our mental roadmaps, what the pain in our life means to us, then we change how we ‘greet’ it when it appears, we change its significance from being something happening to us, to something we can use for good. We face forward and get up again, knowing that we have always got up and we will get stronger, push onwards and not be defeated. We will become more agile in processing, drawing meaning from, and overcoming the pain in our lives. And as we do so, we use the same strength that took us through seasons of endurance, to propel us into being people who grow, who build, who teach, who equip, who serve, who inspire, who hope, who persevere with hope, who see opportunities in challenges.
We all know that life can be tough. For many of us, we’ve had to fight through some dark times in our lives, and having put so much effort into surviving, we find that in certain areas we are stronger – stronger than before certainly, and perhaps also stronger than had we not gone through what we went through.
However, I don’t agree with the phrase, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It’s got a positive sentiment behind it, but the fact of the matter is that the things in life that can crush us, challenge us and hurt us the most don’t in and of themselves make us stronger: it’s what we do with those things, how we respond, whether we sink or swim, and that’s where the training comes in.
What’s your problem?
I don’t use that sub-heading flippantly. It’s simply the case that we all have problems to differing degrees. However, for some of us, we have long-standing things that on a regular basis we have to work hard to first survive, then try to stay on top of, and ultimately to overcome so that we can move from surviving to thriving and helping other people along the way.
The thing is, as you may well know from your own experiences in life, that these processes are rarely linear. We have peaks and troughs, ups and downs, awful days and pretty good days. We might have days when we begin to forget that we have such problems, and others when there is no way humanly possible for us not to remember because those days are tough, so tough we may feel we can’t even go on in life.
So what is your problem? Is it chronic illness or chronic pain? Mental, emotional and psychological suffering? Poor health? Anxiety, fear, depression? The burden of being a carer? PTSD, panic attacks, social anxiety? An eating disorder, poor body image, OCD? Grief, abuse, relationship breakdowns, loneliness, isolation? Addiction? Confusion?……sadly, in this fallen world, the list goes on….
Whatever it is, my heart goes out to you, and I’d like to encourage you firstly that you’re not alone, and secondly that you are pretty amazing and have made it so far already. If you’ve made it this far with any of the above, or anything else you can think of that you would fill in the gaps with, then you probably have some idea of what tools and techniques you can use to help you on a day to day basis.
What’s your solution?
At the deepest level, I believe the root of our problems needs a solution that goes beyond anything we or others can do to help us. I believe we need God. However, on a practical and day to day level there are things we can do to help ourselves and other people even if that level of help is just to get by, to cope, to move forwards, to begin to get better, to be better than before.
We need to use the good days as well as the bad to take time to really figure out the healthy things that help us through. For some people, I realise you are all but completely dependent on other people for help and support, and I can’t imagine how tough that may be, but I hope and pray that the people caring for you are kind and supportive in every way.
For those of us who can for the most part do things for ourselves, even if we need help with that, then we need to be resolute in figuring out what is beneficial and what we need to maintain to help us in our recovery, in getting stronger, in our lives.
What could some of these things be?
Perhaps for example: emergency contact numbers, supportive friends and family, a daily routine, remembering to take your medication, a healthy meal plan and exercise routine, hobbies, mental health and self care resources and so forth.
Do I need to train on the good days?
Basically, yes. You do and so do I. By ‘training’ I don’t mean going to the gym or physically working out. What I do mean is that we need to persist in the healthy habits that help us move out of crisis, out of survival and into maintaining a more balanced day to day existence. Because no doubt, or at least in my experience it has very much been the case, those more difficult days can sometimes come ‘out of the blue’ and when we are not prepared, we might have an emotional response to coping with those difficulties that can be detrimental for us. If we stay in training, if we keep up our healthy habits, routines and practices, then on those difficult days, we are more likely to turn to those for help, we have a ‘fall back’, something that has become intuitive and habitual that can help to guard us against those less helpful, or even very damaging coping mechanisms.
So for example, my ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms are staying in a routine, breathing exercises, time in nature, keeping in contact with family and friends, taking medicine, training my mind with brain training exercises, meditating on Scripture, prayer, walks in the fresh air, creativity, some physical exercise and eating well. They can also include writing down my thoughts, blogging, photography, things to get my mind off my pain and my struggles and to grow stronger in a positive focus. I also have certain songs that are encouraging as music can have a really powerful effect and can make a real positive difference when we allow the right things into our minds. I might also turn to other forms of writing, I might plan my day, work to keep my home and environment about me tidy and calming, and read and think about affirmations that I have already prepared.
On tough days, all of our helpful coping mechanisms can ‘go out the window’. However, we are more likely to be able to reach out and grasp for at least one helpful coping technique if we ‘stay in training’ on the good days as well as the bad. I can see how far I have come, or at least begin to be able to see, in thinking about what I have listed as my healthy coping techniques. A few years ago they would most likely have been reaching out for professional help via crisis helplines, support workers, and key family and friends who knew about my struggles. Now, a few years on and I don’t even think of calling those helplines, I don’t need to, and part of that is the resilience and strength that comes from daily training and forming new and healthy habits and means of coping.
What about you? Reflecting back on your own journey, can you think of ways that you have grown and changed that might encourage you as you move forward?
Why do I need to work at it, even on the good days?
Why? Because when we struggle, ‘relapse’ or get into difficulty, we usually have emotional and psychological reactions, and sometimes these can be quite intense. We seek immediate ‘fixes’ or ways to numb the pain, block it out, cope with it, or to feel better some how. If we aren’t training regularly then we are more likely to fall into (or fall back into) unhealthy ‘fixes’.
For me, my unhealthy responses tend to be comfort eating, escapism through ‘binge watching’ shows, negative self talk which can trigger relapses into depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc. I also tend to isolate myself, retreat, avoid company, and try to ‘fix’ things psychologically by maybe watching or reading about other people’s stories online, but when I’m vulnerable I can end up in a dark place. Knowing this, and having experienced it, I realise that it is crucial to keep working at it on the better days, because then my healthier coping mechanisms will have formed pathways and patterns in my brain that make it easier for me to turn to them as a ‘fall back’ than to these other things.
Some people may turn to much more dangerous ways of coping with their pain and struggles. This might (*TRIGGER WARNING*) involve drugs, alcohol, self-harm, anger, lashing out, etcetera. This can quickly cause one to relapse and fall back into that hole they had tried and worked so hard to get out of. This is why we need to work at things everyday. And by doing so, we give not only ourselves a better chance of getting better, making progress and thriving but we also give other people the chance to benefit from the help we will be able to give them if we keep working at getting stronger.
Wherever you are on your journey, think about the positive things that you need to keep doing in your life to stay on track. Don’t be discouraged if you have fallen into that pit – call out for help, and keep getting stronger, stay in training EVERY DAY, and never give up. I believe in you. x
“There is no fear in Love. Perfect Love casts out all fear”.
If you have been hurt, especially as a child, you may find yourself as an adult, pouring all your effort into merely trying to survive the pain and the brokenness hidden deep within your heart. If you have been hurt repeatedly and if the wound is deep then perhaps you are ‘bleeding’, barely breathing. It is tough. There are no real words to express the depth of pain and fear that is all but crippling. Yet, maybe like me you are a fighter, a survivor, you’ve made it this far….so far…people looking upon you outwardly have no idea of the mental and emotional anguish you’ve lived through and survived, and are working hard to overcome. They don’t see that your survival is miraculous, and that your heart has to pulse so much harder to keep you alive, in every sense, but still you’re barely breathing. But maybe, like me, you’ve been touched by a Love so Pure, so Faithful, so Gentle that this Perfect Love casts out all fear. The Love, the healing, saving, rescuing sacrificial (agape) Love of the Lord Jesus, Who loved you and gave His life for you. This Love has rescued me. He has come to heal the broken hearted and bind up our wounds – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. And yet this healing is a process. And it takes time. He knows each heart, and perhaps some He will restore with a single breath, a heavenly touch. Not mine, however, and perhaps not yours. He has brought me so far, and yet after all this time, there is still a deep wound, remnants of trauma still linger, and the pain and turmoil within bubbles to the surface from time to time. And He holds me still. He loves me. He Is Great enough for my deep wounds. He can carry me through and carry me home. But what of opening up to the possibility of imperfect love? Could such a thing be for hearts like ours that have been broken, lives that have been filled with seasons of pain and trauma, and our strongest times so far are ones of being in the process of restoration, but never *yet* knowing that ‘someday’ of wholeness that is to come? I don’t know the answers to this. Perhaps you have found a new reality for your timorous heart and you are learning to do more than survive or exist. Maybe you have some lessons for me? Yes, I am Held, life, spirit, soul and body by the Perfect Love of God found in Christ Jesus. And yet, it is only in trusting and knowing the One Who will never fail, leave or forsake us that it is possible to begin to trust mere mortals, knowing that even when people fail, God will not. Yet the heart is a tender vessel. One that needs constant encouragement. And one, if it does not feel safe, or find a safe harbour to rest in, one that will receive it safely just as it is, broken or hurt by others or the experiences of life, as it is, then that timorous broken heart will find a hiding place….the only safe place to hide is in Christ but even so, that broken little heart and mind may find it too hard to believe that it can be taken care of, for it has never really known this, and so it merely whispers, and hides and does not sing the song that it was born to sing…