Monday, 30 June 2014

What does the church think about bipolar?

A draft of this post has been sitting in my blog crafts for over a year. I knew I wanted to write it but was scared what people might think.  I knew it needed writing but worried it might become a turning point I wasn't ready for.  I worried.  

A fair amount of this worry was put on me by others who were actually scared themselves. People who thought out would be best if I kept my diagnosis quiet.  Their hearts were always in the right place but sadly their advice made me feel more ill and less certain that I could be me.

But things have changed.
Lots of things.

Firstly I've started telling people.  Not out of the blue, but if they asked how I was and clearly wanted to know.  I've just simply said something along the lines of "I'm ok thanks, I've been diagnosed with bipolar and am finding my way through it slowly."

You may not be surprised to hear that without any exception I've had positive and supportive responses from everyone I've told.  Some have wanted to know more, some have wanted to hug me and process on their own; some have offered support in a variety of forms and others have had questions that I've been happy to answer where I could.  I guess the fact that I've told people who obviously cared might skew these positive responses, but it's been such a positive and healing period.

So what does the church think of bipolar?
My most accurate answer is that I don't know. But I do know how they feel about me as an LLM living with bipolar.

The church congregation has been unbelievably supportive and accepting, sometimes I think many of them knew way before I was diagnosed or came to accept it myself.  No one has shown any shock although most of them have been shocked how hard it's been trying to get real help from the psychiatrists.

The ministry team have been a huge blessing; stepping up to t take on those things I needed to drop and result handing them back when I was ready.  This is an ongoing process and I can not explain how much their reactions and offers have helped me.

The Bishops have heard and prayed with me and encouraged me that God has called me through this.  I wondered if they'd want to take my licence away and I'd heard horror stories; but instead they supported me as I tried to understand how I could be an LLM despite my diagnosis.

And God. What does God think?
I've been backwards and forward, up and down with God and how He relates to me and my ministry and bipolar. At the worst times of depression I've felt persecuted and abandoned by God, something I've never before experienced. But I've come through and I've come through knowing that God has been with me through every painful minute, holding my hand and helping me heal.  I know now that He knew me and knows me and knows how I will be and calls me through it all.  And it's good to write it down because there may come a time in the future where I'll need reminding of his abundant love.

Make God's Kingdom Come #church #God #christianity

Ignore the papers
Turn off the news
We're not declining
Not even a few

All over the planet
The churches still grow
Discovering Jesus
Follow where they go

2.3 billion
Christians in the world
Third of the population
Hearing Jesus' words

Growing every day
By seventy thou
Through Africa, Asia
They're meeting there now

Singing and praising
Holy Spirit in flow
The gospels change lives
Everywhere they go

Many are hurt
Persecuted for faith
Killed and tortured
Vanished without trace

This is reality
Not easy like here
Let's pray for these Christians
That there's no more fear

Until that happens
Let's go out of our homes
Go shout about Jesus
Wherever we roam

No more can we hide
No more hoping they come
We can't rest on our laurels
Make God's kingdom come!

Ministry of Interpretation

This is the first in a series of posts which have been inspired by speakers at the Diocese of Oxford Licensed Lay Ministry (LLM) Conference 2014.  I took unbelievable amounts of notes and it seems selfish of me to keep it all to myself, so I'm going to break it down into bite size chunks. And no, this is not to make it easier for you, I wouldn't insult you in such a way, this is about making it easier for me to write coherent posts.

The first speaker at the conference was our Dicese's very own Bishop John; that's Bishop John Pritchard for those who don't know or read this in 25 years time.

Bishop John started by thanking us for our ongoing ministry in all aspects of the life of the church.  He reminded us how important Confident Collaborative Leadership is in our parishes, deaneries and dioceses and reinforced the role we have to play in the ministry and mission in our communities.

I bet you're wondering what Confident Collaborative Leadership (CCL) actually means.  Let me quote from the Diocesan website:
" This is about developing leadership using all the resources available to the local church. It would involve consolidation in some parishes and new work in others to build up shared ministry in teams, with appropriate training and support."

Or as I prefer to explain it; CCL is clergy, lay ministers and other lay leaders working together in the parish to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, make disciples and care for those in need.

As LLMs we are on the front line between Church and society.  We are of the church whilst in our communities; we are theologically trained and able to express this in ways understandable to those outside the church. We have a specific role of interpreting society for the church and visa versa.

I know I knew this, as recently as a year ago I could have told you this; but somehow life and all its challenges had got in the way of me remembering it with any clarity.  I am called by God and Licensed in the Church of England to preach, teach and care both within and outside the church.  It's what I've been doing, despite and throughout my illness; I've been feeling like a failure and forgetting that God has been using me even when I couldn't see it.

Don't get me wrong, I know I've made mistakes and I fall short, but I have remembered this weekend that I am called to be me within the church and me with those I walk alongside.  I am an interpreter of our faith in the world and an interpreter of our community in the church.

Facebook, emotions and me

Yesterday The Guardian newspaper was shared over and over again all over Facebook with its headline Facebook manipulates users emotions.  It got me all riled up, angry about how an organisation could cause such damage to ordinary people.  

This blog post was going to be about the manipulation of our emotions, and no doubt will include some element of rant about that, but as I've started writing I've realised something else:
The organisation which. manipulated my emotions yesterday was The Guardian newspaper!  

Think about it.....

.... I wouldn't have known about Facebook and it's actions without the newspaper article. It was the article which affected my emotions yesterday.

So often this is the case; I'll watch the news or read a paper and either laugh about something silly or feel angry and inspired to write or do something, or more usually feel completely despondent about the state of the world we live in.  The news is a huge factor in my emotional state on any particular day and when I'm in a depressive state I try to avoid the news in order to remove it's impact on me.

With this is mind I now ask myself if Facebook manipulating my timeline is such a huge deal for my emotional state.  Certainly it isn't the sole influence, but seeing as how it's my main communication tool it has the potential to be a dominant factor in my day.

In order to make any real sense of this I'm going to summarise my emotional life and my use of Facebook.

My emotional life
I live with Bipolar.  Having only been diagnosed 18 months ago and having experienced problems with medication I have two states which I live in. I'm either in a depresssive state which is normally "quite down" but sometimes extremely depressed or even suicidal; or I'm in a manic state which ranges from "on top of the world" to "able to change the world".  I'm having mixed success with medication and have improved from not knowing how I'll wake up each morning, to not being sure how I'll feel next week.  I have unstable emotional patterns, that's the crux of it, and it's exhausting to live with even on the good days.  My dominant position is one of being quite depressive which means I can easily be affected by bad news or stress or exhaustion.

My Use of Facebook
I check Facebook pretty much everyday.  I like to check in with my friends and see how they're doing, I interact with about 20 people every day.  I also use Facebook in my prayer life - I belong to prayer groups, in my ministerial life - talking to ministers around the world, and in my voluntary roles - looking after pages and groups.  I spend at least an hour of each day on Facebook, often many hours, and it is the main way I communicate in my life and ministry.

Do I think Facebook could affect my mood?
Yes, and I'm not particularly vulnerable on 9/10 days.

I think that being shown lots of positive items and images on a manic day could fuel my mania and make me believe that I really could do some awesome things.  Luckily I don't have damaging mania so this wouldn't be a huge problem except for the fact that where there a mania there's soon a depression.

More critically I think that being shown lots of sad images or items could really push a depressive mood into ad downward spiral.  And let's be clear, that can lead to suicidal thoughts!

How do I feel about Facebook manipulating me?
I feel angry.
I'm angry that someone, anyone, thought it would be interesting to try.
I'm angry that they didn't think about how it might affect people in either minor or devastating ways.
I'm angry with myself for becoming so reliant on one free piece of software to communicate in so many aspects of my life.
Guess what - I'm angry!

But more importantly....
I use Facebook to hear from my friends, peers, colleagues and family.  If Facebook is manipulating what I see then it's a third party in many of my relationships and that's never a good thing.  It suddenly means my communications more closely resemble Chinese whispers than true communication.

So what are my options
1. Leave Facebook.
Don't be stupid.  At times of despair Facebook has been the way I've reached out and found tools to help me cope.  And quite apart from that it would mean I'd have to spend at least twenty times as long trying to communicate with people and that I'd probably loose contact with huge numbers of people.

2. Be aware
Be aware of my moods before and after using Facebook and therefore try to notice if Facebook has affected my mood.  This will then allow me to I identify if my mood is real or induced.  It's something I've done with news, as mentioned above.

3. Get Mike to write a Facebook alternative
He could, he's bright and capable, but let's be clear it's not going to happen. He doesn't have the time and more importantly he doesn't have the interest.  He's never understood why anyone would be on Facebook anyway.

To conclude
We live in the Facebook culture.
We use Facebook messenger rather than email.
We share photos on line rather than holding holiday photo silde shows.
We raise awareness and money for charities on Facebook.
We enact social change through Facebook.
We therefore choose to live with Facebook despite its inadequacies and it's highly unlikely that's going to change any time soon.

But at least we now know that we need to watch ourselves in and on and around Facebook.   It's a tool, let's not give it more power than it needs.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Double Bass Dance

Rachel loves her double bass; it just seems to be the perfect instrument for her. It's not common, it's left field, it raises an eyebrow because it's something a bit different. It's funky and tricky and oh so cool.  It just seems to go well with her sense of herself.

Don't get me wrong, she enjoyed the piano, but that was more to do with her wonderful teacher than the instrument. Her double bass teacher is young and enthusiastic and teaches with passion but it's the double bass itself which has stolen her heart.

I love watching her practice, she goes into this uber calm state where she feels the music rather than having to force it.  Even when she's doing scales it's more about sensing the notes than remembering them.

When she's playing with the school orchestra she's very chilled out and doesn't seem to have any anxiety if she misses a beat or forgets to the second time bar.  This may man nothing to you but is something that in any other situation would cause her extreme anxiety; she's a perfectionist.

Even getting the massive instrument in and out of its case is smoothly done now she's got the knack; it's an extension of her.  And for a child who can't see 3d and is always dropping things or tripping over herself that's quite something.

I was taking some videos and photos whilst she was playing this week (trying to design the double bass cake she wants for her birthday) and was struck by this idea of the double bass being an extension of her.  As a flute player I know about an instrument being an extension of your breath but have never really understood the string instruments (although I've always loved the sound). But looking at the double bass I was struck by its curvature; it's like a voluptuous woman, perfectly curved in all the right places.

Double bass players embrace the instrument when they play it, leaning it against their bodies and using the shape to get the most from the sound it produces.  Rachel is never static when she plays and agrees able to do so much more than just tap a toe.  She leans and sways and moves as the music takes her and as the double bass needs her to as she reaches for the notes she wants to play.  It's a dance.