Numbing Out

“How are you?”

“Fine. Busy!  You know! How are you?”

“Same, busy, tired!”

How many of our conversations start like this?  When perhaps what you want to say is: overwhelmed/sad/frustrated/feeling taken for granted, or: generally quite content but I do get ridiculously cross when my lodger puts things in the wrong recycling receptacle – just me?

January to July I studied every Saturday, the first step toward a new pathway working in a therapeutic environment.  Learning about counselling theory and skills, but mainly learning about myself – identifying my actual emotions.  “Fine” and “Busy” are not emotions, they are things we say in order to not name our emotions.

I haven’t blogged for a long time. Nearly five months.  I could say that I have been busy which would be true; but I have managed to find time to watch five seasons of The Good Wife, almost five seasons of Parks and Recreation and all episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.  Thank you for your understanding and non-judgment of my life.

I had a big chunk of time off in between finishing my old job (Hallelujah!) and starting my new one – five whole glorious weeks when I completed assignments for college, read, gardened and visited friends with young children.  I kept promising myself that I would finally find time to attend to neglected activities: journaling, Bible study, and writing.  I didn’t though – I felt like there was a block: there was nothing there, I couldn’t connect to anything.  I couldn’t seem to sit with stillness or quiet for long, I had to be occupied, either out and about doing things with friends or around the house, or getting lost in a different world.  So, I spent many hours binge watching episodes of The Good Wife whilst promising myself that I would get around to the most important things “later” or “tomorrow”.

I was disappointed in myself and angry that I was not utilising this precious and luxurious time nourishing my soul with the things that are important to me.

One Saturday at college we did an exercise: examining our relationships and how we form, maintain and end them.  Unless it is with my very closest people I avoid conflict; I swallow any “negative” feelings, telling myself that I “shouldn’t” feel like that.  I try to ignore and forget about my “negative” feelings which means that patterns repeat and issues are not resolved.  This leads to feelings bubbling over or getting to the point where the relationship ends because by the time I talk about how I am feeling the issues seem insurmountable or the other person is surprised by my expressing such feelings when I have seemed perfectly happy up until then.

*

I thought about my relationship with God and with myself, two relationships that often come at the bottom of my “to-do” list when they should be at the top.  I am someone who likes to help others (ENFJ, Enneagram Type 2) but this can often be at the expense of myself.  I reflected on the “shoulds” that I feel others place on me or I place on myself, in counselling terms we call these our “conditions of worth” – these are conditions that we think that we should meet in order to be worthy of love.

I realised (again) that I was exhausted and constantly doing things in order to please other people and to please God as if God was this big master Judge who is never pleased with what I do and I always must do more.  I was angry about the restrictions and expectations that I felt were placed upon me and I was resentful.  I had disconnected from myself and therefore from God; I didn’t want to get still and quiet and listen to my soul and hear what was going on.  I didn’t want to simply “be” with God or myself.  I wanted to numb and avoid feeling.

Maybe you do this too?  You disconnect from yourself when things feel overwhelming?  Shut yourself off to keep safe in some way?  Maybe that’s by not going out and seeing people or by throwing yourself in to work or like me by binge watching things on Netflix? However you do it you avoid listening to your heart and that is never good.  It will make you sad and tired and resentful.

Talking about my feelings each week made me realised that I often struggle to identify my own, but can quite easily help you out with yours.  I realise that I numb in order to avoid feeling emotions which I have decided are “bad”.  I had a long hard look at myself and started my own personal therapy.  As my acceptance of my own emotions improves (less swallowing feelings and pretending they are not there, more acknowledging and trying to deal) and my awareness of myself deepens, I have noticed that my connection with God seems to have been strengthened.  I am finding talking to God easier again and I am excited to keep nurturing my relationship with myself and with God.

There’s something there about knowing ourselves and knowing God and how the two are interconnected in a weird and wonderful way.  You need to get quiet and still to know yourself and to know God; otherwise you can’t hear that small quiet calm voice over the loud screams of all.the.things that demand your attention first.

Tuning in to our inner voice can be hard if you haven’t done it for a while.  How do you know who you really are?  Have your likes and dislikes, your wants and needs got lost somewhere on the way? Are they just a reflection of what you think you “should” like to do? In order to tune into that voice I would start by thinking about something that you loved to do as a child before you learned to grow out of it.  Maybe it was painting, or gymnastics or ballet or colouring or writing stories?  Whatever it was, start doing it again.  Does it still bring you joy?  If yes, great – keep doing it – add other things that bring you joy and make time to be quiet (however uncomfortable) with yourself.  If it doesn’t?  Stop doing it, try something else.  Maybe being by yourself in the bath listening to Rod Stewart brings you joy.  Great: do you.

When you start doing you it’s like realising you’ve been holding your breath and now you get to exhale.

*

After I wrote the first draft of this blog post I read the book Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen which put into words better than my own everything I had been feeling.  Almost every page I turned down a corner or underlined something.  This book will remain with me for a long time.  Jennie writes:

“Time with Jesus causes us to feel secure in our identities.  By listening to his voice, we recognise the lies that promise fulfilment elsewhere.  Do you want to know what you truly believe will satisfy you?  Look at where you spend the most time.”

Food for thought indeed.

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Advent and why I love it

I love Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, specifically the four weeks before, the start of the Church calendar.

I love the anticipation, the excitement, the decorations, doing “christmassy” things like eating too much and drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies and seeing family and friends but I also love it from a Christian perspective and not just a secular one, because it means our Emmanuel – our God with us – is coming.

Christians celebrate the arrival of Jesus’ birth every year, but the four weeks preceeding the main event are very special as we prepare, yet again for his arrival.  Of course Jesus has already arrived but every year we get to remember it again and go into the new year renewed in hope and love.

This year I have prepared by reading “Advent for Everyone” by Tom Wright.  I found it really useful to consider the Gospel of Matthew and learn more about what waiting means for us now.  Tom Wright uses the helpful analogy of a bicycle wheel to think of the church calendar – although we repeat the same things throughout of the year in a cyclical fashion we are not static – a bicycle wheel moves forward and as Christinas that is what we aim for – to grow in understanding and love.

2016 has been hard, hard on the world as a whole and hard on a lot of individuals that I know.  Syria and the news that comes out of there has been devastating, the global refugee crisis with so many displaced, incidents of racism on the rise, homelessness, poverty…it goes on.  It seems as though the scarcity myth has won out in recent times, a lot of people are believing that there isn’t enough to go around; not enough money, not enough love, not enough time, not enough understanding.  They seem to have turned inward, wanting to only help themselves and those that are like them.  The world has seemed very selfish, dark and scary at points this past year.

Advent reminds us to have hope, that the light, the light of the world is coming once again and that actually there is enough in Jesus; enough love, enough patience, enough compassion, enough hope, enough good – to heal us as individuals and to heal the world.

A lot of people mock this idea.  The Church and Christians have got it so wrong for so long.  Examples of Jesus?! Ha.

This is of course true.  Here’s the thing about our God and our Jesus though, they expect us to do better, to learn, to be.  to be the light of the world.  We are given this responsibility to be shining examples of Jesus’ love out in the world.  We are to help bring about God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”.

This is why I love Advent, because every year we have the opportunity to wait, to think, to learn, to grow.

Hope, joy and peace to all humankind.

Pausing, One

Anxiety is no friend to logic.  You might “know” something but your body betrays you.  You feel like you have something heavy sat on your chest.  You can’t breathe deeply enough.  Your airways are tight.  Your chest doesn’t expand properly.  It feels like there’s a rubber resistance band strapped around your lungs.  You feel sick and your stomach is upset.  You obsessively and compulsively bite all of your nails down to the quick.  Tears are never far from behind your eyes.

It is the absence of peace.

In August 2015 I turned 30.  That summer I experienced a prolonged feeling of anxiety for the first time.  Lots of things happened and turning 30 seemed to bring it all into a sharp focus.  I had changed my job four months before and I suddenly realised that it wasn’t the job, it was me.  I was working long hours and was very stressed at work.  There was an altercation with my neighbour which left me feeling vulnerable at home.  I felt unanchored and a little bit lost.  I didn’t know what I should be doing for a career, could I really change?  I had spent so much time and energy (and money) getting to where I was.  Other people really want my job, it felt a bit like a betrayal to be thinking about changing careers.

I have experience (a long time ago now) of working in mental health.  So I did what I advocate, I acknowledged the way I was feeling, tried not to beat myself up about it and I was honest with my inner circle.  I also went and spoke to my doctor.  My doctor upon listening to me said he wasn’t surprised I was feeling like that, and suddenly, just like that I started to feel better.  Sometimes all we need is someone independent, someone outside, to take a look at our life and offer us some reassurance that we are not weak or crazy.  Sometimes it takes more than that and that is okay too.

It was then that I decided I needed to make some changes.  I felt like I had missed some warning signs – just in case anyone else is unclear – throwing up before you go to work every morning is definitely a warning sign that all is not quite right.

I wanted to step back, to make more time for me, to relax.  I was so tired.  Tired of being busy and doing and pleasing everybody and feeling like I was failing myself.

I decided I had to learn to say “no”.  I wanted to be more selective about where I spent my time.  I didn’t want to be rushing all the time trying to fit everybody in and making no time for me.  I wanted to do more creative things.  Mostly, though I wanted to spend more time listening to God.  Actually, learning to listen to God, discerning his will for me rather than trying to control all aspects of my life and just ask for his help when it got hard.

I wanted to know what I was being called to do.  There is a part in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, where the boy is being taught about the path, about how if you are on the right one then the whole universe conspires to help you and you keep seeing signs to let you know you are following your destiny.

The idea of counselling as a profession had been in my mind for a few years after a throw away comment from a friend and I hadn’t done anything about it until I signed up to an Introductory 12 week course at CityLit in January 2015.  I had really enjoyed the course but then had changed jobs and kept plugging along in “the real world” when the wheels started to come loose and I realised that actually, I couldn’t keep on.  I prayed a lot about it, and decided that I would need to get a job back in London to have any hope of being able to study part-time.

In November I put my CVs out to a few places, by December I had an interview and I was honest an open with the interviewer and she gave me some names of other places where I could apply as they were interviewing someone else.  By the first week of January I had a new job a commutable distance for part-time study.

Then the doubts came.  I wondered if this really what God was calling me to do or if I just wanted to do it because I didn’t like what I was currently doing.  I decided I would give the new place “a fair go” before making my decision.

I have been chugging along, keeping on, ticking over, I tried, I did.  But I think that that constant little nudge toward counselling in the back of my head that won’t go away is there for a reason.  I have found a part-time counselling course that I can apply for this January, it will be a big commitment – every Saturday from January to July, and it will be a scary process, going back to studying part time (at my age) and giving up some security in the job I have now, but if I have learned anything over the past year and a bit it’s that it will be worth it.  The application process for the course opens next month and closes pretty soon afterwards, they make quick decisions about who they let in it seems.

Last week I was pretty stressed with work, I guess the fact that the application process will be opening soon has also been in the back of my mind, I was working long hours again, often on my own and I experienced anxiety again, seemingly out of nowhere.  That horrible sick feeling, the feeling that I am crap at my job and making all of the wrong choices.  The feeling that everything is out of control.

I went, every day last week for 10 minutes to the church across the road.  I just wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, and pour out my troubles to him and ask him for his peace, he doesn’t disappoint.  I had found this on Pinterest a few days before, and thought it may help those of you who also experience anxiety, as it helped me:

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The feeling passed more quickly this time, I have learned how to manage it better, how to acknowledge the feelings and I have learned that they will pass.  I have also learned that I need to have a positive attitude toward it, anxiety can suck you in and down if you let it.  This week I gave myself a stern talking to, I reminded myself that I am on the path and that it isn’t always straightforward, I have to push through and do hard things.  I can do that.  Paulo Coelho reminds us that:

“I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure.  It’s all a question of how I view my life.”

I am definitely choosing to be a positive thinking adventurer, one who isn’t scared to try new things and grab opportunities with both hands.  I am not going to give in to the fear or the anxiety.  I am on the path and I am trusting in God and my heart to lead me to my destiny, back to the soul of the world.

A quick Q&A

My friend Madge said she’d like me to answer some basic questions about myself like “why do you go to church?”  Trouble is the answers to those sorts of questions are a bit complex!  I’ve done my best below, without writing an essay in response to each one.

Why is the blog called Nack and Nace.com?  What does it mean?

Nackley and Nacey were my imaginary friends as a child, more affectionately referred to by two year old me as “Nack and Nace”.  I was thinkng along the lines of imagination, thoughts and writing and thought it had a nice ring to it.

Why am I writing a Blog?

It’s a way to be creative, my job is not creative at all and I needed an outlet.  I enjoy writing, also I wanted to expand on my 100 days of gratefulness posts that I’d done on Facebook a while back and expand on the short little posts that I did there.  I found keeping an online “Gratefulness Diary” helpful, it’s very hygge which is something I intend on writing an entire post about!

What stops me from writing?

Time, or lack thereof!  Also, sometimes, wondering whether what I write will be interesting to others, so a bit of self doubt I guess.

Why am I a Christian?

Well, because I believe in God.  I try to avoid debates about whether there is God or not because I know there is in the same way that I feel and know love exists and I appreciate that others will say exactly yhe same thing for why they feel there isn’t a God.  Does this mean that I never doubt? No. does it mean that I have all the answers or find some things about Christianity easy to accept?  Hell no.  Does it mean that I can’t see things from the point of view of an atheist or that I don’t have atheist friends – nope.  All are welcome in my circle, so long as you are trying to be good, wholehearted person.

Why do I go to Church?

A lot of people, including Christians struggle with Church.  I get this, I do too – it can sometimes seem hard to find God there.  It can be rigid, judgmental, unaccepting and self righteous.  The thing is that Church is not God or Jesus, it is the meeting of imperfect people in a place (any place) where they come together to meet with God and Jesus.  Sometimes those imperfect people forget why they are there and they forget what the face of Jesus looks like (that’s love, by the way).  It can also be a bit magical though when you have a community of imperfect people trying to do wonderful and loving work and supporting eachother in their faith, they might not get it all 100% right but they can do a lot of good.

Why do I read the Bible?  Do I believe everything in it?

I read it because it is how I learn to know God and Jesus better, how I grow in understanding my faith.

I believe every word in it is inspired by God and God breathed but that doesn’t mean that I believe that it can be read at face value.  So much of the Bible needs to be read in context, with an understanding of the time in which it was written and the culture.  I am not a Theologian and I know there are many ways of interpreting texts.  I do my best and I try to remember what Jesus said and did and I take that as the basis for how I should behave and also how I should try and interpet stories, looking through a “Jesus Lens”, if you will.

Why do I call myself a Jesus Feminist?

I am a Feminist, I believe that women have the right to be treated as equal to men and that they aren’t a lot of the time.  I believe that Jesus thought so too.  In the Gospels there are countless examples of Jesus treating women with respect, allowing them to learn from him (unheard of before that time) and treating them as equal to men.  It is what I believe that God intended and what should be the natural order of things.

Why am I interested in Hygge, Mindfulness and Hapiness?

I think it is human nature to search for happiness and purpose in life. I struggle with time management, saying “no”, people pleasing and generally being “busy”.  I can find that I am suddenly existing rather than living, that I am stressed, tired and anxious.  It is so much better to live and to enjoy this wonderful, crazy life journey, noticing it and not having it just pass you by.  Using Hygge, Mindfulness and exploring my Faith help me to be more centered, more present and happier.

Christian Mindfulness is bascially just another term for being still and listening to God, Hygge is all about comfort and security, things that you also get from being mindful and from having a faith.

Essentially all of these things are about living in the present, being still and connected.  I am a big believer in human connection and making time for you; it is instrumental to our mental health and well being.

Do I have any vices?

Chocolate.  Specifically pralines.

Any other questions?  Shout.