D is for Depression


Today’s post is a kind of poem about my experience of depression. Not everyone’s experience is the same. So I’m just going to share a little of mine. I’m not a poet but I find writing the truth can be hard. It’ll be easier to do it in a more creative way.

Depression is a funny thing,
It does not make me laugh
It used to make me cry, it used to stab me in the heart
until the pain would make me angry, hungry,
sending me for food,
to make me feel the way I felt
when I was small, and safe, and good

But now it doesn’t do that. This time I’m more stressed out
In case somebody asks me to do, or say, or shout
and tell them, “everything is fine, I’ll take care of that.”
Cos it’s what I do, I sort things out.
Except for age-old fat
that I am trying trying to disrobe from
but I cannot concentrate
on every single thing that’s asked of me.

No one asked me? Oh wait

It was me who piled the stuff on?
It was me who got it wrong?
expectations, responsibilities
more words, more songs
I thought I had to do it all and carry all the weight
while trying to lose it without losing it
while not losing the faith

Does it look like I am losing
any sense of sense right now?
Well that is it, you’ve now seen how it works, it makes me feel that
now, I must explain and say I’m sorry, that I don’t know where, why, how

Stop!

See how it steals my peace?

So, I’ll stop and ask you just to wait, and let me find a way
back to thinking, breathing, eating, normally (is the word normal okay?)
You see, depression is a funny thing
It does not make me laugh
but the joke’s on me and will be while I travel on this path
to God knows where and God knows when
but that is good enough for me
cos though I live with my depression, my God, He lives in me

Pushing forward


Thank you so much to those who commented and messaged me about my last post. It’s great to know you’re still happy to read my witterings 🙂 Having completed the plan I mentioned in that post, I was quite daunted by a year’s worth of empty spaces. But already I have most of January filled, either done or preparing to do. It feels good, after a year of sitting around not doing much at all.

My experience of anxiety and depression doesn’t feel like any I’ve read or heard about. Maybe each journey is unique. I’ve come a long way, there are some days when I feel totally normal but others when I get a wave of anxiety every time the house phone rings or my mobile buzzes. Though why I’m worried about calls on the landline, I can’t tell you. My Amazon account is fine thank you very much.

I felt I’d levelled off in my recovery, the two main problems being headaches and not sleeping very well. So I arranged a chat with the doctor, and we tweaked my medication a bit. Already I can feel the benefits. If we weren’t in lockdown, the doc said she’d be advising me to get out and about. I’m sure it would aid my recovery to visit nice places. Meet with friends, have coffee and laughs. Maybe a couple of nights away with himself. None of that is possible at the moment.

But I have to do something. I was on the treadmill this morning for half an hour. After falling and really hurting myself last year AND the year before, I’m still very nervous about being outside. Especially in this snowy weather.

I need to move forward. I want to move forward. but I’m going to take my time and go at my own pace. I’m so grateful to God for the time and space that lockdown brought, but I feel ready to start making my way back in to regular face to face contact, that is NOT on a computer screen.

One step at a time eh?

Happy New(ish) Year


I have emerged from my biannual “why do I bother writing? what’s the point? yada yada” phase, set for another year of scribbling. I’m in the process of making a plan for the year. Dividing the year in to four quarters with a the intention *coughs* of working on one major project each quarter, with some flash fiction, research and social media malarkey as I go. During my “woe is me, I am unpublished” season, I did wonder about shutting this blog down. The thought stayed with me during the planning. Who reads blogs any more? Anything longer than a tweet and people scroll on don’t they?

Hello?

You still there?

*cue tumbleweed*

I have deliberately not written much about Covid or Lockdown. What is there to say? I ate too much, moved to little but did use the restricted time to aid my recovery from anxiety and depression which I wrote about back in October last year. I’m doing so much better. The depression has lifted for the most part, thank God, but anxiety is still an issue for me. Increasing Covid numbers do not help.

I’m finding that having a plan for the year is helpful. Not just a writing plan – a life plan. I pray it will give me something to focus on when I’m feeling a bit wobbly and uncertain. It includes getting rid of the weight I put on during lockdown. And getting back into running. I got to the stage of doing 3 x 5k runs each week. The I fell. My confidence has not repaired to the degree my injured knee has. I had been praying for a treadmill for a couple of years. So I could walk regularly in the winter weather. God miraculously provided one – from the people who I was on my way to visit when I fell. (Bit of a Matrix moment there. You know the bit where the oracle says, “don’t worry about the vase,” and Neo says, “what vase?” he turns around and knocks a vase over. ) Anyway, I’m ready for writing, running, counting my carbs, and watching my mental health; doing all of those things with God’s help and guidance.

God has been with me all the way and I pray for his blessing on all those areas of my life. He underpins it all. The only time there’ll be no point in writing, is if He ever decides I should go and do something else 🙂 So if you’re still here and still reading, thank you so much for sticking with me.

God bless each and every one of you in 2021!

A x

p.s. if you read Gorse Lodge, thank you! Do leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. It really means a lot to a writer.
In the meantime, this quarter I’ll be working on edits to publish my second novel.

Light in the Darkness by Liz Carter part 2


It’s great to have Liz Carter back today. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you really should. Liz’s honesty and openness is such a blessing. Here she is with the second part of her post on Light and Dark.

It’s good to be back 🙂 I finished yesterday, by saying, the more I dig into Scripture, the more I find the most starkly honest writings there poured out for all to see, overflowings of emotion and anger and sorrow spilling onto the pages – most of the prophetic writings are like this and the Psalms are full of songs of lament as much as songs of praise.

It seems to me that we are on dangerous ground if we insist that we must keep our own darkness hidden in the darkness, because that is not the biblical model.

Biblical writers craft their words with honesty and authenticity. They tell it how it is. They do not tell us that there will be no suffering in the Christian life, nor do they tell us that the Christian life will be blessed with health and wealth and no pain. In fact, if anything, they tell us the opposite. Paul tells us that he lived in hardship and persecution, suffering for Christ and with Christ – and his words are full of the profound mystery of the intersection of brokenness and the peace of God that passes all understanding. The Psalmists wrote of isolation and imprisonment, of sickness and danger. And in the centre of it all we have Jesus, a man of sorrows who knew the great depths of suffering like no other.

I always think it would be so hard to follow a faith where the deity remains outside of our understanding and experience. Christianity is unprecedented among faiths in that God became one of us and sunk into our pain and mess with us. The incarnation points to the beautiful and complex intricacies of the fingerprints of God amongst us; a God willing to lay aside all his majesty and fall into the dust, to suffer and die, to take all our pain and sin and mess upon his body. It is a mystery that cannot be contained in words, but a mystery bursting at the seams with hope and life, and one that speaks loud into our own agonies like nothing else.

And this, ultimately, is what lights our path ahead; the knowledge that God is not far away, but is with us by his Spirit and in his experience of broken humanity. On days I have nothing left I can only look back to God, as the Psalmists so often did in their wretched poems of sadness and yearning. I can still choose to ‘yet praise’ within the days of trouble.

This winter will be long and bleak, and bleaker still for some of us, for many reasons. But winter ends in a glorious awakening, and God reminds us of that in a love song:

‘See, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.’ (Song of Songs 2:10)

One of my poems from my new book incorporates this theme, and so I would like to share a few words from this poem with you today, with the prayer that God will speak to the deep places in you and flood you with a hope wider, deeper, longer and higher than you could ever imagine:

Oh hasten the day
when death flees away
when the winter of mourning
melts to joy in the morning,
when bleak shadows are drenched
in the glory of your dazzling light,
when darkest places and worn-down wastes
are crushed in the power of outrageous grace
The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone,
find love that is deep and love that is long
find immersive light and ageless depths
find crazy love in inexorable breadth
Oh hasten the day
when night flees away.

Treasure in Dark Places is a collection of poetry and short stories which are re-imaginings of biblical accounts and encounters with Jesus that take the reader into the heart of the stories, where you yourself can experience and encounter the God who loves you, and where you will find resonance and comfort in your own struggle.

Click here to see the trailer video

Liz Carter is a writer and poet from Shropshire who likes to write about finding gold in the mess of life. She is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied (IVP) and her new book, Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting, is out now.

Light in the Darkness by Liz Carter part 1


Continuing the theme of Light and Dark, I am delighted to welcome Liz Carter to the blog. She will be sharing today and tomorrow, and we’ll hear about her new book, Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting.

So, over to Liz…

With the clocks going back and the winter drawing in, many of us are living with a creeping sense of dread that coils around us like the fog on a chilly winter day. As the days grow colder and the nights darker, we often feel enveloped in gloom, and now more than ever, as we wonder when all this will come to an end. Winter seems to stretch ahead with no promise of hope, with no sparkles of joy to look towards and wait for with anticipation. Winter 2020 seems like a pit of nothingness, a black hole of rubbishness and sadness.

Perhaps, for some of you, it’s not just 2020 that feels that way to you. Perhaps you’ve lived through years where the nights are too dark and the air too frozen around you. Maybe you’ve been living with sickness, physically or mentally, or living with grief, or other burdens which have left you bruised and battered, unsure where to look for any signs of hope.

For me, this year has been tough, but my whole life has been lived in pain, to some degree, with a chronic lung condition from infancy. This year I went into shielding in March after receiving the letter that punched me in the gut with its words instilling more fear in me: I’d been identified, it told me, as someone with risk of severe illness if I caught Covid-19. I separated out from my family and lived in my room for almost five months, caged into a life without touch or the usual family interaction. It was tough. It sent me spiralling mentally, into restless, tearful nights and days that seemed to stretch too long at times.

But God kept sending me little reminders of his presence and his love. As I began to let go of some of my fear and pour out some of my restlessness into poetry and other forms of writing, God spoke peace into my heart, and even sparks of joy at times.

God reminded me that it is sometimes in the darkest places where we find unexpected treasure, where light is able to break through in even more splendour, puncturing the blackness and calling us on towards the hope we find in Jesus.

I wonder if you have ever felt that you should be happy at all times as a Christian. Perhaps you’ve even heard teaching encouraging you to claim prosperity and health in all areas of your life, that because God is a generous God he will give you these – you only need to ask. Perhaps you’ve felt unable to share honestly about tough times, because you have been led to feel that you are, in some way, failing God because of your struggle. You hear the great triumphant stories of healing and wholeness, of God coming through for people when they are suffering, of God’s great and miraculous provision. But when it doesn’t seem to happen like that in your life, you can be left sad and alone, hugging your suffering to yourself in the mistaken idea that you cannot share it with others, because it might put them off the idea of faith.

Yet the more I dig into Scripture, the more I find the most starkly honest writings there poured out for all to see, overflowings of emotion and anger and sorrow spilling onto the pages – most of the prophetic writings are like this and the Psalms are full of songs of lament as much as songs of praise. Tomorrow I will write more about that and share one of the poems from my book

Thank you Liz. It’s a blessing to read such refreshing honesty in difficult times.

I look forward to hearing more. In the mean time, Liz’s book Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting can be found here. Until tomorrow… A x

Stepping back into the light


I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now. Not sure what to say or how to say it. Searching for the words to describe the last year or more honestly, without sounding like I’m grasping at the sympathy vote. Before COVID was a familiar talking point, before lockdowns were a thing, before facemasks were commonplace, I was already heading into isolation. I knew it was coming, I could feel it creeping up on me. The stress, the anxiety, the fear, the weight of perceived responsibility, the exhaustion, the disappointment in myself and worst of all, the distance between myself and God.

I cannot find who posted this but I give full credit to whoever it is. Sums it up perfectly.

At the end of December 2019, I shoved it all in a corner of my brain and we went to Ireland for Christmas. I had a fantastic time with my Irish family. I forgot about (well, ignored) my endless to do list, my inability to do my job properly and my lack of enthusiasm for church life. I was home and free and happy. But by the end of that trip I was ill; my usual winter lurgy, I thought. After we came home, I fell down a couple of steps hurting my already injured ribs. I went back to work for a few days, but after starting to cry when my boss asked me, “How are you doing?” I went home and rang the doctor’s surgery. In her treatment room I poured it all out. Sickness and pain, both inner and outer, which left me with no ability to pick up the load I had laid down before Christmas. The GP’s advice was to forget about even trying to go back to that life.
“For how long?” I asked. “I’ve loads to do.”
“You’ll know when you’re ready,” was her reply. I went home with my sick note, a prescription for the pain (both inner and outer), and sat down in an armchair. I sat in that chair every day for weeks. I didn’t cry again. I wasn’t pining for home. I didn’t want to binge eat. I wasn’t even sad. It didn’t feel like depression should feel. It didn’t feel like how it felt the last time. I was just empty.

It was clear that I could not return to the job I’d been doing, and should not return to all of the many calls on my time. It had never occurred to me that I could change things. I thought I was being lazy and selfish; a bad Christian and a BAD pastor’s WIFE (not a BAD PASTOR’S wife, you understand). But the doctor, and the pastor, and others I spoke to assured me that it was not only possible, but essential. I decided to give myself permission to only do what I could. I wanted to start running again but was worried colleagues might see me in the the park and think, she’s off sick, how comes she’s doing laps of the duck pond?

The Occupational Health doctor my employers put me in touch with, said I should get out there. He told me he’d prescribe it if he could. In his opinion, getting out doors and moving again is better than any pill he could give me. So I started an online couch to 2k, which went on to a 2 to 5k. I was running again and making good progress. This is me having just finished my first non-stop 5k. The elation I felt did indeed do more for me than the pills I’ve been taking (grateful as I am for them).

I’m officially finished work, but ‘under the doctor’ as they say in Wales. All this is just the start of my way back. I’m in no fit state to go job hunting. This is a time to reenergise, get my eating back on track, keep active, edit my book, and as from four weeks ago, venture back into church life. The irony is not lost on me, that I now wear an actual mask to church, at a time when I’m finally able to take the emotional one off.

I’m doing so so much better these days. Still have a way to go. But by God’s grace and love, I’m getting there.

Thanks for reading.
More soon. A x

Looking after the bricks and mortar


Helloooo! Am back after another blogging break. I have a good excuse though. I was nursing injured ribs. I almost called this post ‘Falling Slowly.’ I can remember every moment of the fall and the landing. I tripped over a few millimetres of crooked paving stone and landed with an extremely painful THUD! So I was out of action for a few weeks. Then I went on holidays…

We went on a road trip. Not as far and wide as we’d planned, due to my delicate condition. We went to Cirencester, the Cotswolds, Oxford, Kent, Chichester, Farnborough and our last day before returning to Wales, was a day in Bath. If you know me, you know I love Bath. I’m always up for a spot of Jane Austen spotting. But what really fascinated me on this visit was our walk around Bath Abbey. They have embarked on a major project of renovation and restoration. At the same time as repairing the collapsing floor, they are working on preserving the history of the building, and reducing their carbon footprint. They will be running the warm spa waters under the Abbey and utilising underfloor heating. It’s a super project called ‘Footprint’ and I’ll add the link below if you’d like to visit the Abbey website and read about it.

My first pastor regularly reminded us that the church is not just bricks and mortar. We met in a community centre and were delighted eventually to have our own permanent home in the loft space of a row of shops. But he kept reminding us, we were not get to caught up in our surroundings, but to get caught up with Jesus, and the Word of God.

As I entered Bath Abbey and saw the huge undertaking of restoration work, my old pastor’s words rang in my ears, and I confess I kinda snorted at what I could see happening. I know I know – a terrible attitude, but almost immediately God pulled me up on it…

God’s Word was all over the building. Each panel used to ‘fence off’ the renovation area had a Scripture verse on it. We found copies of The Lord’s Prayer in one of the small chapels, in a number of languages (including Welsh). There’s also an exhibition called, ‘Let My People Go.’ 23 beautiful pieces of work that reflect Bible stories from Creation, through to Moses.

Bath Abbey is definitely not JUST about the bricks and mortar, even though the bricks and mortar currently need some attention. I was blown away by it, I have to admit.

As I’ve spent some time healing from my injuries, I’ve been pondering my own efforts in physical restoration and renovation over the last few years. I continue to look after myself, staying active and trying to lose some more weight. But I too am not JUST about my bricks and mortar. I’ve written before about how I’ve mistreated this temple I’ve been given, and though I need to take care of my body, I also need to make sure I’m taking care of my spirit. I’m crumbling on the outside, there’s no denying it –  aches and pains, still carrying too much weight, laughter lines that have developed into hilarity tunnels. But… as long as there’s plenty of God’s Word on the inside, I reckon I’ll stay standing.

Go check out the Bath Abbey website… and do visit if you can. It’s a super place, inside and out 🙂 x

 

Q is for Questions


When I was writing the first draft of my book, I asked ‘social media’ for questions. Mainly to help me think of elements of weight loss that I hadn’t thought of. I got more than I bargained for, and I believe they’ve really added to the book. Here is just a small sample of the questions, and my rough answers.

 

How many times did you fail before you succeeded?

I joined Unislim for the first time when I was about 12 I think, maybe 14, but over 30 years ago. I’ve been on and off diets to different degrees all of that time, but how many times I actually properly tried to lose weight???? Let’s see…

In the mid 90s I lost somewhere between 2-3 stone. Got down to just over 17 stone.

Started again in 2001. I was 20 stone, I lost 3 stone.

Started again in 2008, I was 21 stone. Lost just under 3 stone.

Started again in 2012, I was just under 24 stone. Faffed about for a year and a half. Was down 1.5 stone at one point.

Started again in 2015, I was just over 23 stone, as I write I have lost 5 stone and 2lb. My first goal is to get back to where I was in the mid 90s. Just over 17 stone.

So tried and failed 4 times, before succeeding this time.

 

What was the one thing that kept you going?

I’m not one for sticking pictures of ‘fat me’ on the fridge, there was however a photo that shocked me. It was of a particular special moment and I was horrified when I saw it. It was fully side on and I had no idea that I was so big. Really, I didn’t realise. I hadn’t looked at myself for a long time. I tried to crop it, I tried to edit it, I wanted to delete it. It was a precious moment in my life and a significant memory, but all I wanted to do was delete it. Forever.

It has become the photo that keeps me going. But I don’t need to see it. The image is imprinted in my brain. I can’t ever let that happen again. Even if I put on weight again, I can’t shut the door to the discussion. It must be something I can always address if I need to.

What made you decide to lose weight, to begin with? Health?

This time around, it was health, but not because I was ill.  I was worried about dying, but only because I didn’t want to leave Richard alone to do the work he is doing. I believe what the Bible says, that to live is Christ and to die is gain – were I to die, I’d be with Jesus. But I felt that I had more to do, and I wanted to be able to do more. I wanted to be able to support Richard practically and work with him; I knew I couldn’t in the state I was in. I’ve never had trouble with blood sugar or blood pressure. It was only going to be a matter of time though. I’m not sure how I got away with being as healthy as I am, after carrying so much weight for so long.

How do you feel about people who are not overweight but constantly complain that they need to lose weight?

I used to want to throw something at people, who I felt, didn’t need to lose weight. Over time I have come to think a bit differently about that. Mainly because I thought if they weren’t my size, then they didn’t need to lose weight at all. That they were just trying to point out how skinny they were, and compare little old them to big old me.

My short term goal is to lose 6 stone. I’m on my way to that. My goal after that is to lose another 4 stone. I would be 13 stone at that stage. If I did that I would be over the moon. I mean jumping up and down (cos I’d be able to) with great joy and delight.  But I know people who are 13 stone who are desperate to lose weight. Absolutely out of their minds with worry about it. Stressed and feeling fat! At 13 stone I’d be dancing, others are mourning. So, just as much as I would like people to understand where I’m coming from; how hard it is for me… I need to understand where others are at too.

Food became my enemy and my comforter. I still struggle with this at times. I am learning to have a healthy relationship with food. I would love for you to talk about that in the book. What is a healthy relationship with food?

I think it might be slightly different for different people. To use the analogy of an alcoholic – having a bottle of wine in my house wouldn’t cost me a thought, but it would be tempting to an alcoholic and so they should not have it in their homes. I’d be the same with donuts or Haribo candies. I’m best not having them in my home. I can’t resist them.

I treat food now like someone I love but don’t really trust. I ‘eye’ some food with suspicion. Will it do me any good? Will it lead me into temptation? If I can’t only have one of those, I’d be better having none. I wonder if the only way I’ll stay on track will be to maintain a dysfunctional relationship with food. 😊

In short, know your enemy. If you know your downfall is ice cream, don’t buy the big tub that is on offer, then try to kid yourself you’ll be able to have only a teensy bit at a time. If you want to, buy a small one serving tub and enjoy every spoonful. Be honest with yourself, be prepared for the hungry moments and make every meal & snack a choice that you are in control of, then go and enjoy every mouthful of it, guilt free.

Did you believe that you could do it?

For a long time, no. When I started this time, I decided to believe I could. I could choose the next meal. Choose to go for a walk. I decided to make every next choice a good one. I didn’t really believe in much more than that. It was too difficult to see beyond the next choice. There’s not many silver linings to being almost 24 stone, but one was that I saw a lot of change quite quickly. Now that it has slowed down, I have to remind myself that I can do it.

O is for that ‘orrible word


The word obesity is one of the most upsetting words for me to hear, say or write. When I started my weight loss journey, I was off the standard BMI charts. Having lost 5 stone, I’m still well within the morbidly obese category. I will have to lose another 6 stone! to just be obese, and a further 2 stone after that, to be considered ‘normal’.

When the obesity crisis is discussed on TV it makes me cringe. I’m not saying it’s untrue, or unimportant, it just reminds me that it’s partly my fault. For a long time, I ate hurriedly in private because of the shame I felt. At times, I still feel guilty when I’m eating. To be fat, is the new smoking. The attitude to obesity reinforces all of that for me.

I firmly believe that extremely overweight people are not getting enough help. My obsession with food is unnatural and unhealthy and I hold my hands up and say that I did little to help myself for many years, but when I see the issue discussed in the media, I feel overeaters get more judgement than support.

It can be quite expensive to eat properly, which is another thing that needs to change. I’m not sure how effective the sugar tax will be. Rather than make the bad stuff dearer, how about making the good stuff cheaper. Fresh produce, healthy meats and particularly fresh fish can be very expensive. Bags of frozen processed food are still much cheaper and last longer.

I don’t know what to do to change any of that. I just feel the word obesity has changed from a description to a label – and it causes me great discomfort. Officially I’ll be in that category for some time, when I look at how I’ve changed, I do everything I can to shake it off. 🙂

N is for Nuts


After a busy week, I’m still playing catch up on my AtoZ posts on the theme of being a Clumsy Carb Cutter .

Nuts are one of my favourite things to eat. I have to be very careful of them as I find it really easy to over indulge. In a moderate amount, they are a great low carb snack. My world would be a sad place if I developed an intolerance to nuts, the way I have with lactose.

As I mentioned before, I use ground almonds for baking. I bought peanut flour by mistake a few weeks ago, so I’ve been using that mixed with almond flour in some of the cookies. It has a few more carbs per 100g, but really tasty, if you love the peanut taste.

I buy bags of mixed raw nuts from Lidl as they are the best value. On the rare occasion I eat cereal, I always throw some in, or I just eat them on their own for a snack. As I mentioned, moderation is key in eating nuts. They are great for the low carb/high fat diet. They are high in fibre and contain a wide variety of nutrients, but also high in calories. So to get the best benefit from them,  just a handful/half a cup at a time.   🙂