A pressing question

‘To press someone for an answer,’ has entered the English language as a phrase to suggest emotionally, or in a time-limited way, putting pressure on someone to give a response.

This is not the true sense of the phrase. In the past people were placed on their backs with a stone beneath them and a door or panel placed on top of them to which rocks were added. They were literally ‘pressed for an answer.’ Many died. A ‘pressing question’ was not a searching question asked by Jeremy Paxman of a politician but a question of life or death; answering or not answering.

When you are suffering from anxiety making a decision whether to remain in your job or leave feels like a pressing question in every sense of the phrase.

The chest feels tight and heavy as though pressed by heavy rocks. Adrenaline and cortisol pump through the veins making the heart pound even though the body and mind feels leaden. Rational thought is absent. Decisions take on the weight and size of unbearable rocks.

Will making a decision lighten the load? Will a decision ease the anxiety?

The irony is that when you are pressed by anxiety decision making is too much of a challenge. The pressing question remains pressing but unanswered and your back is bowed. Time will tell if you will break.

Testimony Song

Came out of the darkness

Feeling lost and helpless.

Lord, you know how that felt.

Lord, you know how that felt.

 

Didn’t think I could make another day

‘Til you showed me a better way.

Lord, you know what that meant.

Lord, you know what that meant.

 

You gave your son to die for me.

To die, to be raised, to set me free.

Lord, you know what that means.

Lord, you know what that means.

 

Thank you Lord for being with me

Then, and now, and in what is to be.

Lord, you know what that means.

Lord, you know what that means to me.

Copyright Sarah Clarke (1990)

Carpe Diem Capers

There are so many definitions of the word ‘caper.’  The memories I have of capering are largely in the past. I used to caper in a joyful skip or leap when I was young, playing with friends at primary school in the sun .  Crime and comedy capers from America were always fun to watch, especially the slapstick black and white comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.  Country dances in my father’s barn saw villagers cut a caper on the dance floor, joyfully dancing and leaping to ‘The Gay Gordons’ and ‘The Dashing White Sergeant’ played by skilful musicians with instruction given by a talented caller.  My sister and I would have capers– getting in to mischief and enjoying playing in the barn on the straw bales, swinging from trees in the orchard and splashing in the nearby beck.  So what happened to capering in adult life?

I have enjoyed a few capers in adult life.  Swimming in my bra and pants in Yorkshire in an October river with girlfriends was certainly a caper.  We felt young, risky and playful.  An old man and his wife tutting as they went past only served to heighten our feelings of doing something a little wild and exciting.

Getting up on the stage in various productions which were comedy capers was fun. Once dressed as Prince Charming in a short tunic and enthusiastically slapping my thigh I was surprised when local villagers greeted me over the next few weeks by joyously slapping their own thighs!  The caper continued.

Recently life has been less joyous.  There have been less capers.  Life has been about sleeping, working and eating – with rather too much of the last two and rather too little of the first.  So how do you regain that lost joie de vivre when you are in the midst of depression and anxiety?

I’ve found that you have to challenge your negative thoughts.  Stop saying, “What if…?” Start reformulating and say, “The things you regret are the things you don’t do in life.” Stop saying, “I couldn’t because…” and say instead, “I will because it is good for me.”  Stop worrying about what others think, you can’t know what they are truly thinking those thoughts are your own.  Reformulate and think: “Do you know what? I bet so-and-so will be shocked/surprised/jealous when they see what I have done!”

To this end I have started seizing the day in order to wade out of the slough of depression.  In doing so I have had to stop worrying about what others might think as I’m off work sick and just do it anyway.  I have to do this to make myself well again.  Staying curled up on the couch crying has got to cease to be my default position.

So how to seize the day.  My friend won tickets to see Status Quo and invited me.  Am I a true Status Quo fan? No.  Did I enjoy the concert and seeing the enthusiasm of all the genuine fans? Yes.  For my friend and I it was a caper as it was something we wouldn’t have expected to go to.  It gave us a buzz.  We were thankful.

I saw a post about a Moonlit swim at Helmsley Open Air Lido recently.  I’m just recovering from breaking my arm in two places.  My depression and anxiety said, “no.”   The caperer in me said, “Yes!”  My friends and I planned to go and do you know what?  It was a caper.  Four middle-aged women in a tiny Fiat bombing along country roads to strip off and swim in an open air pool was a fantastic experience.  My arm held up – I swam more lengths than my friends who hadn’t broken their arms!  We laughed, we commiserated over parts of our lives and had our ‘God moment’ when the sky went dark, the moon rose and the only other light came from our vibrant yellow, orange and pink glow sticks bobbing behind us as we swam.  As we sat, re-clothed, drinking coffee, tea and hot chocolate and snacking on crisps and chocolate it reminded us of childhood swimming lessons.  We were all smiling, laughing and enjoying the moment.

Too often in life we allow the daily grind and mundanity of life to drag us into a grey mire of ‘same-old-same-old.’  When this happens it is all too easy for little things to tip us over in to depression.  Where has the enjoyment in life gone?  What we all need is hope, joy and love in our lives.  We need to plan it in and also be spontaneous when opportunities arise.

This last example shows spontaneity at work.  I faced a busy weekend but on Thursday a friend offered me tickets to see Snake Davis.  She and her husband could no longer go.  My depressive voice said, “You’ll not manage it.  It’s too much.  You’ll run out of energy.  You don’t even know who this Snake Davis is.  What if you can’t man the stall on Saturday at the church fete as you’re tired? What if you let your family down at the party on Sunday if you’ve done too much?”  J, my friend, and I went, “Let’s do it.”  It was the most AMAZING concert.  The musicians were on top of their game.  The songs they played were pretty much all my favourites and I learned some new ones.  In the midst of the joy my depression still tried to win.  I saw a colleague from work in the audience.  My negative thinking kicked in.  ‘She’ll think I’m a skiver, enjoying myself here at this concert when I should be at work.’  I had to work hard to challenge that thinking.  ‘S is a lovely lady, she’ll be concerned I’m not at work but will be glad I’m able to come to the concert.’  Of course I can never know what she was thinking but my thinking wasn’t helpful to me.  My thinking needed to change.  I needed to return from the interval and enjoy the concert. I did.  The final set, and encore, was even better than the first half. J and I even got to meet Snake and get his signature on his CD . What a lovely, humble, talented man.  We are officially now Snake Davis groupies!  I could have let the negative voices win twice in that example.  I could have  decided not to have gone to the concert and let the negative voices win or I could have left at the interval and not heard the amazing final set.  Don’t let negative thinking stop you having amazing experiences either.

God wants us to enjoy life and ‘live it to the full.’  We all need to stop listening to that negative, depressive voice and start doing things that make our hearts sing and eyes smile.  Plan to do things you like doing, be spontaneous, seize your life and enjoy it otherwise you are in a hell of your own making.  Who wouldn’t prefer to caper through life rather than limp?

via Daily Prompt: Caper

“My nerves are jangling”

“My nerves are jangling,” was often my mother’s refrain.  What did she mean by that and what impact has it had on me growing up?

Before I was born my mum had a massive and catastrophic car accident when a lorry travelling on the wrong side of the road round a corner hit her.  She was not expected to live. She survived but with lots of physical injuries.

Mum and Dad married and had me eleven months later. When Grandma found out mum was pregnant with me she fainted; mum was not meant to get pregnant so soon.  She’d broken her pelvis in the accident, amongst other things.

Mum had a difficult labour. She said she wouldn’t have cared if I had been a frog after such a long, arduous labour.

If Mum found things too much she would say, “My nerves are jangling.”  What she meant was she was finding life too difficult and she wanted something to change.  Raising a child is hard. Losing a child is even harder. My twin sisters were born four years after me. Rachel survived. Ruth did not.  I think the combination of physical injuries with mental injuries caused mum to struggle.  She didn’t have the emotional vocabulary to name her feelings and so “My nerves are jangling” had to do.

Her nerves could ‘jangle’ because I was not doing as I was told quickly enough, or because she was tired, hungry or just out of sorts through physical or mental pain and anguish.

Jangling, for me, is synonymous with adrenaline and cortisol running through my veins making me feel jittery, anxious and keen to flee.  When mum’s nerves were jangling mine also jangled.  I learned the word ‘jangle’ signified trouble for me.

So, for others ‘jangle’ might represent happy times: the jangle of keys as a loved one returns home; the jangle of money in a beloved grandfather’s pocket signifying a windfall or the jangle of a horse’s reins on a gallop. Yet for me the word ‘jangle’ triggers negative emotions. Emotions of fear and anxiety at memories of what happened when nerves jangled.

via Daily Prompt: Jangle.

Strength from weakness

In moving out of depression I was asked to reflect on a time in my life that I can draw strength from.

Apart from this period of my life the worst time was being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.  Some people will say it is a strange episode to draw strength from but it taught me many things:

The importance of friends, family and faith;

That there is light even in darkness (‘it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness’);

That you learn greater empathy for those who are suffering when you have suffered;

That all things pass.

All of these life lessons are ones I draw on to get me through this period of my life. ‘This too will pass’ and good times will come. I just have to have faith and accept with gratitude the love and care of friends and family.

Friendship

Friends, family and faith have been the main three things that have kept me from fully going under to depression and anxiety.  It was the reminder of these three ‘f’s  that led me to the doctor and not the cliff.

Friendship has come in many guises. Lovely messages on Facebook from colleagues and friends.

Flowers sent with cards and good wishes.

Phone calls and visits.

Hugs, a listening ear and kind and encouraging words.  The gift of time.

Friendship is under-rated by society. It is all about the individual search for happiness.  I have found happiness amongst friends is the best antidote to the black dog, and I push myself to get up and dressed and see people to escape him.  Happiness is found in looking outward rather than inward.

To all my friends who have helped in this dark period of my life I thank God for you. Xx

 

Ascension

Thursday will be the day Christians celebrate the ascension of Christ to heaven.  Struggling as I am with depression and anxiety at the moment I have been reflecting on what the ascension is saying to me.

To ascend means to rise up.  I have been in the depths of despair and I long to fully rise up out of them.

This week I have decisions to make. To plan to return to work, to resign or ask for constructive dismissal as a result of my health.  The idea of returning to work sends me in to a negative spiral every time I approach it.  That suggests to me returning is not an option.  Resigning.  This is clear and clean but leaves me potentially without a reference.  Constructive dismissal my union representative says will enable me to have a specified leaving date and an agreed reference. She said I might be entitled to some compensation money but morally I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.

So what is the best thing to do?

I need to decide before Friday. I need to be able to ascend out of the depths and start looking forward and feeling able to heal.

 

A pressing question

‘To press someone for an answer,’ has entered the English language as a phrase to suggest emotionally, or in a time-limited way, putting pressure on someone to give a response.

This is not the true sense of the phrase. In the past people were placed on their backs with a stone beneath them and a door or panel placed on top of them to which rocks were added. They were literally ‘pressed for an answer.’ Many died. A ‘pressing question’ was not a searching question asked by Jeremy Paxman of a politician but a question of life or death; answering or not answering.

When you are suffering from anxiety making a decision whether to remain in your job or leave feels like a pressing question in every sense of the phrase.

The chest feels tight and heavy as though pressed by heavy rocks. Adrenaline and cortisol pump through the veins making the heart pound even though the body and mind feels leaden. Rational thought is absent. Decisions take on the weight and size of unbearable rocks.

Will making a decision lighten the load? Will a decision ease the anxiety?

The irony is that when you are pressed by anxiety decision making is too much of a challenge. The pressing question remains pressing but unanswered and your back is bowed. Time will tell if you will break.

The black dog and dry bones

The black dog is on my back. His paws slung low over my shoulders as he drags me to the ground. My breath is ragged as my heart pounds. I can hear his words so clearly in my mind. He comes and whispers when I am alone. His words a dark corrosive poison, eating in to the strategies I try to maintain my balance, dissolving the ground under my feet. The poison eats in to my equilibrium. I am left a fallen, crumpled, tear stained mess on the floor beneath.

How did I get here?

How did this happen?

Most people see me as a strong, happy person. A leader.  A listener. A do-er.  Most of the time that is exactly what I am.

I have a stressful, pressured full time job.  I have children, who though older and largely independent, rely on me for food, clothing and most of all love, reassurance and guidance.  I have a loving husband and a great family and set of friends.

Most of the time I manage work with a few teeth grinding nights but a smile on my face.

So what has changed? How has the black dog been allowed to start devouring my self confidence, making me doubt that my loving family and friends need me and eating my belief in a future?

A series of little things.  Not getting a contract for my job through the business I have worked for in that role for 18 months. Being told in an email that there may not be enough money to pay my wage. I am not paid a salary commensurate with my role anyway to add insult to injury.  Being reprimanded when my ‘tone’ in an email, after being exasperated by not having a contract, wasn’t considered appropriate.  Little comments like, “Do you think you’d manage?” when considering going for an alternative job.

I have worked under duress all year. Despite not having a large team, unlike other similar sized businesses, I have brought them through detailed inspections successfully.   I have built great working relationships with external agencies as well as within the company. The work I have done has benefited the clients.

And yet, despite all this, I am not considered worthy of a contract. Not having a contract means I don’t have the authority I need to do my job effectively and efficiently.  It leaves the company vulnerable as my role is a statutory one.  It leaves me vulnerable as I travel a lot and my insurance will be negated if I am not who I think I am in the company.   I am not allowed to claim my travel costs as my role doesn’t exist. I am asked my HR is it a new or supply role?  Yet the boss says, “We value your work.” I know from the black dog words cannot always be taken at face value. They need to be considered, analysed and evaluated.  Words of praise ring hollow when they are not followed through with action to put a contract in place.

People can do stressful, pressured jobs when they stand on a firm grounding with support and understanding from those they work with. When trust is lost, the black dog feeds. He feeds on job satisfaction, he feeds on resilience and ultimately he feeds on hope.

I am now dry bones.  I need God’s Holy Spirit to breathe on them to build me back up and give me some direction, some hope in this life.  Do I stay and fight or walk away shaking the sand from my sandals in faith and expectation that another opportunity will present itself?