3

Transformation, faith and depression

Last Sunday I stopped by to pick up an elderly Friend from the residential home where she lives to give her a lift to my Quaker Meeting for Worship. Like many times before, when I arrived she was still in bed and feeling too unwell to attend. We talked for a while and she expressed guilt and sadness at not being able to come. As someone who regularly lives with bouts of depression, I heard echoes of this in my Ffriend.

When I got to Meeting for Worship I sat in the deepening gathered silence and reached for Quaker Faith & Practice, hoping to find a passage that spoke to the intense empathy, concern and emotion that the time spent with my Ffriend had evoked. It was clear that it was incredibly distressing to her that her body was wearing out before her mind and being were ready. I looked at passages on growing old and death, and at passages about depression, but I did not find anything that spoke to me. In a way the problem was that all the passages were too positive – too willing to look at the dark side but then counter with Light and acceptance.

For those of us who struggle with depression, sometimes there is nothing that we can do but, if we are lucky, learn to what I call ‘sit with it’. For me, the most positive outcome I can hope for during a period of depression is that I physically live through it and do not make any drastic decisions or changes during this period. Sometimes even having someone else to sit with you is no comfort at all. I did, however, receive a response to my wish to find something that spoke to me. Later that week, in one of the daily emails I subscribe to from Richard Rohr, he talked about what it meant to follow Jesus, and about agreeing to ‘…carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad of history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within [our]selves…’. He then wrote about trusting ‘the daily paradox of life and death as the two sides of everything’, saying: ‘We, too, can walk this path of welcoming disappointment and self-doubt, by “suffering” the full truth of reality. Our vocation is a willingness to hold—and transform—the dark side of things instead of reacting against them, denying them, or projecting our anxiety elsewhere.’.

God is found everywhere, even in deep depression, and learning to ‘sit with’ our feelings and experience can have a transformative power all its own.

Anne de Gruchy

Quotes taken from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: From the Center for Action and Contemplation on Friday, June 1, 2018 – ‘Solidarity with the World’

This passage contains content adapted from:
Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003), 179-180; and
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 22-23.

Copyright © 2018 by CAC. Used by permission of CAC. All rights reserved worldwide. http://www.cac.org.

Advertisements
0

In Praise of Ten Under-Appreciated Things – No 3: Human Beings

What is the difference between this photograph…

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Shutlingsloe

…and this one?

The answer? PEOPLE! (Well, you may just see a disappearing blob of orange in the distance in the first photograph, but we do have to keep the detail-spotters happy).

Of course the scenery is beautiful either way (we were walking at Shutlingsloe) but the whole point is: people make things better. Not only do they make things better, they help us to gain perspective – whether that’s the size of the mountain we are climbing or the way we relate to things and to other people day to day.

Why am I suddenly so interested in people as an under-appreciated thing? Well, recently there have been two factors that are steering me to value all over again how amazing human beings are. I thought I’d share them with you.

Firstly, I have been having spammer problems with this WordPress blog. Of course we are all used to spammer problems in this weirdly wired-up society, but it doesn’t half irritate me. Also, if I am not in a good state of mind, it can make me extremely anxious. I don’t need to know, repeated times a day, that gobbledygookname@outlook.com is following my blog and will receive an email whenever I post. And it doesn’t help that goobledygookname does not appear in my list of subscribers so I am denied the satisfaction of deleting them.

The problem with spam emails resulted in an acquaintance of mine suggesting that I add in one of those neat little tick boxes with the words ‘I am not a robot’ beside it. This is apparently not within the remit of the basic WordPress functionality that my blog is limited to, but it got me thinking about how, in a world where we have to formally admit to all and sundry that it is actually a human being trying to communicate online, we totally under-appreciate the qualities and importance of other people in our lives.

Secondly, and following on from this, is the fact that I am currently battling depression again big time. I sit around weeping and trying to force myself to face the day. It hasn’t been this bad since I was in my dysfunctional twenties and it’s scary. However I have become more resilient and self-aware over the intervening decades and when I hit rock bottom recently I pinged a few texts out to some of my lovely friends and waited on the outcome. The result was supportive phone calls and texts from a couple of friends and a lovely day out walking with another. Human beings are what make life meaningful and we just don’t appreciate them enough!

I am going to leave you with a quote that just pinged through into my email while I was writing this post. It was shared by one of the local Quaker meetings in our Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Area Meeting who kindly do a weekly email update giving the insights and conversations they have had. This week they shared the philosopher Mencius’s concept of the capricious world, and it so totally describes what I believe it means to be a human being that I had to pass it on:

‘Living in a capricious world means accepting that we do not live within a
stable moral cosmos that will always reward people for what they do… if our
world is indeed constantly fragmented and unpredictable, then it is
something we can constantly work on bettering. We can go into each situation
resolved to be the best human being we can be, not because of what we’ll get
out of it, but simply to affect others around us for the better, regardless
of the outcome. We can cultivate our better sides and face this
unpredictable world, transforming it as we go.

‘It is a very different vision from asking grand questions such as “Who am
I?” and “How should I plan out my life”. Instead we work constantly to alter
things at a small, daily level. And if we’re successful, we can build
tremendous communities around us in which people can flourish. And even then
we can continue to work. Our work – of bettering oneself and others to
produce a better world is never over’

(p84 The Path – A New Way to Think About Everything: Michael Puett &
Christine Gross – Loh: Viking: 2016)

© Anne de Gruchy

0

Finding my ‘Few Concerns’

As those of you who follow my blog will be aware, I have recently been deeply involved in studying and facilitating workshops on simplicity – a theme that evolved because of the need to simplify my own life both materially and with regard to my commitments. The irony of the whole process has been the discovery of quite how complex ‘simplicity’ is!

Amidst all my research and reading, one of the pieces that stood out for me is the very popular excerpt from Thomas Kelly’s work as quoted in Quaker Faith & Practice:

I wish I might emphasise how a life becomes simplified when dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire. We get distracted by the intellectual claim to our interest in a thousand and one good things, and before we know it we are pulled and hauled breathlessly along by an over-burdened programme of good committees and good undertakings. I am persuaded that this fevered life of church workers is not wholesome. Undertakings get plastered on from the outside because we can’t turn down a friend. Acceptance of service on a weighty committee should really depend upon an answering imperative within us, not merely upon a rational calculation of the factors involved. The concern-orientated life is ordered and organised from within. And we learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility. Quaker simplicity needs to be expressed not merely in dress and architecture and height of tombstones but also in the structure of a relatively simplified and co-ordinated life-programme of social responsibilities.

Thomas R Kelly, 1941
Quaker Faith & Practice – Chapter 20: 20.36

So recently I have been thinking about this and trying to discern what the ‘few concerns’ are that I, myself, should be faithful to.

This is easier said than done. At the moment there are many strands taking up my time and attention and each one feels ‘right’ and important, yet I know I cannot sustain them all for much longer. For quite a while now I have felt the need to ‘hold’ these things until the time when it becomes clear which ones I should move forward with and which ones will drop away.

In no particular order, some of the key pieces of my life at the moment are:

• My paid employment. My job working with the local authority in a team responsible for implementing the Mental Capacity Act provision on Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards is important to me. I am part of a friendly team, and when I am in paid work I feel fulfilled and part of society. Paid work and its routine also tends to have a beneficial impact on my mental health. This is a temporary post, so I need to make decisions about what to do when it comes to an end next April.

• My writing. Always a mix of pleasure and discipline, I am well into writing my fourth novel with a lovely agent trying to find a home for my third one. Normally I do not try to combine full-on novel writing and a job, but with someone believing in me and championing my work, now is not the time to lose my focus.

• My family. My father continues to have a good slice of my time and attention as he settles into life in residential care. An unexpected knock-on effect of him moving close to me is the ‘Anne de Gruchy Bed and Breakfast Service for Relatives’ for people who want to visit my dad! It is lovely to see my family so often, but does not help with earmarking time to write or work. Amidst all this, I am trying to maintain the lovely relationship I have with my son.

• My friends. These are getting rather squeezed out at the moment – except for the ones who I land on for a week to use them as a base for a ‘writing retreat’! Most of my friends are long-standing and we are used to flurries of contact with some longer gaps when other commitments come to the fore. It is gold-dust to have such friends in my life. Local friends probably think I have just hibernated for the winter…

• My partner/boyfriend (cue argument re how to refer to your ‘other half’ when you are 57 and definitely no longer a ‘girl’!). It is lovely to have love and companionship come my way unexpectedly at this stage in my life, but I need to give it attention to flourish and there is that tricky problem of distance…

• Community. I love where I live. I want to contribute. I don’t have time to do this but could choose to work/write less and contribute more. And what if a move of area becomes appropriate because of the new relationship? Do I feel able to risk uprooting and starting all over again? Ditto for my spiritual life and connections with the Quaker community.

You see my dilemma! Part of me feels excited by all the possibilities, and a lot depends on whether I can get a publishing deal. In the meantime I am trying to save money against a possible gap in employment and looking forward to the opportunities that the New Year will bring. I will be running some more Simplicity sessions in 2018 and hope to introduce some creative exercises to aid discernment. I am hoping to listen to my own advice!

The one thing that is certain is that I need this list to be shorter and more focused by the middle of next year. Please do remind me if I haven’t shown progress by then, and please do share your own stories and ideas about the ‘few concerns’ that speak to you in your own life.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Christmas wreath

MAD MOMENT

Well – I have just dyed my hair and it now has bright lilac and purple streaks! Will I ever learn?

MARVEL MOMENT

My ‘new’ man is rapidly becoming my ‘old’ man – still together and going good!

© Anne de Gruchy

5

Sharing my Spiritual Scrapbook

Today, at my Centering Prayer group, we tried out a different format. Instead of listening to some teaching on DVD we decided to bring a poem to share. We started with our usual 20 minute silent meditation then the four of us who were present read out poems or canticles that spoke to us in some way.

It was a moving time, and the most amazing range of poems and emotions were shared. Two that stood out for me were:

The Bright Field by R S Thomas
St Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell.

For myself, I shared a poem that my mother had once typed out and sent to me. It is called Under a Wilshire Apple Tree and is attributed to Anna Bunstone de Bary, date unknown. It begins with the following stanza:

Some folks as can afford,
So I’ve heard say,
Set up a sort of cross
Right in the garden way
To mind ‘em of the Lord.
But I, when I do see
Thik apple tree
An’ stoopin’ limb
All spread wi’ moss
I think of Him
And how He talks wi’ me.

Sharing this, I also shared with my friends the Spiritual Scrapbook that I have been keeping for 20 years. This is a very special hard-backed A5 book that my sister gave me when I had an adult baptism in 1997 (I had not discovered the Quakers then and was part of a vibrant Baptist church). My sister wrote an inscription at the front: ‘For your thoughts and special prayers’, and the book is very dear to me. I share some photographs of a few of the pages in this post.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Spiritual Scrapbook Page

Over the years I have written or stuck into the book sayings, prayers, postcards and poems that have had special meaning to me. There are parts of Celtic liturgies that we used when I studied Contextual Theology, postcards of crosses at monasteries and in mud huts, spoken ministry from Quaker meetings, and many cards with prayers and poems sent to me by my mother when she was still alive.

My mother was such a special support to me, and her faith saw me through some very dark times in my life. I treasure every single thing she sent when I was down and she wanted to help me through. My biggest sadness is that in the last few years of her own life she experienced a crisis of faith. But my mother was a gardener, and God was very close to her, and I’m sure that God spoke to her through that apple tree with stooping limb even when the light of faith was dim.

    

MAD MOMENT

New man, new distance relationship! Watch this space!

MARVEL MOMENT

As above!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

7

Twitter: Love or Hate?

Twitter and tweeting has been a lot on my mind lately.

To be honest, I feel a bit of antipathy towards Twitter, and also to the whole alter-universe that is social media. Perhaps I am a product of my generation – someone who grew up with a life that was not constantly interrupted by the internet. Someone for whom mobile phones and personal computers of any kind did not exist until I was a mature(?!) fully-formed adult who felt able to choose or reject their intervention into my life. Or perhaps simply someone, like most generations, who does not feel fully at home with the new technology that is outpacing them.

For many years I ranted against social media. I felt uncomfortable about lack of privacy and control over who saw the things that I shared, and, if I’m honest, I felt that relationships formed online surely could not match up to the integrity and depth of relationships made face-to-face. I did not like the idea of being forced to adopt technology by a market that was playing for profit rather than genuine social cohesion.

Eventually, to the amazement of my friends, I caved in. My progress onto Facebook was largely fuelled by the fact that my lodger always knew what was going on locally and I didn’t. He would be off to some intriguing music gig or discussion group and I would be saying ‘how did you find out about that?’ and he’d say ‘Facebook’. It happened too often to be ignored. Now, Facebook is one of the main ways I find out about events and share pictures with family and friends. It also forms a useful reminder system for someone with a rubbish memory. ‘You have eight events coming up this week’ dear old FB will flash at me. Of course that is the other problem – there is so much going on that if you tick an interest in everything you are swamped with choice. It is not an incentive to peace or personal space.

Twitter, on the other hand, I find harder. I properly embraced many forms of social media a few years ago when I stopped paid employment to focus on my writing and caring for my father. I knew that if I was serious about getting my writing ‘out there’ I needed to engage with others through social media. Websites and blogs and Twitter accounts are some of the first things an agent or publisher will look at when considering taking on a writer and their work. I was surprised at how much I took to some of these media, but Twitter is still a bit of a mystery.

In some ways I get it and I love it. I get that I can engage with the thoughts and ideas of people from all backgrounds from all over the world. I get that news comes instantly, and responses follow like my cat trailing me when I have a plate of hot toast with melted butter on top. (There wouldn’t be melted butter on top for long if my cat had his way). I also get that people are not always who they say they are, and that a certain amount of caution and intuitive cynicism needs to be exercised. I get that the whole Twittersphere is incestuous in the ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ culture – tweet me and I’ll tweet you, like my stuff and I’ll like back – which is what I find mind-numbingly difficult. It doesn’t feel ethical and it doesn’t encourage people to think independently and have confidence in their own views.

What has taken me longer to understand is that I need, as my son pointed out to me, to try to properly engage in conversations and interactions – just as if I was in a room with someone. This in itself sounds promising, because I am a confident person who loves chatting to people and learning from them. However the Twittersphere is a big place and interractions and Tweets come and go in a nanosecond. Some lead onwards and others crash and burn or fizzle out slowly while no one watches. To do it properly, you see, takes time. And regular contact. Daily contact, in fact, and many minutes or even hours.

This scares me! The bottom line is that what scares me more is that I sometimes get drawn into it. I wake up and switch on my phone and an hour later I am still pinging around the internet somewhere. I absolutely KNOW that I have better things to do with my time and I’m still out there, ineffectively ‘liking’ and ‘retweeting’ things.

Chat times I understand more. There are ones around mental health, caring and dementia that give me a chance to interact with the same people regularly and which genuinely provide a great network for support and advice. But the individual ‘pings’ – those little blasts that make up a huge great skyscape full of the litter-dust of people’s reactions – they sometimes cloud the original trigger so totally that it quickly spirals into an infinite round of navel-gazing.

And what of Love or Hate? In his prayer, St Francis of Assisi asked that ‘where there is hatred, let me sow love’. What is difficult about tweeting is that we don’t know where the seeds of our thinking will fall. Our intention may be good (or bad), but like the parable in the Bible we simply don’t know the kind of ground that will be receiving them.

I suppose that ultimately social media reflects the society we live in – and indeed forms part of that society. Good intentions can accidentally (or incidentally) lead to melt-down, but, on the other hand, hate-filled tirades can lead to an outpouring of public support and love. The bottom line, though, is that I would rather be walking by the river than checking my phone…

MAD MOMENT

Going for that high hill Peak District walk with my friend despite the weather forecast for rain all day.

MARVEL MOMENT

Despite the weather forecast for rain all day, driving to said walk in rain, putting our boots on in rain, driving home in rain, but for 5 hours of walking, not a drop!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

3

Depression, depression, depression

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I am struggling again. And also saying things in threes, which is never a good sign.

If I’m honest, I’ve been struggling for months, but I’m not sure how much people who’ve bumped into me would believe me. Somehow I am keeping the basics going – even the big basics like running a workshop on ‘Exploring Simplicity’ this weekend – and in the moment I can seem confident and happy, and perhaps I am.

This is the problem with persistent and low-level depression. While I need to, I find that I can somehow produce a smiley face and keep on going. But the moment I don’t need to do this anymore I feel absolutely rock bottom and sit there with tears running down my face. Like yesterday, when I coped OK with taking dad for his hospital treatment and the whole breadth of things that this entailed – finding he wasn’t fully dressed and hadn’t had breakfast when I arrived to pick him up; spending 25 minutes queuing for a blue badge parking space; seeing a team and consultant we hadn’t met before; having to arrange to pick up antibiotics via the GP because the hospital pharmacy was too far for dad to walk – and then, just because he wanted me to take him for lunch, it all suddenly felt too much and I burst into tears.

Worse, sometimes the stress and distress comes out in the form of me being cantankerous and incredibly irritable. Even perfectly reasonable requests feel like huge mountains and I immediately feel like my back is to the wall. The poor person at the other end – most recently one of my sisters – wonders why on earth a simple ask like putting something in the post appears to be beyond me. When I pause for a second, even I wonder why this seems to be too much for me – but it doesn’t stop it feeling like I’m being asked to climb the north face of Everest.

Recently a kind and supportive person expressed that support by sharing with me the text of Desiderata, written by Max Ehrmann in 1927 and beloved by many ever since. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I love about Desiderata – I mean, who doesn’t like being called a ‘child of the universe’ and compared to the trees and the stars? However I also have a bone to pick with old Max because he also tells us to ‘Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.’ I can hear a chorus of voices here, telling me what good advice this is. But if you are one of the people who is, completely unintentionally, sometimes loud and aggressive, then it is the loneliest prose poem in the world.

Many of us who find it hard to control our emotions feel like, and often are, social pariahs. When I am depressed and become overwhelmed by what the world throws at me I can manage so much, but little things often tip the balance and suddenly I am defensive and tearful. I don’t want to be judged on these times alone, but often this is what other people – and my own self-critical inner voice – notice the most. Even when I apologise, or try to explain why I over-reacted to a situation, I am clear in my head that I have failed badly some invisible test of etiquette and what is considered tolerable. It is like those ‘zero tolerance’ campaigns – well-intentioned and aiming to protect others from abuse but ultimately creating a tier of second-class citizens, often with mental health difficulties, who are essentially told that we won’t help you with your problems unless you come to us symptom-free in the first place. I am not condoning aggression, but where, I ask Max, is the Quakerly approach of ‘that of God in everyone’? Of all people having worth and value? None of us are perfect and if we look at the imperfections alone we can lose sight of the essence of a person. This is something that I, too, need to take on board.

I try very hard to control the levels of distress I display to others. I do a form of prayer meditation every day and try to predict what I will be able to manage and to build in periods of space and quiet. I am getting better at listening to the intuitive inner-guide that tells me ‘you can’t deal with this now’. I spend more time outdoors and amongst nature.

Yesterday, after I had taken dad for lunch and picked up his antibiotics, I took myself off to Attenborough Nature Reserve and walked past the lakes, down to the river Trent and along to Beeston Marina. This is my go-to place when I’m down – the canal and the river; somewhere I can see fields and woods and water, and listen to bird-song rather than cars. I am proud that I managed to go there rather than addressing my ‘ought-to’ list and making my stress-levels worse. I sat and watched the world go by. A couple walked along the towpath, comfortable in each other’s company, and linked hands. For an instant I felt the sadness of being alone but then I let it go and moved my attention to a seagull up above. The seagull wheeled in the sky, set against a backdrop of winter sun and misted fields, and for a moment I experienced the freedom and lightness that helps me to go on.

2017-02-13-16-16-21

MAD MOMENT…

Replacing a dead shrub a month earlier than is sensible – I drove past a garden centre and, guess what, I just had to go in! Now I just have to hope the warmer weather holds.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Dad wanting to go out for lunch immediately after being prodded, poked, widened and lasered at his latest bladder cancer check. Of course this will be no surprise to anyone who knows him well.

© Anne de Gruchy

2

Juggling Jobs, Caring and Mental Health

The day before I sat down to write this I was offered a new job.

It is an interesting and worthwhile job working with lovely people, but it also heralds a return to my multiple juggling act – dad, and work, and managing my mental health.

It was a big decision to go back to paid employment, and motivated by several things. Firstly, there was the fact that so far I have had no success in publishing my writing (not for money, anyway) and I need to consider my finances and status as self-employed. Secondly, I have got to that stage where I was beginning to miss work – the stage where I am itching for routine, and doing things as part of a team, and contributing something that society sees as worthwhile. Thirdly, my year and a half out of formal employment was mainly to provide extra time and resilience to support my dad. Of course his needs have not gone away – in fact they have increased and only a few weeks ago I had to rush down to Dorset to troubleshoot a crisis – but I have discovered that not being in work has not decreased the stress of dealing with his needs.

Dad and work have always been a juggling act. It would not be such a problem if he lived close-by – then I would be able to get him to a hospital appointment and be back in work the next day instead of losing an extra two days in travel and needing to stay on in case he had an adverse reaction to his treatment. But dad is not close-by and the biggest dilemma comes when there is fire-fighting to do. Like a few weeks ago when I went down to support him after he was targeted by conmen – there was the phone call from his bank to alert me followed by a full seven hours of ringing round and organizing things: a friend to be with him and stop overnight until I could get there, the police to report the crime and check on the house, a locksmith to change the locks, the insurance company, the care agency who look after him, my sisters.

‘What would have happened if I had been at work?’ I asked myself.

In a previous job I had to make choices about whether to take phone calls from dad or the care agency – if they rang I tried to pick up or I returned the call in my lunch break. I ended up with no lunch breaks as well as very little annual leave. I also ended up with high stress levels. Since then I have really examined how I choose to respond to dad’s needs. I have also had lots of extra support from my lovely sisters who both live abroad. Now, one of them is the main point of contact for the care agency and the other is taking over dad’s finances in addition to the other tasks she does. This is no mean feat, especially when you live in Australia – companies are not always keen to send correspondence thousands of miles even if you are named on a Power of Attorney.

So our family muddles on and dad continues to want to live at home. I have talked with my sisters and know that I will simply need to turn my phone off when I am at work if I am to have a chance to succeed in my new job and give it the full attention it deserves. If dad or the care agency cannot get hold of me they will have to find someone else. As someone recently pointed out to me, my father is an adult too – albeit one with a misbehaving brain – and his choice to remain at home has consequences he will need to live with. Maybe at some point the balance will tip and his health or safety will demand that he has residential or live-in care, both options which we have explored on his behalf.

In the end I feel that the decision about returning to work was taken from my hands. I was so intent on worrying about when and whether dad would have the next crisis and if I should just continue trying to manage without a job that I forgot that serendipity – or perhaps God – has a hand in things. It went like this: I got despondent following a book-rejection; I looked in the job listings with no real intent to apply at this stage; the job I have been offered just stuck in my brain and I woke one morning just knowing I needed to apply; the application went in at 2.30am and the rest is history.

Did I do the right thing? This was a question I kept asking myself. But when I was waiting to hear whether I had got an interview I was on tenterhooks and I knew then that I really wanted the post. It just seemed to fit. God, or at least the NHS, obviously thought so too!

MAD MOMENT…

My cat being determined to sit on ME while I conducted an interview and tried to take notes as part of my Simplicity research. My interviewee had lap and attention ready, but cats just know whose is the most inconvenient lap to choose!

MARVEL MOMENT…

I was early for my job interview so I did a twenty-minute meditation sitting in my car in the car park. The car park was surprisingly peaceful and surrounded by greenery. I felt deeply relaxed as I went in for the interview. Will definitely be trying that again if I ever need another job!

© Anne de Gruchy