An open letter to the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett from Nicola’s anxiety

Dear Sir Terry,

It has been many years since you were in Nicola’s life. You see, we were at odds for a long time. When she first picked up a copy of your book Soul Music, she was only thirteen, and I had a firm grip on her by then. She couldn’t be alone with her own thoughts, because I made them too dark and frightening for her. Some days I was really winning – she felt sick and struggled to focus on anything else other than the ideas I fed to her. And make no mistake, they were vivid and horrific. And yet…

She picked up your books, on days when she could barely stand her own thoughts, and she smiled. Sometimes she laughed. And in the midst of all the shit I made her wade through, she even started writing her own stories, drawing on your humorous style. You were winning, Sir Terry. 

But I didn’t give up so easily. You are no stranger to anthropomorphic personifications, given that you wrote Death into your books, who quickly became one of Nicola’s favourite characters, so you will understand that this anthropomorphic personification couldn’t just “let it go”, as the kids these days say.  So I used a different tactic, and this one worked SO. WELL. (See, like Death, I too can talk in all caps.) 

I convinced her to go “full-fundy”. I persuaded her that reading stories about magic, wizards, witches and spells was not what a good Christian should be doing. I convinced her that God didn’t like Discworld, nor did he want her reading it. In short, I turned to scrupulosity. And it worked. At age fifteen, having devoured many of your works, and having found joy and beauty in them, she willingly put them down. And she never picked them up again. 

Until tonight.

She’s sad she didn’t take the chance to write to you when you were alive, to thank you for being there for her through your books, and for making her laugh when little else could. But she would like you to know that 16 years after she put down your books, tonight she borrowed one. And she doesn’t know if she’ll like it the way she did over half her lifetime ago, but she does this in honour of you – and quite honestly, to give me the middle finger as well. 

I held her off for 16 years, Sir Terry, but in the end, it turns out your writing was stronger. And she was stronger too. So she’s back. 

I concede this round to you. 

From Nicola’s anxiety

Persist, sister

This fortnight has been hectic for Christian women online. #ThingsonlyChristianwomenhear and #ThingsonlyblackChristianwomenhear have provided a heartbreaking insight into the intersection between women and the church. There were plenty of critics, and in the aftermath, we saw conservative/Evangelical bloggers suggesting that women, and especially female bloggers, were potentially leading people astray, that they were broken and untrustworthy, and needed to be under an authority.

So in this post I wanted to take a little time to attend to my Christian sisters who have been caught up in the fallout. The ones who posted in the hashtag, who blog, who pastor congregations, who study and write about theology, who are now fully-fledged ministers.

I want you to know that I am listening to you. And I appreciate you.

It is not uncommon for church to be a boys’ club. Not all churches, I know. But you don’t have to look far to find examples of local churches where women aren’t represented amongst the leadership, or where women are doing certain jobs that men won’t do or don’t do most of the time, with perhaps a few exceptions. And if a woman tries to explain her perspective, she gets shut down. It is so frustrating. I know. I hear you.

I want to say: persist, sister.

Persist in doing what you believe you are called to do. No man or woman is your judge. They don’t get to decide what you are or aren’t called to. God gets to make the call, and if you believe that you’ve been called to do something, you go for it. Don’t wait for the approval of people. If you can’t pursue your calling where you are, can you find a place you can pursue it?

And if you haven’t been ‘called’ to anything, or you don’t believe in being called – doesn’t matter. Persist in developing your abilities. Persist in pursuing your passions. Persist in having a rich life. Persist, persist, persist.

You can comment below or let me know on Twitter (@mytwocompanions), what are you persisting with?

 

 

#SevenGratitudes

This week I am joining in with for-the-birds-blog.com in listing seven things I am grateful for! See their beautiful post here.

My seven gratitudes this week:

1. Haircuts!

Everyone in my household was in desperate need of a haircut, and this week we went to our local hairdressers who were so accommodating with my little ones, especially my youngest, who was having his second haircut ever and freaked out a little. Now they look gorgeous! So pleased with mine as well. Love a fresh haircut!

2. Activism

I’m thankful I live in a democracy where protests, marches and peaceful assemblies are legal. Today I’m joining the Mums 4Refugees contingent at our IWD march to raise the profile of a whole host of issues, but the treatment of women and men in offshore detention in particular. 

3. Coffee

I couldn’t get by without my cup (or two, or three!) of daily joe. Ah, caffeine. 

4. Work

This last fortnight I’ve had quite a bit of work, which has been very helpful for the household budget and reduced a bit of financial stress for us.

5. The park!

The park is a lifesaver. We have a huge one nearby where we can feed ducks, go for a stroll, play on the playground and let off a bit of steam. 

6. Podcasts

Podcasts have opened up a whole new world for me, and I’m finding new ones all the time. Currently my favourite is Exvangelical.

7. Husband

I feel very fortunate that I married someone who is such a team player. The nature of our lifestyle is that one of us is often at work and the other is at home looking after kids and running the household. He steps into either role with confidence and picks up the slack, no questions asked. I’m grateful for him in this season of life.

And I’d love to hear your 7 gratitudes! What are you thankful for this week?

On Lent and nonviolence

It’s Lent.

And I can feel the change in the air.

The stifling humidity of summer, the burning rays of sun that begin at dawn and end at dusk, are mellowing. The air at night is cool and clear. It keeps threatening to rain, but it never does.

I have never observed Lent. I grew up Baptist and it was never a “thing”. We sort of knew it was happening, and other people observed it, but it wasn’t something that meant anything to us. My sister started observing it several years ago, but I never asked her why…it just seemed like an extra rule to follow, another ritual to take part in to feel super spiritual. I didn’t want that pressure. So I never observed it.

But this morning I knew it was Shrove Tuesday, and I made sure we had pancakes. And tomorrow – I want to go to an Ash Wednesday service. I want to participate in Lent somehow this year. It would have to be low-pressure, low-key. Not because I can’t be bothered, but because I don’t want to promise to give up chocolate or TV and then not follow through. But maybe I will light a candle with my boys once a week, and say a simple prayer. (Sacraparental had some great ideas which I may be able to draw upon).

I desire more reflection and a slower, quieter approach to God these days. I like the idea of a rhythm. I’ve been trying to read along with the lectionary a little bit, although I keep missing days, because I haven’t made it a proper habit. Like everything right now, I am just trying to fit it in. I have stopped meditating in the evening after my boys fall asleep, and I miss it. I feel like every day I hold my breath to see what fresh hell is transpiring in the US or here in Australia. I am kind of tuning it out right now. I read it, I take a deep breath, and I move on, because I feel powerless to do much. And I like to pick my battles. And I like to have a considered approach. I am learning about nonviolence, and I want my words and actions to be nonviolent, even when I am raging internally. Nonviolence is about peace within, as well as peace without. It’s about having love and treating people with dignity simply because they are a human being, even when I fundamentally and vehemently disagree with them.

It is really, really hard.

About a year ago I watched online a gathering of people who came together to work on the Sanctuary movement – opening churches in Brisbane to protect asylum seekers who were in danger of being sent back to offshore detention. One of the speakers telling us as protesters that we needed to do the necessary spiritual work and reflection to take the anger that our opponents might send towards us, and to turn it back as love. I am finding that the necessary spiritual work and reflection to be like that is, well, never-ending, really. I don’t think I will ever have arrived in this regard. There will never be a moment when I am not tempted to turn back anger as anger, or insult as insult. But, as the saying goes, never repay anyone evil for evil…overcome evil with good…all I can do is simply try.

This Lent, as a time of reflection and repentance, I am looking for peace within to accompany my work for peace without.

Where do you find peace when things seem a bit of a mess, either in the world, or in your world? How do you try to maintain respect and uphold the dignity of others even when you would rather not?

 

An update and a poll walked into a bar…

Hello lovely people! Just an update to let you know I am still out here and have a heap of ideas buzzing around, but I have my first counselling assessment coming up in a week’s time and I am focused on that for the next 7 days and nights. I’ll post some more after that’s done, but in the meantime, why not do my handy-dandy poll and let me know what you want to read? Love to hear your thoughts!  Until then, take care!

People are amazing!

This week I started my Master of Counselling at uni. (side note: It is wonderful. I love it. I’m so glad I decided to start studying. I can’t wait to be counselling people!)

We are focusing on something called Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which is quite a different model to the kinds of therapy I am used to using (ACT, CBT). And I love my ACT and CBT. It’s hard to break out of that mindset into SFBT (so many acronyms!), because SFBT is all about using people’s strengths, capacities, ideas and abilities. It is the ultimate in non-enabling. It is extremely respectful of people’s individual knowledge about their situation and lives. Basically it says, “You are the expert on your life.” And I agree, I think that’s true.

The counsellor’s role is not to know nothing and just listen (although they do stay present, listen and empathise, which is a whole skill in itself!) but to know and ask the right questions that lead the client to their preferred course of action.

In learning about this, I have come to realise that people are amazing. They are incredibly resilient, resourceful and strong. Even in some of the most dire situations, they get up, they look after their families, they complete studies, they go to work…And sometimes they wake up and keep on living, even when they feel they can’t. That takes such enormous courage.

I watched a case study where a man who had been in an accident and become a paraplegic came to an SFBT session very depressed, feeling terrible and with very little hope for change, but he decided of his own volition to come back to a second session a month later, and had implemented some changes he had come up with all on his own. His problems weren’t all solved and he was still depressed/grieving, but his suffering was not as overwhelming anymore. He looked happier and healthier. He had more energy. He even smiled a little. I was soooo impressed.

From this therapy I am learning to look for strengths, possibilites and capabilities in people. I think that’s really beneficial for all of us. It’s given me a real admiration for others, and even helped me to see that I have done far more than I thought I was capable of. It gives me a lot of hope.

How have you managed to get through a difficult time? What resources, capabilities, strengths did you draw on that maybe you didn’t even know you had?

How to have a good relapse

I was going to share a wonderful post about something I’ve found really helpful and wonderful and you might too. It was going to be absolutely wonderful.

Was.

But today, I haven’t been feeling so great. A mixture of little sleep, some theological questions/doubts and anxiety all shaken up caused me to feel pretty awful most of the day.

This doesn’t necessarily constitute a full-on relapse as such, but it is disheartening to feel so well and then one day suddenly find yourself feeling the way you used to at the start of recovery.

Fortunately, I know that this is a normal part of the recovery progression. I’ve been here and done this before. Feels painful? Of course. No one wants to relapse.

relapse

Image credit: https://imgflip.com/i/1hozhg 

HOW DO YOU HAVE A ‘GOOD’ RELAPSE? EXPECT TO HAVE ONE.

Relapse is a normal part of recovery, and does not equal a failure (Presbury, Echertling and McKee, 2008). So I’m not beating myself up about it and adding that emotional baggage to the stuff I’m already attempting to sort through.

The steps I’m taking to manage this episode, and you might find helpful too if you have problems to deal with (which I’m assuming is, like, everyone) are:

  • Medication – sticking with it, not skipping doses, not doing things that interfere with my medication (like drinking alcohol). If I found that I was frequently having bad days and it seemed like the medication was no longer having an effect, I would go back to my doctor and discuss whether it was still effective and if we needed to try something else (higher dosage, different kind, etc).
  • Tools from therapy – using mindfulness to “sit with” the uncertainty and anxiety I’m feeling, rather than constantly ruminating, CBT to evaluate if my thoughts are realistic and helpful or not, visualising positive rather than negative outcomes. If this isn’t effective enough, an appointment to check in with my psychologist would be my next step.
  • Connection – for me connecting with other people is important (I’m an extrovert), and is pretty much always a mood booster. I sent a friend a silly picture I thought she’d appreciate and we had a laugh. (Well I did). It helped.
  • Accepting my doubt as a part of my faith – tonight I heard an excellent talk by Ken Wytsma, guest speaker at Westcity Church, and he spoke about doubt being a part of faith, and how we sometimes “take a break” from God, church etc until we feel happy enough to stop doubting. He encouraged us to continue in our practices anyway, as that is what faith is. So I am continuing in my attempts to pray and cultivate my faith, rather than stepping away because I’m uncertain and anxious about that uncertainty. So be it.
  • Self-care and self-compassion – just trying to look after myself (eat moderately, drink water, get enough rest) and cut myself some slack, not paying attention to the inner critic (aka Judgy McJudgerson).

So that’s what I’m aiming to do while I go through this process of questioning, feeling anxious about it and feeling uncertain about what the outcome will be.

What do you do when you feel like you are relapsing or things are not going as well as they used to? Let me know in the comments 🙂 

References
Presbury, J. H., Echterling, L. G., McKee, J.E. (2008). Beyond Brief Counseling and Therapy: An Integrative Approach (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Want justice? Get persistent.

There was an Immigration Minister in a certain city who didn’t care about anything beyond “stop the boats”, and let abuse continue on his watch. Refugee advocates came to him repeatedly, saying, “Close the camps! Bring them here! Let them stay!” The Minister ignored them for awhile, but finally he said to himself, “I don’t fear the Greens or care about what the Loony Left think, but these advocates are driving me crazy. I’m going to see refugees get justice, because these advocates are wearing me out with their constant requests!” 

This little story is based on a story Jesus once told. (Loosely based. Very loosely.) When I was thinking about what I could do this year to help asylum seekers and refugees in detention, and how I could best engage with the powers-that-be, it sprang to mind. Here’s how the original goes:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’  The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people,  but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:1-8, NLT)

Leaving aside for the moment that sometimes I do wonder if God is actually going to give justice, I can see a few parallels between the situation our asylum seekers are in, and this story. I am using this parable for inspiration on two levels:

  1. The inspiration to persist in asking for change.

    The widow wore the unjust judge out. She made a pest of herself. She didn’t change the character of the judge – he never pretended to care about God or people – but she did change his decision, through her persistence. Justice did win the day.

    There are so many of us who have good points to make about the detention situation, both on social media and to our friends – but how often do we take those to the politicians? What would happen if for every comment we made on social media about the offshore detention situation, we also sent it to the Immigration Minister here or the Prime Minister here? Or if not every comment, once a day we sent a brief Tweet or email? Once a day, every day of the year, multiplied by every advocate you know. Polite comments. But firm comments. That would be immense pressure. So my plan is to be one of those voices that persists in speaking to the government, asking for change, letting them know that the public eye is on them, and we want justice.

    We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. Martin Luther King

  2. The inspiration to persist in prayer.

    Even though I have lots of questions and some doubts, I am still a follower of Jesus, and his main point was about pestering God for justice. Now why it hasn’t already happened, I do not know. I cannot answer that question. Nor am I going to attempt to right now – I’m ok with accepting that it hasn’t happened yet, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Jesus this song you wrote
    The words are sticking in my throat
    Peace on earth.  U2, ‘Peace on Earth’.

    So with those words sticking in my throat, my plan is to persist in asking God for justice in this situation. Will it happen? I do not know. That’s what faith is – not having certainty, but trying anyway. Is it pointless? Maybe, but maybe not. I think in this case it’s better to try and fail than to not try. At this point there’s not much to lose.

 

This year, may we wear out our welcome, and see justice come about through persistence.

Dear 2016

Dear 2016,

We need to talk.

You are moving out in just over 48 hours. No ifs, buts, or maybes. So start packing. Once you’re out, the locks are going to be changed and you won’t be coming back in.

“We are never, ever, ever getting back together.” Taylor Swift

Despite the cruel blows you dealt us in the last 12 months, we are survivors. We have coped with the loss of many of our favourite celebrities by sharing tributes and recalling our most beloved memories of them. We have watched catastrophic war rain down on the people of Aleppo, and we’ve rallied. We’ve donated, we’ve shared information, we’ve called our politicians. Many of us were aghast as we watched Brexit happen, One Nation come back to the Senate, and Trump become president-elect. But we’ve navigated that too. We’ve made friendships with people from different cultures, we’ve advocated for acceptance and we’ve stood up to racism.

Once again, we’ve watched as the sheer negligence and cold-heartedness of Australia’s refugee policy resulted in a death – the death of a 27 year old man on Christmas Day. A man who escaped genocide in Darfur, only to die on Manus. He should never have died. But we’ve taken to the streets, we held a vigil outside the Minister for Immigration’s office, and again we’ve been on the phone and emailing our politicians.

On top of all that, some of us have contended with personal crises. We’ve been diagnosed with an illness (physical or mental), we’ve lost a loved one through death or divorce, we’ve nursed a loved one through an illness, we’ve changed and no longer fit in where we used to, we’ve had to stop work because of illness or redundancy or there’s just no work to be had. And we are still standing. Or sitting, if we can’t stand it anymore. But we’re still here. We’ve sought treatment and support. We’ve found a community who cares for us. We’ve turned our attention and time to other worthy causes outside of work.

In short, 2016, you never had the best of us.

We know you’ll wreak more havoc in the next 2 days. But we’ll survive it, just like we’ve survived all the other stuff you’ve thrown at us. And when you’re gone, we’ll still be here.

St Augustine once wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Well, 2016: we are good and angry. And we have courage. These are my two companions, our two companions, going into 2017.

We are going to get angry. We are going to get angry when we see people being used as political stepping stones, or being disadvantaged for someone else’s benefit. When people are dying as a result of our government’s neglect, we are livid. We are going to get angry when we see people chewed up and spat out by a corrupt system or a corrupt person, left to deal with the fall-out on their own. Be it government, church, spouse, boss – if someone causes harm, we will be angry.

And then we will use our courage to make a change.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Martin Luther King Jr

Courage is just doing what we think is important, even when we feel afraid. And there are many actions that are borne from courage, big and small. Seeing all the sadness and pain on the news and not turning off the TV, but taking a moment to 1) make space for all those emotions and 2) think about how you can do something to help people who are in pain – courage. Signing a petition to support something you believe in or making a phone call to your MP or a Minister – courage. Taking a stand on something you know won’t be popular amongst your friends or family, but doing it anyway because you are being honest about what you think – courage.

So 2016, as long as we have just a little bit of anger and a little bit of courage, we have hope. And as long as we have hope, you will never get the best of us. So please collect your things now. And don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

Here’s to a hopeful 2017.

 

 

Australia cares about your mental health…unless you’re an asylum seeker

Today an article from NZ Radio was published, outlining mental disorders that a group of asylum seekers are suffering due to their time in Australian offshore detention centres.

Australia’s policy is to lock up people who arrive by boat without visas/passports/papers. Or to turn back their boats and leave them in international waters. People who are locked up in our offshore detention centres on Nauru Island or Manus Island (near Papua New Guinea) are there indefinitely, even though they haven’t committed crimes. The vast majority of people arriving in Australia via boat are genuine refugees, according to the government’s information. But they aren’t resettled in Australia, as per Australia’s Operation Sovereign Border’s policy.

Hope withers and dies when there is no chance of being set free. The people on Nauru and Manus are suffering severe mental disorders due to the indefinite nature of their detention and the conditions they have to live in. (Warning: links to the following files may contain distressing information)

One of the detainees on Manus Island, a cartoonist who is nicknamed ‘Eaten Fish‘, has OCD, panic attacks and PTSD.

So during Mental Health week, and as part of OCD Awareness Week, let’s take a few moments to remember the people who are suffering these conditions. They are people just like us, who had to make a difficult choice to get away from their home and restart life. They might have done it for their kids or themselves. They might have converted to a religion that is disallowed back at home. Whatever the reason, they are people, and should be treated with basic respect and care.  Not only can we remember them, but we can do something helpful for them. Here are some options:

  • Donate time, money or resources to We Care Nauru, an organisation that sends donations to the asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru to provide for their physical needs and help them know they’re not forgotten
  • Join an asylum seeker or refugee advocacy group like Mums 4 RefugeesLove Makes A WayRefugee Action Collective or ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) or follow them on Facebook (Mums 4 Refugees, Love Makes a Way, RAC, ASRC). There are plenty of other groups too, there will be one that you’ll fit into.
  • Contact your local MP and discuss the situation with them. Ask them to advocate for refugee mental health.
  • Contact the Minister for Immigration (I called his Canberra office this week, and the lady who answered the phone was lovely, so no need to be frightened!)
  • Contact the Prime Minister
  • Contact the Minister for Health and suggest she look into the mental health conditions of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus.

Even though this seems like a mountain we can’t move, we can be like thousands of tiny water droplets constantly dripping on the mountain – we are going to cut a path and eventually break that rock down, if only we don’t give up.