Ridiskulus

Over the time I have spent in the TC, my temper has calmed some. It is not the case that my emotional responses have lessened in intensity: intensity of emotional experience is part of who I am. Not being able to cope with that level of intensity, and being rejected (sometimes viciously) by people whom I tried to lean upon for support with it, leading to more distress on my part, made life unbearable, pre-therapeutic community.

Now, instead of chiding, and despising, and deriding myself, my emotional experience (because it is pathetic and silly to feel so strongly about such trivial stuff) I have learnt to acknowledge the emotion for what it is, and accept that (for whatever, even unknown reason) that is the way that I feel right now. Trying to force the door shut on the way I feel, is just going to make the gale-force of feeling more likely to blow the door down with intent.

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Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

My move to Scotland is not going smoothly. Objectively, this is the farthest distance I have ever permanently moved house in my life. Objectively, more has gone wrong with arrangements for this move than with any other. Objectively, I have more stressful things going on at the same time as moving, than at any other moving house time in the past.

When a bank that will remain nameless refused to print a bank statement for me, when I needed proof of address (I have paperless banking) because printing a statement is not a service they provide, I had had enough. Maybe I am being unreasonable. But I think that not meeting that simple request is ridiculous. I turned and left without saying a word.

I am trying to be kind to myself when I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, and tired and low and tearful. To see the emotional response as understandable. I came off my medication entirely, earlier this week. These are the effects. It is understandable to feel this way, even without the pharmaceutical underpinning, given all that is going on right now.

As I spent time trying to source proof of address, the tasks I am meant to be doing, for work, were mounting. I am struggling to see how I am supposed to meet all the deadlines I should be meeting; what possessed me to think I was capable of taking a lectureship, even a part-time one. What on Earth let me think that I am up to living alone, miles from most of my friends. I’m not good at making new friends. I am ridiculous.

These thoughts are borne of tiredness and low mood and overwhelm. But it is f***** hard to hold that in mind and to be kind and sensible. These past few weeks, I feel I can’t cope. And that feels ridiculous.

 

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Silver and sunlight

Maybe I am still in a state of post-Taizé calm. Taizé was everything I love about Taizé this year. Maybe the theme, “eat your bread with joy” seeped in more deeply than I imagined it had. For the first time, I enjoyed the week, without a rumbling sense that all would be black and doom when I returned home. Rather, I was mindful of being at Taize, whilst looking forward to the things that were to come when I did get back.

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Hanging out at the Source in Taize

Since then, too, a lot has happened. I have started a new job, on an open-ended contract, in my discipline. I have travelled 400 miles to do so, and to find somewhere I can live nearby, and am arranging the biggest move I have ever undertaken.

I am dealing effectively and rationally with a truly rubbish GP surgery that has *twice* lost my paperwork – paperwork that determines my fitness for work. I have kept my cool. As a result, things are getting done on my behalf. I could not have done this before therapy.

I am preparing to leave the place I live now, and to end my time in the therapeutic community. I want to have a good “ending” from all of these things, as much as I am enjoying the beginning of new things in a new country.

I am smiling more and more these days. It is not always like this. There have been moments of panic and overwhelm and stress, and of how the f*** am I going to cope without therapy?, and of out-and-out impostor syndrome, “I cannot possibly do this job; who am I kidding?”  But mostly,  I am calm and happy. And excited about the future.

It is the same as starting any job in the past; I have no idea what is to come; how nice my superiors actually are; whether the workload will remain manageable. I don’t know if I will enjoy the place to which I have chosen to move. But I feel more confident and assured that I can, with God’s grace, face what is to come. And I am looking forward to the adventure.

 

 

 

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Only just begun

It is that time of year again. My bags are packed; my out-of-office reply is on; I’m waiting for the coach to Taizé. 

And I could write a post thinking back to last year; thinking on how much I was carrying then, how much lighter I feel now. But I feel I have had enough of reviews.

I want instead to look forward. To think that, in two months’ time, I will be living in Edinburgh, working in Edinburgh in a job that I feel suited to; am wanted in. That I won’t need to be over-working to distract from emotional rubbish because I can deal effectively with my emotional sensitivity.

That I am wholly acceptable. That, in Edinburgh, I will be living authentically – as me. And that is OK. That I am at the start of what feels like the most wonderful relationship with a girlfriend who wants to know me, as much as I have so much to discover about her. That I am falling in love again, and I want it to happen. 

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Looking forwards can feel scary and unsafe and uncertain. The next few weeks will be filled with things that would induce stress in anyone. There will be pain in leaving the place I am now – leaving therapy and church and #geekhaus. I have real connections there. 

I am glad for having made these connections. And alongside them all is God. As I come to reflect at a Taizé, I feel compelled to look forward to the things that are to come; the richness of experiences, both joyful and sad. I feel like I’ve only just begun to live. 

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On Painting the Invisible: Review of Vicky Beeching’s *Undivided*

You should listen to some Vicky Beeching songs. Her lyrics are inclusive.

So the chaplain said, four years or more ago now. Thus began my first foray into her world. I was sick and tired of shallow, single-lined worship songs repeated ad infintum. But here was something richer: her songs brought parts of my faith alive, as she reminded me that everyone under the sun  is welcome to come to God, to feel how it feels to belong. No distance was too far.

And yet. And yet, I couldn’t be sure these lyrics applied to me, too, not then. I had never felt like I belonged anywhere, not least of all to God. I was rotten, rotten, rotten at the core; my sexuality, hidden from the world, an epicentre and epitome of all that was bad. I didn’t know it then, but this was the first of the parallels between VB’s experiences and mine. A hidden secret.

img_1194The pages of Undivided  offer many more parallels.  Wedding ceremonies that left me despairing in my twenties; exposure to the not-so-wonderful ‘Purity Movement’ alongside some dubious teaching around the sinfulness of homosexuality; prayers begging God to make me different; an obsessive style of overwork to try to plug the loneliness; a descent into mental illness that can partly be attributed to the overwhelming sense that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

VB writes with honesty and clarity of her struggle to live in a world that, by damning a group of people, decried her for who she was. Of silent shame.  And I was left wondering what would have happened to me, had I not stayed very, very quiet in the non-affirming Christian spaces I frequented in my teenage years and early adulthood. Because what runs through the book, from beginning to end, is VB’s courage.

Unlike her, I  did not have to choose between my career and my sexuality. Neither did I have to choose between my faith and my sexuality. I simply moved somewhere affirming when the shame became too much to bear.

But I still struggle. I struggle even now with the voices around me that tell me that I am wrong. That tell me categorically and boldly that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Tell me I am an abomination; that I am choosing this lifestyle. That I should remain single and celibate. Life is not fair. This is my cross to bear…..

I am choosing. I am choosing to live authentically. I am choosing to be real and honest and to let go of the guilt that enshrouds me for doing so. Honest to God. VB’s testimony in its painting of her hitherto invisible journey has helped me enormously in that, and I am very grateful for her writing. Her story needed to be told. And it needs to be read, too. I recommend that you do just that.

Undivided, (hardcover,pp. 304) is on sale  for £16.99 from Harper Collins.

 

 

 

 

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Coming Home

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I spent time, earlier this week, in the Therapeutic Community, reflecting on what it means to be home. I wrote. I wrote because writing feels safe and familiar; words give me the structure that I crave amidst the chaos and uncertainty that is my diary over the next few months.

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Home is not bricks and mortar. Home is that place that you can return to again, and again; where you can be truly yourself, and where you are accepted for all that you are. Home might be a physical space; but it might also be a person, or a group of people.

The first image above is of my first home. My parental home, that I have reflected upon before. Then (as now) I considered Taize a place where I could return “home”. Where I could be reconciled to God, and to myself.

But since then, there have emerged other places that I could call “home”. The T.C. itself is one such group of people. I have shared with these folks the horrors of my past; the places my mind goes to these days, when I am triggered by something. They have helped me to disentangle the threads of my earlier life, to find a way of weaving them together again that makes sense; helps me feel OK about being me.

Another is my church. This week, an email; “what would you like to do [to mark your leaving]?”. I haven’t replied. I haven’t replied, because, as I find it hard to contemplate detaching from the T.C., I find it hard, too, to think about leaving the church. That  place, those people, are home. There, I have been real, and raw and vulnerable. I have been accepted in all the mess that I was in. I have made amazing friends. And it is with the church that I have decorated a Christmas tree each year; celebrated my successes, and theirs. Been pilgrim on a journey with them, companion on the road. I don’t want to leave that home.

I feel overwhelmed at all that has to be done in the coming weeks. With finding somewhere to live in a new country. Making a home for myself there. Above all else, I am trying to remember through all of these places and in all of these people, that God is always Home.

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Life Lessons

Progress Review, Q. 1:  What life lessons have you learnt from your time in the Therapeutic Community, or in life more generally?

I pause for a moment. But only for a moment, because I know the thing that is most striking of all the things I have learnt.

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When I entered the community, back in February, 2017, I was meeting with the end of my tether in every little thing that didn’t go according to (my carefully thought-out) plan. From a cancelled coffee-date with a friend (which meant they hated me) to not having a paper accepted at a conference (which meant all my academic work was rubbish), everything mattered. And it mattered a great deal.

But this I have learnt. Things can feel uncomfortable – even horrid and downright stressful – in the moment – but that that moment won’t last forever. That feeling is not the end of the world as I know it. And just because I am feeling horrible, whatever is happening, is not necessarily (entirely – or even partly) my fault.

As a case in point, I woke up one day this week, to an email from a distressed student. They were distressed (and had emailed at silly o clock in the morning) because the dissertation grade I had given them meant that they had a 2.2 rather than a 2.1 degree. Some semblance of this scenario happens each and every year. In the past, I have given failing grades to students. And when the complaint has inevitably come back to my door, I have felt like I have failed them utterly, not just in their grade, but as a person. That my teaching has not been good enough; that I should have done more to support them, and that their grade, and resultant anger and despair, was entirely my fault.

This time, I felt that same sense of dread as I read the message. But then I stopped. I stopped because, actually, it was not just me that awarded the dissertation said grade. It was second-marked. I stopped because, yes the student has a 2.2, but that degree class is a combination of much more than a dissertation mark. It was not that mark that led to them getting a 2.2 per se. I stopped and re-read the feedback the student had given me about my supervision, declaring that they were more than happy with my guidance. I might be partly responsible for assigning the mark – but the fact that the student has that mark is not my fault. I forwarded their email, and module feedback, to someone at the university who is responsible (and paid) for dealing with these kind of concerns.

And a couple of hours later, they replied to me, to affirm that all was okay by my actions, and the matter was in their hands. The feeling of dread passed. It felt horrid to open my eyes to that kind of message. To know that a student for whom I have pastoral responsibility is distressed. But – it is not my fault. In the past,  I cut in response to those messages. Could have done more; should have done more.   This time, I acknowledged how I felt, sent email, and carried on.

I can deal with the small stuff. I can deal with bigger stuff, too. I just have to remember that I can.

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Dawning

Dawning:        D [Welsh: awn ni!]ng      D[English: let’s go!]ng

I have written about sunrise before. Almost exactly three years ago. Three years ago, when I could see a future for myself in (South)-East London. Three years later, I am writing about a new dawning.

A dawning sense of acceptability. That I am acceptable. A transition from being told that I am okay;  being told that I have made progress in the Therapeutic Community; being able to identify its markers (no more cutting; healthful eating) but feeling rubbish nonetheless –  to feeling  that I am okay. Feeling affectively different, within and about myself.

I learnt a new word last week, courtesy of a Facebook meme.  Unfuckwithable.  This new sense that I have is one where I feel able to cope with rubbish situations and happenstance. One where I know and can hold to my boundaries. Where I can identify when you are likely behaving that way towards me because I’ve done something to hurt you, and when you are more likely behaving that way because of your own stuff. I can take responsibility for the former, and tell you if you’ve hurt me. It is also a sense that we can disagree – even fundamentally – but still both be okay as adults in a relationship with one another, however close or distant that relationship may be. And where I don’t give a  flying **** what your judgement is of me, because your judgement (in an absolutist sense of judgement) doesn’t matter. I am okay with myself. I am okay by God. And that is enough.

A dawning sense, too that I can move on, however hard it will be. That, as I prepare to leave the Therapeutic Community, to move country, to start a new job, I can face the uncertainty and stress and deal with it. That I will settle and have my own space, and be comfortable in my own company.

This new dawning feels lighter and spacious and a place where I can breathe freely. It feels good. And it is an embryonic, and fragile, and precious, dawning. One that I need to look after. There is no room in it for complacency. I am not sorted, and fine. But I am okay. And that is a dawning which makes the night time feel worthwhile.

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