My warped thinking and a little ray of lucidity

Here’s an example of how warped depression can make one’s thinking. I mean suicide is the obvious example, and for me, suicidal thoughts was the thing that actually triggered help seeking. At that point, I realized I couldn’t be ok and started to get help. But the example of crazy thinking that I want to relate today, was a little more subtle, but possibly as deadly.

I remember I used to wish I could get cancer.

See I was stuck in this position that was literally killing me. My ability to get the job done was slipping through my fingers in front of my eyes. The less work I got done, the more behind I got and the pressure ratcheted up. I was stuck in the position because my vocation was my calling, which in my mind was my destiny, therefore there was no plan B. This was it! Being in full time ministry, leading a large church that would grow and impact the region was my life goal. I had no thought of resigning and doing anything else.

In my mind, the only way out was to be too sick to do the job. Ironically, I was already too sick to do the job, I just didn’t know it. So I wished I could contract cancer. The way my messed up mind reasoned it, was that if I had cancer, I could bow out, and go to bed. My wife would stop nagging and criticizing me. The church would leave me alone, except for the well-wishers of course. I could get some sympathy. But best of all, I could stay in bed all day and never come out. Then in a few months I’d be dead and everyone could just move on.

You might think that’s a naive thought. No-one who knows anything about cancer, would want to contract it. But I did. During the time I was ill, a close friend of mine in the church suffered the loss of his wife to cancer. I was the first to arrive minutes after she died. She was emaciated beyond recognition. I had watched her die over the months she had fought the melanoma. Yeah I knew what it was like alright, but I still wanted it. That’s how badly I needed to get out of my situation. The mind really does do some crazy things when depression takes hold.

But in a lucid moment, self doubt crept in and I realized this wasn’t normal. I typed into my browser www.beyondblue.org.au and looked at the checklist and mentally ticked off almost all the signs and symptoms of depression. This was the beginning and the end. The beginning of help seeking and the beginning of the end of my career as I knew it.

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Help! My wife is doing man things

It’s been a fairly good source of humor for me to realize that now my wife works full time, and I manage the home, how much she’s doing “man” things – the things I used to do when working a stressful job more than full time. She’s a small, very feminine, good looking girl, who’s girly in every way (her two main hobbies are shopping and eating out), so it’s amazing how she’s picked up all these allegedly “guy” habits.

She dumps keys, sunglasses, diaries, paperwork, junk mail, bills and wallets on the kitchen bench. I’m trying to prepare a meal. This kitchen just aint big enough for the two of us. That would tick me off so much I’d push it off the edge.

I cook, and she doesn’t wash the dishes. It’s a rare occasion that she ever gets to the washing up. I do the groceries, attend to the kids, the laundry, some cleaning (I get a cleaner once a fortnight), pay the bills – the whole shebang. The only thing I don’t do is fold her clothes and put them away. That’s her problem. If they pile up enough, I dump them on the bedroom floor and make a little mountain.

She leaves clothes, socks, jackets and shoes about the house in various places. She leaves her plate at the table, and if she does happen to clear it, it goes somewhere near the sink, but doesn’t ever get rinsed. Then it goes all hard….

She likes to be “fun parent”. They’re the ones that distract the kids when they’ve got a school bus to catch or it’s past their bedtime and “responsible parent” knows that it’s going to turn to muck if the kids get hyper right before bed time, or start crying if the bus is there and they haven’t packed their lunch.

She comes home when she comes home. I don’t get a phone call saying she’s working back late. I never really know when she’s coming home. Then, she’s so tired when she gets home from work all she wants to do is turn on her laptop and vegetate on facebook. She doesn’t want the kids to be talking to her, or me asking her to help out. After tea, all she wants to do is stare at the TV until she’s tired enough to go to bed.

She gets work text messages and phone calls into the night and on weekends. She works some weekends and some weeknights so the kids don’t see her. She’s stressed about work – yesterday she went for a massage and today is going for a remedial massage because her whole body is experiencing muscle spasms. She took pain killers to get to sleep last night. Work life balance? Hardly!

She’s doing all the things I used to do, so it’s a form of natural justice – I can’t complain. It is funny though because these are all things that have been attributed to stuff guys do. But they’re not. They’re what people do, who are using all their emotional and mental energies on their job.

I have come up with a few solutions to save me nagging.

I don’t expect her to do anything. Ever. If I ring her and ask her to pick up some milk from the supermarket on the way home, I don’t expect her to do it. She may well say she’s too tired. I keep powdered milk and grocery milk in the pantry (plan B and C).

I plan my time and budget my energy to get absolutely everything done, so I don’t have to rely on her. If she helps out, that’s a bonus – and often she does. She would do more if she had the energy – I know her heart is in the right place.

I bought a big tub and anything she leaves lying around, goes into the tub behind the kitchen counter. Now if she leaves clutter on the counter, a little nudge and bingo, they’re in the tub!

I try and make the home a calm, clutter free, tidy environment for when she comes home, so that it’s a rejuvenating place. I try and cook her meals she’ll enjoy.

The kids and I eat at 5.45pm whether she’s home or not, so I can still get the kids into bed at 7pm. If I wait for her, it will only make it harder for me and I’ll get frustrated with her and I don’t want to be.

Finally, I understand. I know exactly where she’s living. I’ve been there. I wonder if marriages would be better off, if both partners experienced stressful jobs (not at the same time hopefully) because then they would be more understanding and supportive rather than nagging about their partners’ bad “man-habits”.

Emotional Language

I’ve noticed that my nine year old son often gets negative and frustrated. He regularly comes home from school irritated and saying things like “I hate school, I have no friends, the teacher is unfair” and other broad sweeping generalizations. Some days he tells me he doesn’t want to go to school, and once he told me he’d like to die. He can also get quite angry with his little brother and sister at times too. Sometimes he seems to have so much pent-up emotion that it’s obvious, he really has no idea what to do with it. He’s feeling it, but it’s overwhelming him.

There are two scary things about his moods and mindset when things don’t go the way he expects. The first is that he seems to be very much like me when he’s frustrated. I guess that’s understandable. We inevitably reproduce who we are in our kids – good and bad. When he’s looking like mini-me, you’ve no idea how much that presses the buttons of his mother. The second, is that I think he, being the eldest has been exposed to the conflict in our marriage the most in terms of his awareness of what’s going on. The venom, the arguments, the freeze-outs and stonewalling, the simmering tension, I think, has taken its toll on him.

It’s obvious that he, like me, doesn’t seem to know how to handle his emotions. It’s really only in the last few years, I’ve been coming to grips with my emotions, so I’m trying to pass this on to him, so he doesn’t end up like me.

An emotional language, is the ability to identify and describe your feelings. Women are naturally good at this. Their ability to describe how they’re feeling is much more nuanced than men, because they’ve had more practice for a lot longer. Ask a man how he feels about something, he might say “I feel good about it” or “I don’t feel too good about that”. Hardly specific or useful.

Last night, I helped my son journal his emotions. He’d had a bad day at school. I asked, how did you feel? Angry, irritated, frustrated, sad, annoyed, disappointed? I’m trying to give him an ability to accurately name his emotions. Then I asked what he was thinking when he had those feelings. “It’s not fair, we weren’t told about the changes, I wanted to do something different”. I’m trying to help him see the connection between thoughts and feelings, so that eventually he’ll learn to challenge his thoughts, to try and lift negative emotions. I asked him what were some alternative thoughts and we brainstormed together.

I asked him how long those negative feelings lasted and what changed them. I’m hoping to teach him mindfulness, where he’s aware of his feelings in the moment, and he’s grounded and is aware when negative emotions are fading. I want him to get to know the things that lift his emotions so he can be more strategic about using those things.

Finally I want him to understand that emotions rise and fall over the course of a day, or a week. We have low emotions and high emotions all the time. I helped him to see that his mood was good around tea time and afterward – so he doesn’t globalise and say “the whole day was bad because of what the teacher did this morning”.

Emotions go up and down depending on how we view the events of the day as they unfold. Being grounded and aware of them and being able to name them is the art of mindfulness. Challenging our views and thoughts about certain events can help manage our emotions. Knowing those things that can boost or lift our emotions is important, and you can only discover them by being mindful. Also realizing that emotions come and go and that experiencing a full range of emotions is part of the richness of the human experience keeps what we’re experiencing in the moment in perspective. Our current mood won’t last.

I hope that by teaching him a nuanced emotional language, that it will become part of a toolbox that strengthens his resilience and well being. The alternative to having a good emotional language, is denial and suppression and those tricks failed me miserably. I hope he can avoid the mental illness that I’ve experienced.

A Rant

I suppose I’ve beaten up on what I call the Attractional model for doing church a bit. Probably because it beat me up fairly badly, and being a biblical person, I believe in revenge. I must say, the attractional model does work in a small percentage of cases. I’ve been to worship services with fifteen to twenty thousand people indoors and one numbering around 50,000 outdoors, and I have to say, I light up. It’s inspiring, it’s exciting and can be life changing. I was in the nose-bleed seats at Hillsong when Joseph Prince talked about grace and it impacted me so hard I could have been in the front row and being hit by a baseball bat wielded by Prince himself. The issue is, that it only works in a tiny percentage of cases – the ones we know about. Saddleback, Willow, Dream Center, Potters House… The list of greats seems long, but the unpublished list of tiny churches struggling to put a half-decent band together and get enough children’s workers to run the Sunday morning program is longer than a pastor’s offering talk who’s struggling to pay the mortgage.

I don’t really rant on this blog because I’m a generally positive person, and I don’t see why anyone should have to be subjected to anyone else’s rants unless they’re very humorous, but I’ve had my hand forced, I can’t take it anymore.  The thing that I’m ranting about today, is the Facebook updates of pastors. When I have a pastor as a facebook friend, I expect updates about church, but I also expect to see updates about their personal life, and the general banal ramblings of your average newsfeed. But many pastors are notoriously one-dimensional and beige. Usually the updates only relate to the most amazing, signficant, exciting and not to be missed meetings that they’re holding, or a re-post of a John Maxwell tweet.

I know, I did it too. Facebook it could be argued, is simply another communication tool that can be harnessed by any pastor to get their message out. Granted. But why not just set up a Facebook page for the church as a fan page, and post awesome, amazing church news there? The problem is that if the pastor runs his own page only as a megaphone for exciting, supernatural, moving events at church, he’s hijacking his own shot at being viewed as a normal person that others could relate to that has any semblance to a normal human life. I’ve resorted to “hiding” some pastors from my newsfeed. I mean seriously, how many meetings can’t be missed? Will the meeting really be amazing? Will it be life changing as promised? And whatever happened to that age-old “under sell, over deliver” ethos? I find it as annoying as the spruiking of politicians at election time, or the man with the microphone in the mall yelling about why this once-in-a-lifetime sale will never be seen again and is not to be missed.

Not convinced? I decided to unhide the pastors, and collect a few of their updates, so you can make your own mind up. Maybe it’s just me going mad, but I doubt it.

WORSHIP SERVICE this Sunday …. going to be S.I.G.N.I.F.I.C.A.N.T!!! Don’t miss it people….

MIRACLE OFFERING SUNDAY – Be part of the MIRACLE. PRAYFULLY and FAITHFULLY consider your part in this MIRACLE see you in church!

So much is happening so fast…. 1 thing I know, Sunday is gonna be so wonderful. Can’t wait to see all my Church Family. I love ’em.

New songs tonight. They r AMAZING. Something HUGE is gonna happen tonight. 7pm

Miracle offering today at Church. Lets be part of bringing justice to our world!

We’re going for a World Record for the Biggest Bonfire. Talking to Fire Brigade soon to see how HUGE we can go. Gotta beat 40m high.

Just finished my message for Vision Sunday. I was so excited that I did a HUGE air punch. Get ready for some air punching on Sunday 9&11.

This Weekend at church an amazing new series starts.  you dont want to miss this, invite ur friends to church. S’gonnabetops

Huge news 4 Church 2b announced at KI lunch nxt wk. Also this Sunday is Vision Sunday, an exciting look @ our future.

It’s only been a week but I miss my Church Family. I have something very special for tomoz. Can’t wait to share it.

Youth Planning meeting tonight…. great things ahead – so excited and encouraged by those who wanna be involved in reaching the next gen !!!!!

church rocked the city yesterday – love it!

Love our Yth Pastor Timothy: so excited for our youth ministry. What an honour to be a part of what God is doing at Church!

Hey Church you’re gonna love church on Sunday. Make sure u invite and bring someone. This could be their weekend.

An EPIC w/e & week ahead…tomorrow Church “Message” continue to be unveiled & my Leadership Intensive next wk…bothnot2bmissed!

“Message” launch Sunday …so anticipating “new series” God outcomes…Also Parachute Band 9.30am / Holy Spirit night 6pm!

Puting the finishing touches on my msge for Ldrs Vision Summit 2night. So looking forward 2 catchin up w/ all our ldrs. U guys r amazing.

Huge day2day @church – final msg in the series this morning & then amazing Watoto choir 2night – who r u going to invite?

Just finished preparing for Team Meeting – Tonight 7:15. Going to be so good! Love doing life together!

First Suday back after operation. So looking forward to church & preaching tomorrow – going to be so good. Also MIRACLE SUNDAY OFFERING!!!

PS Wilson preaching brilliant this morning. Tonight Connect Time 5:15 – Pizza -PS Wilson preaching & encountering JESUS. Love it!

Amazing Mother’s Day Services – AMAZING MOTHERS.

Exciting new launch coming soon… Put June 1 on your calendar & stay tuned!!

Opening of new Centre in our building yesterday! Vision happens. Great community partnership. Will feature on TV tonight 7.30

Getting back to work

Recovery takes a long time, but getting back to work can be part of the process. People with depression have reported that taking time off work has in some cases been a negative experience because it cuts them off from social interaction, a sense of productivity and allows too much time for rumination.

I took four weeks annual leave in January 2009 hoping I would be well enough to return to ministry at the end of it, but by February, I wasn’t any better, so I was forced to resign. I took all of February and March off work and assumed the household responsibilities while my wife was settling into a full time job. I got all the routines going for shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and kids wake and sleep times. Then I started to think about getting back into the workforce.

As I mentioned in Things Pastors do to Recover, I began physically demanding work in a greenhouse at the toughest time of year, when all the plants are being torn out and new seedlings put in. My body took a few weeks to adjust, but working up a sweat was fantastic. I did this and electric fencing on a dairy about three to four days per week, always knocking off by around 3pm so I could be home for the kids.

In March of this year (after 12 months of purely physical work), I tentatively applied for a job working as an education officer in a mental health support group with a national not-for-profit charity. This has obviously been more in line with the work I used to do, but again, not too demanding because it’s only two days per week. I decided to apply for the job, because it utilized my strengths and experience. I figure that if I work in my strengths in an area that I’m passionate about, then it shouldn’t be draining. After my three month contract ran out, they created a new position for me and since then, I’ve been offered more days, but have refused.

So, I pick tomatoes on Mondays, then work in the Family Mental Health Support Service team for two days per week. I’ve found three days, to be the maximum I can work and still get everything around the house done without losing it. On the occasions I’ve had to work another day, it takes me to the edge of my capacity and I start to get irritable and short-tempered, and I run out of head-space.

So getting back to work has been a long cautious process, but I’m enjoying what I do and I think that’s a key. I’ve been fairly picky about what I’ve done, because my health and recovery is such a high priority. The better I get, the more engaged I am with my family and the more I look beyond myself. I’ve found I can balance my energy levels with work and home after some experimentation, but have noticed that I need to have at least one day each week with no-one around me at all.

I’d love to hear about how you got back to work and how that worked in with your recovery.

Clergy Burnout

The New York Times report that “findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.” The full article is here.

Pastors have a lot going for them. In general because we live and work in a highly relational environment, we have the opportunity to build good supportive relationships with others. Furthermore, we have a faith that sustains us in difficult times and beliefs which help us understand our “tribulations” in a bigger context. We also pray. All these elements have been proven to increase one’s resilience and wellbeing.

But the results are contradicting what one would intuitively think. There are complications;

Pastors aren’t equipped to self-care or monitor their own mental wellbeing. Pastor’s overwork and don’t take sufficient time off (as pointed out in the above article). Often pastors are isolated and unable to develop transparent supportive relationships with congregants. We tend to have triumphalist theologies of overcoming, abundant life, standing firm, believing in the face of opposition, and simplistic ideas that prayer, faith, reading God’s word and serving Him faithfully will result is us gaining victory over such temporal issues such as stress, anxiety and the odd inconsequential feelings of depression. After all we walk by faith not by feeling – which generally means we can become unfeeling through supression and denial.

Pastors don’t debrief with a professional. We often deal with extremely difficult people who are often experiencing extreme difficulty in their lives, yet we don’t have the level of training to be able to manage the drain on our personal resources. Pastors are spread too thinly, expectations are inflated, vision can border on magical thinking. We can even tend to buy into our own charisma and the cult of personality.

And we’re probably the least likely to get help, because that would show just how weak and ineligible we are to lead God’s people. We lead by example after all, and if we are offering life and life more abundantly, but can’t demonstrate it, then we’re a sham. So we fake it til we make it until in my case, I got too sick to even fake it.

Here’s a really practical thought. Maybe all pastors should attend a mental health first aid course. This would help destigmatize mental illness, educate on warning signs and hopefully help get early diagnosis and treatment for those who are already suffering. And all the congregants who have a mental illness all said – Amen!

My Broken Zester

There must be something in the body or mind (or the two combined), an organ maybe, or some lobe that manufactures zest. Not the lemon or orange variety – the zest-for-life variety. Zest is defined as a liveliness and energy, the spirit that animates us. It is a hearty enjoyment or gusto. It’s related to passion and motivation.

Zest, this gusto for life involves anticipation – a savoring of what the future might bring. It’s a bit like reading a menu and drooling because you can already “see” the dishes arriving and begin to salivate in advance.

Somehow, depression has killed my zest. I find getting motivated to do anything really difficult. It’s like wearing those lead suits that the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team wore in Hurt Locker. It’s like I’m staggering through my own private desolated war-torn streets lugging 28kgs of plate armor on my sad and sorry carcass.

I mean there are things that need to be done. I need to do the laundry, but getting the zest to do it, is like yelling at a sloth to wake up, get down out of that leafy canopy and do fifty push ups – NOW! The sloth just looks down, if it can get the energy to turn its’ head, and slowly closes it’s eyelids and resumes its comatose slumber.

It’s so hard for me to just get it done. The stuff that’s normal; paying bills, tidying the house, doing the groceries, taking a phone call  – even things I normally enjoy like going fishing. It takes a huge effort to do just the simplest things. I rarely ever look forward to tomorrow. I’m not enamored with today. I refuse to look at the past because that’s too depressing, so I’m not sure where that leaves me.

I do remember what it’s like to have zest though. I could run off that and get amazing amounts of stuff done. I had copious amounts of the stuff. No matter what happened, I could pull myself up by the bootstraps and take a positive outlook. I was always looking forward to something or other. I was going somewhere. But maybe it’s like alcohol. Makes you feel great, but destroys your liver in the process. Maybe I O.D’d on zest and broke my zester?

I wonder how to fix this? Surely just giving in to the malaise and just waiting for it to come good won’t work. But then again, if there was a fix, I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to do it.