I did not want to go there

A compass in a hand

Have you ever gone where you do not want to go? Early retirement through ill health brought me to this place in 2016, almost exactly four years ago as I write. I neither saw nor wanted to go “there”. I did not know where “there” was at the time, even now a description tests my ability to write.

When Jesus said to Peter, John 21:18, “When you are old, you will go where you don’t want to go,” the statement came on the back of his restoration with Jesus, after Peter’s denials. The incident also took place after the resurrection of Jesus, in the context of new revelation. The encouragement of Peter’s restoration was tempered by the strangeness of Jesus statement.

Jesus words to Peter were first and foremost personal, spoken in the hearing of the other disciples. It was a private revelation given in the presence of others. It is at this point that the Bible falls silent on the matter, nothing further is said. As is often the case, when the Bible falls silent tradition takes up the thread and makes much of the manner of Peter’s eventual death in Rome, some thirty-five years later. And it is here that the story usually comes to a final rest.

Utterly exhausted by ministry, and never having fully recovered from a mental breakdown some six years earlier, retirement thrust me into a landscape that neither had shape nor form. I sought a road map but found none. I looked for familiar landmarks but found none, and I looked for pathways that others have taken but found none.

I might not have had a road map, but I did have a compass, one that kept me pointing to God, and in time, I ripened for revelation. But before that time came and because the familiar danglements of evangelical vocabulary had worn thin, I re-assessed much of my thirty something-years of following Christ.

At no time did God retreat from my experience, though he did stand back and let me wrestle with my emptiness. But it was not so with my relationship with the church or my first language, evangelicalism. I drifted from the church and felt alienated by my native evangelical language, both of which were in full retreat and distant. I was stripped bare of my appetite for church and lost my desire to use an evangelical vocabulary. I was trapped in the vacuum between the old and the new. We do not usually sign up for nakedness of this kind. Nevertheless, that is where I was, and I knew I had to work with what I had at that moment.

At first, I discovered that as I travelled my road, I neither understood the pain of reconstruction nor, could I see the new. There were no easy answers; nothing was ready-made. I wrestled for everything.

Once I realised that God was holding onto me, and not me holding onto God, I was able to see that God reframed my understanding of who he is, and I would not change a thing despite the personal trials I endured during this time.

Perhaps these thoughts have an application during the Coronavirus lockdown; after all, we find ourselves moving where we do not want to go. In these ‘unprecedented times,’ we should not be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Journalling: Write for your life

When I was at a crisis point not many years ago, a wise Anglican minister friend of mine, suggested that I keep a journal. He said that it might help me to express myself in new ways, and thus help me to resolve some of my mental anguish. I ignored his advice. That is until yet another episode of soul-numbing depression struck. Then the idea of journaling popped right back into my mind.

I took hold of a notebook and started to scribble. I enjoyed writing about what I did and how I felt, but after a couple of months, the journaling began to get displaced by my recovery. My thoughts had turned to work, and it was not long before work had taken over again. And then the journaling stopped. I did not have the energy or steely commitment that I needed at that time to continue writing.

By 2016, I realised that I needed to stop working permanently and so resigned my role as a Baptist minister. I experienced no grief, found that I could let go of the emotional investment that I had made in the project over 30 years. In fact, it was a huge relief to hand the work over to a younger and competent successor. The cost of the work was too high for me, and I was defeated, overwhelmed, and had developed pneumonia. This time I knew deep down, my time was up; I had nothing left to give.

At first, I was bereft of purpose and direction. The vast hole that my role as a church minister had hollowed out of me left me in the desert. In this featureless desert, there was no map, no landmarks and no one else to guide me through the most testing time of my life.

After only a few weeks, I noticed that I was genuinely grateful for the privilege of not having to work. That was my first joy – and what a joy! No work. But, of course, it unmasked another issue; what was I to do with the blessing of not having to work?

Some six months after resigning, in December 2016, I started to write again. I had already realised that I wanted to explore other parts of me that had become subsumed by work. The more I wrote, the more I found that I had a renewed commitment to writing. Why not? After all, my father was an author for Rolls-Royce Aero, and he always encouraged me to write. Maybe it was in my genes, or was it his deposit in my life? Now was the time to find out.

At first, I did not know what to write. So, I started with what I did know; that is, what I did, and how I felt. While writing in this way sweeps away the surface issues, I soon began to find I tapped into something deeper within me.

As I wrote, I uncovered new desires that had been in the shadow of my professional busyness. These included regaining dominion over my mental and physical well-being. I was unfit, overweight, diabetic, and had high blood pressure. In my head, I was slim, fit and still batting at cricket for the county youth team. My perceived youthfulness is the nature of self-deception!

I knew my mental state was fragile, and I received some helpful mindfulness coaching from the community mental health team. Through 2017, my condition improved. Writing my journal, now renamed my Commentarium, led me to start some new activities.

Whether these are permanent fixtures in my life, I don’t know, but here are five guides that I have found helpful in my quest for healing and wholeness.

1 Use Your Natural Talents

My talent for research awakened again, and I found that I opened a new chapter in researching my family history. I joined my local family history group and a similar group from the village of my ancestors, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.

2 Find Replenishing Projects

I threw myself into project management in rebuilding our home. A vast amount of work needed doing when we moved in, and I enjoyed negotiating the contracts and overseeing the work. The work is mostly complete, except that there are always walls to knock down and rebuild.

3 Rebuild Your Mental Health

My mental support mention earlier gave me the skills I needed to keep me mentally secure and increased my self-awareness. One of my main difficulties was that I paid insufficient attention to “self-soothing” during my working years. I continue to apply those skills to this day.

4 Regain Your Physical Fitness

If one is overweight, diabetic, with high blood pressure, then one is unfit. I was unfit. There are many ways to change the situation; many diets and exercise regimes help people like me. The critical thing is to find the right activities for you; walk, cycle, run, get a dog. But get moving. I walk three days a week. Use weights and do core strength exercises two days a week. I have two days a week rest. While I follow a particular diet, Each day I eat in an eight-hour window. My eating motto: Never before eleven; never after seven. It works for me.

5 Enjoy What You Have Now

Over the years, I have wasted a great deal of energy hankering after things I do not have. Energy expended in this way is draining, or at least I found it so. Accepting where I am right now, with what I have in my hand at the moment leads to a contented life. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have now, rather than to crave for  what we do not have.

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Daylight Saving Time? 3 Reasons to think again

A close up of a clock

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Twice a year, the United Kingdom goes through an utterly pointless ritual. The country is not alone, 70 other nations, also follow this ritual. In the small hours the last Sunday in October, we put the clocks back one hour. And, reverse the routine on the last Sunday of March. Fiddling with the clocks does not save time and makes a significant impact on society. So, here are three reasons to reconsider Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Reason 1: Changing the clocks is messy

The European Commission proposes to end seasonal changes by 2021. If ratified, member states will decide for themselves whether to opt-in. Here in the UK, there is as yet no sign of the UK Government making a response to the proposal. Even though the UK is likely to have left the European Union by then, the project will prompt a response from the UK Government.

I am old enough to remember when the UK decided not to change the clocks at all. From the Autumn of 1968, the clocks stayed on British Summer Time for an experimental period that ended in 1971. An hour was sliced from the mornings and returned to us at the end of that day. In the winter period, that is significant. It meant I went to school in the dark, but it also determined that it did not get dark in December until 5 pm. Effectively the summers stayed as they had always been; the main effect was to shift an hour of winter daylight from the morning to evening. I heartily approved of keeping the clock fixed through the year; it makes sense.

Back then, in the dark ages, the public made a mixed response. The further north one is, the more significant the impact. For example, in the far north, the Scottish Orkney Islands sunrise on the Winter Solstice is 09:05 and sunset is 15:16. I suspect that the UK Government will hesitate to conform to adopt the European proposal to dispense with seasonal clock changes for fear of provoking the Scotts independence claim.

It is an inescapable astronomical fact that the further north one is and the further south one is, seasonal clock changes gradually lessen their impact. The most significant effect in the Northern Hemisphere is between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer; similarly for the Southern Hemisphere. For a full list of who does what and when click here.

Reason 2: Changing the clocks affects mental health

Shifting an hour of daylight may seem like a small matter. But, there is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that it makes a decisive impact on mental health. I am one of those for whom the shifting hour is likely to plunge me into a hearty bout of winter depression. At first, when the clocks change, nothing much happens to me. The only exception is that I can feel that I am suffering a mild form of jet-lag for a few days.

Then as Christmas approaches, I start to tumble out of control into my very own black hole. I show all the classic signs of depression, sleep disturbances, low mood, loss of emotional energy and worst of all, my self-talk becomes black and accusatory. Black accusatory self-talk erodes my self-worth, and I sink further into the hole. Before long, I can’t sleep at night, and can’t stay awake in the day.

Fortunately, I have harnessed several defence mechanisms. The first of these is an obvious choice. When the sun shines; get out and walk. The second line of defence concerns shining a very bright light into my ears. Yes, you read it right!

Research from the University of Oulu, Finland in 2007, suggested that when the ears receive trans-cranial light, the brain uses the light in the same way as when full-spectrum lighting enters the brain through the eyes. Published in 2018, researcher Antti Flyktman, submitted his doctoral dissertation that verified the original research and extended our understanding of the processes to include evidence that light shone through the skull, albeit in mice, provides beneficial stimulation. At a future date, it may be possible to subject our heads to light treatment and receive the benefits enjoyed by in-ear applications.

Based on the research, I purchased a “Valkee” light-pod. I place ear-pieces into my ears, in the same way as ear-pieces for audio, and apply a preset light treatment from the iPod-shaped unit. The procedure takes only twelve minutes.

Since I first started using the treatment, I have been less depressed during the winter months than the awful depression that I experienced before I used the remedy. There are many detractors about the use of light in this way, but I can say that I feel that I have had fewer symptoms than when I have not used it. There is no doubt in my mind that changing the clocks plays a part in the winter blues.

Reason 3: Changing the clocks increases road deaths

The most vociferous proponents of abolishing DST come from road safety organisations. Over the years, a substantial body of data demonstrates that fewer lives are lost in accidents when the evening is lighter than when the clocks go back each autumn.

When the evenings are lighter, there are fewer deaths caused by road traffic accidents. According to the British organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), following the 1968-1971 UK experiment with all year round BST, roads were safer. Fewer deaths, (-11.32%) occurred in the two weeks following the change of clocks to BST and an increase of (+18.83%) deaths in the two weeks after the return to GMT.

More recent research suggests that all year round BST in the UK could save an estimated 30 lives.

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When a friend is not a friend

This post addresses the changing meaning of friends and how I interpret friendship as my life has changed. At the turn of the century, keeping in contact with friends came down to see them face-to-face, phone calls, email, or, regular mail.

A silent revolution began in 2004 when Facebook launched. Facebook went world-wide in 2006. YouTube started in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and the tools to use them came with the iPhone in 2007, and Android in 2008. What’s App followed in 2009 and Instagram in 2010.

The advent of Android completed the foundations of the social media revolution. With these introductions, our concept of a friend started to change. Participation in friendship before 2004 was likely to be face-to-face and after 2008 less so. Since 2008 a new kind of friend has emerged.

Friends who were acquaintances are now friends. The ease with which we could now add friends ushered in a more open and immediate sharing of one’s life. From a users point of view, it soon became fashionable to have as many friends as one could collect. We now count our Facebook friends, almost as a badge of importance.

With an unprecedented level of access to our lives, Facebook and marketeers soon exploited the abundant harvest of personal data we unknowingly gave up. We may think that we are the customers of Facebook, but nothing could be further from the truth. Facebook’s customers are data harvesters and the marketeers who reap from our posts.

With our lives exposed, we now consider it the norm to live this way. Native webbers find it hard to understand what life would be like without phones or tablets. The easiest way to make a Millennial depressed is to take their phone away for a week. Now tell them to write or call their friends. Expect a tantrum.

But conversely, having an exposed life can cause pressures. The young feel that they have to keep messaging or posting, and if they don’t, then they think that they ought to. Similarly, some are dangerously exposed to conform.

I am defining a friend here as someone I see face-to-face at least some of the time. Yes, my time-tested friends will have access to social media and this is a superb way of supplementing our relationship. The critical point here is that such contact is supplementary to person-to-person time together. I want to look into their eyes, see their gestures, smell their presence and feel their touch, all denied by social media friends.

My troubled recent past caused me to think deeply about who my friends were. Were they those that listed on Facebook? Or, were they those that I had a face-to-face relationship?

In 2017, I experienced deep depression. You can find out more about that time in my post on Retirement recalibration. During that year, I decided to have a Facebook cull to resolve my inner conflict. I had become troubled, and my real need was for real friends. I was dismayed that I listed over 200 people with whom I may once have had a connection as my friends.

My retirement caused me to examine much of my life, and I no longer had any reason to continue listing these folk. If I retained a friend, then I would choose those who are meaningful.

Since I did not know what “meaningful” looked like in retirement, I started with a select group who I would make a special effort to see from time to time. I noticed something else; that some had stared out as work colleagues, but in a few cases, we had transitioned to become personal friends somewhere along the way. A friend who can transition with you and you with them is a friend of great value.

Pruning, reduced numbers to about 50 names, the chosen few. The trimmed 150 or so belonged to somewhere in the past. Each one was a worthy friend in another life. It might seem rather ruthless, but I was hungry for a new kind of meaning in my friendships.

For me, it represented progress and formed a part of the emerging clarity I was seeking for my life. And, I am not suggesting that those who did not make the final cut were terrible people; actually, they are good people with much to offer.

These matters are very personal. I had to face an uncomfortable truth, that because of my abrupt changes through my burn-out and breakdown; I could no longer sustain satellite people in my life without guilt.

Once I had made the cull, I wrote a post on Facebook to say that those who remained were my chosen ones. I was surprised at how many people responded positively, and I received some encouraging responses. These responses made me feel that I had done the right thing. What the process achieved was to create my standard selection criteria – a set of filters through which I examined who I was and what I wanted in a friendship.

To diagnose if a friend was a true friend or a Facebook friend, I asked questions of myself “What do they contribute to me?” and “What do I give to them?” More importantly, I asked my self if I wanted to have these friends in my life.

Of course, this analysis probably says more about me than it does about my friends. I fear my ENTJ worldview is poking through my edited veneer.

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