Embracing the silence: Not another social media hate article

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Social media is deeply entwined in our twenty-first century lives. Everyone is connected, all the time. There is the expectation of always being available to communicate, and the impulse to publish one’s daily activity for a larger audience to see. We invite people into the intimate moments of our existence through carefully edited images, words and video. We tag each other in the memes that pop up in our bottomless newsfeeds and it makes us feel connected.

There are too many articles circulating the internet warning of how social media is dangerous, that we are addicted to our screens and damaging our relationships. I think there is some truth behind these claims, but I’m not sure anymore that social media is really to blame. Social media is just an innovative tool for communicating creatively; it is how we choose to use it that can be harmful. Maybe the solution isn’t to boycott social media entirely, but rather, to learn to use it – and take time away from it – more sustainably.

People have been ‘detoxing’ from social media – going ‘feed free’ – for years. The entry ‘digital detox’ is even in the (online) dictionary:

digital detox (noun)

  1. ‘a period during which a person refrains from using digital or electronic devices, as to avoid distractions or make time for other activities’.

It seems an inherent part of human nature that we can turn good things into addictions – poisonous substances that we need to remove (‘detox’) from our lives. However, the old saying goes, “all good things in moderation”. Rather than raging against the machine, perhaps balance is what is needed. Social media is part of our lives – but it isn’t as essential as we have come to believe, and time away can be a very good thing.

I spent the previous two months away from social media. If I’m being honest this decision wasn’t motivated by some noble desire to ‘rediscover’ my identity and purpose in life away from the time-sucking vortex of my newsfeeds. I was just a desperate uni student wanting to cut off the main source of my procrastination (I’m looking at you, Relatable Psych Memes). I’d tried numerous apps to limit my screen time, but as assignments piled up and my stress levels skyrocketed, going cold turkey was my only salvation.

I will not muse existential or claim to have discovered the key to healthy living. For me, being cut off from social media wasn’t the door to enlightenment. I was confronted by the silence – the deep, overwhelming vortex of boredom and an anxious mind. I couldn’t just pick up my phone and scroll to alleviate my restless cognitions; my passwords had been changed by a trusted confidante. It was just me, my thoughts and my fidgeting limbs – a nightmarish combination. My discomfort with being screen-free really just highlighted for me how greatly I needed to break away and face reality.

Eventually I began to find solace in the silence. I used the time I’d previously spent attached to my phone to actually be productive. I read 21 books (compared to just 12 in the previous 2 months). I tamed the jungle of our front garden – who knew pruning trees and digging up weeds could be so therapeutic for anxiety? I submitted assignments before they were due and kept up with all my lectures. I had undistracted prayer time and read more of my bible than I had the whole previous year. I (successfully!) baked cakes, spent more time playing piano and tried my hardest to just be, without always having to share my activities for the affirmation of my social group.

After about a month, I realised I wasn’t so sure I wanted to log back in to social media after all. Ultimately though, I must admit that I didn’t quite last the distance, giving in to Instagram a week early and logging onto Facebook 2 days before my designated finish line. I’d like to say that I conquered my screen addiction and maintained the healthy habits I’d established during my detox, but I’m human so I’m weak. Once I was back online, I was allured by those seductive endless newsfeeds and regressed to my old excessive meme-tagging ways. When bored, to Instagram stories I fled.

There’s a reason why going cold turkey didn’t kick my addiction. Like any consistent habit, using social media rewires our brains. Every ‘like’ or ‘view’ gives us a hit of dopamine (the neurotransmitter in our brains linked to, among other things, reward/pleasure). This chemical is also what drives the habitual desire to scroll, and when our brains learn that boredom is alleviated by clicking on that blue/white ‘F’ icon…well, pre-social media Pavlov could have predicted the outcome.

So, we’re all addicted…is there any hope? Yes, our neural pathways aren’t fixed – addictions can be conquered – praise God for neuroplasticity! I don’t feel very qualified to hand out advice to improve your existence, and I’m no neuroscientist. What I can say is that time away from social media is beneficial, yet it is a matter of agency. Time away from our screens needs to be a choice – to read more, exercise more, go outside and experience this beautiful world we call home. We need to not be afraid of boredom but embrace it, and not hide from the silence by distracting ourselves with your screens.

Social media can be used for good – connecting us with friends on the other side of the world, campaigning for social justice and sharing the positive things in our lives. It can also be used in negative ways, because we are human and we don’t always use our freedom wisely. We need to learn to use social media well, and not allow ourselves to be enslaved by it. The social media façade we paint for the world isn’t real life, it’s just a cover for the insecurities that we must deal with. Real life is messy and painful, but also beautiful. We must choose, every day, to prioritise the activities and people we love, and not fall into complacency with our eyes fixed on our screens.


Disclaimer: as soon as I finished this article, I was on my phone checking my newsfeeds. What can I say, I’m a work in progress…

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This Light, Momentary Affliction: Suffering and Faith

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Location: Jervis Bay // Canon EOS 600D

In a world where suffering is an acute reality, where people struggle daily with pain, abuse and trauma, how is it possible to maintain faith? Last week I shared an article –  The Reality of Living with an Invisible Illness – seeking to honestly explore the battles people with chronic physical and mental illnesses face. Here though, I want to articulate how it is possible to have faith in the midst of chronic illness, in the loss of a loved one, in the shock of a cancer diagnosis, in the hunger of famine, in the chaos of a natural disaster. Suffering and faith are not mutually exclusive; I would argue, from my experience and the testimonies of numerous friends, that faith is essential for surviving suffering.

Whether you know God, are searching for truth or believe God can’t possibly exist, please know that I’ve wrestled with these truths for almost a decade, reading widely in the hope of finding answers to my own suffering. I’ve battled with doubt, and by no means walked in ‘blind faith’; my faith and hope have been hard won. I’ve questioned and looked for truth in other worldviews and religions, but nowhere have I found a solution to suffering, a promise in suffering and a purpose for suffering that even come close to explaining my personal experience and what I see in the world like the Bible does. I write this with certainty, and I hope that whatever your background or present circumstance, you can read this with an open mind.

The problem and solution to suffering

Many people think that the God of the Bible (if he even exists) is an impersonal being who has the power to end suffering but doesn’t. However, the biblical narrative does not ignore or minimise suffering; it unapologetically addresses the cruel reality of our world, in which suffering is an unavoidable problem, inherent to life on this earth. It explains suffering’s origin: human sin and the resulting brokenness of our world; and it provides the solution: Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God became fully human – facing all the pain and temptation we face daily, in total obedience to God. He chose to enter into our weakness, so that He could minister to our brokenness. Jesus was mocked, whipped, crowned with thorns and ultimately crucified on a Roman cross – taking all our sin upon Himself and experiencing the agony of our separation from God. He rose to life, conquering death and bringing, through His resurrection, the hope of a new creation. He did this all for us – so that we could have life and the hope of ultimately being freed from our sin and the pain and suffering of this world.

John Stott once wrote: ‘I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?’1 No other worldview or religion provides a solution to suffering that involves a loving, relational God humbling Himself by becoming human to suffer on our behalf. In this, the God of the Bible is unique, and He is a God we can relate to personally. He understands our pain, and He does something about it. In the midst of suffering, our world questions how a good God can allow it to continue – while refusing to acknowledge that He’s already worked, through Jesus, to bring it to an end. Revelation 21:4 says: ‘…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ God has promised a new creation free from suffering and sin, and though our present pain is very real, we can look forward to the day when it will be a distant echo of reality.

The promise in suffering

The God of the Bible does not promise a suffering free life to those who believe in Him; in fact, He promises the opposite! We will suffer in this life; this is inevitable. John 16:33 recounts some of Jesus last words to his disciples – the men who walked alongside Him as He did his ministry on earth, the men who watched Him suffer and die on the cross, only to come back to life and appear to them. Jesus said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus promised his disciples that they would suffer, and they did. Yet they had courage even as they faced death for preaching the gospel, knowing that Jesus had overcome death for their sake. We too have this promise, and can take heart in the midst of our own suffering!

God does not leave us to suffer alone; the Psalms speak to God being present with us in our suffering. Psalm 23 says: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ The Psalmist recognises that God provides for us in the midst of our suffering, that He walks beside us as we face death and pain and trauma, that He guides us and comforts us in our suffering. In my previous article I explored how chronic illness can be isolating, as the sufferer faces stigma and the assumptions of misguided people. The Bible reveals a God who does not leave us to suffer alone in our illness, but provides us with His word: pages filled with accounts of people who suffered in numerous ways, yet trusted in God not just to deliver them, but also to equip them to endure their suffering. This faithful God promises that no suffering – no matter how great – can separate us from His love

The apostle Paul recounts the suffering he experienced as he shared the gospel: imprisonment, beatings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst and all kinds of danger (see 2 Cor 11:23-30). He later says that though he pleaded with God to take away his suffering, God didn’t – rather, ‘He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. And how does Paul respond? ‘Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). In our weakness, like Paul we can learn to rely on God more – to recognise how much we need Him. When our bodies are weak, overwhelmed by pain and fatigue, we can look to God for strength, knowing that His grace is sufficient. When our minds are in chaos and anxiety leaves us reeling, we can pray, knowing that God not only hears our prayers but is already working for His glory in our lives.

The purpose of suffering

As well as God providing a solution to our suffering in Jesus and the sufficiency of His grace in our weakness, the Bible is clear that our suffering has purpose: both in this life and the next. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 explains that God comforts us in our affliction so that “we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” I’ve seen this in my own life through the love of my family and the friendships I’ve been blessed to form with others who suffer from similar chronic illnesses. As I shared in my previous article, our experiences of suffering enable us to empathise with others who struggle; we can learn to live outwardly and comfort others even in the midst of our own pain. In a world that has no answers for those who suffer in isolation, God provides – both in Himself, and in the blessing of community with fellow sufferers.

Furthermore, God works in us in the midst of our suffering. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Paul writes, ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’ When we suffer, as our bodies decay with age or sickness and our minds weaken, God is working to strengthen our character through perseverance, to prove our faith genuine, uniting us with Jesus. There is not only hope that our suffering has purpose now, but also a hope that our suffering has purpose beyond this world. Seeing our present suffering in light of eternity changes our perspective. The temporary suffering we experience in this life, however painful and frustrating and unfair it may be, is what God uses to prepare us for the eternal glory that awaits those who hope in Him.

Resources:

Here is a (by no means exhaustive) list of books I’ve read that articulate – with greater clarity and depth than I am capable – the truths I’ve sketched above. I’ve ordered them from most academic to most accessible.

How Long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D. A. Carson

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor

Is God to Blame: Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering by Gregory Boyd

Where is God When It Hurts by Phillip Yancey

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian

Suffering Well: The Predictable Surprise of Christian Suffering by Paul Grimmond

If I Were God I’d End All The Pain by John Dickson


My story: If I’m Honest: Life With Chronic Fatigue

1 Quoted in: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, p195.

The Reality of Living with an Invisible Illness

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Location: Sublime Point, Wollongong // iPhone 6.

Living with a chronic physical or mental illness can be a very isolating experience. Often these illnesses develop unexpectedly and the shock of going from healthy to unwell overnight feels like whiplash. The sufferer is left reeling, needing to readjust to a body and mind that does not work the way it used to. There is resulting grief over a life that feels limited in comparison to before. Most chronic physical and mental illnesses are ‘invisible’ – there are no instantly recognisable symptoms or signs of sickness. Many suffer in silence, faced with stigma and prejudice in a world that idolises health.

I’ve lived with chronic fatigue/pain and depression/anxiety for the last 9 years – you can read my story here. Now I’m seeking to give a voice to those who bravely persevere through illness every day, in the hope that the stigma surrounding chronic physical and mental illnesses (which I will refer to as ‘invisible illnesses’) may be lifted. The words I share are inspired by friends and strangers I’ve surveyed; I’m infinitely thankful for their courage and honesty.

…on guilt and expectations

Life is unpredictable when you live with an invisible illness. Every day you wake up not knowing how you will find the energy to cope with the small things, let alone the big things, when your body and mind are fighting against you. Choosing to go out one day often means sacrificing the next day (or three!) to rest, because you deplete a greater percentage of your energy and it takes twice as long to recover. It’s frustrating to watch people your own age do things you desire to do, but that you are physically incapable of. You worry people will think you’re lazy, when often people with invisible illnesses are actually the most driven – you have to be motivated to persevere through your illness!

The unpredictable nature of an invisible illness means that you often make plans, only to have to cancel them at the last minute. You feel guilty for not being able to push through and live up to people’s expectations, even though you cannot control your body or mind. You fear people will conclude that you’re unreliable and will stop asking to spend time with you, increasing your isolation. Every time you make plans, there is an internal battle between knowing that seeing people may make you feel better, but will cost you physically and mentally.

… on limitation and learning

Invisible illnesses can be incredibly limiting, requiring huge lifestyle change and a need to manage every detail of life. There is a sense of acute loss that accompanies this life adjustment. People with invisible illnesses are often restricted in the amount of work – both cognitive and physical – that they can do daily. Working and studying can so greatly deplete your mental and physical energy resources that there is little left over for interacting socially, impacting relationships with family and friends. You need to pace your activity and plan ahead in order to ‘budget’ your limited energy. Your decreased capacity may limit your involvement in extra-curricular activities like sporting groups and ministries. Management of invisible illnesses can sometimes also require dramatic changes in diet, which brings its own stigma and social isolation.

While being limiting, there are also many positives that come from having an invisible illness. People who face daily pain, fatigue and/or depression learn to empathise with others who suffer. Suffering is a universal aspect of human life, and when you suffer, it enables you to become more tolerant and accepting of those who also face adversity. There is a sensitivity and compassion that is unique to those who understand hardship. When you are restricted in what you can do on a daily basis, you become more aware of what is important in life, and learn to truly value the people around you. The stigma surrounding invisible illnesses teaches you to be more discerning and slower to make assumptions about people. Though illness can be very isolating, it also provides opportunities to form unlikely friendships with people who share similar experiences.

Living with an invisible illness also teaches you the importance of self-care. You become more aware of how your body and mind work, and learn to establish and maintain boundaries to protect you from pushing yourself beyond your limits. Having an illness enables you to adopt a slower lifestyle – to value rest and make space in life for reflection, meditation and prayer. You learn to be patient with yourself and others – to see weakness as an opportunity for growth. To cope with the mental and physical strain of illness, you learn strategies that empower you to be more intentional in everyday life.

…on fighting fear

Most people with invisible illnesses fear the impact that their illness has on the people they love. You worry that you will lose contact with friends and family; there is no greater fear than being alone. You fear that friends and family won’t understand how much your illness is beyond your control – how desperately you want to just be ‘normal’ again. You fear that new people you meet won’t see the real you, because initiating conversation and articulating what you think and feel is exhausting. Those who are single worry about finding someone who will accept them and see beyond their illness. Those who are married fear how their illness burdens their spouse and how it may impact their children.

Many fear how their illness will control their lifestyle, and limit them from living a fulfilling life. Often, the prognosis for physical and mental illness is either unknown or lifelong, so it impacts your whole life – not just a few days of your life like the average illness or stress episode. You fear how your illness will effect your independence and ability to achieve your life goals. You fear missing out on opportunities and experiences that others your age have. Many people with invisible illnesses worry about how the illness will affect them long term and fear relapsing or getting worse with age.

… on impacting others

Invisible illnesses don’t just impact those who suffer from them, but also those who do life alongside them. Family and friends often sacrifice time and energy into looking after you. Your illness can limit how often you are able to go out or where you are able to travel. You are grateful for the way your family and friends try to understand and accept you, illness and all, but feel guilt that you are hindering their enjoyment of life. Having an invisible illness can be eye-opening for those who are close to you, as your capacity decreases and you depend on them in ways you previously didn’t need to. You may have been the solid-rock, the dependable one, the one who always gave their time and energy into looking after others, but now you have to rely on others more. This involves learning that it’s OK – and actually loving – to allow someone else to love and care for you when you need it.

…on identity and empathy

When you have an invisible illness, it often feels like the illness defines you and controls your life. Changing your mindset and recognising that you aren’t defined by your illness is hard, but ultimately freeing. Your illness is part of your life, but it does not change who you are and the value you contribute to your relationships. Knowing who you are and being secure in your identity apart from your illness radically changes how you approach life. You can be grateful for what your body and mind can do, even though your illness may impact your physical and mental functioning. Know that your life has purpose that can be fulfilled even when you are weak – don’t judge yourself based on your own or others’ flawed expectations of who you should be.

Having a strong support system around you is so important for living with an invisible illness. It can be hard to maintain a wide social sphere, but finding a small, understanding group of friends to confide and invest in outside of your immediate family is vital. Connect with other people who share similar experiences with illness – you are in a uniquely valuable position to empathise with others who suffer. Having people in your life who truly understand makes living with illness less isolating. Seek help, and don’t be afraid to admit that you need support.  Use what you’re going through to reach out to others who suffer and to educate people on the nature of invisible illnesses.

…on caring and listening

For those who support a person with an invisible illness – the best thing you can do is to listen. People with invisible illnesses often get bombarded with (usually) well-intended ‘advice’ about how they should care for themselves and where they should seek treatment. However, for most of us, we’ve heard it all before – usually from the medical professionals who oversee our treatment. We know what we can do to get better and we’re already doing everything we can to be as well as we can be.

In relating to someone with an invisible illness, your ears are your biggest asset. Sometimes we just won’t want to talk about it, and that’s OK.  Recognise that until you have experienced a chronic illness yourself, it’s impossible to understand what people go through. Platitudes aren’t helpful, and for many, illnesses don’t just “get better” with time. People sometimes fear saying the wrong thing, so they avoid the subject of illness altogether – which can often be more hurtful than saying something insensitive. Being willing to sit for extended periods of time with open ears, ready to accept and not judge, can be the best way of supporting us.

The most powerful thing for a person suffering from illness is that you show you’re willing to be there to help them in whatever way they need. Saying you will be there for someone means walking alongside them for the long haul – however many months or years they will be affected by illness. Supporting someone with an invisible illness means being prepared to initiate communication and perhaps carry a greater load emotionally and practically. Learning what a person’s physical and mental boundaries are is so important. Believe us when we say we can’t do something and recognise we feel grief at having to say no. Be patient with us, and realise we don’t want to be sick any more than you would want to be!

Everyone’s life is unique, and not everything shared will be universally experienced. In writing this article I’ve sought to paint a vignette of what life can be like for the invisible illness sufferer, both from my own experience and the stories and survey responses I’ve collected. For those who read this who suffer from an invisible illness, I hope that you feel less alone and empowered knowing you have value and can live a fulfilling life, despite your limitations. For those who read this who know and support someone with an invisible illness, I hope you’ve gained some insight into their world, and how you can better care for them. Let’s keep fighting to break the stigma surrounding invisible illnesses!

Resources for people with invisible illnesses:

https://themighty.com/

http://www.invisibleillnessweek.com

https://invisibledisabilities.org/

http://thepillowfort.co.uk/PFC/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

 

I’d love to hear from you if you have an invisible illness – I’m hoping to one day write a book, and your input would be invaluable.

You can email me at music_is_my_language@live.com.au – or if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, you can fill out this survey.

 

 

If I’m Honest: Life with Chronic Fatigue

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“How are you?”

This phrase has to be one of the most common in the English language. These three little words automatically slip out in everyday conversation, with the reflexive response being “I’m good!”. A large percentage of the time though, that response isn’t accurate. If you were to ask me this question today, my honest answer would be this: “I am tired.” If you knew that I was a university student, that may not seem like an odd response. You would assume I had stayed up late the night before studying (or partying). You might advise me to go to bed earlier, to drink coffee, to eat better, to exercise more. Only, what if none of these things would make a difference to my level of tiredness? What if I told you I have been chronically tired for 8+ years?

I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) since I was fourteen years old. It developed with little warning. I went from being a healthy, highly active, exercise-loving high-achiever (i.e. major nerd) to overnight being unable to get out of bed. One day I was performing in a gymnastics competition; the next day, I awoke to pain in every part of my body and an overwhelming, all-consuming fatigue that left me completely bedridden for 6 months. I recovered somewhat for a period of time but then relapsed. I was unable to walk or stand up for more than a few minutes without collapsing, and so for a time had to be pushed around in a wheelchair. My body could no longer tolerate foods I had been eating my whole life. At times, my brain was so foggy I couldn’t read, or speak in complete sentences. I couldn’t breathe properly to play my flute, and could only sit upright to play piano for very short bursts. My head ached 24/7 and bright lights and sounds made me cry in pain. Developing CFS radically transformed the direction of my life and my everyday functioning. A lot of this part of my life is a blur.

CFS is a complex syndrome – there are a myriad of symptoms, which vary in intensity and impact. The fatigue itself is impossible to describe – it is not simply tiredness; it is an overwhelming heaviness, a feeling of utter exhaustion to the very core of your being. It feels suffocating and it is inescapable. Unlike normal tiredness, sleep is not the solution. For the CFS sufferer, sleep does not reduce fatigue – you wake up tired, every day. Not sleeping of course makes it worse, and ironically overexertion (being ‘overtired’) often leads to insomnia. The fatigue is accompanied by chronic pain and inflammation in the joints and muscles. Everything hurts, all the time. Physical exertion (inc. walking and standing for long periods of time) leads to abnormally high levels of exhaustion that is not improved by rest and can last for hours (or days). The immune system has been compromised and thus people with CFS do not have the defense system to fight off common viruses – so you get sick, a lot! It is not just physiological – fatigue affects your ability to concentrate, think and process things. (There are numerous other symptoms, see links below.)

Though it affects approx. 2% of the population, CFS is still largely a mystery. There is no known cause, no medication for the treatment of it and no cure. The duration and severity of CFS varies between sufferers and can fluctuate dramatically over periods of time. Despite seeing every type of medical professional under the sun, to this day we have not been able to pinpoint why I developed CFS, or why it has persisted for so long. Over the past few years, my capacity has slowly increased, and while I still experience fatigue and pain on a daily basis and it fluctuates in severity, with each year I continue to improve. It has been a long journey, but I am finally studying at university – a reality that still surprises me every day when I reflect on where I’ve come from. While I am only able to study part time, it is still HUGE to be able to manage the travel and study. I have a job, though have had to take this semester off to allow my body to readjust. I can drive short distances. I am involved in ministry in my church. I’ve gone from not being able to walk down the street to sometimes being able to go for short runs, when my health is good. CFS is unpredictable, and there are seasons where my capacity is diminished, but I am thankful for every day of my life and for the incredible healing God has worked in my body.

One of the frustrating realities of living with a chronic illness like CFS is how hard it is for those who haven’t experienced it (or lived with a friend/family member who suffers from it) to understand. It is an ‘invisible illness’ – from the outside, I look perfectly healthy. The statement “looks can be deceiving” is so very true of a CFS sufferer. Only those who know me very well can tell the difference between me on a ‘good’ day and me on a ‘bad’ day (apparently it shows in my eyes). My limbs aren’t broken, my speech isn’t impaired, there’s no rash or scar to indicate that I am unwell. When I am at my very worst, I am in bed – so the true reality of my illness is not seen. I don’t like to admit that I am weak, and I usually try to hide how I am really feeling. Chronic fatigue is highly misunderstood – you can’t just “push through it”, you just have to manage it. I do everything in my power to embrace the limited energy and strength I do have so that I can live as ‘normal’ a life as possible. Going out, studying at uni, exercising – these all come with a cost, but I try to experience every moment fully, to not take for granted the capacity God has given me to enjoy the life He has blessed me with.

While I am not where I thought I would be at 22, I can truly say that I am thankful for the life I have lived and for all that I have experienced. In the midst of suffering, I have learnt to trust in God’s sovereignty over my life. He has humbled me and shown me that in my weakness, His grace is sufficient. On the days when the pain and fatigue are overwhelming, I can rejoice in the knowledge that I have been brought from death to life through the love of Christ who suffered and died in order to bring me to salvation. Nothing can separate me from God’s love, and that truth sustains me every day. I know that  I stand before Him, forgiven and justified, and any suffering I experience in this life is far outweighed by the glory of eternal life in His presence. I look forward to a day when pain and suffering will be no more; but while it is a reality in this life, I still have reason to rejoice and praise Him, every day.

So, my honest answer to the question, “how are you”?:

I am tired. And I am in pain. But I am here and God is good.

_________________________________

Some helpful links to more information about CFS:

Making connections, changing lives for people with ME/CFS and associated conditions

6 things Chronic Fatigue patients are TIRED of hearing

Center for Disease Control: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Better Health: Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

 

 

My best friend is my phone: rethinking social media

My best friend is my phone. Or atleast, it would appear that way, considering how often it is attached to my hand. On a daily basis, I pay more attention to my phone than I do to the actual people in my life. When I am bored, I pick up my phone. When I am anxious, I pick up my phone. When I am lonely, I pick up my phone. When I am tired, I pick up my phone. Even when I am surrounded by people, or have important things to do, I often finding myself picking up my phone. This is not just descriptive of me; almost everyone I know is permanently attached to an electronic device at all times of the day.

In recent times I’ve realised how greatly my communication skills have depleted. I no longer call friends where I once would have; instead, I send them a message, and hope that they will receive it. Instead of taking the time to meet with a person, face to face, and actually have a conversation, I find myself instead sending long, essay length messages detailing my thoughts, emotions and activities. I do this, despite knowing that I am the type of person who needs proper communication. I am a ‘quality time’ person; if I am not able to give and receive love through spending time with and talking to people, then I suffer emotionally. Too often I have important conversations with people via messenger, where words are misunderstood and intentions are not properly conveyed. I’ve seen relationships break down because healthy communication was not established.

This obsession with technological communication goes far deeper though, than poor communication. I feel the need to update all my friends when I am doing something…anything…out of the ordinary, instead of just enjoying the moment. A friend, who I hadn’t seen for months, once said to me, “I don’t need to ask you what you’ve been doing because I’ve seen all your pictures”. This both shocked and saddened me. When did it come to the point where we don’t need to talk about our lives because our instagram and facebook feeds tell everyone for us? Another friend told me today that when she comes home from a trip, she doesn’t feel like she can tell her housemates about it because “we’ve already had that conversation virtually.” Yet behind every picture of a sunset or roadtrip or mountainscape is a story that cannot be conveyed in megapixels. If sharing our lives through social media is stopping us from actually sharing our lives, why do we use it?

What deeply concerns me though, is the reasons behind why we use social media. Most people would say that they use social media to be connected to each other. Yet, are we really connected to each other? Does liking a person’s photo of their Bali holiday really count as connecting with them? Do any of us really feel connected to the faces that pop up on messenger? While social media may act as a means to deepen healthy, face to face communication, if it is the only type of communication we have, and what we rely on to be “connected” to our friends, is it really healthy?

The questions that I’ve raised in writing this blog post are ones that I know many of my friends are also asking. I deeply fear that my relationships have become ingenuine. I want to have deep, meaningful friendship with people who are willing to talk, to meet up, to see beyond the glossy photos I share on social media and ask me about my life, and vice versa. I want to invest in real relationships, in supporting and encouraging and walking alongside my friends through words and interaction, not characters on a screen. I fear that I use social media to communicate because I am afraid of real interaction. I can depict my life as perfect through Instagram and Facebook, yet in reality I daily struggle with fatigue, depression and sin. I want to be real.

I also want to break away from the constant stream of data that has invaded my life. A friend, who is currently on a ‘social media fast”, told me today that she has never been more productive in her use of time since she began her fast. She has more time to write, to read, to see people, and most importantly, to pray and spend time with God. She described it as a season of “restoring intimacy”. I’ve realised that I need to break the addiction I have to picking up my phone, and restore intimacy with my friends, family, with God, and with myself. I need to re-learn how to be alone, to embrace silence and rest, to use the gifts that God has given me – in writing, music, art – instead of being fixated with a screen.

I’m challenging myself to spend the next 30 days rethinking how I use social media. First step: deleting facebook, messenger and instagram off my phone. I will still use them, but I want to do so in a more healthy, God-glorifying way. I also am challenging myself to foster healthy communication with my friends, starting by calling one friend each day for the next 30 days. Hopefully, by the end of this time, I will be able to say that my relationships with people, and with my phone, have improved. I challenge you, if you are feeling the way I am, to do the same.

Chronic Fatigue and the Sufficiency of God’s Grace

storms (1 of 1)-9 Today marks seven years since the day I awoke to the pain that would develop into chronic fatigue syndrome. At 19,  just over 5 years of CFS, I shared this testimony:

Five years ago, in June, just after I turned 14, I was diagnosed with Glandular Fever. I was bedridden for 6 months, and then recovered (but not fully). But then just over a year later (which had been a year of heartache, pain, and terrible loss, but also so much blessing and grace) I got really sick again, even worse this time, and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue. It has now been five years since the original diagnosis, and I’m still recovering. These years have been the toughest, most painful, frustrating, heartbreaking years of my life. And yet, they have also been the most wonderful. I have lost so much, but I have gained so much more than I ever thought was possible. 

Through the midst of suffering, I have come to understand, in a way that I know would not be possible if it weren’t for what I’ve been through, what faith really is. It’s easy to trust in God when everything is going wonderfully in life; but when your whole life falls apart and everything you found worth in is stripped away, that is when your faith is really tested. And in this moment, in the midst of the blazing furnace, is where faith is refined, and God’s grace shines brightest.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

I have days when I am still very weak (physically), where the fatigue is so strong that it hurts just to open my eyes. There are days when the pain in my body is so intense that I cannot bear to move. Today is one of those days. But these days are also the days where God is most present – when His strength fills me, lifts me; His grace overcomes my weakness. He says to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And though I am weak, I am made strong.

Two years later, these words remain true. I am no longer enslaved by the fatigue that plagued my body for most of my adolescent life, but I do still feel tiredness beyond the norm. The days where I am unable to function at a basic human level are very rare, but pain is still an ever present reality in my body. God has healed me in incredible ways – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and I am able to do things I never thought would be possible. I look back on my years of sickness and praise God for the ways He worked in me and through me for His glory. His grace truly is sufficient.

Fearless

fearless“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” – Meg Cabot

Today my best friend gave me a necklace for my 21st birthday; a golden chain with an old, worn key as the pendant. Engraved into the key is the word FEARLESS. She expressed to me that ‘fearless’ is a word that describes me – the way that I approach life, the way that I endure through suffering, the way that I love those around me and the way that I seek God. This present could not have been given to me at a more important time; of all the words I need spoken into my life right now, ‘fearless’ is the one I need most.

I do not feel fearless. Lately I have been feeling confused and overwhelmed by what has been, what is and what will be. I have felt lost and spiritually low. I have felt emotionally (and physically) exhausted. Not that I reveal any of these things to the world; only those closest to me see my brokenness. Too often I allow anxiety to consume my being, cutting me off from the people and my God who I love most. Fearless is the last word I would use to describe myself.

Reflecting on fearlessness with another dear friend this afternoon, I have realised that being fearless is not being unafraid. Being fearless is persevering in spite of and through ever-present fear. Being fearless is trusting that God is at work for His glory in every circumstance in a world that proclaims the exact opposite. Being fearless is waking up each day and surrendering each moment to God, asking Him to act through us and in us according to His will.

In the midst of change, broken relationships, sickness, spiritual warfare, financial uncertainty and the innumerable issues we face in life, it is easy to lose sight of the God in whom we trust. Being fearless is not a matter of conquering fear, but surrendering our fears to our God who is greater than our fears. Being fearless is trusting in His sovereignty and goodness, in His enduring love, no matter how deeply anxiety is gnawing at our souls. Being fearless is having confidence that God’s purposes are greater than our own, finding strength in this knowledge, and persevering through disappointment and despondency.

This morning, in a deeply fatigued, emotionally low state, I typed “fear” into my phone’s bible search tool, seeking a verse that would point me to the God of all comfort. I found this:

‘Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?’ – Job 4:6

Though I don’t like to read verses out of context, this was a great encouragement. I am not fearless because I am not afraid of anything – I am afraid of many things. Fear is an important emotion to experience; our bodies and minds respond to dangerous and uncertain situations with fear. I am fearless because I place my confidence in Christ, who sacrificed His life to deliver me from bondage to sin. I find courage and strength in what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do. My ability to endure through the trials of life comes from Him alone; it is His strength at work in me. I am able to love fearlessly because He first loved me – and paid the price for my sin in love.

I experience anxiety daily, and am often consumed by it. Yet God is greater than my anxiety, and in Him I do not have to be a slave to fear. In Christ I have been set free, and though fear still overwhelms, He gives me the strength to hold on to the truth of His love and grace. In Him, fear has no power over my life. In Him, I am able to endure through fear and uncertainty. In Him, I am fearless.


 

Photo captured with a Canon Eos 600D.

Key necklace designed by The Giving Keys.