The End of Health Anxiety

Well, that’s the positive way of looking at it. My keyhole gallbladder removal is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Every time I think about it I get pain in my chest. It’s funny that until last year I never really worried about being ill, and when I was anxious I never had chest pain (a common symptom of anxiety) – and yet now, it happens daily.

There’s so much about this process I can’t control – how well the laparoscopic cholecystectomy goes, how much discomfort I will be in afterwards, the running of the house and the looking after the children whilst I’m out of action. I am trying to remember January’s lesson – that actually there is very little in my life I am in control over and that’s ok, because it’s God in charge and He is good.  But every time I think about it that chest pain belies my faith and shows me how scared I am.

Till tomorrow anyway – because after surgery, not only will I not be anxious about the operation, but I also won’t have any gall stones. So when my chest hurts, I won’t be afraid of it turning into biliary colic. It’ll just be plain old fashioned fear, and that, as the Doctor says, is a super power.

Apparently, it can even make me run faster ;)

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Gallstones Revisited

 

pearl necklace

 

  1. God obviously hasn’t miraculously healed me by removing the stones and voiding my need for surgery.
  2. There’s no inflammation (so no reason as to why I should get the chest ache/ nausea/ back pain which I had been attributing to inflammation and scarring).
  3. The sonographer ignored the comment I made about believing in a God who heals.
My gallstones ‘line up like a pearl necklace’ inside my gall bladder.

So to match my faith in a God who heals, I have not been healed.

 

To match the value I place in the NHS, I have wasted the time and resources required for a second scan, another GP visit, a second surgeon consultation and another sit on the surgery waiting list.

 

And to match my faith in a God who works all things for the good of those who love him, who has plans and purposes and designs and meaning for every part of our lives, I have an apparently meaningless and pointless painful condition.

 

Answers on a postcard please. This evening, I have none.

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Emotional Distress and the Bible

This article is based on my teaching notes from the ‘Helping us to help others’ equipping day at City Church
 
I’d like you to imagine four people, each struggling with their emotions. 
 
The Anxious Business Man
The first is a member of your church: he is a successful middle aged man who in was the national manager for a multi national company. He experienced a very difficult time at work where he felt his CEO was bullying him and deliberately trying to get rid of him. He became increasingly more and more anxious, and eventually resigned through ill health. Currently he has completely withdrawn from public life and isn’t working.  It seems obvious why he’s anxious, from the bullying he’s experienced. But maybe he had put too much of his identity in his job, to be affected so badly. You’d like to help, and maybe someone needs to be his friend, to pray with him. Maybe he needs to face the work situation, and have mediation.
 
The Grieving Mother
The second couldn’t be more a different : an older lady, a single mother who doesn’t have a career.  She contacted the church to ask for help with funeral arrangements for her 25yr old son who recently died from a serious illness. She is clearly distraught, crying, unable to keep herself together, visually  unkempt, and also suffering financially. Part of you think she’s reacting fairly normally to the situation, after all she’s grieving. But perhaps it’s deeper than that… And maybe she needs help in other areas, like her finance. Maybe she just needs to know Jesus.
 
The Angry Gifted Man
Number 3 is a confident, loud and very gifted man in your church.  He has a quick temper and small things can escalate in to big issues.  Recently in his anger over being teased about his receding hair line he said some incredibly hurtful things to some of the youth group.  Now, it seems obvious that he needs to apologise. And deal with his anger issues. And probably some counselling to deal with the things underlying his anger issues. 
 
Someone with Suicidal Thoughts
And our final person has been praying in secret to God to kill them as they would rather be dead. Which is terrifying. And if they ever told someone, maybe you’d tell him to get professional help – or maybe you wouldn’t know what to say at all.
 
Did you recognise anyone?  Do you know someone like them, or who is dealing with similar things, or perhaps they remind you of people you once read about in the Bible. 
 
Because our Anxious Business Man is a modern day David.  David: shepherd boy who slayed a giant. David: King of Israel. David: psalmist and man after God’s own heart. David, who said once : 
 
“Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! 
Attend to me, and answer me; 
I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. 
For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me. 
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. 
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness;  I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.” (Psalm 55:1-8 ESV)
 
He knew what it was to run scared and end up all alone, jobless, friendless, persecuted, afraid. 
 
Our Grieving Mother lived in Nain, in Israel, and had the privilege of meeting Jesus who offered her a solution I wouldn’t dream of: to raise her son from the dead. (Luke 7:12-15 ESV)
 
The older Gifted Angry Man was drawn from a rather unusual and unpleasant story about Elisha: 
[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23, 24 ESV)
I don’t pretend to understand this tale, nor what it tells me other than even the best of us can struggle to manage our temper in constructive ways
 
And finally, our Person with Suicidal Thoughts could have been a number of great men at a point in their lives: the prophet Elijah after his huge triumph at Mt Carmel suddenly had to run for his life and he ‘went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4 ESV)
Jonah prayed, again after an incredibly successful ministry : “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3 ESV)
Job in all his sufferings said : “Oh that I might have my request, and that God would fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!” (Job 6:8, 9 ESV)
And Jeremiah cursed his own mothers womb: Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18 ESV)
 
It is uncomfortable and distressing, perhaps alarming, to hear people express suicidal thoughts – believe me, when it is happening in your own head it can be even more so. I take great comfort from knowing that these amazing men of God also came to points in their lives where they had these thoughts, and that they were not ashamed to say it aloud, nor to tell others they had them – as Elijah must have done for us to see it. 
 
I’m not saying we all need to blog every dark thought. But it is important to say that these thoughts can come into the light and we needn’t be scared of them. 
Let’s bring our worst thoughts and fears to God as so many of the men and women in the Bible did. And one day, maybe we could form a community where we can voice them to each other, and be heard with acceptance and love.
 
 
So from all of this I want to make 5 points:

  • Experiencing emotions and a whole range of emotions is normal and part of who God has created us to be.
  • Experiencing emotional distress isn’t sinful, just like experiencing physical ill health isn’t sinful. ( How we respond to our distress, and what we do with it can be, of course)
  •  We can be open and honest about our darkest thoughts
  • It’s good to be willing to ask about and  ready to listen to other’s thoughts and feelings.
  • We don’t need to have answers nor solutions: it’s enough to come alongside  alongside people in their particular journey, just as through their stories in the Bible Elijah,Elisha, David, Job, Jonah, Jeremiah, and the widow come alongside us in ours.

 

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Living in the Not Yet

I have gallstones and God hasn’t healed me.

It isn’t the world’s worst complaint, but given that a year ago mine were causing me to have bouts of biliary colic* every 3 weeks or so, it certainly isn’t fun.

It’s easily cured by routine keyhole surgery- and I don’t want surgery. It means 4 weeks not running (so not happening during marathon training) and someone taking out my entire gallbladder.  Frankly it scares me.

 ‘I believe. Help me in my unbelief’

I’d rather be miraculously healed by God. My brother in law, with a known gift of healing, has prayed for me. My church family have prayed for me. And when the pain has coursed through my body at 3am even after taking every pain killer I am prescribed (and some I’m not) and my fingers ready to dial 999 I  have cried out for healing with all I have.

But did I believe? I don’t think so. I believe God can heal. I believe he does heal. I just didn’t know if he would heal me. I felt like the centurion in the Bible calling ‘I believe. Help me in my unbelief’.

The marathon over, I finally agreed to do the sensible thing and ask for the surgery. But counting up the attacks I realised I hadn’t really had one since Jan. Of course, I’ve been getting much fitter. And I have learnt and avoided all my trigger foods. So last week I tested it : ate eggs, copious coffee, even pork crackling. Nothing.

mustard seed faith

So I summoned up all my courage and self confidence and asked the surgeon if I could have a scan before committing to surgery. Just in case the stones had gone. ‘Gall stones don’t go’ was her reply, and she suggested that my lack of reaction to trigger foods was more likely due to huge inflammation causing so much scarring the stones couldn’t push through anymore.

But (thank you Lord for the NHS and patient choice) she agreed I could have a scan first.

Leaving the appointment I was 98% sure that the inflammation and scarring made sense and explained my chest pains. And 2% daring to hope, to believe, to trust that I’ve been healed, and the stones had gone.

I’m glad I acted on my 2%. I was a little bit proud of myself for stepping out in my tiny mustard seed faith and delaying my operation.   I imagined asking for copies of my scans before and after : stones there, stones miraculously gone: real proper medical evidence of God healing.

As I daydreamed in church this morning, imagining all the people I could tell and the blogs I could write about my miraculous healing I was reminded of a story in the Bible.

It’s about three men who in a far away time and land were commanded to worship the king or face being burnt alive. ‘We don’t even have to answer you,’ they said. ‘Our God can save us from the flames, and even if he doesn’t, we won’t bow down to you.’

2 hours later I had a biliary colic attack. So I’m not healed. The surgeon was right. And I’ve delayed my surgery and had an attack today and put myself at risk of this pain again and feel a bit of a fool and a bit disappointed and I could cry because I had hoped.

‘Even if he doesn’t’

So I am back where I started. I believe in Jesus Christ, in a God who can heal, has healed, does heal. And maybe he will heal me miraculously and take away my need for surgery. But even if he doesn’t then my faith doesn’t change : it’s not based in what he does for me now, but who he is and what he has already done.  It’s based in the fact that once upon a time he died and was resurrected, that he ascended to heaven and will one day come again.

And on that day, I will have no gallstones.

 

 

 

*imagine excruciating indigestion, radiating through your body in a band between your sternum and your back, scoring at a 9 /10 for pain, coming in waves, accompanied by vomiting.

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Beating Mo Farah

0010t

A week ago today, I spent 6 hours (+ 4 mins and 7 seconds) running and walking 26.2 miles around London.  To fully realise all this has taught me could take 6 months, so here’s my first thought.

You run your own race. Amongst 35000 people, no one else was running my race. Other people matched me in some areas, but no-one was setting out exactly like me. I was the only one who had prepared in my way. I was the only one with my pregnancy issues, my training constraints, my other stress factors. I was the only one with my body and all its marvelous capabilities, my stubbornness, my motivation, my reasons for choosing that charity, my family and supporters.

Only a week or so before  I had settled in my heart that it wasn’t about speed or timings or anyone else but about enjoying the day.

And so I ran my race : nice and paced, 3 mins run, 1 walking, 13 (ish) mins to the mile, mile after mile, slowing down in the tough bit (13 to 18 miles was mine), jogging with only one walk break per mile for the last 4 (and overtaking 352 runners in the last 7.2k.) I ignored a toe blister at 2 miles, but took paracetamol at 7 miles when the old familiar bottom ache started, and then decided against the codeine when everything started to ache at mile 21.

I had no costume, but had my new backpack to hold my 12 energy gels I had rehearsed with, and my headband to hold my earphones in to listen to my app telling me when to walk and run, looking more like a mountaineer than a runner perhaps. I was covered in water by the end where I had poured it over me again and again in the heat of the day, preferring to feel the cold of water to the ache of thighs.

That was my race, and I loved every moment of it. Perhaps I would change things, if I did another in the future, but when I crossed the finish line I couldn’t stop beaming.

And that’s why I beat Mo ;) He was disappointed with how he performed in his first marathon. But I had run mine and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more nor done it better.

I only hope when I get to the end of this race which is my life here on Earth, I can say the same.

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I ran the London Marathon!

Me at mile 18

Here are some of my memorable moments:

The blossom on the trees bright against the blue sky in residential Greenwich

Walking to the start line with Emma from Bristol who ran for NSPCC, and then seeing her again a few miles from the end

High-fiving a St John’s ambulance volunteer to discover their hand was covered in Vaseline

Hearing my name being shouted by friends who I didn’t expect to see (Livy Gibbs, Sam and Els Dalziel)

Running through the roadside showers and seeing whole circle rainbows

Being reminded of my daughters by every little girl I high-fived, and hoping to somehow inspire them in what a woman can do

Turning the corner to see Tower Bridge opened up before me

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Going into a tunnel to an overwhelming thundering noise and discovering a percussion band drumming their hearts out for us underground.

A bear hug from my husband at mile 18

Overtaking Rhinos

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People on the streets offering food the whole way round – from strawberries and orange slices (the best I have ever tasted) through sweets, chocolate, sausages, pastry and even beer

Eye contact and a nod from a quiet older gentleman in the midst of crowds going mad along the Embankment

Running along the Mall towards the finish line 400m away, knowing nothing in me could make me sprint, and nothing in me would let me walk.

image

(Thanks to Mental Health Foundation, demotix.com, arkellcentre.org, virginballoonflights.com for the photos I have used)

 

 

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1 sleep till race day

….and I’m feeling excited!

image

I’ve had a fab day in London, going to the Expo to register, meeting a runner for Anxiety UK - perhaps this man? – in the cable car, seeing the Cutty Sark and drinking tea, and seeing all the barriers and signs and female urinals (who knew?) in position for tomorrow.

You wonderful people have already smashed my pledged target of £1600 for the Mental Health Foundation. Massive massive thank you : if/when tomorrow gets tough, I will motivate myself by thinking of you and the money and all the good it will do.

If you would like to see how I’m doing then you can keep an eye out for me in real life for you Londoners, on the tv (see photo to check out my very-practical-though-not-fancy-dress marathon outfit) or you can track me here. I’m number 43190. As a rough guide I expect to cross the start line about 10:30am and finish 6 hours after that and I’m going to enjoy every moment I can!

With love and gratitude. Clarie x

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