Boy in a plastic bubble
My bubble – as regular readers will know – is my home. It is where I feel safest. Where I feel I belong and indeed where I am the most comfortable.
It is something that I have written about before and indeed something that I am very much aware of. Additionally I openly accept and admit that I have a proclivity towards isolation and in fact I have pretty much been like that all my life.
As a child (as my mother recently reminisced) I would wonder off early in the morning and not return till it was dark. The truth is that I liked my own company and would spend hours simply reflecting on or observing life.
And additionally, when you become convinced at a very young age that you are “different” when you are certain that somehow you just don’t “belong” or “fit in”, your own space is the most comfortable or (perhaps it is more accurate to say) the least uncomfortable place to be.
Mental illness or poor mental health can do that to you can’t it? Especially when you are young. We can sometimes learn and adopt lifestyle choices which are coping mechanisms can’t we? And the truth is that for me personally very little has changed in that respect.
However, I think that at some point the question has to be asked, “is this isolation – this learned coping mechanism (for that is what it is) – or others like it really the best thing for you?”
As someone who writes about mental illness and poor mental health and indeed as someone who experiences poor mental health I am always trying to a) understand my mental health, b) look at the ways in which it is effecting me and c) to challenge those things.
Even more than this I am a Christian and as such I am acutely aware that I am called not to live according to my own likes and dislikes, or my own comforts or discomfort, but according to how God would have me live. And one area where (as I have written before – see my posts The Inside Out Disconnection and The Outside In Plot ) I have become more and more aware that things were being challenged and needed to change were in my tendency towards my ‘bubble’ and my proclivity towards isolation.
On Friday I returned home to my little bubble after being away at a ‘Summer Fire 2014’ – a Christian Conference in Cork for a week. And I have to tell you that I am so incredibly tired as a result of it. But I am also so incredibly challenged as a result of it.
Despite my natural if not severe reluctance and very much aware that my lifestyle was being challenged, I had agreed to go to the conference but had tried to set up some safety nets in the process. One of which being that I would not under any circumstances share accommodation with anyone else and even booked my own little wheelchair accessible bungalow.
By doing so (or so I thought) I would create my own temporary bubble to retreat to whenever I needed to.
But God (and others), it seems had other plans. On my first evening there a friend from church told me that her son had a buddy who wanted to attend the conference but needed somewhere to stop. She then asked me, since I had extra beds in my Bungalow that were not being used, could he stop with me?
That’s the thing about God and His will, He doesn’t give up too easily and as a loving parent, even when we don’t believe in our own abilities, He encourages us to face our challenges.
In truth I had already agreed to a couple of young ladies (one of which also bringing her son) from my church stopping with me for a couple of days later during the week, (figuring I could at least cope for a couple of days) and I didn’t have the heart to say no to this young man.
So indeed he stopped with me for the first three nights and the girls (and the young son) then stayed with me for the following three nights. Thus meaning that I only actually had one night – the final night when I was alone. And I have to be honest here, despite all of my fears and hesitations concerning this, they were an absolute blessing and I managed not only to cope extremely well but actually I am sure (and I really don’t want to admit this) that their presence actually brought me out of myself more really.
In fact the whole week was one of many challenges and many blessings and additionally – and I say this is recognition of how grateful I am for them and not by way of boasting in any way – a lot of personal achievements.
I walked absolutely miles – up and downhill alike. The accommodation being at the top of a hill and the shops 3/4 of the way down the hill with the meetings tent at the bottom of the hill.
In the morning I would walk down to the morning prayer meeting, then back up to the shops for a coffee, then back down for a meeting and then back up the hill to my bungalow. In the afternoon we would do several recreational activities and I managed to walk to most of these. And then in the evenings I would walk back down the hill to the evening meeting and then back up the hill to my bungalow.
And as can be seen by this photo I even pushed the kids uphill in my wheelchair once or twice.
Of course I was seldom alone in doing this and I have to say that Sinead was an absolute Godsend in all the help she gave me (despite pushing me down hill on the first night and almost killing me in the process!). And additionally Susan and Lorraine C were also such wonderful blessings in all the help and support that they gave me.
As I reflect on the whole week I can see now how, through their help and the help and support of others – such as Natalie and Tony and Chris (someone we met at the conference) and even through the encouragement and support of the kids, God was lovingly and gently showing me that I didn’t have to settle for the alternative – safe – life that I had grown accustomed to.
And one huge personal fear and challenge that I – with the help and encouragement of those who were with me – was able to face and conquer was in respect of my size, weight and disability. On one of the last afternoon of the conference I even managed to go swimming in the swimming pool! Something that I had promised I would try to do but never really believed I would ever achieve.
I am very mindful of the fact that this is a mental health focused blog and that so far in this blog I have included a fair bit about my faith and what God was doing in my life during this time. But, as I have said before, I can no more separate my faith from my experiences than I can separate my mental health. And I have to be honest, without Christ and my faith I am not sure I would still be around today. In fact I am fairly sure I wouldn’t be.
The week away was just such a blessing and one of many lessons and indeed many blessings. And I have to make mention of Carolyn and Lisa (or ‘Carolisa – my churches’ answer to Jedward’ as I call them) and of Joshua here.
Their being with us all for the three days that they were there was such fun and such good fellowship and placed me in positions ( in a very good way) where I had to once again reach into my faith in very real and different ways. And they have won a place in my heart as a result of it.
That is not to say that the week did not also present me with many difficult times also. In truth I did do too much and at one point had to be taken back to my bungalow and to my bed and the doctor called. But this was just cautious loving concern on the part of others and I really was perfectly alright after I had rested.
And as much as I absolutely loved the casual but very real fellowship, company and chats that were a regular feature of the week when no meetings where taking place, and as much as these challenged and nurtured and blessed my faith, I found the large tent meetings to be extremely difficult and uncomfortable for me.
(Picture used from Facebook no copyright infringement intended)
In truth I am not sure how many attended these meetings – possibly between 800 and 1000 folk – but I just didn’t seem able to connect with what was going on in the same way as others seemed to.
Almost everyone – as far as I could see from where I was sitting in my wheel chair at the back of the tent – seemed to be engaging with and passionate and excited about the worship and the teachings.
And whilst I am so very passionate about my faith I just couldn’t engage or get excited in the way that every one else seemed to be.
And trust me – being the only one who isn’t getting excited in a crowd of 800 – 1000 people who are is a very lonely place to be. Especially if ‘not fitting in’ has been a continual theme throughout your life.
And yet even in this, and as deeply demoralizing and depressing as this was for me at times, there have been lessons and blessings and indeed on returning to my home church on Sunday morning the message delivered by Pastor Paul spoke right into this situation for me and blessed and encouraged me so very greatly.
So there you have it. The week that I ventured so very far out of my comfort zone and challenged some of my lifestyle choices – some of my coping mechanisms. As I said, I really can’t separate my faith from my life any more than I can separate my mental health from my life. Both are very real and both have a huge impact on my life. And as Christian I so readily recognize and accept and am thankful for the challenges that I was encouraged into this week. I see God’s hand in it all so very clearly and I see and am so very grateful for the love that was and is behind it.
Physically I am so very, very tired as a result of it all. Mentally I am so stimulated. Spiritually I am still so very challenged and emotionally I am good. The truth is that I have spent so long within my ‘bubble’ and have always been so very reluctant to go beyond it. To venture too far or for too long outside of it. In truth I know where it came from and why I had it but in truth it has become as much of a prison as it has a protection.
And I am certain – from what I hear and read of others – that I am not the only one who has developed and held onto sch coping mechanisms – such ‘bubbles’. So my closing question has to be – do you, do I, do we still need them or have we simply grown so accustomed to them that we are reluctant to challenge them? Is it not worth placing out trust in others (and if you have a faith – in Christ) just one more time and indeed reaching out – beyond the bubble?