When people daydream about A Level summer, the usual wish list contains a bit of travelling, lots of sleeping, and, for some, the opportunity to spend lots of time with friends before heading off to university. That had always been my plan with budding thoughts of a trip with friends to Cologne and dreams of a chance to relax after a tough and busy year. Unfortunately life intervened. I’ve been advised to reflect to fully process the events and personally feel that it would be remiss to think about them without considering faith and God…
Before I get to the key lessons God has been teaching me over the past few months, a definition may be necessary. I had a psychotic episode. The Google definition of psychosis is ‘a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.’ In simpler terms, unwanted thoughts intrude constantly and it's difficult to work out what's real or not. Examples range from believing that sleep isn't real, to believing that you're invincible to believing that you're Jesus and have to die to save the world. (The first two are personal experience, the latter is a common one which I came into contact with on the ward).
Now for the key lessons I've learnt.
1. The world really is so broken.
Surely our minds are not meant to deceive us so completely. The strength of belief I had in the psychotic thoughts was both extremely frightening and caused me to realise the power that delusions can have over people.
2. God kept me safe, when I couldn't do that myself.
There is no-one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
When Jonty came to visit me in hospital, he shared this verse and it really describes how God acted and so I thought that I would share it with you.
The beauty of the truth that God not only acts as a 'safety net’ underneath but also actively 'rides across the heavens’ to aid us continues to astound me.
3. Don't place your value in something that can so easily be lost.
Before becoming unwell, despite intellectually knowing that I shouldn't, I placed far too much emphasis on exam results and getting into Medical School. From being admitted to hospital instead of taking Chemistry Paper 2 until results day on August 16th, everyone, including me, assumed that this door had been closed. Having taken the exams whilst increasingly ill, I felt certain that I wouldn't make my offer.
Whilst God was good and, incredibly, I did get the grades, this has caused me to reflect on where my priorities lie. The next step for me is to realise that God would still have been good even if I'd failed them all. As a Globe student helpfully put it; God's goodness isn't exam results dependent.
4. As Christians, we need to talk more about mental health.
Whilst most people's experience of mental health issues is less extreme than my own, if the church reflects wider society, 25% of us will face some form of issue each year. Not only this, but in a congregation of 200 - only slightly larger than Globe - around 5 people are likely to have a severe and enduring mental health problem. (An estimate from a post on Emma Scrivener's excellent blog: Part One, Part Two). October 10th is the 2018 World Mental Health day and this year could be the year for genuine change.
At the moment it is unclear what the future holds. I don't know if this is an unpleasant blip in the road or a herald of things to come. But my prayer is that whatever comes I'll still know the truth of one of my favourite hymns -
‘When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."’