Black Dog

I was doing some research for a piece of writing I am working on and I came across this video. It explains what depression feels like to those who suffer from it.

I think the phrase “black dog” was used by Winston Churchill to describe his dark moods, which I suppose is an early 20th Century way of politely describing depression. Of course, the significance of mental well-being has become more prominent now, and in today’s world we go a bit further than they did in Churchill’s world to try to understand the causes of poor mental health as well as ways in which to help those who suffer. I feel there is still a long way to go in understanding how poor mental health arises and how to help people, and maybe just by talking about it and sharing things like this video might help a little?

Lent Challenge 2017


Lent Challenge – Wilderness

gobi desert.jpgWhen I think of the word “wilderness” a couple of things spring to mind. First of all I get the mental picture of a wide expanse of emptiness, with no visible living presence anywhere. I see dusty rocks and dry river beds, dried out husks of stunted trees with maybe a tumbleweed or cactus to break up the never-ending vista.

But then the image changes and the emptiness is gradually filled with forest life; big tall trees, grasses and ferns, cat-like creatures skulking threateningly in the shadows, a river tumbling and boiling its way down a valley in the middle distance.

forest wilderness.jpg

In both of these scenes there is an overwhelming sense of emptiness, being alone, and of fear. Those three feelings dominate and hint at what being in a wilderness means to me, and you may well have your own ideas about what a wilderness looks like and feels like to you.

The 40 days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting after he was baptised. During that time, he was tempted by the devil in three ways: materialsm, hedonism and egoism. John the Evangelist calls them “lust of eyes”, “lust of body” and “pride of life” respectively and they corrupt the three main things that make us human; that we think (mind), wish (soul) and feel (heart).

The wilderness for Jesus in the Bible is portrayed by Matthew, Mark and Luke as being a physical place, with corporeal and material components to it and many people in our contemporary life make a living from existing in the wilderness or by showing us how to exist in it. Think Bear Grylls for example, or Ray Mears. They know how to living alongside the nothingness of the wilderness, and how to conquer the fears and desolation of being alone in it and they quite willingly share their knowledge with others.

But what about the wilderness that isn’t a physical place, but is a mental one instead?

I have experienced times in my life where I have felt the desolation and emptiness of being in an emotional wilderness, and – ironically – I’m sure I haven’t been alone in going through it. I have experienced poor mental health, including post natal depression and clinical depression on several occasions, family problems and emotional breakdowns. I live with an ongoing health condition which affects my daily life, and for as long as I can remember I have had financial worries and difficultIes. Both the visual images I have of being in the wilderness can be applied to the experiences I have had of being emotionally and mentally challenged. I can remember the times where everything felt as dry as dust, with nothing living in my soul and nothing except a hot sun beating down on me wearing me down day by day. There have been days where instead of the hot sun there has been the relentless rain in a darkened forest, with the threat from unknown wild animals lurking around every tree. They are the days where it feels that to make a step forward means to put myself further in danger, and to expose myself to further threat, but to stand still means letting my feet sink into the rotting layers of leaf mulch and mud. Those are the days where the choice of moving forward is as dangerous as standing still, all the while keeping senses on high alert for further threat from unknown and unseen sources.

I think we all go through situations like that, and for the most part, we work our way through them eventually with varying degrees of ease and success. But there are times when the wilderness really does feel endless, and the lurking threat really does feel real enough to paralyse us. There are times when it really does feel like there is an absence of another living soul, and like for Jesus, those are the times when we are at our most vulnerable.

In the past, I have questioned my purpose, and questioned whether there is any point to going on living. I have recognised the presence of other people in my life and that they need me to keep going, but it hasn’t felt enough to make me believe my own worthiness. Obviously I haven’t succumbed to those feelings – I’m still here after all – but I can see how it is for those who feel that their personal wilderness will never change and that there really isn’t anything worth living for. The lurking beasts, the hot desert, the relentless cold and damp rain, the arid dust bowl extending far out into the future all mount up and it is hard to fight against it all.

anxiety and depression.jpg

It’s at those times when some of us turn to other things to help us through, where we can allow the corruption and perversion of our human spirit to take place. Whether it is through the desire to spend money (whether we have it or not) on material things, or through alcohol and drugs to try to numb the pain, or even through the pursuit of relationships (even if they are bad for us) to make ourselves feel less alone, we can allow the wilderness to dominate and control us if we are not careful.

Whatever the reason we find ourselves in a personal wilderness, we need to remember that things are not always as they first appear. There are signs of life – small plants taking root in the dry earth against the odds, streams of water forcing their way up through the rocks, overhead there will be birds in the sky and on the horizon there will be a sunset or a sunrise bringing the promise of endings and new beginnings.  When we accept that all is not as terrifyingly lonely as we first felt it to be, we can perhaps get a sense that the things we are threatened by are not actually threats, but opportunities and chances to thrive and to grow.

In the same way we might look to the Bear Grylls of this world to help us in a physical wilderness, we need someone to help us with the spiritual and emotional ones too. For some people it may be professional counsellors and doctors, for others trusted family and friends. For yet others it may be a matter of revisiting the source of all guidance, comfort and wisdom and that is our creator, God.

However we view our personal wildernesses, we must remember that as with Lent, they are a fleeting phase and that they do come to an end at some point. Nobody can exist in a spiritual and emotional wilderness, and it is reassuring to know that they do come to an end eventually.


Blogging, Daybook

January Daybook

simple-woman-daybook-largeFor Today… 11th January 2017

Looking out my window… I can see clear blue skies, but I can hear the wind howling and there is a storm on its way.

I am thinking… I might cook cheesy bacon pasta for tea tonight.

I am thankful… that mental health in young people is taken seriously.

One of my favourite things… is driving with my son to band practice and having a natter about all sorts of things, both big and small.

I am creating… this little beauty. I began it during the evening on Boxing Day (for my non-UK readers, Boxing Day is the day after Christmas Day) and it is going to be used when we go away in our caravan this summer.

Rectangle blanket based on the traditional "granny" stitch, using rainbow colours. Three repeats of the individual colours followed by three rows of each colour afterwards. Just starting the blue three now and hopefully will finish it this weekend.
Rectangle blanket based on the traditional “granny” stitch, using rainbow colours. Three repeats of the individual colours followed by three rows of each colour afterwards. Just starting the blue three now and hopefully will finish it this weekend.

I am wearing… layers, layers and layers today. The heating is on but I’m bone-cold.

I am reading… “The Coroner (Coroner: Jenny Cooper Series)” by M R Hall

I am watching… The BDO World Championships on TV this week. I love watching the darts, and the BDO suits me because it is not as high-powered or glitzy as the PDC competitions. Darts are good to crochet to as I can listen and only half watch the TV as I’m concentrating on the yarn in my hands.

I have been listening to… Pemberton Old Band rehearsing for a competition this weekend in Skegness. My son plays bass trombone for them and I sometimes give him a lift to rehearsals. I have enjoyed the experience of being a groupie rather than a player since he started playing with them, and it makes a refreshing change for me to hear a piece of music being crafted into a performance piece to contest level by a band of this calibre. They are in the First Section (one level down from the Championship Section but working on their way back up) and they are a level above where I played with Middleton Band before I stopped playing.

I am hoping… my brother recovers quickly from his surgery yesterday.

I am learning… to trust my instinct.

In my kitchen… I have been making the effort to cook proper meals from scratch. We have a limited food budget and sometimes it can be a challenge to eat healthily all the time, and I have been enjoying the challenge of finding recipes and dishes that we can eat to fill us up, fill us up healthily, fill us up healthily and inexpensively.

Board room… we are looking at the story of Jonah and the Whale for our next Messy Church and I really want to do this activity with the children:

Post Script: I found this site (Strategies for dealing with change) when I was looking for something to help someone I love who is going through some really difficult, anxious times. I found this picture, and thought it would be great to share with you too. Please visit the host site for more like this.


Shared Quote…

Closing Notes… I began this post this morning, about 12 hours ago (which is why I said the sky is clear blue and not the midnight black it is now) and today has been another one that has been packed with drama, fun, music, family, planning, crafting and laughter. I thank God that my life is so varied and that it is filled with so many people who stimulate me in so many different ways. I have to say that being a mum is challenging at the minute, and I trust God to see us through the particular storm we are weathering just now. I am grateful to my friends who visited today too – a bit of a giggle and a chat with people you love goes a long way to making things feel better! And music. Ah music. Where would I be without you? Laughing with Ethan and Megan in the car going to band rehearsal tonight and having fun finding music that we all like. Fortunately all three of us have similar musical taste and we enjoyed a great 45 minutes each way listening to all sorts of stuff, from First Class’ “Beach Baby”, to the cast recording of songs from “Sweet Charity”, by way of Glen Campbell and his “Rhinestone Cowboy” (with alternative words, courtesy of yours truly) and a bit of “Hairspray” to finish with. You definitely can’t stop the beat if you’re travelling with the Pamster at the minute!




Daybook Entry – New Year’s Eve 2016

021114_2314_DaybookEntr1.jpgFor Today… the last day of 2016

Outside my window… I can hear some isolated bursts of fireworks going off locally. The weather is mild to cold but not frosty yet.

I am thinking… about some changes I need to make in myself, my outlook, my worldview and my expectations.

I am thankful… for so, so much! Where to start? Well, first and foremost I am thankful for the ever present grace and love of God in my life. My faith in him (and his in me) has got me through so much this year and I am thankful to have reached this point still in one piece.

I am praying for… Charlotte and Kieran who are dealing with the most heartbreaking loss anyone can imagine; my brother who is going to be having an operation in a couple of weeks and is facing a long recovery time afterwards; Roy, Margaret, Iain and Megan who will be taking a big step next week; Emma who is starting a new job on Tuesday; Ethan who has got a high-pressure time ahead this term.

I am wearing… a happy smile this evening as I look back at what has happened this year.

I am creating… a new way of thinking. I have come to realise that my thought patterns and behaviour patterns need an overhaul if I am to ever make progress with my life. For example, I am desperate to write a full length novel but fear of failure is holding me back. I know I have the skills (talent is as yet still untested), but I keep talking myself out of doing anything about it because I think my story is not good enough, or that people won’t want to read it and so on. I am trying to create a new way of thinking about myself where I concentrate on the positives of what I’m doing rather than worrying about the (unknown) negatives.

I am going… to put my new thinking into action over the coming weeks and let’s see where we are by half term.

I am wondering… whether I ought to do something about my physical health as well as my mental health this year…

I am reading… “Speaking in Bones” by Kathy Reichs. I was fortunate enough to receive an Amazon gift card for Christmas which I have already bitten into and bought this latest one in the Temperance Brennan series. I have had my eye on it for a little while and I was really chuffed to be able to buy it on Boxing Day. I’m nearly at the end of it and to be honest, I can’t wait for bedtime tonight so I can go and finish it!

I am hoping… that our financial difficulties will be eased this year, if not resolved somehow. I have faith that we will be ok.

I am learning… to ease up on myself, to lower my expectations, and to celebrate the small things.

In my garden… we have a gazebo erected over our deck area at the back of the house. We put it up there for Christmas Day so we had somewhere dry to put the settee out while we had the long tables set up for dinner. We haven’t got round to putting it down yet but I rather like it and might persuade Kevin to keep it for a while.

In my kitchen… we have some snacks and treats waiting to eat while we watch the final Harry Potter film later on tonight.

A favourite quote for today…


A peek into one of my days… I’m going to cheat here and show you a few photos from December as there’s too many to choose from!

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A bonus little video for you: filmed outside our house on Christmas morning as we played for our neighbours before church. Hope you enjoy it!

One of my favourite things… is planning and researching things for writing about. One of my least favourite things is spotting when “research” becomes “procrastinating” and getting a move on and to get writing.

Post Script: This year has been a year of spectacular highs and devastating lows, and this is my chance to acknowledge those difficulties and joys and to say a public thank you to everyone who has got me through it all.

Those of you who have followed my blog over the months and years will know that from time to time my mental health takes a hit, and that my family’s financial situation is not particularly secure or hopeful. This year has been the worst we have endured and we have come close a few times to crossing the line. However, we have been blessed on so many occasions by the kindness and support of family and friends who have seen us through. With gifts of food and other necessities, and on more than one occasion the gift of money, our family and friends have literally saved the day. Ethan would not have been able to go on the trip of a lifetime with the music centre had it not been for an anonymous gift of a substantial amount of money which was put through our front door the day before the deadline for payment. More recently, we were facing a very lean Christmas with no spare cash to be able to buy any presents for anyone but again, from anonymous gifts, we not only were able to get some gifts for our children but we have enough now for both Kevin and I to be able to replace our glasses in a couple of weeks. We are both desperate for an eye test and new glasses but until this money came in, we were getting very anxious about how we were going to pay for them. As I said, we have been extremely blessed and we are so grateful for everyone who has helped us in 2016. The grace of God has been in abundance in our family this year!

Some high spots have punctuated the seemingly endless struggle to “get by”, such as our family camping holiday in Wales this summer (again, paid for as a gift to us – and boy are we glad for that gift!). We were joined by my brother and his family for a few days, which was a great experience, and I got to enjoy some spiritual time in a very special part of the world. I finally finished my studies and I got my degree this summer which is an achievement I never in a million years thought I would ever do. Kevin and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year too, which, as with my degree, is an achievement and milestone I never thought I would ever see. But we did and I am proud to have made it with my best friend and partner in life.


Daybook Entry – 5th April

It is a rest day from the Blogging from A-Z challenge today, so I wanted to fill the gap with a Daybook entry. Things have been pretty hectic recently and I am enjoying blogging regularly again so here we go:

For Today… Easter Sunday 2015

Outside my window… the sun is setting on a glorious Easter Sunday. The sun has shone, the sky was blue and I had my first load of washing of the year out on the line to dry today.

I am thinking… about how sometimes, the biggest lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.

I am thankful… for my Mum and Dad’s roast lamb dinner today.

I am wearing… blue shorts, white vest.

I am creating… not very much at the minute. I have a huge backlog of studying to do, including two assignments which are due in soon. Even though I am loving my studies, I am feeling more than a little jaded just now and it is showing up in the fact that I am not being as creative as I would like to be. I am looking forward to the time soon when I can crochet or sew with impunity, or can get my sketching/painting stuff out without feeling guilty about spending time on them.

I am going… out for the day tomorrow with my husband. We don’t know where yet but we are looking for somewhere where we can see Morris dancing, or an Easter fair or something. We quite like road trips so driving a distance is no problem for us. In fact, the journey is half the fun.

I am wondering… how my father in law is doing today. He has had a marked deterioration in his mental capacity since the funeral on Thursday and he is now showing behaviours that we don’t recognise in him. We are worried about him.

I am praying for… obviously my father in law, but my husband also. He has just lost his mum, and to all intents and purposes his dad is nearly lost too. It’s a lot to take in and deal with all at once and I am praying for strength and patience for him. I am also praying for Joanne and her family. They are facing an end of life situation and it is very painful for them. I am praying for peace and healing for them.

I am reading… “Soul Music” by Terry Pratchett. I have recently read “Mort” and “Reaper Man” and have thoroughly enjoyed them both so I have high expectations from this one too!

I am hoping… for sunshine tomorrow.

I am learning… how to write a song, how to harmonise a melody and how to modulate the key. And I’m loving it.

In my garden… I have a little area of decking that we built about 15 years ago and it needs some attention now the winter is over. We like to sit out on it during the summer and every couple of years we need to treat it with preserver. This year is a year for some re-staining too. I might even get round to planting some plants in pots for it.

In my kitchen… we enjoyed a lovely roast dinner with my Mum and Dad today. Roast lamb with all the trimmings. Delicious!

A favourite quote for today… “He is risen!”



A peek into my day…

Evening sunshine in my garden today. Garden looking a bit shabby but the colour from the light is gorgeous.


One of my favourite things… is ice cold Vimto

From the board room…


A few plans for the rest of this week: day out tomorrow, baptism prep night on Wednesday, band rehearsal Friday night, Prayer Morning on Saturday and then a concert for the Mayor of Todmorden on Saturday night. Busy week!!


If you would like to join in with the Simple Woman’s Daybook, please visit the host site at


Time To Talk – Mental Health

It is “Time to Talk” day today, a day of campaigning and raising awareness of mental health problems and how it affects people. It has been designed in order to encourage people to speak up and talk about their mental health and the flip side of that is that it is also there to encourage people to listen and try to understand it more.

I applaud the action because in my experience the most difficult thing about suffering with mental health problems is the fear of how people will react should I talk to them about it. It is far easier to keep things to myself than risk their reaction because again, in my experience, people tend to react one of two ways: they either shut down completely and reject me, assuming that I am totally incapable of anything, or they try and “fix” me. One reaction comes from a place of fear and the other is born out of a loving position, but both are as hurtful and destructive as each other.

People who know me know that I do suffer from depression from time to time but even those closest to me don’t fully grasp the depths that depression takes me to now and again. This isn’t the post for that particular discussion, but suffice to say for now that I have found myself at that point where it can be as bleak as can be and up to now I have not crossed that line. Obviously, or else I wouldn’t be here talking about the issue today.

My depression – and yes, I do own it as “mine” because depression and the whole plethora of mental health problems are different for everyone and the way I experience it is not going to be the same as someone else – can be triggered by lots of different things and there isn’t usually a pattern to it. What could affect me badly one time might just blow past me the next, and vice versa. It’s not even as black and white as that though because even though the triggers may vary, my coping abilities also vary and it’s difficult for me to explain all that to people.

Sometimes, I know my depression can be caused by hormonal fluctuations, but those same fluctuations can also cause me to come out fighting and screaming and other times they leave me cowering and hiding away. But other times, it can be triggered by something as simple as the sun shining. Or raining. Or being hungry. Or having an argument. Or not being able to pray. There doesn’t even have to be an identifiable trigger for depression to take hold. The last time was because I had had a throat infection which legitimately laid me up for nearly two weeks (I use the word “legitimately” intentionally). The trouble is that during those two weeks, a brick wall had been built at the front door of my house and to break through it became a bigger battle than the one I’d just fought with the bugs in my throat. Even stepping over the threshold to go and put rubbish in the bin outside became as big an event as planning a trip to climb Mount Everest.

Given those circumstances I can totally understand why someone would want to avoid “triggering” me and therefore assume that it’s best not to engage with me by not asking me to do things, or to take part in functions, or even just to give me a responsibility for something. But rejection isn’t the answer because making that assumption about me means that that person presumes to know me better than I know myself and that’s not fair. So we end up in a cycle of suffering and silence for fear of rejection, which, if I’m at a low point and struggling could push me further down and then which makes it ten times worse to come back from. Being that far down is hard enough without having to reassure those around me that I’m ok really, I just need to weather this particular storm and so on which to be honest is bloody hard work!

So yes, it’s easier not to speak out because getting past other people’s misunderstanding and assumptions makes recovery so much harder. If people didn’t react with aversion and rejection then half my battle is won already and I could just concentrate on getting through it.

But then there are the other people, whose reaction is to try to “fix” things, or bring about healing through “solving the problem” for me. As I said above, those people are reacting out of concern and love for me but in their way they too make the problem worse. I don’t want “fixing” thank you very much. I don’t want them to “solve my problem” by taking things away from me – my responsibilities and duties are what keep me going and give me a reason to get out of bed – and I don’t want them to feel guilty because I don’t miraculously jump up with a big smile on my face after they have “done their bit” in talking to me. Dealing with their guilt is as much hard work as dealing with the other people’s rejection, and when I’m in the middle of a black spell that extra weight of blackness doesn’t help one little bit.

My feeling is that the opportunity today to bring mental health into the public sphere should be grasped with both hands by all those affected by it. Statistics today say that 1 in 4 of us will suffer with mental health problems at some time or another in our lives. Just because 25% of us suffer with it doesn’t mean to say that the rest of the population aren’t affected. We all live in families, have friends, belong to clubs and organisations, churches, schools or colleges etc and it is inconceivable to think that nobody knows somebody with mental health problems.

You may think you don’t know anybody, but think again about how you would react if someone told you they were feeling “a bit low”, or that they said they weren’t coping too well. You may notice that someone isn’t behaving in their usual manner, or that their eating or exercise pattern has changed, but would you recognise those things as a sign that they are being affected by a change in their mental health?

How would you bring up the possibility of depression with them? If you don’t know how you would react, or how you would bring it up with them, then chances are that they already sense that and are not talking about it with you precisely for that reason.

If nothing else today, please try to think about the people around you and have something ready to say should you get the chance to speak to someone you are worried about. They won’t want you to try and pull them out of it. They won’t want you to understand how they feel. They won’t even want you to wave a magic wand and put right everything that’s affecting them. So relax, and just listen to them. If more people could just do that, then more people will feel more confident about speaking out.

There is still a stigma attached to mental health problems, but the more chances people get to talk about it, to try to understand it, to make it a normal part of life then the less that stigma will be and the less isolating mental health will be.


For more information or help please visit 


Finding Mike

Please help find this man.

A man is searching for the kind stranger who persuaded him not to jump off a bridge into the River Thames in 2008.

Jonny Benjamin had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and was struggling to cope when he attempted to commit suicide on London’s Waterloo Bridge exactly six years ago, on January 14.

‘He was very calm and said “Please don’t do this, I’ve  been where you are and you can get better. Let’s have a coffee and we can talk about this,”‘ Jonny said. ‘He reminded me of what people do every day so the normality of it was really inviting.’

Jonny changed his mind and agreed to climb back over the railings, where police were waiting to help him. He has since turned his life around and is now a mental health campaigner, but he is desperate to find the man responsible for saving him that day.

‘His act of kindness changed my outlook on life and I have thought about him ever since. I want to find this man so I can thank him for what he did. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here today.’

Saw this today. Please RT it would be amazing to find him & let Jonny Benjamin say thanks! #findmike— 
Kirsty Dougall (@kirstydoogs) January 14, 2014

Jonny doesn’t know the man’s name, but has dubbed his campaign ‘Finding Mike’ and says the stranger looked to be in his early twenties at the time.

With the help of charity Rethink Mental Illness, Jonny’s campaign is gathering pace and he asks anyone who might know anything about the man to contact him.

He is now making a film to spread the message of recovery, which is due to be released in April.

In the meantime, you can help by publicising the Finding Mike campaign on Facebook or Twitter, or by contacting if you have any information.

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch.