It’s not been an easy year for me and it feels like I have gone over the edge. But that’s not unique – it’s been tough for everyone around the world, hasn’t it? In fact, that’s a large part of the problem – there is just too much suffering as well as enormous global problems such as climate change and the COVID pandemic. And I find it so depressing that the world is missing the opportunity to make the essential changes needed as we emerge from lockdown. Everyone seems to want to get back to “normal”.
We’ve all reacted in various ways to the global suffering and crises, due in part to our particular circumstances and problems. So there’s nothing special or different about me. However, I want to explain to all my friends and those who are kind enough to contact me and follow me on social media why I have completely withdrawn from everyone over the past two months. So this is something of a summary of the past year or so.
Having had a mental breakdown twenty years ago, I recognised during the year that I was sometimes getting close to the edge but, as is my way, I kept going – and kept doing so many different things.
There were deadlines to be met, such as re-writing Liberating Sabbath for publishing online through ReSource for use by small groups. The eight sessions range from the origin of Sabbath, Jesus and his attitude to Sabbath, current issues such as the pandemic, work, the environment and racial justice, and how they relate to our lives. David Newman has written related daily Bible readings and reflections for use between the sessions. [To look at the course, or download it for free (although donations for ReSource, not for me, are welcome), please go to https://www.resource-arm.net/resources/73/liberating-sabbath.]
Alongside re-writing Liberating Sabbath, which was not without stressful problems, the terrible situation in Uganda over the past year, and the plight of some of my friends, has been very distressing and undoubtedly took its toll on me. I felt a sense of urgency, as well as helplessness and failure, about campaigning against the evil and corrupt military regime in Uganda repressing Ugandans. So few people seemed to be aware of or care about the breakdown of democracy and the serious ongoing violations of human rights, although similar situations in places like Myanmar have been publicised.
Every day that passes, with the world still ignoring the crisis or, worse, colluding with the evil regime, means that more innocent Ugandans are abducted, held illegally in detention, tortured and killed at the hands of Museveni and his military regime. There is a lot to suggest that our British government (as well as the USA and some European countries) has not only failed to act but has even been supporting Museveni in various ways. The courage and commitment to nonviolent resistance by Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi, the main opposition Presidential ‘candidate’), opposition MPs and millions of their supporters who contest the corrupt presidential elections in January and oppose Museveni is inspiring and the only glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak situation. Keeping in touch with Ugandan friends and keeping up with breaking news and developments, being active and vocal on all social media platforms, setting up a petition to the UN Human Rights Council, writing letters to UK parliamentarians and publicising the situation became a full time job which was emotionally very demanding and draining, especially as there were so few signs of any positive changes.
I got to the point two months ago when I couldn’t face turning on the computer which meant I stopped virtually all contact with Uganda. I just couldn’t cope any longer which made me feel very guilty – Ugandans don’t have the choice of withdrawing. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the crisis were entirely the making of Ugandans. But it isn’t. It has developed as a result of neo-colonialism and is maintained by many western countries for their own self-interest and financial benefits, which we in the west have to take responsibility for.
As the pressures increased, I gave myself a weekly break by not turning on the computer on Sundays and doing something creative instead. This included finishing a knitted blanket which I started perhaps ten years ago – too far back to remember!
I also enjoyed designing and making 180 individual chocolate boxes (and making the chocolate-coated fudge to put in them) for Becky and Rob’s wedding, and felting and embroidering a wedding card for them.
Gardening is another way in which I can satisfy my creative urges whilst also being close to nature and creating habitats that attract wildlife of all sorts. Our garden is only small (smaller than a tennis court), but last winter, to reduce long-term maintenance, I re-landscaped some of it, renewed the pond, made a stream and a small stone garden, and significantly extended the wildflower area. It was hard physical work, with temperatures usually just above freezing!
Changes in the garden from late 2020 to July 2021
The extended wildflower area, contained within a circle, changes week by week and has attracted so many insects. The pictures below give an idea of how it has developed over the past six months and some of the wildlife that have come into our garden. It is low maintenance as anything is allowed to grow there freely – there is no such thing as a weed!
I also made this small stone garden below – again, it’s low maintenance.
For a long time, I have wanted to help Tessa (our daughter) and Matt make their garden easier to maintain. While they were on holiday in July, I set about clearing weeds and landscaping part of their front garden. It was very heavy work but unlike the major work I did in my garden last winter, the temperatures went up to 33C each day but I got a lot of satisfaction from doing it. Even now, I can’t believe how I managed it as I couldn’t do it again even with cooler temperatures! But I slept well, didn’t have to think about anything while I was doing it and enjoyed the creativity.
Decorating Becky and Rob’s wedding cakes
I also had the honour and pleasure of decorating four wedding cakes (one of which I had made) for Becky (our eldest grandchild) and Rob, using crystallised edible flowers and petals which I had been preparing, a few at a time, over the past year.
Their wedding, which was cancelled last November because of COVID, was re-scheduled for 11th June. But COVID restrictions were still in place then, so it was what is called in Uganda a “scientific” wedding, with a limit of 30 people and all of us social distancing – at least in Emmanuel Church, Loughborough. Once all restrictions were lifted, they had a wonderful wedding party on 24th July with all their family and friends.
Going over the edge
But filling my time with heavy physical work and various creative activities wasn’t enough to prevent the impending crash. I was violently sick after the wedding party (no – I hadn’t drunk any alcohol). The gastric acid burnt my throat badly, leaving it swollen and blistered. Perhaps because of this, two nights later I had the worst asthma attack ever – I wondered if I was going to survive it. And I went over the edge. Emotionally and psychologically, I was free-falling into blackness, which was terrifying because there was no bottom and I didn’t know how it would end. I was completely drained and exhausted, with no emotions left nor any desire or energy to do anything except sleep and shut out all the suffering. I’ve closed the doors and windows – and cut off from everyone except the immediate family, unable to cope with what is going on in other people’s lives and the world.
Where is God in all the darkness and chaos?
I plunged into the darkness not from choice but because I fell over the edge into it. In my present situation, I have tried to hold onto some of the insights I have had in the past (such as what I wrote in Plunge into darkness and Darkness), that God is in the darkness. I have also recalled Deuteronomy 33:27 – “Underneath are the everlasting arms”. The dark pit is not actually bottomless – God is there at the bottom, waiting to catch and hold me.
In Uganda, God is clearly present, especially in the lives of so many of the opposition supporters, most of whom are Catholics or Muslims, who talk about the strength they get from God and whose nonviolent resistance is motivated by their faith. Sadly, the Anglican Church of Uganda leaders have not spoken out against the horrific human rights abuses because so many of them are compromised by what they have received from Museveni. But in the midst of death and suffering, drought and famine, sickness and poverty, my friends still trust in God.
Over the past eighteen months of the pandemic and everything else that has been happening in the world, I have felt increasingly distanced from the Church of England and don’t have any desire to be involved, either in worship or in the anti-racism initiatives. I no longer want to receive the bread and wine in Communion because it’s used so often to exclude others. I explored this in a short animated video I made last year during lockdown: Bread of Life. I have also written about racism: “The Least Racist is Still Racist”.
I feel adrift – a result of so much that has been happening. But I feel safer at home with restricted horizons. This is why I now rarely open my computer to read emails. Nor do I check Facebook or Twitter and often don’t answer the phone. It’s not a comfortable place to be in although it feels safer. The GP doubled my regular dose of antidepresssants and I’m having blood tests to check there are no underlying physical factors. I believe I will recover but it will take time.
If you are one of those who has been waiting for a response from me, I’m sorry. I still value my friends. I will let you know when I emerge from this dark period and can start to reach out again. If you would like to leave a comment below, please accept that I am not yet in a position to respond. Thank you for your support, friendship and understanding – and even for just following me through this blog or on social media platforms.