Category Archives: Adventures in Depression

House-hunting Outside the Box

 

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My dad calls it divergent thinking, but I suspect my need to think outside the box in any and every situation has been a large part of my mental health issues these last twelve months. If I have one thought it spreads like a firework. If I have a box of thoughts, I need plenty of space to watch all the fireworks.

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When I got very ill twelve months ago the fireworks fizzled and fell. I had to accept limitations and let go.

This letting go has not come about lightly: there are a dozen areas I would like to do more in, a hundred people I would like to help, a thousand things that need thinking through.

But I am learning to let go. Let go of ideals I cannot reach. Let go of people who hurt me. Let go of wrong self-image. Let go of anger. Let go of trying to ‘achieve’ to impress. Let go of turning up the heat. The cold never bothered me anyway.

I am now at a stage where I need to harness what is good and right about my divergent thinking. The instant creativity when I’m in a good place and Joe decides we need to make an apple tree from things in the kitchen, for example. Or helping Lily remember a new times table. Or finding a recipe for ingredients we already have in. Being academically thorough because it hurts not to. Little baby steps that indicate I’m heading in a good direction.

And I’m part of a great team. My husband is single-minded and inspires me to focus rather than diverge. As a result we now have a great ‘get the house ready for viewings’ system, including keeping things in sensible places, having empty drawers at the ready for items on surfaces and not panicking when the ‘wrong’ load of washing is doing as I know it will all get straightened out soon and that I’m going to be ok whatever the outcome. Just keep swimming, Lucy.

We are convinced that God’s purposes are driving our endeavours to relocate, so the emotional energy I have can be spent focused on practical and reasonable tasks. Today Joe and I got to toddlers; a wonderful opportunity to see friends and how things have developed in great ways there. Later this afternoon I showed the fifth couple in eight days around our house. It used up all I had left emotionally. Corners have to be cut elsewhere: manageable cleaning and tidying, efficient use of time, time off alone, not counting the calories, not stressing over what I cannot control. Improvements are evident in lots of directions, for which I am utterly grateful, even when pushed to my emotional limits.

One task I love doing is house-hunting, and I go at it with a combination of God-driven purpose, single-mindedness learnt from my husband and outside-the-box problem-solving techniques I can’t help but bring to the table. One of my sustaining strengths is writing and it appears that another is researching.

Cycle of Grace

Armed with access to the internet and a couple of clever spreadsheets, I review the houses that have appeared on our search radius on a frequent basis. They are constantly changing as we are moving to an area of short supply and high demand. A house we viewed at the weekend is currently in a bidding war and already at  £43,000 above the asking price, days after appearing on the market. We did not bid on it, as we cannot buy until we sell. But I am making sure I do my outside-the-box homework. Systematically.

Rightmove is the most useful of the property search websites I use, with their various search tools, floor plans, school distance maps, and invaluable Saved Properties feature. Zoopla is better for learning about sold house prices, with interesting heat maps and information on what sold in various streets if you are prepared to work through in detail when you are serious about a property. As we are searching within a target geographical area we’ve realised it also pays to get registered with local agents who send you information ahead of homes appearing on the market and to check their own websites, which update sooner than Rightmove.

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We like to know how long a property has been marketed, and whether the sellers have changed agent at some stage. While EPC checks on the energy rating are some use if they have a date, they are valid for up to ten years so weren’t necessarily produced for the most recent sale. We downloaded a toolbar from Property Bee (which uses Firefox) with a sidebar listing price changes and number of weeks on the market. Fascinating stuff. As our own house is proving to be a niche market, we know this doesn’t prove everything, but is useful to check out whether a property has not sold for some months, so that we can check why that might be and whether the vendors are willing to consider a lower offer.

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If a house looks promising, I like to familiarise myself with the area. Nothing beats driving or walking around in person, but some useful sites for getting extra information from a distance are Google Maps (especially with Street View and to check distances and routes by car, foot, bike or public transport, which may impact upon the children as they get older), Bing Maps (for Bird’s eye views of the location from North, South, East and West) and the Environment Agency‘s pages on flood risks from rivers and elsewhere. Online regional planning information is useful to determine the scale and dates of development for a property, currency of local greenbelt, the year the street was built and an indication of whether extensions of one sort or another might be granted. Wikipedia is a surprisingly good source of information on village life if there are links to local community websites as well as history of the area.

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I have learnt a lot about school catchments (including relevant high schools) from Cambridgeshire’s education admissions website, and we applied for Joseph’s school place based on data we picked up online as well as a couple of visits. If he should not get any of our three choices, we will be able to find out quickly where there are spaces in both his and Lily’s year groups for September so that they can be together if possible in another local school. Ofsted reports and data tables tell you a certain amount, as do schools’ own websites, but going around a real school and meeting staff there, as well as learning about schools from local people where possible are much more fruitful. We have also taken a keen interest in location and websites of churches in the places we’ve been looking at, as a strong community church will have a big impact on us as a family and we’d like it to be not too far to travel to. Hakuna Matata, as they say.

So, lots of things to keep this divergent mind happy in a useful way on days when I want to crawl into my mindspace all by myself and shut the door. When we are moved I know what my next project will be, as I am preparing a book. However, I cannot write a book and move house and raise a family at the same time. I have learnt to let go and focus on what is best. Freedom within fixed constraints allows me opportunity to thrive and feel useful. I am moving from the first quadrant in the Grace Cycle (Acceptance) to the second (Sustaining Strength). I am allowed to write. I am allowed to research. I have a value and a purpose, and I feel like a room without a roof.

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Quote

Shell

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Sugar: You collect shells?
Joe: Yes. So did my father and my grandfather. You might say we had a passion for shells. That’s why we named the oil company after it.

Brilliant writing. Fantastic delivery by Tony Curtis, mimicking Cary Grant in Some Like It Hot.

I love a great joke.

Words are great.

Words are not always what is needed, however.

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Which is why these shells spoke to me this week. They were a gift from a wonderful friend on a beach in Albania and remind me of our time there. They are beautiful homes for tiny, insignificant creatures. They are engineered to be strong so that the little molluscs don’t need to be. I love how they combine art and maths. Creation and evolution. Grace and freedom.

This week we are making huge family decisions and several centre on identity and belonging. Location. Careers. Finances. How much to sell for. Value. Cost. I am out of words. I am pretty much out of numbers too.

But I am not out of feelings. I still feel the ache when my son gets a high temperature. I still grieve when my husband’s company mess him about for the umpteenth time. I still reel when my daughter’s school require three non-uniform outfits in the space of eight school days. I worry for others in my family going through big changes. I tremble as the inner anxious me faces the enormity of spending money on a house – a bunch of rooms – while others struggle without. I don’t want a grand place. But I do crave somewhere we can each be who we are truly meant to be. To grab hold of the dream and live it. We feel called to a particular spot and convicted in the need to move there, from a place of love and great memories and super friends, to a place where our names are only known to a few and where we need to forge our passions in a brighter furnace. Engineering. Writing. Ministering to students, immigrants, parents, young adults, those with needs. Enabling. Connecting in community and church. Raising our family. Living the adventure of Love we set out on together ten years ago by enabling each other and growing stronger together. It will come at a cost, but not doing this would certainly cost us more.

Thank goodness for Grace, tying it all together so that there is sense and purpose when we might otherwise give up. This season of brokenness has also been a season of refining and focus.

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Dangers, Toils and Snares

The children have been taking a keen interest in road signs, since I have been occasionally allowing them to sit in the front of the car. According to Joe, these signs really are quite clear:

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no blue paint allowed,

nowhitepaintno white paint allowed.

For this and many other reasons I am not allowing him driving privileges just yet. He sees signs, but he cannot interpret them correctly. He knows there are dangers but he usually trusts me to get him from A to B. That is, as long as he can have Radio 1 or One Direction playing. And hot air blowing in his face. And his feet resting on the glove box. And lots of questions about levers, buttons and how many minutes until something happens. And a host of opinions only a parent can listen to. When that parent is in the mood for listening.

Clearly his passenger seat privileges are not automatic. But I learn a lot about him while he is showing a keen interest in engines, driving and making sense of his world.

Lily is another story. Lily is well aware of dangers, real and imagined and cannot believe she will ever be brave enough to take responsibility for a vehicle. She has decided she never wants to use a gear stick. She reads signs and understands the words. If she sees any of these, she is keen to make sure that I have too:

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But she is a very interesting passenger for other reasons. Sitting next to me with the road ahead of both of us, she opens up more about aspects of her life, thinking and dreams. I learn a lot about her while she is showing a keen interest in facts, ideas and making sense of her world.

All this driving around with the children, their interests and the dangers they are and aren’t aware of resonates with my thinking on Grace right now.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;

‘Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.

This mad journey through depression, anxiety and everyday parenting is littered with signs of every description. Books, music, advice, jokes, stories, blogs, sermons, events, friendships. Some are clearly in my best interests, guiding me or slowing me down. Others are harder to interpret – perhaps I don’t have the tools right now – and I cannot navigate alone. I have a wonderful set of friends, counsellors and family working with me through these spots, and God’s Grace is clearly carrying me through even the darkest miles. There are clearly dangers – visible and invisible. Toils – hard work, sacrifices and tough decisions to make. Snares – temporary and habitual. Blood, sweat and tears. The world, the flesh and the devil. So many signs. Sensory overload at times – frequently, in fact.

The experience of learning deep trust for our relocation is strangely healing. It is necessary to focus on one thing at a time. The stress levels do rise at times – this week alone there have been hard decisions to make, and there will be more. But the journey is progressing and the companionship of God and his utter faithfulness and love is readily apparent because we are on the journey. Sitting in the passenger seat I can talk about my passions and fears with God and allow his Grace to carry me, help me make sense of my world and navigate me on routes I do not recognise. He’s brought me safe thus far. Against all the odds. I know he will bring me safely home.

Letters from my younger self

Rarely will I find something addressed by me for me. Today I stumbled over some clumsy pencilled words of wisdom from pre-adult Lucy to my current self, on expectations of marriage soon after graduating university, climbing the ladder in civil engineering (to at least chartered engineer status by now) and starting a large family, with much advice on how I wanted to raise children. You know, in case I forgot what it was like to be a child. Honestly. I was planning my future.

This was nearly twenty years ago. I had forgotten I had written it. I don’t believe I have forgotten what it felt like to be a child. Unwittingly perhaps, I am parenting with the same family values I felt so strongly back then. Now I look ahead to the next twenty years with a more subtle wisdom of years gained. I feel the same age inside, and much younger and far more inept than the self-absorbed, arrogant, naive and frustrated seventeen year old who felt no right to opinions which wanted to burst out and be heard. I would have blogged badly. Very badly.

What did I write in 1995? A short selection might be appropriate.

“here’s a list of things I’ve noticed adults doing right: (generally speaking – mainly my parents)

  • letting kids grow up as individuals,
  • teaching kids about Jesus,
  • letting them learn through their own mistakes,
  • not influencing opinions consciously too much,
  • getting on with homework and not complaining too often [not sure what this means now],
  • buying Birthday/Christmas presents that were asked for,
  • allowing me to wear jeans, trousers and so on, without make-up,
  • gradually allowing/giving some responsibility and freedom,
  • giving in on choice of TV programmes,
  • supplying a range of educational resources at home,
  • giving n lifts to evening meetings (n tending to infinity), but not going out themselves [I was doing maths-related ‘A’ levels at the time],
  • getting up in the night to see to problems,
  • ‘family’ holidays with education built in,
  • not sending me to a private school,
  • making sure kids have musical experience”

Things I wanted to do as a parent, before I had even left school: [a partial list]

  • Be seen to be in control,
  • Spend time regularly with all [children] together and separately,
  • Not dictate what they wear, listen to, etc, and be prepared to share interests, as long as they appreciate the social effects, [?!]
  • Emphasise the marriage relationship as special,
  • Do things they want to do too, i.e. not just stately homes, refusing to go to theme parks, [perhaps a hint of bitterness?]
  • Build an atmosphere of sharing and helping each other,
  • Listen to kids reading,
  • Take an interest in what they’re doing,
  • Share responsibilities e.g. pets, food etc,
  • Appreciate that everyone is learning and not laugh at or moan about quality,
  • Encourage everyone in what they’re good at and improving in,
  • Challenge kids to learn music and do outside academic things if they are genuinely interested,
  • Do educational fun things like Lego or nature walks,
  • Not put anybody down in front of anybody else – respect and love everyone for who they are,
  • Invite friends round regularly and share stuff,
  • Don’t come up with embarrassing phrases,
  • Encourage laughter.

Well, well, well, younger me. What a funny creature you were. And still are. And how much you still have to learn. And still do. I’m not sure I have the life-experience to write so authoritatively any more, but thank you for reminding me of what I had hoped to become. You didn’t achieve half the things you thought you would, but you actually didn’t do too badly you know. Lighten up on yourself and be kind to yourself. Stop analysing, and Live. Be alive and take strength from God’s enormous Grace, not your human achievements. You are already utterly valuable, though you don’t see it. Beautiful, though you don’t want to believe it. Unique, though you currently resist it. Badly. And, as you caught yourself saying to your children this evening at tooth-brushing time: ‘you’ll pass in a crowd with a great big push’. Embrace it!

 

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Father I place into Your Hands

Today I discovered that I could not apply for the school places for Joseph out of county quite as readily as we had hoped. We cannot apply through Cambridgeshire if we do not live there, or have two applications open. We can apply to out of county schools through the Suffolk application website, but only if they list them. All three we preferred were not on the (extensive) list of primaries.

And having made two (count them…. two!) phone calls to numbers beginning with ‘your call is important to us’, I emailed Suffolk for advice.

It wasn’t simple: we need to apply online as we are away on the results day and may need to action Lily’s school place or house move details immediately, or make decisions about the second round applications. We are trusting that God is calling us to a specific area. We have already visited some schools and have plans to view more of the area this week. And the deadline is in 8 days.

I got an out-of-office reply stating that Suffolk were away and might take ten working days (count them… ten!) to reply. This could indeed affect our chances.

We’d already stepped out of the boat in faith. We’d already taken risks. There’s no Janus look-both-ways option here. If you try and run back to the boat you won’t stay up.

So I called on my friends, and my friends reminded me to call on Jesus. His Grace continues to cover me and carry me Outrageously. He lifts me, dries me, laughs. And 60 seconds before I’m supposed to be at school (count them… 60!) the phone rings. Withheld number. Might it be Tony, our regular wrong-number guy, calling for Peter, desperate for a visit? Or a company wishing to extol the virtues of government-encouraged schemes and am I in the 55-85 bracket? Or my sister, calling from colder climes?

Usually I ignore Withheld. Today I picked up. Today a lovely lady from Suffolk explained how she’d fixed the problem, approved of our pragmatism and was utterly professional. Their call was important to me. Thank you Marie Withheld from Suffolk. And thank you friends who remind me to face the right way when stepping out of the boat. And thank you Jesus for the outrageous grace – again.

 

Passage for the year

Today I went to church. Lily maintained she was ill with a serious tummy ache and I am not in a mood to deal with melodrama well, so she stayed at home and I took Joe. I struggled with the crowds of faces, songs, concentrating and going up for communion, but I wasn’t alone in that. Utterly reassuring to feel the quiet support of friends and to suffer together. To be able to giggle at the back, allow my son (still in overnight donkey-wear) to stretch his legs and climb under things and to know that there is a new rhythm of hope starting.

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December winded me and January wants to kick me while I’m still down, but this year will not be a year for introspection and self-pity. On finding a beautiful idea for resolutions, I have decided on a one-word goal. Something positive. To lift my thoughts, bless my family, discern our move. My word for 2014  is Passion. I have a passion for my husband, our children, for doing the right thing, for the move, for Old Testament studies, for lego, for healing and ultimately for Jesus. This year I want to learn more passionately and live more passionately, looking outward as I take the lessons of Grace on board more and more.

Our church has a Bible passage for each year, and this year the deacons have chosen Proverbs 2:1-6. It is about the search for wisdom and the fear of the Lord (as with much of the book of Proverbs). It is written in an ancient style, rather like the kind of case law you might read in the Code of Hammurabi, but also looks similar to computer code.

IF (my words) and (my commands)  AND IF (seek insight) and (seek understanding)

THEN (understanding, knowledge)

ENDIF

There is also some nice chiasmus in verses 5 and 6:

Understanding

Knowledge

Wisdom

Knowledge

Understanding

 
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

The ELSEIF is dealt with later in the chapter. But going to church lifted me in terms of feeling united with a group who care and because one of the leaders mentioned that we should have passion in our study of the Bible today. Which is exactly what I needed to hear.

Something New

Time for new things. I hope you like the new look of the blog. In case you can’t remember, it used to look something like this:

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Now I am intending to get a lot better I have updated a few things and will improve the site over coming weeks.

It has been a tough Christmas for all kinds of different reasons, but God has been present in it all and family members and friends have been heroes, despite losing dearly loved friends lately, coming home from a long journey to find the power had been off and all kinds of anxiety. I dipped a lot emotionally in December but am able to cope a little better each day and am excited about the new year. So, instead of a resolution for the whole of 2014 I am resolved for just one day to take things one step at a time. To serve my family and a few others around us and not put undue pressure to do any more than that. Then tomorrow, I may or may not make a similar resolution.

Thank you for all your kind and precious words over this season – I know something great is going to happen, and this is only the beginning of the beginning.

to you