On 31st March, I chatted to Paul Hammond of UCB Radio about how my experience of being housebound can help others now encountering such change and devastation.
In case you missed it, here’s the transcript:
P: Now for many of us the experience of being indoors, not able to go outdoors, feeling isolated, and perhaps feeling constrained by life at the moment is something of a new experience. For some people, however, this is daily life; this is a reality of existence that has been with them perhaps for some time. And so when they say, ‘we’ve got a perspective on how you might cope with this’, perhaps it’s as well to listen. Tanya Marlow is a Bible teacher, a writer, a conference speaker and is an old friend of UCB as well. And she’s also for the last ten years found herself restricted in her life because of severe ME. She joins me on the line today because she’s got some thoughts about how emotionally and spiritually we might cope with isolation.
Tanya, for many of us, it’s a new experience and it does take some getting your head around, doesn’t it?
T: It really does, and people keep on asking me now what I think about these things because I’m an expert on it and my first instinct is to say, ‘well, I don’t recommend it!’ It’s really hard. And I’ve been in that position because my body has been like a prison for me and for the past ten years I’ve had to…my body battery’s been so low that going out of the house is so exhausting I take two weeks to recover from it. So I’ve had one long quarantine after another – I think my longest stretch was eight weeks with just being in one room and walking to the bathroom…
P: And when you look back… When that first happened to you, I mean you’re in the situation where you had no choice whatsoever – I mean, there is still a degree of choice for people who are constrained in that they can go into the garden or whatever (2:14), but for you that being constrained to being just one room and a bathroom because you simply didn’t have, as you say, your body battery didn’t have the energy to do it, how… that must have an incredible effect on your mental and spiritual health…?
T: Yes, and for the first few years I remember just looking at beige walls and thinking, ‘This is my life now. It is beige. It is ongoing sea of beige, stretching out in the future, and one thing that I really found helpful was looking into art. I craved colour and being in isolation shows that we take for granted, and there’s so much of God’s beautiful world we can draw energy and comfort from, and so I am now an art enthusiast and every time I would go outside I would look for the colours and drink them in and spend time really appreciating the creation. And I’d recommend that for anyone right now, if you can get out into a garden or a green space, to be able to just soak in the colour and spend some time with God thanking him for that amazing world that we live in.
P: Now you have drawn together a list of – well you call them the stages of adaptation, and – it’s a fascinating perspective of just the impact of being isolated, being constrained can have on you. Maybe we just run through them and I’ll pick a couple we can talk about. You say stage 1 is denial, then there’s the logistics, then there’s bargaining, establishing a rhythm, anger, sadness, therapeutic lament, slowing down, reestablishing a pattern, and nuggets of joy and thankfulness. Let’s start with those first couple because I think an awful lot of us went through the denial stage of, ‘Seriously, you can’t really be expecting us to do this, can you?’
T: Yeah, and I think this is our defence mechanism whenever we encounter change, and we see this in the grief cycle as well: the first stage is denial because it is so huge to get our head around and we can feel like we’re on a train that we haven’t wanted to be on and we’re drifting off away from this past, and that’s how we cope with it. But actually we need to move through that fairly swiftly to see how our new life is going to be shaped afterwards.
P: And building a pattern and the logistics of doing that, establishing a rhythm and so on, it all comes in it – I wonder whether anger applies in our current context as much as perhaps somebody like yourself feels like they’ve been let down by their body.
T: Well, I would totally argue for this because all change is experienced as loss, and all loss must be grieved. And that means that you go through a grief cycle every time there is a major change. And I have found that over the past ten years that there has been almost continual grieving for one thing or another and part of that is anger. And anger is a complex emotion but actually it’s a good reaction to injustice and it’s a normal reaction to pain or unfairness. So I would say instead of suppressing the anger, let it bubble up, feel it and take it to God because that’s the safest place to take it, and that’s why we have lament and psalms of lament to guide us because that’s what you do with your anger when you feel it.
P: So when you talk about therapeutic lament, what do you mean for people to do?
T: What I mean is to be brutally honest with God. I think sometimes we have a kind of a ‘church voice’ when we’re praying, as though we are being inspected by a load of y’know, other, more holy people –
P: Ha! Yes!
T: – but it’s long been my contention that the Bible is more honest than we are. And so if you look at Job, who has been a life raft I have clung onto – he is brutally honest and absolutely merciless with God and just pours out this anger and, even at the end, God doesn’t condemn him for that – he does meet Job where he is. And so that gives us permission to really go, “God, I cannot stand this anymore! What are you doing? I don’t understand this; this is so unfair. Do you not see this?’ And I think as the tragedies build up it’s essential to do that, and to be saying to God, ‘How could you let my loved one die? How could I even not go to their funeral?’ because these are huge things to carry and it is right to feel anger at death, just as when Jesus looked at Lazarus he felt that burning up of anger and the ‘not right-ness’ of it all. And that’s exactly what we need to do because God is the one powerful enough to take it.
P: Now I get a sense that we could talk about this for more than a little while because of the complexities of it and the tangents we could go off at could keep us occupied all day, but if you were to try, in a nutshell, from your experience, give people advice of how to cope with the mental, the emotional, the spiritual impact of being closed in, what do you think is the key thing that people need to do to start them on a journey that will deal with this, so that it becomes a thing of strength rather than weakness?
T: Yeah, there’s two things I’ve found helpful, and one is keeping a diary every day of three good things that I can thank God for, because even when nothing has gone right in the day we’ve still got something to be thankful for, whether that’s shelter or God’s love, and the second thing that I’ve found helpful is the discipline of finding yourself in God’s story. And I wrote a book called Those Who Wait: Finding God in disappointment, doubt and delay, where I followed four characters who were stuck in their lives in some way, just as we are right now, and in writing those stories and imagining their feelings and the complexities of that and how God met them in that, that helped me to spiritually process it. And so I’m really hoping that that does that for others. And it’s on sale at the moment on Kindle and in all good Christian bookshops.
P: That is the right thing to say, of course, and if you want to find out more about Tanya and her work, including her book Those Who Wait, which is a very excellent work which does speak into our current situation, and the last time we spoke to Tanya was about that, it’s TanyaMarlow.com. Have a look at her website for yourself and find out more and, as she says, her book is available on Kindle. Tanya, obviously this current situation makes you very vulnerable, we trust and pray that you will stay safe. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us…
Have you read Those Who Wait yet?
We’re in a weird time of waiting and uncertainty right now, and my book Those Who Wait is written to help you find God in disappointment, doubt and delay.
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