October was a crazy-busy month: I wrote a little, read a lot, I was filmed for a documentary, and I pushed myself harder than I have in a long while.
The weather was still pretending to be summer, and I got to escape for a day and go to a local fishing village and eat fish and chips in the sun. I love the fact that this has been a fishing village for centuries, and that this photo below could have been taken at almost any point in history. In some parts, the old ways still continue.
The boy was a chilli for the Harvest Festival – and I got to see him! That was my other trip out of the house this month. Here is Jon wearing his homemade costume (a pumpkin, painted red, sewn onto a hat), looking 20% like a Roman Catholic Cardinal, and 80% ridiculous.
At the start of October, I was filmed for a mini-documentary for the Change for M.E. campaign. I was hesitant about being involved, as I knew it would be a major energy expenditure and would wipe me out afterwards – and it also feels incredibly vulnerable talking about some of the ways that the health profession neglect, belittle or in some cases abuse M.E. patients. But it’s important, so I did it.
If you haven’t already seen it, I would love you forever if you took 35 minutes to watch it – I tell stories in it that I had only previously told to very few people. If you only have 15 minutes, start 20 minutes in. You get to see me! On film! Like an Actual Movie Star! (Except with no make-up and wet hair).
In the same week I was filmed for this mini-documentary, I was on tenterhooks, waiting to hear whether my very sick friend would make it through surgery. You may remember me talking about Jenny Rowbory, who is coming up to 11 years being bed bound with severe M.E. and a rare autoimmune condition – vascular Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. The treatment she received at the hands of doctors is appalling, and highlights the need for better education of doctors in these two diseases. You can read the story of her week in hospital here – it’s fairly heartbreaking.
Rugby world cup.
I watched rugby! For the first time in my life, I watched rugby and almost understood it. What’s more, I actually enjoyed it. For a spectator, it’s vastly superior to a football match. There’s always something happening – surfing over the line with the ball, or a kick, or wrestling someone to the ground, or a group hug, or a ballet jump. Plus, when there’s a foul, it’s not someone jumping in the air and clinging onto their ankle like a baby. If there’s a foul in rugby, you’re gonna see some actual blood. Scotland vs. Australia? Heartstopping and heart wrenching. (And a travesty). The final? Pure magic. The boy and I watched the semi-final and finals together, with my commentary, “there’s a scrum now because one of the players broke the rules, though I’ve no idea which player, or which rule. In the scrum they’ve got to hug each other for as long as their extreme manliness can stand it, and then someone ends up with the ball.” Call me a convert.
Both sets of parents came to visit, and I got to meet my almost-two-year-old niece for the first time. (Did I happen to mention that this last month was crazy-busy?)
My amazing friend Shona drove 180 miles to see me for just two hours. I have incredible friends. We’ve known each other for ages but this was the first time we’d met in the flesh, and was great to be able to hug her.
Didn’t see many friends this month, but I did finish a lot of books:
- Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey. If you are in a wilderness of a faith crisis, and wondering where you belong, this book acts as a sort of a pit stop – not so much a map for the way out as it is a companion for the journey. Bessey describes a faith shift as having a ‘rummage sale’ and sorting through which beliefs you want to hold onto, and which need to change. For her, this meant travelling through an upbringing of pentecostal charismatic faith, experiencing ministry in an American evangelical mega-church, engaging with liturgy and tradition, and settling in a small church – so it would include Christians from most backgrounds.
One of the things Sarah Bessey does best is articulate what others are thinking, and speak words of prophetic gentleness into that situation. Not exactly a theology book or a straight memoir, it is as if someone is sitting beside you, chatting to you over a cup of tea, sometimes telling her own story, sometimes offering theology, sometimes just describing how you’re feeling, and sometimes praying with you and for you.
Sarah Bessey is stick of rock that you buy at the seaside – cut her at any point and it says ‘Jesus’ all the way through. Her joy in Jesus is so genuine that it is attractive, and yet she has a way of inviting people into the space so that it feels like she is alongside rather than making any judgement. I most appreciated the chapters on suffering and lament, the evangelical hero complex and the one on calling and vocation. It’s a must-read for anyone going through a fair shift, or reevaluating the spirituality they were brought up with. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £9.99, Wordery £8.24, Eden or Amazon.com $9.99.
- Coming Clean – Seth Haines. This is a stunningly written, theologically rich, compellingly told memoir of a journey from alcoholism to sobriety, and from anger with God at unanswered prayer to a surrender to mystery. Seth Haines started drinking when his beautiful little son – emaciated, weak – was seemingly dying of a mysterious chronic illness for which the doctors had no answers. The structure of the book follows his journal of the first ninety days of his sobriety – but it’s far more sophisticated than a ‘dear diary’ format – it’s beautifully structured and crafted, with story, reflection and theology interwoven together.
The book is ostensibly on addiction, but actually the core of the book is about Seth’s inner journey to uncover the reasons behind addiction. What Seth Haines does superbly is deal with big questions of miraculous healing, what happens when prayers for healing go unanswered, and what it is like to live, suspended, in a state of chronic suffering. This is not just a book for those struggling with addiction, but for anyone who has ever struggled with unanswered prayer or a request for healing that was never answered. As someone who writes on the spirituality of suffering and lives with a chronic illness, I give this my highest recommendation – it is honest about the questions, and digs deep for – not answers, exactly, but a way through the questioning. The writing is a sheer joy to read. One of the best books I’ve read in a while – a must-read for anyone struggling with unanswered prayer or addictions of any kind. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £10.36, Wordery £8.32, Eden or Amazon.com $11.75.
- Know the Heretics – Justin Holcomb. This book could be retitled, ‘The bluffer’s guide to early church history.’ Despite the slightly sensationalist title, this book doesn’t have a witch-hunting or hysterical tone, and points out that ‘most of those dubbed heretics were usually asking legitimate and important questions’. It goes through each of the main systems of thought in the early church that challenged orthodoxy, and particularly the doctrine of the Trinity – Judaisers, Gnostics, Marcion, Docetists, Mani, Sabellius, Arius, Apollinarius, Pelagius, Eutyches, Nestorius, Socinus – summarises their argument, tells a little of the story surrounding their movement, the orthodox response to the respective heresy, and some implications for today. The genius of this book lies in its conciseness – it manages to communicate some very complex and confusing philosophies in memorable phrases and relatively few words, and is a great book for anyone wanting to quickly get a handle on the core issues of doctrine in early church history. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £8.99, Wordery £6.56, Eden or Amazon.com $11.70.
- Message 100 – Eugene Peterson. This is a new Message Bible designed for devotions. I absolutely love Eugene Peterson’s translation/interpretation, known as ’The Message’, so I won’t comment further on that. It is a ‘The Message’ Bible, but with two ‘twists’ – the first is that it’s arranged in roughly chronological order (e.g. Job before Exodus, most major and minor prophets sandwiched between 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles); the second is that it is divided into 100 reading ‘chunks’. The idea is that it is a devotional Bible with a difference – you are supposed to read it through, at your own pace, seeing the story afresh. I almost love this approach: but dividing it into 100 sections means that one of those sections (10-14 Bible chapters) is much longer than most people would allocate for a devotion. I found myself wishing they had divided it into 365 chunks, instead. But I know some people who swear by reading the Bible at speed, taking in the whole story and flow, and this would be the perfect tool for doing this. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £14.89, Wordery £11.88, Eden or Amazon.com $17.36.
- Journey to the Manger – Paula Gooder. This is a book designed for Advent, like a commentary, but with a devotional slant to it. I’d already read ‘The Meaning is in the Waiting’ as an advent book and loved it. This one is similarly excellent-quality theology and exposition, but the format is not quite so friendly to use as a devotional. The Meaning is in the Waiting is divided into 24 devotional chapters, making it easy to read over Advent, but this book is in 4 sections of two chapters each, so it’s better to see it as a book you read over the 4 weeks of Advent (or over the twelve days of Christmas) rather than a daily devotional. It covers the nativity and Christmas story from lots of different angles, and has Paula Gooder’s trade-mark intelligent, clear, thoughtful analysis – a real joy to read. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £12.99, Wordery £10.17, Eden or Amazon.com $21.00.
- Waiting on the Word – Malcolm Guite. This is a genius idea – a poem for every day of Advent and Christmas, with Guite’s own commentary. The range of poems is good (Christina Rosetti, Edmund Spenser, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Luci Shaw), and includes a few of his beautiful sonnets. The commentary is as much literary analysis as it is theological reflection, and what I most love about Guite’s commentary is the sense of excitement about poetry coupled with an encouragement to marvel in God more. It is a wonderful companion for Advent for anyone who loves poetry and theology. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £10.99, Wordery £8.51, Eden or Amazon.com $15.99.
- Overcoming Depression – the Curse of the Strong – Tim Cantopher. This book was previously published under a different title and publisher (without the ‘overcoming’ bit). It’s written by a psychiatrist. He makes clear that he is talking about the kind of depression that is ‘stress-related’ (as opposed to bipolar or other types of depression which are part of a person’s chemical make-up), which is to say that it is caused by overloading the system repeatedly until a fuse blows. This is why, he argues, depression affects the strong, not the weak – for it is they who constantly take on the burdens of others as well as themselves, until their body snaps and they develop a depressive illness.
He is very helpful at striking the balance in describing depression as a physical condition, which is not your fault, whilst at the same time offering suggestions of lifestyle changes you can make to give your body the best chance it can have to heal. Obviously, it is just one person’s philosophy about depression and its causes and cures, so should be treated as such, but I found it very helpful.
Some of the things I found most helpful: he is very good at explaining what the different anti-depressants do, and the fact that they don’t ‘artificially raise your mood’ but restore it to what it should be; he is also good at explaining the principle of pacing, not doing more than your body can manage, and listening to your body. From this point of view, his advice is good for anyone with a chronic illness which causes them limitations and requires them listening to their body – it’s one of the best descriptions of pacing I’ve found. (NB he is careful to state that he is not addressing M.E. or chronic fatigue syndrome, just depressive illness). If there is someone struggling with being diagnosed with depression for the first time, feeling guilty or like there’s a stigma to taking medication, I would recommend this book. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £6.29, Wordery £7.32, Eden or Amazon.com $15.00.
I’ve discovered Netflix! Making forays into Homeland (compulsive Spooks-esque spy thriller viewing); Orange is the New Black (really good, a sort of lesbian Shawshank Redemption – with more nudity and less redemption); Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (brilliant one-liners). Also watching a bit of The Big Bang Theory (mildly funny, but their ‘banter’ is actually really rude and often racist and misogynistic).
Fitness monitor – Mio Fuse.
I reviewed the Fitbit previously, and was not entirely happy with it. This new fitness device, however, is an excellent replacement and does everything I want it to do. If you want a fitness monitor that focuses on heart rate, this is a really good one. Most would use it to exercise within their optimum heart rate – because I have a chronic illness, I use it to make sure my heart rate doesn’t go too high. You can set it so that, on workout mode, it vibrates when your heart rate goes too high or too low (you can set the rates).
I got the idea from Jenny Spotila who follows Van Ness’ studies that indicate ME patients should keep their exertion out of the anaerobic zone. You can read that here. Jennie did a two-day maximum exercise test to find her aerobic threshold, and I’m having to guess what that would be for me. (Klimas and Sol recommended: 220 minus your age times 60%. Stevens recommends 220 minus your age times 50%.) I’ve found this to be really helpful.
The battery doesn’t last too long on workout mode (about 12 hours or so), but for most people doing a one hour workout per day this would last for ages. It also has a step counter which, although still approximate, seems to be more accurate than the Fitbit HR was. Timex heart rate monitors alert you when your heart rate is not optimum, but you need to be wearing a chest strap for it to work, whereas the Mio Fuse is worn on the wrist.
The Mio Fuse doesn’t measure sleep, but it can count steps (upstairs), paces, and be used for cycling, and you can set your own goals for all these things and synchronise with your iPhone or iPad app. I wish it vibrated or gave some warning when the battery is about to run out. The iPad app had a few issues in the last month, but they seem to have sorted it out now, and they have a responsive customer service team. Comes in Large or Small (the small is quite small). Highly recommended.
Petitions (please take one minute to sign these!):
- Ask The Lancet to retract the false claims of recovery for M.E. patients after Graded Exercise and CBT
- Request the government reviews the Nice guidelines and provide specialist care for M.E. patients
Have you read my book yet? If you have enjoyed it, I would be very grateful if you could leave even a one-sentence review (really – it doesn’t have to be long) on Amazon and/or Goodreads. It would be amazing if I could have 50 reviews on Amazon.co.uk and 15 reviews on Amazon.com by the end of the year. If you haven’t yet read it, please do download it for FREE! (See below).
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
I received a free advanced copy of many of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are.