Mirror, Mirror on the wall

Mirror, Mirror on the wall


It was mental health awareness week, and this year, that seems particularly pertinent. I’ve been pondering writing this reflection for a while, and this week seems like a good prompt to actually put it into words!

(OK, I procrastinated… and it’s now the week after mental health awareness week.) But that’s OK too… it turns out mental health crises don’t neatly fit their prescribed one week of the year!

This covid season has put everyone into an unexpected season, where our environment has changed, where we’ve had to rethink much of what we do, where we’ve faced restrictions or changes to much of what we considered ‘normal’ three months ago.

Many of you may already know, I have a mental health disorder label… one of the big ones…, I have Bipolar 1. There has been much talk about mental health in recent years, in helping to challenge the stigma… but most of that challenge has been around depression and anxiety. Many people seem to view mental health challenges as just being about the person… that it’s a sign of weakness… that they really should just try a bit harder and then it would all be OK.

In the disability world, there are the concepts of the medical model of disability and the social model of disability. The medical model views the disability as a problem that belongs to the person with the disability, and not really therefore of concern to others. So for someone that uses a wheelchair, trying to access a building with steps… the medical model suggests the issue is the wheelchair.

In the social model of disability, it’s a recognition that the system is one that disables the person. So in this example, the steps are the issue that creates the barrier for the person using a wheelchair.

This season, where so much has changed and many people that have not previously had challenges with anxiety, suddenly find themselves facing mental health challenges. This isn’t because suddenly many people have become ill, or weak… it’s because this season has changed the rules of society overnight, and many people didn’t have existing coping strategies for this. Society changed, the way that we live changed, and for many people this has created a situation in which anxiety is a really normal reaction.

My hope is that this experience will help us to have a great understanding and empathy for those facing mental health challenges related to other situations and experiences.

During my curacy, as I found myself in an ongoing situation that was particularly stressful for me, I found that spending time being creative really helped me, and I started attending an art class learning to paint and draw. 2.5 years into curacy, my GP signed me off work with stress, then anxiety and depression. I continued to go to my art class.

About three weeks after being signed off work, on an increased dosage of antidepressant medications, and still taking diazepam to help me be calm, I went to my class. It turned out that week we were doing self-portraits. Selina, my teacher, asked us to spend the lesson looking at ourselves in a mirror and drawing ourselves.

My first instinct was to run away. I wanted to be competent and capable, I wanted to see myself as competent and capable, I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. I was still shaking as I went outside the house, it had taken all my energy just to get to the class in the bookshop, and I wanted to run away. I didn’t. I decided to sit and try and draw myself. As I look back at my drawing now, one of the things I can see is the extent to which depression and anxiety can distort our perceptions of ourselves.

Self Portrait 1

In the three years since, I have now been diagnosed with various neurodiverse conditions too, and I am better able to articulate why I struggled so much with the environment in my curacy. But at the time, signed off with anxiety, I felt a complete failure, and as well as struggling with depression and anxiety, one of the things I found hardest of all was to have any compassion for myself. I wanted to be able to cope, I wanted to be the person I thought I should be, and I was cross and angry with myself for failing to live up to that picture.

A few weeks after the first drawing, on an increased dosage of antidepressants, it turns out that I’m one of the small percentage of people that react atypically to the medication… for me, that reaction is mania… and I even do that atypically. I was fortunate, due to the longer time in mania, before it was identified, I was able to stumble across ADHD and was referred for assessment. The mania induced by the medication escalated, I reached psychosis too, and I was sectioned in psychiatric hospital for a couple of weeks. After I came out of hospital, I continued with learning drawing and violin, to help me connect, to ground, to be. In hospital I had been placed on new medications, to sedate, to numb, to reduce the mania. I had to take anti-psychotic mood stabiliser medication. Two weeks after hospital, still on the very strong medications, I drew another self-portrait.]

Self Portrait 2


Last November, 2019, nearly 3 years after the first drawing, I was on retreat at St Beuno’s.

I was newly diagnosed with autism in autumn 2019, following diagnoses of bipolar 1, ADHD and sensory processing disorder soon after my second drawing.

I have been fortunate to find people that have been willing to walk alongside me, to hold hope and light for me on days and seasons where that seemed impossible. At the time of the last drawing, I was finally able to look myself in the eye in the mirror, and learning to look with gentleness and compassion on the person looking back.

Self Portrait 3

Looking at these drawings reminds me how much I can distort what I see in the mirror. How my own mood or situation can massively change how I’m willing to view myself, and the compassion and care I’m willing to give myself (and others.)

For anyone who is struggling with depression or anxiety, or other mental health challenges today, my heart goes out to you. My prayer is that you too will find people who will walk alongside you, and hold hope and light for you on days when it all seems impossible. I encourage you to have compassion for yourself, to be gentle on yourself, to recognise that there are some things that are beyond our control, and that it’s OK to not know how to cope with everything. My hope is that you will have the courage to be gentle on yourself, and to find the help or support you need to get through today.

I am so grateful for those who have walked alongside me (and still do!) None of us can ever know fully what is going on for someone else, even those we are close to. Praying for us all to encounter gentleness and compassion in ourselves and others.

I think what I’m really saying, is that it’s OK to not be OK, it’s OK to acknowledge that to ourselves, and although it’s hard, it’s OK to reach out, to connect with others and to ask for help.


Baby Tree Story

Baby Tree Story

I wrote a story  – Baby Tree, reflecting on my recent journey in discovering neurodiversity and mental health labels. Sharing in the hope that it encourages others facing their own unusual journeys through life.


Baby Tree_1

There once was a baby tree.

Generational Tree w

A longed for baby tree, born from generations of wild, lush forests and woodlands.

Leaves w

As this baby tree started to grow, she tried to be like the other trees around her.

Hiding leaves w

She tried and she tried. Eventually she tried to hide some of her branches to fit other’s pictures.

Drooping branches w

The tree got so sad that her branches drooped and all her leaves fell off.

finding roots w

As others wondered if the tree was completely broken, the tree stated to find her roots.

darkness and stillness w

She had been trying so hard to work out what sort of tree she was supposed to be, that she hadn’t noticed her roots starting to grow.

river of life w

The tree roots had discovered the river of life, flowing beneath and around her. The river of deep peace and abundant life.

story still being written w

The tree wanted this to be a nice story, with a neat, happy ending. But the tree is still growing, the branches are unfolding, the leaves are unfurling, and you will know the tree by its fruit. Most important of all, the tree has discovered her roots, holding her firm through the anxiety and uncertainty of a story that is still being written.

blooming tree

Living Lightly to Labels

Living Lightly to Labels

Luggage LabelIt was so lovely to be at Hopeweavers tonight for the last Art School this season, following the theme of Pilgrimage. At the start of the season, we used luggage tags to think about what was needed on the journey, and what we could leave to one side. At the time I was struggling with labels. I’ve been working on a painting, about living lightly to labels. Having received so many labels in recent years, there has been such life and growth through some of these labels, but also a recognition of the limitations and limits about labels that I’d held onto for so many years, and the potential narrowness of holding on too tightly to any label. Although my new labels have helped me to understand so much more of who I’ve always been, I still struggle to let go of deep-seated beliefs about myself that I’ve held for so long, ideas that no longer sit so well, but have become habit. Here are my ponderings from tonight.

What does it mean to be present to your presence

Here now.

To accept life, in all its fulness.


Am I willing to sit lightly to the labels.

Labels from others.

Labels from myself.


There has been so much life in labels,

Routes to health and wellbeing,

Gifts of breath,

Opening doors of insight and realisation,

Of acceptance and light.


And yet, there are limits and limitations too.

Lenses that can blinker and blind,

Threads that hold me back,

That restrict what I am even willing to consider possible.


I long for the familiar,

For others to give me the labels,

The structure,

The sense of achievement and acceptance,

For them to tell me who I am.


And yet, here, now

Present to your presence

Accepting your light

Am I brave enough to live wholeheartedly present?


Present to myself,

Present to your presence

To accept the gifts of passion and creativity,

Of insight and connection,

Of enthusiasm and energy.

To allow those gifts to flourish, unfettered, unrestrained.


What would it mean to live lightly to my labels?

To let go of their power,

To discover more of who you have made me to be?


Grant me the courage to accept the fulness of the life you have given to me,


To accept the gift of who I am,

To live wholeheartedly,

Here, now,

Present to your presence,

I am.

Choose Life

Choose Life

As I went away on retreat last week, I wondered what surprises I would encounter. As ever, the transition into silence is challenging, turning off email, turning off facebook, driving away from family and friends, away from the noise of the television, radio or computer, turning off my phone.

The last couple of months, starting in this new role here, settling into our new home, meeting so many new people… I’ve found it hard to make space. As I arrive, I feel desperate to be there, craving the silence, the space… but also nervous, wondering what I’ve been hiding from myself in all the busy-ness of life, wondering what I may encounter in the silence.

My temptation, as I go into silence, is to fill the silence with more busy-ness… with reading, with creative materials… even in silence, it’s possible to distract myself, to numb myself, to try and hide from myself. But I’ve chosen to be here, and my prayer as I start, is for the courage to be open to all that may arise, to trust the process.

As I start to settle into the space, I reflect on the last couple of years, all that has happened. The incredible intensity of some of those moments, the depths of spiritual encounter, all that I have come to know of myself. One of the challenges for me, as I spend time in prayer and meditation since last year, is that nothing compares to the intensity, the light, the connection of those moments. Am I willing to let go of those expectations, to be still in this space, in this time, now.

In the silence, I hear the way I talk to myself, the judgment, the criticism; always judging myself, not good enough for God, not good enough for me. Am I willing to get out of the boat, to walk with God, to take his hand, and take this next step into the unknown. Am I willing to be vulnerable again? I gently take my clay figure from year’s ago, and unwrap it, naked, out from behind the pink blanket. Am I willing to be present, here, in this moment now?

Thankful for my guide, Sister Jo, accompanying me in this silence, time to reflect together each day. She helps me to sit with the questions, to notice the glimpses, the signposts, to have courage to be open, to ask for help, to seek God in all that I find.

Good enough for God…

My heart’s desire, I want to be good enough for God.

I want the certificate and the shiny star,

I want to know I’m doing the right things.

Try harder, I will, try with all my might to be good enough for God.

I’ll follow the rule and encourage others too,

I’ll read the scriptures and pray, and sing and play,

All to the glory of God.

Am I good enough for God,

I want to get it right.

Try harder, I will, try, try and try again.

I want to control, to get it right.

I want to be sure that I’m good enough for God.


Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, says my God…

I haven’t got time to just waste with God…

Too busy, trying harder, to be good enough for God.


My child, I created you in our image,

Everything we made, I saw it, and it was very good.

Listen to me, my child,

Do not be afraid,

You have always been good enough for me.

Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.

Remember when you cradled your child, the joy, the peace,

All of creation in that moment.


Rachel, you are my child,

You don’t need to try harder, the universe is not yours to control.

Rachel, my child, I have loved you since before the world began,

Accept my breath as your breath,

Be still my child, and know that I am God.

Remember, my child, on the floor of A&E, on the bed, in the sand and the snow,

I was there.

Stop trying, my child,

Open your eyes,

Open your heart and see.

I am here with you,

Waiting for you to know

That you have always been…

Good enough for me.


Can I bask in God’s love, accept that I am loved, that I am loveable? Am I willing to challenge my deep-seated fear, that deep down, God made a mistake with me.

And so I take a pilgrimage, across the field, and up the hill. Space to pray in the rock chapel, to dwell with God. As I enter this chapel, struck by the gorgeous colours, the stained glass windows. As I sit with the rainbow of colours, one side of the chapel, the colours for me, blues, pinks, purples. On the other side, my colours for God, glorious reds and yellows. And in the quiet, I face the altar, I face the window at the front.



Green, the colour of ordinary time.

Green, mundane, ordinary.

Green. I don’t want to look at the green.

I hide my face, I look anywhere else, I don’t want to look at the green.

Why am I resisting the green, the ordinary, the colour of life. Over the coming days, I sit with this resistance. I wrestle like a child forced to do homework that I don’t want to do. If I was at home, I may even have mopped the kitchen floor, to get away from facing green. This is why I am on retreat. Even here, I cannot escape from me.

I take this into doodling, to playing with knots, the twists and turns of ordinary time. And out of my resistance, sitting in this space, this painting emerges. Painted onto an old canvas, lurking in the bring and buy shop at St Beuno’s. A canvas so large, I can’t work on it in secret in my room. Painting with these colours, these verses. I take courage to play with green, to take this step into ordinary time.

I remember the lessons I am learning in violin. A new thing for me, together with E, learning violin. Having to be a child again, knowing I don’t know what to do. No matter how hard I try, I can’t solve it in my head, it’s not an intellectual exercise. I have to be present in my body, listening, aware. Our teacher encouraging us to listen, to be aware, to notice, and each time for it to be a little better than the last. Is this violin I am learning, or life? Learning to walk like a child again, delight in each step, no fear in stumbling and getting up, again and again. Accepting, relaxing, being present in this moment.

I make my confession, confessing my pride, that I know better than God, that really, a mistake was made with me. And in that sacred space, the green of the woodland chapel, the green of my painting, I accept absolution, I begin to accept this love.

God’s breath, within me. The divine, dwelling in me, dwelling in you. The call to be gentle with myself, to let go of my judgments, my criticisms, to breathe in this love, this life. And my call to continue this journey, to stepping out, one step at a time, in ordinary time. Finding presence in the mundane, the ordinary. Accepting the ordinariness of me, letting go of my comparisons to intensity. Being willing to live, in this moment, right here, right now. I take off my boots, my feet feel the floor, for this place, right here, right now, this is holy ground.


New Year’s Presence

New Year’s Presence

As this truly remarkable year draws to a close, I pause to ponder and reflect. For a long time, new year has been a really significant part of my path through life. A time to notice what is happening, a time to pause and reconsider my rule of life… what is important for this time, where do I need to focus my energy, my thoughts, my prayers… what do I need to let go of. I have often put together a collage for the year ahead, capturing my hopes and dreams, my thoughts and plans.

This time last year, in the midst of depression and anxiety, I still continued with my pattern. To stop and ponder at new year, and to set my direction for the year to come. Construction of a large collage was beyond my energy and imagination at the time. Even coming up with my own words was challenging. Goals, aspirations and dreams all felt flat. I prayed with various bible characters, noticing their times of waiting, of wilderness.

On New Year’s Eve last year, I finally chose a bible verse for the year ahead. At the time it seemed like a bit of a cop out, compared to how I have approached it in previous years. With hindsight, I picked the most enormous goal ever. I selected Luke 10:27

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

In particular… loving your neighbour as yourself… and the challenge that if I did that, my neighbour’s would find me very unloving and uncaring.
So my focus last year, was to learn what it means to actually love myself – to learn to love the person that I am.

As I approach this new year, I feel even more daunted. The last twelve months have delivered on last year’s goal in spades! In ways beyond my wildest imaginings. Through situations and experiences that seemed so difficult, so tough… And yet… to achieve this radical paradigm shift… for me to have started to actually accept the person that I am… to get out of my lifelong comfort zone of feeling not good enough… of striving to achieve… something radical was needed, to force me to let go of my ‘normal’.

I am forever grateful for all that the last year has held, for the massive gifts within the most unexpected journey. I am now able to look in the mirror and smile at myself. This is the first year in my life that I’ve been able to do that, to actually look at myself in the mirror and be glad to know the person looking back, to accept the reality of who I am.

And now, I stand on the threshold of this near year. Throughout last year, the word presence has become more and more significant. The gift of being present to myself as I am, now. The privilege of being alongside other people, being present to them. The joy of dwelling in God’s presence, of living in the current moment of life, whatever it holds, and being open to all that it offers.
So, my word for the coming year is presence, and the bible verse that I have chosen is Psalm 46:10

“Be Still and Know that I am God.”

My picture for the year ahead, is one that I painted a few weeks ago, whilst on retreat. My guide encouraged me to sit and pray with the icon of friendship, and in particular to picture myself within this icon. What would it be like to live life, knowing that Jesus was alongside me.

Image result for the icon of friendship

Whilst the sentiment is really interesting, I hit a complete block. This is a picture of two men, dressed in brown, against a brown hillside… I really can’t picture myself in this image… no, I really can’t… it doesn’t fit at all. That is not what I look like… and that is not the picture that resonates with me of Jesus…

And so… I painted my own version of the icon of friendship… for me to pray with. To be able to imagine myself in this picture, I need to pray with a picture that makes that easier. I’m not sure that it will be any help to you.. but hopefully it gives you permission to create your own images, your own tools that are useful to you.


I am excited at the prospect of the new year. I have no idea where this journey will take me next, nor where yours will lead. I’m learning to live better within that uncertainty, to sit lightly to plans and goals. To enjoy the freedom and liberation, of living gently with myself, of accepting who I am… and how much easier that makes it to accept who other people are too.

As I write this, I realise quite how much my sermon from the Christmas midnight service is as much a sermon to me as it is for anyone else!

But I know that this is still a journey of transformation, as it is for all of us, so I’m excited to see where it will lead.

“Be Still and Know that I am God.”

Whatever this year has held… whatever is coming next year, praying that you will be able to live with the gifts of what has happened, and the blessings of this present moment.

Happy New Year

Reflections on Psalm 139

It’s twelve months now, since my initial sign-off with depression and anxiety. Whilst away on retreat, I decided to reflect on all that has happened in the last twelve months, to learn to live with the gifts from this incredible journey, and to start to look forward again. This happened in conversation with Psalm 139:


1 – O Lord, you have searched me and known me,

You know me inside out, all of who I am.

2 – You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You are in my thoughts through all of time,

you can follow themes and connections,

you are under the mattress and at the bus stop and on the tractor,

even to the furthest reaches of Beloved,

you know where I am,

you know me.

3 – You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even on the floor of A&E,

you were with me, you held my hand,

through blessed black white rosary man,

you know all of who I am and where I have been.

4 – Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

Through the stutter, through the fast and the slow,

Through everything and nothing

In dot dot dot    dot    dash

In the giggle, through the trees,

You know, you understand, you hear my voice.

5 – You hem me in behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

You called me to be in this place,

your servants laid their hands on me

and told me to wait, to be, here.

I struggled and I wrestled, I didn’t fit,

I trusted and I waited.

6 – Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

The gift of love, of light, of eternal I am, is beyond all words,

the peace that is beyond all understanding,

right here, now, if only I would open my eyes and accept the present,

the gift to be,

I am.

7 – Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

In the middle of the oceans, you are there,

In the bus stations in the dead of night, you are there,

In the charity shops and cafes, in the streets and on the train,

your presence is there.

8 – If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

In the Abbey, in the holly chapel, you are there, in my bed in Fordingbridge, you are there.

9 – If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

I ran to the top of the mountain in Japan, and in the fog, you were there.

I flew to the middle of the forest, up the longest river, and you were there.

I hid on the bus and under the bridge, and you were still there.

10 – Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Through the hand in the waters,

through the caped knight on the bus

through accidental Moldova

and Mississippi and Florida,

your right hand held me fast

11 – If I say, “surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night.”

As I wore my heaviest clothes and hid under my blanket coat

As I sought darkness and cold and the light hurt my eyes

when my words could not be trusted,

my voice was not heard.

12 – even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Your presence was with me

the strongest light and peace,

beyond all time, connecting all things.

Energy and flow, light and life, beyond all imagining

in the middle of the best/worst, lightest/darkest, messy, paradoxical night.

13 – For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I was knitted together in my mother’s womb,

the only womb that I could be knitted together in, was my mother’s.

The pain of my mother’s womb, was used to knit me together.

14 – I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, that I know very well.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made,

all of who I am, created by you,

in your image, I am a child of God.

Wonderful are your works,

exquisite is your humour.

15 – My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Through the darkness and the pain

the long nights in secret,

you saw me, knew me, loved me,

even when I could not love myself.

16 – Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

You are the God of all time, beyond all time, eternity in the present moment,

You are the energy, the breath, breathing life into all things.

Through all my days, in every moment, you whisper to me to choose life.

17 – How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

In that moment, a glimpse,

The vastness, the hugeness, the connection,

Awe and wonder, joy and peace, beyond my wildest imaginings.

18 – I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.

I try to hold on to that moment, a gift, the present, your presence.

A peace that lingers, that dwells in the depths of my being.

I come to the end, again and again.

Your gift to me, a grain of sand

The whole universe, all creation

In that grain, counted by you, known by you.

A gift to me, life in death, choose life, even now,

I am with you, do not be afraid

That grain of sand, symbol of hope.

19 – O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the blood thirsty would depart from me

O how I long for the easy answer

How I want the problem to be out there

To be other, to be in another.

O God, could you not make it that simple

If you could just change x, or move y

or if I could just be more patient, or thinner,

or sleep well, or more able, or breathe better…

or… the list goes on… and on…

O God, at least the paedophiles, the rapists

the polarisation of Brexit

or the systems that isolate and damage the poor and less able

surely those you could fix for me?

20 – those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil

I want that to be someone else,

yet I know that voice is within me

I want to change the past

I want to control the future

I don’t want to meet you in this present moment.

And yet your rainbow reminds me

of the covenant between you and every living creature

Every one…

not just the ones I like,

not just the ones who are like me (there aren’t many of them!)

Every single living creature

known by you, loved by you

even the ones I find really difficult,

who I fundamentally disagree with.

Even those who have hurt me

even those who still hurt those I love

O God, this hurts

it feels easier, safer, to stay in my box

to throw stones,

to blame ‘out there’ or ‘other’

21 – Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I do… the hate bit is easy,

I find my tribe, we feel cosy and safe,

we want others to be like us, to join us…

Yet you call me

to love the Lord my God, to love you,

with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

That’s so hard… I can try… for a moment.

And then you ask me to love my enemies, to love my neighbours, to love myself

Loving myself, accepting who I am, now

actually getting to know me, is a gift

it’s a hard, winding, unexpected road

Loving my neighbour,

actually being present to them in that moment

not fixing, or categorising

listening, being with them, hearing their story

am I willing? am I able to do that?

And loving my enemy?

am I really willing to see you, within ‘them’

22 – I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

Because that is so much easier,

to see them as other,

for the problem to be them.

23 – Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

You know me God, you know me before I know myself.

You know all my thoughts,

even the ones I don’t want you to know,

you know the shame, the embarrassment, the hurt and the pain,

the fear, the anger and the frustration.

You see all that I am, you know me,

and still, you love me.

24 – See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

You know there is wickedness and darkness in me,

and still, you love me.

You invite me to choose life

and even when I don’t, when the fear, the pain is too much

you love me

you breathe your life into me,

and the invitation is still there…

to choose life.

* [Scripture quotations are from] New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Nine months on… I could have had a baby! Rebirth & Recovery

Nine months on…. I could have had a baby in nine months!

Instead, in those nine months I’ve been on a journey, of death and life, of rebirth and recovery. It wasn’t a journey that I had planned; but it’s also not one that I would want to have missed. It isn’t easy, there has been intense grief and guilt, frustration, exhaustion and fatigue. And yet, in the darkness and pain, there is also light and life.

Nine months ago, I started on my own personal romp through the DSM manual of mental health diagnoses, initially collecting diagnoses of low mood, depression and anxiety. I took an innocent looking white tablet to help, prescribed by my doctor. Little did any of us know what would happen next… it turns out that I’m one of the small percentage of people who react to anti-depressants with a sudden mood-switch into mania – although it took 10 days before the doctors were able to recognise the switch.

In the mania there was such an intense sense of connection, of the connectivity of all things, of the deep connectedness of each of us to all of life. There was also an intensity of the present moment… all I could do was exist in each moment. It’s a little like the first time you see the baby on an ultrasound, the miracle of life, growing inside you… the awesomeness of everything.

All my usual quirks went into overdrive in the mania, as I became an extreme, intense version of my usual self. I pinged between having the working memory of a goldfish – not being able to hold a thought long enough to get to the end of a sentence; to hyperfocus – writing 40k words overnight.

Suddenly Thomas Merton’s True Self/ False Self took on new meaning for me, as I could no longer rely on my intelligence, my capability. Any competence or confidence that I would usually put on is lost to me. In the quiet of night, stripped of all my defences, there is such a sense of God, of light and life, of peace… and all I can do is be, is be who I am. I can’t even rely on Descartes ‘I think therefore I am’… I can’t trust my thinking, even that, I have to let go.

And then, with help from my colleagues and my bishops and my fabulous, patient husband, I go to the hospital. As I’m left at the hospital, I wonder if I’ve said goodbye to all those that I love. It turns out my sampling of mental health conditions is set to continue, as the doctors try to help, I discover the ‘joys’ of psychosis – another tick on the mental health bingo chart. As I encounter hallucinations and delusions, I can no longer even be certain whether I am alive or dead. Is this what is meant by dark night of the soul? This is a new liminal space for me, as I wrestle with angels.

And yet, there is also such peace, such liberation in those moments too. All the trappings of life, of status, of ability… they’re meaningless in those moments of life and death. All I can do is be present, be open to the moment, to choose life.

At one time, all I ‘had’ was a grain of sand, found on my bed. And yet in that grain of sand was everything I needed to know, all the assurance of life and love, of knowledge and connection, the encouragement to choose life, even in that moment. That grain of sand existed, it was tangible, I could see it and touch it, the grain of sand made by God, known by God, counted by God. That tiny grain of sand, gave me such hope. I tried to hold onto it, my ‘possession’, my connection to the wider world… but even that grain of sand I gave away, a gift, to someone else that needed hope… my hope that this grain of sand would give them the hope of life too.

As I look back… those were the ‘easy’ times. There is such intensity about that time, such connection, all I could do is be in that moment, be present to myself, be open to those around me. It is the light that I found in that darkness, the whisper to choose life, the realisation that the grain of sand held all I needed to know.

And then comes the much longer journey of recovery… I’m still on that journey. There have been more diagnoses, bipolar, ADHD, autism, sensory processing…. Have I collected enough labels yet? There have been more medications, more side effects. I’ve had to go back to basics, relearning breathing, eating, sleeping.

I’ve had to live with brain fug, with fatigue, with not knowing one day to the next what energy I may have, and whether I’ll be able to put words into sentences. And that journey continues.

As I gain in strength, in confidence, I can feel the temptation to try and shrug off what has happened, to try and get back to ‘normal’, to put back on my old self. (I’m not sure that I ever was ‘normal’… whatever that may be! As someone recently told me, by me being at the more extreme end of many spectrums, it allows others to be nearer the ‘normal’ centre!)

This past nine months also feels that it has been a time of rebirth for me, of connecting with myself, of connecting with others. I’ve had the luxury of being stripped of all that I knew, all I could rely on.

As I prepared for ordination a few years ago, others talked of the profound change they felt in themselves at ordination. I didn’t feel this at the time. However, as I have come back to priestly ministry this year, I have felt a deep shift has taken place within me.

As I have lead services and presided at the Eucharist this year, on several different occasions people have described that I have been glowing. From within, I feel such a privilege to be able to stand at the altar and share the eucharist. The mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the paradox of brokenness and such love, the gift offered to all.

I feel humbled, in my own way, to have experienced my own sense of death this year and life through death. As Jesus said, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

And so, nine months on, there’s no baby to show for it… but I’m still here, learning to live again, to love again… to love others and to love myself; profoundly grateful to all the many people that have supported me, loved me and encouraged me over the last nine months; particularly thankful for my family, who have lived through this with me and continued to love me even when I’ve been very hard to love; praying that you will continue to encourage and support me over the next days and months of recovery and life.

Mental Health… some thoughts on my journey so far

IMG_2245Testimony that I gave today at Worcester Park Baptist Church


The statistics tell us that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. For me, it turned out that this year was my year! I understand that Rowena shared some of my story with you earlier in the year. As we’re staying with my sister-in-law this weekend, who has moved to Worcester Park, I offered to come and share something of this journey with you in person.

Many of you will remember me from years ago, I grew up in this church with my family in the same season as Ali here. I was a member of Girls’ Brigade, I was baptised here in 1989, and I preached my first sermon here (well, half sermon, I shared a sermon with Dad – Peter Clark, on Hosea!) I’m now ordained priest in the Anglican Church, and I work with a group of 7 churches in and around Fordingbridge in the New Forest.

For me my mental health journey started during last year. It started very gradually, and it’s only when we looked back that we could see that the start of depression had crept up over the course of the year. By the time I went to see the doctor I had reached the point where my whole body was shaking, but even still, it was really hard to go and see the doctor, to stand there and say, I don’t know how to carry on, I need some help. As a minister, I’m used to being there for others, to hearing their stories, to caring… it was hard to admit that I too needed some help.

I was signed off work with depression and anxiety, and given some medication to try and help calm me down and reduce the symptoms. It was really difficult, I’m used to being confident, capable, energetic and enthusiastic… and yet at my lowest some days my biggest achievement was getting dressed and possibly getting to the Coop for some milk.

When I was first signed off, people were lovely, I received lots of encouraging cards & support. Most of us know someone that has, or has had depression… however, we’re not always good at realising that depression is more than just feeling a bit down for a few days… it hadn’t changed my faith, it’s not that I didn’t trust in God, faith doesn’t stop someone getting depression… I had some good friends that were willing to just come and visit me at home, to sit with me and not expect me to be well enough at that point to go out to social situations with lots of people. Going through the door of church and facing that many people felt impossible for a time. It was very precious having friends willing to ask how I was feeling today, without expecting me to be ‘better’, or to have to put a good face on it.
I made a decision early on, to be open about what was happening to me. Especially as a minister in a small community, I figured there would be a story going round about what had happened, so I wanted to let people know what was actually happening, and so I posted on facebook, letting people know that I had depression and anxiety.
In the new year, things changed, I had an unusual reaction to the anti-depressants. For me, they triggered an episode of mania, and eventually I was hospitalised. In the days before I went to hospital I had some really interesting experiences. It was during this time, when my brain had gone into overdrive, that we noticed enough of my quirks and were able to identify that I may have some other mental health conditions, and my GP referred me for further assessment.

Even just the possibility of the diagnoses was huge for me… and healing for me came in the form of acceptance, hearing the insight into who I am and how my brain works. On the Saturday before I went to hospital I looked at the mirror and smiled at myself for the first time in my life… a smile of acceptance… this is me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know me.
The line from the song that we’ll hear today came to mind – Will you love the ‘you’ you hide… I suddenly realised that I’d been hiding from myself all my life, trying to fit in, to conform… and yet I’ve spent my whole life feeling like a square peg in a round hole… this healing acceptance was me starting to accept more fully that I have been made in the image of God, and these aspects of me, they are who I am created to be… I may have been hiding from myself for years…
My new year’s resolution this year was reflecting on Jesus command to love God, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves….
I realised that if I actually loved others as I loved myself… then others would also get this barrage of self-criticism and frustration from me.

My resolution at new year was to learn to love the person that I am…
be careful what you wish for!….
For me, the mania gave me an openness, an expanded mind that was able to shuffle the pieces and see myself through this new lense… a lens that is still there, even now that the mania has gone.
This was an interesting time, as I realised quite how different our spiritual language is from our mental health language… the night before I went into hospital I had the most intense vision experience, as I felt so close to God and accepted and loved just as I am. I felt full of light and love, and a deep, deep sense of peace and calm. and all I had to do was let go… let go of my expectations of myself… let go of my fears… just breathe, be aware of my body, in the present moment, and allow God’s spirit to breathe through me.
The following day, in medical language, this suddenly gets described in terms like ‘hallucination’.
I’m still working on the language thing, how do I integrate both the spiritual and the mental health aspects of me…. there’s just one me! I don’t want to deny the intense spiritual experience that I had that night, I feel deeply touched, and transformed by what I encountered that night… but I’m also aware that I need to work with those wiser than me as I continue to recover, to discern the ongoing truth of that experience for me… and what of the experience I need to let go of.

While I was in hospital, there was a wall of inspirational butterfly pictures, with inspiring phrases on them. I asked if I could borrow one of them to put on my wall. The nurse said that no, that wasn’t possible – a decision she may later have regretted!, I decided to continue to post openly on facebook about my situation. At one point I described my stay in hospital as an NHS sponsored retreat! I posted on facebook about the butterflies, and asked people to send me butterfly pictures to put on the wall in my room. Apparently those detained in a mental health institution don’t usually receive that much incoming mail!
I was so encouraged by those butterflies, and I still have them at home now. Because I had let people know where I was and what was happening, they were able to send me their love and encouragement.
It was quite a hard thing to do though, to let people know about the mania… somehow depression is easier to be public about, as most people have some understanding of it… mania, and being sectioned in hospital takes you to a whole new level of ‘being different’…. and people have a lot of fear and apprehension. Having been public about it, there are some people that are still not able to have a conversation with me about it, as they can’t cope with it… we’re not supposed to talk about mental health stuff… especially the more weird bits of it…
and yet… by talking about it… others started to see that I’m still a person in there… I’m still me… going through these different experiences… However, even with being open about it… it can still feel very isolating.
For 3 months I wasn’t able to drive, I am on very strong anti-psychotic medication which acts as a huge sedative… so I was tired all the time. It was very hard to commit to things… I couldn’t plan when I would be awake, sometimes my speech was really slow, often it was like trying to operate through a brain fug… connecting with people was really difficult.
I’m finding on the difficult days even now, that when I look ahead, and try and work out the future… it’s really difficult, I get anxious.. . I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t know how much my experiences this year, and other’s reactions to it will affect my future.
When I look at what has happened, it’s easy to get frustrated and angry… and yet when I manage to stay in the present moment, with the people that I am with, to be still, to breathe, to connect… as the Psalmist says to be still and know that I am God… I know that I am OK… and that God is with me…

And mental health will be an ongoing reality for me. During February I was diagnosed with four new labels… we found out that I have ADHD, I am on the autistic spectrum, I have sensory processing disorder and I also have bipolar affective disorder. It is a lot to take in, I’m still processing it!

I am still taking medication for some of it, and there are other medications and therapies that I will be able to explore too, as I continue to recover. These are all conditions that I will have had all my life, they are part of being me… and they each bring with them incredible gifts, as well as challenges.
In some ways, the overwhelming number of labels has forced me to not get too attached to any one label… they’re helpful in their own way… but if we only see the labels… we don’t see the people. Sometimes the labels can act as a barrier… with people bringing their own pre-conceived ideas, and just seeing me through that filter.
At the end of the day, each and every one of us is made in the image of Christ… and sometimes when we pray for healing with mental health, that healing doesn’t necessarily mean suddenly becoming ‘normal’… whatever that is… (I’m not sure that I’ve ever aspired to be ‘normal’) sometimes healing can be the acceptance and the strength to put one foot in front of the other, to accept that this is who we are, and to start loving the person that we are… but often want to hide.
Lucy asked me what can we do as churches to help? I don’t have all the answers, there are various groups putting together resources that can help, but these are just a few of my observations,
I think as a church community, we want to be friendly and welcoming, to be inclusive for people regardless of their physical or mental health. Having been the other side of it, having people that were able to be alongside me, able to listen, encourage and support – even on days when facing a large group of people seemed impossible, people that remembered me, sent a text, checked up on me. People who were still able to recognise Rachel, regardless of the labels, or the particular difficulties on any given day, and able to be with me, to value me even when I couldn’t do very much. Who could still see that I was a person, and not defined just by a mental health label…
I think sometimes we can feel scared, we don’t think we know the ‘right’ thing to say… I’m pretty sure avoiding the person and saying nothing is almost certainly the wrong thing to do! Continue to treat them as people, ask how they are, sit alongside them…. And this may be for a long time….there aren’t necessarily quick fixes… mental health journeys can be long, lonely and isolating… hopefully as churches we can help people to feel less lonely & isolated.

One of the things I found hardest in my mental health journey is that I seemed to lose my voice, I felt no-one could hear or see me any more…only the fear and caution labels.

For me, the people that have made the biggest difference in this journey this year have been those that have been able to just be alongside me, to take me as they find me, to listen and encourage… but not be disheartened when there isn’t a magic fix or cure. I feel sure of God’s light in this journey, and although there have been some really dark times, and still are… it’s a season of putting into practice the question of trusting God, one day, one moment at a time. 

For me it’s remembering that God is always calling me, calling us into his light, his glorious, technicolour light –whatever we are going through, it is remembering that each and everyone of us is precious in God’s sight, made in the image of God.

Some organisations that can help:





I’m pink, therefore I am?

So… it’s Easter Sunday… I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to Easter quite as much as I have this year… and an extra treat, as we have an Easter Vigil service here on Saturday evening, so I could actually re-encounter pink again on Saturday night – I may have worn my pink boots and had my pink hair again…

There has been something for me this Lent about becoming. About being willing to let go of what I hold precious, about being open to becoming, to understanding something of the potentiality in me, the calling to be all that God has made me to be. About the calling on not just me, but on each one of us to flourish, to discover who we are, and to continue becoming the people that we are made to be.

And so this Easter, for me it is remembering that Good Friday is on the way to Easter Sunday, the light and life of God. I’ve been reminded, recalling my journey into pink in the first place, and my journey through this Lent that God never tires of embracing us, of surrounding us with his infinite mercy. He meets us in darkness and disappointment, he meets us on the journey.

Today I’ve been noticing the story of Peter – Peter who denied that he even knew Jesus when he was arrested, Peter, who on that first Easter day doubts that Jesus is alive, and needs to go and see for himself, to check the story…. But Peter who is then entrusted to go out and preach, to share the good news of.

It’s a story of reality, of real people. Peter who has been to that low place, of complete rejection of his close friend, the death of his close friend, and who now encounters the life, the transformation, the love, offered by his friend.

For me, pink is a reminder of that life, it is a reminder that I can’t do this in my own steam, that the life we are called to is not one of ego, but of service. That we are each called to let go of those things that we hold close, the things that can get in the way of us encountering God, and reaching out to those around us.

I’ve rather cheekily re-written the great Cartesian motto, but this Easter, it feels right for me to take back the pink. It is my own story of God’s transforming love, working in my darkness and disappointment. It is a visible reminder to myself to keep on becoming, to keep being open to all that I am, to all that God has made me to be, to keep letting Christ work in me and transform me.

All week I’ve had great difficulty remembering what the Maundy means, in Maundy Thursday – and it’s this – it’s the new commandment that Jesus gave us – to love one another – as I have loved you, so you must love one another.

So today is a day to celebrate, to be open to the beautiful future, the abundant life that Jesus offers us… to let the light of Easter break through, bringing hope and love and light to each one of us and to the whole world.


My sermon on 10th April followed up reflecting on some of these themes.

Letting Go

This has been an interesting journey through holy week this year – we’ve been in all our local primary schools exploring the holy week journey with the children. Several of the children have asked questions about Good Friday… and why is it called Good. It got me to wondering again, what does Good / Holy / Suffering / Long Friday mean, and what is its significance for me this year?

We see the awfulness of human beings, the distortions of power, the need to control others that is played out in the Crucifixion. We see the fear of difference, the spread of hatred, the cycle of terror that leads to Jesus being on that cross.

And yet, in that pain, we hear Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those that put him there, we hear him talking to others and still pointing the way to God’s love. We see him willing to let go, to let go of his very life here, to submit to that painful death.

Through it we see something more of God, whose love goes beyond and deeper than the mess and cruelty and power-games and institutions created by humans.IMG_7488

What does it mean for me, as I come towards the end of this journey through Lent without pink. As I reflected on the cross I made this clay cross, and at the bottom I filled it with little pink bits – beads & sequins – bits to remember this journey through Lent, this offering of my identity, this letting go of what I have created of me… and the encountering again of the awesomeness of the love and mercy of God.