What I read in April 2019 (Part 2) A New Day by Emma Scrivener

I received a parcel of three books from IVP (Intervarsity Press UK) before Easter as a Twitter giveaway. I decided to read A New Day first as I had heard of the author and her husband (Glen Scrivener). The book has the most attractive cover of the three! Moving On From Hunger, Anxiety, Control, Shame, Anger And Despair is the strap-line.

Emma Scrivener is a young mother, who has personal experience of anorexia nervosa. Her first book, A New Name, (which I haven’t read) was very well-received. A New Day is her second book. It is well-organised in sections named after parts of a 24-hour period, moving from partial darkness, through night into day. It is full of sensible, helpful advice about all kinds of mental health problems: eating disorders, panic attacks, self-harm, depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, SAD, schizophrenia and PTSD, perhaps resulting from abuse. It also addresses diagnosis and treatment.

Letters from sufferers are included as is advice on how to receive or offer help. When professional help is required and when/how the Church can help is discussed. The book is written from a Christian perspective and debunks the myth that Christians should not experience problems with their mental health.

I found this book particularly appropriate for the approach to Easter and finished reading it on Easter Day. The theme of moving from darkness into a new day or from an old way of life to a new one was timely. The explanations of why people’s problems take particular forms helped my understanding of some people I know. Having accessed mental health services myself in the past, I can vouch for the authenticity of this book.

There is a useful appendix with resources.

This is a book, which should be read by church leaders and those with safeguarding responsibilities as well as people affected by the mental illness of friends and family members. Recovering patients may also find it helpful. (I suggest that patients in crisis are not ready to read books of this kind.)

What I read in December 2018 (Part 1)

The first two books I read in December 2018 were nonfiction.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig was on a display in the library for the Costa Book awards. I have not managed to find a connection between this book and the awards shortlist, but perhaps someone can help me here.

The author tweets as @matthaig1 and I had read lots of his Tweets without knowing anything about him. This is a book based on the author’s experience of breakdown and the coping skills he has developed. It is written in short chunks in a manner suitable for readers of any faith or none. I really enjoyed it and can identify with many of the issues.

The effect of social media on people’s lives and mental health is a main topic. Antidotes include a film I have watched recently with my friends from the Ladies’ Bible study group and a book I read in French in recent years, but have failed to record in my list of books I have read! I must be doing something right.

Woodbine Willie: An Unsung Hero of World War One by Bob Holman is a book I borrowed from a friend. She brought it to a prayer meeting to inspire us. I had not heard of Woodbine Willie, whose real name was Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, so I asked to borrow the book. This year being the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, it has been difficult to avoid information about battles. History is not my favourite subject, but I am interested in people. This is a book about an extraordinary man. The historical background and the beliefs of the leading churchmen of the time make it an interesting read. I have recommended it to hubby, who enjoys history.



Anxiety and panic attacks

For Time to Talk Day 2017 I have decided to write about two common problems. They are not unrelated. If you are troubled by anxiety with or without panic attacks, I hope you will find something useful here.

People, who are happy-go-lucky and sail through life as if they hadn’t a care in the world, do not understand what it is like for people who think too much. If you are one of those lucky ones, please read on!

Some people worry about everything. They just don’t seem to be able to help it. It has become a habit. It can become debilitating, especially if it leads to panic attacks.

Let me give you an example of a worry and how to stop it developing.

The worrier knows where a friend or family member is travelling and has given them some advice. The time for them to arrive at their destination has past and they have not posted anything on social media to say they have arrived. The person travelling has not been on this route before, but the worrier has. The worrier is aware of all the dangers along the way. Risk assessment has become a fashionable exercise. People have had serious accidents on that route. Some have even died. Although the worrier has not asked the traveller to let them know they are safe, it is second-nature to become anxious. An escape mechanism is needed. In this case, the worrier can be reassured by choosing a different thought pattern.

The person is an adult with experience of making journeys in new places. They do not post on social media every day. The worrier is not responsible for the behaviour and safety of the other person. Contacting them would be an unnecessary nuisance to the other person and would make the worrier look foolish. It is possible to set this worry on one side and have a good night’s sleep.

The alternative of allowing the worry to take over and possibly result in a panic attack is best avoided. Some panic attacks are due to allowing worries to escalate. Others may come for no obvious reason.

Panic attacks come in different forms. One common form is hyper-ventilating, where the breathing is affected. However, like frightened animals, humans may find that other bodily functions are affected. They may have the runs, for example. Or, like a rabbit frozen in the headlights of an on-coming vehicle, they may be unable to act. Or they may become hot and bothered for no apparent reason.

Like anxiety, panic attacks may be averted.

For example, a thought comes to a sufferer: they may have forgotten to switch something off. They are in a situation, where they cannot immediately go and check or ask someone else to. They can dismiss the thought before it worries them sick, bringing on a panic attack.

These coping strategies need practice.

First the worrier has to recognise that they are worrying. Then they have to decide whether they need to do anything about the worry or whether it is not their responsibility. If action helps, fine. If not, perhaps they can set their own mind at rest, as in the first example above. If not, doing something to take one’s mind off the worry may help. At night silently praying or reciting poetry may help. (If anxiety affects one’s sleep, worrying about not sleeping does more harm than good.) In the daytime, distracting activities need to occupy the mind, such as writing, doing puzzles, or physical activities, requiring concentration.

Getting enough rest can also help to avert worrying, but there are times, when it is necessary to keep going in spite of tiredness.

Talking to a sympathetic person can be helpful. However, many people do not understand.

Medical help is available for anxiety. I have resorted to it in the past, but I prefer to use the methods outlined above. The word I have chosen for this year is Trust. If  I really trust God I have no need to become anxious.