Not Going Out? The Hidden Cost

I received an email from an old friend who just happens to be a retired consultant psychiatrist. He shared his concern about an impending ‘avalanche of mental illness’ following this period of lockdown. I share his concern and pray often for those who are closed in with issues of the mind that are being intensified and increased by this enforced isolation.

One factor of this is the absence of the grace of touch for many millions. I recognise that I am greatly blessed in this regard because I am at home with my loving wife, but for so many, it may be weeks since they touched anyone, or were touched in return. I learned the value of human touch in Intensive Care, which I tell more about in Through the Storms. I had been there for two or three weeks on that occasion, hooked up to the many machines that were keeping me alive. Every now and then a nurse would have to come and take my pulse the old way, holding my wrist gently between thumb and fingers. I relished those moments of simple kindness, physical contact with a fellow human being. Touch brings reassurance, the sharing of life, closeness, and science tells us, can even increase our store of the well-being hormone Serotonin.

If you have a pet, you will know how much they mean in this regard. If not, then the absence of being touched is just one of the pressures you are facing. Can I just point you to the One who reached out and touched so many while He was on Earth? Jesus was criticised for His willingness to embrace those who were untouchable in society, such as lepers and people of low moral reputation. Some years ago we used to sing; “When I feel the touch of Your hand upon my life, it causes me to sing a song, that I love You Lord”. It may seem a bit sentimental but it is real to many millions of believers in Christ who are finding that He is there with them in their isolation at this time.

I am also grateful for the technology that can help us all keep in touch at this time. Our church is using Live-streaming via YouTube to broadcast hope-giving services each Sunday morning at 10.45am which can then be viewed later if you wish. Just search for Vazon Church on YouTube or go to the church website http://www.vazonelim.org.gg. We are also part of #stayconnect Guernsey which is making wifi and tablets available to those who are unable to keep in touch with loved ones, and if you know anyone who could benefit from a free loan or gift of such things, please contact me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com and we will try to help.

Meanwhile – some folk are recommending my book as ‘essential reading’ for the lockdown, and I would really encourage you to get hold of a copy. Here’s a link you can use, https://amzn.to/3ayFJdj, or email me at the address above and I will send you a signed copy by return with an invoice for bank transfer. But above all, stay safe – in every way – including mentally! God bless.

Tough Times

Who could have foreseen this global lock-down just a few short weeks ago? And that it would reach from the deep interior of China through most of Asia, the Middle East Europe, the Americas and now even deep down into Africa and Australasia. A tiny virus invisible to the human eye, has virtually grounded the world’s entire fleet of aircraft and shocked the global stock markets. Science is running to catch up with a storm of almost biblical proportions.

But in this crisis the real issues are not trans-national, nor even governmental. They are personal. Grief, fear and loneliness are even bigger pandemics than Corona virus even if the latter is the cause. People are desperate.

It is into this melee that I am glad that my book Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts, has been published. I marvel at the timing of this. The book came out on February 20th just as the pandemic started to a begin its assault on the UK. In it, I speak about my own battles with fear, isolation, disappointment and grief. I have also had several experiences of actually being in Intensive Care, sometimes for several weeks on end, so I can empathise closely with those affected by it now, or whose loved-ones are in that environment.

If you would like a copy of the book, click here for Amazon UK, where you can obtain either a Kindle version or a paperback. If you have any difficulty, email me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com and I will get you a signed copy.

Also, you can get weekly help, hope and encouragement in your own home by tuning into the Live stream from my church, Vazon Church Guernsey, as below. You are not alone! We will get through this storm.

When Streets Become Rivers

Raging floods have hit Britain this week and more rain is threatened. Storm Dennis has moved away but in its place torrential rain has saturated soil and swollen rivers beyond tolerance. An Environment Agency boss, David Throup, who manages the area of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, tweeted that the River Wye has hit levels not seen in 110 years. According to the BBC, the Agency has said that there is still a “heightened flood risk” in the Midlands with five severe warnings – meaning there is a danger to life – still in place near the Welsh border around the rivers Lugg, Severn and Wye.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in the worst-affected areas, which include south Wales, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. You can only imagine the distress and sadness of the people whose lives are affected, and whose homes are inundated with mud, flood water and sewage. Suddenly, the issue of climate change becomes less of a theory and more of a daily reality.

Life’s storms are very real. In a moment, what was chugging along nicely can be turned on its head. Where once were security and familiar circumstances there can come uncertainty and chaos, bringing with them fear and apprehension on a grand scale. For me it was the sudden onslaught of devastating chronic ill health. Along with it came a flood of problems like – how will we pay our rent? Who will provide food for our family? Will I even survive?

Thank God that we don’t have to face life’s storms alone. God says ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.’ (Isaiah 43:2). The storms of life can be endured and overcome when we know the active, manifest presence of Almighty God with us. That’s why I am thrilled to have published this week my latest book ‘Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts‘. If you are going through devastating storms right now, or you know someone who is, get a copy of this book for yourself or to give to them. Click here to order one in paperback or Kindle format. Or you can email me to obtain a signed copy at throughthestorms750@gmail.com or fill in the contact form on my home page.

Don’t wait till the waters rise or the floods come. Remember the motto of the Scouts movement; ‘Be Prepared!’

Storm Ciara Wreaks Havoc

Millions of pounds worth of damage caused by high winds, combined with spring tides at the coast, record levels of rain, hail and sleet, and sadly, one man killed by a felled tree. That’s the story of Storm Ciara in Britain this weekend. Lives and livelihoods ruined by flooding, travel disrupted and widespread power cuts all coincided to create the mayhem of what has been described as ‘the storm of a decade’.

But is this so unusual? In these days of climate change and global warming we may well see much more of this. And, of course, this reflects life doesn’t it? Just when you think that one of life’s upheavals is past, another looms into sight! I was planning to call my latest book ‘After the Storm‘ but decided to change it to ‘Through the Storms‘ when I realised that these attacks on our well-being never really end – they just morph into the next one! Whether it’s serious illness, as it was for me over 22 years, or divorce or debt or danger, life is not short of stormy weather!

So, if you want to read more of how my faith in God carries me through my storms, and find out a few pointers to how you can cope when life hurts – contact me using the form on my home page or email me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com for your own pre-publication copy. It would be great to hear from you.

Build Storm Defences Today

When storms hit, it is best to be ready. Sea defences are a vital part of the infrastructure near my home on the West Coast of Guernsey. Here, we are exposed to the huge swells that roll in from the Atlantic, driven by powerful westerly gales. If combined with a high tide, this can produce flooding and causes huge seas to crash over the sea-walls.

Being ready means you don’t wait until the storm comes before you prepare. Life has plenty of storms to throw at us. In my case, 22 years of agony with frequent hospitalisations and surgeries. In the aftermath of my physical storm I now wrestle with mental ones – as waves of PTSD hurl themselves against my defences. Your scenario will be different, but even if all is calm just now, getting ready is still wise.

My book, Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts, is written as part of personal storm defences. It doesn’t presume that things are rough for you just now, but offers insight, advice and encouragement for when it does. It also gives you a resource in your hands to offer others as they battle with the elements.

Contact me on the form below, or email me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com to order your own signed copy today. £8.99 plus £1.75 p&p in the UK. Or, you can pre-order the book at Amazon by clicking here https://amzn.to/2SfwRSO.

Does Britain have an Opioid Crisis?

Does Britain have an opioid crisis? Dr Michael Mosely thinks so. In last week’s Horizon programme on BBC 2 he highlighted the dreadful statistics from across the pond in the USA as a warning to us here. He said that in the UK over half a million people are taking opiates like morphine for chronic pain. His claim is that there is evidence that for most of them (he says 90%) the pills are doing no good and can lead to addiction. He also cited the increased danger of accidental overdose – something that happened to me on more than one occasion. I actually stopped breathing once, shortly after putting on a 75mcg patch of Fentanyl and was saved by the presence of a nurse in my home who called the ambulance and got me into hospital. So, I know the stuff he is talking about after 22 years on varying doses of opiates, sometimes up to 5 times what the programme described as ‘dangerous levels’.

But, as my book Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts covers in one chapter, there is another side to this so-called ‘opioid crisis’. How about ‘a chronic pain epidemic’? Because the problem is that with all this kind of publicity there is a danger of heaping shame and guilt onto sufferers of chronic pain without offering them viable alternatives. Often, it is not their fault that they have been prescribed these drugs by well-meaning doctors, but they are made to feel wretched for needing them. I certainly was at times.

There are research programmes into alternatives to opiate prescribing but they all too often fall into one category or another. Either they are looking into other equally strong but frighteningly powerful drugs, such a gabapentin or similar, or else they are based around well-being. This may all be well and good but, in my case, I don’t think a bit of gardening with friends would have dealt with crushing agony of chronic pancreatitis with recurring acute episodes!

I am so thankful for the temporary relief I received from a spinal neuro stimulator and also for the amazing surgical intervention I finally received at the Newcastle International Transplant unit in 2017. Today, after 22 years of appalling pain, I am largely pain-free and also free of any need for opiates.

There is a scandal surrounding the easy availability of powerful pain killers over the counter in the UK, but in my book I am concerned for the many affected by chronic pain without hope of relief except by means of these potentially dangerous opioids. Government funding should be moved into research into alternatives alongside any public information programmes such as this one.

If you are in pain, and can’t wait for the publication date for my book on Amazon (20th Feb) please email me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com and I will send you one by mail and can include an invoice for you to make a bank transfer or send a cheque.

It begins again!

Signing and sending!

Well, it’s the start of 2020, and thankfully the surge in post over Christmas has now died down enough for normal mail service to be resumed. I pray for every book I send out, and sign them with a real desire that each one will bring help, encouragement and hope to carers and sufferers alike. I also pray that readers whose lives are going just great will get an insight into what it means to keep hoping and trusting even in the toughest of storms.

Today I’m sending a copy out to Canada, and will also gladly send you one wherever you are. Costs are £8.99 plus postage (which in the UK means £1.75 or in Guernsey £1.25). You can also pay in other currencies using PayPal, even if you don’t have an account with them. Contact me on the form at the bottom of the home page or email me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com. I will also be speaking in churches around the UK in 2020 so might catch up with you then.

Have a great 2020!

Making a New Start

2020 has been born with great fanfare. Yet, from the smoke scarred skies of Sydney to the desolated stretches of the Philippines after a typhoon, many will enter the year with trepidation. But, making a new start can be a very real part of ‘hanging in there’ through all kinds of storms. It is remarkable that communities get rebuilt after disasters. Sometimes, the ground seared by fires becomes even more fruitful than it was before the blaze.

What some regard as irreparable, nonredeemable, totally broken down and destroyed, God sees as potential for renewal and recovery. In one biblical image the Almighty is pictured as a potter working some clay on a wheel. The pot being prepared in his hands is marred by some deficiency. There is plenty more clay available, so why bother with this one? But instead of throwing it away, the potter just makes it over again. Something new for his purpose and glory.

To change the metaphor, without the darkness and restrictions of the caterpillar’s earthbound time, or pupa stage, there would never be the beauty and wonder of the butterfly. No matter how dark your pain and suffering seems to you today, please know that God is the master of new starts. He is a redeemer of pain.

I know that for myself. After 22 years of the most appalling agony known to humankind – around a hundred admissions to hospital with attacks of acute pancreatitis and ascending cholangitis – and the searing pain of chronic pancreatitis daily requiring huge doses of opiates, I am free of pain today! If I had cut short my suffering by any artificial means (come on, you know what I’m taking about) I would have caused my loved ones such anguish, and would have missed the developments in research and surgery that led to my deliverance.

You were designed to fly. Don’t give up hope. You too can make a new start in 2020.

Happy New Year!

5 ways to Survive Christmas in Pain

As I write this you may have been finishing off your Christmas shopping – or perhaps you haven’t even started yet! Office parties and ‘works do’s’ are mostly behind us and the countdown to Christmas itself is well and truly on. But – how do you cope with this festive season when you’re hurting? Maybe in physical pain, or mental turmoil, or possibly in the sharp pangs of recent bereavement. Mind you, the nostalgia factor of this time of the year tends to pull the scab off even old bereavements and makes being alone so utterly raw.

Well I’ve been there. In fact, due to an abscess under a back molar, I’m reliving it at the moment! Several Christmas seasons are seared into my memory for enduring pain and even being in hospital when all around were so jolly. My ‘ho, ho, ho’ became a cry of ‘no, no, no’ many times over the last two decades. So, here’s my 5 ways to survive Christmas in pain:

  1. Keep it Simple. Christmas does not have to rule you. Never mind the expectations of others, go easy on yourself. An ancient proverb (from the Bible actually) advises ‘make level paths for your feet’. Be honest with those around you about your own needs, and be honest with yourself too.
  2. Keep it Reasonable. Going into serious debt is no fun and certainly no way to enjoy any season, let alone Christmas. Nor is it reasonable to party into the early hours when your body is craving rest or your heart is breaking. Being reasonable certainly doesn’t have to be expensive or turn you into Ebeneezer Scrooge. Know your own limits and stick to them.
  3. Keep Looking Ahead. You might call this ‘having hope’. For a Christian hope is based on the character of God and his promises. But whether or not you follow Christ, remember that Christmas Day is just another day on the calendar and will soon pass. And – New Year is coming! Yay! I love New Year. Like stepping out onto the snow the morning after a blizzard, 2020 will give us all a chance to start over and make our mark.
  4. Keep Focused. The Bible says that there are only three things that really matter in life: faith, hope and love, and that the greatest of these is love. Love came down that first Christmas and because of that we can lean back on the knowledge that we are loved. Focus on those facts and the pain will become less dominating. Hold onto loving and being loved and the loss will ease. Tinsel will tatter, and lights will fade, but love goes on for ever.
  5. Keep Being Grateful. We are alive today, and this day may be all we’ve got, so let’s grab it and live! When gratitude becomes our attitude amazing resources of strength and endurance can be found like lost coins down the side of your settee. In the words of the old song ‘Just one day at a time’ will see us through this challenging Christmas season.

Peace and Joy in Place of Strain and Stress

Christmas can be such a stressful time for folk who are in pain or facing chronic challenges of all kinds. I know about that. During the 22 years of my battle with appalling pain from chronic and recurring acute pancreatitis I had several Christmases in hospitals. Two of them were in London, where it was so hard to be away from family and friends. One was in Guernsey where, after leading Christmas Day worship, I was too ill to eat anything and was admitted via A&E to the ward with an acute attack. It added insult to injury when one nurse suggested I had probably overdone it at the dinner table or on the bottle! Grrr. I hadn’t even got that far!

But I discovered then, as I know now, that Christmas peace and joy are not dependent on our circumstances. They come from our relationships. Loving and being loved are fundamental to them both. Knowing that God’s love for me led Him to give His only son Jesus for me sustained me through those tough seasons, and still does today.

It gives me real joy to sign books for friends and contacts who have ordered one or more to be sent to them at this time. I can mail them anywhere in the UK at £8.99 plus £1.75 p&p. One friend just asked me for 11 copies and another for 5 – to give away as gifts. I not only sign each one, I also pray that each one will be a real source of help and encouragement to the reader.

May you find peace and joy this Christmas and in the New Year!

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