The Power Of The Present

To be in the moment, to experience the senses… the feelings, the wonders around us.

And I keep on writing, keep on exploring and recording these moments. Because being mindful is a journey in itself – bringing oneself into the body, into nature, into what we feel and see and smell around us. To explore the intricacy of nature, these different perspectives on life… how beautiful these discoveries are.

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Sitting at the bench in Maranui cafe, looking over the tables in front of me and beyond – out to the ocean. The expanse of the window – I look over the people, they almost turn to a haze… and concentrate on the beautiful day in front of me, through the glass.

The mighty ocean. The deep blue in the distance, how this suddenly changes to an almost murky green- like someone has drawn a line across the sea. The tiny specks of white flitting across its surface. The far away rocks protruding out of the blue waters, the surrounding white lines of the sea as it crashes up against their harsh surface. Every so often a plume of white, like smoke, explodes over them, as a huge wave cascades around the barrier in their way. Moving closer, I start to see the waves rolling and undulating as they come towards me. The tiny bob of a bright orange buoy stands out amongst the cold blue. The ripples in the waves, the bubbles on its surface, the power of the waves crashing into each other, becoming one in existence. Watching the sea ebb and flow as the tide slowly encroaches on the beach.

Gah! The sea. The powerful entity in front of me. It’s vast expanse. The sheer power of watching nature beat its heart. And yet there is more.

Staring out at the sky. The pale blue that pokes above the grey and white clouds across the horizon, how even though I can’t see the sun, I can see it’s rays glistening on the surface of a cloud – making it shine whiter and brighter than it’s sisters. The hills that protrude upwards from the ocean, meeting the sky. Trying to reach, yet not quite making it. The clouds rolling over its highest peaks, trying to meet, trying to become one, and yet they’re so different. The darker greens, almost grey, the pale green and yellow, the shadow of the clouds. The undulating surface of the hills, the lines and cracks upon its surface. It’s almost as if I’m feeling what nature is. My mind struggles to put into words what my senses are seeing and feeling, what my heart is telling me. How I can feel the blood flowing excitedly through my veins, my heart pumping the feeling of sheer joy and empowerment at looking upon this scene.

Forgetting the noise of people, and machines, and music, and clatter of dishes and cutlery around me. Encompassing these sounds, putting my mind and body and soul into this moment. Looking upon this moment with almost nervousness at how awesome this feels. It’s like I’m high. It’s like I’m flying. It’s like my mind has left this physical presence, and is free from the daily struggle of human existence.

And yet this struggle. This is a part of existence, of being human. The mind can play tricks, we can easily get lost in its deepest, darkest and terrible thoughts. How easy it is to lose sight of ourself, of the life we live, of the incredible wonder of nature around us, of this world. Reminding myself daily that these thoughts that overtake my mind… the more I encourage them, the deeper they delve, the harder it makes it to escape, the easier it is for them to take over.

Remembering these moments, these feelings. The comfort and security in my surroundings. The beauty of life on this earth – nature’s incredible healing powers. Not encouraging my thoughts, not giving them the power to take over my life again. Of being content in this experience of living. The power of love and acceptance and healing. The power of feeling, of experiencing, of understanding, even of pain and suffering. Because this is a part of living, this is a part of learning. This is what it means to be human.

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The darkness. Looking up at the night sky. The orange circular glow of the moon reflected in the clouds above me. The stars, some shining brighter, glistening against the black. There aren’t many out tonight. The clouds get in their way, as if shielding me from their brilliance. Trying to hold me back.

The crash of the waves against the sand and rocks. The momentary calm as another comes, waiting to fall.

It’s haunting me.

This existence.

How nature is so oblivious, so divine, so beautiful, and yet it doesn’t know I’m here. Doesn’t feel my presence. Doesn’t understand the reason why I’m here.

But it’s also comforting.

These sounds. The cold. The feel of the sand beneath my feet. The constant rumble of water forced against rock. This present moment in time, how these things don’t judge me, don’t hide from me.

But I feel alone.

Lost in the magnificence of creation in front of me.

I’m so small. So insignificant.

The darkness encasing me. Bringing me in. Huddled on this log. Nothing can see me, no one can find me.

I’m lost.

The weight of existence falling upon my shoulders. The curse of life wanting to leave me.

What is it to be alive. To be consumed by worry and fear and doubt. To be consumed by humanity’s sinful essence. Oh to be swallowed by the power of nature. To feel at one with this world.

Who am I? How insignificant my footsteps. How little they seem amongst this vast expanse.

But this is my one shot. My one chance at life. My one chance to make a difference, my one chance to matter.

And all I can do is try. All I can do is take a step.

Take a step forwards.

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A time for reflection and contemplation.

A time to leave behind the worries of existence.

A time to focus on this moment, these sounds. The powerful entity surrounding me.

I keep coming back to the sea. I keep looking for meaning and solace in its movements. And I’m writing. It’s like my head is full of words, wanting to escape, wanting to be told.

Attempting to understand these feelings. To restore my mind, to bring me back to life.

The sea. The sound of the waves slowly breaking. The calm trickle of the water against the rocks as the tide slowly ebbs and flows. The translucency, I can see through. See below it’s surface. The pebbles on the seabed, the seaweed – it’s tentacles latched onto the stones.

But I can’t seem to fathom its meaning.

I can’t seem to put myself into this moment. I can’t seem to stop the tight feeling in my chest.

I breathe deeply. Feel the shivers as the wind starts to pummel me. Not wanting to leave this spot. Not wanting to face up to the thing that worries me most.

I’m trying not to listen to my thoughts. Trying to not let them pull me under. Trying to stay strong because I know I need to. I know I have it in me.

Looking to the horizon. The change in colour of cloud, the lines of grey. It’s raining in the distance. And somehow I wish it would rain here. That the rain would fall and I could feel it. Feel the water on my face. Feel the trickle down my neck. To make me clean, to restore my soul.

The vast expanse of ocean that stretches out before me. I feel like I’m nothing in comparison. Just a small person sitting on a rock, waiting for life to take hold. To gather the strength to continue.

And I know I am capable. I know I don’t have to believe these thoughts. But these thoughts turn to feeling. And this feeling consumes me.

But I know there is more than this. I know I can make it. I know I can experience it. Because this life is precious, this life is incredible. To sit and look upon nature, there’s no better feeling than this.

To sit in silence. To listen to the sounds around me. The birds, the hum of traffic, a plane beginning its journey, the waves on the ocean. It’s these sounds that bring me back. These sounds that help me move forward. These sounds that make me realise that life is worth living.

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How do I reconcile my faith, with my sexuality?

My recent blog posts explore my path of self-discovery and acceptance – highlighting the overwhelming darkness that depression brings, but the incredible strength, joy and beauty there is in the journey to recovery.

Living through extreme darkness, fighting with myself daily to realise that I am strong enough to make it. Bringing myself into the present, daring to open myself up to questions about my past, about the hurt experienced, about how these situations have shaped and moulded me into the person I am now. Realising that without this suffering, without this heart-ache, I would not be the Jo I have come to discover. Realising that who I am in this world is not defined by the labels and expectations placed upon me by society, or religion, or culture. Realising that this is one of the things I am most thankful for – finally coming to truly accept this person in my skin – and the people, the situations and the experiences that have helped me to come to this moment in my life.

Reflecting on my position in the Church and my sexuality has been one of the most defining aspects in this journey of discovery. In the following dialogue I attempt to make sense of my reflection, and aim to share my discoveries in an honest and engaging format – to provide hope to those who may have had similar experiences.

**Disclaimer – I by no means intend to offend with the following commentary – these are purely my understandings, feelings and opinions alone.**

Coming out as queer within the Church

For years I felt like I wasn’t a good enough Christian. I felt unaccepted, judged, unloved. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I couldn’t quite understand why I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me, and wrong with the way the Church made me feel. Thinking back now, I’m not sure I ever really knew what homosexuality meant, what being different meant. I forced myself to believe I fancied the boys around me, forced myself to hold onto some form of femininity because I was afraid I’d be picked out and laughed at.

I never had boyfriends at school, never felt like I was attractive enough to get their attention, or never quite knew why I didn’t want it anyway. Attending Church, going to Church youth groups and weekly house group, was the norm throughout my childhood and teenage years. But I could never properly put my finger on why I felt there was some sense of unacceptance. Some deep knowledge that I didn’t feel like I fit in. Didn’t feel like I was like all the others – I didn’t feel like a good enough Christian. And this slowly wore me down. This deep loathing of myself because I felt like I wasn’t being true to who I was – hiding this part of me, because it wasn’t accepted in the religion I so strongly wanted to conform to.

Slowly but surely I began to understand that there were people who lived in loving same-sex relationships. But still, I fought back. Fought against these feelings of so called ‘abnormality’, because I was strongly against homosexuality – since that’s what I was told at Church. That even though God created us in his image, that he created some people as gay, it could never be acted on. That it must be hidden and put aside, that those people must live a life of loneliness and devotion to God alone – because homosexuality is a sin.

Finally I began to wonder why I believed this. Why I accepted these views as my own. Why I believed in a God that would create people in a way that was seen as wrong. Why a so-called loving God would create gay people and then deny them a fundamental human right – love. And I began to question why it’s made into such a huge topic within Christianity – why there seems to be so much hatred and judgement towards others – why people preach the exact opposite to what Jesus did. And finally I dared to wonder whether I could express these views; whether I could begin to accept this part of me. But this hope, this honesty at slowly beginning to understand who I was, was dashed when I eventually told a senior Church member. I was told that I could never act on it, that I shouldn’t hug my friends who are girls, that I should suppress that part of me and come back to Jesus.

This destroyed me.

Once again I felt that I was something so wrong and so disgraceful, that I couldn’t even be open. I couldn’t even be the person God created me to be.

I continued to suppress this part of me. Continued to pretend I fancied the guys at Church. Continued to wear feminine clothing. Because I didn’t want to be outed. I didn’t want people to realise who I was. Didn’t want to be asked to leave the place where I thought I belonged.

Looking back now, I don’t know why I continued to live like this. I don’t know why I was so afraid to be open, so afraid to be who I was created to be. So afraid to fight back against these prejudices. But coming to New Zealand has completely and utterly changed my life. I took a step back from the Church – it took time to shake the guilt and shame. The shame of being who I was in the Church building, and the guilt of not going every Sunday. Slowly I began to explore myself, my sexuality, my relationship with God. Slowly I began to open myself up to the possibility that I could hold a faith, but also love a woman. Slowly but surely I came out of my shell, came out into the light, came out as the person I was created to be.

The last 2 and a half years have been an incredible journey. A journey of self-discovery and acceptance – of understanding where my identity fits within Christianity, how I see myself, how others see me, and how I want to express myself in this world. Finally I feel no shame at being open about who I am, I take pride in how I live and love my life. How my past experiences have shaped me and made me who I am. It hasn’t been easy –when I  finally told my Mum, it was one of the biggest and scariest moments I’ve ever experienced. But, this openness finally broke down the wall. Finally allowed me to be free – to share who I am with the world.

The Church, The Bible and LGBTQI+

There are probably some of you reading this who don’t agree with me. Who can’t understand why I can stand up and say that I believe in Jesus Christ, and that I accept my sexuality – and don’t feel the need to suppress it. The Church fundamentally preaches that homosexuality (and all other labels within the LGBTQI+ spectrum) is sinful. That even though God created us as in this way, we cannot act on it – because that is the sin.

As a student of Theology, I could begin to dissect the verses in the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality. However, in this instance I feel it better not to. I believe these scriptures must be interpreted with a pinch of salt. One must take into account the historical and cultural differences of the time of writing; the fact that there is actually very little mentioned upon the subject (which begs to differ why it has become such a magnified issue within the Church); the fact that ‘homosexuality’ as a term was not penned until the 19th Century; and we must also take into account whether these passages refer to monogamous or mutually consenting same-gendered relationships as we know today – which can be hugely debated especially in reference to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-11 (which clearly alludes to immoral rape). We must also understand that there are other matters discussed in the Bible which most Christians do not adhere to today. One example is a passage in Corinthians (11:2-16) where Paul discusses the proper length of men’s and women’s hair and the requirement for women to cover their heads during prayer – but do we follow this today? So often I feel like the Church is full of hypocrisy and judgement. So often I feel like we fall short of what the true message of the Bible actually is.

The ultimate message of the Bible is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We are created in His image because He loves us, we are to share this message of love with others, to spread the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection – of the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. So why do so many preach a gospel full of judgement, hatred and condemnation for those who are different? This is not the Bible I know, this is not the God I feel. If God is a God of love, if God IS love – then why would he create some of us in a way that denies this basic human right? I’m sure some of you disagree with me here – and I’m sure that most of you who disagree are straight and cisgendered – have never experienced what I and so many young LGBT Christians have, have never felt such unacceptance at the hands of a faith that ultimately preaches love.

What I believe is important is not to focus on sex/gender/sexuality as so many Christians do. So many seem to put their viewpoints on pedestals, so many debate and argue these points to the detriment of others – to make people feel unwanted and wrong within the Church. What I believe is important is to focus on love. Focus on all of us – whether we are gay/straight/non-binary/trans-gender/male/female etc – and see that all of us are lovingly created by God. And He is pleased with His creation. How we choose to live, who we choose to marry, who we are as people – should not be defined by the constructs placed upon us by society, or religion. At the end of the day, we are simply humans, and to glorify God in our lives is of the utmost importance. Who I am is Jo – I am a female, but I do not put myself within the confines of ‘womanhood’ placed upon me by society. I am gay, but that does not restrict me to who I should marry, or if I should. It has taken me years to feel acceptance, to feel wanted in the Church. And finally, I just know that God accepts me because He loves me, and I’ve gone past the point of caring whether people in the Church do. This is where I find the Church to be at fault – not Christianity itself. We need to include, not exclude, we need to love, not judge. I felt unaccepted and unwanted for years because that’s what was taught in Church. But on further contemplation, self-acceptance and thought about my relationship with God – I have come to feel totally accepted and loved by Him. This is what we should be preaching – this is the essence of why Christ lived and died. So that we may ALL be part of one holy Body – however and whoever we are.

Who am I?

I’ve been contemplating a lot lately about my identity. About who I am. Over these past few months I’ve discovered so much about myself – about my place in New Zealand, about my mental wellbeing. But there is still always the question about who we are – about how others see us.

People like labels. They like to put us in boxes, like to tag us as a certain race or culture or religion or sexuality. And people like to label themselves too – like to conform to some sort of expectation or ideal – to fit a certain mould. And I guess sometimes it’s a matter of wanting to belong, of wanting to fit, of wanting to be part of a particular group or society – of wanting to be accepted or perhaps stand out.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity. About how I label myself, or whether in fact, I do. For many years I guess I felt that Christianity sort of formed my identity. I was the stand out Christian amongst friends – and that was my label. That was who people saw me as. But I am so much more than that. There are so many facets to me, so many pieces that make me whole. I don’t want to conform, I don’t want to fit in. I want to find myself in everything that makes me, me.

There are even divisions within groups, where people identify a certain way which isn’t totally understood or accepted. Even within the wonderful LGBT+ community, so often it feels like you must select a label – to find a way to belong. You can’t fit into the lesbian group if you like men too, and even when you try and be label-less, there then seems to be a label for that too. Why can we be so exclusive to those who simply, seemingly, just want to find acceptance?

Recently I identified myself as a ‘gay Christian woman’. Three things that even now I question why and how they define me. To a lot of people – especially Christians and the LGBT+ community – these don’t seem compatible. I must be one or the other – I must choose a side. I cannot be gay and Christian. In the Church, homosexuality is deemed a sin. Something that is part of who I am, is rejected by another part of who I am. And likewise amongst many queer people, they question why I would believe in a God who condemns this so-called ‘sinful’ love. So why should I conform? Why should I put either label upon myself?

I don’t need to try and wear clothes that make me fit in. I wear clothes that I like, that make me feel comfortable. I’ve finally cut my hair because I don’t feel like I need to fit into the ‘feminine’ mould anymore. I don’t have to wear my ‘girly shirts’ or dresses out of the desire to fit in. I want to feel comfortable in how I express myself – I want to wear things I like, do things I like, look how I like – because I don’t need to conform. I don’t need to fit into a box and I don’t feel shame or self-doubt for doing so.

Why should I fit the mould? Why should I label myself as a Christian, or as gay, or as a woman, or as white, or British, or ginger etc…

These things are all a part of me – these things make me whole.

These things don’t necessarily define me.

I don’t need to fit. I don’t need to belong. All I want to be, is me.

So, who am I in this world?

I am someone who believes in God. Who believes that Christ died for me.

I am someone who is attracted to the same sex.

I am someone who’s sex says female, but who doesn’t necessarily conform to being called a ‘woman’.

I am someone who is privileged and loved.

I am someone who has a different hair colour to the norm.

I am someone who is active, loves to socialise, loves to explore and travel.

I am someone who struggles with a mental illness.

I am someone who loves Harry Potter and loves to geek out every so often.

I am someone who loves music and creativity – photography, writing, playing the piano.

But none of these things individually define me. I don’t need to label myself as any of these things. All of these things make me, me.

I don’t need to be labeled as the; ‘gay one’, ‘Christian one’, ‘ginger one’, ‘geeky one’, ‘musical one’ or the ‘active one’… I don’t want a label. I don’t need people to put a tag on me, to fit me in a certain place, prejudice or package. I take pride in who I am, in what facets make me uniquely me, in how I live and express myself in this world.

After years of searching. After the pain of rejecting and then accepting parts of me, I am finally embracing what it means to be me – to simply be ‘Jo’.

This is my Adventure

The following foreword, written by Bear Grylls for Julia Immonen’s book – Row For Freedom: Crossing an Ocean in Search of Hope – really struck a chord with me when I finally started reading it this weekend. It made me think about my life, my travels, my time here in New Zealand.

“All of us have adventure in the blood. Go back far enough into your family history and you’ll find the stories. An ancestor who left his homeland in search of a better life. A distant relative who fought against impossible odds and won. A family who took a risk and made a change.

That’s what adventure is. It’s about starting the search when we don’t know exactly what we’ll find. It’s about doing whatever it takes to make a change. It’s about saying yes to the struggle.

And it’s a part of all of us.

The question is, how big an adventure is each of us going to live?”

I’ve been pondering this; thinking about my current situation – about my journey to recovery from the darkness of depression, and about how I am doing whatever it takes to change. How despite the struggle, I am saying yes – because I’m not giving up hope of getting through this. I’ve had many adventures in my life – I’ve travelled to Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve experienced different cultures, made friends across the world, seen amazing places and yet somehow – this seems like the biggest adventure of all. This adventure of discovering my true self. This adventure of finding what it truly means to live. This adventure of struggling through extreme darkness and knowing I can make it.

Since my last blog post I’ve continued to write, continued to explore my senses in the world around me, continued to find joy and contentment in the little things. I still have so far to go, so much to learn – and yet I feel like these small changes I’m making in my day-to-day life are making such a huge difference.

Here’s a collection of further musings – of my thoughts and feelings when I’m in the moment, reminding myself of the incredible world around me.

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I’m sitting at my desk at work and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, starting to feel like I’m falling back into my pit of despair. And it’s so so hard to stop myself from falling again, to stop the thoughts of hurt from circling around in my head. I can’t concentrate, I can’t think straight. I’m just staring at my computer screen, not seeing what’s on it, it’s like I’m just looking into the darkness. But then I snap awake and realise that I can’t go back there again. I need to focus on what’s around me, to stop thinking horrible, terrible thoughts – to focus on the classical music I have playing to calm me – I stand up and stretch, go for a walk, breathe deeply.

And slowly I return to reality. To try and find some small things that bring me some joy in this workplace. A cup of tea. Some music. A brightly coloured Rubik’s cube on my desk. A to-do list to make everything more bearable. These small things are enough, to raise me from darkness.

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I’m standing along the waterfront in Wellington. Looking out at the beautiful pink clouds and the sky slowly changing colour as the sun sets. The sound of the water softly lapping on the rocks below me, the feel of my hair tickling me across my face, the sounds of passers-by and snippets of conversations. My heart feels full again at this moment of calm as I’m walking to climbing.

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I’m kneeling on a rock, right next to little pools of sea water. I’m watching the sea flow in and swirl around and shrink back. The simplicity and the mesmerisation of this moment. The clarity of the water, being able to see the patterns of light on the sea bed, the floating sea weed, the tiny pebbles – it’s totally clear. I feel the water, the coldness on my finger tips. The smell of the fresh sea air. The sound of the calm lapping of the waves on the rock edge, the rush and splash of water as the waves come in at speed. I see the colours – the bright white and yellow, the muted brown and orange – on the rocks. The patterns and bubbles and lines covering their surface. The sand paper texture underneath my hand.

A huge waves comes, the massive rush, the hissing of the foam, the whiteness on the surface of the clear water. I run back, but don’t quite make it, I feel the cool spray of water on my arms. Then the calm comes… momentary bliss.

This is me, this is my emotions. The sudden rush of negativity, how it builds up and crashes – spraying over me, swirling around in me. But then the calm… the quietness as I’m coming to realise my senses, immersing myself back into nature and into the joy of things around me. It’s still a process, I’m learning so much. But I’m getting there.

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The sound of nature surrounding me, the sound of a plane taking off, the sound of someone cutting down trees, the sound of cars on the road below. Looking out over Island Bay and the sea. The sky runs from blue to yellow to pink and blends with the sea on the horizon. The lush green trees on the hills, colourful houses nestled in between. I feel content, I feel euphoric at putting myself in this moment – surrounding myself with the beauty of this world, of this city. And it’s completely wonderful.

I feel happiness at where I am right this second. But I can’t help feeling the sadness, at knowing what I’ve lost and the knowledge of all the things I did wrong and could have done so differently. But I know that all I can do is change. All I can do is learn, and to truly appreciate and love the life I have been so blessed with.

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Lying on a bench in the garden on my lunch break. Listening out for all the sounds around me. Children’s shouts and laughter coming from the nursery, the hum of traffic on the road, the beeping of a horn, the buzz of an insect flying over my head, the rustle of leaves in the trees as the wind blows – how this flows from my left to my right ear as the wind goes from tree to tree. The orange light I can see on the back of my eye lids, the heat of the sun on my face, the feel of my hair tickling my face as the wind blows.

Thinking about my senses, feeling and listening, relaxing my body, forgetting my worries. Putting myself into the world around me.

**

I can feel the sunlight on my face. See the bright orange underneath my eyelids. It’s like watching the sea flowing – the patterns forming, the tiny sparkles glistening, the different shades of orange. The sun almost burning its way through me. But then the cool breeze moving my hair across my face, the feeling of goose bumps forming on my skin because of the change in temperature as the sun fades. The sounds around me. Leaves rustling, wind blowing, birds chirping, cars humming along on the road behind, children playing. My eyes still closed, feeling, exploring and sensing the world around me. Holding onto these snippets of life, marking this moment into my memories.

**

Watching the birds flying above me. Following one as it descends higher and higher, soaring upwards. Coming to a glide as it follows the pattern of the wind. How others join it, it’s as if they’re dancing together. In unison with each other, gliding together, following one another. The freedom of a bird, flying in the wind, over the land, looking down on us. The wind in my hair as I look up at them – how it’s almost as if I’ve joined them. I’m lost in the motion and the wonder of the freedom of flying.

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Taking myself out of my thoughts. Out of my mind. Concentrating on the life around me. The people, the buildings, the wonderful sounds of nature mixed with the raw sounds of man made existence. The cacophony of noise. But it’s so beautiful to my ears. Experiencing the motions around me, marvelling at creation, at life. Fresh wind, sea air, the incredible colours as the sun goes down on this grey day. But it’s not just grey – the different shades and patterns the clouds form as they race above me. Watching the birds soar through the air until they disappear. Forgetting my worries, the thoughts trying to entwine their wretched tendrils around me. Realising the feeling of life. Experiencing the world in a completely new way.

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It’s so windy, I hear the rumbling in my ears, the feeling of ear ache beginning. And yet… I feel so alive! Sitting on the cliff edge, looking over the beach below. The coastline of Wellington. The footprints dotting the sand, the intricate trails of so many – taking steps across this beach. My nose is running. My hands are stinging with cold. But I still don’t want to leave this spot. I’m elated, the feeling of nature’s power and beauty over me. It’s so healing, so freeing, so emotional. Looking across the ocean, the sprinkles of white on the waves, the dots of grey clouds in the wonderful blue sky. Oh the wonder, the joy of opening myself to this world. Forgetting my sorrows, feeling peace descending, renewing my soul.

**

I’m standing on a beautiful tree stump on the beach. So many branches, so many twists and turns in its roots. The sound of the sea right in front of me. The sound of waves breaking, the crash and hiss on the beach. The feel of the fierce wind in my hair, the coldness and buzz in my ears, the feel of my shirt trailing behind me. The cold of my hands as I write this down, trying to remember, placing myself in this moment – immersing myself in the feel and the sounds and the cold around me. Trying to forget. The thoughts taking over my mind – trying to wash away this negativity and pain. Making myself embrace the feeling of life, of being in the here and now. Of realising that my thoughts do not control me. My thoughts, as they try to consume me, slowly wrapping their tentacles around me. There’s a better feeling than this. There’s the feeling of complete contentment at standing here on this beach on a windy day in Wellington. There’s this feeling of flying – as the wind encircles me – the feeling of freedom. Of hope and happiness and healing. I can feel the negativity unwrapping, my heart starting to beat with excitement – the feeling of amazement at myself, at this moment. Knowing I can get through this.

**

A journey of self-discovery in New Zealand

It’s been just over 2 years since I first landed in New Zealand. I’ve travelled the country extensively, lived in my car, worked in Queenstown over the ski season, learned to surf in Ahipara, and I’ve called Wellington home since February last year. So many amazing memories, so many stories to tell, so much self exploration. And yet I feel like only now, after so many years, I’m truly discovering who I am.

I was first diagnosed with depression 5 years ago, and it was an extremely tough time – I was put on medication and had therapy, but perhaps I never fully recovered. Perhaps I never fully grasped how to deal with situations and circumstances. Never fully realised how to deal with emotions and feelings, how to come to terms with finally figuring out who I am.

For years I’ve struggled with Christianity – of wondering why I never felt good enough. Why I never felt God’s never-ending completely perfect love that so many of my Christian friends spoke of. Why God would create me in a way that makes me feel rejected and unwanted in the Church – something that is so important to who I am and how I was brought up. God knows our past, present and future before we do. He knows our likes and wants and desires, He knows everything about us. Every tiny little intrinsic detail, because He knitted us together in our mother’s womb. So why – I’ve asked on so many occasions – would He make me gay? For years I’ve questioned who I am in God’s eyes, not known who I was in my own skin – of wondering why I never fancied the guys, or forcing myself to think I did because that’s what was normal and accepted. Of being scared of being found out and laughed at – or told I’m inherently wrong. And it slowly destroyed me. But New Zealand has saved me. I’ve slowly been exploring myself – my sexuality, my relationship with God. And finally, I’ve come to accept myself – come to accept that I shouldn’t live in shame because of who I am – that I am a gay Christian woman and that’s completely OK. But perhaps I’m only just processing all of this hurt and pain – all these mixed emotions cascading over me – it’s like I’m slowly crawling out of this pit of despair and coming into the light.

The last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, a lot has happened, a lot has changed – I’ve been in and out of hospital, been to the lowest point I’ve ever experienced. But slowly, finally, I’m noticing things – an accumulation of everything that’s been building up for years. Noticing changes and feelings, experiencing my senses in a way that seemed foreign a few months ago.

The below are a series of musings that I wrote in a spur of the moment kind of way. About my thoughts and feelings – about how I’m finally starting to experience so many conflicting emotions all at once. And how powerful and overwhelming and terrifying it all is – yet it’s all so liberating. These thoughts hopefully give an insight into the way depression numbs – and the enormity of finally beginning to feel…

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Depression is a powerful and completely exhausting illness to live with. It impacts my thinking, the way I perceive people and their perceptions of me, the way I deal with situations, the way I see myself, the way my mind overthinks and constantly worries. It makes you doubt and makes everything so horrible – it feeds you lies until you believe them. And it’s a terrible vicious cycle, because once these thoughts start, it’s hard to stop them. Everything feels so grey and impossible. It’s like I just sit there motionless and can’t turn my thinking off – the thoughts swirl around until they can’t get any worse – I almost feel like I’m in a dark tunnel and there’s no light at the end. I feel dazed and helpless. I feel like life is just so much effort, that there’s nothing bright or joyful in it. That my head struggles to be positive once I’m surrounded by all these thoughts.

But this morning, whilst all these horrible thoughts were going around to the point where I almost forgot where I was – I told myself to stop. To force myself to think of 3 positive things – no matter how small and insignificant they may seem. And I focussed on the comedy show on the radio – at the sounds of the laughter – at the feeling of happiness radiating from my speaker. And I thought about the cup of tea I wanted so badly even though it was so hard to get out of bed. And suddenly I felt my head shift. Like there was some light bursting through. It’s like I can almost feel my mind lifting itself out of despair. I begin to see where I am – begin to notice the little things around me that bring me some form of joy. And it was beautiful.

And this is what I want to feel. This is how I should feel when I think about my life. And despite today’s physical greyness outside, I feel positive. I see the beauty in the clouds on the hills opposite, I feel warm and content listening to classical music with the fire going. This is a beautiful moment. And I finally realise what it’s like to be happy. I don’t have to be doing something, I don’t have to be with people at a gig. I don’t have to feel left out or worry that people are having fun without me. I’m not thinking or caring about that. Because finally. FINALLY, I feel peace. I feel like this is OK. That this moment, by myself, is enough to feel content.

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I’m lying in my car with the door open. It’s a beautiful day – the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, I can hear the river rushing past down below. I’ve missed these moments in my car, waking up in nature – so far away from real life. Time to contemplate, time to think, time to appreciate life and the beauty of this world.

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Walking through the bush from the campground with my friends and we’re looking out for mushrooms and berries and flowers. And I started to feel emotional because suddenly it’s like I can see in colour. I can see the orange in the mushrooms, and the green in the grass and the trees, and the blue in the sky. It’s like these last few months everything has been so grey and dull – I can see the nature around me but I’m not totally, fully seeing it. But now, it’s like my eyes are open. I can see the colours – the brightness, the vibrancy. And it’s so emotional and so beautiful. It’s like suddenly my senses are open. My eyes can see, my ears can hear the birds and the river and Clem strumming the guitar behind me. I’m just overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of it all.

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Standing with my feet in the sea. The feel of the coldness seeping over my legs, the feel of the sand falling away under my toes as the sea comes in and falls back, the feel of the wind on my face. I’m seeing the beauty. I’m feeling the powerful impact of this earth, experiencing the motions of so many feelings slowly falling on me. I see the rain falling on the horizon, the blue skies dotted with intricate clouds overhead. I see the haze of sea spray on the beach in the distance. The reflection of the bright blue in the wet sand beside me. It’s absolutely incredible. And finally I’m noticing these details. I’m seeing and feeling the splendour of this moment. Gah! I can’t even explain the power of this. It’s like I’m flying, soaring in the skies – feeling free and completely full of emotion.

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The patterns in the sand, almost like fish scales. The hissing of the foam on the wave as the sea comes up to greet me. Watching the sea melting back into the sand as the wave retreats. The sound of the crashing and the constant hum of waves in the distance. The light spatter of rain that I feel on my face. The softness of the sand beneath my feet.

I feel complete wonder and awe at this moment of beauty on the beach. And yet my heart feels like it’s breaking, falling into the pit of my stomach.

So many emotions swirling around inside me. So many thoughts, feelings wrapped around underneath my skin. I feel like I’m flying but falling at the same time. I feel free, free from the suffocation that depression has plagued upon me for months, and the numb almost emptiness that it brings, and I’m finally feeling so much. Pain, mixed with joy. It’s overwhelmingly heartbreaking yet liberating.

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Standing on the beach in the darkness. The cold, wet sand beneath my feet. The sound of the sea in front of me. And looking up. Looking up at the beautiful night sky. Of all the tiny sparkles that are millions and millions of miles away. I can see the milky way, feel the complete awe at our existence – that there’s life on this small planet, out of all the darkness that stretches out into space. This feeling of complete amazement at the complexity and beauty of this life.

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Watching the powerful rise and fall of the sea against the cliff edge. The different shades of blue and green, deep turquoise and light azure. The foam that forms as the waves crash against the rocks. The spray that I can feel against my face – it’s almost like the sea is trying to reach me. The sounds. The smell. The feel. The colours. The mighty power of nature. It’s almost as if I’m in it, in the rising and falling waves. Because this is how I feel, so many emotions swirling around inside me – wanting to get out. To release, the rise and fall of everything that’s so joyous yet so painful. It’s so overwhelming it hurts.

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I see the stairway ahead of me, reaching up to the top of the rock overhead and it’s so full of meaning because this is what life feels like. Like I’m walking and trudging upwards, it’s so exhausting and tiring and draining, but the top is in sight. And yet it’s still so far. But when I reach it, the feeling of sheer exhilaration and freedom and liberation washes over me. Leaving the hurt and the ache of depression behind, and reaching out to a new life of wonder and awe and beauty. I sit here sobbing, alone on the cliff edge, feeling the sting of tears rolling down my cheeks. Because I’m no longer empty. I’m crying at the sheer magnificence of the New Zealand landscape before me, at the feelings of calm and peace washing over me, at the sounds of the bird song and the powerful sea below.

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These cuts on my arm, the outward expression of pain I’ve been unable to feel until now. And it hurts so damn much, all this pain soaring inside me that I can finally feel, and yet it’s so liberating.

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I’ve just finished a counselling session and I’ve walked up to a viewpoint over the city in the botanic gardens. And I’m looking out at the beauty of Wellington. Listening for the hum of traffic on the motorway, the beep of a car in the distance, the rumbling of an airplane taking off. I can see the sun shining on Mount Vic, the shadow of the cloud across the trees, the reflection of the buildings on the sea water along Oriental Parade, the grey clouds over the hills in the distance. And I can feel the warmth of the sunlight on the back of my legs, and how this slowly fades away as the clouds come. I’m putting myself in this moment. Focussing on the senses around me, realising that this is what it feels like to be alive.

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The above thoughts, so full of meaning and realisation that there’s something more – that I’m starting to experience all these feelings in a single moment. Putting myself back into this world, into this life. And I just want you all to understand, the strength that I’ve found deep within to get through this suffering – the knowledge that in the end, everything will be better, better than ever before.