On Christmas Day 43 years ago I succumbed to a severe bout of flu. Not only did it leave me weak physically but also plunged me into a depressive illness. My innate shyness became acute self-consciousness, I suffered panic attacks and agoraphobia made it almost impossible for me to go anywhere on my own.
The road in which we live is open plan, so I had no hedges or fences to guide me along the pavements – I couldn’t even walk to the postbox. At work, if I had to go into the factory I would seek a route which avoided the gangways because I could not walk along them in a straight line. If I had to go into the city to buy a Christmas or birthday present, I would park my car on Castle Meadow, creep along the side of the wall of the castle mound as far as the pedestrian crossing and there mingle with a group waiting to cross to Davey Place. At the foot of the steps I would follow the frontage of the shops towards my destination. One day I lost my bearings and lurched towards a shop window. A lady walking towards me looked with disgust as if to say “drunk at this time of day!” If she had known I am sure she would have felt embarrassed by her harsh judgment. In church I sat in the back pew so that nobody could witness my discomfort from behind. When I stood for the hymns, I gripped the pew in front with white knuckles, afraid I would fall over, with eyes unable to focus on the space in front of me.
I received counselling and was prescribed various medications some of which aggravated my symptoms. I gained some respite when our daughter arrived. My mind accepted that friends were more interested in cooing over the baby than observing my eccentricities. Problems then increased again. Introspection was my worst enemy. As a design engineer I needed a rational explanation. Why? WHY? I schooled myself to ignore that question and to accept “this is the situation” what do I do about it? Then a new G.P. arrived at our medical centre and he brought a new approach and prescribed different medication. He monitored my progress regularly and one day said that my health had improved far beyond anything the medics had done for me. I was able to tell him how I explained that good news.
Firstly I had learnt that other people suffered similarly and recovered so why shouldn’t I?
More significantly I was never ashamed of my illness and was always open about it. When I was first referred to a psychiatrist at Hellesdon hospital, he arranged the first consultation at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in case I felt ashamed at going to Hellesdon. I soon told him that I felt no shame as I went there every Christmas Eve with my church choir to sing carols. This openness meant that friends were able to help me over difficulties and to pray for me.
My wife lovingly fulfilled her marital vows to care in sickness and in health and learnt when to sympathise and when to be firm and push me into facing my responsibilities.
Above all I experienced an inner strength which enabled me to continue my daily work and my duties as church treasurer and deacon. It also kept me from despair and any thought of suicide. I was surprised how I was able to meet a challenging situation and believe that tomorrow would be a better day. The Gospels tell how Christ’s healing touch was available to all who believed and were willing to accept it. I still have scars but how can I stand in front of you today with my history of illness?
I believe that God’s healing touch is at work today.