Do you ever feel that everyone else is more capable than you are? They seem to have more friends, more purpose, to achieve more—and you feel as if you’re playing ‘catch-up’ the whole time? I think we’ve all felt like that at some time. The trouble is, we tend to evaluate ourselves in comparison to everyone else, we see what they’re achieving, and we feel less able, less capable; a bit useless really. In 2014, I really was, utterly useless. Let me explain.
In 2009, I was a working Mum, teaching in the local school, preaching occasionally in local churches. We had returned from a few years in New Jersey, the husband’s career was developing nicely, and all seemed good. It wasn’t, but it seemed good.
But then things started to unravel for me. I started waking each morning with headaches that lasted all day. I was forgetting things, and I felt, very slightly, as if I wasn’t quite coping. Teaching seemed more about politics and pleasing parents, and less about the pupils. Preaching felt more ‘head-knowledge’ than true. The family and house and animals all seemed slightly too much. I put all this down to stress, cut down on teaching, stopped preaching, and tried to get the home bit right.
Then one day, while emptying the tumble-dryer, I came up under the work-surface and knocked myself out (as you do). The next day I had an awful headache, so went to Casualty, where they did a CT scan. They told me that I had a small benign tumour, right in the centre of my brain. When I got home, I did some online research, and found this was very rare, often undetected, and sometimes caused “sudden instant death”. So not hugely reassuring.
I then started a whole era of brain surgeons, MRI scans, and frequent migraines. For five years, I lived in this rather tense bubble, because the medics said removing the tumour would damage the brain, so it was better left where it was and monitored. My migraines meant I was too unreliable to teach or preach, so I felt a bit useless. Except, God still had a plan for me. Because however incapable we might feel, God can use us, and life can be good and full of meaning (which is the point of this article).
Being ill is mainly boring—so I decided to learn Mandarin. I practised by teaching English in the local Take-Away restaurants, and I made some very special friends amongst the Chinese community. I often hurt too much to talk, but I learnt to listen.
In 2014, the tumour changed and became dangerous, so my surgeon took it out via a craniotomy. He cut through the right side of my brain, right to the middle, and patched me up with bits of metal. There I was, a middle-aged woman, with half my head shaved, an impressive scar, and a terrible memory. Pretty useless really. Plus, as they cut through the part of the brain that controls anxiety, I also became anxious about really daft things—like leaving the house to have coffee with my mum. (And although my mum’s coffee is pretty awful, it’s not something normal people become anxious over.) My rather dodgy maths became even worse, so counting or having any awareness of time became very hard. As the brain was having to make new, less efficient pathways, I grew tired very easily, and found too much stimulation (noise, lights) exhausting.
As a scarred brain doesn’t really heal, it just finds new ways of doing things, all those things, to some extent, are still true today.
However, the left side of my brain was undamaged, and my language was intact, and this became very important. Gradually, I grew more confident. I found that people didn’t mind the over-emotional woman with the terrible memory—in fact, some people preferred her. Leaving the house is still a bit scary, but I have learnt to force myself, to pray very hard (and to carry Immodium at all times!) The more I do, the more God enables me to do, the more I realise that I can trust him. It started with tiny steps, the “Please God can I have coffee with my mum without having a panic-attack” sort of prayer.
Since then, I have travelled the world, in fact last year I was walking through the slums of India talking to people, researching a book. Because now, I write books. When I was at the “leaving the house is too scary” stage, I started to write a blog. This developed into longer articles, and finally books. All the stories I have always had in my head, are now forming themselves into words, and I find I can write them down. Excitingly, people are buying my books, and liking them enough to buy the next one. Gosh!
So the next time you feel useless, are tempted to think that everyone else is doing rather better than you, remember this: You were created for a reason, and whatever happens, however weak, and dependent, and incapable you may become, if you lean on the God who created you, you will never be useless. Because there is a plan. We simply have to learn how to follow it.
These are my books. They’re available from book shops and Amazon. Please will you buy one to read this summer?
Following my diagnosis, I began to learn about how the brain works, and am fascinated by how controlled we are by our brains. I then began to explore other illnesses and disorders, focussing on psychopathy. Psychopathy is a mental disorder, not an illness, and it causes certain personality traits – most psychopaths are not violent, or ever convicted of any crime – but the way their brains function mean they have certain behavioural characteristics. As I studied psychopathy, reading books by neurologists, listening to psychopaths as they talked, and even finding two mothers of psychopaths who were prepared to talk to me about raising a psychopathic child, I realised that most people have no idea how a psychopath thinks, why they behave as they do. In response to this, I wrote two novels: JOANNA and CLARA. Both show how people are affected by the way their brain processes information—and the impact on people around them. (When selling these books, I am often asked by people if any US Presidents are psychopaths. I think if people read CLARA, they will be able to decide for themselves!)
Thank you for reading.
Anne E. Thompson