Guest Writer: Alex Duggan
Yo! I feel that I should introduce myself before I get into this, as you as the reader are about to hear the story of my life. My name is Alex Duggan, and Annie has asked me to guest write an article for her giving all of you guys a chance to hear my testimony! I’m a 21 year old student studying at Canterbury Christ Church and recently my life changed forever.
Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then we’ll begin.
As a starting point to my story, I usually start at around age ten. This is a very blurry time for me, I honestly can’t remember much of my childhood – I think it was eclipsed in my mind by the years that came after. I know, however, that I didn’t have a bad childhood at all. I wasn’t abused, there were no domestics and honestly it was quite a peaceful life.
I went to a Church of England primary school, partially due to my Dad being Catholic (of the Irish variety) and partially due to the general agreement that the morals taught by Christianity were good. Whilst this taught me about Christianity and about God, I never really considered myself a Christian then, it was just what I knew.
Post parents’ divorce, things got a bit rocky. Just a bit. I’ll skip a lot of the gory details, but at a very young age I entered a world I shouldn’t have seen. Through friendships, betrayal, self-harm and alcoholism I somehow dragged myself through my teenage years. I met people whose childhoods had been much worse than mine. I tried to help them, but often I failed. I was only a young boy, I had started drinking with these friends at age 12, I got to know them, I learnt to trust and love them all. By age 15, I had heard so many secrets, seen so many scars on their bodies, some self inflicted, some from abuse by parents.
This was how I learnt to cope: We drank to forget. We harmed ourselves to remind us that even in the deepest depression, we could still feel. We tried to help each other, but none of us were stable enough to truly make a difference. The top of my left arm is covered in scars. They were all symbols of my regrets, when I had punished myself for failing others, for being unable to help.
On an interesting side note, during this time a lot of my friends knew me as Duggan. That might not seem significant, but my surname’s meaning is, in the words of Wikipedia, “Derived from Dubhagáin meaning dark or black.” You’ll see why I find this funny later.
These habits were what characterised my teenage years. I struggled, I really did. Fast-forwarding a few years, I managed to reach university. A chance to leave my hometown? Leave everything behind? Run away? Perfect. I took the chance and I moved from Bournemouth up to Canterbury, what feels like a million miles away from home and all those horrible memories.
You’d think things would start to get better at that point, wouldn’t you? Well, you might’ve guessed by that sentence that no, they did not. See, cheesy as it sounds, you can’t run away from something that’s in your head. For my first year at university, I struggled with depression. I made so many friends, but I would always feel utterly alone. I still tried to help people as much as I could, but found myself relying on others more and more. I never wanted to admit that something might be wrong with me; doctors and medication terrified me and the thought of being “different” only made me feel more isolated from the world. During this year, I had my first suicidal thought: “I don’t belong here. I don’t belong at home. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be there. But then I don’t want to be… anywhere.” I cried a lot when I realised what I had just said to myself. I knew I needed help, but I was too weak at that point to drop my pride.
After a messy depression-based break-up in the December of my second year, I finally got the push to go to the doctors – This was ruining my life, my relationships and holding me back in my work. I knew I had to do something at that point. At first, the doctors just chucked medication at me. Anti-depressants are not fun at all. For the first two weeks, sometimes longer, they make you feel terrible, and I never managed to get past that point. I couldn’t take feeling worse, but now in hindsight, I would encourage anyone with these problems to stick with it. Hang on in there, it does get better!
Sorry, I got side-tracked. After a few months like this, I was eventually referred to Laurel House, a mental health clinic. There, I learnt that I had Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as emotional intensity disorder. To explain that simply to you, I can say this: My emotions tend to flip between depression and mania. Of course, everyone understands depression, but if I called mania the opposite of it, that would make it sound great. A time when you’re super happy? Awesome! Yeah, it might seem it at the time but when you realise that you’ve spent all your money impulsively and exhausted yourself from your inability to stop moving. During this time, your mind is rushing completely blindly. You don’t think. In that sense, it IS the opposite of depression, where you manage to talk yourself out of anything.
Simply put, imagine BPD as a mini version of bipolar disorder. Our mood swings don’t last as long and we have odd little additions such as anxiety and distorted thinking traps, but that’s the simplest way to put it. When I looked back over my teenage years I thought “Yeah, okay, that makes sense now.”
I ended up resitting second year – too much had happened and I felt that I hadn’t actually taken part in the year. I missed a lot of deadlines and had a mountain of work that I couldn’t deal with, there was no way I was ready for my final year. If I hadn’t done this extra year, I’m not sure if any of what happened next would have happened. I thank God that I was in the right place at the right time for this.
During my re-take of second year I was in a relationship with one of my best friends. For all intents and purposes, this relationship was abuse. Not physically, at all, let me clarify that. Mentally abusive, and neither of us realised it. We leant on each other so hard that we both suffered and began to break. In the time we spent together her father died of cancer and her mother continuously faced a deep and heavy depression. I tried my best, but helping her through all that was simply too much for me to take with everything going on in my own head. After we broke up, I entered a few months of hell. I isolated myself and heavily self medicated. I even went through one period where I didn’t eat for two weeks.
One morning, Tuesday 12th May 2015, I woke up feeling awful. My anxiety was running wild that morning, I woke up shaking like a phone being blown up by a stalker, feeling sick as a dog to the extent that I couldn’t yawn without almost throwing up. Sorry, that was a gross description but it was awful. Somehow, I knew that I had to get up, I had to move. I threw myself into the shower, dressed and set off into town. I wanted to find a book on BPD, by someone with BPD. I felt so lost, so confused. I didn’t know where my life was going; I was so absorbed thinking about BPD that I let its symptoms define me. I was desperately looking for something to tell me that it would all be okay, that I could live this life.
I wandered around town for two and a half hours, which is impressive if you consider that I was walking in and out of the same three bookshops. I don’t know why I spent so long revisiting each one as if the book was just hiding and would pop out the fourth time I walked in. Either way, after two and a half hours I began to walk home, my heart and head both heavy.
To make this clear, I believe that God found me, I did not find God. To find God I would have had to be looking for him. It was him that revealed himself to me. He did this through Derek. As I walked down the road past a playground of children playing and running around, Derek approached me. He asked “Can I talk to you?” and I agreed, mostly out of curiosity. When he then asked “Do you believe in God?” I was taken aback for a second. I tried to say no, but something inside me urged me to be honest. I told him that I was agnostic.
For the next twenty minutes or so, Derek talked to me. He reached out to me, told me that God loved me. He hit the nail on the head with how I felt lost and confused, that there was a hole in my heart and I was trying to fill it with all the wrong things. By the end of our talk, both of us were welling up and we cried on each other’s shoulders as he hugged me and prayed for me.
I walked home with tears streaming down my face, shaking a lot and in total shock. When I got home, I collapsed onto my bed and prayed. I cried out to God, asking him for guidance, asking him not to leave me after this, telling him that I didn’t understand what was happening, what I was meant to do, or where to go from there.
That evening, I went to Frances, who has kinda become my unofficial Godmother. She showed me a book of bible passages, and this is what it had for that day:
Learn to relate to others through My Love rather than yours. Your human love is ever so limited, full of flaws and manipulation. My loving presence, which always enfolds you, is available to bless others as well as you. Instead of trying harder to help people through your own paltry supplies, become aware of My unlimited supply, which is accessible to you continually. Let My Love envelop your outreach to other people.
Many of My precious children have fallen prey to burnout. A better description of this condition might be “drainout.” Countless interactions with needy people have drained them, without their conscious awareness. You are among those weary ones who are like wounded soldiers needing R&R. Take time to rest in the Love-Light of My Presence. I will gradually restore to you the energy that you have lost over the years. Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and you will find rest for your souls.
Exodus 33:14; Matthew 11:28-29
Crazy relatable, right? Also crazy: Derek wasn’t meant to leave his house for another four hours that day. There were just too many coincidences that day, and I would have been an idiot to ignore them.
Frances took me to the Christian Union that night, and I started to meet a new group of friends, not knowing how important they would become to me in the next few weeks. They were the guidance that I asked for. In the following week I joined the Saint Mary Bredin Church, ironically across the road from Laurel House.
I was immediately welcomed into a warm and accepting family. Ben, my unofficially adopted Godfather, gave me a free ticket to Big Church Day Out, a Christian Festival that was on the next weekend. I had to work for the ticket, setting up and taking down stalls, but that was light work in exchange for what I experienced that weekend. The festival wasn’t a concert, it was a huge session of worship in which everyone in the crowd joined in. The atmosphere was amazing, and in that, my soul was lifted so much. I sang with my new friends, I danced and I felt happier than I have in a long, long time. On the Saturday night, as Bethel played, I answered the alter call. I told God “I’m all in.” My friends encircled me, hugged me, cried with me, happy, joyous tears. We later joked that bathing in the tears of a new Christian was the clue to eternal life, and that’s why they all hugged me, but I know deep down that that was a truly emotional moment for all of us. I truly became a Christian at that point, and it’s changed me in so many ways.
I now live my life by a very simple philosophy – “God’s in the car, don’t fart.” God is within us all, looking out. He knows all of our thoughts and our feelings and he loves and cares for us. If your conscience says something is wrong, don’t do it. If it tells you something is right, you should do it. Most importantly, with God on the inside, he knows your regrets. He knows that if you regret something in your heart, if your heart is heavy, he will forgive you. If you truly regret what you’ve done, just like I did, then I promise you that God has already forgiven you. That regret shows how much you want to repent, and that’s good enough for Him.
Since May 12th I haven’t touched any substance that I used to “self-medicate” with. I’ve cut down my smoking to barely a couple of cigarettes a day. Things are good now. Things are so much better. The main difference is that I’ve learnt that I have a purpose. God’s greatest gift to me has been this troubled, mixed up life. Through my BPD I’ve experienced the lowest of the lows, I’ve heard the life stories and problems of so many, and now I have a story which shows others how God can truly cares for his children. My story is how I can help people, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. That’s my purpose, to help others, and whilst I couldn’t do it “through my own paltry supplies”, through the love of God, I can truly help others to change their lives and that makes me so, so happy.
My arm is still covered with those same scars from the past, but I’m no longer ashamed of them. They remind me that God can heal all. They show how deeply I sunk into the darkness, but they’ve healed now and I’m back on track. You can’t erase your past, but it can be healed.
To end on a point that I find entertaining, all of my friends here know me as Alex. My first name is Alexander, which means “Defender of men.” I’ve come out of the “Dubhagáin” and now I can help to protect others.
I apologise for how lengthy this read has been, but I hope that you’ve found some encouragement in this post! Go forth, know that God loves you, that you too have a purpose in life, it may not have been shown to you yet, but it’ll come. God loves you, and would never leave his children alone. I pray for you, reading this, that you will find guidance like I did, and that it will bring you this happiness that fills my heart now. God bless.
Alex is currently studying at Canterbury Christ Church University. He loves all things Marvel, red pandas and cooking.