The Me, I am not.

Sometime in October 2007 I became very weak, sudden high temperature, started to vomit, and collapsed on the ground of the farm I was working. I couldn’t move and was laying there for 3 hours or more before I was I found. I had been a very fit and strong 40 year old. Able to and used to working 12 hour days, or more.

No Rin Tin Tin, or Lassie experience for me when I tried to send the farm dog to go and get help. He just licked me, and then laid down beside me. In hind-site, that dog probably did me a good deed when he laid beside me, protecting me a little from the wind.

I was found and the ambulance called. I was rushed to hospital where they fought the next 4 days to get my raging temp of 41.9 degrees under 39 degrees. And then next 4 weeks to normal safe levels. They had to cut my dirty farm clothes off me, and I laid in bed for 4 days, having a combination of very weird, sometimes funny, sometimes scary, and sometimes outright wacky hallucinations.

I must have looked a sight. I was paralyzed on the right side, which meant my tongue was also stuck to the right side of my mouth. So any talking I was doing in my semi comatose feverish state was extremely incoherent. Later on as I improved somewhat, I often had to use my hand to move my tongue to the other of my mouth to talk. I was in emergency / critical care for 4 – 5 days, and on the 5th day I wanted to have a shower. I must have been very high on the nose and I was wheeled into the shower.  Where I sat on a wheel chair while the shower water just pour over me. Bliss. I couldn’t move. I was frozen.  The male attendant treated me with dignity and respect as he washed me down. And I sat in that chair crying.

I had been a strong man. I was never a runner. But I was strong. And here I was suddenly faced with the reality of not even being able to wipe my backside for myself. I needed someone to do that for me.

During the next 2 months I went through much rehabilitation where I had to relearn to talk. To walk. To pick things up. To eat with a knife and fork. To make myself toast, and butter it. To make a cup of coffee. I found it hard to get out of a chair. The physiotherapist spent 3 days teaching me how to get off a chair and stand. I had visitors that night and they asked what I had been doing. I excitedly told them that I was taught how to get out of a chair – and their eyes glazed over as if that didn’t sound very exciting. I tell you, it was exciting for me – there are so many things that we take for granted, and getting out of a chair is one of them.

How quickly time flies. This happened 10 years ago. I was diagnosed with viral encephalitis. Too look at me you wouldn’t think that there had been anything wrong with me. You wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with me now. But appearances are deceiving. The person you look at, it isn’t me.

The encephalitis left me with what they call an Acquired Brain Injury. It’s an hidden disability. You can’t see it. It’s left me with partial amnesia. I have holes in my memory. Gaps. Pieces of my life; experiences, both good and bad that are missing. Even now, 10 years down the track I am introduced to people I once knew, and have no idea who they are. People talk about things I got up to, and I have no idea of what they are talking about – those memories are gone. Some of those experiences are traumatic, and others a little more humorous.  For instance:

I asked a friend how his sisters kids were doing – only to be told they had drowned in a dam years before – I had known that, I had been to their funeral – but it was like hearing it for the first time, and I went into grief and shock once again at hearing that news.

The 2nd experience was walking into someones house and remarking, “Wow, I like what you did to the kitchen, when did you do this!” I had helped them 2 years before to renovate their kitchen, and had no memory of it at all.

Over time I have learned to treat this as a journey of discovery. Relearning to know what it is once again that I had once known.

One of the side effects is that I cannot remember lists that are longer than three things. I need to write lists down. It wiped out my working knowledge of grammar. I read a humorous story about Dan Wallace, a well known ancient Greek scholar, who also suffered from encephalitis. It wiped out his knowledge of Greek and eventually when he went back to university to teach, he taught himself, and his first year Greek students, Greek, out of the text book he wrote on the subject.

I swapped a few emails with Dan, and I decided to take a first year Greek subject at college, where I was to discover I had no idea of grammar. Seven years down the track and my working knowledge of grammar is still basically non existent. I have tried so many times to learn it – but for what ever reason it is, I cannot recall it. (interestingly though, I do seem to use it ok on a subconscious level when I write. Though my spelling is terrible and I don’t really use punctuation properly. )

I am often stuck for words. I often stutter. I can repeat myself a lot as I often forget that I have said something. I make a joke of this – by saying I am just a good preacher. For a preacher always tells you what they are going to say, tells you what they are saying, and then tells you what they said once again. Regarding preaching, the Lord has given me an amazing ability that when I stand behind the pulpit to share, I no longer stutter, look for the words to say, or have the brain fog. I am able to preach and share without notes – its like the Holy Spirit grabs hold of my spirit, directs my tongue and my mind, and the words just come out.

I suffer brain fog. I can’t hear you if there is background noise. If I have to concentrate on a subject that needs instant attention my mind can go blank. My mind tires easily. I can be standing in front of you nodding, appearing to be there, yet I am not.

I get the tremors. I hide them. Often my hand can shake, I can have trouble holding a glass of water or coffee and I need to put it down. If I am at church, and I feel a shake coming on I often go to the toilets, or back room where I can do so in private. Sometimes – though rarely I have a full body shake.

I tire easily standing up. I carry a walking stick in my car, and time to time I use it. If we go shopping I use the shopping trolley as a walking aide. My balance is shot to bits. Normal people have thousands of little nerve endings on the bottom of their feet, which automatically send messages to their brain to help them maintain their balance. Mine are shot to bits, and I walk by sight. I lose my balance if I step from a hard surface onto a soft surface – such as concrete to sand. Tiled floor to plush carpet.  Day to day walking for me is often like walking through mud, or having a log tied to my legs.

I sleep a lot. My brain gets tired. I turn off. When the exhaustion hits me, I just get up, and curl up on the couch, or go to bed. I may sleep for 10 minutes, or I may sleep for a few hours. I forget where I put things. I have developed a habit where I put things in the same spot every time. Such as my wallet and keys. If I don’t, or they are moved, I can’t find them.

I don’t like crowds. They scare me. I don’t like people invading my personal space – it freaks me out. I don’t like cities as I get lost in them. Yet, I love the bush, wide open spaces – I have a mate who owns 90’000 acres, and I can walk, drive, hunt and explore and never get lost there. I don’t like driving towards Blacktown to do our shopping. I always like to head towards Penrith and head up over the Blue Mountains when we go for a drive. It’s like a built in compass that drives me and gives me reassurance.

I am a Christian. If you want to use a label I am Pentecostal in my world view and experience. I speak in tongues. I believe in prophecy. I believe God answers prayers. I have had God answer many of my prayers. I have experienced many forms of healing in my life, and seen God heal many others over the years.

God has done much healing in me over the last 10 years. Physical, mental, and emotional. I am no longer in a wheel chair. I can speak. I can wipe my own backside. (You might think Craig, that is a bit rude…My reply to you is, “Pull your head in, I went through a time when I couldn’t shower, and go to the toilet on my own – Being able to wipe your backside is a luxury we often take for granted.) I can drive.  I can do a lot of the things that I once took for granted.  2 years ago I severely hurt my back, and the Lord has greatly healed it. And I no longer get lost in a shopping center.

During the last 10 years I have learned a lot about good, bad, and indifferent pastoral care for those suffering disability. Firstly the bad.

Don’t tell the person they have a demon and your going to cast it out. I had two different people come to my place to do that once. My attitude towards them wasn’t the best. (I believe in demonic oppression. I was delivered from a gambling and pornography stronghold, where those two demons were delivered from me. I also once woke up with a very sore right foot. I limped around all day trying to work out how I injured it. That night, while on the loo, I noticed my left foot was hurting, instead of my right. I started laughing and said, “You stupid demon, you forgot what foot you were on, now ping off.” And it left, and my foot was healed. ) If you believe I am oppressed by a demon, cast it out in your intercessory prayer time and if I really am, I shall be delivered.

Don’t invite me to a healing service. I probably wont go. I have been to many. Most of them are full of hype and manipulation. I don’t need to be emotionally hyped up with an hours worth of singing, some preacher preaching really bad teaching for 40 minutes, followed by “If you just believe you will be healed.”  Jesus rebuked his own disciples for not having the faith to heal the sick. If I aint healed, don’t lay the blame on me….blame yourself for your own lack of faith!

Don’t tell me not to take anti depression medication. Now, I am not on them now. I have been, and they worked at the time. You don’t tell people who have a broken leg, or a headache not to take a Panadol. You don’t tell someone who has a infection not to take their antibiotics… and you just don’t tell someone who has a broken mind, not to take their medication for their mind.

Allow people to go to counselling. Too many idiots who shouldn’t be allowed near a microphone poo on the idea of going to counselling. Counselling works. You have to allow people a safe place to vent. To speak. To share. To get out of their system what is contained inside. I found counselling incredibly soothing and helpful when my marriage broke up. I was grieving and deeply confused. I had a real “aha” moment when we were talking about the 7 levels of grief. I was at one level of grief over losing my health and the trauma of losing my identity in what I could do… and I was at another level of grief over the loss of my marriage.

At the church I was going to, I was at the mens group where we were told by the organizers, that as men we need to be real with each other. I had problems where my leg would freeze up on me and go dead. This night it froze on me and went dead. I dragged myself to the car, and was waiting for it to come alive again.. (This would take a period of time between a few minutes, and a couple of hours.) The guy who spoke about the need to be honest and real with each other, came out and told me I had to leave. I said, my leg has frozen up, when it kicks in I will leave and shut the gate for you. Suddenly I started thumping the steering wheel, and let rip a couple of “F Bombs.” The church elder rebuked me for my swearing, telling me  a godly man wouldn’t swear, telling me the Scriptures command us not to swear. He and the other guy, dragged me out of the car, and dragged me around the carpark praying for me, and praising God for my healing when my leg kicked into gear. (Those guys were just jerks. I feel like calling them a bunch of wankers.) All they did was put fear into me, as I had real bad balance issues. A few months later at physio we discovered the reason my leg would freeze up was because my big toe would drop and press into the floor. (Try it now, push your big toe onto the floor and try and lift your foot off the floor.) So we developed a habit that when my leg would freeze up, I would stop, think, lift up my big toe, lift my leg and walk from there. Thank you Jesus. Though its rare, there are still times when my big toe drops and presses into the floor, and its nearly an automatic response to stop, lift up the toe, then continue to walk without really having to think about it.

It’s ok to allow people to vent. To rage. To shout. To thump. To even swear. Read through the Psalms. They are full of laments, vents, rages, shouting, confusion and anger. As well are praise, hope. All of these activities are an important part of faith. Real faith.

Don’t tell someone to just believe. Horrible stuff. Nasty stuff. Evil stuff. If your the one praying for the person…you make sure you have the faith that God is going to heal them, help them, strengthen them. If you don’t have that kinda faith, then you sure as hell don’t have the right to lay that burden onto someone whose life has shattered with the same deal. Instead, tell the person, you knows what, I can see your going through a real hard time right now, let me have faith and pray for you.

Don’t put pressure on people to be healed. It’s God who does the healing. Sometimes God heals instantly. Sometimes over a period of time. Sometimes its partial. And sometimes its never. Elijah who was a mighty prophet. A mighty man of God who saw many miracles. Miracles that far outweigh many of the things we will ever see, had a mental breakdown. He hid in a cave for a long time. God gently cared for him, and never told him to snap out of it. After a long period of restoration God called him to go and do one job, and train up one man to replace him. Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. Things were never good for him. We would consider him a real basket case today. But God told him, “Hi Jeremiah, I know my plans for you, plans to bless you, and keep you and not cause you harm. Know I am with you.” Jacob wrestled with God, and he forever walked with a limp after his encounter.

There are times when God will allow a person to walk with a limp. Never ever lay a burden onto a person that all they gotta do is believe and they will no longer limp.

The Do’s. 

Do encourage a person that Jesus loves them, and if they are a christian, they are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. Encourage them to share about their struggles. Engage with them about where they are in their faith.

Do pray for them. Tell them you are praying for them and how you are praying for them. The Apostle Paul had a habit of telling peeps he was praying for them, and writing down just how he was praying for them.

Give people space to be themselves. Often people who are struggling find this hard, as they don’t know who they are anymore. Don’t put expectation on someone to change. Trust me, if they could, they would.



About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
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