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I really didn’t want to come. I’ve been in the middle of a depressive period, black and tear-filled and unassailably glum. I’d look in the mirror at myself and think, “who could care for that fat, ugly, unmotivated lump?” and that would just reinforce the negative thinking with the force of a fist slamming into me. I cried the night before coming, desperate to just hide, to not do anything, to just be immobile and uncontactable and quiet. To not have to talk to anyone. I packed my bag with reluctance, and slept.

I put on my bright face as I leave the house, gear my tongue ready for conversation, pick up my colleagues and we are away. I chat without any problem, we listen to music, I make light. But it’s like holding together a broken vase with sticky tape; I fear that at any moment the pieces could start to fall away.

We arrive and people are glad to see us, of course they are. We go into prayer groups and I’m asked to introduce myself to those who don’t know me and to talk about how I became a Christian. I don’t shy from that sort of conversation, and my goal is to always be as honest and open as I can be about the trials I’ve been through, but also God’s great grace in saving me and keeping me safe through the difficult times. It’s good to be reminded of those things as I speak. The girls in my group pray for me, loving, earnest and heartfelt prayers that feel like a balm to my cracked soul.

The day’s sessions are filled mostly with admin and policy talks. I try to concentrate, but feel my attention slipping. During free time I get in the car and do what I do every year, go in search of decent coffee. It takes me a while to find a place that’s open and decent, but I don’t mind. The drive down to Thirroul along the Sea Cliff Bridge is one I don’t tire of, the majesty and contrasts of creation on all sides, the vastness of the ocean and the hugeness of the sky. I have my coffee and cake, then go and sit up at the Bald Hill Lookout. The sea is a silver sheet of rippling satin, and it is quiet up there.

I catch up with J over dinner and we have a honest heart-to-heart about the things we’re dealing with. I talk to her and T about what depression looks like for me, what it’s like when I can’t stop crying, when I can’t get out of bed, when I have to force myself to just get out the door in the morning, when I’m exhausted and just sad about everything. J prays for me.

It’s a night off but there aren’t really any options I feel like joining (State of Origin? No thanks), so I go to bed early, before everyone else gets there so at least I’ll have a few hours of lying down without worrying about making noise or whatever. I listen to a talk on my ipod and drift in and out. The room smells like toilet cleaner. It’s stuffy and full of peoples’ stuff. My bed isn’t comfortable, it’s like sleeping on a couch when you fall between the cracks of the cushions. I hate staying in dorms like this but I’m glad I brought my own pillow and can curl up like a caterpillar in my sleeping bag. I eventually go to sleep when the others get to bed and settle down.