STORY BEHIND A SUPERCHARGED SUPERHERO
The story really began in the long, hot summer of 2017, here in the UK. Tom and I had just welcomed our second daughter into the world and were settling down as a family of four. Tom was often away during the week working for the Royal Navy but he was looking forward to his leave throughout August. Just before it began, Tom was invited to join a team of military guys to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats: the length of the United Kingdom. That’s 1000 miles in just five days! It wasn’t great timing, but he felt it was something he really wanted to do. And we were so proud to welcome him home at the end of what had been an excruciatingly difficult week.
On his return, Tom was obviously exhausted, but over the summer the exhaustion just didn’t seem to lift. Most onlookers saw this as him needing a break from work or the result of having a newborn at home. But I knew that it was different. Something had gone wrong. In the months that followed, Tom became more and more fatigued and eventually found himself mostly bed-bound, only able to shower or go to the bathroom before collapsing in a heap for the day. After six long months and many tests, scans, and appointments, no-one was any wiser and so a diagnosis of M.E./CFS was given. A label which really didn’t change a thing, because there was no treatment or cure, and the outlook seemed bleak.
SUFFERING BRINGS UNCERTAINTY
In the meantime, our eldest daughter (then three) picked up on the anxiety and uncertainty filling the air at home. She has always been a worrier and I was acutely aware of how she was starting to make sense of this sudden change in her own head. Most days she would ask if Daddy was coming out with us. My reply was always along the lines of, “No, because Daddy is ill/sick/poorly/not well/fill in the blank.” One day, she just stopped asking. Instead her questions began to include things like, “When will Daddy get better? Will he get better?” and then heart wrenching, “Will Daddy die?”
A SUPER-CHARGED SUPERHERO
We needed a new narrative and that’s when I had the idea for Supercharged Superhero, a story about a little girl and her superhero dad, whose battery suddenly and unexplainably runs flat and will not fully recharge. It’s a story about change, grief, acceptance, and adjustment. Throughout the book, there is a theme of love in all circumstances.
Most people who live with any kind of long-term, fatigue-based condition will be familiar with the Spoon Theory. Tom had been trying to use this to help him pace and work out his limitations. I tried explaining this to our daughter and she just didn’t get it. It was too abstract for a child who had had little experience with measuring spoonfuls at that point. Naturally, I tried to think of a concept that was relevant to her. The battery on a phone or tablet seemed an obvious choice. She understood the consequences of a battery running flat, the limitations of a partly charged battery, and the endless possibilities of a fully charged one.
A BATTERY ANALOGY
As soon as I started to talk about “Daddy’s battery” the penny dropped. I later found out that this analogy is widely used alongside the Spoon Theory and I can understand why. We shared this new analogy with family and friends and they too started to appreciate what Tom was going through. It wasn’t simply a case of, “Have a good sleep and start the day new” or “Shake yourself down and get on with it.” Tom’s battery was “broken” and unable to be fixed or replaced, so we needed to make the best of what he did have.
When I first wrote the story of the Supercharged Superhero, I printed it at work and by the time I got to the photocopier, three colleagues had read it. One was in tears as she had guessed that it was about our family, and two others were in tears because they felt it described perfectly their own family’s personal circumstances about which I had no idea. A week later, and it had been shared with others who were living with chronic illness, physical disability, long term injuries, and mental health conditions, and each and every one of them told me how relevant it was to them, that this story was special, that it could help other families, and that I needed to do something with it.
A WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
When all of this first happened, our world was tipped upside down. I definitely struggled with post-natal anxiety, almost grieving my maternity leave as each week slipped by. I felt scared, stressed, guilty, incredibly anxious, and angry. Especially with God. I just couldn’t feel Him with me at all. Not one bit. I continued to go to church in the early months, but felt less and less engaged. I had returned to church after a 15 year absence, when our first daughter was born, and now I could feel myself stepping out of it again.
One particularly bad day, I went along to a local toddler group at another church where a friend of mine worked. She gave the best hugs and always knew what to say. It was a lovely morning and as I was leaving, one of the church leaders asked me if I wanted to join their Alpha Course, which was due to start that same week. My doctor had advised me to find some “me time,” which seemed impossible with a baby, a pre-schooler and a bed-bound husband, so I accepted the invitation as an opportunity to do just that. I had never heard of Alpha before, and so I did a little research before attending the first meeting.
GOD WAS CLEARLY WORKING
As I watched the first video, I sat rigid and tense as we discussed the goodness of God. I was bubbling. I went back there week after week, and spent most weeks crying in desperation or anger as I heard shiny testimonials about how God was amongst serious criminals. One week, we talked about prayer, and I realized I hadn’t been actively praying. We talked about how prayer didn’t need to be formal or at a set time in a set way, and it really opened my eyes. I drove home on that cold November night screaming at the top of my lungs at God and begging Him to show Himself to me.
The thunderbolt moment didn’t come. Everything stayed the same. Or so I thought.
In the month or so that followed, a number of things happened which I did not see as God at the time, but on reflection was so clearly God – I must have been blind to miss it! A new American family moved to our church and I was introduced to them. The dad worked for the church and the mum was at home with her youngest. She and I began to hang out almost daily, going for long walks, and I began to share what was happening in our family. Her faith is so strong and I learned to pray with her and to read the Bible in a way I hadn’t before.
THE BIBLE SHOWS US THAT SUFFERING IS NOT NEW
Scripture helped me realize that suffering is not new. There is so much suffering in the Bible – far more that we can comprehend, but throughout it all, God’s people remained faithful. Every time I read my Bible, I would find something new that would speak to me and very soon I had armed myself with words and verses that would lift and encourage me through the dark times. Even Tom started to ask questions about God, which he never had before.
We firmly believe that all of this has and continues to be part of God’s plan, and we have no choice but to trust Him. He hasn’t let us down so far and on reflection, we can see so many ways that He has used this period of our lives for good.
A GIFT FROM GOD
One evening, God placed the words “Supercharged Superhero” into my head, and an hour later, the story was written and hasn’t really changed between edits. The story truly is a gift from God, and I thank Him every day for the way it is helping others around the world.
Gemma is from Shropshire, England. She is married to Tom and is Mom to two girls aged 6 and 3. Gemma is an elementary school teacher and she is also involved in her local church, helping lead the children’s groups. More recently, she has acquired a new hat which is that of a children’s author. Her first book Supercharged Superhero has been published this year and is based on her families struggles of living with chronic illness.