The Depression Slide

I haven’t been posting as much lately, for a few reasons. Partly because of a flare up with my physical symptoms.  For me, the spiral of physical symptoms leads to the spiral of mental symptoms and vice-versa.  I haven’t written much because I’ve been trying to hold my head above water.

I sat in my therapist office last week as we discussed the weird in-between weeks of depression.  I’m not currently in a depressive episode, but I’m in what I like to call “the slide.”  For me, this is the time in-between the good times and the bad times, the period in which I can try and take the steps I know will help, or I can watch myself slide right into a full-blown (physical) flare up. The flare-ups of my physical illness will lead to a flare up of my mental illness and a classic depressive episode.

This is where all those coping mechanisms I learned in therapy get put into action.

Here are the top five things I have to do on a regular basis to maintain my best self (physically and mentally):

  • Be in the word. For me, this means regular bible reading/prayer/small group/church attendance. Lately, I’ve been going through the Val Marie Paper Fresh Start Prayer Devotion + Journal, using the All Good Things Collective Daily Remain Journal, and Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God study.  I truly believe that my depression is best managed with a fully holistic approach, and for me that includes not just diet, medication, and therapy,  but also spiritual nourishment and warfare.

 

  • Eat good food + drink water + exercise.  This is nothing new for most of us to hear, but I need constant reminders. I have to stay on a gluten-free, low dairy diet for my best self. This is hard and I have been tempted by cake ALL WEEK, but I made it through and it has been worth it. I end up cooking at home as much as I can and taking leftovers for work (check back soon for my favorite recipe). I eat cheerios + almond milk for breakfast, only drink my coffee black, and try to avoid soda or sugar heavy drinks. I suck at drinking enough water, but I try!  Again, not anything new, but something I am not super motivated about. I know that regular exercise helps me sleep better and feel better overall, which helps to keep a flare-up away. I shoot for in person, hour-long yoga classes two-three times a week and use Yoga With Adriene videos if I miss a class.

 

  • Therapy + Medication. I know, I never shut up about therapy. I never stop talking about therapy because it changed my life. Seriously,  the list of things that changed my life goes like this: Jesus, my people, books, therapy, and coffee. I go at least twice a month, and often more. Never less. Even when I think I don’t need it, therapy helps me in my day-to-day so much. It helps me stay afloat, to not slide into the pit of despair.  It took me a long time to find a therapist that works with me, and for me, and fits into my budget.  Also, medication is a thing that helps me function in a way that a lot of other things didn’t. I tried just therapy for a while, then therapy and meds, then just therapy again. I learned that I function best with medication to help balance out the chemicals in my brain.  I know that there is a lot of stigma around anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but friends – I am here to tell you, if you think you need medication, just talk to your doctor. There is no shame in taking medication for depression. Would you refuse a cast if your arm was broken? Would you refuse pain medications after surgery or medications to help manage your blood pressure? Mental illness can and should be treated like a physical illness. Your brain can get sick just like your heart or your liver, and not just from cancer. I fully recommend therapy and medications, as I don’t think medication alone is the best option. It will help chemicals, but it won’t help you understand and learn to cope with your medication.

 

  • Spend Time With My People. I am an introvert and a loner. My depression makes me withdraw and my physical fatigue makes me want to do nothing besides go to sleep when I get home from work. I know that I have to have intentional interaction with my people to stay healthy. This isn’t every day, or just in passing. I have to be intentional about scheduling time with my boyfriend, my family, and my friends on a regular basis. I need to communicate with them on a daily basis, even if it’s just to check in or discuss something that’s not serious – I just need the connection.

 

  • Schedule Time For Myself. This is super simple, in theory. One night a week, at least, I block off time for myself. I make no plans, and tell everyone I am unavailable. I spend time reading, writing, catching up on shows, or even just resting or going to bed early. I intentionally do not let myself do chores or anything that I have to do – this time is strictly for rest and renewal.

 

 

So far, I’m doing all of these at about 90%. I slept in Saturday and didn’t go to yoga, but I did make it Monday after work. This morning I overslept and didn’t get my quiet time in before I left the house, but I found a pocket of time before starting work to fit it in. Another part of managing depression is grace. You won’t cope perfectly everytime, but that’s okay. Sometimes you won’t be able to catch it before you slide into that pit. But it is worth the extra work when you can manage to take care of yourself before it gets bad.

What about you? What’s in your tool box? Your top 5? I’m always looking for new ideas. If you don’t know the answer to this question, take a few minutes and make a list of a few things that make you feel good and try to do those each day.

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part Two)

 

So yesterday’s post might not be what you expected when you saw the title, but I want to assure you that setting and maintaining realistic goals for myself is incredibly important when it comes to managing my mental + physical health. I am a goal-oriented person, I need to have something to strive for and build on each day. In the past, I’ve let this sort of take over my life and I frequently set unrealistic goals for myself and then got frustrated when I couldn’t achieve them. For me, this frequently led to a depressive episode, especially in college. When I was an undergraduate student, I was also at the most difficult time with my health, both physical and mental. Setting unrealistic goals, like not being late to class or completing all of my assignments both on time and to the perfect grade, set me up for failure. The Powersheets prep work helped me make sure I was focusing on realistic goals that will help me focus on maintaining my mental + physical health, my faith, my finances, and my relationships with the people I love. I would encourage you to think about setting some realistic goals for the New Year, and remember that good things grow slow! Your goal doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s and it can be a simple as making your bed or drinking a full glass of water as soon as you get up each morning.

One of the goals I set for myself for the New Year was to cultivate my self-care. For me, that means to maintain the practices I put in place last year and to continue to figure out what self-care means to me. Self-care plays a huge role in maintaining my mental health, and other than the new medications I started last year and regular therapy over the years, I would say that maintaining a regular self-care practice has been the most helpful in my journey with depression. My self-care routine may not look anything at all like yours, and that is okay. In fact, that’s the point. While I encourage you to try one of the things on my list if it interests you, your routine should be full of things that refresh you and not everyone functions the same in this area.

For me, the things I’ve found to add to my routine are a mix of boring, free, exciting, and an investment. There are a few things that I decided to work into my monthly budget and while I could be using that money elsewhere, I have decided that it is more than worth it to invest in these practices. One of these investments is a weekly 30-minute massage, and if it is within your means, I highly suggest giving it a try. Before I committed to weekly massages, I would get them every few months and while they were nice, they didn’t do a lot for me long term. Massage works best when practiced regularly. It took about a year for me to find a masseuse who was the perfect fit for me financially, geographically, and comfort level wise. Committing to giving myself 30 minutes each week has done wonders for my mental health and my physical pain levels. In addition to massages, I get regular chiropractic adjustments and this was a game changer for me. It does more for my physical pain than my depression, but when I physically feel better my depression is easier to manage.

I include my regular therapy sessions as a part of my self-care as well. The frequency in which I meet with my therapist changes, depending on where I’m at and what I’m dealing with at the time. Also, budget occasionally influences how often I see her, but I’ve made a commitment in the last few months to decide how many times I want to see her that month and budget that money out so that unless I have a significant emergency, my therapy isn’t affected.  I also include super boring things in the self-care category like taking your meds on time, drinking enough water, working out (for me, this is mostly yoga),  and eating healthy (ish).

For me, self-care also includes regular quiet time with my bible and prayer journal, and regular time set aside for alone time. I am an introvert through and through and I go absolutely insane if I don’t get time to myself on a regular basis. It makes me short tempered and cranky and I hate how I begin to treat my people and myself. When I don’t schedule regular alone time, I get overwhelmed and overbooked which creates cracks in my defenses that depression easily slips into. Three tools I’m using this year to maintain my quiet time and create margin for myself are the Holy Bible YouVersion app, with a plan to read the bible in one year, the Write the Word Journal (created by Lara Casey who also does Powersheets), and the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.

The Write the Word Journal comes in several versions that all focus on a different topic. The choices are Cultivate Joy (which is the one I’m starting with), Cultivate Faith, Cultivate Gratitude, Cultivate Hope, and Cultivate Renewal. Each new entry gives you a verse to copy out in your own handwriting and then a page to record notes or prayers.

The Simplified Planner was created by Emily Ley, a designer and mama who couldn’t find a planner that suited her needs so she created her own. It’s my dream planner, honestly. If you’ve known me for longer than 6 months, you know that I’m a big fan of planners but can never ever find one I like enough to use more than a few months. I used one of the daily editions last year for a few months and this year I’ve got a weekly that I am so thrilled with, I think I might actually use this one all year!

What I love so much about Emily and the Simplified Planner is that, like Lara Casey and the Powersheets, the focus is on simplifying your days down to what is absolutely most important. Emily is a big proponent of giving yourself margin, or what she calls white space – the spaces in your planner pages that aren’t filled, so that you have time to spend with your family and friends and time to schedule in your self-care.

Both of these women have taught me a lot about living a slow-paced life that allows for focus on the most important, rather than creating a life filled with tasks, events, and meetings.  Towards the end of last year, I sat down and figured out what my non-negotiables were and what I could let go of in my life to give myself more white space. This has allowed me to have more time to myself, more time for my self-care routine, and more time to spend with my people.

 

What about you? Do you know what your self-care toolbox contains? What tools are you using to manage your mental health in 2018? Do you know what your non-negotiables are?

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part One)

Hi friends!

Please forgive my absence lately, the holidays were a busy time and I tried to soak in all the time with my people. I also spent this time thinking about how I wanted to spend my days in 2018, what I wanted to dedicate my time, money, and energy to.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to get to a healthy normal with my mental and physical health and in this new year, I want to continue to maintain that level, and possibly grow it!

The first thing I did was take this entire week off, for a staycation of sorts. I traditionally spend the days surrounding New Year’s Eve with a group of friends – we rent a cabin together and catch up since we all live in different areas now. It’s always so much fun, but also a little overwhelming for an introvert such as myself. I didn’t want to come home from that trip and be immediately thrown back into work, so I took some time off to refresh and start the new year off in a way I want to continue: slow, intentional, and focused. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but since I had extra vacation time that I wasn’t likely to use, I thought I’d give it a go!

There are a few tools I used to sort out what I wanted my year to look like and what habits I wanted to build in order to manage my mental and physical health this year. This is a brief overview, but I’d be happy to answer any questions that I didn’t cover here! (Also, I’m not getting paid to talk about any of these things, I just am really excited about them!)

For Christmas I asked for a set of 2018 Powersheets from Lara Casey. You can find them at cultivatewhatmatters.com, though the yearly sets are sold out. She does have 6 month sets still available, and has a very in-depth and easy to follow blog series on how to go through this goal setting process with just a regular notebook! Check out that series at laracasey.com/blog. Here are a few quick snap shots of my Powersheets prep work:

The prep work takes you through so many fantastic activities to help you figure out what you want to focus on for the coming year. The pictures above are of my favorite pages, a review of what worked for you last year and what didn’t. As you can see, some of my good things were regular therapy, yoga practice, new medication, more sleep, talking about the hard things, girls nights, reading more, and QUITTING GRAD SCHOOL. You may be surprised about seeing that on my list of good things for last year, but it was honestly the most healthy decision I could have made for myself. I was overloading myself, stressed out, falling prey to my depression more regularly, and not focusing on my mental or physical health enough because I was trying to do graduate school online while working full time.

Once you get through the Powersheets Prep, you get to set up to 10 goals and flesh out an action plan to help you actually achieve these goals. I chose to set 7 goals, thought the first one is the most important, and the one I feel like will feed each goal as the year goes on, otherwise they are in no particular order.

Here are my goals for 2018:

  • Cultivate my Faith: focus on my spiritual growth
  • Cultivate my Finances: changing my money mindset/working towards financial freedom
  • Cultivate my Writing: flesh out this calling to use my talent for words to help others struggling with similar issues
  • Cultivate my Work: Specifically, my job as a Children’s Librarian
  • Cultivate Self-Care: Re-Creation // Take care of myself so that I can take care of my people
  • Cultivate my Relationships: Specifically with my boyfriend, friends, and siblings
  • Cultivate my Health: Focus on fitness and nutrition

If these seem intimidating or broad, never fear! The action plan pages help you break them down into manageable steps. For example, on my action pages for cultivating my faith I determined the following things to help me achieve the goal: start my mornings with Jesus (I do this with the YouVersion Holy Bible app and a plan to read the Bible in one year), be intentional about church/bible study attendance (I’ll be helping in the nursery this Sunday, but my Women’s Bible Study group starts next Wednesday), and to pray first (I’ve got a prayer journal set up and in addition to focusing more on prayer in general, I’m hoping to create a habit of praying first when I face any challenges, rather than going to social media, friends, etc). Once you finish your goal setting and action pages, each month has a section that includes a tending list. This page can be torn out and taped up somewhere you will see it, or kept in your planner (which is what I’m doing). The tending list lets you pick monthly/weekly/daily goals and has a place to check off when you’ve done them.

My absolute favorite thing about this entire process is the constant encouragement and reminder to get messy, to prioritize progress over perfection, and that it’s okay to grow slow!

That’s a good reminder for all us this year, but especially those who struggle with mental illness: It is okay to grow slow!

I had originally planned to put all of my tools in one post, but I just gushed too much about the first one! Check back tomorrow for part two!

 

What are some of your goals for the new year, mental health related or not? If your not sure, take some time to think about the good things that happened last year and what things were more challenging. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Tuesday Tales: Nothing To Prove

A few weeks ago I was asked to think about what I am truly passionate about. The obvious things came to mind: my people, music, coffee, books, my dog. For some reason, I stopped before I began to say any of those things and a thought hit me – the thing I am absolutely passionate about? Stories. In whatever format they come, fictional or not. I love a good story, especially a good redemption story. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I love to see people realize that they have a story and that their individual story is significant and should be treasured. I hope that every person who does not want to keep living their story will read just one more sentence, one more page, and give that story another chance.

I knew when I started this blog that the underlining theme would be about stories. Tales From A Bibliophile is an outlet for me to share how Jesus is redeeming my story, and a part of my own story is rooted deeply in books. I was practically raised in a library and am now a Children’s Librarian. Stories, and their power to remind us that we are not alone, played a huge role in shaping my life. That being said, one of the regular posts you can expect from me will be a new book update every Tuesday. Somedays it will be what I’m reading, or what I’m excited to read, and others it will be a review of a book I’ve finished and think you should read.

Today, I want to share with you a book that has made more of a difference in my life more than any other book I’ve read this year. A few months ago, I tried to put Nothing To Prove by Jennie Allen on hold through my library, but it was too new so I either had to wait or purchase it. I am trying so hard to not buy books unless they are absolutely something I want to keep, so I decided to wait. I put it on hold again recently and just finished the library copy week before last. It took every thing in me to not highlight that book and write in the margin, God spoke to me so much through this book. I restrained from highlighting the library copy, but I did immediately go purchase a copy. It came today and I’ve already marked my favorite passages. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am about to read this book, cover to cover, again this week.

Here’s a quick video of Jennie talking about her book. Honestly, I can tell you all about it, but I wanted you to hear the honesty and trembling in her voice when she talks.

 

In case you hadn’t noticed, I talk a lot about light and darkness. I have had many days where I thought I might drown in the darkness. Hearing Jennie talk about the light and darkness in this video was so refreshing, so reaffirming to the things God has been telling me about my depression, about the darkness I have experienced.

Jennie’s book is so honest. She knows what it is like to be exhausted, to constantly try to be everything we feel like we should be The constant message of her book is that we are not enough, but that’s okay because Jesus is enough and he is all we need. After the initial introduction section, each chapter starts with a story from the book of John. Several of you will be familiar with many of the stories, Jennie used the story of the woman at the well, the feeding of the 5,000, and the death and resurrection of Lazarus. The stories are short and written from the perspective of the main character in the story and it really pulls you into what is happening. The stories from John tie into the rest of the chapter, and at the end Jennie has an experience guide. This guide includes a relevant scripture passage, and four sections to reflect on how the chapter topic relates to your life. Each of these sections are a different level of complexity, and include  Step Into the Stream, Wade in Deeper, Quench Your Thirst, and The Overflow. There are also various prompts throughout the chapters to reflect on specific questions. This is a really good book to sit down and work your way through with a pen and highlighter, which is why I needed to purchase my own copy.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Nothing To Prove:

“Jesus has a plan for our suffering, but that cannot be accomplished if we keep trying to push it into a safe, tidy place in our closet. His plans in us are accomplished as we move into the pain. We can face the suffering because Jesus is there in the midst of it.”  –Jennie Allen

Darkness Will Not Overcome the Light

I was created for darkness.

Not to be darkness, but to be the light in the darkness of this world. This is a concept I am still reconciling in my life, and honestly, I think I will struggle with this concept on some level for most of my days. Is there a darkness hovering around your days, an overwhelming feeling of sadness that you just can not get away from?

I have experienced depression for ten years no, give or take. My world started to get a little darker, day by day, around the age of fifteen. Through years of therapy, medication, and prayer, I have learned that this is just a part of my story. One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with depression has been how it interacts with my faith. For years, my depression terrified me. It held me captive and dictated my days, and distracted me from the Jesus I so badly wanted to believe in, with whom I so badly wanted to spend every moment.

My depression told me that I could not believe in a just God and believe that my struggles were real. Let’s stop right there for a moment and get one thing very clear: regardless of your belief in God or religious leanings, depression is a liar. Depression feeds on your fear, on your loneliness, on your hardest experiences. Your struggles are real, your story is important. 

It took years for me to know, and really believe, that my depression is not a punishment, not a result of sin, or a simple reaction to childhood trauma and adolescent stress. While my trauma, stress, and sin do play into my daily life, my depression is not something God placed in my life as a result of these events. God is not the cause of my depression, but he is the redemption of my struggle with depression.

I have lived in the darkness, and I have found the light of Jesus. I have finally, finally surrendered to the knowledge that God has a purpose for my struggles.

I was created for darkness. I was created to be a light in that darkness, to point back to the light of Jesus that will not be overcome by the darkness of our enemy or our world. I have been meditating on John 1:5 countless times this week. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. God does not promise us an easy life or a life free of darkness, but he does promise that that darkness will not overcome his light.

If you are not in a place to believe that there is light inside of you and that the darkness will not overcome you, please know that it is okay. It is okay to not be okay, to struggle every moment of your day to stay afloat and not let the darkness drown you. Please know that I have been in your shoes and I can tell you with absolute certainty that it does get better, that God is redeeming your story, even if you can not see anything other than darkness.

Take a deep breath and write yourself a note – it can be as simple as a post it note or the back of a receipt from your last grocery run. Write down the following words, even if you don’t believe them yet:

Depression feeds on your fear, on your loneliness, on your hardest experiences. Your struggles are real, your story is important. Darkness will not overcome the light. 

Put this note somewhere you will see it everyday. I pray that this reminder will make it even a little bit easier to breath today.