Winter is Hard + What is Saving My Life Right Now

“What is saving your life right now?”

This is a question from author and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor and she says it can be answered as simply or as deeply as you wish.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I make my way through these dark winter months. I’m really trying to embrace winter and do special things that you can only do in winter, but I often just feel like I’m slogging my way through. If you know me, you know I struggle with anxiety and depression which gets worse if I don’t take care of myself. I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder which basically means I experience more intense depression in a particular season which, for me, is winter. (Shoutout to all of those who experience SAD as well. I feel you!)

So after way too many days in bed, not changing out of my pajamas, crying all the time, and without any trace of energy or motivation, I sought help from a professional and started making small changes. I incorporated a few new things into my life that have really helped, and here they are.

These are the things that are literally saving my life right now (in no particular order):

Restorative Yoga

I was asked a few months ago to join the front desk team at my favorite local yoga studio. I happily agreed and started opening/cleaning the studio on Friday nights in exchange for attending that evening’s restorative class. This was at the height (maybe “depth” is a better word choice here?) of my depression and to be honest, I hadn’t been exercising at all. This proved to be exactly what I needed during this season: not an intense workout, but a class focused on 100% comfort, that promotes rest + deep breathing, and where I’m completely supported in each pose by blankets, bolsters, and blocks. It was during these classes where I was able to quiet the inner chatter coming up with an endless to-do list and telling me I wasn’t good enough, strong enough, happy enough, or organized enough. This more mindful perspective helped me become aware that I needed to incorporate some other useful tools into my routine too!

Tea + Supplements

I went to a local Medical Herbalist and told her about my situation. She was super sympathetic and helped me decide on a few supplements that would help. She suggested 5-HTP, which boosts serotonin-production, hormone-balancing herbs like red raspberry leaf + nettles, adaptogenic herbs like eleuthero + astragalus, vitamin D, a multivitamin with extra vitamin B, and a St. John’s Wort tea. I was happy to see her again after two weeks and share how much better I felt already! Now a month after taking these consistently I can honestly say they are saving my life. I’m getting a bit of energy and motivation back, and nothing feels as hopeless as it did several weeks ago.

Light Therapy Lamp

I had been reading about the benefits of a light therapy lamp and saw that it’s really common for people who live in locations around the world that are dark for a big portion of the year. Looking back to 2015, I probably should have had one while living in Northern Ireland! We ordered a lumie lamp and I try to sit in front of it for at least 30 minutes a day (usually while I drink my tea!).

Spotify

Some say music is the best therapy, and I often say I couldn’t survive without my Spotify subscription! I have so many playlists for various moods/situations and when I can’t decide what to play, Spotify does a phenomenal job of recommending new artists/songs/albums to me based on what I’ve listened to in the past. A song I’ve had on repeat recently is Truth About the World by Andrea Marie. Go have a listen!

Heated Mattress Topper

This may seem like a small thing but without central heat, I was feeling perpetually cold in our house. John found a good deal on this amazing invention: a heated mattress topper! It goes on top of the mattress but under the fitted sheet and warms up my side of the bed on three different heat settings. Whoever invented this has my eternal gratitude!

Funny Youtube Videos

There were many times where I had no motivation to get off the couch. On these days, my saving grace was watching funny youtube videos. Here are some of my favorites! Comedians Jon Christ and James Corden, “Cram!” ram videos, fail army videos, the best of cheese rolling compilation, and kalen allen cooking videos. My younger brother also helped recommend some hilarious videos for me to watch! Thanks Gabe! Check these out if you need a boost.

Books on Pilgrimage

If you know me, you know I love to travel. But feeling depressed makes it hard to make plans, let alone want to physically go anywhere. Awhile back I had purchased several books on the ancient practice of pilgrimage and reading about other travelers’ sacred journeys has encouraged me in my darkest moments. I love hearing about how people journey to holy places and discover more about the character of God along the way.

Ukulele

Experts in mental health say a creative outlet is “instrumental” (pun intended) to healing. I have been playing my ukulele a lot more when I’m at home and I’ve noticed a big difference in my mental state! My kids even ask me to play more now because “it sounds so peaceful”. I’ve always loved playing worship songs but I’ve also started playing some other non-church-related music and it has been super fun for me! I even got myself a new ukulele for my birthday while at the Ukulele Festival (a tenor!) and I’ve really enjoyed playing more often.

All of these things work together to help me get back to where I need to be. I hope you don’t see it as a to-do list (which only causes more anxiety and more feelings of “not-good-enough-ness”), but as an inspiration to find some healing in your own life.

What is saving your life right now?
Blessings on the journey,
Abigail

Holy Yoga: One Year Later

“Am I doing this right?”, I asked cautiously and hopefully as I got into crow pose for the first time. “YES!”, my new friend encouraged excitedly. I only lasted a few seconds, maybe 1 or 2 breaths, but I was so thrilled.
One year ago today I had just returned from Holy Yoga retreat, a week spent in Williams Arizona at Lost Canyon campgrounds. That week held more for me than I ever imagined. I went excited to receive my 200hr Yoga Teacher Certification, but I left with far more. A greater physical and spiritual awareness, a sense of healing, a closeness to my Creator, deep and lasting friendships, a wealth of knowledge, tools to deepen my practice, and a supportive prayer community found me that week.
“You’re doing it right!” was a phrase I needed to hear repeatedly during my retreat week. I kept looking around at the other yogis, hoping my posture looked just like theirs, and quickly realizing it didn’t. I was reminded by the instructors that “if you’re engaging the right muscles, you’re doing it right.” Eventually I will gain the flexibility and strength so that the posture “looks right” but until then, I’m engaging the right muscles so, I’m  doing it right.
I’ve spent a year doing yoga regularly, having only before practiced while pregnant with my second baby. There were some limitations to my prenatal practice but there are no limitations now… except for the ones I set for myself. There are a lot of times where I just *think* I can’t do a posture but once I finally try it, it’s not so bad! There are plenty of muscles that still need developing so that I can work on more advanced postures but for now, I like where I’m at. I’m really enjoying the journey and I realize I can’t be in this to “master” certain postures. There will never be a day when I have finally “arrived”; it is a constant strengthening and improving of myself.
I love this physical journey of yoga because it is so akin to my spiritual journey and relationship with Christ. Walking with Jesus is literally that: a journey, a path. There will never be a day when I have “arrived” to a metaphorical destination. He meets me where I’m at and we just walk together. Following Christ is a development of my spiritual muscles, daily drawing closer to  my Creator, daily recognizing my brokenness, and daily following his example. I’m doing it right, because I’m seeking after him, listening for his voice, and saying YES when I feel called to something. (Lately, New Zealand and Creating Space.)
A year later, I can hold crow pose for a few more breaths but there is still plenty to work on. I’m not worried about it though, and I don’t compare my journey with anyone else’s. I’ve got my intention set on Christ, and I’m enjoying the journey, both physically and spiritually.
Think about a time when you have been most physically tested. What about a time when you were challenged spiritually and mentally? Looking back, how have you changed since then?

Brownie Batter for Two

I LOVE chocolate. I remember my parents referring to me as a “chocoholic” when I was young because I would eat (and eat and eat) anything chocolate! So you’ll understand my disappointment when I realized my body was very sensitive to refined sugars. After being sick on and off for years, and suffering a cold/flu for months straight (I’ll write about this in more detail someday), I decided to cut out all processed foods from my diet. After a week or so I started to feel more like myself. Hooray, a solution!! Being the chocolate addict that I am though, I still crave sweet treats.
I found a chocolate pudding recipe from a great blog called Delicious Obsessions and tweaked it a bit to make it creamier like brownie batter for two people. Who can resist brownie batter; especially one that is good for you?! I also didn’t want to call it pudding because “pudding” here in Northern Ireland is more of a blood pudding/sausage type food. This is NOT that type of pudding! Get ready for some rich chocolatey goodness that you don’t have to feel guilty about!
This recipe is perfectly suited to share with a friend or loved one. My husband and I like to make a batch after we get the boys to sleep! YUM.
Refined sugar-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free…. it could even be vegan if you substitute maple syrup or agave nectar for the honey.
This recipe fills 2 regular sized coffee mugs.
brownie batter
Brownie Batter for Two
5 small sweet potatoes
1/2 cup cocoa powder (if you have dark cocoa, use a heaping 1/4 cup instead)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
.
1. Bake sweet potatoes in oven at 220c for 45 minutes or until soft. Once cool enough to handle, peel and discard skins.
2. While still warm, combine potatoes and coconut oil in a blender or food processor.
3. Blend in all other ingredients until creamy.
4. Pour into two mugs and enjoy!*
 *I like to eat it while still warm, but it is also tasty if refrigerated!

Mother-in-Law Soup

I’m sitting here stuffing my face with this soup and I think I’ve finally come up with a good name for it. Chicken & Sweet Potato Soup just sounded too boring and this really is a spectacular soup! I wanted to do it justice with a good name. It features sweet potatoes and chicken, celery, red bell pepper, onion, and herbs.
Before I got married I heard plenty of horror stories about other people’s mothers-in-law. Thankfully, I can truthfully say I don’t have any horror stories of my own to share. I really am blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law! She has always welcomed me with open arms.

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visiting us in Haiti in 2011

From our unexpected engagement, to our unconventional wedding, and through the birth of our two boys, she has always been supportive of her son’s chosen partner. We share a love for cooking, Bible studies, Chaco shoes, books, and outdoor adventures. She is encouraging, offers wise counsel, and is so good at maintaining her friendships! A nurse by trade, she also cares well for people in her personal life. In a house full of picky eaters (sorry guys, but it’s true) she loves to try new recipes and was experimenting this past year with various soups. This is one she brought me after the birth of our second baby and I loved it so much, I just HAD to have the recipe!

My mother-in-law copied it out of a book somewhere and her notes at the bottom state, “Takes a long time to prep. Best soup I ever made.”

While it does involve a lot of chopping, I’ve started doing this a couple days before and just keeping the chopped veggies in the fridge. That way, everything is ready to go when I’m craving this soup! It is the perfect soup to take to someone who’s had a new baby, is recovering from illness, or who just needs a meal. It also works really well with leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. I’ve made some adjustments according to the ingredients I usually have on hand. I hope you like it!

“Mother-in-Law Soup” aka Chicken & Sweet Potato Soup
Total time: 1 hour 45 min. Serves: 6-8 people
Ingredients
2 TBS real butter
1 small onion, diced
1 medium leek, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, & diced
3 ribs celery, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups chicken stock*
4 cups cooked chicken, shredded**
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & chopped into 1/2 in chunks
1 14.5oz can chopped tomatoes***
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried marjoram or thyme
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
a few handfuls of fresh spinach****
Method
1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat and add the onion and leek. Cook and stir until softened, about 15 minutes. Add bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook/stir 5-7 more minutes.
2. Add stock, chicken, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, marjoram/thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 1 hour.
3. Stack spinach leaves and slice them thinly. Put a handful into each bowl and ladle hot soup over it. Serve immediately.
Recipe notes:
*After roasting a whole chicken and saving all the leftover meat, I make stock from the bones in my crockpot. I put all the bones in it with a quartered carrot, celery rib, onion, and garlic clove, 1 TBS of apple cider vinegar, and then fill to the top with water. Keep on low 24 hours.
**After roasting a whole chicken, I pull off all the bits of meat I can find and store it in the fridge. That’s what I use in this soup.
***I use canned tomatoes in this recipe because fresh ones don’t grow near me and they’re not always in season. It’s easier for me to keep cans of tomatoes on hand in my cupboard than pay exorbitant amounts for fresh (underripe) tomatoes that are often mealy.
****You can use kale in place of the spinach, but you’ll want to cook it with the soup for 3-4 minutes.