What Is Saving My Life Right Now: Winter 2019 Edition

Last winter I was really struggling, but I made it through. I think it was the combination of lack of sunlight (one of Christchurch’s darkest winters ever, or so they say), a cold house, adjusting two members of our family to celebrating winter birthdays, and just regular depression stuff. SO MANY THINGS came to my rescue, and I wrote about them here.
This year I’m happy to report that, overall, my spirits have been so much higher!
Here’s the next edition of my answers to Barbara Brown Taylor’s famous question, “What is saving your life right now?”
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1. Sunshine
Like I said, it was SO MUCH sunnier this winter which inevitably boosted my spirits. Between June 1-19th last year Christchurch had less than 14 hours of sunlight, and the average for June is usually 119 hours! Even when cold this year, I took the opportunity to sit out in the sun and I didn’t have to get out my light therapy lamp or supplement with vitamin D. I’m a much happier person when there’s sunshine! Everything looks, well, brighter.
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2. 5 HTP + Magnesium
These two supplements I did continue and I never skip them! I take 5-HTP for boosting serotonin production which is an important chemical and neurotransmitter for us and helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory, etc. I take magnesium to increase energy, calm nerves and anxiety, for better sleep, and to relieve muscle pains.
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3. Ducted Heating + Floor Insulation
We got (what I call) REAL HEAT in our house! *happy dance* Insulating the floor and getting our heat ducted through ceiling vents has made a massive difference. To my American friends: yes, it is almost like having central heating, hooray! Our home, our refuge, our safe space, is no longer perpetually freezing cold, yay! And I didn’t get chilblains 😄 PTL for a warm house.
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4. Yoga + Lunch
A big part of supporting my mental health is hanging out with friends. This is a hard one when you still feel somewhat new to a place (and you’re introverted) but you just have to put yourself out there, which is also hard when you have anxiety and depression. Thankfully, one of the yoga classes I frequented was always followed by lunch at the cafe across the street. When the teacher announces it in class, and everyone else goes, it’s hard to say no, even when some days I’d have rather gone home and curled up on the couch. I had so much fun getting to know people in my class and making new friends! We laughed a lot and ate some spectacular food.
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5. Rasa (Coffee Alternative) and Bengal Spice Tea
There’s nothing like a warm cuppa to keep the cold away. I had to get myself off coffee again after our stressful and busy ten weeks in the U.S. so I found this coffee alternative called Rasa. There are three different kinds to choose from, all full of adaptogenic herbs to target your nervous system and help your body recover from stress and give you sustained energy. I love it! Also Celestial Seasonings tea is hard to find here but we did manage to snag a few boxes of Bengal Spice, a spicy, cinnamonny, gingery, cardamommy, and clovey blend that reminds me of Kansas City winters with my mother-in-law, yum!
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6. Marco Polo
If you don’t have the Marco Polo app, GET IT and send me a message. It is a super fun way to keep in touch with people! I’ve had a blast sending videos to friends and family and receiving theirs in turn. You can watch it live or just whenever you have time, and they can do the same. It’s perfect if your loved ones live in a different time zone, if you want to send clips of your kiddos to grandma (and don’t want to deal with them “behaving” on FaceTime), and way better than Facebook messenger.
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7. Geraldine Ukulele Festival
This will probably make the list every year. It is so well-placed during the July school holidays, when it is the middle of winter and everyone is craving some good music and good company. Last year was my first time and I had a lot of fun, but this year… this year was even better than the first! I heard some incredible musicians, participated in fun workshops (and even got to go on stage!), cheered on my friends from Angelfish, met some cool people, and stayed in an airbnb with some lovely ladies who made me laugh harder than I had in a long time. Here’s my video of the weekend!
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And of course, John’s endless support and delicious cooking can’t go unmentioned… he really doesn’t get the thanks he deserves! Bless him.
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For now, winter is (basically) over and Kiwi spring starts tomorrow, the 1st of September.
Thanks for tuning in,
Abigail

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