“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):
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!).
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.
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.