How I Got Over Seasonal Mood Disorder

I woke up the other morning feeling happy to be happy. I got out of bed excited to start the day, and I did not take it for granted, because it hasn’t always been that way.

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Five years ago, I hit the darkest, lowest point I could imagine. I’d always found winter a bit hard – the short days and extra hours of darkness weighed heavily on me, but until that November, I’d never realized how much it could actually affect me.

Night after night, I would cry and tell Ben I just didn’t want to wake up the next morning and deal with another day. I had no energy, and everything seemed too overwhelming to deal with.

It all reached a climax one night right before Ben was leaving for a week to take a group of students on a missions trip. He felt horrible about leaving me alone with the girls in the condition I was in, and was trying to figure out what to do. He kept asking me things like, “Why are you dreading tomorrow morning so much? What is it that overwhelms you?”

I tried to explain to him how I was feeling – it was dark when I went to bed, dark when I woke up, and everything in me also felt dark. Every day was the same, every day was heavy, tiring, too much for me to bear. It was so dark and cold and depressing….and it went on and on.

I’m not sure how many times I used the word “dark” before Ben finally clued in to what was happening, but he finally said, “I think you have Seasonal Mood Disorder.” As soon as he said it, it seemed silly we’d never recognized it before. We read up on what to do about it, and Ben got himself to Costco as quick as he possibly could to buy a “happy light” for me.

Things didn’t improve overnight, but gradually I felt as though the weight was lifting, and that winter felt easier than it had in the past.

I made a lot of changes in my life over the next couple of years, and in December a few years ago, it suddenly hit me that I’d sail through November without even thinking about it. The happy light stayed in the closet, and I’d never thought of getting it out. I felt light, joyful, excited about Christmas coming, fully able to enjoy the season without any of the old sense of dread. If you’ve also been down to the depths, you can imagine how amazing it was to feel that way.

I think of this every November. When I hear other people talk about the struggle this time of year, I hurt for them, because I remember.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to deal with Seasonal Mood Disorder (here’s a good article to start with), but I also want to share what I did, with the hope that it might help somebody else who’s struggling with this time of year:

Happy Light

I can’t find the exact light we bought from Costco, but this one is similar. It’s easy to use – I would sit by it for about 30 minutes every morning, and I started noticing a difference within a few days.

Vitamin D

It’s recommended that anyone living in the northern hemisphere take vitamin D, but it’s especially helpful for anyone who struggles with winter. This is the vitamin D our whole family uses. It tastes great, and all of us can take it because it’s in drop form – one drop for Everett, three drops for the girls, and six drops for Ben and me.

Get outside

Going for a walk everyday is the cheapest therapy there is, but it’s not the easiest when it’s cold and windy! Fortunately, this has been the most beautiful fall weather, so I’m trying to take advantage of it!

I always knew exercise was important, but I was still surprised to learn that getting outside for daily exercise can be as helpful as taking antidepressants. We talked about getting a treadmill last winter, but in the end, I bought myself a really good pair of winter boots instead! I bundled up every single day, no matter how cold it was, and got myself out the door. I noticed that missing my walk for too many days in a row affected my sleep and energy levels quite significantly.

Balance Your Hormones

This was huge for me. I noticed a big improvement in how I felt after our family started seeing an herbalist. He was able to figure out exactly what was imbalanced in my body, and recommended what supplements to take in order to get my mood, energy levels, and hormones back into balance. I know some people feel weird about going to see naturopaths or other alternative health practitioners, and when you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, getting yourself out the door to an appointment seems way too hard. I get that. There are options that can be sent right to your door, if you want the easiest method possible. I’ve tried a lot of stuff, so let me know if you want to hear about more options.

Find the spiritual connection

During his popular years, Rob Bell once said, “Everything is spiritual.” We are complete beings, and the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual are all connected.

This gets tricky, though, because it led to feeling like I was a “bad” Christian because I couldn’t beat my depression. I cried and prayed and hung onto Jesus in every way I knew how, but in the end, there remained a physical aspect that needed to be taken care of.

Having said that, there is a spiritual aspect which continues to help me every fall. While reading the book Naked Spirituality a few years ago, I was introduced to a completely different way of viewing fall. I always used to see November as such a dark, dreary, ugly time of year – the scenery depressed me almost as much as the shorter days.

But as I read that book, the author talked about how each season relates to a spiritual season of life – we have the vibrant, exciting time of new growth in spring, and the rich, productive time in summer when we can watch the fruit growing. But after harvest happens, we enter a time of rest. I used to see it as a dry, dead time, but Naked Spirituality views it as a time of quiet, tranquility, and drawing close to God. We can stop working and striving, and just rest in His presence. The trees are stripped of their leaves, and they are beautiful in their stark nakedness, pointing to heaven. I think of it every time I go outside, and it reminds me that this time can be beautiful and restful, instead of dark and dismal. It can be a time of snuggling under blankets while I do my devotions in the quiet, dark mornings. I see the sun coming up, and am reminded there is still so much light.

I keep hanging onto that. God is calling me to rest and refreshment so that when spring comes, I will be ready for a new season of vigorous growth.

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There is no easy answer for this delicate balance of emotions and physical limitations. I don’t think there’s a quick fix, either – at least I wasn’t able to find it. But there was still a lot of goodness, beauty, and hope, and some helpful little tools along the way.

Let me know if you have any questions, or if you just need to hear some reassurance that change is possible!

 

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Naming Our Pain

Ben and I deal with problems in very different ways.

I tend to talk about them and analyze for hours. I have serious, imaginary conversations with people in my mirror. I generally put a lot of energy into conflict.

Ben, on the other had, chooses not to think about it.

When he’s facing some tough challenges and I ask him how he’s feeling about it, he’ll think for a second, and then say, “Don’t know – haven’t really thought about it.”

And then carries on with life.

This last year, I decided to try facing problems Ben-style. There were some hurts and disappointments which I would normally have taken really hard, but I flexed my brain muscles, and didn’t allow myself to think about it.

I thought it was working out pretty well…until it caught up with me.

A friend asked about a difficult situation I had gone through, and not allowed myself to think about much after, and even though it was at least six months after the fact, I suddenly found myself crying. And crying and crying.

I was very surprised. I had no idea all that emotion was there.

Apparently, the Not Thinking About It approach works for Ben, but I was disappointed to find it didn’t go so well for me.

Now what?

Well, a few nights ago, I came across a strategy I like very much. So far, I’ve found it to be quite amazing, but we’ll see how things go with time.

The idea comes from the book Naked Spirituality, by Brian McLaren, and it involves naming our hurts and emotions before God.

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“Fr. Richard Rohr says it well: Pain that isn’t processed is passed on. Pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted. So we need to process our woundedness with God, and that processing begins by naming the pain and holding it — as we’ve been holding each of our simple words — in God’s presence:

Betrayed. Insulted. Taken advantage of. Lied to. Forgotten. Used. Abused. Belittled. Passed over. Cheated. Mocked. Snubbed. Robbed. Vandalized. Misunderstood. Misinterpreted. Excluded. Disrespected. Ripped off. Confused. Misled.

…So, just as through confession we name our own wrongs and feel regret, through petition we name and feel the pain that results from the wrongs of others. And just as we rename our anxieties as requests to God, we translate our into requests:

Comfort. Encouragement. Reassurance. Companionship. Vindication. Appreciation. Boundaries. Acknowledgment.

It’s important to note that we are not naming what we need the person who wronged us to do for us. If we focus on what we wish the antagonist would do to make us feel better, we unintentionally arm the antagonist with still more power to hurt us. Instead, in this naming, we are turning from the antagonist to God, focusing on what we need God to do for us. We’re opening our soul to receive healing from God’s ever present, ever generous Spirit.”

Something happened to me when I read through that list of words describing pain and disappointment. Some of them perfectly described what I was feeling. By naming it, and taking the time to acknowledge it, I felt as though I was giving myself permission to admit I was hurt – to admit that something had happened which shouldn’t have happened.

I know there are many times when I mess up, and hurt other people when I make mistakes. I recognize the need to name and confess those things, too.

But I had never thought of confessing other people’s sins. I had no idea it would give me the permission to struggle – to allow myself to feel hurt and wronged, and not to try denying it.

But not to stay there! Rather, to name it, feel the pain, and then hold it up to Jesus. I love the second part – naming what I need from God, claiming the strength and provision I know He will gladly give, anytime, but which I don’t often take the time to receive, or even acknowledge my need to receive.

A passionate discussion with my reflection in the mirror may give me a private outlet for expressing what I truly feel, but it just bounces back to me, and doesn’t free me from the pain.

I want to rather hold it out to God and let Him heal it.

What do you think of the idea of naming your pain before God?

Some Good Reads and a Give-Away

Hello, Friends!

I’ve been coming across so many great articles and blog posts this week, I feel the urge to share some of them with you!

A little extra reading for what looks like a rainy long weekend:

I’m Still Here: Back Online After a Year Without the Internet : Turns out, distractions are everywhere, even without the internet…

Have American Parents Got it All Backwards? : Some interesting observations on parenting techniques from other cultures….

When You Feel Like Everybody is Bigger, Better, Smarter… : “She would make her life small.” For everyone trying to lay it all down for Jesus…

And because I’ve got a shiny new gift card, here are the books I’m eying these days:

Zero Waste Home: Reusable fresh produce bags, and countless other ideas on how to save money and consume less? I’m in.

Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source: My friend says it’s amazing, and I’ve been loving Clean Start.

God’s Favorite Place on Earth : “Bethany was the only place on earth where Jesus was completely received.” I love this observation, and it sounds like an awesome book!

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: The very thing I’m so passionate about! This mother writes about savoring the moments we take for granted.

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Finally, because my sister is awesome, and knows the way to my heart, she is providing me with a free copy of my current favorite book, Naked Spirituality, to give away on my blog!

So excited!! Here’s what you have to do to enter the draw:

Let me know what your current favorite book is! You can only enter one favorite, and you have until next week Friday.

Make my gift card decision a little more complicated!

How to Savor God’s Gifts

You may have noticed by now that my favorite books, quotes, songs, articles, and blog posts all have to do with finding deeper joy and thankfulness in everyday life, and learning how to enjoy ordinary moments now, while we have them.

I came across yet another quote I loved while reading Naked Spirituality last night. McLaren was describing how we can truly appreciate the gifts God gives us on a daily basis:

This day. This kiss. This view. This meal, this taste, this breath, this moment, this¬†song. Instead of letting these treasures pass by as if they were nothing or as if we were unconscious of their beauty and wonder, we pause and savor them, and we lift our joy and appreciation up to God in gratitude. Because if God created these wonders, and if God created us with the capacity to enjoy them, what could be better than to enjoy them with God? Isn’t that what gratitude is, in its purest sense, joining God in the enjoyment of the goodness of creation — the goodness that was celebrated in the first sentences of the book of Genesis, and the goodness that surrounds us now, in this, and this, and this, again and again?

Life gets busy, for everybody. But every time I read a quote like that, I want to slow it all down, to truly notice and appreciate life. There are probably many ways of doing this, but for me, right now, this is how I’m choosing to be intentional:

A Gratitude Journal.

It’s changing me. It’s growing my ability to choose my thoughts. I’m up to #1440, and I hope I can keep going for the rest of my life.

There are many nights when I don’t feel like doing it, and I don’t think I’ll be able to come up with very many things to write down for the day. But time after time, blessings come to mind. I try to do at least five, but most of the time I can think of ten or more. What if I had missed them? What if I had forgotten to notice, and give thanks?

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Photography.

Going on a photo-shooting spree is another habit that forces me to slow down and notice things. This is another example of how I think I won’t be able to find anything worth noticing, but I am always, always surprised.

Every time I take my camera, and go get lost outside somewhere, I come back feeling refreshed and focused on what truly matters. I know what it is to enjoy God’s creation with Him.

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Living in the Moment.

My massage therapist always has piles of New Age-type magazines sitting around in the waiting room. At first I ignored them, but then I started to notice that each one usually has an article about slowing down, being fully present. They’re not written from a spiritual perspective, but I believe that all of us are created with the ability to choose what we think about. The Bible tells us to take every thought captive, and it also tells us to only worry about today.

Learning to block out worries and concerns about the future, and slowing down my thoughts so that I can be fully present in this day has brought me closer to Jesus, even if some of those techniques did not come from spiritual places.;)

These are the ways I am choosing to savor the moment, and learning to thank God for the gifts He is giving me each day.

love

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So I finished writing this, and then I went over to Ann Voskamp’s blog to read what she had to say for the day. Guess what it was – How to Focus in an Age of Distraction!! Such a fantastic read – you should definitely check it out!

Around Here Right Now

Without really meaning to, it seems as though I’ve made this type of post a regular thing. When I went back over old posts, I realized that I do this kind of thing about every two months. According to my trend, it’s time for another “Around Here Right Now” post.

I am currently enjoying…

This book:

Naked Spirituality

A friend told me about it, and I am so glad she did! It is such a great read – very challenging, but with simple, practical suggestions for introducing spiritual disciplines into regular life.

The book is based on the idea that spiritual growth follows seasons: “Spring” is a season of spiritual awakening, “Summer” is a season of spiritual strengthening, “Fall” is the season of spiritual surviving, and “Winter” is the season of spiritual deepening.

I’m still working on the “Spring” section, but have many thoughts which I’ll be sharing with you soon!

This super-simple salmon recipe:

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Supper could not get any more simple. Seriously. And so delicious. I’m making it again tonight!

This artwork:

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The girls have been coloring up a storm. Kaylia has been especially busy with it, sitting at the table for most of the day, cranking out picture after picture. Hands with twenty fingers each are a personal favorite.

These photo books:

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I made these books before Christmas, but haven’t had much time to keep up with photos in the New Year.

But as of this week, I’ve gotten all of our photos from 2013 into photo books! (I was sick all week, and looking for something productive-yet-lazy to do. Photo books were the perfect option!)

I love using Blurb  Рvery easy to use, good quality, and reasonably priced.

This TV show:

Downton_Abbey

Oh, I tried to hold out for so long. Everybody everywhere kept talking about Downton Abbey, and I was not going to get hooked.

But then my friend told me she thought I would really love it, so I gave it a try, and…now you know what else I’ve done this week besides Blurb photo books! Season One – done! Yikes….

This cookbook:

Clean Start

A friend borrowed it to me, and it’s a good one! Our family especially loves the Chocolate Macaroons and the Blueberry Tart. I have a long list of recipes I want to try from it.

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That’s a lot of books and food, hey?! I see a pattern developing here….

Reminds me of this quote I found today:

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books, and that’s kind of the same thing.”

What have you been enjoying recently?