The conversation around mental health has always been one that I thought I wasn’t invited to. Not because I felt I was being pushed away but it seemed if I was under qualified to participate because I assumed I was unaffected by its issues. What has unfolded in this last season of my life though is contrary.
Anxiety is not a new friend of mine, I’ve recently come to realize she has made numerous appearances in my life since my first birthday party. Her schemes are sneaky and she is quick to blame so forever I have assumed my ‘funks’ were self-imposed. It was my fault I felt distant and couldn’t be as present as I longed to be, my rushing brain who couldn’t find the brakes was my doing then the arrival of the burn-out that called out for numbing was just because I was ‘lazy.’
I felt under qualified to even listen in on these conversations before, so you can imagine how I feel typing public words about it. If we were sitting at a corner table of a cute coffee shop I would probably shrug my shoulders and confidently admit I don’t have all the answers. What I have to offer is only what I have learned. And as someone who loves knowledge that promotes growth and stories of other’s beautifully chaotic experiences, I feel indebted to share some of mine - even if it’s just for one person’s gain.
Let’s Get Pragmatic
I share this not as a measuring tool between your story and mine, but more as place to know where I’m coming from and to cultivate common ground.
1 || I’m living & loving life. Doing my things & hanging with my people.
2 || I get asked to be a part of some really cool & important things. This could be work related or social. “I love being busy” I’ll say and will genuinely enjoy everything (Hey, Enneagram 7’s!)
3 || The things start to pile up. For the most part, all really great things. My mornings somehow become earlier & my nights later. My routine is no longer.
4 || It’s go time. Even if it is just for 3 days of straight busy, midway through I start to feel disconnected. My brain begins to function on autopilot. I can’t focus on God or people as well.
5 || I stop caring what I eat. I don’t exercise because I’m too busy or too tired. Intentionality with the people in my life decreases.
6 || I realize what is happening & I get angry for “letting it happen again.”
7 || I get in my head & attempt to analyze the situation. I worry I will feel this way for rest of my life.
8 || The activities are done, but I can’t 'slow down' my brain. So I numb out on social media or TV or other mindless activities that aren’t actually restful.
9 || I wake up exhausted. My focus has completely turned to me rather than God, so I am tempted to feel ashamed & guilty for not feeling grateful for the great things that have happened the past week or so. My brain is still moving too quickly so my ability to be still with God is dissonant to my deep desire to be. This is frustrating.
10 || In a moment of energy or inspiration I am kicked back into gear. I am able to slow down again, can utilize self-control, be present and hear God. I learn a lot from the little valley. Though I anticipate when it will innocently arrive again.
Seeing my “cycle" in words is painful, yet empowering. For so long I couldn’t see the causes and effects, but now understanding this part of myself so clearly I can list it makes me feel hopeful it can be leashed and controlled. Will it ever “stop?" Probably not. It’s a side effect to the way I was purposely and wonderfully wired (Psalm 139:14) and I believe is a thorn in my flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) God is well aware is there. It brings me great comfort to know He knows. He is not shocked or disappointed in me. Rather, He is letting my brokenness draw me closer to Himself even if it means moments of distance in between. His grace is abounding.
I love to gaze at maps of the world. Not only am I filled with awe & wonder as I imagine all the different places and the people who live in them, but they also intrigue me. Maps illustrate by following a certain set of directions we are able to travel anywhere.
If we have the capability to catch 2 planes, hop a few trains & hail a cab to get to our desired destination why shouldn’t we create maps for our own lives? Destination: giving myself my best chance.
Below are some of the ‘maps' I implement in my life, as well as some I haven’t but plan to. They are not for necessarily for my own enjoyment - I really would like to eat baked goods all day and be a ‘take it as it comes’ person. But I’ve learned that such practices are not good stewardship of my time, energy and wiring. This is about putting myself in the best place to know God more intimately, be obedient, make myself available to be interrupted for Kingdom work and giving myself the best opportunity to love people really really well. For me, discipline allows me to better receive my freedom that was purchased on the cross and navigate the dark times when there seems like there is nothing tangible to grab onto.
FOOD : Certain foods help me operate at my best whereas others do not - I’ve learned this simply by paying attention to how I feel after I eat. A Paleo diet is what has worked best for me. (Check out all the research on grains/sugar & mental health!) Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not. I’m learning & experimenting everyday.
*Setting boundaries & guidelines with food helps me to stay focused. If I just eat “healthy” I find myself confused as I attempt to follow an undefined & vague path.
EXERCISE : When I don’t exercise it feels like my insides are shaking with built up energy that just needs to explode! For me, finding a plan to follow I actually enjoy alongside a group of people sets me up with the best chance of lacing up my tennis shoes and just doing it
MORNING & NIGHT ROUTINE : I try to wake up & go to bed around the same time, as well as do the same few practices to begin & end my day. This consistent rhythm helps to keep me centered & ready for all the craziness the day brings!
LIST IT OUT : 1) Writing down all the next day’s to-dos before I fall asleep helps my wheels slow down and makes me feel more confident I won’t forget (as many) things. 2) Following a list in my day helps me to complete tasks rather than just start several of them!
WATER : When I actually drink the adequate amount I should I am alert, energized and able to be more present. But this one is tough for me!
ESSENTIAL OILS : I am far from a know-it-all when it comes to oils, but they have been a positive addition to my life.
MEAL PREP : Knowing what I need to buy at the store, prepping what I can on Sundays and being aware of what I’m having each meal of the week removes another element to think about and sets me up to make better food choices.
SABBATH : Actually obeying God’s call to rest in Him one day a week is obviously a wise choice to make. But this is difficult to implement in a culture where the busiest gets the badge of honor.
GRATITUDE : Intentionally recording the beautiful moments of my day refocuses my mind on God and leaves for incredible documentation to look back at.
YOGA : I seriously roll out of my bed onto my yoga mat. Sometimes I use a youtube video other times I just free flow to worship music, but this time works as a great transition into the new day.
PLANNED STUDY : Having a study plan to use as a basis to follow in my quiet time with God helps me keep focused, rather than just aimlessly searching for something to read. Though the Spirit often leads me somewhere else in the Word but having a starting place is helpful.
PLANNED TIME : Putting things in the calendar like homework time, creative/writing time and reading time helps me to accomplish specific goals I may have. Obviously this is quite adaptable, but intentionally setting aside time for what is important to you makes a big difference.
COMMUNITY : I couldn’t do this life thing alone. Ever. That’s all I have to say about this. Find your people & hold them tight.
JOURNALING : I connect with God best when my journal is open and a pen is in my hand. It focuses my mind on Him and helps me to visually see in words what I’m thinking and what He is saying to me.
SAYING NO : I am a work in progress with this one. My language, “That sounds really great, but I honestly don’t have the capacity to fit that in right now.”
OTHER : vitamins, seeing an objective person, daily pauses, planned cleaning/errand days, Lara Casey’s Powersheets & budgeting.
Without these maps (though I am far from perfectly following them all) my mental health would bear such a heavy weight in my life that it would fully control it. You & me, we were meant for freedom, communion, and to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13), so if that means I have to cut down on bread to do so I’m in.