Happy Christmas!

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Christ is born! Alleluia!

I’m so very thankful that I’m having a very peaceful and restful Christmas, my first married to HusBen. Looking back on other Christmases, it would be all too easy to let the past get me down and spoil this special day of our Lord’s birth, but going to Mass last night and deliberately taking things easy today has really helped me relax more and allow myself to rest. So far today we’ve opened our presents for each other, played games, lounged around in our pajamas, cooked a duck and generally been quiet and relaxed.

As I sit and think now of other Christmases I am reminded of how long it takes to prepare for this day. Gearing up for Christmas takes over a month, both in the Church year and in the secular world, and I was getting ready to face my own anxieties and memories connected with this holiday. However, the original Christmas was the culmination of God’s plan of salvation in the Son becoming incarnate and living here on earth over 2,000 years ago. This is a day that is connected to the past of human history and salvation history, not just my own history. I did dread the memories Christmas brings up for me, but now I, along with Christians all over the world, rejoice in the reminder that there is a bigger plan at work here as well as rejoicing in the memory of the day Christ came to earth.

 

Introvert’s Guide To Surviving Christmas Parties

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Wine. Lots of it.

Hehehehehe…. just kidding! It helps though.

Anyway, Christmas. Definitely not my favourite time of year. There are so many stresses and social occasions involved that it just gets to be too much. However, fear not, o introverts, I have some advice that might help. Might help, mind you.

  1. Definitely leave any gift shopping until the last minute. DO NOT for any reason make a list of presents and stick to it and any budget you may have.
  2. Accept invitations to multiple parties night after night so that you get sufficiently socialized during this time of year. You wouldn’t want to miss out on any dismal and eye-stabbingly boring exciting office parties, would you?
  3. Agree to bring food to every single one of these parties so that you are up until 2 AM the night each one before making 2000 teeny sausages on sticks.
  4. Leave absolutely NO time to yourself for recharging in between any  holiday events and shopping trips.
  5. DO NOT for any reason bring a book, knitting or other handiwork to a party so that you have something to talk about, keep yourself occupied with or hide behind if need be. People hate this at parties and will pointedly NOT start conversations about what you have with you if you persist in doing this.
  6. Do go to lots of parties where you know no one and cannot bring a friend. This is a great way to relax and meet new people.
  7. Always refuse to play board games at parties. You will only end up regretting joining in a group activity such as this and actually interacting with people during a shared experience.
  8. Drink a lot so that you will be socially lubricated enough to talk to everyone at the party. Better yet, drink enough to have a go on the karaoke machine while everyone and their uptight granny watches.
  9. Hang around the food table, not to help (no one likes a person who offers to assist the host – it comes across too goody-goody), but to catch people off-guard as they awkwardly attempt to refill their plate and balance a drink all at the same time.
  10. Always show up to a party stressed, hungry and exhausted after a long day. You’ll be able to relax while you are there and then feel great when you go home.

Anyone else got any good advice for surviving Christmas parties?

I’m Back!

OK, a few days turned into a fair bit longer, but I’m doing better now and feeling ready to get back on track until I take a break for Christmas. A few rough days can really take away all the energy and I still feel like I haven’t caught back up, but there’s no more exams and only two days of work left, so there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

Anyway, I thought I’d say a few words about The Friday Of Doom…

That Friday I was feeling really down and couldn’t stop crying or settle down. I tried all my usual self-soothing stuff, but things got very bad and I ended up calling an ambulance for myself. I was in a pretty bad state and it turns out that calling for help was a lot less scary than I thought! It can be very difficult to ask for help when you feel like you aren’t worth caring about, but it was the right thing to do at that time. What is more, the people who came were really good and then the people I saw at the hospital once they transferred me there were great and helped a lot. It was scary at first, but I got to talk to a good social worker and a doctor who helped me figure out some options and make a plan for going home and getting some more help and support over the next few weeks.

It was rather surprising to find all this happening after a fairly quiet week, but I’m glad for the support that was there when I needed it and I’m also glad I know it is there if I need it again.

The other really good thing that came out of this was that I took a few days off and just tried to rest. It was really hard and I did cry a lot, but, as my counselor said, sometimes the body needs to work through things as much as the mind does, and crying is a way of releasing toxins and helping the brain to change, so I’m not too worried about that. I guess I wish my mind and body would hurry up and work things out, but I know that it is all part of the (very slow) process of getting better.

The last week of work has had its ups and downs too which have prevented me from getting back to business as usual around here. Exam stress has never been easy to navigate for me and has recently caused plenty of tears on its own, but I’m through the worst now, thankfully! There are big changes ahead, but I’m looking forward to the future and to what it brings on the blog…

 

 

Update

Just checking in quickly to say sorry for going AWOL for a few days. I have not been doing very well and needed to take things slow and easy for a little. Thankfully, I’m doing better now and will hopefully be back as usual soon! I will also probably do a post focusing on the last few days as they have been both difficult and very helpful. Stay tuned for an extra part in the Feeling Well series and probably some poetry too!

Poem: Icons

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Icons sit on my bookshelf,

Christ, His Mother and St. John,

The golden-tongued preacher,

Mary, Mother of our God.

Their eyes are always watching,

Their faces hold no fear.

Their bodies are unflinching,

Their holiness is here.

I see Christ-likeness in them,

Aspire to understand.

Aspire to know and follow

The Way they steadfast trod.

Christ is present through them

Though I know they are not real.

But real-ness of the holy

Is represented well.

I cannot see it truly,

My heart is yet unformed

But on my bookshelf sitting are

Holy Mary, John, and our Lord.


Icons are an interesting topic to tackle and I’m going to do a proper post on them sometime, however, for now here’s a little background to put Icons into context.

Traditionally, an icon is seen as a depiction of a saint as a true person, someone through whom we can see Christ. It has also been said that icons are ‘windows into heaven’ because they show people as they are supposed to be – filled with the Spirit and following Christ. They are venerated and respected (not worshipped) due to the way in which they show the presence of Christ in human beings and because they remind us how we ought to live. People have them in their homes as a way to remember how they ought to live in Christ as children of God.

Feeling Well Series – Part 6: Changing The Way You Think

Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good and focuses on depression and the stages of moving through a very low or difficult time in life. Unless you are feeling well and able to function it is really hard to start living well and as God intends, so let’s start with the basics.


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Now that we’ve seen some questions to ask and some things to do, as well as my story, let’s focus on what comes next, the deeper changes that help with recovery and becoming well. A big part of recovering from depression, at least, the kind I have been talking about, is changing the way you think.

In this post I’m going to look at three things to realize to help you start changing. I’d suggest tackling them slowly and with the help of a counselor. This is a time when you might have to be a little critical of yourself and look at yourself honestly, so it might be best approached when you aren’t in the pits of despair.

1.Realize you aren’t strong

A big part of changing the way I think started with figuring out that it is OK to not be OK. Being sick with a mental illness like depression is a valid reason for not being able to do something – and remember that depression is physical as well, so it will sap your strength. It is easy to get upset with yourself because you can’t do something you used to, but please, cut yourself some slack and remember that healing is a long process and takes a lot of energy. Realizing that it is fine to slow down and take the rest you need is really important to changing old patterns of behavior – and it will be just as important to learn to do this later on to prevent a relapse. By the way, this is also a great time of life to meditate on the parts of Scripture and mystic writing that talk about reliance on God. I’ve found learning about God’s strength really helpful to realizing my weakness.

2. Realize you can’t do everything

Connected to realizing you aren’t strong is realizing you can’t do everything. One reason why a certain kind of person is prone to depression is that they are taking on so many things and, often in trying to be helpful, burning themselves out in the process. Part of recovering involves taking a step back and thinking about the really important things in your life and putting a priority on them. For example, if I have an exam coming up, my housework and social activities suffer because I can’t spread myself over everything and still be ready for the exam. If you do try, eventually (and it took me a long time to figure this out) you spread yourself so thin that something snaps. So, learn to say no, prioritize what is really important and, although others may not like the new, “selfish” you, do what it best for your brain, both in a short-term depression and as you recover and stay well.

3. Realize you aren’t responsible

I’ll say straight away that this was the hardest one for me to wrap my head around – and it is still really hard for me to do! Figuring out that a lot of things weren’t my fault has taken a huge load off of me and really helped with recovering from depression. I come from a pretty bumpy childhood (not an excuse, just a fact) so worrying about stuff and thinking that I needed to fix things was a given. However, I’m finally figuring out that it is OK for me to leave my parents’ stuff to them to work out, or decide not to take someone’s comment about me to heart, or even to just accept that a bad day is not my fault, it just happens some times. Learning to let go of things and not control them is big step and an extremely helpful one, as is realizing that you only control how you respond to things, not the things themselves. Realizing where your real responsibilities lie is also something that takes practice and discipline to learn, especially if you tend to dwell on things like I do and run through them over and over again in your head.

 

By the way, here’s two thing I want to note before ending. First, changing the way you think is a big job. It is still very much ongoing for me and will take the rest of my life. My counselor is helping a lot, though, with the stuff that I most need to work on now, so don’t be disheartened if you feel like you still have a long way to go.

Second, the author of Overcoming Depression: The Curse of the Strong points out that the popular idea that depressive episodes are recurring is mistaken. The kind of depression his book is about and which I have been addressing hinges on patterns of behavior and ways of thinking staying the same. So, if you do the work and change the way you think there is a good chance things will get better and you won’t get bad again. But, be warned, it is IF you change and can maintain these changes in your life, as well as commit to working on yourself. Its an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. In addition and on this note, a wise person once told me that a big part of staying well and avoiding depression is to know when to take yourself back to counseling and medication, knowing when you need help to stay well. I’m going to talk more about staying well in the last part of the series too, so stay tuned for Part 7 in the next few days.