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.

 

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Introvert’s Guide To Surviving Christmas Parties

party

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!

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.

Friday Series: Vegetable Soup

Here’s the first installment of my Friday series about practical theology, food and keeping a day of abstinence from meat. I’ll be talking a little bit about why the Catholic Church keeps Friday as a day of abstinence and then the recipe will be at the bottom. Sorry there’s no picture – the last time I made this it disappeared too quickly…

So, why abstain from ‘flesh and fowl’ one day a week? And why Friday?

Well, the idea of giving up meat one day a week is properly a penitential practice as well as a commemoration of Good Friday. A penitential practice something that reminds us to turn back to God and to give to others, doing something corporeal (for our body) that reminds us of the spiritual. A penance is repenting from sin and also an act which helps a person do this, so giving up meat, or for some people, giving up something else or doing a special charitable act, keeps us aware of how much we need God and His help to stay on the straight and narrow, as it were.

Giving up meat, which is historically a luxury for many people, could perhaps be related to looking to our heavenly food, the Body and Blood of Christ. In addition, it lends well to the practice of taking the money you would have used for meat and giving it to the poor. Nowadays it is not uncommon for Catholics to give up something else or do a special charitable act which will help them turn from sin and remember Christ’s Passion.

As a spiritual practice I have found a day of abstinence quite helpful. Remembering that I shouldn’t eat something has also often reminded me that I ought to remember to do something else too. It has also helped me think about what I eat and how much I spend on food, which, in turn, reminds me that everything I have is a gift from God, even salvation, which comes from the greatest sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ.

Recipe: Vegetable Soup

for 2, but easily doubled, tripled etc.

2-3 good sized carrots and/or parsnips

3-4 good sized potatoes

1 onion

1 tablespoon oil

Spices to taste (see Note)

1/4 cup red lentils

Water or vegetable stock

  1. Peel and chop all vegetables into bite-size pieces.
  2. Heat oil in soup pot and cook vegetable until onion is cooked and translucent.
  3. Add spices (see Note).
  4. Add lentils and enough water to just cover the vegetables.
  5. Bring to a boil, stir well so lentils don’t stick to bottom of pot, then cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils are cooked and vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.
  6. Mash, hand blend or pulse in blender until smooth.
  7. Eat with bread, yogurt, naan bread etc.

Note: This recipe is quite versatile and depending on how I feel I’ll add curry paste and cumin to make it more like a curry, coriander seeds and garlic powder for class, or just salt and pepper for a nice, plain soup. Experiment and let me know how it goes!

 

What Is Theology, Anyway?

Gothic

I’m putting together a quick post today, as Part 6 of my Feeling Well series isn’t quite ready and I have piles of homework due. So, I thought I might define theology before I write loads of posts about it, just to be clear and concise, (and also because ‘clear and concise’ is pretty much my middle name when it comes to writing).

Anyway, theology…

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says theology is: “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; the study of God and God’s relation to the world.” This is a very basic definition, but it is also very true.

Theology is about God (literally, theos – God and logos – word, so ‘words about God’) and it is the study of the way we think of God, the attributes we ascribe to Him, His works and the relation between Him and us. The term tends to cover a lot of other topics too, from philosophical or logical proofs for the existence of God to the historicity of Christ, to Church teaching, sacraments and practical Christianity as well as much more. In a more practical sense, however, theology is often focused on figuring out who God is and who we are as Christians and human beings in light of what we learn about Him.

As a theology major I study things ranging from exegesis of Scripture to Christology and logic, to the sacraments, Catholic Church teaching and liturgy, and everything in between. All the subjects and areas I am studying, and will study these next few years, teach me more and more about God, the world and about myself and where I fit into all of this as a Christian.

Join me and, hopefully, enjoy with me learning about theology, thus (I hope) getting to know God and the self better, as well as what its role in the world is.