Doyle’s River Falls Hike

My husband and I went hiking yesterday. I think this is the activity for this area – there are so many trails.  With the Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail and Skyline Drive just minutes away, we can get to vistas and views any weekend.

We opted for a 3 mile round trip hike to the bottom of Doyle’s River waterfalls. Beautiful! There was a spring along the way, lovely flowers, a deer munching greens just off the trail. The light dappled between the leaves to the forest floor. After a bit, we were walking along the stream, and the sounds of the water over the rocks was almost dainty and musical. Except for boisterous groups of hikers running down the trail (we let them pass us), the woods had only woods-sounds.  The temperature was perfect, and there was a slight breeze. Ideal.

I should have known I’d be in trouble when on the way down, my legs began to shake as I had to step over big rocks. But I reasoned that walking down a steep hill wasn’t something my legs were used to, so of course I was working unfamiliar muscles. I didn’t really consider how incredibly steep this path was. I didn’t think about how out of practice I was – how many years it has been since I hiked a steep one like this.

We stood at the bottom of the Upper and Lower Falls and watched those who’d gone ahead of us scramble all over the wet rocks. They were barefoot and sure-footed, and squealing with delight at the cold water. There were hikers with wet dogs at the bottom – one dog got to the edge of the pool and just plopped down.  Another watched faithfully as his owner ate beef jerky, hoping for a morsel. My husband climbed down and dipped his hat in the clear water – a sure way to cool off from the descent.

The hike was 3 miles round-trip, but I think that is an absolute value, because I’m sure it was 1 mile in and 4 miles out. At least, that’s what it seemed like on the climb back up. Towards the middle of the hike, and the rest of the way up, I could take about 20 steps at a time and then had to rest.  I knew I was out of shape, but really….!

Round is a shape.

My problem wasn’t my legs, but my heart rate – I couldn’t keep it down.  So as I would hike up the hill, I would get about 15 feet and then have to stop to breathe deeply and get the oxygen to my head and muscles. A couple of times when we stopped, I actually “grayed around the edges” as I got dizzy. I prayed that God would help me not pass out!

I got discouraged a couple of times, and assumed that it must have been taking us several hours to hike up, but it was probably more like an hour. I don’t feel too badly about that! In fact, I’m only mildly embarrassed at the many stops I had to make. I’m proud of myself for doing it (what choice did I have?) and for taking my time so that I did it safely. And I’m grateful to my husband who supported me when I felt fuzzy, stopped me from going too fast, and shared all the water with me. He encouraged me every step – I mean every step in a few sections – of the climb back up.

Lessons learned:

  • If I want to live around here and enjoy the sights, I need to be able to get off-road and on-trail. Which means I need to be in better physical – aerobic – condition.
  • It’s great fun to share adventures with my husband. And he will always encourage me.
  • God climbed with me, and gave me the strength when I didn’t have any. It’s amazing the reserves He’ll pull from. (I think there’s a larger lesson there.)
  • Take more water. And snacks. (Man, that trail mix at the top of the climb tasted good!)

Unsettled versus contented

I’m not lonely or bored.

Except when I’m lonely or bored.

I wake up and think that I should stay in bed as long as possible, to keep a long day from starting. And I go to bed as early as reasonable, so as to end the long day.

And in the middle, I try to put structure to a day with hours alone while my husband is at work. It’s just me and the cat.

I go to the grocery store. I go to the drug store. I get a haircut. I’ve made appointments for a chiropractor and doctor and psych doc. I plan to join a Bible study that starts in July. I’ve emailed a woman about the local Moms In Prayer group (now on break, but hey, maybe she’ll talk to me anyway). I read. I knit. I do Bible study. I do laundry. I color. I flip TV channels. I call my mom. I call a friend.

I try to do something every day, but I need to add more to my very limited routine. I should be able to get on a treadmill most days per week. Maybe I can alternate it with hiking along the neighborhood walking path, or driving to Shenandoah National Park and hiking there. But it’s difficult to leave the apartment. Inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest…

I say I’ll write, but I’m having a hard time being disciplined about it – whether it’s to blog or work on chapters for a book. Can I even write a book? I’ve been told I have one in me, but getting it “on paper” has me intimidated.

I should write. I should exercise. I should go to a coffee shop and strike up a conversation. I should, but I don’t.

I know I wrote about stuff, and not having my stuff around me. But it seems like if I had my stuff, if I was in a house and not this temporary apartment, I might feel less unsettled. At least I’d have something to do – put everything away. Find a home for all the stuff in the boxes. Or get rid of the stuff in the boxes.

Meet the neighbors. Sit outside on my deck. Sleep in my own bed.

But I don’t want my stuff to be what brings me comfort. I want Jesus to be enough. So I’m trying, through prayer and study, to get there. To let go of being unsettled, and to settle into Him. To draw closer. Even closer. Closer still.

It’s okay to talk to Him all the time, so I do. It’s what He wants anyway. And He welcomes me bringing everything to Him. All of these thoughts of discontent that float through my head. I give Him all of my long days, and ask Him to do something with them, something that is good, something that brings Him glory.

I’ll put aside my unsettled self. I’ll rest in His perfect timing. I’ll tell Him about my day, throughout my day. I’ll trust Him to bring the relationships, the activities. And I’ll try to be content in the present moment.

I want to learn to live Philippians 4:11b-13:

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

It’s a blah day, not a relapse.

For many mornings in a row, when the alarm goes off I think, “Why bother?” I get up because that’s what I do, not because I want to. I have nothing to get up for. And then I remember that I intentionally planned something into my day so that I will get up. Otherwise, I think I’d stay in bed all morning.

I’ve had several days of feeling “in a funk” – not really happy but not really sad either. A blah mood.

A year ago, I would have blamed all of this on the weather – the gray clouds of the upper Midwest that cover the sun for days and often bring snow and cold. But I’m in Florida now, and while it’s been unseasonably rainy, there was sunshine and even warmer temperatures today. So what’s my problem?

I think it’s because it is February. And traditionally, February has been a tough month for me. According to my old psych doc, even though it’s the shortest month of the year, it’s often the hardest emotionally. Not sure why. But perhaps I’m feeling the way I do because I’ve felt this way for the past nine Februarys. Emotional muscle memory.

It took me a few hours today to figure this out – this thing about February. I should have seen it sooner – I knew I was feeling less than good. I kept arguing with myself that the mood would simply go away, and I suspect it will, now that I’ve identified it and called it by name.

A blah day, or even a blah week, doesn’t mean relapse. It doesn’t mean depression again. It means I’m in a blah mood, and I’ll be in a blah mood for a few days, and then it will get better. To keep it from descending into depression, I’ll keep doing what I know to do – eat well, get enough sleep, exercise some, take my meds, reach out. Get up and do the day.

And if I need to take a day to stay in bed all morning, that’s ok too.

 

Being Motivated to Stay Motivated

I’ve recently written about steps I can take to keep myself emotionally healthy, and my goals for doing what is necessary. But I’m finding it hard to be self-disciplined, hard to do the things I’m supposed to be doing for good mental health. When I’m not accountable to anyone but myself, where is the motivation to do what I should? In keeping with recent posts, am I putting the pieces in place to stay healthy, the tools that will keep depression away? If I’m not, why not?

I’m thinking about this because I had a blood draw today, and a followup appointment to discuss results next Friday. I’m nervous about the results – the numbers were headed in the right direction last time, but it’s important that motion has continued, and I have no idea what to expect. I need better cholesterol numbers, while keeping my blood pressure and sugars where they were 3 months ago, or even improved. My weight has gone up and down during the time passed, and I believe that changes in my medication may have had an impact – I’ll know next week.

But I can’t blame my meds when I’m not being as proactive as I should. I have reduced my sugar intake, but it’s only recently that I’m really paying attention to food labels. I’m still not exercising, hardly even a little. This is ridiculous, since I live in a beautiful paradise where I can take a walk in the sunshine nearly every day. I could walk to the workout room or pool, or drive to the beach and take a long walk in the waves.

My writing would benefit from some self-discipline. Perhaps a schedule – for daily practice, for blogging, even for my personal journaling. Certainly some discipline of regular writing if I want to be working on a book!

My efforts to reach out to others is good but could improve.  I’ve wondered if I should have said “yes” to that job all those months ago. The answer of “no” was still the right decision, but at least a job would have put me in other people’s lives regularly. Instead, I can stay at home if I want to – don’t have to leave the house if I don’t feel like it. So I’m trying to build in regular commitments:  lunch dates with friends, a Tuesday Bible Study group, a weekly school prayer group that I rarely miss. The neighborhood friendship and prayer group restarted – I’ve attended two out of three times.

And I’m contributing at home, which is easy to do since we’ve become empty nesters and only have one pet. This was much more difficult with two kids, two cats and a dog! I keep house, take care of errands and make the space a respite for my husband and me at the end of his work days.

I’m building my own personal growth by reading about writing and knitting a blanket for the living room (the largest yarn project I’ve ever undertaken). I’m finding both of these things fun and fulfilling, and they stretch me a little.

But some days, on days I chose to not go anywhere, I wonder if I’m doing enough. I know women who do way more than I do in a day, certainly in a week. Working moms especially! It’s easy to write blogs about what I should be doing, harder to follow through in real life. Am I just lazy? I don’t like to think so – I think it’s part of my mental health need to keep “space” in my life, to not do too much. Still I judge myself.

God’s Word says that Jesus has given us everything we need to live a life that pleases God by getting to know Jesus in increasing measure (2 Peter 1:3). Am I living in a way that pleases God? When I have my daily quiet time, when I start by focusing on who He is and when I commit my day to Him, I can trust that I am doing what He has called me to, and perhaps I don’t need to question these things.

It’s always about priorities and obedience – letting God put order to my hours and then doing what He wants me to each day. He wants me to take good care of my body, to get exercise, to reach out to others and share Him, to care for my family. I can remember to ask Him for motivation and self-discipline, and then obey Him when I see He’s given me the time to do it.

Reaching From Mental Illness to Mental Health

Many weeks ago, in commenting back and forth with fellow blogger Dawn Liz Jones, she challenged me with:

I would be interested to know why or in what ways it is hard to reach from mental illness to mental health. I know for me, it was definitely hard work, with God’s help and grace. Only if you’re ever willing to share. Would make a very helpful and insightful post. – dawnlizjones

Be sure to check out her blog – great Bible insights and personal stories – Inspiration with an Attitude!

How can I reach from mental illness to mental health? Why is it hard?

A major part of my struggle in reaching toward mental health is that health feels gradual, and my descent into mental illness – particularly Major Depressive Disorder with some anxiety – felt very sudden. Looking back on it, it wasn’t sudden; it was a slow decline over many months. But it was life changing for me. It’s easy to spot the negative, to see the low points – my hospitalization was a huge “defining moment” – and to focus on the illness part of my diagnosis. In many ways, I’ve allowed depression to define me, to become part of my identity. I have life before depression, the diagnosis and later hospitalization, and then the “ever since.”

My therapist Ted always wanted me to speak of depression as a different entity, not a part of me but separate, and name the friends depression brought with it (ie, anxiety, loneliness, negative self-talk). He wanted me to see that this was not me, not part of who I am, but instead an unwanted outsider who desired to take over my thoughts and emotions.

That’s great to say, and much harder to put into practice. My depressive episodes – for over 8 years now – are part of my lifetime experiences, and they help shape me. Whether I should or not, I define myself by them. I identify myself as a Christ follower who struggles with depression, may have it all of my life, and so am learning to live with it. That means recognizing my symptoms, my markers, and my triggers and responding appropriately to keep depression away as much as possible.

My mental health is not easy to define except as the absence of mental illness. Illness is much easier to name – depression and anxiety. So health must mean something different, or I will never again be mentally healthy, since I see myself as one who struggles with mental illness.

For me, then, mental health is more about learning how to live in the better moments of my illness or when symptoms have subsided and when I’m in remission, like now. Health also means learning to recognize those steps I can take that help with it – eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, following my treatment plan. Finally, health means recognizing signs that show something might be awry, that depression is fighting for a way in again. Recognizing those markers and triggers can help me take other steps needed to keep it away – giving myself permission to do less and rest more, bumping up my exercise, being more forgiving of myself and more gentle with myself in my own thoughts.

There’s another piece too, and that’s reminding myself to see me the way God sees me. He doesn’t define me as mentally ill. He defines me as His adopted daughter, His precious child, wholly and dearly loved, forgiven. Walking in this world with its troubles, but walking with His Holy Spirit as my Guide. Not alone. Not a mess. But beautiful in His eyes.

The awareness ribbon color for mental health is lime green, for depression it is green, and for mental illness it’s gray. Into the first few years of my depression diagnosis, I had my good friend Carol make a bracelet for me, a mixture of green and lime green stones – it is beautiful. I wore it proudly, as a reminder and hopefully a conversation starter about mental health and depression awareness. But then a few years later I read someone’s comment about the need to bring attention to mental illness, not specifically mental health, because mental illness is the taboo topic. I thought on that a long time, and it makes a lot of sense to me. We can talk about mental health, but that isn’t the issue – mental illness is. So I asked Carol to make another beautiful bracelet – this one is gray for mental illness awareness. I wear it a lot.

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And they look good together, too.