cat looking in through slightly open window

The Sneaky Side of Depression

I think one of the most helpful things I’ve done in trying to maintain my mental health is to become aware of my own personal red flags.

There are certain things, when they start happening, that make me suddenly wonder if something is off. Suddenly I’ll realize, “oh, I’m not handling things well anymore.” 

For me, some of those red flags are:

  • Getting overly emotional at everything (more crying than usual)
  • Feeling tired and fatigued all the time (wanting to sleep as a coping mechanism)
  • The stopping of activities I normally enjoy (lack of motivation to do them)
  • Becoming extra critical and annoyed with others
  • Being extremely bothered by clutter (feeling obsessive about needing to have the house clean)

A few weeks ago I was at work reading one of my daily news emails that I subscribe to, and that day it was focused on the war in Ukraine. As I read about numerous innocent people dying, I suddenly felt so overwhelmed. I just wanted to start sobbing about the injustice of it all – literally, I was having trouble keeping it together. Now, I’m not saying that the war in Ukraine isn’t something worth crying about or getting emotional over. Obviously, it’s a very serious situation. But the reaction I was having was more extreme than was normal for me. That was hint #1 to me that maybe I was dealing with some extra anxiety, or even depression, settling in.

I thought over the previous weeks, and realized I had gotten out of some of my normal routines. I wasn’t writing or blogging anymore. I wasn’t taking time to pray or do other spiritually-focused activities. I certainly wasn’t taking time to exercise either. So what was I doing with all my time? I was sleeping a lot more, going to bed early and waking up late, despite setting my alarm for 5:30 each morning in the hopes that I would actually get up and write (which wasn’t happening). No matter how much I slept, I still felt tired. I was wasting a lot more time on Netflix and social media. It felt like I was busy all day, but I wasn’t really doing anything of substance.

And yes, I felt extra annoyed with people, especially the people I lived with. In my mind, the house was a disaster. Why did it feel like I was the only one in our family who pulled their own weight? How could everyone else stand to ignore the mess and clutter and go about their happy little lives? I had blown up a few times at my husband Dean, and had made it loud and clear that I was tired of being the “only one” who took care of things.

Basically, ALL of my red flags were showing. But this didn’t even occur to me until that day in my office when I was struggling to not have an emotional breakdown over the current news about Ukraine. 

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tree in middle of water - peaceful

Using My Time Wisely: Sabbath (pt. 2)

THIS IS A TWO-PART BLOG POST WHERE I INVITE YOU TO JOIN ME IN TWO VERY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON HOW TO USE OUR TIME WISELY. PART 1 IS INSPIRED BY THE BOOK 168 HOURS AND I FOCUS ON TAKING A CRITICAL LOOK AT HOW I ACTUALLY SPEND MY TIME. PART 2 (this post) WILL FOCUS ON WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE FOR MY FAMILY TO TAKE A WEEKLY SABBATH, TAKING INSPIRATION FROM THE BOOK SACRED RHYTHMS.

Why A Sabbath?

At the same time I was reading the book 168 Hours, I was also reading the book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. It’s a book about spiritual disciplines, like the practices of prayer, solitude, self-examination, and Sabbath. Some books on spiritual disciplines can make you feel guilty for not doing all the practices all of the time, but I appreciated that this one didn’t. It asked you to reflect upon which practices might be most helpful to your spiritual development at the current moment.

When I got to the chapter on Sabbath, I immediately had the thought I always do, which is “who can actually have the time to do a Sabbath these days?” I have been wrestling for years with the idea of reserving one day a week for a Sabbath, but have always felt like there was too much to do to make it a reality.

Back in Bible times, the Sabbath meant that people stopped working from Friday evening until Saturday evening, a full 24 hours. It was a hearkening back to the 7th day of creation when the Bible says God “rested.”

For me, the Sabbath means that I am giving back to God my time, and I am trusting him with it. I trust that I can spend 24 hours not working or checking things off my to-do list, and that everything is still going to be okay. It definitely felt like a discipline because this ended up being a very hard thing to do – as I mentioned in my last post, I already don’t have enough time to get everything I want to accomplish done. Could I really give up one day a week, to just relax and rest?

I decided I wanted to try.

Sacred Rhythms book cover

In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton makes two points about the Sabbath that I thought were critical:

“Sabbath is not solitude – it’s a time for being with family and loved ones”

“Sabbath is a time for whatever delights or replenishes you”

The point of Sabbath is not to focus on all the things you can’t do. It’s to take 24 hours and only do things that bring you energy and joy, to focus on the things that really matter (the Quadrant II things!) It should be a time that you look forward to each week, a whole day of things filled with the purpose of delighting you!

When I thought of Sabbath that way, I desperately wanted it. It’s so easy to feel burned out at the end of each day, and for go-getters like me, it can actually be nearly impossible to force myself to relax. I always find things I could or should be doing, instead of doing something fun or relaxing. And as my last post taught me, I often spent more time on chores and cleaning the house than I did on quality time with my family.

Choosing Our Sabbath Activities

Before trying out a day of Sabbath, I decided our family would need to decide what Sabbath looked like for us. What kinds of things delighted and replenished us?

I knew what didn’t replenish me, I quickly made a list of things to avoid:

  • work
  • email
  • errands
  • chores/cleaning
  • social media
  • t.v.
  • budgeting/other administrative tasks

Then I thought about things that would bring me joy or rest and came up with this list:

  • exercise/walks
  • travel
  • cooking/baking
  • naps
  • reading
  • family outings
  • blogging/writing
  • art/games
  • spending time with friends

I loved the freedom to be able to interpret the concept of Sabbath on an individual level. What is restful and delightful for some, won’t be for others. In general, I wanted our Sabbath to focus on family time activities, as well as personal “me time” activities that I can’t always find time to do during the week.

I wanted to mostly avoid screens during this time, but decided to make a few exceptions to that rule. For example, our Sabbath begins on Friday around 6pm, but that is when we typically have our traditional pizza/movie night. Since it’s something we are doing all together as a family, I decided it can count as a Sabbath activity. For Dean, video games are something he considers delightful, so we decided to allow him time to play, as long as it was something he could enjoy with the whole family.

Once I had set up the ground rules, I realized I was going to have to work a little harder on the days leading up to our Sabbath to make sure we could actually enjoy the day. Normally, we would do laundry on Saturday, so I had to make time to do it earlier in the week. We also usually do grocery pick up on Saturday mornings, and so now we would either have to do it Friday afternoon or wait until Sunday.

Friday afternoon before our first trial Sabbath, I spent a lot of time cleaning the house and putting away clutter. But I was enthusiastic about it. I was ready for a whole day to not worry about cleaning or chores or other boring “adulting” tasks.

The Sabbath Begins

We kicked off our Sabbath watching Star Wars: A New Hope and eating pizza. We put Calvin to bed, and as the evening wrapped up, it didn’t feel that much different from a regular day, except we avoided social media.

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ticking analog clock

Using My Time Wisely: 168 Hours (pt. 1)

This is a two-part blog post where I invite you to join me in two very different perspectives on how to use our time wisely. Part 1 (this post) is inspired by the book 168 hours and I focus on taking a critical look at how I actually spend my time. Part 2 will focus on what it looks like for my family to take a weekly Sabbath, taking inspiration from the book Sacred Rhythms.

I have always been a planner and organizer. I like to schedule my time and know in advance what I am doing for the day ahead. I don’t like to feel like I’m wasting my time. I get delight from achieving tasks, big or small.

I have been struggling for a long time with how to most efficiently use my time. No matter how meticulously I plan out my day, I can never seem to get it all done.

What is “it” you may ask? Well, I have my “must-do’s,” like working, taking care of my son, eating, sleeping, etc. And then I have my list of “I’d love to do these things if I had time” – if you’re familiar with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may have seen this chart:

Time quadrant (7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

I find that I spend the majority of my time in Quadrants I and III, which are all the urgent tasks. Some urgent tasks are important, like taking care of my son or going to doctor’s appointments – but some are less important, and ultimately are just distractions (aka. checking email too often, taking phone calls, busywork, etc.)

Quadrant II is the “dream” quadrant. It’s all those things you want to make time for that easily get pushed to the side for the more urgent stuff. It takes intentionality and planning to live in Quadrant II.

For me, Quadrant II contains things like travel, exercise, writing, reading for fun, spiritual development, and relationships. These are certainly important, but if I don’t take time to do them, there are no immediate or terrible consequences.

Since having a child, (who is now 5 years old), I have found that I have to pick and choose which Quadrant II tasks to focus on. (Which really bothers me because I always felt like if I could just solve the time puzzle and schedule everything perfectly, I’d be able to do it all!) I have never been able to successfully do all my favorite Quad II tasks, I can usually manage to juggle about 3 at a time.

When exercise becomes a focus for me, I find it harder to make time to write. When I make writing a priority, (which usually means waking up early to do so), I find I’m too tired to workout. I’ve tried so many combinations and schedules, but have never figured out how to get all the plates spinning at the same time.

So I accepted defeat and just assumed that it couldn’t all be done, or at least couldn’t all be done well.

Then, I came across this book: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

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