When pain runs deep: 10 self-care practices

In the shadows of the confined closet, with my face wet from tears and my heart broken open, I awkwardly braced my body against the palms of my hands as I collapsed onto the ground. My crumpled body found a home amongst the crumpled clothes pile that hadn’t yet made its way to the laundry. A sweatshirt that my head had found its rest upon soaked up my tears. The chaos of pain and sorrow running deep and rampant through me had reached a point of paralysis. I felt stuck, glued to the carpet, lost in the darkness.

Unfortunately, unexpected suffering and grief and betrayal and other events caused this scene to become a familiar one in my life over the years. Each time old pain was triggered or new trauma occurred, the pain ran so deep through my being that it felt like a toxin coursing through my veins. And each time, as my soul felt trapped and darkness abounded in the depths, I sought out spaces with the same characteristics, dark and confining, like my bedroom closet.

As I struggled with deep emotional pain, I wrestled, lamented, and prayed to God for rescue. I proclaimed the Scripture promises I knew to be true. But there was never a swift and miraculous rescue like I wanted. What I discovered was an invitation into the Lord’s loving presence and to join Him in the work of transformation and healing. 

The ugly truth is that suffering is part of the human condition, and at times, the pain runs deep through all of us. The beautiful truth is that this invitation of the Lord’s that I mentioned is for all of us as well. And, as Corrie Ten Boom famously wrote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

Wherever we are, whatever our struggle, when we encounter a pain that runs deep, God’s love is deeper still. And it’s here, in the depths of pain, when the rescue hasn’t come yet, when silence fills our ears and the darkness blinds our eyes, where we especially need to hold tight to the Lord and live in expectation of His Promises. 

And we need not wait idly by. We fight back and find our way through the depths and the darkness. We can use practical tools to do this and take care of our souls. 

The following is a list of 10 self-care practices that can nourish our spirits and help bring us out of the depths: 

1. Visualize a Screen Door

Whenever I begin to feel “stuck” or “caught” by pain that runs deep, it helps me to imagine myself as a screen door instead of a sticky fly trap. I visualize emotions and thoughts passing through me. I also tend to do this with the next activity.

2. Breathe Deep

When we’re in deep with our pain, we often forget to breathe. Inhaling and exhaling deeply is one the simplest yet most profoundly helpful practices I have discovered. Breathing intentionally (i.e.: a certain number of breaths over a specific length of time or a specific meditative practice) has all sorts of emotional, mental, and physical benefits and is truly one of the best ways I have found to calm my soul and take back control of what seems to be out of control in me. 

3. Preach to Yourself

Read and speak affirmations and truth. Remind yourself of what you know to be true because emotions can disorient us and lies like to attack us in the dark and lonely places of pain. Bring light to the darkness. Turn to God’s Word to remember the truths that God says about you. Make a list of your positive qualities or write a letter to yourself. Have “I am” statements at the ready when the battle in the depths comes to remind yourself the truth of who you are.

4. Breath Prayers

This practice combines ideas #2 and #3. This essentially involves choosing a truth from #3 (a short scripture or phrase), using deep breathing from #2, and joining them in a prayer. As you inhale, begin your short prayer, as you exhale complete it, repeat. Maybe start by trying this for a minute, work your way to five, maybe even use this form of prayer for 20 minutes. You can use Google to search for samples of breath prayers if you’re looking for a place to start. 

5. Get Outside

Inside, in physically confining and dark spaces, we’re stuck in an environment much like where we’re stuck in our pain. But when we step outside, literally, we also begin to step outside of our pain. Get outside. Breathe in cool fresh air and fill your lungs. Notice the vast blue sky and the world around you. Be mindful of the smells, the sights, the sounds, etc. you observe. For me, when the weather cooperates, I like to walk barefoot on the cement sidewalk in front of my house and then step onto the cool earth feeling the damp, scratchy grass against the soles of my feet. Feeling the hard ground under me makes me feel grounded and strong when I had felt lost and weak. 

6. Move Your Body

Find a way to move. Maybe while you’re outside using tip #5, you can take a walk or ride a bike. Physical activity and moving our bodies is another great way to help us move through our emotions and thoughts and get unstuck. Yoga is one of my favorite ways to move that I incorporate regularly into my life for this reason. The data behind the mental and emotional and psychological healing benefits of yoga (especially in trauma survivors) is fascinating. Find what works for you and get your body moving. 

7. Have a Cup of Tea

I have always been a tea lover, but as I drank a cup of hot tea in the throes of deep emotions once, I unexpectedly discovered relief for my soul. The aroma stimulates a calming effect within me. The warmth of the liquid fills my body and spirit in all the aching places. I continue to be amazed by the soothing affects a simple cup of hot tea with a touch of honey has on me, but it works. If you’re not a fan of tea, maybe try a cup of warm milk, but steer clear of anything caffeinated or alcoholic which can exasperate your emotions more. 

8. Write

Writing is a wonderful and proven therapeutic practice. Take your deep emotions and write them onto paper—get them outside of yourself. Write it all out. Everything. Imperfect and uncensored. As the words flow out of you, some of the pain will follow.

9. Create

Whether it’s grabbing your Crayola markers and coloring in an adult coloring book, chopping fresh veggies for soup or kneading dough in the kitchen, or something else like knitting, – engage in a creative practice. The act of creating can be extremely calming and beneficial as it provides another opportunity for processing, releasing, distracting, and cultivating positive thoughts and feelings of peace, productiveness, joy, and more. 

10. Phone a Friend

Have someone in your life who is a safe place and who can hold space for you. And then, when you’re struggling with hurt that runs deep, reach out to this friend. Simply speaking our struggles out loud to someone who knows how to listen and walk alongside of us can disarm the power of the pain. There will be times when they will simply listen and other times when they will speak those truths and affirmations in love mentioned in tip #3—we need both. Find that friend who will get down on the floor with you and give you time there, but who will lift you up when it’s been long enough. Make a list of 1-3 people you can go to when needed.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health care professional. If you’re struggling with emotional or mental health issues, first seek advice from your medical doctor and/or a licensed therapist. I have done both and many of my self-care tips have come from what the professionals have taught me. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Line (U.S.) 1-800-273-8255. UK Samaritans: 116 123

Kristin Vanderlip is an Army wife, a bereaved mom to her little girl in heaven, and a stay-at-home mom to her two rainbow boys (ages 3 and 6). A decade ago you could find Kristin teaching English in a middle school classroom, now she is a writer and freelance editor. Kristin follows Jesus with an expectant heart as she navigates both the ordinary moments and the unexpected trials of life. She is passionate about seeking God and holding onto hope, especially when it’s hard, and encouraging other women to do the same & cultivate their own expectant hearts. You can find Kristin at: www.anexpectantheart.com.
iola magazine even in the deep

Journal through the deep

In my office at home, I have a giant storage bin full of colourful journals. The journals themselves tell a superficial story, painting a picture of the ages and stages of my life over the years. Hardcover floral prints and patterns popular in the 90s characterize my youth, energy and sense of whimsy. Foolscap in discarded folders was all my meagre budget could afford for a time. Gifts from friends and family over the years are varied in colour and pattern, and in more recent years, a slightly larger format, lined Moleskin fits the bill. 

Looking at the stack gives you a glimpse into the girl who’s scrawled a life’s worth of stories, reflections and prayers into those pages in messy, slanted script. 

Twenty-three years and counting.

I thought they were important, those journals. I’ve kept them tucked away thinking that maybe, at some point, they’ll provide the impetus or starting point for a memoir. That my story might end up being something that God uses to help and encourage others going through something similar. That He had given me a story and someday I would write it. 

And though I’ve revisited that stack of journals on occasion over the years, my story remains mostly tucked within those pages. 

Twenty-three years ago, my story was that of a young woman who had been rejected by her husband, a mother to two young daughters suddenly facing a divorce. It was not a story I would have chosen for myself. It was not a story I wanted. But isn’t that the way with God? We don’t get to choose the story he writes for us. 

What we do know is this: we do get to choose what we do with the story we’re given. We get to choose how we walk the road we find ourselves on. In short, whatever story he gives us is always an invitation to dive deeper into relationship with him as he walks us through it. 

When faced with the rejection and betrayal of the man who had promised to love me ‘til death do us part’ just six years earlier, God picked me up and put a pen in my hand and saved my life word by word, page after page, prayer upon prayer. 

Journaling became the avenue by which I learned to process life, talk to God and listen to Him.

Taking in the information and events swirling around me and reflecting on them, turning them over and around in my head and then laying them down on the page. Journaling became a kind of offering: the pouring out of a million thoughts and emotions at the feet of the Father who promised to be my husband in the absence of my husband. (Isaiah 54:5) 

I have to be honest though, when I read those early journals now, I physically cringe. Rather than inspiring me to recount those times autobiographically, everything in me wants to burn the pages. And I’d like to slap the silly girl who spent the majority of the early months and years lamenting—in a tone that is nothing short of simpering—for the loss of her marriage. Bemoaning her sad, rejected, broken heart and feeling infinitely sorry for herself. Pleading desperately for God to answer her prayers in the way she had determined would be best. 

Which, of course, He didn’t.

The divorce papers eventually came anyways. 

In her memoir, ‘Hourglass: time, memory, marriage’, author Dani Shapiro pens a similar—comforting—sentiment about her journals. 

The journals—I understood at once—were dangerous. If I read further, I might never write the memoir. I had no sympathy for the girl I once was. She was boy-crazy, insipid, ridiculous. I was certain she didn’t deserve a book. I didn’t want to capture her voice. I packed the whole lot of them back in the box, taped it shut, hauled it down to my car. I pushed her as far away from me as possible.” (p.100) 

I didn’t haul my storage bin to my car, but I certainly put the lid on tight and ignored it for many years. Lifting the top just enough at one corner to shove the next completed journal in, but never enough to allow any memories out. 

Going deeper

What has occurred to me in recent years, as I’ve made stutter steps on my memoir—starting and stopping and stumbling over the words—is that perhaps God didn’t bring me to journaling in order to provide me with content. 

Maybe he brought me to journaling in order to provide me with Him: to simply remind me of His presence and His provision at a time when that was what I needed most in life.

Maybe instead of me writing the story of my rejection, separation and subsequent divorce—as I initially thought it would be—perhaps God was writing the story of my salvation through the gift of simply writing down the words. 

More than being a daily diary entry, I realize now that my journals are a love letter from God to me. If I can manage to wade beyond all the day-to-day drivel of that frantic and desperate 27-year-old girl, I can actually see the way God wooed me deeper into relationship with Him at a time when I had lost the only relationship I thought mattered. 

It occurs to me now, all these years later, that maybe the point all along was never about the words. Maybe it was always about the process.

The Spiritual Discipline of Journalling

In the twenty-three years since I began journaling, it has become a spiritual discipline for me—a bodily habit that engages my heart and mind with God. For me, it is my first-thing-in-the morning meeting with God to set the tone for my day and check my spiritual pulse. It’s interactive: I bring to him the things on my heart and in my mind. And I spend time in the Word, listening to what he has to say to me in return.

These days, my journals are less a play-by-play of my life’s events—although there is still a bit of that; kind of a highlights reel, mostly to help me remember people and situations, both of which tend to move through our lives in different seasons. Primarily though, my journals contain heartfelt prayers: both the cry of my heart and intercession for others. Their pages are peppered with scripture and occasionally the writings of other people that strike me as profound or relevant and speak to me. 

My journals are still the means by which I process the things swirling around me. Turning them over and around in my head and laying them down on the page, an offering to the loving God who promises to never leave or forsake us, no matter what we’re facing. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Because, let’s face it, life happens. 

My separation and subsequent divorce was certainly a major event and story theme in my life, but it is by no means the beginning and end of what God has done in and for me since then. God continues to weave the tapestry of my life with surprising threads, colours and fabrics. Story after story, chapter by chapter; He knows it all. 

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” ~Psalm 139:16

And throughout every up and down and twist and turn of the road He has me on, the spiritual discipline of journaling has helped to keep me grounded when life threatens to open up and swallow me whole. 

Cries from the heart.

For me, there is no better example of this discipline than the Psalms. Though many of the psalms were written as hymns, they effectively capture the innermost thoughts and prayers of King David and their other writers. Many of which still resonate with seekers today.

I can just imagine David with his quill and parchment, trying to make sense of the events of his life. Pouring out his heart to God on the page: wrestling with deepest sorrow, restless anxiety, fear for his very life. Posing the hard questions about suffering and injustice, crying out to God or shouting joy before Him. The psalms offer no magical formulas to make troubles go away, but they always circle back around to the faithfulness and character of God. 

When David was penning the psalms, I’m sure he wasn’t considering the spiritual disciplines of putting his heart to the page. But it is clearly evident that God met him on that page and time and time again. And he’ll meet you there too.

Here are three suggestions to help get you started on your own journaling journey. 

You don’t need to be a writer to keep a journal. Journaling requires no expensive classes or lessons. All you need is a notebook and a pen and the willingness to dedicate some daily, consistent time to it. Whatever time of day suits you best. However much time you have to give.

1. Start with God’s words. 

Scripture is a great place to start. I especially love the psalms because they beautifully echo the sentiments of the human condition. You can choose randomly or start with Psalm 1 and work your way through the book. Ask God to speak to you through His Word as you write out the chapter (or specific verses of a long chapter). Re-read what you’ve written and spend some time penning a reflection. 

One of my favourites passages is found in Psalm 5.

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning O LORD, you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”

2. Start with someone else’s words.

There is no shortage of ministries with websites and apps that offer daily encouragement and reflections on scripture, usually—though not exclusively—for free. Pick one or two and subscribe to receive them directly to your inbox. If you can visit your inbox without getting sucked into the rest of your email, it can be a great way to turn your mind toward God for a time first thing in the morning. 

If a message resonates with me, I’ll often jot down the scriptures provided and a few notes and quotes along with a paragraph or two explaining why. Believe it or not, someday down the road, you won’t remember what you were thinking or feeling or struggling with at that time in your life and you’ll need some context

Suggestions for women: www.proverbs31.org; www.incourage.me
Suggestions for everyone: www.faithgateway.com; www.jesuscalling.com Apps: First5; Pocket Fuel Daily Devotionals (small membership fee applies)

3. Start with your own words. 

Staring at a blank page, pen in hand, can be daunting. We put so much pressure on ourselves to come up with the right words and weave them into beautiful sentences. Consider this your invitation to take the pressure off. Your words don’t have to be articulate and poetic. Your handwriting doesn’t need to be perfectly slanted and evenly spaced. Scripture tells us that when we don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans mere words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). 

Your journal is just that. Yours. Just start writing. Don’t worry if it doesn’t read like a bestseller. That isn’t the point. The point is that you’re creating an opportunity to go deeper with God. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Maybe He’s closer than you think? 

Janine Dilger is a Canadian writer who loves Jesus, her family, and a steaming mug of coffee in a quiet kitchen before the day begins. God wired her with an eye for beauty: nature, art, photography, design and words—these things whisper refreshment into her soul. She is as broken as they come and has way more questions than answers. But after a life’s worth of hard lessons, she is realizing the trick is to just keep her feet moving. To that end, she’s doing her best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. You can Janine blogging about her journey at janinedilger.com
iola magazine even in the deep

Going deep in times of transition

‘Transition’ -An often painful, yet beautiful word.

Painful in process. Beautiful in outcome.

Concerning various life-changes we face as women, wives, and mothers, we sometimes fail to understand the bigger plan of God for our lives. And therefore, we fail to embrace the various life-transitions that come our way. 

Major life-transitions often entail some level of loss such as losing a spouse, divorce, kids leaving home, role changes, career changes, physical changes, etc. 

The journey that follows seasons of such transitions can cause enormous stress on even the strongest of she-hero’s. The impact of these changes when infused with worry, fear and anxiety will most certainly prevent us from going deeper and exploring the beauty that seasons of transitional change offers.  

Embracing Transition is Difficult, But Not Impossible

For those who find themselves facing some type of life-altering transition, be encouraged. There is good reason to be hopeful! And there is much goodness to be discovered within your journey though transition. 

I know for certain that I would not be who I am today apart from my various life-transitions. Three major life changes (that happened simultaneously) entailed a major career change, physiological (midlife) change, and the finality of my parenting role as the mom of eight, and entering The Land of Empty Nesters. There were other changes that coincided with these changes, but these were the big three. 

So, I get it. Transition isn’t fun. 

I cried for months and experienced a level of depression I had not previously known. My roles, relationships, career, and body were all changing in drastic and profound ways. And there I was. Like a sailor lost at sea, all alone in my lost-ness. Struggling to know how to navigate my way through my new normal. 

I wrestled with issues of identity, worth, and purpose. I asked the questions that perhaps you find yourself asking, “Now what? God, what are you up to? What are you doing? Where are you leading me? What’s next?  

I wanted God to hurry up and give me answers. 

What I got instead was:

– a deeper love for Jesus

– a deeper awareness of God’s sovereign care over my life

– and a deeper appreciation for the many ways my transitions have lead me closer to the heart, plan, and purposes of God. 

Although it was often difficult to embrace the new realities taking place, I look back on this season of my life as a precious gift.

Commit Your Plans to the Lord 

Committing your plans to the Lord is as easy as pie,” said no one ever.

Learning to embrace my season of transition was a process journey that took months, and even years.

A process that taught me much about resisting and embracing. About letting go and letting God. About taking risks and learning to rest. 

I needed to go deeper. 

I needed to learn to be still. 

I needed to embrace the changes taking place. 

I needed to grow in my understanding of God’s providential hand over my life. 

I needed to surrender to the process of change taking place within me.  

I needed to work through areas of brokenness and forgiveness. 

But most of all, I needed to yield to God’s transforming work in my life to make me more like Jesus and more of who he created me to be. 

Transition Ushers in
The New

The journey through transition is meant to be a journey toward transformation. Another way to think about transition is the idea that I’m no longer ‘this’ but I’m not yet ‘that’.

Although it may be overused, a better example is hard to find. Consider with me, the secret life of a caterpillar.  Though seemingly insignificant, she is one of God’s uniquely created works of art that holds within her, his mysterious and glorious power and potential. 

She crawls along day by day, inch by inch, munching and crunching away on delicacies to sustain her vulnerable, but simple existence. Finding her way through her mundane existence, something within her calls her into the deep, the unknown. At the proper time, she begins to yield herself to the process of becoming.

A becoming that is much more than she could ever imagine. 

After a season of much activity and preparation, she is summoned into the deep, dark, unknown. She must go in. There is no other way to fulfil her purpose, her life-calling, her destiny. 

There in the dark, she settles into her new reality. No more, same-old-same-old.

Here, in the deep, there is nowhere to go. 

Here, there is no need to fear. 

Here, she hides in the waiting room of waiting rooms.

Removed from the former; from all familiarity. 

Here, she is protected. 

Here, she ceases from her striving.

Here, she is safe to just be.

The covering woven around her allows the miraculous to take place. 

Silently she lies in wait. Patiently she yields. Quietly she undergoes a complete transformation.

And then. It happens. Ever so slowly, she emerges. Shedding the old and embracing the new. Eager to break into the light, she comes forth and her new identity is revealed. Her beauty though hidden for a season, is now on display for all. She discovers she has been made new and with wings spread wide and face held high, she takes flight. 

Unearthed. Uninhibited. Unbound. 

She celebrates her new life and allows herself to explore God’s creation from an entirely new perspective. Everything has changed. Her view is different. Her life is different. Her former life made way for the new. 

As she pauses to take it all in, she sips on the sweet nectar of the flowers that now hold her and gives thanks for the darkness that once held her. She is grateful for them both. 

For it was there in the deep that she discovered who God made her to be in all her fullness. 

For old things are passed away, behold the new has come.”

Friend, are you in a place of transition? 

What part of your season of change do you need to commit to the Lord’s leading and care?

May I encourage you to not be afraid of going into the deep? 

There is life beneath the ground. And it is good.

Don’t be afraid. Go into the secret, sacred hiding place of God and allow him to prove himself faithful to you. 

Allow him to make all things new in your life. 

God is with you. 

May these winter months allow you to consider the beauty that awaits the season of newness that will follow. And may the Lord himself lead you through your transition to a new life of great freedom and endless hope.

Feel free to join me on the journey through midlife change. I’d love to connect with you and learn more about your transition story.

Elizabeth Duncan Stretar, (Cleveland, Ohio) is the mother of 8 married adults, grandmother to 16, and enjoys spending her empty-nest time with husband, Frank. She is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (MACL), Young Life’s first national director and currently working as an airline Flight Attendant. Stretar’s passion is to help others live an above and beyond kind of life, by encouraging them realize their untapped potential, discover their life-purpose that strives to make a difference in the lives of others. She’s a published author of ‘Acorn Gert & Brother Bert’ & blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life (betsystretar.com)
iola magazine even in the deep

For when the Winter is long.

It’s still dark when she gets up. Laura feels it like a heavy blanket. The weight of it is oppressive. She’s methodical in her tasks: she finishes her coffee, gets the kids breakfast, makes lunches, and sends them out the door to the bus.

She knows there are e-mails to respond to, phone calls to return. She knows that if she gets dinner into the crockpot early, it will make life that much easier when the kids are home from school. But she goes back to bed instead. She thinks perhaps another hour of sleep is what she needs to get back on track.

Xan griffin

Later, a friend invites her for coffee and she politely declines. The thought of doing her hair and makeup to go out is overwhelming. She dreads the prospect of putting on a smile and making small talk for an hour.

By the time the kids arrive home, shortly after 4 p.m., the sky is already dusky. Lights in the house blaze as dark falls by dinnertime. Her husband notices her lack of energy, her subdued responses; a silly child may elicit a smile, but not much more.

He asks about her day. She gives him a monotone, “Fine.” They are all the same.

Day after day, the story is the same.

Does Laura’s story sound familiar?

It’s easy to ignore the warning signs of depression. Symptoms identified in isolation are easy to justify away. We tell ourselves, “It’s just PMS.” or “I had a bad night.” “It will get better.” “I just need to snap out of it.”

And while it’s very possible that low energy or a bad day is a one-time occurrence, sometimes it’s more pervasive than that. Seasonal Affective Disorder—also known as SAD or winter depression—if left unchecked, can have a devastating toll on individuals and families.

Regardless whether your low mood is circumstantial or something deeper, it’s important to know that you are not alone. In the UK alone, experts estimate one in 15 individuals are affected by SAD between the months of September and April, with women twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression than men.1

Despite much discussion about mental health in public spheres, many women simply don’t feel empowered to speak openly about their depression. There is a tendency to withdraw from relationships because we don’t want to be a burden, we think we can figure it out on our own, or it’s embarrassing to admit that we don’t have it all together.

And because of that, many aren’t finding the support they need, both in the community and in the church. Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, writes, “There’s an assumption among many people that if they were honest about what they experienced, it would be rejected or they would be shamed.”

This rings true in light of a 2011 study on prescription usage in the US which revealed that one in four women in the US take some sort of prescribed medication to treat mental illness—that’s 12 million women. And yet, a large percentage of those are still not talking about their issues.2

An enlightening 2015 Christianity Today article titled, Depression: The Church’s Best Kept Secret, shines a spotlight on the lack of support that generally exists in the church regarding mental health. In the article, Dr. Archibald Hart, a licensed psychologist and senior professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, recalls asking a room full of women attending a seminar on depression, “How many of you are on an antidepressant but have not told your husband?” At least half of them stood up, he says.3

Clearly, the church has a long road ahead toward dispelling the stigma of mental illness but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help and support available right now. If you think you may be suffering from SAD, an important first step is to reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Knowing that there is one person who sees you and knows what you’re going through can be a literal lifesaver.

Scripture reveals that depression has actually been part of the human experience for a long time. But it can be easy for well-versed believers to gloss over the passages because they make us uncomfortable or, on the surface, they seem irrelevant.

Hannah was “reduced to tears and would not even eat. . . . [She] was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:7, 10)

Elijah asked God to take his life. (1 Kings 19:4)

Job described his life as ebbing away. “Depression haunts my days,” he said. “At night my bones are filled with pain, which gnaws at me relentlessly” (Job 30:16–17).

The human condition is not a surprise to God. There are real physiological changes that occur in the brain when depression begins to take hold. If a loved one had a broken leg, you wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical help. By the same token, depression should not be minimized as something that will pass.

What exactly is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a specifier—or subtype—of major depression. People with this type of disorder commonly experience symptoms during the fall and winter months. During the lighter and warmer spring and summer months, the depression often goes into remission.

Though researchers haven’t pinpointed the specific cause of SAD, we do know that several factors may come into play:

The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms, leading to feelings of depression.

Reduced sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, which may trigger depression.

The change in season can also disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or far south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter or, conversely, unnaturally long days during the summer, which impacts the internal body clock.

If you are suffering from SAD, there are a number of things you can do to change the trajectory of your mental health. First of all, talk to your doctor, he or she can help rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms, such as thyroid problems.

What are some of the symptoms?

Not everyone will experience all the symptoms listed, but if more than one of these resonate with you, you might want to consider looking into some treatment options.

  • * Sleep problems – usually oversleeping and difficulty staying awake but in some cases disturbed sleep and early morning waking
  • * Lethargy – lacking in energy and unable to carry out normal routine due to fatigue. Heaviness in the arms and legs
  • * Overeating – craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, which usually leads to weight gain
  • * Depression – feeling sad, low and weepy, a failure, sometimes hopeless and despairing
  • * Apathy – loss of motivation and ability to concentrate
  • * Social problems – irritability and withdrawal from social situations, not wanting to see friends
  • * Anxiety – feeling tense and unable to cope with stress
  • * Loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities
  • * Loss of libido – decreased interest in sex and physical contact
  • * Weakened immune system – vulnerability to catching winter colds and flu
  • * Mood changes – for some people bursts of over-activity and cheerfulness (known as hypo-mania) in spring and autumn.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Common treatments for SAD include:

Light therapy.

Daily exposure a special light for roughly 30 minutes has proven very effective. The light mimics natural sunlight and can effect brain chemicals that improve mood and relieve symptoms. Sixty to 80 per cent of people with SAD find significant relief from light therapy. Make sure you talk to a medical professional about obtaining the right type of lamp.

Medication.

If symptoms are particularly intense, medication might be the best course of treatment. Different kinds of medications work in different ways, so it’s important to discuss with your doctor which is the right type for you.

Counselling (or Talk Therapy).

Working with a counsellor can be very effective in identifying possible triggers for depression, as well as teaching skills to help break negative patterns associated with depression. Altering thoughts, attitudes and actions that perpetuate negative patterns is instrumental in bringing about change. Counselling has proven to be beneficial alongside other treatments and medication.

Self-care.

Low energy and mood often means that there are only so many resources to go around. And, for many women, these are often spent on kids and family, which leaves very little left for self-care.

The Catch 22 is that regular exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep habits, managing stress and staying connected to others are all an important part of navigating SAD in one piece. A good church community can also come alongside if they recognize the wisdom in encouraging these things along with meditation, prayer, and Scripture contemplation.

According to Dr. Hart, “there’s a healthy and healing synchronization that occurs when we realize that our bodies, emotions, and beliefs aren’t separate entities but all play an integrated role in shaping who we are. While the condition of our faith may not play a role in the onset of depression, it is certainly vital in treating it.”4

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

  1. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/women-and- prescription-drug-use_n_1098023
  3. https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/september/depression-churchs-best-kept-secret.html
  4. https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/september/depression-churchs-best-kept-secret.html

What does the bible say about hope?

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

“You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” (2 Samuel 22:29)

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

Janine Dilger is a Canadian writer who loves Jesus, her family, and a steaming mug of coffee in a quiet kitchen before the day begins. God wired her with an eye for beauty: nature, art, photography, design and words—these things whisper refreshment into her soul. She is as broken as they come and has way more questions than answers. But after a life’s worth of hard lessons, she is realizing the trick is to just keep her feet moving. To that end, she’s doing her best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. You can Janine blogging about her journey at janinedilger.com

when the winter is long - could it be SAD? Mental wellbeing article for iola magazine

Blooming in the dark

Thrown into the most exhausting and painful time of my life – I’d just had a baby – my third child, our business had gone bust, we had sold our house and had to move, a family member had been diagnosed with cancer – all within weeks of each other. It was all too much. I felt spun around and unsure of which way was up, let alone the next step to take.

I felt like a tortoise, upside down on her shell, wiggling her legs in the air, trying to turn over, but the shell just sliding around on the floor. Eventually, all I wanted to do was hide in that shell and not face pain and disappointment ever again.

It was a struggle to do anything, even the former things that I loved to do. I had worked as a designer and loved to be creative with design and layout, and in making a home for my little family. It had all been taken from me and I had no resources, no outlet, no inclination or energy to be creative at all.

As I travelled the path of depression and learning about my mental health, re-discovering creativity was an essential part of healing. Learning how to restart my creativity against the odds, learning how to rest and finding out what brought me joy. Silencing my inner critic’s voice, creating from a place of vulnerability, and chasing down truth and beauty.

I had to learn to come alive again.

Creative practice helped me to move through disappointments, it helped me focus on the things that mattered, it helped me find meaning in life and feel valued again. Not valued for what I could do, but in knowing the presence of God and him moving me alive.

Creative is the essence of who we all are. Every action you take is a creative act. When we who were made in God’s own image, move into our identity, foremost we are creators. Overwhelmed with life, it is possible to forget who we are. We can lose our voice and courage and as Brene Brown says:

“Unused creativity is not benign, it metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame”

Our unused creativity eventually destroys us. Feeling dis-empowered by life threatens to take away our identity. We can believe the lies that we don’t have anything to offer, we can’t move forward. I had to make a tiny first small step to be creative again and in doing so I discovered more of what I loved to do and what made me feel more like me. The me I was created to be. It’s not always been easy, but I have found ways to keep going.

I have come up with small ways that keep me exercising my creativity and help keep me flourishing. This is good for my soul, it is life-giving. When life is full of boring tasks or lists of chores, then I know I can take just 10 minutes a day to do one thing that will connect me to my creative essence. Maybe these will help you too:

3 tips to start creativity when overwhelmed

1. Carry pen and paper for notes, thoughts, doodles, lettering and more.

2. Make a practice of doing one thing a day even if you only have 10 minutes.

3. Remember that every act is a creative movement and you are creative.

 

 

Abi Partridge is a designer and writer living with her husband and three children in Oxfordshire, on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds in the UK. She is passionate about good coffee, encouraging others in creativity for wellbeing, and the soulful pursuit of beauty in nature. She has self-published three books and publishes iola magazine on a mac and a prayer.

She writes at abipartridge.com and posts on instagram @abipartridge.

iola magazine articles

For the sake of beauty: How to invite beauty into your everyday life

When I was a little girl, I spent most of my childhood hidden away in the pages of a book or wandering in the woods listening to the birds and trees whisper stories. I was drawn to beauty and mystery in equal parts. I liked to think I was unique, set apart somehow by the things I loved, my senses alone tuned to beauty.

 

I know now that I was never alone in my loves, and certainly not the only one attuned to beauty. We are all hardwired to seek it, know it, and name it. Like many children, I was drawn to stories and art and the natural world. Others are drawn to bodies in motion, bounty at the table, or the beauty of friendship and intimacy.

By nature, we desire what is beautiful, having an innate awareness of it. We’re drawn to the lovely, the sublime, the evocative. Beauty fulfills our longings, however imperfectly, providing a feast for our soul and our senses.

Our love for imperfect beauty arises out of our desire for perfect Beauty itself, which is the beauty of Christ, the Kingdom of God in its fullness.

As an adult, it’s easy to overlook the beautiful in life for pressing daily tasks and imagined urgency. I find I have to work at beauty, both in seeking and creating it. I must offer it an open invitation. I return to these simple steps when my vision clouds and I imagine I need to overhaul my life. Instead, I open my eyes to the beauty in front of me.

Perhaps you need to issue an invitation to beauty as well? Here’s how:

Kimberly Coyle

Expect Beauty:

Live expectant, open handed, wholehearted in all things. Allow Philippians 4:8 to guide you as you extend your invitation. “…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Perhaps you’ll discover beauty in nature, in a circle of sister-friends, in the work of your hands, in cooking, in children, in stories, in order, in design, in peace-making, in justice, in art.

Not all beautiful things carry an obvious form of beauty at first glance. Truth may be painful. Light may expose what’s hidden in darkness. Justice may reveal wrongdoing. But, beauty is what happens when the Kingdom of God enters in, when we see with the eyes of possibility, when redemption is at the end of the story.

Capture Beauty:

Practice new ways of capturing surprise or smallness or symmetry. Look for the odd, the original, the otherworldly. Photography, journaling, letter writing, old-fashioned crafts, collections, or capturing snippets of life using social media can help us focus and capture the beauty we might ordinarily walk past without thinking.

Return to your first love. What did you gather and collect as a child? What shimmered in the rough of everyday life and caught your eye like a magpie? Did you squirrel away small collections of shells or pressed flowers or scribble long lists of favorite lyrics? Did you write terrible teenaged poetry? How did you capture beauty when you were half-formed? When the earth and sea and sky and friends and fireworks and uninhibited play left their fingerprints on the wet clay of your soul?

How could you invite those loves back into your life today?

Practice Beauty:

The more we embrace and capture beauty, the more inspired we become to create. We are made in the image of God: the original Life Artist, the Creator of all things. Embrace your role as co-creator—participate in the naming of the unnamed. Call the world around you beautiful with defiant acts of creation.

Allow your creation to complement the beauty you discover elsewhere. Reject comparison. There is nothing new under the sun, but your unique perspective offers fresh inspiration to the rest of us.

Give us yourself and your best work, for the sake of beauty.

 

Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of writing with an MFA in creative non-fiction. She has written for publications such as In Touch Magazine, Fathom Magazine, (in)courage, and Grace Table. When not writing or teaching, she dabbles in photography and can be found on Instagram as @kacoyle.

She writes regularly online at www.kimberlyanncoyle.com

iola magazine articles

For those who live in a land of deep shadows

Having been a school nurse for a number of years, I was well aware of the increasing rise in the number of children and teenagers struggling with incredibly complex mental health issues.

However, I was totally unprepared when we found ourselves facing this issue in our own family.

I remember the feelings of total helplessness when I was called into school because my own precious child had caused physical damage to themselves through extreme self-harm.

I felt that somehow, I’d failed as a parent. How could I, as a trained nurse, have missed this? We had known that they were struggling with some issues, but we had put it down to hormonal teenage mood swings.

Having not experienced any mental health issues myself, I struggled to really understand how my child was feeling. I had prided myself on having a good relationship with all our children and being a family who could talk openly and share our problems. Yet during this time, I felt totally unable to reach my child.

They were completely trapped in a dark prison of despair and isolation and I was powerless to help them.

In their desperate search for a way out, their behaviour and life choices became very destructive and caused us all more heartache and sadness.

We spent many hours at difficult doctors’ appointments and counselling sessions, but nothing seemed to be changing. To my shame, I often resorted to angry outbursts and very unhelpful comments and suggestions. My frustration was overwhelming as I grappled with my desire to ‘fix’ them.

Out of protection and care for them, we found ourselves carrying a huge burden which we were only able to share with a very few people. However, our family and close friends really did an amazing job of consistently standing with us and supporting us during the darkest days.

Living with someone who is battling mental health issues really does affect the whole family. We felt like we were walking through a minefield every day. The pressure on us all was exhausting, as we never knew what might happen next.

I went through a range of emotions each day as I faced the reality of our home life.

Ultimately, I was angry and frustrated at God. We had read all the ‘right’ Christian parenting books and followed their advice as we had brought up our kids. This was not part of the plan and it wasn’t fair. I ranted and railed against God; why us, why my family, and ultimately, why me?

Although I had been a Christian since my childhood, what I really wanted from God was this;

‘It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy Hakuna Matata!….
(The Lion King 1994)

However, I was finding following Jesus didn’t mean that our lives were a fairy tale story. In fact, Jesus said that we will all encounter the storms of life as we journey through it.

‘In this life you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.’
John 16 v33

I had read these words, spoken by Jesus to his disciples many times over the years. But it was only during this time, I felt that I came to understand what they really meant.

In the times when I felt I was losing faith in my heart, I discovered a greater depth of God’s love and He met me in my brokenness and pain.

He was and is my Saviour. He healed my heart and He gave me new hope and strength to face another day.

It was during this time that we first heard about Karis house.

This amazing place was to be part of God’s healing for our precious child.

The God centred holistic Xchange programme at Karis house combines counselling and prayer ministry alongside medical care & practical support.

God gives us this promise from these words of truth in Isaiah 9;

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! Sunbursts of light! 
The Message.

God broke into the land of darkness and shadows where our child was trapped.

His light shone and we saw a miracle happen- our child who had been paralysed by fear and despair was released into a new freedom towards health and wholeness.

Our family journey continues; often the roads can be unfamiliar and at times very hard to navigate. My story is that we never have to face it alone; regardless of how difficult the path.

Jesus is the light of the world and His love can reach us wherever we are no matter how dark it is.

Charlotte Osborn

Charlotte is an evangelist at heart and she’s passionate about sharing the good news of God’s love & hope with the world. She is a speaker & event facilitator who seeks to encourage others to find creative ways to share their own stories.

As a qualified nurse, she runs her own home care business, supporting people through the many changing seasons of their lives. She has 3 fantastic grown-up children who she counts as friends and she lives in the beautiful Cotswolds UK with her equally fantastic husband!

www.livemovebe.org.uk

God is in the whisper

Elijah, prophet, and speaker for God, had just come from the mountaintop – literally and figuratively. He had defeated the prophets of Baal in a dramatic display of fire and power on the Mount of Carmel. A declaration of God and His true power was on display for all of Israel to see. In the next chapter, we find our prophet, not on the mountaintop reveling in the victory, but in the valley. Under a tree. Depressed and sad. Feeling alone. In fact, he wanted to die.

He thought he had found God, there on the mountain. On the mountain, Elijah experienced a miraculous victory. God revealed His awesome power by consuming Elijah’s sacrifice, soaked in water, with a burning fire straight from the sky. Elijah surely thought: God is here. So when his life was threatened by a jealous and evil queen, he didn’t respond in triumph, he ran.

After this, Elijah found himself in the valley. Literally, Elijah fled to an isolated place with no water or food. It was an empty place, and he wished to die. I was surprised the first time I saw those words, but the great prophet of God spoke to God: “O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” The lowest a human can reach. To want to die is a deepest darkest pit, no one should experience. Yet so many do.

Are you in this pit? Read on to find how God meets Elijah here in the depths of his heartache….

God sends an angel. Not to give him a “pep talk” or a reprimand. God gives Elijah food. And sleep. I find it extremely comforting knowing God knew the physical strain depression an take on a body. Sleep is often the first thing to evade us when we suffer from darkness. God provided sleep and food for Elijah. Then He asked Elijah to go into the wilderness. It was time Elijah separated himself from his job, his friends, and his people. He already felt alone, but God was bringing him to a place where he was really alone.

So think about this with me: Elijah had been given a miraculous victory, then plunged deep into the depths of despair. An exchange happens between Elijah and God after all of that:

God: What are you doing here, Elijah?

Elijah: I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.

God: Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’ presence.

The next few verses are where we see where God is. Is He in the mountains? The valleys?

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. I Kings 19:11-12 (KJV)

A “still small voice” can also be translated, “a soft whisper. God is in the whisper.

What does God tell Elijah? After all of that, the victory, the depression, the wilderness, the show of God’s power, God’s message to Elijah is the same message He has for us: You are not alone. And God still had work for Elijah. The close of I Kings tells how Elijah went back to work, and then {don’t miss this!!} he found Elisha. Here is what Elisha did for Elijah:

Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. I Kings 19:21

Find God the of the glorious ordinary and walk the road of life leaning onto each other. God didn’t leave Elijah, and to show it, God sent Elisha – a friend – to comfort and walk with him. When Jesus calls us to abide with Him, He doesn’t just mean in the hardest days, but in mundane messy days.

What mess are you facing today? How can God meet you here, in the middle of the mess?

Does hardship weigh heavy on your heart? How can you hear God’s whisper in the night?

Are you feeling alone and forgotten by everyone, even God? How can you reach out to someone today?

Our God isn’t in the wind.

Our God isn’t in thunder and lightning.

Our God isn’t found in the majestic, but the mundane.

During the raging storm, He is both the waves and lighthouse. During our times of immense grief, He sits with us in the darkness, growing and molding us. During the hardest times of our lives, if we have seen His hand in the faithful small days, we can find Him in the darkness.

We want God to be grand and big {and He is}, but more and more I’ve been seeing God in the ordinary days. He is a whisper in the middle of the night. He is the quiet when I choose to be still in prayer. He is in the way the sun shines through the trees. He is in the laughter. He is in the faithfulness of the oldest saint in church who prayers. He is in the last leaf, hanging onto the tree.

It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God, but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people and this is not learned in five minutes. – Oswald Chambers

Sarah Frazer

Sarah E. Frazer writes and lives in a brick house at the end of Thomas Road with her husband, five kids, a cat, a dog, and five chickens. Motherhood is her calling but her passion is to inspire focus and encourage deep-rooted Bible study for the busy mom. Life is full of seasons, but every season can be made more peaceful when time is spent in God’s word. Join Sarah on her favorite social media space: Instagram. Or you can find her on her blog, www.sarahefrazer.com.

Self-care for when you are coming out of a time of depression.

On either side of my driveway crocuses and snowdrops have started to appear. They have forced their way through the decomposing leaves. Bursts of colour against the damp brown matting.

I take a rake and gently pull it across the flowerbed, easing my way through the flowers carefully, trying not to knock off the delicate blooms. The flowers I expose are top heavy, their stems are white, translucent, anemic. Many of them flop forward, unable to support their own weight. I fear my zeal might have shortened their already brief life.

I recognise myself here.

I have been re-learning how to live in a way that enables me to be well, to enjoy my days and weeks without the constant threat of sliding under. Figuring out what I need to do to make sure I don’t fall foul of the beast that is anxiety… again.

I have pushed through. I have worked my way into a new place, out of the dark. And now I am here in the sunlight. I feel disoriented, sun-blinded, unstable.

Elli Johnson

I fear my legs will not continue to hold me as I venture forward.

I am top heavy with new ideas, new habits, new ways to be.

This new life I am discovering has involved a complete overhaul of my priorities, how I spend my time, who I spend time with, how I treat my body.

Everything has had to change.

And change at such a rapid rate (okay so I’ve been on this path for over seven years – but that is pretty quick to change your whole life) can leave you vulnerable, exposed, it can tire you out.

To ensure I grow in a way that promotes strength and enables longevity I have put some things in place to protect me. To act as a safety net while I am venturing forward.

Scheduled rest.

Constant activity was one of the pillars of my old way of life. Busyness was seen as a status symbol and any rest was treated as an unnecessary luxury.

I need rest now.

Rest to enable me to remember how to live in this new way, and rest as part of the new life.

Rest in the rhythm and routine of my days and weeks.

I look at my diary and schedule in time for nothing, for having a bath or watching trashy tv, for playing board games and walking by the river. Rest and renewal is an essential part of growth and forward motion. And I have learnt it only happens when I schedule it.

Surrounding myself with grace-speakers.

I make sure I spend time every week with people who will remind me of the new things I have learnt. People who will prompt me to let myself off the hook, to have compassion towards myself, to cultivate a life of present attention, not future obsession. These ideas are still new to me. I can easily begin to lose them in the hustle of the everyday.

I have made new friends, and new ways to be with old friends, to ensure I am surrounded by people who will remind me my worth is not determined by my productivity or achievement, people who won’t let me forget the truths I have learnt the hard way.

Remembering rule number 6.

As decreed by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander* rule number 6 is:  Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously.

Blimey, all this talk of mental health and self-compassion can get a bit serious. Learning to laugh at myself is important, no – vital. (Ask my husband).

In the process of changing my life and learning how to live again, I am going to make mistakes. This is a fact.

I am going to do too much and burn out, and I am going to go to the other extreme and find I have become a little too hooked on soap operas. I am going to say the wrong thing. I am going to take two steps forward and three steps back. I am going to make a fool of myself.

But it’s all good.

No one ever learnt anything new with an unbroken record of success. It takes failure and mistakes too.

Not taking yourself too seriously is a necessity when you spend your days talking about mental wellbeing and depression-busting strategies.

(My children are very good at making sure I don’t forget this!)

*From The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, an excellent read.

Elli Johnson

This article is from the first issue of iola magazine.

 

Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.

Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road.

To find her newest and most exciting work, check out: patreon.com/thehippochronicles