40 days to Easter

“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy. It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are.” –Thomas Keating

Last weekend, we attended the baptism of my niece. While listening to the pastor’s sermon, I thought of all the Lenten seasons past that I’ve “fasted” from something in my life. I’ve given up sugary foods, soda, chocolate, pizza, video games, TV, and much much more. Some years, I have given up nothing but increased Bible reading, church attendance, journaling, or some other Spiritual discipline.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in the Christian church. I wondered to myself if I should participate this year and how I will participate. The hardest thing for me sometimes is choosing what might be a fitting “sacrifice” and discipline for me to partake in. I try to make it something that will benefit not only my Spiritual health during the season, but might stick with me in my physical, mental or spiritual health later. 40 days from now, I may have had a different experience than I think.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ…the better the preparation the more effective the celebration will be. One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God’s will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts.”

40 days, the length of the Lenten season, is a significant number of days in the spiritual world. It’s the length of time that Jesus spent in the wilderness before his ministry started. It’s the length of time the Bible says it rained to create the “Great Flood”. 40 years is how old Mohammad supposedly was when he received his revelation of the arch angel, Michael. The planet Venus forms a pentagram in the night sky every eight years and returns to its original point every 40 years with a 40 day regression, leading astrologists to talk about anything from bad behavior of dogs to infertility to engagements.

In the biological world, 40 days is also far past the 21 days necessary for a human brain to fully accept a new habit. You could almost start a habit twice in that time!! Also, 40 days gives you a chance to try out this new habit in multiple scenarios. The time of year that the Lenten season is in even gives you a chance to try the habit out in multiple seasons if you live in the Midwest like we do. This week alone, we will deal with rain, snow, and sunshine on days that are anywhere from -4 degrees F to 57 degrees F. This new habit will be thoroughly embedded in your psyche and maybe even change your life for good moving forward.

I’ve always thought of the 40 days of Lent as a way to transition from winter to summer in a healthier frame of mind and physical state. So, this year, I am going to give up one thing and add two. I will be giving up all electronic games. I am adding more exercise and writing.

For some, electronic games mean nothing. It would be a minor sacrifice for some. For me, this will be the biggest test. It is such a habit to play games on Facebook and my phone that it would take up hours of my day if I let it; and I have let it before. If given the opportunity, I won’t even play console games, which are a particular weakness of mine since we got rid of our TV some years ago. This will be the hardest part of the Lenten sacrifice for me and counts as two in my book.

As far as exercising, I’ve done well in the past. I have a specific goal in mind for this Lenten time. I want to begin training for a Spartan Sprint race. To do this, I will need to increase my strength training and my running back to levels that will really get my muscles in shape to take on the obstacles. I plan to do 3 workouts a week featuring strength, 3 featuring cardio, and 3 featuring flexibility. I also want at least 1 full day off each week from all exercise so my body can heal. Some days will be short workouts of 30-60 minutes total, others may add up to 2 hours or more, depending on what needs to be done.

Writing has become sporadic for me. I used to write in a journal every day, write at least 2-3 letters a week, and write in a blog 2-3 times a week. In the last year, I’ve gotten to where I’m lucky to write in the blog once a week and a letter once a month. My journals have fallen off entirely. I’d like to get back to at least writing something every single day. I won’t be writing here that often, but know that I will probably write here more often. It becomes a solace and a helpful decision making tool.

With those changes, I feel that I’ll be growing my spiritual health. My relationship with myself and with God grows by my writing and it’s hindered by distractions like my games. Exercise is mostly for my physical health, but mental health is always helped by “burning off the crazy”. So, whether I’m out running or here writing, I’ll see you on the road.

In Need of Progress Reminders

I think that sometimes, God reminds us of how far we’ve come by sending us back to where we were for a short time.

This weekend was an awesome weekend for the most part. Friday was a day fully dedicated to working on The Girl Next Door. I’ll write a whole entry about this week’s work on her soon. Let’s just say it was a lot of work and very satisfying.

Saturday, we worked on her in the morning. After doing as much as we could, we left to attend the Minneapolis RV vacation & Camping show. We had a TON of fun there. Next year, we will probably take either one whole day or come back for more than one time. We really enjoyed looking at new models of Class A, B, C motorhomes and travel trailers. We’re not much for pop-ups or 5th wheels, so we stayed out of them. We dreamed about what we might buy in the future and got a few ideas for The Girl Next Door. Catch us in 10 years when we’ll buy the 2017 Thor Vegas RUV Class A or a 2016 Pleasureway  Plateau XLMB Class B. They were both glorious. Plus, we were super excited to get to meet The FitRV after months of watching their videos.

After the show, we had some yummy food at Good Earth. We have found very good paleo options at stores that celebrate local suppliers and organic food. I had a wonderful blood orange smoothie, a Go Green lemonade (kale, spinach, & honey added), and some yummy BBQ pork chops over greens. Jeremy had a chopped salad that looked delish. And when the delightful dinner was over, we went to see one of our favorite local bands play. Dancing the night away is just as fun at 34 as it was at 21. I just don’t drink anymore, so I enjoy the music that much more. Good for Gary plays so many great dance tunes that all 4 of our party got on the floor. There was even a return of the BackStreet Boys that Jeremy danced to. What a goofy guy on the dance floor; that’s why I love him.

At 2am, we rolled into our friend Sarah’s place to stay the remainder of the night. All 4 of us quickly passed out, not being used to this kind of late night. We all slept pretty soundly and woke by 9am. Erin and I went to a local church, Hosannah! Church in Shakopee. It was definitely a style of church that I enjoy and I think I might go back the next time we stay over at Sarah’s too. Church gave way to breakfast; Wampachs had a great special for both of us: cajun eggs benedict. Yum. After some more hanging out at Sarah’s house, Jeremy, Erin, and I headed to a late lunch at Merlin’s Pub where there was mussels, tater tots, and sausages galore.

That was the extent of the wonderful weekend we had. Once we got home, things got hairy. On the way home, Jeremy had some conversations with his son and ex-wife. This tends to get him on the defensive in the first place. The anxiety of co-parenting can often be overwhelming. On top of the anxiety of this talk, he got more than one instance yesterday of his decision making ability being undermined by other adults. When he got home, the stress had taken over his ability to cope. He lost control of his temper and went into a tailspin. There was some yelling and swearing. I was not devoid of responsibility when it comes to the ramped up state of things. Between both of us not sleeping as much as we should and both letting go of control of creating our own food, we did not take good care of our bodies. I was caught very off guard by this turn of events.

You see, I had begun to take Jeremy’s good state of mind for granted. For over a week, he’s seemed very stable. He brought me breakfast in bed three times last week. He laughed, danced, and joked around. He worked hard, played hard, and slept when he could. We had a phenomenal weekend of happy times, fun work, and building our future. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of security in that. It’s easy to miss the early signs of a trigger. It’s easy to take for granted the stable times when they last for a few days or more. That state of complacency makes the meltdown that much harder.

Boy, it was hard for me. I did not deal well the way I have in the past. As a result, Jeremy and I spent the night struggling alone. Trying to be around each other was way too hard. We did apologize to each other; our mental health and relationship were able to turn around after some cool down time. It was just too tense to spend the time together. We’re lucky to have quite a few options when it comes to nights like that. We have friends and family that understand our situation, we have an office that gives us some space to cool off, and we have a whole bunch of great places to stay in our town. Right now, we also have a second bedroom in our apartment. We’re lucky enough even that The Girl Next Door even has extra beds in the living area of the coach, so we could sleep separately if we need it. That was one of the selling points for me: extra space if we need to sleep in more than one bed, whether that is for guests, the boys, or a night break.

We are still both very blessed to have each other. We are good at apologizing; we are both good at making amends. Over the years, we’ve learned to forgive. That’s part of our faith, but even more, it’s necessary to keep our marriage afloat. When mental illness is rampant in a marriage, forgiveness becomes an every day event. There are times that the forgiveness is small; there are times it is very very significant as this one was. Sometimes it is as little as forgiving the dishes only getting half put away or dropping something on the floor. Other times, one of us is apologizing for a major monetary hit from damage done in a rage or in an anxious outburst. Sometimes we risk our relationship by saying hurtful things. Other times we are remorseful for our massive insecurities stemming from past abuses. No matter what is going on, we have both agreed to communicate and forgive. I am bone-of-his-bone and flesh-of-his-flesh; we are united by marriage and need to work through those inconsistencies until we are one.

No matter what kinds of things hurt you, be ready to forgive. That is something that will always help both your mental and spiritual health. Embrace letting the desire for revenge go. Open yourself to new opportunities by releasing cherished wounds. Let yourself chase your dreams and we’ll see you out on the road.

When you fall off the wagon

We’re talking a proverbial wagon. Don’t worry; we did not go farm this weekend or anything. Although that would have been a great workout, had we done it.

A year ago, Jeremy and I were both very very dedicated to our health. As a result, he was at the lightest he had been in 20 years and I was at my strongest. We planned our meals ahead of time; we planned our exercise and followed through; we took our medicines daily; we spent time regularly doing self-care. All aspects of our life were kept at our healthiest options.

In March 2016, our youngest had some mental health issues start to take over his life. For the next 6 months, our life was filled with massive stress, doctors, and cops. The stress was too overwhelming for both of us. We doubled our counseling sessions. Jeremy and his doctor agreed that he probably should increase his mood stabilizer medicine. As a result of increasing too quickly, Jeremy got a dangerous rash and had to go off of the medicine that had worked for 2 years. This medicine is mostly to treat his bipolar disorder by keeping his moods in a “normal” range and help him focus better.

The new medicine to replace it was Lithium. Jeremy was on Lithium while he trained for the Twin Cities Marathon and I was training for the Rails to Trails half-marathon. A med change when there is little stress is hard. Noticing side effects and getting through the mood swings can be overwhelming. It’s triple hard when you have something that is a goal or some kind of stress in your life.

He made it through the marathon. He even had a pretty good time, even though he hadn’t trained as hard as he had hoped. For those that don’t do long distance races, there’s important information that you probably don’t know: the after crash of a race. Think of it like another life event: a wedding. You plan for months, you spend hours every day thinking of this event and planning for it. You may work to lose weight, make decorations, and pick out the perfect dress/DJ/location/cake. The day comes and you have a major high. You love your event and it goes off without a hitch. Afterward, you’re faced with a slight depression. You spend hours thinking “what do I do now?” and “There’s no purpose to my time anymore.” You looked forward to this event for months and now it’s just over. The same  happens with athletes after a major race/game/event.

Jeremy had that happen. On top of the medicine changes, Jeremy went through a pretty extreme depression. We don’t know if it was a side effect from the Lithium, a outcome from the kid stress, a downswing from going off of Lamictal, or the after-race crash. All we know is that his thoughts started racing, his self-talk got dark, and he became despondent about life in general. There were days that I had to help him get out of bed for work.

Needless to say, he was not doing any kind of exercise at that time. I was also still untreated for my depression. Between the two of us, it was hard for us to do enough thinking just to make ourselves eat, shower, and work each day. Eating healthy was the last thing in our heads. We were lucky if we made frozen pizza or mac & cheese; we weren’t even going to attempt salads.

So, what happens when someone is unable to be physically healthy? In our experience, not only does their physical health deteriorate, but their mental, spiritual, and financial health all suffer as well. It stands to reason that it’s hard to get out of that spiral. We had to keep going to work and we knew it. Thankfully, we were able to push through in that area.

We’re both pretty grateful that we have found some treatment that helped. I was put on Fluoxetine (Prozac) in December. It made it lots easier for me to get out of bed, do the work I need to do, and help him with what he needs. He also went back on Lamictal in December. This needs to be a very gradual process. Even though he is still at a very low dosage of this mood stabilizer, getting off the Lithium seems to have brought him up out of the suicidal thoughts and deep depression. We are functioning again, that’s the important thing.

Something to realize though is that “functioning” is not the same as “thriving”. It was something we talked about when we walked out on the land we plan to park on this summer. Jeremy’s lamotrigine dosage is still low enough that he’s not 100% stable. Counseling helps and the low dosage does help; it’s just not ideal yet. We are both about 30 lbs heavier than we would like to be. Neither of us are exercising as much as we need to. We’re still not eating as well as we’d like. Now that we’re functioning, we can start to address these issues that keep us from thriving. We may soon get back on track to be healthy in all parts of our life.

We start a new eating plan today with Clean & Simple Nutrition. We are hoping that a change in nutrition will give us a bit of a boost toward motivation. Within the month, we will both start training for our next races. We hope that you take some motivation to keep going, to get started, and to get healthy from our story. Stay safe and we’ll see you on the road.

God’s Plan

I’m a very spiritual person. Whoa… whoa… don’t run away yet. I swear I’m not going to start badmouthing anybody. I love people, whether you’re spiritual or not; atheist, agnostic, dont-care-ist… I accept you where you are and would love to hear your side and thoughts of anything we talk about.

I’m a born-again Christian. (Again, please don’t leave…. hear me out) For those of you that the term “born-again” sounds weird to, it is. Those of us that say that don’t mean we entered back into our mother’s womb. The idea is that we had a second “birthing” or awakening to God’s plan in our lives and that Jesus of Nazareth is our Messiah that will build and maintain the relationship between us and God. We have accepted this awakening as truth to us and apply it to our life.

I used to be very religious. I went to multiple Bible studies, church every single week, volunteered as a greeter, taught Sunday school, and attended Women’s retreats. I studied my Bible every single day and got down on myself if I didn’t. It’s been a waxing and waning kind of style throughout  my life. But this style of “religion” was not fulfilling to me. I felt like I was looking outside myself, outside the Holy Spirit, for my beliefs. There are verses in Hebrews 5 & 6 that talk about being yet a child and needing to be reminded of the basics over and over again. The most powerful for me in these chapters are Hebrews 5:11-13, “11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” I was doing all of these things, spending hours and hours and hours being taught by others. What I really needed was to lead myself; I needed to mature past being fed by others and start feeding myself. Let God carry me some instead of my faith in the schooling and leading of other people. 

I’m not very religious anymore. I want to know why we do the traditions we do and I still do some of them if I like them. I don’t regularly go to church. I do often watch and listen to podcasts from good preachers that are teaching more than the basics. I weigh what they say against what my study of the Bible has shown me. I feel reading my Bible, praying, and living my life the way Jesus would have is what God plans for me right now. I try to live every day of my life in a way that makes people think “There’s something different about her. I need to know what it is.” I will talk about my faith if people show some openness to it. I also will not often share the other parts of my religious beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world from Hell and the grave unless they ask me.

Whatever you do with your spiritual life, do it because it’s right for you. Talk to your higher power (mine is the triune God of the Bible) or yourself if you don’t have one and really decide if this ambiguous “religion” that you’re practicing matches your values and beliefs.

For my own spiritual health, I need to be relying on God for my teaching and my growth. I felt I needed space from organized religion. I’m glad I’ve taken it. I have learned so much about myself in relation to God and His world through this process. I’ve learned to assess the reasons for a Bible book’s writing before I apply it to my life. I often ask myself “Was this written for all of humankind, including me? Or is this more of a history written for the people of that time?” That’s a big question. If you don’t know, maybe find that out before you read a book. There are so many things I’ve learned from asking that question. And ask yourself “Does the God/power that I’m modelling myself after show any of the traits I’m being told are part of my ‘religious duties’?” That’s an important one too. Celebrate with your spirit and you’ll find truth. Be kind, be patient, and show care. Stay safe, my friends, and we’ll see you on the road.