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.

New Year; New Life

I am the same person that I was yesterday; you are too. The only differences are that we’ve learned things that we didn’t know then. We may have learned good things: knowledge, love, efficiency, patience, kindness, wisdom, how to avoid cheesecake. We may also have learned bad things: pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and ignorance. In the end, we are still the same people; we have the same minds, the same bodies. We might have changed what we do on a daily basis or the way we wear our hair. All of these things aside, I am the same person today that I was a year ago with a lot of things I’ve learned.

I learned that my family was struggling so much more than they had let on. I learned that our kids were both struggling with drugs. I learned that my perception of what my husband and his children go through every day is not the whole story. I learned first hand what it is to have your brain attack you. It’s not a physical battle when someone is struggling inside their brain. Fighting with your own delusional thoughts is exhausting and hit my family this year. When you have cancer or diabetes, muscular dystrophy, or asthma, there are physical symptoms that show on your face, hands, and speech. You may slur, you may be unable to walk, you may throw up, you may have a hard time breathing. You may have to use a wheelchair or walker. Other people can see those symptoms.

When the war of mental illness is involved, it isn’t so visible. The vomit is an emotional vomit that often comes out sideways that has nothing to do with the person you’re spewing on. The slurring is in your inability to stay on one subject for long. The stumbling is in how you treat the people you love, even though you really want to show them love and respect. Your brain may tell you that it isn’t worth it to get out of bed today; that you are better off staying in the warm dark and letting your job fall away. Your illness tells you that your psychiatrist doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that the drugs do a better job than pharmaceuticals. There are no wheelchairs for someone who is so depressed that they are paralyzed. There are no walkers to help you find the thoughts that got lost somewhere in the racing conversation of your brain.

Thankfully, we have doctors that are beginning to know how to help my family. This year, we were able to find some stuff that is finally helping. I got some antidepressants that help me feel like a real person again; I can actually get out of bed daily, smile when something’s funny, and I am  not having random crying sessions for seemingly no reason at all. Jeremy’s doctor and he have decided to go back to the medicine that worked for so long even though he got a rash from it. Hopefully they can increase it slow enough that no rash happens this time. He also found a chiropractor and nutrition doctor that is helping him do better to fuel his athletic pursuits. The current doctor for our youngest took Jeremy’s past into account and found a medicine that seems to be helping him feel like himself for the first time in 2 years.

This year, Jeremy learned that he can do so much more than his brain tells him that he can. He ran his first marathon in June. He did multiple half marathons, tons of 5ks, and Ragnar Great River. Jeremy participated in 3 triathlons, one duathlon, and hundreds of group fitness classes. He ran his second marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. This year, Jeremy continued his weightloss from last year; at his lightest, he was 215. He’s learned that Lithium is not a med that will work for him. He learned by gaining 25 lbs on it and experiencing some pretty severe depression symptoms during his trial-and-error phase of his med change. He learned millions of hours worth of information about RVing, motorhomes, fulltiming, and heaters. His phone  has been stuck on YouTube videos for about 6 months. By the time we move in, he’ll be an expert at all things RV.

We learned to coexist in work and home life. We learned a little harmony in our life; we learned a little struggle. We learned that 1200 sq. ft. is just too much space for the two of us. We learned that we have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!! We learned a little bit of Spanish by using the Duolingo app. We learned to lighten up and to relax some. We learned that we want to have a life, not just be alive.

We are looking forward to 2017. Both of us have some physical goals, financial goals, and household goals. Resolutions aren’t our thing, but we do review our goals regularly and today is as good as any day to do that. We hope that everyone has a safe New Year’s Eve. Stay warm and we’ll see you on the road.

Belated Christmas Tidings

Happy Holidays to all!

I realize that I’m a day late for those of you that celebrate Christmas, as I do. I figured that we have a whole season of holidays, thus there are lots of options to celebrate the season. Besides, no one knows exactly what date Jesus was born on and it was probably some time between April & August…. so it’s really just symbolic anyway.

We spent the weekend visiting our family. Jeremy’s parents hosted on Saturday. It is a nice, small family and was one short due to some mental health concerns with the youngest. We always enjoy a great meal, made better this year by some healthy sides and great steak cooking. Yum Yum. And the gifts are always fairly extravagant, or at least one person ends up speechless from emotion. We laugh, we joke, we catch up with everyone’s lives. It’s always a nice relaxing time together.

Afterward, there was a short lull before we took to the road toward southwest Wisconsin. That’s the region where my parents live and we wanted to make it before the rain started. Jake, our oldest, came with for the first time in years. It made it a pleasant drive and a great time to catch up with him.

We got to the homestead an hour or two before my mom told us to visit my dad’s father, who lives 2 miles away. We got there to a boisterous crowd of my uncles, grandparents, and family friends. Oyster stew, lefse, and cookies were served. We got to sit down with my grandma & grandpa who have been snow-birding for 25 years. It’s nice to pick someone’s brain about our future endeavors. It was a good homecoming.

On the way down, I was informed that my grandmother had been asking for me. She was diagnosed a few years ago with Alzheimer’s and has been struggling to remember family members for a while. Recently, she wasn’t feeling well and had to spend a little time in the hospital. So, first thing Sunday morning, my mom and I loaded up to go visit her in the hospital. My aunt was there with her husband and we all chatted a while about options after the hospital, as well as my Mexico trip. Check off seeing both of my dad’s parents for a Christmas visit.

Sunday at noon was my mom’s extended family’s Christmas celebration. They’ve started holding this get-together at a public community space just because there are so many people. This gives us enough space to decorate, have table space to eat, and let the kids run around without worrying about heirlooms being broken. Only one of us grandchildren was missing and there were 8 great-grandchildren present. There was ham, sweet potatoes, salad, cherry salad, tiramisu, and of course milk and coffee. The chaos was manageable and well managed by the hostess, my aunt Sharon. Pokeno was played and won as usual, gifts were uniquely distributed, and even a raffle made things interesting. Check off seeing both of my parents’ parents for the holiday. Double win!

Finally, on Christmas at 5pm, we started the festivities at my parents’ place. This is still a large group with 3 grown girls, all married, and all with children. The most fun part of the evening is always the meal. With 6 courses, each daughter takes 2 dishes to prepare this year and next. All other years, each daughter and husband gets to pick the courses. But, after 6 years, our parents get to pick for 2 years. This year, there were margaritas (and a supplement of brandy slush), shrimp cocktail, bakery made white and wheat bread, grandma’s apple pie, beef stroganoff, and waldorf salad. Delicious, every bite. Gifts were ripped into after dinner by the young grandchildren and the adults followed. Everyone got at least one thing that they loved. It was a warm, intimate time with much discussion, laughing, and reminiscing. We always miss this feeling inbetween our visits, but we realize that the distance is what makes these times special.

All in all, it was a successful Christmas for us. Please, feel free to share with us what your family does for the holidays? Do you go to any religious ceremonies? Do you celebrate solstice, Chanukah, or some other holiday? What traditions do you have that you feel are unique for your family?