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Head Colds, the Apocalypse, and Fighting Depression with Dirt

There’s something about a head cold that puts me in mind of an apocalypse. I don’t sleep, food loses its taste and thus its pleasure, and as I drown in snot and soggy Kleenex, I despair for humanity and myself.

It sounds melodramatic. When I think about the relative ease of a cold compared to what could be, it seems silly and weak and trivial.

However, I think it’s a good example of the connection between our physical health and our mental health. When my body is fighting a bug of some sort, the effort taxes every dimension of who I am. My thinking slows and I lose the ability to focus (even more than normal). My emotions break free from their usual channels and run wild. All the upheaval of mucus and the exhaustion weighs down my spirit while the stopped-up ears simultaneously mute the distractions of the superficial and amplify existential questions of life. The armor of manners and social graces and keeping up appearances rips away, exposing all my character flaws and the Kleenex stuffed up my nose (imagine my horror at realizing I just drove through town, at rush hour, with a Kleenex hanging from my nose!). There I sit, like the proverbial Job, on the trash pile of all my failures as a human being, emotionally and spiritually raw and guilt-ridden, scratching at myself with the shards of questions like “What’s it all for, anyway?”

This has been one of those weeks. One of my kids caught a cold and then a stomach bug, then shared it (the cold fortunately, not the stomach bug) with me. I caught it worse than usual because I’m physically weary. We’re in the 4th week of a solid stretch of schedule mayhem in which we’ve had only 3 nights without anything planned. I’ve had a very welcome surge in work, which helps after a very tight few months money-wise, but also means I haven’t been able to take a day off. Add to all of this my escalating struggle with both the concept and the current reality of “church” and it’s no surprise that I was looking for the end of the world this weekend.

hand holding clump of soil and a plant

It has taken my lifetime, but I’m finally learning to spot this pattern and treat all of me sooner. In addition to taking vitamins, I take things off my plate. I shut down the computer and put my phone on silent. I seek quiet, staying home instead of going out, or if I must go out, watching the swirl of activity from the shore instead of swirling around in it. If at all possible, I get outdoors — take a walk, work in the yard, put in some quality time in our hammock, or sit on the porch by myself with a cup of coffee.

Friday I realized I was in free-fall, and I pulled the cord on my parachute. This weekend was about rest, perspective, and recovering health. [Unfortunately, in the middle of writing this post, another one of my kids came down with the stomach flu. I’m going to need another weekend of rest!]

Building in margin helps prevent depression from getting its hooks back into me again. It’s been stalking me from the perimeter the last couple of weeks, waiting in the shadows for me to collapse. It tries to bait me with lures like cocooning myself away from all the garbage of dealing with people, or having a drink to dull the pain, or distracting myself from real life with virtual diversions.

These are very attractive when real life makes me physically ill (hello stress stomach), or throws me into a blind rage at the injustice of it all, or sparks desperate tears in the middle of a church service. But they don’t help.

Getting my hands in the dirt and cultivating new plant life helps. Soaking up sunshine and birdsong helps. Stepping away from superficial distractions and focusing on the moment helps. Focusing my thoughts on well-worn prayers when I can’t think what to say myself helps. Of course these aren’t magic bullets, but they help slow the descent and remind me that I’m not completely at the mercy of my circumstances and biology.

What helps you when you despair of humanity and yourself?


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  1. ((hugs))

    I too have learned that if I want to be any value to my loved ones or to the world, I have to take care of myself. I call it Project Janet. Just like I would take care of details for other projects, I need to take care of the details of caring for Janet. And yes, I talk in third person to myself… still overcoming years of the message that good Christians put others first and thinking about me, myself and I is selfish.

    Rest, healthy food, sunshine, nature, hiking and running (gentle running, without a watch) are all things that center me and help me find moments of beauty in the middle of this messy life.

    Peace to you!

  2. Thanks again for letting me take a blogging load off for you this past Friday. Hope it helped. 🙂

  3. YES! You put this so perfectly. I am so, so discontent when sick. I question everything in my life, wonder if it is “enough”, and feel trapped in the life that I generally love.

    Usually, these feelings fade after I start to feel better. But in the mean time, I too try to gain perspective by taking a walk, taking the time to read/watch something I enjoy, and generally just processing the heck out of my thoughts with anyone who will listen.

  4. I pour a glass of wine and take a book into the tub. My bathtub has saved me from a million downward shame spirals.

  5. Maryden25 says:

    Thank you so much for having the courage to be open and write about your experience. You really inspire me and i’m sure this article will help a lot people. Great advice and best of luck to you.

  6. As someone who deals with cyclical depression, margin – yes! And for me being around authentic people who just will sit and be and converse with no agenda – making time with that in my margin, that helps, too. Taking time to read books – real books instead of just all of this online stuff I find easy to latch onto – helps.

  7. Hi Joy,

    What you did is right. You need a peace of mind, and as you have said walking or going in the shore is really relaxing, plus walking as an exercise will help you to fight anxiety and depression and at the same time lots of health benefits you can get with a simple 20-30 minutes walk.

  8. The Zombie Apocalypse is much scarier – because it’s real. The Zombies are amassing huge armies underwater (because they don’t need to breathe) and are smarter than people think – the zombie movies that show them being slow and stupid are just propaganda to lure us into a false state of security.