Contemplation

“Is That You, Fall?” or “Meant for Community”

I woke up late this morning. My husband had gotten a ride to work from his dad in return for his help in taking one of their vehicles into the shop. It was a rare opportunity for me to sleep in, and sleep in I did. I woke up around 10:30, and after dreaming that a cold front had rolled in, I opened the blinds and touched the window panes to find that Memphis had indeed gotten the memo about entering the fall season.

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons, but over the last few years it’s been one that I’ve dreaded. The fact is, I’ve struggled with depression for years. When I was a young teen there were more obvious reasons for the mental strain, and when I was an older teen, living on my own in Memphis it was a different, albeit connected set of reasons. The last 2 years of my life have been beyond happy. I met my husband, fell in love with him, and married him on a gorgeous Fall morning, not so different from today’s. But happiness doesn’t rule out mental illness. I seemingly had no explanation for the depression I was still under, considering the fact that everything in life was beautiful. Mental illness doesn’t always need a clear reason for being.

I’ve dreaded Fall over the last few years, partly because Fall leads to Winter. As a person already struggling with mental illness during the green and sunny days of summer, it becomes much worse when the days are shortened into darkness and the cold creeps into my bones even indoors under my comforter. I dreaded getting up in the morning and driving down the street with dead trees and brown grass on either side. It seemed as though all I saw for months was death; browns and grays and ugly death. Even the deadness of winter has it’s own beauty, with it’s muted tones and wide brushstroke clouds; but it was never enough to counter the darkness in my soul, and the emptiness in the bare trees.

This morning I woke up to the first chilly day of Fall, and something was different.

As the day wore on, and I felt this increasing sense of excitement and joy and anticipation for the fall and winter seasons, I thought about what was different, and arrived at a comforting and beautiful conclusion: I’m not depressed. For years depression has held onto it’s throne in my heart, but now it’s gone.

The truth is circumstance shouldn’t determine your mindset, but because I’m a broken human, all too often it does. When I was younger it was a combination of some painful relationships, when I moved here it was a combination of loneliness, anger, and emotional exhaustion as I worked through my “issues” with a therapist, and over the last two years it’s been a combination of a different kind of loneliness, coupled with overwhelming negativity and cynicism.

Jesus has set me free from those voices of negativity and cynicism by showing me the path of ending my internet and social media addictions, which has freed up space in my mind (think destroying a virus that had taken up 90% of your computer’s harddrive), removed so much of the negativity from my view, and caused my soul to thrive in ways it hasn’t ever experienced before. But more than that, Jesus has so lovingly bestowed community on me. I’ve been so lonely for real, genuine, loving Christian community for so many years. I’ve had bits and pieces of it here and there, but I’ve had nowhere where I truly belonged. Even after meeting my husband and having that side of loneliness met through love and marriage, I still struggled deeply with loneliness from lack of a church body to call home and an unsatisfied need for a community of real and loving friendships through last fall and winter, that it sank me deeper into my depression than I expected, considering I was finally happily married. The cold, brown, dead world affected me seemingly more than ever. My husband also struggled deeply with the loneliness of no true, deep friendships outside of our marriage. The truth is, God made us for community, and without it life can be far more difficult to handle.

In April of this year we settled on a home church, after spending the first 6 months of our marriage in an exhausting search for the right place for us to be, visiting a new church nearly each week. At most of the churches we visited we saw no signs of real life, but saw instead a group of people going through the motions, desperate to get out the doors and resume their lives at lunch, while checking off the required duty of “welcoming” the new people with a “Hi, glad to have you with us, where are you from, oh how cool, okay bye” while they would literally be walking away from us before they were done speaking, as if they couldn’t get out of this uncomfortable situation fast enough. (Disclaimer: not every church we visited was like that, but I think I can honestly say all but 2. One that we thought about staying at, and the one we really did choose to call home.)

The first time we visited Grace Community Church in Cordova, it was as though God poured a gallon of water on a nearly dead plant. The music was beautiful, a perfect and high quality mix of the best of traditional and contemporary, the preaching was so nourishing, and we were not just “greeted”, but TALKED TO by so many people, who were happy to invest in actual conversation with us, such that we didn’t manage to get away till an hour after the service ended. Talk about “a whole new wooooorld”. In April we made our decision and have never looked back. The Lord has so graciously built an incredible community of pastors, elders, and FRIENDS around us through this church, and we have felt so loved, so cared for, so nourished. One of my new church friends showed up just this morning to sit on my couch and just chill for a few hours. Tomorrow evening David and I are having a taco night with a young married couple who are absolute kindred spirits to us.

In case of rambling, let me finish up here. The point is, the Lord has so graciously showed me how to remove the darkest chains holding my mind in depression, and simultaneously has placed David and me like trees planted by streams of water.

I woke up and felt the chilly air seep into me only to be met by joy and peace, instead of dread. Not only are my circumstances happy, but my heart is happy. My very soul has encountered such healing this year. I find each moment thrilling.

What has changed in my life isn’t just circumstance, it is that Jesus’ presence is the pervading influence in my mind.

Now I can return to Fall really truly being my favorite season, with no dread of the winter, no dread of my depression and the bad habits which once accompanied it. I can love the chilly breeze, the turning and falling leaves, and once again I can see the magic in the world.

Depression is often something that returns, and I know that more than likely I’ll some day have to fight it again. Satan is cunning, and someday he might find a way to dethrone the presence of God from my every thought, and lead me back into depression.  I’ll cross that bridge when I get there, knowing that my Savior can carry me over and through it. Today though, I’ll look at the yellow orange and red flowers on my table, smell the crackling candle on my piano, and bask in the sunlight pouring through the window in my sunroom, and know that it is enough. I have enough.

 

2 thoughts on ““Is That You, Fall?” or “Meant for Community””

  1. I’m sure you know about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is a yearly cycle of mental disturbances in winter, to do largely with vitamin D deficiency and the disruption of the circadian rhythm by lack of sunlight. It’s something that everyone experiences to a small degree (just feeling less energetic in winter than in summer) but it can be devastating especially for people who grew up in tropical and subtropical regions whose bodies haven’t got used to seasonal variations. If you find yourself struggling in the autumn and winter, don’t jump to think it’s recurring mental illness. Some helpful physical coping mechanisms are: supplement with extra vitamin D, get a SAD lamp (an extremely bright, full spectrum light with a wide panel; you sit in front of it for at least 30 minutes a day, especially in the morning hours to help you wake up; you can use it anytime you just feel the place is too dim), never skip your morning coffee, exercise vigorously at least 3 days a week, and most importantly, go outside every single day, no matter what the weather. The more exposure you can get to natural daylight, the more your body will learn to cope with the darkness. But also make sure to get adequate rest and cosiness during winter months. Hibernation is nature’s coping mechanism, and although we don’t hibernate, you’ll be frustrated if you try to live exactly the same as you do in the summer.

    These are some things I learned after really struggling with winter during the first years I lived outside of Florida. I still find them difficult (though now because we’re getting all the local bugs we’re not immune to, so each winter for the foreseeable future will be a three months of misery and trips to the doctor) but it’s much easier here than it was in Chicago, because I can still go outside in the coldest, darkest time of the year. It also helps that, when you DO live in a community, communities tend to intensify around Christmas.

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    1. Thanks Kilby. I am aware of that. I already do some of those things, but I’ll try a couple more if I experience it coming back again.

      That being said, don’t worry, I’m not jumping to any conclusions. The depression I refer to is not SAD, and it’s not seasonal. Just would intensify during the winter. I’m well read on the reality of what depression and mental illness is, as opposed to what it’s not, and it has indeed been something I’ve been dealing with for many years now. But the important thing is that I’m beginning to feel healing and release from it for the first time in a very long time. 🙂

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