Archive for Depression

A Single’s Survival Guide to the Holidays

Are you facing the upcoming holidays with a blend of excitement and dismay? Happy to have a few days off to celebrate, worship, and see friends and family, but also dreading the inevitable stress, awkwardness, and loneliness that can tag along? Not quite sure exactly how to survive relatives asking about your love life, being the only one at the office party without a spouse, or being minus one on New Year’s Eve yet again, without wanting to toss all holiday cheer out the window? I’ve been there. I lived there. And, after a couple decades of adult singleness, I’ve got a few tips that might help you make the next two months more joyous and less anxiety-inducing.

Make a Game Plan

For those of you who live in cities like Los Angeles where no one ever RSVPs, creating a schedule will feel wrong. What if something better comes up? Everyone plans things last minute anyway, so you might miss out! Bear with me. I had a few LA years there where I looked ahead to my time of at Thanksgiving and Christmas as a blank slate, and rather than giving me the freedom to fill it as things came up, it left me anxious and depressed. Things did come up, but somehow they came up all at once, leaving me frantically balancing multiple events, anxiously picking and choosing what I’d do as I tried not to offend anyone. And, since everything happened all at once, there were often large swaths of time where I’d sit at home waiting for something to happen, feeling quite lonely and sorry for myself. Thus, the game plan was born.

I’ve found the best way to do it is create a blend of set-in-stone events, a couple flexible ones, some down time, and some free time to be filled in as things arise. I also try to make sure my plan includes time with family and time with friends. For instance, I have this week off for Thanksgiving Break and, instead of feeling stressed out with the million things I have to do or sad because I’m waiting around for others to make plans, I am looking forward to the week with great enthusiasm. Knowing I’ll be busy next week, I planned to stay home the Saturday before so I could get this blog done, do laundry, and rest up a bit. Then, on Sunday I’ll head to LA to go to my old church for second service, leaving lunch plans up in the air so I can go out with whoever is available after church. I’ve got dinner/drinks plans with a few friends for Sunday night, lunch plans with other friends Monday, and dinner plans with my girls Monday evening before heading back to the desert for the week. I’ve squeezed some appointments in Tuesday since they have to be done when I’m usually at work, Wednesday is left free to help my mum cook and bake for Thanksgiving, and Thursday-Friday will be for family. The weekend after Thanksgiving I’ve left open because I know my mum will want to decorate for Christmas, and I value being able to help her put the tree up. That also gives me to time to blog, do chores, and gear up for going back to work next week.

Whew! It seems like a lot, but it has a lot of space planned into it so I can love others, let others love me, celebrate, give thanks, and rest. I also remember that Christmas is coming up soon, when I’ll have some more time off, so I don’t feel pressured to see everyone or do everything this week. Never try to fit EVERYTHING into your schedule because it’s impossible and will only stress you out. Pick a couple things for each holiday as your set-in-stone plans, and save the rest for another time. Then try to hold these plans loosely, ready to be flexible if they fall through. Cold and flu season overlaps the holidays, weather can get bad (in non-southern Californian parts of the world, I’m told), and things come up. Be prepared to modify your plans if needed.

So, singles, start texting your friends and booking some lunches! Let your family know which days you’ll be there with them, and which days you’ll be gone. And don’t forget to set aside time to actually rest.

Embrace Friends as Family

When I was younger, I used to feel guilty when I wanted to spend some of my few days off with friends instead of the entire time with family. But the longer I lived in one city, the more my friendships became like family and I yearned for quality time with my friends as much as my biological family.

This became more pronounced as I got more involved with my church. Because of this, I started changing my plans to head up to my mum’s a day or two later, or head back to my apartment a couple days earlier so I could make it to church and spend time with that family as well. Now that I live with my mum, I am blocking out time to go back to my old LA neighborhood, including my old church, as part of my holiday plans.

If you don’t really have family, or they’re too far away to visit during the holidays, embrace your friends as family! Friendsgiving can be one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, worshipful meals you can have. Reach out to other singles, or married couples who live too far to travel to family. Be bold, ask what people are doing, get adopted by families in your church, or adopt a few other singles and create your own holiday celebrations with them. I had a friend who hosted Friendsgiving in her apartment every year for those who stayed behind in LA, and another who always had a Christmas Eve party for stragglers. Don’t be alone. And don’t feel like family has to be related by blood.

Start Your Own Traditions

One of the things people do when they get married, and even more when they have kids, is start their own family traditions. This is awesome as it helps them celebrate the things God is doing in their lives by marking certain days and seasons. As single adults, we often get caught up in the traditions of others and rarely make our own. If you’ve been single for awhile now, it might be time to finally embrace the holidays by creating some traditions.

When I lived a couple hours away from my family, and most of my friends were also single and away from theirs, we created a few traditions together. At the end of each semester (I was a teacher then), some of my friends (mostly teachers) and I would go to our favorite fancy Korean BBQ spot to celebrate getting through finals. These times were precious, as we could give thanks that we survived another semester, and celebrate it being over. Another tradition was my friend’s annual Christmas party; we’d all chip in by bringing food and drinks, and mark the holiday a little early before everyone went our separate ways out of town. As most of us would head back into the city on New Year’s Eve or Day, another friend hosted an annual New Year’s Day Brunch open house, where we’d slowly trickle in throughout the late morning/early afternoon for coffee, mimosas, cinnamon buns, and french toast casseroles.

Roomie Christmas was one of my favorite traditions. My fabulous flatmate and I would set aside an evening the week before Christmas, before I left town, to celebrate Christmas together. We always decorated our flat for the holidays, even getting a 6’ tall live Christmas tree a couple times, so sometimes roomie Christmas was just spent at home, eating seasonal snacks, having hot toddies and watching “Die Hard” or introducing her to “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” One year, we went to an Andrew Bird concert in a gorgeous old cathedral, another we went to Disneyland for our roomie Christmas date. That time was always special, for just the two of us, and set apart from the rest of the holiday busyness.

I would also make sure I was back in my hometown a couple days before Christmas so I could go to Christmas Eve service with my mum, brother, and sister-in-law at their church and then partake in our family’s tradition of opening our stockings that night.

Since I just moved back to the town much of my family lives in and instead live a couple hours from most of my friends, I’m working on creating some new traditions outside of my family ones, so I can still celebrate with my friends.

Get Over Not Having a Plus One

I honestly can’t remember ever having a plus one for anything – not a wedding, family Thanksgiving dinner, work Christmas party, or New Year’s Eve celebration. I had a couple boyfriends in my early 20’s, but I guess they weren’t around during the holidays, or weren’t serious enough to bring home to meet the family. So, while every one of my four siblings brought significant others, some of whom eventually turned into spouses, with them to Thanksgiving and Christmas family meals, I never did. While almost everyone else attended the annual work Christmas party accompanied by a spouse or date, I stood in the corner nursing my drink, feeling oh-so-alone. And don’t get me started on the horrors of one New Year’s Eve party after another, standing there alarmed as everyone else around me seemed to have someone to kiss except for myself and the one awkward single guy who had no intention of kissing me.

One of the benefits of being perpetually single for a couple of decades is that everyone gets used to it. Your Bridget Jones awkwardly trying to make small talk with Mr. Darcy in a reindeer jumper moments decrease. Relatives eventually stop asking the horrible questions about your love life. People stop putting “Plus One” on your invitation as it becomes assumed you’ll come alone. The lone single guy at the part stops being threatened that you’ll want to flirt with him because, well, you’re older now and never really learned how to flirt in the first place. When this started happening (or not happening, I suppose) I was offended. How dare my cousin stop asking if I had a boyfriend, did they think I would be single forever? How rude for my friend to not even give me the chance to bring a Plus One to their wedding, did they think I couldn’t find a date? How condescending for the guy to assume I’m not interested in flirting, is it  just because I’m over 35? But to be honest, at this point in my life, all of these answers are pretty true. I think I will most likely be single forever, I haven’t had a date to any of these functions and probably never will, and I am probably not interested in the guy at the party at all. And I’m pretty happy this way.

So, my tip is to embrace being single during the holidays. Instead of yearning for the rom-com movie ending of every Hallmark movie, learn to love your independence. Instead of getting upset that your cousin is bothering you about not being married yet, tell her how happy you are in your current life because you’ve been able to reach out to others more and serve God in particular ways only a single person can. Explain how awesome work, travel, friendships, church, and ministry have been lately. Change the focus from your single status to your life as a child of God who is fulfilling his plan for your life.

At the office holiday party, enjoy getting the opportunity to meet the spouses and significant others of these people with whom you spend so much of your time. These are the humans that mean the most to your coworkers, so embrace getting to know them. I actually became friends with the husbands and wives of the teachers I worked with through holiday parties like this, and looked forward to getting to catch up with them each year. Don’t stand in the corner feeling awkward, instead be confident that you are just as valuable and have as much to offer as they do. Also, remember that pretty much everyone feels awkward at parties like this! If you make it  your goal to help others feel at ease, you’ll focus less on yourself and end up having an even better time as you help others feel more at ease.

As my friends dated and married over the years, they shared a secret with me: New Year’s Eve is actually one of the most overrated holidays and is almost always a let down for everyone, even when you have someone to kiss. So, take this and other holidays less seriously. Lower those romantic expectations of adventure. Yes, I spent last New Year’s Eve with my only date a nervous doggy trying to hide from the fireworks. Unexciting New Year’s have less to do with being single, and more to do with the fact that we’re all getting old! It’s not like everyone is out partying while I’m home alone. Most of my married friends with kids are in bed by the time the actual West Coast midnight rolls around. Realizing this has been freeing, and now I can enjoy my quiet holiday nights.

Worship

Holidays help us mark our days and remember what God has done. I love them. They break up our usual day to day routine, giving us days off for worship and reflection, celebration and observation. I admit that some years, the holiday season has come and gone without this as my main focus; life gets busy and I get distracted. However, many of my favorite holiday seasons throughout my life were infused by times of worship, moments of looking back at what God had done that year, glimpses of his grace, times of thankfulness, and reflection on what the nativity truly means for humanity. This year, I’d like to infuse these upcoming days and weeks with worship.

One of my favorite parts of studying at L’Abri Fellowship in England last winter was being there for some of the holiday season: Halloween, Bonfire Night, an ex-pat Thanksgiving, the beginning of Advent and the weeks leading up to Christmas. Each morning, one of the workers read to us at breakfast, bits and pieces from the Bible, literature, poetry, and even songs, all meant to focus our thoughts upward and outward. The local church I went to, in a centuries old stone chapel, celebrated the first Sunday of advent with special choral music, liturgical readings, and mulled wine warmed over the pot bellied wood stove at the back of the church. At the Manor House, we had our first advent reading in a candle and wreath filled chapel on the grounds. Now that I’m back from sabbatical, back in the busy routine of humdrum daily life, I’m working to find special ways to worship, on top of the ordinary ones.

At Thanksgiving, my sister and I make place cards by writing Bible verses of thanks on index cards and decorating them with stickers. After dinner, we go around, read our verse, and say something we’re thankful for. Singles, this is something you can do with family or friends! And this thankfulness should infuse our lives; instead of thinking about what we don’t have, we can thank God for what we do have. Holidays give us a unique opportunity to set aside time to meditate on specific things, whether it’s what God has done in our lives this year, praising him for giving up so much to become human in order to show his love for us, or looking ahead to the next year and how we can glorify him better.

As a single person, one thing I’ve missed is family worship. I don’t have kids to create a Pinterest-worthy tree filled with hand-traced leaves with thanksgiving messages on them. I don’t sing Christmas carols, read the story of the Christ child, and light the Advent candles like we used to as a family when I was little. So we singles might need to get a little creative with our worship, find ways to incorporate it into our lives, set aside time to actually write a list of our thanks, write letters to friends who have blessed us, or pray through Psalms of thanksgiving. We might need to search out a devotional book to go through for advent, or download a schedule for Advent reading such as the one offered by the Revised Common Lectionary. We might have to be bold and ask our friends, roommates, or families if they’d like to join us for the lighting of Advent candles and prayer. We worship God through how we live our lives, but sometimes we need a bit more than that to help us refocus – sometimes we need the tradition and liturgy. Seek it out. Fit it in.

My mum and I have decided we’re going to observe advent together, our first year experiencing the entire season together in a decade. We haven’t quite figured out what we’re going to do yet, what we’ll read, how often, and when, but we’ll dig out the old Advent wreath and light the candles. If you have any ideas for readings my mum and I and other singles can incorporate into our own Advent rituals, comment below.

There are many ways singles can grow in our enjoyment of the holidays, these tips merely offer a few ideas. If you have more tips singles can use the survive during this holiday season, I’d love to hear them, and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

Join me next week for the Skint Spinster’s Guide to Gift Giving.

A Season of Joyful Lament

When I was little, this was the month school started, the nights became colder, and we celebrated my oldest brother’s and my mum’s birthdays. Now, school’s been in full swing since August, our cool nights compete with unseasonably hot days and wildfires, my brother and mum share their birth month with my precious nephew Benji, and all of this is tinged with the slightly nostalgic melancholy memory of those weeks 15 years ago as my dad lay dying. September.  

Perhaps I was always meant to be in education since shopping for school supplies was the highlight of my fall. Browsing through the aisles of not-yet-used pens, pencils, and notebooks filled me with a sense of euphoria. Nothing called to me quite like the neon designs of Trapper Keepers or Lisa Frank folders. We’d place new school clothes on layaway back when department stores were still a thing and there were no Targets or Walmarts, teaching us patience and the joy of delayed gratification as we had to wait a few weeks to wear our fresh duds.

This September found me frantically browsing Pinterest for bulletin board ideas and rejoicing in the small box of supplies the front office ordered for me – various types of special tape created just for books, post it notes, fall themed bookmarks, and other library necessities. Mum and I dug out our autumnal decorations from various boxes in the garage to fill the house with the semblance of fall even when it was still 109° outside.

I love fall. As someone who is constantly overheated, I embrace the time of year when our excessive Southern Californian heat gives way to cool breezes and crisp weather. Honestly, I should live in Seattle, London, or Edinburgh – somewhere the sun is not quite as prevalent as the middle of a desert in one of the sunniest states. Halloween is my favorite holiday, cinnamon apples my favorite scent, and hot toddies a favorite drink.

Yet this is the season in which my father died. Even now, 15 years later, those weeks in the hospital form some of my most vivid memories. Though I will never stop missing him, his absence has been assimilated into my existence, a normal part of who I am. As a woman who never married, he still remains the most influential man in my life.

So what to do with September? Two things: be okay with being a bit more sad this month and also celebrate as much as possible, giving thanks to God for both the joy and losses.

Grief is like a muscle memory, it often hits without thought, somehow present in the body before the brain and heart catch up. There are days I’ll wake up feeling wistful – melancholy, yearning for something but not knowing what, and then I’ll remember suddenly that it is September. My body remembers this month. So instead of fighting it, feeling confused or bad about still getting sad all these years later, I have learned to accept grief, to trust my body. There is a huge difference between wallowing and experiencing. I don’t allow myself to sit in my pain all day every day, dwelling on the hard memories or what I’ve lost – but I do allow myself to cry if I feel like crying, to remember him, to talk about him or just quietly acknowledge to myself that I have felt true loss.

I pray about this too, thanking God for giving us a good dad for as long as we had him. My family is well aware how rare and special he was. It’s an oddly beautiful thing to be able to pray with joy and deep grief at the same time, to thank God while tears slip down my face.

One of my favorite hymns expresses this dichotomy better than I can:

It Is Well with my Soul by Horatio G. Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
if Jordan above me shall roll,
no pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
(Refrain)

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
the sky, not the grave, is our goal;
oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain)

As Christians, we often focus on how we’re supposed to be filled with joy, as if smiling all the time will somehow bring those around us to fall in love with our God. The older I get, the more I appreciate the Christian’s call to lament. I can think of sermon after sermon that paint Christians as needing to have a positive attitude all the time, but can’t think of many I’ve heard on how we should also lament – mourn with God, cry out to him, let him see our pain and grief, let him be part of that.

There is deep beauty in simultaneously being grateful to God for what has happened in our lives while grieving what has happened, to be able to be sad,yet fine. Just as our country marks days to remember great men who helped form our ideals like George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr., just as we build memorials and lower the flag to half mast on 9/11 and other such days of loss, it is important for us to allow these moments, days, even months of remembrance.

I know those who fear grief, who push it back and try to ignore or forget it with the mantra of moving on. I know others who cannot escape grief, who let it drown them, unable to function. There is this third option – that of trusting God in the midst of acknowledging our grief. To thank him while crying out to him. To turn our eyes to those God has placed in our path, loving and serving them, while still recognizing we are a little extra broken right now and we might need some space or more hugs or greater patience or a cup of tea. Or perhaps a trip to Disneyland to see the fall decorations.

And somehow after a couple particularly difficult years, September regained its seat as one of our favorite months. Autumn reigns once more as the best season. My family relearned how to celebrate the birthdays, the weather, the flavors and scents, the holidays, the changing leaves. Perhaps experiencing loss in this season is a bit easier, as fall represents the beautiful merging of life and death – harvest and the coming winter, leaves changing color to bright reds and yellows, then falling away for the year. Halloween and Dia de los Muertos bring the dead together with the living. Warm days merge with colder nights. It is the perfect time to be filled with joy and melancholy simultaneously. We don’t need to choose one or the other, we can dwell in both.

Saved by Beauty

Today, I am feeling the melancholy beauty that comes creeping in on a Saturday in Autumn, when the light coming in through my window is a bit dimmer, the air a bit cooler and bourbon butterscotch candle scented, and I can pretend I live somewhere with an actual fall.

Today, I am going through the two journals filled with scribbles and ramblings from my time at English L’Abri last year, looking for that one particular entry on truth, goodness, and beauty. Flipping through these pages brings out tears as I remember the magical Autumn-winter I got to spend in that manor house in the English countryside, trying to piece together my slightly broken life with the help of Christians from all over the world walking alongside me, debating, cooking, cleaning, praying, singing, arguing, discussing, and experiencing. Still broken, but learning to accept that, I look back at my notes from lectures, recordings, books, and sermons and feel such deep joy that it makes me cry. Beauty can do that, you know, make you cry.

You see, though I know my life has been a rather easy one by universal standards, I know what depression feels like. There have been two periods of time in my life when my depression was so deep and seemed so insurmountable that I wanted to end my life. High school was the first period, and a few years ago, another such period began. I am awestruck that God brought me through these times, that for the past few months I have awakened in the morning wanting to live, able to experience real joy again.

As someone who grew up in the church, was a leader in InterVarsity at university, got her Masters in Biblical Counseling, and who counsels others, I’ve studied truth and goodness my whole life. Yet knowing what is true and what is good isn’t always enough. My head is so full of facts, laws, right and wrong, justice, and the righteousness of God and yet somehow I lose sight of him still.

One of my favorite lectures from the listening library at L’Abri was entitled “Recovering Goodness, Beauty and Truth” by Andrew Fellows. This most important, most ancient of triads is the basis for most philosophy. Fellows’ final conclusion echoed that of Dostoyevsky who, in “The Idiot,” claimed “Beauty will save the world.” In a world that has twisted truth, goodness, and our perception of beauty into the unrecognizable, we must ask what is left. Fellows quotes Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s bold response:

“And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.”

As much as my head knows what the Bible teaches, and my mind has been trained in the ways of goodness, this means nothing until my heart is able to comprehend it all. Beauty calls me to look more deeply at things, to search for the truth and good because I see its worth. Beauty awakens my soul and points to things beyond myself, beyond comprehension.

Sometimes when we grow up in the church we can forget just how beautiful God is, how lovely his creation which surrounds us, how magnificent each word spoken to us from heaven through his scriptures, how delightful each unique person, plant, and animal is. I spend lots of time thinking of what I should be doing, saying, or thinking that sometimes I forget to look up and see what he has done and what he has made us capable of.

Right now, in our broken world, suffering surrounds us. From hurricanes to earthquakes, racial hatred to vicious politics, floods to famine, poverty to greed I can get caught up in the truth that our world can be horrific and cruel. And yet there is still beauty; there are still people who sacrifice their own lives to rescue their neighbors, there is still music and art that reflects us and yet still lifts us up, there is the friend who texts when they think of you, there are two little boys of different races laughing loudly as they ride their bikes together on my street, and there is Autumn.

As I continue to seek truth and goodness, I must remember to also search out beauty. Instead of always trying to find the right answer, an impossible task, I must remember that there is beauty in the mystery of life, adventure in the ever-pondered and possibly never-answered questions. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” And as flawed as we are, I need to embrace the beauty which innately lives inside each person as people who bear the very image of God.

So this week I will light more fall scented candles, read wondrous books to my students, hug my family, eat delicious food, enjoy good art, and try to dwell on the beauty of my Lord and his everlasting love for me – something that just is, that I didn’t earn, and that I don’t have to work to keep.

Perhaps, after everything, beauty will indeed save the world. Or maybe it’ll just help save me today, which is enough.

*To find lectures by L’Abri such as the one mentioned above, you can go to the L’Abri Ideas Library or subscribe to the podcast English L’Abri by L’Abri Fellowship on iTunes.