The window at my desk is open, and I can hear the birds chirping in the just-budding trees. Baxter, my tuxedo cat, is nestled against the window screen, praying that it disappears long enough for him to escape into spring.
In fact, I feel like I’ve just escaped into spring after being held captive in the Long Winter of 2018.
The last three months of my life have been hard — and really, going back to December my life hasn’t slowed down.
This semester at Memphis Theological Seminary has been one of my most challenging yet, and was significantly top heavy in my classes’ assignments, projects and readings. My professional and personal lives were as full as ever, but not unbearable in themselves. Combined together, with my total 7-ish hour weekly commute to Memphis, and there was a toxicity in my life I hadn’t felt in a long time.
But today, with one week of classes remaining, I’m as unburdened as I’ve been in a long, long time.
Some of that unburdening, however, required some action on my part.
A couple weeks ago, I very nearly had an emotional breakdown. I was simply too busy, and short of quitting all of life, there was nothing I could do about it. I was in a dangerous spot as I entered into Holy Week and the spring break period.
The stress in my life was so bad I couldn’t sleep a full night through, so I had to add a melatonin regimen to my routine.
I gained even more unwelcome weight, despite not even having time to grocery shop. My body began to crave salads, and if you’re like me, and aren’t even sure you like lettuce, that’s like your body calling 911 .
My social life tanked even more than usual. I would simply tell my best friend, who is used to seeing me at least every other week, my week’s agenda, and she’d just text back comforting words, not evening suggesting we get together for weeks at a time.
Spending time with my youth outside of Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings was a dream, not a reality.
My chronic pain and fatigue (always made worse by stress and anxiety) were through the roof. I’d pop a pair of Ibuprofen an hour into my journeys to Memphis, already in intense pain. Napping was necessity, not luxury.
Forget being creative, spending time with family or working on the formation and sustaining of my faith. I had no sabbath. I was in survival mode.
We all get this way. No matter who you are or what profession you have or are pursuing, our 21st century lives are out of whack, out of balance, and sometimes out of touch with the things that really matter.
The danger is when we can’t find a way out, or take this way of life as a new kind of normal.
Thankfully the light at the end of the tunnel overcame the darkness, and that little bit of hope made me take some responsibility for my wellbeing. I am not willing to accept eternal winter as any kind of normal.
There’s a reason why people flock to Florida and not set up their anchors in Antartica.
Slowly, prompted by what I can only deem is the strength of the Spirit, I was able to make small changes that made big differences. I even had time last week to sit on my porch and journal goals and concrete solutions for attaining these goals. Helping all this was the fact that my class responsibilities decreased exponentially as at the end of the semester looms.
A month ago, I asked for three fewer hours a week at my part time job at the library. Those three hours are making a huge difference in my sanity, and somehow (loaves and fishes!) my pocketbook has survived.
The melatonin I take to sleep has aided in fighting some of my fatigue as my night time rest is more fruitful, and doesn’t seem to be such a negative addition to my life. I’ve also set my cell phone to Do Not Disturb while I sleep so no late night/early morning texts or calls interrupt before I’m ready.
Even though I’m not entirely comfortable with the practice, I’ve added daily caffeine intake through teas and fruit juice/vitamin energy drinks that have given me the needed energy to get through a day without a nap. Nothing like becoming addicted to a legal stimulant like the rest of society, I suppose!
I’ve been more mindful of my eating and exercise, and my bike has also escaped its winter banishment to the basement and is back on the roads.
I’ve committed to a monthly trip to the chiropractor to help my chronic pain that flares up from the stress and the hours in the car.
And while I think I’d love to quit social media (at least for a time), my livelihoods (and nose for news) don’t make it easy to check out of those spheres. I have, however, in the last four days, set small boundaries that have made a big difference. Simply not checking my feeds after 10 p.m. has allowed me to get to sleep about 20 minutes faster out of sheer boredom.
Currently, I’m working on quality time with friends and family, and building back up meaningful faith practices. Thankfully, I’ve already had small bursts of success, and my loved ones seem to welcome me back with open arms. Scripture seems more alive than I allowed it to be even two weeks ago.
(I’m also still learning to navigate the tension of learning the material of my seminary classes in a way that will make me a better future pastor, writer, and teacher, while not being a slave to the GPA. I WANT to learn and be better and soak up everything I possibly can on this beautiful, if not exhausting, journey. But….it’s exhausting!!! If any of you who have gone before me have advice on that balance, let me know! )
Why am I telling all of this? 1.) I am a chronic over-sharer. 2.) I believe in personal transparency when possible. I may not have allowed everyone in my life to see my struggles and their severity, but I hope you can recognize the redemption I’m experiencing today, and can share in that hope for yourself.
I’m thankful for this sunny afternoon, and the ability to reclaim a little bit of myself. Another semester is almost over, and I’m one step closer to realizing dreams only God knew I would one day dream.