I am home after having surgery on Tuesday, resting and healing. This morning I needed some fresh air and took the girls to school and then watched my dogs run around outside. I snapped the above picture as the sun rose in the east. For the next month, I am laying low. I have a couple of “nice to be there” events I hope to attend in February with family but nothing is “need to be there.” I need to give myself time to heal and rest. I am grateful to have a job where I work from home a majority of the time. After I have healed I am going to write more about my surgery to encourage other women struggling with what are now simple health struggles that can be fixed with surgeries and modern medicine.
This is a time of year where many of us feel blue and down. Others are struggling with depression and mental illness. This past week in my Agweek column I wrote about it. I am not an expert. I do not have medical training. I simply want to start the conversation, a conversation I believe we all need to have about mental health. There are so many who are silent and feel they cannot speak on it. Below is my start. I would love to hear from you. My Facebook page is my “public” page to connect with and I’m shifting more of my online presence there as well as Twitter and Instagram.
The Christmas parties and family gatherings are done. The reality of a new year has sunk it. What’s next? A woman in my small town said last week to me that she “hates” it here. I don’t think she actually does but it’s a time of year that can get us down. It’s bleak for some, overwhelming for others. The third Monday of January has been termed “Blue Monday,” or the most depressing day of the year in the most depressing month of the year.
Depression is an all-too-familiar journey for many, especially in the dead of winter. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five, or 43.8 million, American adults suffer from a mental illness in a given year. When it comes to youth, ages 13 to 18, one in five suffers from a severe mental illness.
Do you feel alone in this battle? You’re not. Those who suffer often do so in silence. Many spouses or supporters also remain hushed for privacy reasons, and talking about the struggle is just too difficult. While I can’t change the trajectory of mental illness as a whole, or the system and research needed to bring about change and awareness, I can take care of myself and those who I love as best as I can to be a mental health advocate.
Whether or not you struggle with mental illness, we all could use help to cope in the winter months. Together, we can overcome. Here are three ways to push through a Blue Monday and find joy throughout the winter and all year long.
- Set one realistic exercise goal that can develop into a habit. Don’t set out with the goal to lose 30 pounds or go on a diet. Whether you work out on a 30-year-old Schwinn Airdyne like my farmer-dad does in his living room or circle around the field on cross-country skis like I do, commit to exercise. This year marks my sixth year with a personal trainer. Yes, there are personal trainers in rural America. I spend the money for the accountability, and I’m healthier, stronger and happier for it. I’m guessing there are personal trainers near you or a gym or walking group to join. In my small town, individuals, couples and groups of friends walk together in the local civic center. At first, the commitment to work toward your goal won’t come easy but day after day, week after week it becomes a healthy habit that provides value long past the winter blues.
- Participate in a service project. Why are there ladies quilting in church basements across rural America this winter? They are using their skills and time to give back. I remember bringing my infant daughter to my grandma’s quilting group years ago. I admired their comradery. Yes, it was a time to socialize, but they kept their hands busy making quilts for Lutheran mission work across Africa.
I’m not a quilter, but I do co-lead monthly 4-H meetings and help with community projects such as a fundraising for a new swimming pool. When you give of your time for a greater good, you have a deeper sense of fulfillment. Now please don’t say yes to every service project. You’ll quickly become exhausted and burnt out. Just find one new way to give back and be intentional with your time.
- Become a superfan. In every one of our communities, our gymnasiums, indoor hockey rinks or theatres are bustling with weekly games, meets and matches in addition to drama productions, science fairs and other activities. You don’t have to have a child or grandchild participating to attend. Our son, Hunter, and his girlfriend were two-time all-state basketball players. During Christmas break, we talked about what we miss about not attending all of their winter games. It wasn’t winning or awards. The consensus: superfans—people who don’t necessarily come to watch just one kid but all the kids. Superfans drive to faraway towns to support their teams, win or lose, offering encouragement outside the locker room, a note of appreciation or a hug at church on Sunday morning. Those who are the opposite of superfans, and you know who I’m talking about, have the reverse effect. I can name the superfans from Hunter’s high school years of activities, and they made a lasting impression on him. Put your energy into positively supporting local kids and teams this winter and you’ll win, whether or not your favorite team does.
I don’t have any medical training, but I do have enough life experience to know I can’t love someone through the struggles of depression without the help of modern medicine and a doctor’s expertise. I also know keeping myself active, giving my time and encouraging others gives me a healthier perspective and approach to everyday life.
Thank you to all who serve those who struggle with mental health issues. To those who speak out on mental health issues to give voice to an often silent population, I admire you. For you, a friend or a loved one struggling, keep going and fight to rise above a blue Monday. You’re important. You’re needed in our communities. Your value is untapped. Let’s together find joy and new purpose this winter.