Friday, April 12, 2013

Sweatpants, Depression, and a Lenten Lesson

{Photo published on web here}
When I picture depression, I think of a girl lying on the couch in the living room, with the blinds closed, staring blankly into space.  If I had to describe my illness in one word, I would think “sweatpants”.

Sweatpants and sweatshirts are my go-to, comfortable, baggy tents where I can hide myself and easily slip into bed if I need an emergency nap.  In my darkest of times, I went weeks without changing my clothes.  Gross…I know.  But I didn’t care.

For me, it was too difficult to even think about taking care of my appearance.  Just getting out of bed was a monumental task.  Eating was a bonus, but not a guarantee.

As I was going through treatment and recovery for my depressive disorder, I slowly began to make progress.  I learned about cognitive behavioral therapy and how to re-train my thoughts.  I was very much a victim to the “all or nothing” thinking.

In addition to a lot of help from my support system, I started practicing the “one step at a time” technique to counteract my “all or nothing” thought process.

This year for Lent, I put this technique into practice and I gave up my sweatpants (from after breakfast, until right before I go to bed).  You might laugh at my sacrifice. You might think that my offering is pretty minuscule and wonder what sweatpants have to do with religion.  But, I honestly believe that it was an inspired decision.

The basic concept of giving up my favorite comfy pants follows the “one step at a time” program.  I only have to do one thing.  I know that I only have to change out of my sweatpants.  I don’t have to do anything else.  There is no pressure, no standards, and no expectations.  “I can handle that”, I think to myself each morning, “I just have to do this one simple task”.

At first I was upset about the implications of doing something so small and insignificant for Lent.  “Does this make me a bad Christian?” I would worry.

The priest at my parish says that the enemy is not concerned about those people who take on many tasks during the holy time of Lent.  The devil knows our human nature better than we do.  He knows that if we take on too much, we will get overwhelmed and eventually give up.  If we intend to change many habits at the beginning of Lent, the enemy knows that we will fail, so he doesn’t even bother to try and tempt us.

How I used to view Lent is similar to how I think about my life in general.  I wanted to do all these grand sacrifices because I wanted to be a good Catholic.  However, because of my depression and the way I approached my faith, I was often discouraged.  Because I felt extreme expectations to live a certain way, I was left crippled and ended up not doing anything at all.

Since I’ve been on the road to mental health, I’ve realized that I have to throw my expectations out the window.

What if I just commit to doing one thing, one sacrifice, one step?

So, I gave it a try; I gave up wearing sweatpants during the day.  That sacrifice, however small, was all I could give to God for the time being.  He took my minuscule offering and started transforming my life in a way I would have never imagined.

One step at a time; after I change out of sweatpants, I think that I might as well put on a new shirt because the closet is open and I am right in front of it.  After I change my shirt, I feel like I can brush my teeth too.  And looking in the mirror as I am brushing my teeth, I put my hair in a pony tail.  Then I think that I might as well put my contacts in since they are right there on the bathroom shelf.  Heck, I might even make my bed.  And if I am really lucky, I might even make it to mass in the morning or spend time in prayer at church.

Before I go on, I want to say that I don’t think sweatpants are bad in and of themselves.  That’s not the point.  The point is that my one action snowballed into many other actions that I was too overwhelmed to do before. 

All of those actions came from one simple step.  Even though it is small, I know it is pleasing to the Lord.  And I know that I could not have done any of those things without His help.  It all started from offering Him the one and only thing I could do; giving up my sweatpants.  And some days, that one task was all I could do.  But, I did not get discouraged because that was all I committed to in the beginning.

As a result of that one simple step, I am now going to mass more often, praying the rosary more often, cleaning, cooking, running errands, helping others, teaching religion, and doing all sorts of things that were too difficult for me to do before.  This is big deal for me because, recently, my full-time job has been recovery and healing.
We never know what God can do with our lives.  He can take our small offerings and sacrifices and turn them into something miraculous.  It is a lesson for me to not withhold a gift because I think it is too small and too unworthy.  Remember, this is the same God that created the whole universe out of nothing.  He can surely transform your life, if you give Him whatever you have.

Of course, I still have bad days, because I am still on the road to recovery.  I still fail to make that first step and subsequently, the whole rest of the day is shot.  However, I have hope and I know I can try again tomorrow.  It since I’ve started my “one step at a time” dealy-o, things have been tremendously better.  I know now not to let “perfect” get in the way of “better”.

You don’t have to wait for Lent next year to start the “one step” process.  For me, it just clicked during Lent this year.  I realized that, at anytime, you have to start with one thing first in order to make lasting progress.

Challenge of the Day:  Make a “first step”.  If you don’t know where to begin, just pick one thing that would be a good starting point for you.  Ask yourself how changing that “one thing” can positively affect your life.  Then focus on just achieving that “one thing” for a period of time (say…one month, or two months).  Do not try to take on a list of new habits.  Just commit to one thing, one change…I guarantee you will begin to enjoy a more nourishing life.

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