“The switchbacks repeated themselves so many times I couldn’t tell what progress I’d made, but there it was, the last one before the crest…”
I really identify with Bruso, who calls herself and “unlikely hiker”. In her 20s she was wholly uninterested in the outdoors. In the years since, she’s has become an avid hiker who works tirelessly to challenge the mainstream’s idea of who recreates outside.
Like Bruso, CityGirl did not grow up recreating in national parks and forests. “We didn’t like the dirt, the bugs or feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “We would much rather watch TV or ride our bikes around the neighborhood.”
At 40 I hiked Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. I echo Bruso’s sentiments: “As tough of a time as I was having, I was not immune to how beautiful things were and how they sort of sunk into me”. She marveled at the smell of the forest in the summer sun, the sight of fiery wild rhododendrons. On every hike I take I feel the same way.
I’m still learning my limits and building up the stamina and strength it takes to hike strenuous trails. I’ve had two ACL surgeries so my hamstring muscles and tendons are weak and I suffer from Semimembranosus Tendinitis (due to a previous ACL repair surgery). That means I have to pay special attention to my body telling me I’ve done enough.
I’ve read up on and made investments in proper gear. I educate myself on the trails I want to do ahead of time so I know what to expect. Most of all I enjoy reaping the benefits of being an unlikely hiker. My spirituality and mental health both benefit from being out in the wild outdoors surrounded by creation.
Escape? Well… maybe. Not escape, exactly, but just like literal medicine helps lessen or alleviate physical symptoms of an illness, travel can help with mental health. Just being outdoors among the trees (a Japanese public health practice called forest bathing or shinrin-yoku) has been shown to lower the heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being. Mind and body are connected, so when one benefits the other does, too!
In this post, I want to share a how we use travel, spirituality, and mental healthcare to deal with our PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Both my husband and I have felt the words in the graphic below and we have begun to rise above them with the help of our new lifestyle.
Travel – I don’t have as many panic attacks, flashbacks, or nightmares when I’m traveling. It doesn’t cure me but it serves as a very effective grounding tool. I’m not in my own head when I’m hiking Mount Ranier, walking the streets of Venice, planning our next RV Campground stop in the US, or navigating the intricacies of a different culture or language. It’s mindfulness in action and I love it. It refreshes and recharges me in both an intellectual and spiritual way to see magnificent sights whether in the US or abroad. Spiritually I see the wonder of Jehovah God’s creation and it solidifies my faith that there is a source of life and love bigger than anything I can imagine. Intellectually it challenges me to understand and push myself to go outside my American CityGirl comfort zone.
Spirituality – Many addiction programs ask you to work with the concept of a higher power. There is a strong correlation between addiction and trauma. So those who suffer from trauma based disorders like PTSD can also benefit from asking their higher power for help. I can attest to the fact that developing a relationship with my creator, living according to His standards, and communicating in prayer with him regularly helps me greatly with the ups and downs of life. To read more on how the Bible can help you if you are depressed, read this article for some encouraging scriptures.
The references below (1, 2) on spirituality and mental health affirm that “aspects of spirituality are associated with positive outcomes, even when trauma survivors develop psychiatric difficulties such as PTSD or depression. Research also indicates that healthy spirituality is often associated with lower levels of symptoms and clinical problems in some trauma populations. For example, anger, rage, and a desire for revenge following trauma may be tempered by forgiveness, spiritual beliefs, or spiritual practices.”
Mental health maintenance – I have and use a medical team for my depression and anxiety. So does my husband, who suffers from combat-related PTSD. Just like you need treatment for diabetes or heart disease you need treatment for mental health disorders. Sometimes that means treatment in hospital. In general, a good daily routine of positive self-talk or affirmations, grounding/ mindfulness techniques, and using adaptive coping responses like journaling when needed. When the fear overtakes me, even before I realize I’m having an anxiety attack, I start grounding, try a coping response, and then take medicine if needed – in that order. Sometimes I still succumb to the overwhelming fear, sometimes I cry, sometimes I dissociate. But, as soon as I’m able to get myself grounded again I utilize the skills I’ve learned in treatment to keep moving forward.
Hood, R.W., Hill, P.C. & Spilka, B. (2009). The psychology of religion: An empirical approach. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, p. 179.
When I read the text this morning I was struck by how close to home the message was. When facing issues of depression, anxiety, stress, or other illness symptoms I have been guilty of giving way to doubt. Cancelled service plans, avoiding text messages from friends who want to get together for an interchange of encouragement, lingering in the bed for hours after my chosen “wake-up” time of 8:30 AM… these are all things I have done because I felt like “I can’t”. But, I didn’t feel that way when I made the plans. This text brought the reason to light.
I made the plans for service because I felt like I could; I could face strangers in metropolitan witnessing or knock on a door not knowing who might be on the other side. Why? Becuase Jehovah expects me to. Because I dedicated my life to doing his will. Because it’s part of acting in concert with my prayers to ‘let Your kingdom come’.
But then… I give way to doubt (Matthew 14:31).
Laying in bed at 11 PM the night before my 8 AM service plans I start to doubt that I can. I start to think that I can’t. I start to believe that I just can’t. Anxiety sets in. Panic begins. Fear takes over. So I send a text to cancel. I tell myself this is ok. That I have a medical reason. That my PTSD isn’t going to allow me to meet my commitment. That I am a failure. That I will try again tomorrow.
Honestly, there may be times when I just have to try again tomorrow. However, if you read the paragraph beneath the scripture below and pay attention to the full transcript of the passage to the right, you might hone in on the same sentences I did when I read it:
“Peter… trusted that God’s power would support him…”
Perhaps, in addition to deep breathing, anxiety medication, and staying hidden when I have a panic attack, I can also remind myself (even repeat to myself) that Jesus and Jehovah will support me in all the ways I need support especially when I am giving my time in support of the Kingdom. I’ve spent time today in personal study of this span of scripture using the SOAP-JW method I modified and, let me tell you, it is just what I needed. I hope it encourages you as well.
If you’d like to get the daily text on your smart phone or tablet just go to your app store and download the free JW Library app. The screenshot below is of mine on an iPad mini.
I just attended our circuit assembly with the theme “Maintain Your Love For Jehovah”. It was a great day of bible discourses on all subjects relating to the theme of maintaining your love for God. One major point made regarding Matthew 22:35-40 was that the commandment to love Jehovah God, described at the greatest commandment, is connected inextricably to the second commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”+37 He said to him: “‘You must love Jehovah* your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul* and with your whole mind.’+38 This is the greatest and first commandment.39 The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’+40 On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40
So I made a graphic containing some of the key scriptures from my notes and will use a modified SOAP (scripture, observation, application, prayer) method to meditate on them. Let’s call my method the SOAP-JW method 🙂
The SOAP method itself is very simple but allows for deep meditation on the scripture you choose to study. In adding JW to the method I will ask myself ‘what does this teach me about Jehovah’ for J and ‘how can I use this while witnessing’ for W. I can use the method for all the key scriptures I took notes on.
How SOAP-JW works:
SCRIPTURE: The first step is scripture. Since I use this for personal study I always start off with prayer. Then I choose a verse that I want to study more fully; a scripture I heard at meeting, the theme from a new song, from a morning worship, during the monthly broadcast, or from a friend and I write it out in its entirety.
OBSERVATION: The next step is observation. This is where I write down what I think the scripture means and why it was included in the bible. What did Jehovah want us to learn from it? Is it similar to others I have read? Is there a prophecy or fulfillment connected with it?
APPLICATION: Step three is application. What does it mean? How can I apply the scripture to myself, my life, or something I am going through? How could it help me? I look up the scripture on wol.jw.org and see if there are further explanations in reference material that could help me understand the scripture and application more fully. I take notes on what I uncover.
PAUSE: In the original method I would end the process the same way I started- prayer. I could even write out the points I prayed on… but for my modified method I will label this step pause. I pause and take some time to think about what I learned and how it applies to me.
JEHOVAH: This is a key step, the step where I think critically about Jehovah, our creator. What does the scripture teach me about Jehovah? We use this question during our Christian Life & Ministry Meeting (LMM) and it is a really good one to ask during personal study, too.
WITNESSING: Another question from the LMM, how can I use this information while witnessing to others about the good news of God’s kingdom?
When I follow this method I know I will meet all the points recommended in our Ministry School book (see first reference link for the entire article):
TO REAP THE GREATEST REWARDS
Prepare your heart
Preview the study material
Isolate important facts
Consider how the scriptures provide reasons for statements made
Review the main points
Meditate on how your own life should be influenced by what you study
Seek opportunities to use the material to help others
So, I really want it all! I’ve realized that I have been favoring Italy over a closer opportunity because of my own desires so tonight I poured out my heart to Jah. This really needs to be His will and not mine. I can still go to Italy for vacation, but I can’t ignore the signs pointing due south to MX and Belize. I guess that’s a bit of spiritual maturity and progress, right? I’m a work in progress 🙂
Update: I’m a regular auxiliary pioneer as of May 1, 2016.
Sometimes desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. Then again, Jehovah adds no pain with his requirements. These great mental health tenets also have biblical foundations:
Keep things simple
Put everything in its place (my hubby has OCD tendencies)
Focus on the basics
One day at a time
Get fresh air, start exercising
Make thoughtful changes
The same ideas in the bulleted list above are taught in the Holy Scriptures. At Matthew 6:22 it states, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If, then, your eye is focused, your whole body will be bright”. The footnote lets us know that the context of the translated word “focused” is modern “simple”. So, keep your eye simple.
Along those lines we decided to simplify our 5 bedroom house (we have a lot of stuff for just two people and it’s a constant source of stress for my husband), downsize our wardrobes, cut our ties with the 9 to 5, and lead a much more frugal life.
Crazy, right? Then I thought, maybe the way we live right now is crazy. The average American spends 1/3 to 1/2 of their income on a home that takes 15 years to work to pay off. 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Maybe living the “normal” way is actually crazy. What if we could live on less and instead of investing in a career and house we could invest in our personal relationships with our creator, each other, and nature?
Next, I though about living vs. surviving. With PTSD it seems like the sufferer and their family just survive daily life. I want (and deserve) to see my husband really live, not just survive. What if by changing things drastically we could both get back to living instead of just getting through each day to face another filled with the same issues in the same spot?
Another scripture that kept coming to mind is Matthew 6:33 which states, “Keep on, then, seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” So we have decided to work on personal improvement so that we might serve God to the full extent that our own circumstances permit.
We start our mornings now with the daily text, a prayer, and either field service or medical appointments OR BOTH. We round out the end of the day with personal or family study, meetings, and housework. It’s still a little surreal, but I think that means we are on the right track.
Women usually prefer to talk out a problem before hearing a solution. In fact, sometimes talking is the solution.
“I feel better when I have expressed my feelings and know that my husband understands me. After I talk about it, I’m over it—usually within just minutes after the conversation.”—Sirppa.*
“I can’t move on if I don’t have a chance to explain to my husband exactly how I feel. Talking it out is a form of closure for me.”—Ae-Jin.
“It’s like detective work. As I talk, I’m analyzing each step of the problem and trying to get to the root of it.”—Lurdes.
Men tend to think in terms of solutions. That is understandable because fixing things makes a man feel useful. Offering solutions is his way of showing his wife that she can rely on him for help. So husbands are baffled when their solutions are not readily accepted. “I can’t understand why you would talk about a problem if you didn’t want a solution!” says a husband named Kirk.
But “understanding must precede advice,” warns the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. “You have to let your partner know that you fully understand and empathize with the dilemma before you suggest a solution. Oftentimes your spouse isn’t asking you to come up with a solution at all—just to be a good listener.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
For husbands: Practice empathetic listening. A husband named Tomás says: “Sometimes after listening I think to myself, ‘That didn’t accomplish anything.’ But often that’s all my wife needs—a listening ear.” A husband named Stephen would agree. “I find it best to let my wife express herself without interrupting,” he says. “More often than not, she finishes and tells me she feels a lot better.”
Try this: The next time you discuss a problem with your wife, resist the urge to give unsolicited advice. Make eye contact, and focus on what she is saying. Nod in agreement. Repeat the gist of what she says to show that you get the point. “Sometimes my wife just needs to know that I understand her and that I’m on her side,” says a husband named Charles.—Bible principle: James 1:19.
For wives: Say what you need. “We might expect our spouse to know just what we need,” says a wife named Eleni, “but sometimes we do have to spell it out.” A wife named Ynez suggests this approach: “I could say, ‘Something is bothering me, and I would like you to hear me out. I don’t need you to fix it, but I would like you to understand how I feel.’”
Try this: If your husband prematurely offers solutions, do not conclude that he is being insensitive. Likely he is trying to lighten your load. “Instead of getting annoyed,” says a wife named Ester, “I try to realize that my husband does care and wants to listen but that he also just wants to help.”—Bible principle: Romans 12:10.
For both: We tend to treat others the way we want to be treated. However, to discuss problems effectively, you need to consider how your spouse would like to be treated. (1 Corinthians 10:24) A husband named Miguel puts it this way: “If you are a husband, be willing to listen. If you are a wife, be willing to hear solutions once in a while. When you meet in the middle, both spouses benefit.”—Bible principle: 1 Peter 3:8.