I’ll remember 2017 as the year I began to address depression head on. I’ve been on a steady decline for years, and I hit a very low point from July through November. During this time, my creativity took a nose dive and I barely wrote for this site. I’ve been climbing out of the black hole and I intend to never return. I’ve read a few books that have helped me put mental health into different categories. Probably the best thing I learned is that I can’t think my way into feeling better. So, I’ve made some huge lifestyle changes.
Writing and posting this “report card” reflection is probably a bit narcissistic, but I hope some of this information will be helpful for you. Or maybe you’ll see something I’m missing. Feel free to comment.
Seeking resources on mental health- A
Books, podcasts, and counseling all helped in 2017. The books include: Depression-Free, Naturally, The Depression Cure, and The Mood Cure. My new counselor told me about one called Potatoes Not Prozac, that I’ll be checking out soon. Two great podcasts out of the Twin Cities have been incredibly helpful- The Hilarious World of Depression and Terrible, Thanks for Asking. Interestingly, also helpful is a podcast on keeping organized- Organize 365. I dumped my first counselor of 2017 for breaking three appointments. I dig the new guy.
Purposeful work- B
I am really blessed to have found teaching as a career. The school year always feels purposeful and worthwhile. Summer 2017 was tough- my school was closed due to renovation and summer school was canceled. I really depend on having purposeful work year-round. This winter, I began working on a rewrite of some of the environmental education standards for the state of Wisconsin. That has felt really good. For the first time, we are including the connection between time outdoors and personal mental health as a theme in the standards.
I picked the guitar back up after years. That was big. I read a lot. I got hooked on some shows and podcasts. I did several woodworking projects with kids. I worked on some cool interview projects, some yet to be published. The biggest this year was for the reissue of Racetraitor’s Burn the Idol of the White Messiah. That was a lot of fun to work on. I really enjoyed connecting with people around the world. But, things dropped off right after that project was completed in July. My garden and landscaping projects languished.
Light Exposure- B
I got outside quite a bit this year and I bought a light box in October. I’ve been pretty good about regular use during the dark months.
I usually get 8 hours or more a night. Sometimes, I slept too much or wasn’t well rested in the morning regardless of how long I slept. Hoping to address this through diet, exercise, and fresh air.
I do a little every week day and an hour on Sundays. (Sometimes I fall asleep.)
Reducing Rumination- B
Writing down repeated negative thoughts and keeping busy with necessary or enjoyable activities helped stave off dark mental clouds.
Regular Medical Care- B
I’ve been seeing the doctor and dentist regularly. My most exciting news is that I’ve transitioned off some maintenance meds that I’ve been on for over a decade and onto some nutritional supplements.
Other than a weekly band practice from July-September with a couple other great guys, I barely left the house. Exceptions include weekly visits to my parents’ house with my wife and boys, irregular visits to my in-laws’ house and cabin, and weekly visits to Quaker meetings starting near the end of the year.
Other than children’s birthday parties, I didn’t really get together with friends. I’ve become closer to some of my students’ parents, which has been cool. I’m going to push myself to do more with other adults in 2018- at least once a week. If I don’t get together, I can at least give an old friend a call, which I did maybe once or twice in 2017.
On the positive side, I did push myself to play with my sons a lot, and to get outside with them, even when the days grew cold and dark.
I get my steps, but I certainly need to step up my game when it comes to other types of exercise. Whether it’s weight lifting (I bought a bench and some weights in 2017) or yoga (I’ve been on and off again with yoga for over a decade), I need to establish a routine.
My biggest issue with exercise is that I have life-threatening allergic reactions if I push it too hard. Usually, cycling, yoga, and lifting weights are safe bets. Running and any intense aerobic exercise (and sometimes, just a long walk) will set off the hives and swelling. I miss doing P-90X and playing football, but those activities probably aren’t in the cards for 2018.
I started the year vegan and ended about as far away from vegan as you can get. After over 20 years of not eating meat, I began eating venison and wild caught fish. Why did I do that? Well, I had several body systems not doing what they were supposed to be doing. I also had blood tests showing deficiencies in several areas. My latest attempt at living vegan lasted about 2 years. I though I was doing it right- avoiding foods that I reacted to and including lots of fats and proteins along with fresh fruits and veggies.
In August, after being diagnosed anemic and struggling with poor mental and physical health, I began trying a Whole 30 style diet to address some issues. My dad gifted me some venison from deer he had hunted, and a friend who has free range chickens in her farm yard gave me dozens of eggs. It felt good to get away from sugar and simple carbs for a while, but I was in excruciating abdominal pain for a month. My stomach and esophagus weren’t happy about the abrupt diet change.
In October, I began supplementing my diet with various products. I don’t want to advertise what I’ve been using yet, as my doctor is reviewing my list. But, blood tests around Christmas time showed fewer nutritional deficiencies, while uncovering one new one- Vitamin D. So, I’m still working on that, but I feel like I’ve come pretty far in just over two months. I expect to iron things out in 2018 and get a really good diet and supplementation routine going. I hope to revisit veganism, but I don’t know when or if my body will ever be ready for that. Nor do I know exactly how I’d make it work, due to my problems digesting several types of vegan staples.
Making Family Time Count- B
2017 was very child-centered in our activities. We took a family trip to a couple museums in Chicago in the summer. We had our beautiful third son in October of 2017. We had ton of play time at home. We read a lot of books together. Thanksgiving and Christmas were both great. I want to bring more energy to the plate in 2018, and I want to spend more quality time with my wife. I created a weekly schedule for myself, and I hope to stick to it, and refine it to make it better.
Overall Grade: C
I don’t want to have another year like 2017, emotionwise. But, I learned a ton this year, and I was fortunate to meet new people, create new routines, and enjoy traditions. Maybe I’ll try this report card again next year. Maybe there will be new categories, or I’ll remove some of the ones I used this year. We’ll see where the year goes. I don’t really buy into New Year’s hoopla, but I really do feel hopeful for 2018.