Preparing for Winter
A little over a week ago, here in the Northern Hemisphere, we passed the autumn equinox, officially marking the beginning of fall. This is one of my favorite times of year. I prefer the crisp air, layered clothing, and all the fun experiences of the season. Fall is also the time when we start to put away the garden. Tomatoes get roasted, crushed, and canned. Green chilies get roasted, cleaned, and frozen. Jam, apple butter, and jellies are made and canned, alongside peach slices from a trip to the orchard. We turn compost into the soil before planting garlic. We hover over the pumpkins, waiting for the best moment to pick them, so that they in turn can be roasted and frozen for pies, breads, and soup. It’s a busy time of preparation. People often wonder why I go to all of this trouble to can things. Part of it is that I believe the planet would be healthier if we ate seasonally and locally as much as possible, and another part is that I love how it connects me to generations of women who did this work to feed their families. This fall, we are preparing in other ways that aren’t a normal part of our annual routine. We are preparing to continue to stay home. These preparations are just as real and necessary for surviving the winter as canning and food preservation were for my ancestors. Looking back, when we were all sent home in the early spring, it felt like we’d stay home for a few weeks or maybe a month, but at our house, we certainly didn’t think we’d still be staying put come October.
One of the ways we are preparing around our house is by really considering what toll all of this has taken on our mental health and what we need to move through the next few months successfully. What do we need in order to do our work, to play, to find joy, and to survive the pandemic? For us, this has meant stocking up on things that we might need, from medicine to craft projects; making sure we’ve had checkups and flu shots; and finding a routine that works for everyone. One suggestion I read online that I think is really good: If there’s one thing annoying you right now, can you solve the problem causing the annoyance? Is there anything that will help your space feel more cheerful when the days are short and the sky is cloudy? Are there projects you’ve been putting off that might be fun to tackle? (I bought a quilt kit two years ago, and now I am going to start actually working on it.) Can you schedule regular Zoom meetings or FaceTime with friends so you feel connected? What do you need to thrive at home this winter, in the midst of all of the regular challenges winter brings and the extra ones this pandemic has presented?
So, what does all of this have to do with gratitude? For me, everything. I know that many people suffer from anxiety and depression in the fall and winter, and the pandemic, election season, and ongoing unrest can exacerbate this. In the Service of Holy Eucharist, Rite I (Book of Common Prayer p. 336), we pray this:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.
These words indicate that we are gifts that can be given to God through how we live and that we are united with Jesus through the Eucharist in our very bodies. This means that we are something to give thanks for. Anxiety and depression can often rob us of the belief that we are worth something or that we have something to give that will make a difference in the world; however, God reminds us this is not true. At every baptism, I remind the congregation that we are all letters of love from God to a broken and hurting world. This idea for me is linked with the above passage through the connection between the gift that we are and the support we find in Christ. With that said, we need to remove the stigma from asking for help. If you are a gift, then your gift might be that you are a helping professional. If I need help and don’t seek it out, then I am denying the offering that you are giving, instead of giving thanks for it. We need to support people when they seek out mental health services. We need to give thanks that the help is there and that God has created us to love people, and sometimes, that love looks like therapy, or time off, or asking for help. There is no shame in needing help. In fact, God created us to care for and love each other. Jesus commanded us to do it, and so we should. So, perhaps one of the things that we each might need to consider is how to plan to ask for help (or how to get help now) to process the mental toll this year has taken and to help us get through the next few months of shorter days.
With that said, there is help available. If you are an employee or a family member of an employee of The Episcopal Church and are covered under Church Insurance, then you have confidential mental health support as part of your insurance package, as well around-the-clock help through EAP by calling this number: 1-866-395-7794. Even if you are not covered by Church Insurance, there is free, confidential help out there for you. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to access the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (you can access other phone numbers, such as for help in Spanish or for hearing accommodations, at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org). Additionally, there are several online and low-cost options now available to take part in therapy from the safety of your home. Help is out there if you need it. It can be hard to ask for help, but if you need it (from asking someone to help you with a project to going to therapy), you will find that asking for what you need is an opportunity to practice gratitude all around, as the asking creates an opportunity for connection rooted in gratitude for the two people connected.