“Broken Cisterns: Food” By Eli González

“Broken Cisterns: Food” By Eli González

“… and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)

Fresh Hope has taught me that recovery is work, something that in the 25+ years I have been battling my mental health diagnosis I had not done. In the past, wellness was reduced to a period without depressive symptoms, and even, those periods of hypomania where I acted uninhibited and thought everything would be fine, periods that I tried to enjoy as much as possible because they were few and far between compared to the dark times of depression.

I must confess that during all this time there was a victim mentality in me, focused on what I was losing because of my illness, friendships, relationships, money, university courses and I was looking for guilty parties for what had happened to me.

My first diagnosis was depression, later, dysthymia, and when they came together “double depression”, and I lived believing the lies I was told about these diagnoses: “you will never recover, because there isn’t a treatment that is truly effective”, “if you can’t overcome depression, it’s because you are weak”, “suicide attempts are just attention seeking”; and since I developed a drug resistant depression in my youth, I even thought it was a divine punishment or some sort of demon that was chasing me.

Having no real hopeful answer for myself, I began to look for ways to fill my emotional voids and alleviate the “pain” that filled me to the soul. A relief for me was food, a false way to escape the pain, a broken cistern that never held water (Jeremiah 2.13).

In my 20’s and 30’s, eating mindlessly for a few weeks, gaining weight, but losing it quickly was not a problem. Now, in my 40’s the situation has changed, along with hormonal changes and my reluctance to do any exercise has caused me to gain almost 25 kg of weight. That undermines my self-esteem. Frustrated at not being able to control what I eat, I refuse to look at myself in the mirror and my self-confidence has diminished, which, in turn, affects my relationships with others and especially my relationship with my husband.

What does food mean to me? An escape. A mask. A disguise. Underneath those extra pounds I exist, but for some reason I hide deep inside myself. I run away from my pain, my denial of diagnosis, my anguish, and my fear of life.  I look in the mirror and it’s not really me. It’s a kind of surrealism, because I don’t accept myself, I don’t accept my body and my inability to do anything to change it.

But now I know that I CAN do things to recover my well-being, something that before was reduced to not feeling depressive symptoms, nothing more. Just waiting for the next episode. As one of the diagnoses that has accompanied me most of my life was Dysthymia, a mild but chronic depression, I had sentenced myself to live depressed all the time. Feeling good was short-lived because my own thinking reminded me to live according to my diagnosis.

Recovering my well-being implies a participation on my part, recognizing those behaviors that are not healthy, but that I repeat constantly because they have helped me to “hide” my pain. One of these behaviors has to do with my eating and I must accept it: I have an addictive relationship with food. If I am feeling sad, disappointed, tired, anxious, or facing a difficulty that I am struggling to overcome, I usually turn to food: soda, chips, snacks, desserts, and other things that contain a high degree of sugars or saturated fats.

In the past, I used to tell myself that I was happy with a soda and a bag of snacks (sweet and salty) with me, in front of the TV watching my favorite series. There was no such thing, it was the best way to hide my frustration or pain. This contributed to my already weakened self-confidence being an even bigger problem. I have already blamed the meds, the pandemic, anything but holding myself accountable for this behavior. “Diet” has been a bad word, because in the face of it I feel more anxious, I would start the diet Monday and break it the same Monday, because I felt anxious and would immediately go back to eating.

However, if I explore deeper, I know that the problem is not only the food, but the negative feelings of pain and frustration that I still struggle with inside me.

In the face of this, and thanks to Fresh Hope, I have delved into my irrational thoughts that come from my past, my emotions, and the wounds I carry. If I want a life of wellness, I must let go of those self-defeating patterns and be intentional about making changes in my life. My decision now is to eat healthier and start exercise routines. Also, exercise is scientifically proven to help improve depressive symptoms and give us more energy.

It may take time to get back to my ideal weight, but if I decide to “push through” my indiscipline and busy schedule, I know that I will, with the help of God’s grace, reach the goal I have set for my physical and emotional health.

No Place Like Church

No Place Like Church

Not In Kansas Anymore

Amidst the pandemic of COVID-19, it isn’t news that the mental health of many has suffered. For those of us in the tradition of gathering in the church, it has been a struggle in many ways. We are in unfamiliar territory, as if we were Dorothy transported to the land of Oz.

But what about getting back home, to church?

Whether your church took a reserved approach during 2020 with remote online services and virtual gatherings, or continued to meet in-person despite local jurisdictions’ mandates, church has not been the same. Not only has our routine to meet to worship and fellowship in person been unexpectedly interrupted, our minds have been strained.

The introduction of this new virus put unprecedented pressure on our minds to stay isolated to try to “flatten the curve” as the world health officials encouraged. All of the media voices concertedly stoking fear came at the cost of mental health because of socially isolating and suffering “alone together.”

During these times, the consequences of our choices haven’t always been straightforward, predictable, or easy to handle. We can probably agree, there hasn’t been much of anything “easy” about how to respond to the pandemic.

If anything, we’ve all had to reorient and adjust to the changes, akin to how Dorothy had to adjust to Technicolor!

Something Like a Twister

COVID-19 put the burden on each of our plates individually and corporately to make those choices to either meet together or stay home and isolate. Most of us stayed home, I believe, to the detriment of our mental health and the church’s wellbeing.

The question of how to respond as the body of Christ has not been easy to answer.

Many have returned to the sanctuary in the past few months as mandates loosened only to find an emptier, sparser congregation, or be the victim of the virus like my family and I were in January 2021.

While our own church stayed open for in-person services throughout the pandemic, many parishioners did not mask up. As a result, even though my family wore masks, we came down with the Coronavirus. Thankfully, we survived. I had a mild case of symptoms of slight congestion and loss of sense of smell and flavor. Nothing over-the-counter medicine couldn’t handle.

However, for all of us yearning to return to our church families, normal has left the building.

Don’t Forget Who Has The Answers

No matter how confusing, intimidating, infuriating, stressful, or risky these times have been, let’s remind ourselves of what has not changed.

There remains the constant, never-changing goodness of the one we gather for — God. His sovereign nature is to shepherd His sheep as He leads us through the valley of the shadow, into green pastures.

If we should follow our Good Shepherd who calls each of us by name, we will find ourselves where the Bible promises us: anointed by God, who prepares a feast for us in the presence of our enemies.

Since “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV), let us employ that manifestation in our gatherings.

In doing so, we should see that the church will rise to worship her groom, Christ, “to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word” (Ephesians 5:26, NLT).

When we continue to walk in the ways He is leading – together — we will find healing. The healing that comes from a spirit of unity, love, and peace between God and His children.

Can any of us be careful enough around a pandemic’s invisible virus that God foreknew would take many frail and vulnerable lives?

Neither our cautious efforts, nor the virus, can diminish or dissolve God’s goodness and mercy.

God remains the same, even though it would figure that such a strategy would be the Enemy’s attempt to steal the power of our gatherings and the ability to experience God’s omnipotent presence.

“You Always Had the Power My Dear, You Just Had To Learn It for Yourself”

-Glinda the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz

Similar to Dorothy asking Glinda how she could have gone home all along, frankly, we as the church could have gone home all along. But for many of us, this tornado of a pandemic threw us for a loop and we became bewildered. It’s as if the CDC recently declared like Glinda, “You always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

Let’s guard our minds against the fear of gathering in person when there is so much at stake. If “nothing can wholly replace the benefits of positive human touch,” as this article explains, then we are sorely in need of some long overdue contact. We are struggling alone at home, and even in the fabricated ways we try to connect as we do like in video calls and social media.

If anything, the church needs to return to fellowship and share our burdens with one another in the spirit of Christ – who suffered and yet “He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NLT).

Jesus risked his life touching lepers, healing the sick, delivering those serious about his call to the kingdom at hand. If the shadow of Paul could heal, what would keep us from the power of God by fellowshipping in person?

God clearly mandates his family to meet together, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

Fortunately, we can gather safely, guarding against the spread of infectious diseases by

wearing masks, physically distancing, spacing pews farther apart. Most churches provide hand sanitizers and sinks with soap and water. If you want, you can get a vaccine.

In moving forward into the freedom of God’s healing presence at church, I encourage us to remember and apply the following thoughts:

  • Let us not be ignorant of our Enemy’s schemes to “steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10)
  • Let us not forget our First Love, as the reason we gather together as the church (Revelation 2:4)
  • Let us gather to worship, and we will find we are stronger together (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
  • Let us not be short-sighted: if we die, we die; our security and peace of mind is ultimately locked up in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 1:21)

May God lead you back to your church family in a safe way and may you return to a healthy state of mind in the spirit of Christ’s peace. After, all, there’s no place like church.

About the author:

Hey there! I’m Katie Dale, familiar with the storms of mental illness, and I blog about my faith and how it has informed my brain-based disorder at BipolarBrave.com. I also have a memoir out about my journeys through the psych wards and how I found peace of mind with psych meds (by the grace of God) – you can find it on Amazon here. Since my former profession of case manager at a behavioral clinic, I’ve stepped into the role of stay-at-home mommy to Kylie. And I get to travel the world with Chris, my man in uniform. Aside from that, I could live off mac ‘n cheese, and I still hold onto my aspiration to run a sub-20-minute 5k. Come find me and say hi on social media @KatieRDale. Stay bold, brave, and real.