by Jarrod Jones
In 2004, I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar II Disorder. This disorder is more clinically depressive in nature with minor bouts of mania. It’s a lighter version of Classic Bi-Polar, but savage nonetheless. I’ll spare you the horror stories.
After diagnosis, I was put on three different types of medication. * In early 2010, guided by my family doctor, I weaned off all medication. Three years later I am healthier in mind, body, and spirit than ever (though I still have moments).
By God’s grace, I have developed disciplines and habits that give me victory. But before I get into those seven habits, let me give you some context.
In years of 2004 – 2009, my wife, Christie, helped me embark on a journey of healing through natural means (while still on medication at the time). The premise behind the pursuit of natural healing was that I needed to heal my gut before my body would absorb the nutrients I needed for my brain. We learned through research, and I learned through experience, that our guts are truly our “second brains.”
I recommend some resources at the end of this article for you in light of natural healing of your “second brain.” ** Christie and I are convinced that my diligence to spend a year focused on healing my digestive system made a powerful difference in my mental health. Perhaps you’ll discover the same. However, that’s just the beginning of a lifelong pursuit and maintenance of health as well. So in addition I highly recommend the following seven habits for your life:
I go to bed at 9pm (or earlier) with the goal to get 7 – 8 hours. I am able to do this even though I am a pastor, husband, and father of four children ages 8 to 3 years old. There are exceptions to that bed-time, but I refuse for the exceptions to ever become the rule. Sleep is for my good and my family’s joy.
It’s one thing to be unable to sleep. But it’s foolish to deprive one’s self of sleep, for any reason, as a pattern. You are headed for mental and physical disaster if you do. Cut out all caffeine after 2:00pm so it doesn’t interfere with your sleep. Avoid television, social media, and checking email, an hour before you go to bed also.
Adequate sleep has to be a non-negotiable in your life.
I love sugar. But it’s poison. Fast food is delicious. But it will rot you from the inside out. Same goes for fried foods, white breads, pastas, soft drinks, sugary fruit drinks, and processed anything. I drink water and coffee. I only allow myself to eat/drink the bad stuff once a week, if at all. Personally, the wonderful taste isn’t worth the repercussions on my mind and body. Greens, protein, and raw nuts ought to be your staple diet. Eat as much of it as you want! Then once a week, pick and enjoy your poison.
I know my limits. I’ve learned the hard way. So I set boundaries in my life that I almost never cross. This limits me “professionally,” pastor ally, and even relational outside of my family at times. So be it.
My boundaries morph with different seasons of my life (seasons I can’t control), and of course, there are times exceptions must be made. But here are some personal boundaries I hold fast to:
I do not do anything that will keep me out at night after 9pm.
I shifted elder meetings from nights to Saturday mornings.
I only miss one night a week from dinner with my family.
I only eat sugar and carbs once a week. At dinners/events I will either make that my “cheat” meal(s), or I’ll eat salad and drink water and skip all the good stuff even if it might be offensive.
I don’t watch TV much, especially late at night, because it winds me up.
I avoid Facebook like the plague. Grace admins a page on my behalf that connects with our people and posts tweets and blog posts for me.
I turn down opportunities for travel, speaking, and ministry if it threatens healthy patterns I’ve set up in my life.
I don’t take on too many projects personally or professionally so as not to add stress. I’ve learned to gauge “seasons” when I can take on more, or when I should say no to more.
Even though I am a pastor, I still get to choose my friends and whom I spend time with. I do not spend much time with people who are pessimistic, opinionated, negative, obnoxious, deflating, and complaining (another reason I avoid Facebook).
At the end of the day, I have learned the art of “no” even if it hurts people’s feelings. And so should you. My walk with Jesus, my family, and my health are first. Fifty years from now all that will matter is my walk with Jesus, my family, and my health–and not what I missed on TV, not what great opportunities I missed, not how many Facebook friends I had, and not what people said or thought of me because I didn’t cater to their needs and issues at their beckoned call.
Boundaries protect me. Boundaries protect those I love from me. If you don’t set and stick to your boundaries, something or someone else will dictate your life. Then you’ll constantly live in a mental/emotional danger zone. Set your boundaries and ruthlessly guard them.
Four to five days a week, I exercise…hard. I workout for sanity, not six pack abs. I make time for it by going to bed at 9pm so I can get up at 5am to do so. Even when sleep fails me I do not skip workouts, ever.
You need exercise in your life. But you do not need a gym membership. I haven’t had one in two years. My gym is my living room and garage. My equipment is mostly just my body. For variation, I have a jump rope, kettle bell, two 30lb dumbbells, and a Pilates ball. But I mostly do intense body weight exercises for 15-20 minutes, four – five times a week. I highly recommend www.fitnessblender.com if you need immediate direction, motivation, and even demonstration of exercises and workouts. You can also check back at my personal blog (www.jarrodjones.com) as I post my own full workouts, or mid-day energizers.
Whether swinging a kettle bell or doing burpees, burning muscles and heavy breathing are therapeutic and relieving to a stressed life. Our minds need release through our sweaty bodies. Make it a non-negotiable, and get to it!
My wife, Christie, provides safety for me. She has invited me, pleaded with me actually, to “let her in.” She sees the signs of struggle before I do and cautions me. When the deathly shadows creep into my mind, I confess to her as best I can. She prays for me, speaks Truth over me, gives grace to me, loves me and encourages me through it.
Also, I highly recommend gospel-centered, Bible-anchored, Christian counseling for any particularly difficult seasons you go through mentally and emotionally. There is absolutely no shame in it. Don’t avoid your support. Lean into it.
I don’t deny or avoid what is going on inside of me. When I sense the shadows creeping in, I first try to figure out why. Have I been foregoing sleep? Has my diet been bad lately? Have I shirked exercise? Or… am I seeking happiness in my circumstances? Am I finding my worth in someone or something other than Jesus? From there I make adjustments to my sleep patterns, eating, and so forth until my mind and body adjusts. Or, I repent of my idolatry. Face the truth about your life and do any necessary tweaking, and repenting.
The utter madness with bi-polar depression is that the “why” can’t often be identified. So while the previous six lifestyle habits are good stewardship of my mind and body, it is not where I seek refuge. I seek refuge in Christ. I preach to myself the Truths of Scripture to light my path through the darkness: I am broken by sin. Jesus is enough for me. I am made for another World. My struggle is not forever. He will give me strength until this passes. God will use this “thorn” for His glory, my good, and other’s joy. When the shadows crawl into your mind, crawl into the shadow of the Cross.
By God’s grace neither you nor I have to live in defeat. God has given us His wisdom, His provision (including medication), His Truth, and His Holy Spirit to fight the good fight, even when the fight is with our broken minds.
* Medication is a gift from God for illnesses, physical AND mental. Do not cease taking medication without your doctor’s authorization, counsel, and guidance.
** Recommended resources for healing your “second brain”Website: www.truehope.com
Jarrod Jones is the Lead Pastor of Grace Community Church, Orange County, New York. Two years in a row, Grace has been named one of the fastest growing churches in America by Outreach Magazine.
Follow Jarrod on Twitter at @jarrodjones. You can get his free e-book 13 Ways to Ruin Your Life by subscribing to his blog: www.jarrodjones.com