Shawna Atteberry

Baker, Writer, Teacher

What I’m Reading: Nonfiction

selective focus photo of pile of assorted title books

Wintering by Katherine Mays is a memoir written when Mays’ health forced her to take a sabbatical from her job. Her own personal winter (depression) happened during an actual winter. Mays brilliantly interweaves navigating her depression while navigating winter. As she explores winter as a time when we do pull away from the world to survive the cold weather, she compares it to navigating her own internal winter of depression, and the withdrawal and introspection that is called for in both circumstances. She also illustrates the paradox of winter’s withdrawal with the need to keep close to family and friends as well to survive both the cold months and depression as they rage on. I appreciate the fact that Mays has no easy answers, and it is a wonderful memoir of how navigating depression (any time of the year) is both a solitary and communal endeavor.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It Came to Pass: Rolling with Life Changes

Life changes
Life changes, so I bake.

How life changes never ceases to amaze me. In my most recent post on Lenten practices, I tagged a post I had written in 2008. First, how can 2008 be 13 years ago? Then I stumbled onto this little gem from that time that I had totally forgotten about:

I am a night owl, and I’ve always done my best and most creative work in the wee hours. It’s after midnight. It’s quiet and dark. I can hear myself think and for some reason, in the wee hours, I don’t mind hearing those thoughts.

Last month I started staying up working until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. I get up around 10:00 a.m., pray morning prayers and practice contemplative prayer then I start working between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. and go until around 5:00. Now it’s time to practice yoga, make supper, and spend time with The Hubby. Then sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., I get back to work (usually closer to 10:30 p.m. because I have to have my Jon Stewart fix).

Changing Routines

After I got over laughing at myself because this schedule did not last for long, it amazed me how much both my schedule and life itself had changed. The largest change has come in managing my clinical depression. I’ve been off the anti-depressants for a few years now, and I manage it with spiritual practices (yes, I still pray the Morning Office), exercise, and eating better. An incredible support network and a wonderful psychiatrist also does wonders for one’s mental health.

I no longer have problems with maintaining mundane, daily activities like taking showers and keeping up with my home because I have created routines to help me with all of this so that I don’t actively have to think about it. Like today, after I co-taught a Citizenship Class, I exercised, took a shower, wiped down the bathroom, and made the bed because that is the Tuesday and Thursday routine. The morning routine is cleaning out the dishwasher while I wait for coffee, so that way the dirty dishes have a place to go throughout the day and don’t pile up (I cannot tell you how much this one routine has changed my kitchen). Talk about life changes.

I also hope I’m not that whiny and navel-gazing anymore. To be honest, I aggravated myself a bit reading that. Talk about first-world problems. Don’t get me wrong: they’re problems, but not near the problems I once thought they were. Perspective is a marvelous thing (as well as good friends telling you to stop taking yourself so seriously).

It Came to Pass

This is one of the reasons I like writing–especially journaling: the memory grows fuzzy, and I forget. I remember when I was in the throes of the deep, deep depression in 2008-2009, I thought it would never end, but it did. Not only did it end, but now I have trouble remembering how deep that pit was. I think that’s another thing for us to remember as we go through this Lent and continue through this pandemic. One day it will be over. In a few years, the memories will start to grow fuzzy around the edges. As we used to joke in one of the churches I once attended: It came to pass.

What does that mean? It’s a phrase that’s all over the King James Version of the Bible: “And it came to pass.” Most of you will know the passage from the Birth of Jesus: “And it came to pass in those days Mary gave birth….” Why did we use to joke about this phrase? To remind ourselves things literally came to pass. Feeling sad over how long it’s been since you hugged your friends at church? Don’t worry: it came to pass. Sheltering in place have you depressed? Don’t worry: it came to pass.

Of course, this goes for the good stuff too. Your internal hermit overjoyed because you have an excuse not to go anywhere? Enjoy it: it came to pass. Are you ecstatic over all of the baking you’ve gotten to do because the pandemic pretty much halted your job search? Why yes, I am enjoying it because it came to pass.

Life Changes

Change is inevitable, even when we wonder if we’ll ever be comfortable going without a mask indoors again. It will pass. Life changes, always.

What has come to pass in your life? Did you think something would never end, and now you now have fuzzy memories about it? What advice would you give someone who was waiting for the “it came to pass” moment?

Depression and Spiritual Direction

October 2-8 was National Mental Illness Awareness Week. I’m a little late to the party, but this week I’m going to post on my own struggles with clinical depression. This article was originally posted on July 31, 2007. It is also posted on the Spiritual Directors International website.

I sat in my car and took a breath. This would be the first time I met with my spiritual director. I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I needed to do this. I needed someone to help me find my way out of the depression that had darkened my life and back to intimacy with God. I hadn’t sinned or wandered off–nothing so dramatic. What I had been for the last five years was busy. First I attended seminary plus worked a full-time job. After seminary, the full-time job continued, and I added a part-time pastoral position. Somewhere in the midst of preparing for ministry and actual ministry, I had lost my own way with God. I was tired, burnt-out, and I needed help. I had also been diagnosed with clinical depression and was on anti-depressants. But I needed someone to help me sort through all of the negative images and feeling; I needed someone to help give me hope. I needed someone to talk to without one more person to tell me to hang in there and just “have faith.” I needed someone who could listen to me–listen to my story–then help me to connect my story back to God in my daily living. I found help with my depression from a source I had not known about until a retreat at a Benedictine monastery: a spiritual director.

Depression is a reality of life. One in ten people suffer from some form of depression, with women experiencing depression twice as often as men. Depression used to carry a heavy stigma with it. It was thought we should be able to shake it out of ourselves and get on with life. It was a very painful stigma for Christian women because the assumption was that something was wrong with our relationship with God. If we would pray more or serve more, or have more faith, then surely the depression would magically disappear. Thanks to new studies we have learned that depression also affects us physically and not just mentally and emotionally. There are anti-depressants to now get our brain chemistry right with the chemicals we need to be healthy. Christian women like Ruth Graham and Sheila Walsh have also told their own stories of dealing with depression. There are several treatments for depression: anti-depressants, counseling with a therapist or pastor, and groups to listen and offer help and advice. I found help through these avenues, but I also discovered a spiritual director essential in helping me come to grips with my depression and deal with the root causes of it.

One of the things my spiritual director helped me with the most was my self-perception. It’s amazing how much depression can warp our perception, especially our self-perceptions. When I was in the midst of my depression, I couldn’t see anything good in myself or good for my future. It was a downward spiral of self-loathing and self-negation. I could not see who I really was or what I was capable of. I also had no ambition. All I wanted to do was lie on my couch and channel surf all day. I did not want to go to work, to church, see friends, or move. I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to be in a situation where my own worst fears about myself could be confirmed. If they only knew… echoed in my head. I had become my own worst enemy.

To get out of this cycle took more than one thing. I had gone on an anti-depressant, but I also needed someone I could talk to. That’s when I discovered spiritual directors. A spiritual director is a mature Christian that guides another Christian into seeing how God is working in his or her everyday life. Spiritual direction helps a person to evaluate his or her life and see where God is working and moving. It is a process of making us more aware of the presence of God, and disciplines we can practice to make space for God in our lives. The relationship can be formal between a trained spiritual director and directee, or informally, between two friends at church. Pastors, Sunday School teachers, and small group leaders can also be spiritual directors. I chose a trained spiritual director: Sister Mary Pat. She offered the structure and guidance I needed to see who I really was and what God was doing in my life. These are the key elements she brought to me:

Accountability. I was more aware of how God was working in my life on a daily basis knowing that my spiritual director would be asking “What has God been saying to you?” the next time we met. Instead of feeling like God was so far away, I became more aware of how God was working in my daily life, especially through my friends. Sister Mary Pat also held me accountable on my own spiritual disciplines. I was fine with telling her that I slacked off on prayer once, but to have to report that twice can be a difficult thing. Knowing I would be telling my director about my weekly disciplines was the catalyst I needed to stay on track. This also kept me on track with my daily life as well: getting to work, going out with friends, going to church–the things I needed to do to give me perspective and lead me out of the self-loathing bubble I had created for myself.

Fidelity. My spiritual director told me the single most important thing I could do was to be faithful to God: to both my time with God and what God had called me to do. American society is addicted to quick fixes and instant gratification, but God does not work that way. There is also no one way to nurture our relationships with God. Listening to God and being faithful to what God is calling us to do is the most important thing we can do. As we pray, listen, and obey in our daily lives, our faithful response to God will open up avenues for God’s grace to flood our lives. I learned the importance of being faithful to God, whether I felt liked it or not. I also discovered that God was faithful to show me the areas of my life that needed God’s healing. But I had to give God time and space to do that.

Objective viewpoint. Having an objective viewpoint while I worked through consequences from past actions, as well as some misperceptions about God, was a great help. I found out the roots of my depression went back to my misperceptions about God that I had had since I was a child. I grew up with a very angry God who was just waiting for me to do something wrong, so God could get me. I also had to deal with consequences from a sinful time in my past, and then forgive myself and let God heal me of that time in my life. My spiritual director gave me a balance between seeing myself as a helpless victim on one side and blaming myself for everything on the other. All of us have blind spots, and none of us view ourselves the way we really are. A spiritual director can help open our eyes to those blind spots, and lovingly show us the areas in our lives where we are not obeying God. He or she can also give us guidance in how we can turn away from those ungodly ways and become more like Christ. On the positive side, a spiritual director can also tells us what we’re doing right, and how he or she sees God working in our life, when we’re not seeing anything good in ourselves or our lives.

A friend of mine discovered that having a spiritual director helped her work through theological questions she had. As she went through seminary she had questions about God, and she wished she had someone to talk to. Now that she has a spiritual director, she wishes that she would have known about spiritual directors a lot sooner than she did. We all have theological questions. How does God work in our lives? Our families? Our neighborhoods? Our enemies’ lives? Our world? A spiritual director can help us see where God is working in all of our lives, and not just those areas we consider spiritual. All of these questions also played a role in my depression, and my spiritual director helped me find biblical answers to these questions.

Discernment. After the depression, I continued to see my spiritual director. I wanted to make sure that the habits and things I had learned, I would stick with. I’m glad I did. Not long after I worked my way through the depression, and the root causes of it, I went through major life changes. Sister Mary Pat helped me to navigate and discern God’s will through those changes. I had lived in Kansas City for eight years and been an assistant or associate editor for my denomination’s Sunday School curriculum for six years. I had bought a house, and spent four years getting it just the way I wanted it. Then a relationship with one of my best friends took a turn toward the romantic. The problem? He lived in Chicago.

I talked and prayed with my small group at church and with close friends. I also received guidance from my spiritual director. By this time Sister Mary Pat knew me very well, and she asked very pointed and sometimes hard questions, to help me discern God’s leading. I felt released from my calling as an editor, and not a year later I was moving to Chicago and marrying my best friend. Now on the other side, I can say this was God’s will. I am very grateful for my director helping me to see the new vistas God was leading me into. I also know that if I start sinking back into depression, that I have the tools she gave me to help me navigate through it. (I did find another spiritual director here in Chicago who has helped with discerning God’s calling and my vocation for this time in my life.)

The best benefit of spiritual direction is being more aware of God’s presence in our lives and having a more intimate relationship with God. It was also wonderful to know I wasn’t alone. Sister Mary Pat would tell me of the times she struggled with depression, and how God faithfully saw her through. I didn’t have to feel ashamed. Depression is a part of life. All of us deal with it. I found out that it’s okay to ask for help.

I am very glad that I got out of my car that day. The year I saw my spiritual director, I came to see that God really was working in all of my life, and that God cared about the things that I desired and wanted. I found out that deepening my relationship with God takes time, solitude, and fidelity. But it was worth the time–even when I wasn’t seeing any results. I now know that God is working and moving in my life, and I have resources that I can use to help me deepen my relationship with God. And the next time I feel like I need spiritual direction, I won’t hesitate to get out of my car.

If you would like to explore spiritual direction and find out how a spiritual director can help you in your walk with God, discerning God’s calling in your life, or your vocation in the world, I would love talk to you. Please Email Me .

Throw It to God

October 2-8 was National Mental Illness Awareness Week. I’m a little late to the party, but this week I’m going to post on my own struggles with clinical depression. This post was originally published on October 19, 2007.

I don’t take too much literally. My favorite genre of fiction is fantasy after all. But there is one verse in the Bible I do get very literal with as a way to cope with depression and the anxiety and worry that accompany it (or do the anxiety and worry come first then the depression–chicken and egg, I guess). The verse is: “Cast all your cares on God for God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, my paraphrase). I like the wordplay of the two “cares” when translated this way.

This is one of the meditation techniques I use to control worry and anxiety. I sit with my eyes closed and picture a worry or anxiety then I throw it to God. Then I think (or say aloud) God cares for me. Then I go on to the next one and the one after that until I’ve tossed all my worries and fears to God. Now I do mean toss. I don’t picture myself hurling these things at God. It’s more like when my dad and I used play catch in the backyard. My dad was a slow pitch, softball pitcher for years, so throwing balls in the yard was a family pastime. Normally, it was a three way of Dad, my sister, and me. Sometimes Mom would join in (don’t feel sad for Mom: she’s the one who taught us how to swing a bat. She was a better batter than Dad was. Not to mention she was probably glad to get the three of us out of the house and her hair for awhile.) So we’d play catch, and I would throw the ball to Dad, and he’d toss it back to me. That’s how I picture this meditation, but I don’t get the ball back because I have whole supply I need to get rid of. In fact, when I picture my worry, fear, or anxiety, it’s always in the shape of a ball. I throw it to God who catches it, who then says, “Okay toss me another one.” I never see where the balls go. One minute they’re in God’s mitt, and the next they’re gone.

I did this a couple of days ago when the anxiety was getting overwhelming. I find the imagery of the action of literally throwing my cares to God to really help me let go of them and know God will take care of me and the things that are worrying me. That’s why I say or think “God cares for me” after each throw. What I’ve thrown to God is in good hands, and so am I.

Related Links:
Another Journey with Depression
Fogs of Depression
Depression and Spiritual Direction
The Last Couple of Weeks

Battling Depression and Sloth: Routine and Ritual

October 2-8 was National Mental Health Week. I’m a little late to the party, but this week I’m going to post on my own struggles with clinical depression. This post was originally published on December 4, 2008.

I am becoming very content with having a routine: praying at set times (Morning prayers and Compline or Vigils) or doing a little housework and laundry to maintain the order of my house. I like reading and writing in the afternoon and the wee hours, walking in the morning, and practicing yoga in the evening. And I am thinking that routine may be more than the same old drudgery we tend to define it as.

Kathleen Norris started me thinking about the value of routine in her latest book: Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. What is acedia you wonder? Acedia is from the Greek akedos, which means the absence of care. Wikipedia defines it as apathy or laziness. Its more commonplace synonym is sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. This is one of the seven deadly sins I am the most acquainted with. Me and acedia (or sloth) are on a first-name basis. Here is one of Norris’ descriptions of acedia:

One of the first symptoms of both acedia and depression is the inability to address the body’s basic daily needs. It is also a refusal of repetition. Showering, shampooing, brushing the teeth, taking a multivitamin, going for a daily walk, as unremarkable as they seem, are acts of self-respect. They enhance the ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world. But the notion of pleasure is alien to acedia, and one becomes weary thinking about doing anything at all.

Taking care of ourselves and where we live, are signs of self-respect. Signs that we take pleasure in our lives, in others, in what we do, and in who we are. When we let sloth in, it really does suck the pleasure out of life. When I let acedia have its way, I have trouble getting off the couch, let alone writing a chapter or picking up the clutter.

I live these paragraphs more often than I want to admit. Like Norris, I don’t know if acedia leads to my depression, or if the clinical depression makes me more susceptible to acedia. I do know the two tag-team me on a regular basis, if not a daily basis.

So much of the time I just don’t care. I don’t care what gets done and what doesn’t get done. I don’t care if I write or not. There are times I don’t care if I shower or not. I have no ambition, no energy, and no drive to accomplish anything.

I mindlessly surf the net, mindlessly watch TV, mindlessly stare into space. And I don’t want to do anything else. Norris notes that repetition is what fills our days. Life is a routine of daily activities: getting up, showering, eating, cleaning, working, and playing. These are the rituals of life–from putting on clothes to making the bed to rinsing out the tub–these are the daily activities that keep us connected to life, connected to each other, and connected to ourselves.

In prayer a couple of months ago, I asked God to make me aware of her presence in my everyday rituals, to remember God was with me in the making of my bed and in making wholesome meals. That’s when it hit me that everyday routines were rituals. Not only rituals to bring us closer to God, but rituals to take care of ourselves. This is Brother Lawrence’s wisdom that worship in the kitchen making meals was every bit as important as worship in chapel taking communion.

Instead of routine, I am slowly starting to think of the daily motions of my life as ritual. Something I do because I am important, and I am worthy of taking care of myself and my surroundings. It’s slow going, but I think that is because there is no quick fix. It takes a combination of prayer, yoga, meditation, daily routines, antidepressants, and the daily discipline to do small things such as making the bed or taking a shower. But I feel better.

I also think that realizing my routine was not the 9-5 one our world glorifies in has had a major impact on how I feel and function. I am a night owl, and I’ve always done my best and most creative work in the wee hours. It’s after midnight. It’s quiet. It’s dark. I can hear myself think and for some reason, in the wee hours, I don’t mind hearing those thoughts.

Last month I started staying up working until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. I get up around 10:00 a.m., pray morning prayers and practice contemplative prayer then I start working between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. and go until around 5:00. Now it’s time practice yoga, make supper, and spend time with The Hubby. Then sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., I get back to work (usually closer to 10:30 p.m. because I have to have my Jon Stewart fix).

I am finding a lot of self-acceptance in this process. Accepting that I keep different hours, that I need that order and routine of the Daily Office, need to clean off the coffee table and keep the tub somewhat clean. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and crocheting, but now I am finding sacramental moments in creating meals and creating gifts for others. I like the journey I am on, and I hope it gets me through this winter better than the last two.

Chicago winters are brutal if you have depression and tend towards Seasonal Affective Order. Depression and sloth are knocking on my door, and they will be held in check until after Christmas. But January and February. . . That’s when I become a big slug who doesn’t care if I get off the couch. I have not made it through the last two winters well. But I am hoping to do better this year in adding routine and ritual to Vitamin D, B complex, antidepressants, prayer, and yoga. Well, actually, I’m hoping to keep practicing yoga and exercising regularly. That is something I have yet to accomplish in the winter gloom. But I have hope. Hope that the little things do make a difference and that if I keep doing the little things every day, I will eventually become whole and healthy.

Related Posts:

What Are You Saying to Yourself?
Another Jouney with Depression
Fogs of Depression

Depression and Spiritual Direction

Small steps to break the guilt-avoidance-depression-apathy mode

Julia Chernikova/PhotoExpress

It’s been a few days since I posted. After I said that through the month of October I was going to post everyday Monday-Saturday. It’s been almost a week. Tuesday I started going into guilt and avoidance mode. Then that started alternating with the hurry-worry mode of “OK I need to do this, this and this NOW” which of course led to the overwhelmed mode, which circled back to guilt and avoidance mode. It’s a vicious cycle, and the cycle tends to make the clinical depression start waving it’s head and it’s cycles of apathy, vegging out in front of the TV, and lethargy. I realized what was going on yesterday and said enough.

Part of the problem is I am not taking care of myself. I’m not exercising nor am I eating right (or all that healthy). So today I decided to make time for exercise (instead of seeing if I had time), and being more mindful about what I eat. I walked today, and I’ve been making sure to get my fruit and veggies in. I’m making sure I say my daily prayers, and I need to start meditating again. Not to mention getting enough sleep. I’m looking at the minimum self-care routines I need to stay healthy, happy, and functional. Earlier this week I had my first meeting with a spiritual director I really like. That was a step in the right direction too, and one I’ve been putting off for far too long.

That also means getting back to blogging. Yes I fell off the horse. But it’s time to admit that I did, and get back up. It’s time to say I’m sorry for not doing what I would say I would do. And it’s time to start doing it. I took little steps today. But they were important. It broke the hold apathy had started to have, and it also bit into the depression that was beginning to cloud my mind. Tomorrow I will take more little steps: I will go to yoga class, be mindful about eating again, and write another blog post. I will also start planning out my next vlog. I will get back on track.

Stay tuned for more things about the women in the Bible you didn’t know. And yes, I am still releasing my first product at the end of this month.

What do you do when you notice yourself falling into unhealthy cycles? What little steps do you take that make a big difference?

RevGals Friday Five: Staving off the gloom edition

Sally writes:

Candlemass is past, and Christmas is well and truly over, here in the UK February looks set to be its usual grey and cold self. Signs of spring are yet to emerge; if like me you long for them perhaps you need ways to get through these long dark days. So lets share a few tips for a cold and rainy/ snowy day….

1. Exercise, what do you do if you can’t face getting out into the cold and damp?

This is why I joined a gym, so I would get some regular exercise. The gym is in the building behind ours, so I only have to walk across the alley, and I’m there. I love swimming. Swimming has always comforted me and made me happy, so I’m very glad to have year round access to a pool now. Restorative yoga also helps.

2. Food; time to comfort eat, or time to prepare your body for the coming spring/summer?

My comfort food is macaroni and cheese and polenta, especially grilled polenta. Along with home baked bread and dairy products.

3. Brainpower; do you like me need to stave off depression, if so how do you do it?

My lightbox has been a Godde send. It has really helped me get through these dark gloomy days. Praying the Daily Office also helps me a lot.

4. How about a story that lifts your spirits, is there a book or film that you return to to stave off the gloom?

For movies anything by Hayao Miyazaki and Disney/Pixar along with Under the Tuscan Sun. For books anything by Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley, and Little Women.

5. Looking forward, do you have a favourite spring flower/ is there something that says spring is here more than anything else?

Tulips, daffodils, and lilac.

Bonus; post a poem/ piece of music that points to the coming spring……

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, The Spring.

An I'm Doing Really Good Update

Hey everyone! I wanted to let all of you know that I am doing much, much better. The change in my anti-depressant seems to be just what I needed, and I have perked up considerably. Thank you so much for all of your prayers, comments, and emails. I really appreciate it.

The Whose Church Is It Anyway? conference went very well. I had a great time and met a lot of wonderful people, including another former Nazarene! My workshop went fine, and I had a great group of patient people. Which is a good thing. I find out on my first workshop that leading a workshop is considerably different than teaching a class, preaching a sermon, or leading a discussion. I am going to need a lot more practice. But my group of people were great in letting me think and change course when we needed to, and they were a chatty bunch. Now I will be more prepared for the next time out and I know that I need to practice, practice, practice.

All of you know the saying “Behind every great (or successful) man is a good woman.” I beginning to think that the opposite is true as well. Not that I’m great or successful, but if I ever to make it to great or successful (whatever that is), it will be because of my wonderful husband, Tracy. While I’ve been striking out on my own in writing, and now speaking, he has been and is my biggest fan. He believes in me when I don’t (which is often), and keeps cheering  me on to do what I want to do and believes that I can do it.

Julia Child said in My Life in France that without Paul Child there would be no Julia Child. That will be true for me as well. If I succeed at doing what I want to do: publish books and travel around speaking, it will because of my husband. Without Tracy Atteberry, there will be no Shawna R. B. Atteberry.

A Lessed Depressed Update

Hey all! The extra Lexapro is helping, and I am feeling much better. Sometimes brain chemistry just needs a little help. My husband has been absolutely incredible and deserves a post all to himself, which I don’t have time to write at the moment. I married well, and he’s incredibly encouraging and supportive.

I’ve spent most of this week working on the “Getting to Know the Women of the Bible” workshop for the Whose Church Is It Anyway? conference. The conference is put on by the Chicago Episcopal Diocese for all those who work in formation with children, teens, and adults. It looks like it’s going to be a great conference. My workshop is on Saturday 1:30–2:45 p.m. Please be praying for me. I’ll be heading out on the train to Mundelein tomorrow at 9:00 a.m., which means I will be heading to bed very soon. I’ll be getting in a couple of hours before the conference starts. This turns out to be a good thing as I still have the slide presentation to do. But the workshop itself and handouts are done.

Thank you for all of your prayers and support this last week. I needed them and felt them. You are wonderful friends, and I’m glad to know all of you.