For a while now I have been frustrated with the new age supremacy in the wellness industry, which has become mainstream (take the latest issue of Happiful peddling tarots as a tool for self-discovery!). I often thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a magazine for Catholics about mental health and wellbeing? There are a couple of podcasts in which Catholic therapists are trying to change the narrative about mental health, but what I was craving was something about wellbeing that appeals to both people who are mentally healthy and people who do have struggles…something on the lifestyle side of things.After a while of hearing in my heart that if I want something that isn’t there why don’t I just go for it myself, and coming up with the expected litany of “but who am I to do such a thing? Why would anyone listen? I’m not qualified etc” I took it to Mass and realised I don’t really need to be qualified. Journalists always rely on others for the expert opinion anyway, so all I need to do is approach it from the one thing I know how to do, and let the rest fall into place. Perhaps no one will listen, but I’ll learn something in the process, so that’s OK.
This series will be simple: every week I will look at a topic, inspired by what is going on in the mainstream wellness industry, and give a Catholic take on it based on the Catechism, the writings of the saints, and talks by contemporary experts. There will be my favourite things in lifestyle if you need some inspiration, and most importantly a relevant Bible passage for us to ponder in whichever way you like (Lectio Divina, Ignatian imaginative prayer, the sky is the limit). I will do my best to keep things interesting to women and men alike, but it’s to be expected that the lifestyle recommendation will be (in some cases) slanted towards women for obvious reasons. If you want me to include specific ones for men, just drop me a comment here or on social media and I’ll share Mr Alessia’s favourites too. I’d otherwise move from the assumption I lost my male readers when I stopped writing about politics.
This week’s post will likely be longer than future ones because of this introduction, please bear with me.
“True peace is serenity of mind, tranquillity of soul, simplicity of heart, the bond of love, the fellowship of charity” (Caesarius of Arles)
The saying goes: you cannot pour from an empty well. It should be no surprise, then, that one of the first things that go out of the window in cases of depression is taking care of oneself. Our energy drops, showers become sporadic, we live in our PJs for days on end, if we eat at all it’s whatever we can find that is not a hassle to make rather than nourishing meals made with love. If you are a parent, this might resemble life with a newborn too, or so I gather.
The CCC 357 reminds us of the truth with find in Genesis: “Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something but someone”. At its heart self-care is about honouring that dignity in ourselves, and extending to ourselves the same charity and compassion that we give to others. In the Gospels, we are told that the second-highest commandment is to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves first, it’s not that loving to love others as ourselves. This isn’t a green light for egoism and pride, which really is the opposite of loving ourselves if we think about its consequences. Rather, it is living out St Irenaeus’ famous quote that “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive, and to be alive consists in beholding God”.
While many great saints have undergone extreme mortification and ascetic practices, Fr Garrigou-Lagrange in his lectures to the religious collected in “Knowing the Love of God” correctly reminds us that we need, first and foremost, to mortify our hearts so they are not divided (p. 154). If our egos are not mortified, any external mortification can easily result in spiritual pride and other spiritual sins as written by St John of the Cross (p.156). So self-care is not an un-Christian thing to do: we all eat, we all drink, we all sleep and before this pandemic taught us the words of St Alphonsus of Liguori by heart we all frequented the sacraments (if not prevented by any serious reason). This is all self-care, whatever companies trying to sell scented candles, beauty products, and craft gin subscription boxes try to say.
First of all, let’s start with our spiritual needs. While confessions are out of reach fr many of us, we can still take a look at our lives for ourselves and tell God we’re sorry in our private prayer. It doesn’t reunite us with God and His Church in the same way that sacramental confession does, but it can prepare us for when that time comes. My favourite tool is the Examination of Conscience by Blessed is She
Another helpful thing is my friend Brita’s blog post on acts of self-care if depressed.It’s relevant to us all in this pandemic, and gives us small tasks based on how much we can cope with at any one time, in all the basic categories of self-care.
If we are feeling down and need a boost, this Blessed is She’s Teachable Tuesday video on what God says I am is a great collection of Scripture passages to pray over ourselves to be reminded of the truth of our own identity.
A pastime that is very soothing for me is colouring. I have a number of books and physical pens but I also use my iPad a lot. It’s not great to go screen-free but it can help have a relaxing 10 minutes without running out of access to pens or paper at a time when most shops are closed. It’s called Happy Colour by Number and it’s also available on Android.
Reading a paperback is a great thing to do for self-care, especially to wind down before bed or if you are doing a screen-fast (which I tend to do on Sundays). At the moment I am reading my friend Jack Ori’s new book “Reinventing Hannah“.
Rooted in the Word
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”