Hullo there, fellow hobbits and adventurers! As a warning to some who might not be comfortable with this, my challenge will be dealing with a lot of spiritual challenges in my Catholic faith life. If you don't wish to read about such topics, I suggest that you move on to other threads. At the same time, I do value and welcome support from any who wish to join me on my journey!
My name is Hollybell Took, and I live in the rolling hills of the Shire, also known as southern Minnesota. I have had a rather tough time during the past few months as I have battled depression, a binge-eating disorder, horrendous school politics in my teaching job, and a break-up with the man I love most in all the world. Most of all, I have been realizing how out-of-balance my life has become. My goal has always been to keep my faith at the very center of my life, but I feel as though I have neglected my faith for far too long, which feeds into my mental health challenges. A sick spiritual life and mental illness easily contribute to an unhealthy physical life as well.
Lol, as I was typing this, my roommate's cat stretched her paw onto my keyboard and opened an incognito tab. Perhaps the movie Cats and Dogs was onto something?
Because of my incredibly hectic teaching schedule (even more hectic than normal teachers) for 9 months of the year, I decided that trying to make a challenge fit into the usual four-week slot just isn't helpful for me at this time. This is my first actual week of summer break, and I want my challenge to stretch out for the next 12 weeks until I return to work. That sounds pretty ambitious, but I have goals set out with several checkpoints to help me keep track of my progress along the way. I am also requiring myself to seek assistance from others who can help me reach my goals. After all, Frodo couldn't take the Ring to Mordor on his own. He needed help from a variety of different people with unique knowledge and skills. I intend to follow his example by using the friends and guides I have met over the years to help me make this summer the final hurdle I need to overcome in order to achieve a stable life and get back on the path towards sainthood.
I am targeting five specific areas to work on throughout the summer, and I made sure that the action steps I take will help with multiple target areas at once. Rather than make a specific plan like "I want to lose 30 pounds by doing x, y, and z", my goals are designed to help me look at the bigger picture, to regain my perspective on life, and to gain the skills needed to improve my life in the long-term.
Take daily antidepressants and begin taking medication for eating disorder. I only just started treating my depression about two months ago. Wow, I never realized how helpful anti-depressants would be! My new doctor specializes in mental health and eating disorders, and she is really awesome. She and I set up a plan to start taking medication for my binge eating disorder during the summer, once my body has gotten used to the anti-depressants.
See a therapist regularly. This is a bit of a headache since my insurance is changing slightly in July. Once it changes over, I intend to start services with a therapist in my town.
Follow the other goals! I kept the mental health section short because most of the other goals will also be really great for my mental health.
Spiritual Health (Many of these items will only make sense to other Catholics. For non-Catholics, please see my glossary below.)
Ask favorite priest to be my spiritual director; meet at least 3 times during summer. This is sort of like counseling, but only about spiritual things. I have finally come to realize that mental health ≠ spiritual health. Even though they do often go hand-in-hand, I need to address each area separately. I hope to meet at least three times with this priest during the next 12 weeks. In the past, he has always had great advice and resources for me, and I know he will help me stay accountable to the other areas of my prayer life I intend to work on.
Pray a rosary at least five times per week. My summer job involves watering plants at a nursery. It is pretty easy and boring work, so it is easy (and very relaxing) to pray while I work. I want to start with praying the rosary during each of the days that I work and eventually expand to praying it 7 days each week. It only takes about 20 minutes to pray, but I often have trouble motivating myself to get started.
Pray Liturgy of the Hours once per day. LotH is a really awesome form of prayer using Scripture to reflect on God's relationship with humanity. It has been incredibly helpful for my prayer life in the past, and I intend to return to it. It has different prayers for different parts of the day. If I had a LOT of ambition, I could pray it five times each day (for prayers at the morning, day, evening, or night, as well as additional readings). Right now, however, I just want to commit to praying one part of it each day, whether it is the morning, evening, or night prayers.
Spend at least one hour per week with the Eucharist. Yes, this involves physically leaving my apartment to go pray in a chapel. But this is also the best way to reorient my prayer life.
Attend weekly Sunday Mass at new parish and offer to help with music ministry. My roommate and I recently decided to join a different church because our current one doesn't really have an active community, and we felt a little like outsiders there. I have a difficult time going to Church if I don't know people there, so I need to meet people. And music (specifically playing clarinet) is one of the best ways I can serve in the parish and meet the other musicians, at the very least.
Read at least 5 great books this summer. (Currently reading The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. This is seriously an amazing series!) I love reading, but I get VERY easily distracted by Netflix and video games. I want to get back to reading once again. Any fantasy book recommendations are appreciated!
Make Paper Mache decorations for classroom. Pinterest is horrible. It gives me too many ideas of fun things to do for my classroom. Last year, some of my students made these huge, fluffy clouds that now hang from the ceiling in my classroom. I plan to make a paper mache Haku (dragon from Spirited Away) to fly above the clouds. That will be pretty ambitious, so I have some smaller paper mache projects to help me practice. Right now, the plan is to make a bunch of masks to hang on the wall (Majora's Mask, Blue Spirit mask from Avatar, Princess Mononoke's mask, and No-Face from Spirited Away. I welcome any other nerdy mask suggestions!) If I finish the masks and Haku without too much trouble, then I will consider making the floating city of Laputa as well. I don't think it will actually be as hard as it sounds, but it will certainly take a good deal of time. This sounds like I am adding work to my schedule, but it is really relaxing!
Write for at least 5 hours per week. I really want to get into writing. I have a great idea for a fantasy novel, but I get bogged down with world-building and with planning out the plot and characters. I may continue working on the novel this summer, or I might take a break from the novel and work on some short stories. Either way, I want to work on writing in some form throughout the summer. I struggle a lot with accountability for writing. If there are any other writers out there, I would love some advice!
Play music! I used to play clarinet and piano all the time. I still play piano sometimes, but not as often as I would like. I don't have a particular goal for this area. This is just here to remind me that music exists and that I should look to music anytime I am in a rut.
Go canoeing/kayaking 3 times. This is something I have always wanted to get into. I recently found out that a state park nearby rents canoes, and my roommate and I plan to visit her family's cabin to go kayaking sometime soon. I wish I could go more frequently than 3 times, but I need to make sure to go with a buddy since I really don't have a lot of experience with watercraft of any kind. I grew up in one of the only counties in Minnesota without any natural lakes...
Walk to Amon Sul! I absolutely despise going to a gym for exercise. I don't mind the bodyweight exercises on NF, but really I need to spend the summer doing my favorite form of exercise: hiking. I am taking on the "Walk to Mordor" challenge, and by summer's end, I will reach Weathertop, which is 240 miles away. I am using an Android app to help me track my progress.
Year 2018 Trifles: I want to add some fun challenges throughout my travels (similar to the Anniversary Event Trifles, as any other LOTRO players may be familiar with).While I spend the next 12 weeks hiking 240 miles, I will be checking off as many of these items as I can:
Wave to a beaver
Take a picture of a fox
See at least 30 deer
Identify at least 15 different wildflowers
Find a good walking stick
Quack at a duck
Chase a goose (mostly out of revenge for all the times I have been chased by geese)
Find 5 secret writing nooks in the wilderness (nice, lovely places to pull up a chair and start writing)
Take 10 sunset pictures
Take 10 sunrise pictures
Stand under a waterfall
See at least 3 rainbows
Sing "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" to the Evening Star
Visit 5 different state parks
Walk 10 miles in one day
Take a selfie with a squirrel (easier said than done)
Take a picture of an owl
Find an eagle nest
Eat wild raspberries
Hike beneath a full moon
(Any other ideas are welcome! I will happily add any challenges you guys come up with, as long as they are feasible for my geographic area.)
See a dietitian. My doctor recommended that, in addition to treating my binge eating disorder with medication, I also see a dietician to learn some strategies for portion control and healthier eating habits in general. I just need to set up that appointment, and then I can check this off my list and possibly set up a more structured nutritional plan for the summer.
Limit eating out to once per week. Fast food is a really big temptation for me, and I need to stop picking it up. One way I plan to help avoid that temptation is to leave my money at home when I go to work. I only live about 10 minutes from work, so if I do actually need to go buy something, I can stop home and pick up my money. This will keep me from stopping at Culver's or McDonald's on the way home from work.
Cook at least one new recipe each week. I need to get back to looking up fun recipes on NF, Pinterest, and other websites. Generally when I do cook, I eat healthy food. But when I fall into a rut, I eat mostly junk food. It also helps that I really enjoy gardening and currently have a healthy patio garden of herbs and veggies growing. By the end of the summer, I want to have a recipe book so that I can look for inspiration even when I am busy.
I have a couple of different ways I am going to keep myself accountable throughout the summer. I have a habit tracker in my bullet journal which will help me keep track of daily habits such as medication, writing, and eating out, etc. Some of the other goals also involve setting up appointments. I can't really plan a deadline for each meeting without knowing the schedule of the priest, therapist, and dietitian, but I can make a deadline for scheduling an appointment. And I do need to set deadlines, or else I will fall into my usual summer trap of "Oh, but I have all summer to do that. I'll do it later."
By June 24th:
Visit with Gildor and the other elves near Woodhall (41mi)
Finish three paper mache masks
Have the appointment with dietitian
Send email to priest to request spiritual direction
Check off at least 5 trifles
Ask about music ministry at new church and sign up if schedule allows
By July 8:
Rest at Tom Bombadil's House (98mi)
Begin seeing therapist
Go canoeing/kayaking at least once
Check off at least 10 more trifles
Begin paper mache Haku
By July 22:
Reach Bree (135mi)
Finish paper mache Haku, start Laputa if time allows
Check off at least 10 more trifles
By August 5:
Finish the trek through the Midgewater Marshes (198mi)
Check off at least 10 more trifles
Create recipe book (either physical or digital) to track favorite recipes
By August 19:
Reach Weathertop (240mi)
Possibly finish Laputa if time allows
Check off entire list of trifles
Glossary (for Catholic terms many probably don't know):
Eucharist: Lembas bread for humans. Spiritual waybread for the journey.
God: Dungeon Master.
Liturgy of the Hours: Ancient tomes filled with chants, songs, and wisdom of the ancestors.
Music Ministry: A group of bards who support the party (congregation) in battles (Church service).
Priest: Party leader who is actually competent because of the large amount of time spent collaborating with the Dungeon Master.
Rosary: A beaded chain with multiple purposes: whipping roommates in the face, cat toy, devotions to Elbereth (Mary)