Connection and joy: An antidote for the winter blues

Photo courtesy of Jeff Young

The winter months aren’t always kind to us, and the months of January and February are the most notorious for snatching joy right out of our hands and hearts. And that’s just for “normal” folks. But additionally, according to Psychology Today, an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD can have a major impact on the lives of the individuals and families that suffer with it — year after year. Reflecting on winter has me thinking about SAD. You might not be one of the 10 million, but someone you know and love might be. Whether it’s you or someone you love, we all need the same thing. We need connection. We need communion.

I, thankfully, do not suffer from SAD. However, I am no stranger to depression. As a matter of fact, depression has been an unwelcome companion of mine since my early teenage years. Back then I didn’t have a name for the dark heaviness that would fall over me at random times — like a switch being flipped — and remain for two weeks, two months, or longer. It was not until my early 30s that I finally learned my unwelcome companion’s name: depression. That’s when I was first diagnosed with and began to treat depression, and for the first time in my life, I began to recognize that life could be different and better.

Looking back, it’s shocking to me to see the negative impact depression had on my life: failed relationships, lost personal and professional opportunities, missed deadlines, social isolation … struggle, struggle, struggle … seemingly having to work many times harder than others just to get through daily life. 

Perhaps the worst impact has been an underlying sense that God is against me. This pernicious sense sounded something like this: Of course I believe in God’s unconditional love, and I believe in his mercy for everyone. For everyone, that is, except me. Twisted, I know. But that was my underlying sense for decades. 

Photo: RyanJLane/iStock

I’m now 15 years out from when I was first diagnosed, and life today is so much better than before treatment. But I’m still prone to bouts of depression. I still tend to isolate and wallow in my isolation. My own struggles are wrapped up in why I started The Catholic Foodie to begin with. I might not have recognized it at first, but I was really preaching to myself. I needed the message.

And what is the message? That we were made for connection, for communion. During the last 15 years, I’ve learned a few helpful things about depression, about myself, and about life. I’ve learned to accept it and not fight against it. I’ve learned to always make decisions that lead to connection. And I’ve learned — despite the fact that it never feels right and true in the midst of depression — that I have the power to choose joy.

Fighting depression never worked for me. Depression always won. And I would wear myself out in the fight, which only made it worse. I’ve learned that the better approach for me is to simply accept it for what it is. When that switch is flipped and I feel like everything is suddenly turned upside down and everything is difficult, I simply accept it. I accept it and wait for God to meet me right there in the midst of it. During those times, I cling to this simple prayer: “God, I trust you. Jesus, I trust you.” I cannot fight depression, but God does not abandon me. He is with me, and he is for me.

God, I trust you. Jesus, I trust you.

A key element of depression for me is the pull to isolate. To “disappear,” not returning phone calls or emails. To not go out. My sister once called it going on “radio silence.” It’s not that I don’t want to reach out — I do. But in the moment, I feel both terrified and ashamed for being “needy,” as though I would only be a burden to anyone I reached out to. It’s taken years to see through this lie. I now know that anytime I’m presented with a choice to either connect or not, it is best for everyone that I choose to connect. Even if it feels awkward and strained. I now know that once I connect, I will feel better, and so will everyone else in my life.

And finally, I’ve learned that joy is a choice, a choice I can make even when trapped in the darkness of depression. Please note that joy is not a feeling. Joy goes deeper than emotions. Choosing joy is simply choosing the good … good things, good experiences. You can find joy in sunshine, music, going out to eat with friends and family, or staying in and cooking at home.

It’s no secret that I love to cook. The smells that fill the house from onions and garlic sautéing in a skillet, or bread baking in the oven, or bacon frying in a pan all bring me immense joy. As does the incredible smell of a whole chicken roasting in the oven. These are simple reminders of the goodness of God and the goodness of creation and all of life.

Whether you or someone you love is suffering this winter, reach out, connect, and help each other choose joy.

You can find joy in sunshine, music, going out to eat with friends and family, or staying in and cooking at home.



3½- to 4-pound whole chicken

2 to 3 cloves of garlic

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Olive oil

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To prepare

To accommodate the use of a vertical roaster, you may need to remove the oven’s second rack. You will need to place the remaining rack on the lowest possible level. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse and dry the chicken, then set aside. Using a mortar and pestle, beat garlic into a fine paste. Add the lemon juice and zest. Add enough olive oil to give some substance to the paste and to make it spreadable. The oil will help the paste “stick” to the chicken. Use a whisk or a fork to combine the ingredients together to form a “liquid-type” paste.  Rub the paste all over the bird, then season with salt and black pepper (to taste).

Place the vertical roaster on a baking tray or sheet pan. (I use a stone sheet pan.) Push the chicken down onto the vertical roaster so that it sits sturdily with the legs touching the sheet pan. Tuck the wings back behind the neck. Place the sheet pan in the oven.

Set a timer for 20 minutes. At the 20-minute mark, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and reset timer for 40 minutes.

When the time is up, remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest about 10 minutes before serving. I usually carve and serve right from the roaster. I cut away the legs and thighs first, then the wings. That leaves me plenty of room to slice the breast meat while it is still on the roaster.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Young

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Catholic Digest.

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