I talk honestly and openly about my experiences with mental illness, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome through the lens of feminism, fat acceptance and process theology. I also do recipe and book reviews. My mission is to spread the message that hope is always real for a better life, despite living in a world that is often very harsh.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hugging Does Not Always Help Anxiety - A Lesson in Rape Culture

They pretended to know it all but were illiterate regarding life. (308, The Message Bible)
A couple weekends ago, I attended an arts festival with some friends. I enjoyed spending time with them, even though the festival wasn't quite as good as I thought it would be. At one point, the booths got closer together and the noise got considerably louder, both of which made one of my friends anxious. We were trying to get away from the noise when we came upon a group of young people who had a booth for "free hugs." They were blocking the road, shouting "Free Hugs!" at the top of their lungs and would step towards people, whether the person wanted them to or not. My friend did not want to hug them. To be honest, neither did I.

 "No, thank you," she replied to their advances.

"Oh, come on, everyone loves hugs!" they said.

 "Not right now, I don't," she countered.

 "Yes, you do!" they enthused. They continued to push.

"I HAVE ANXIETY!!" she finally yelled.

"Hugging is good for anxiety!" they said, laughing.

Amazed at their lack of insight and genuine listening or caring, we rushed to the other side of the road, onto the grass as far as we could, so that we would not be forced to hug against our will.

I am not against hugging. But unlike some people, I do not feel like hugging 100% of the time, especially when I am stressed. Contrary to what those young people thought, touch is not always good for anxiety. In fact, many times it is not. When I am anxious and on the verge of a panic attack, my plan of defense is to be as alone as possible in as quiet of an area as possible. Touching may trigger tears, which I am trying to avoid when in public. In those times, it is far better for me to get to where I can be alone, take a few minutes of deep breathing and pull myself together, so that I can enjoy the rest of my day without further incident, instead of hugging someone, crying my eyes out and causing a scene. This need is not unique to me but is probably what my friend was feeling and how I know many people deal with anxiety.

I am amazed at the hugging enthusiasts' lack of boundaries. Why is it that there seems to be a lack of boundary respect in our society? If a child does not want to hug a person, I will hear otherwise progressive people force the child to experience unwanted touch.

This is rape culture.

 It appears harmless, but we are a culture that has grown up knowing that our boundaries are not our own. That we should let people comfort us the way they want to comfort us and not the way we actually need. We learn to put other people's touching needs ahead of our own and over time, it becomes hard to internalize that it is our right to set sensory boundaries. If we teach children that they do not have the right to say no to a hug, then they learn that they do not have the respect to say no to sex later. Likewise, if we tell people with mental health issues that they do not have the right to say no to hugs, then they learn that they do not have the right to make their own healthcare choices. Many people at the center I work at are used to being told how to manage their lives, for they have been taught by well-meaning people in the past that they cannot adequately make decisions about their needs.

We start by respectfully listening to one another. We start by honoring one's request for more or less space, no matter how we personally feel about the activity. We start by making sure that people know that even hugging can be harassment.

Free hugs are great, but only if they come with consent.
Some "Free Hugs" are creepy. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self - Conflict Is Not Inherently Bad

quality of life is directly proportional to the delight you can take in discussion. (19, Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living, Mark Vernon)
I facilitated the creative writing activity at the Peer Support and Wellness Center a few days ago and my prompt was to write a letter to your younger self.  I've posted similar posts here before.  This time, my writing had a specific theme in mind - that conflict is not always bad.  This is a concept that is very hard for me to get, as I have spent my life petrified of causing and being involved in conflict.  Raised voices trigger me and I am quick to feel invalidated and defensive.  I was amazed when talking with a friend the other day when she said that she actually loves conflict and is good at it.  She sees conflict as a positive learning and growing opportunity.  Her point of view strikes me as very healthy, but very hard for me to wrap my head around.  She encouraged me to confront a person who I thought was not treating me very well.  I had been furious with this person for several days and had promised my friend that I would stand up for myself, instead of being passive aggressive.

I was all set.

I was going to set boundaries and be ferocious.

I was also terrified.

I made the call to set up the appointment for a face-to-face encounter.  She, of course, could only speak on the phone.  I went ahead and asked the question I needed to ask before really letting her have it.....

......and she was nice and polite and totally gave me the answer I had wanted.

There had been no reason for me to be angry in the first place.  There had been nothing wrong - I just needed to have the courage to ask her some clarifying questions.

Once again, my assumptions made an ass out of me.

Immediately after having this conversation I facilitated the creative writing group and so it was with this lesson in mind that I wrote my letter:

Dear Corey,

It is good to stand up for yourself.  Conflict is not bad and does not have to be scary.  Conflict helps people grow.  You are not a bad person or need to feel guilty if you have to ask questions or advocate for yourself.  Even if you have to cause another person discomfort in order to get your needs met.  You deserve to be happy and to have what is important to you understood.

Remember that more people will try to help you and be receptive to your input and ideas than you will give them credit for.  You live in a world of fear, but the world is far more wonderful than you can comprehend.  Spend more of your time basking in the sun of love than in the shadow of fear.

Remember your worth.  

Remember your rights.

Be strong knowing who you are.  You are a person uniquely made and qualified to help make the world a better place and in order to do a good job you must speak your mind.

Your mind is worth sharing.

Never forget,


Your older yet still learning and growing self.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sight In The Sandstorm Book Review

Sight In The Sandstorm: Jesus In His World And Mine by Ann J. Temkin is the latest speakeasy book that I have recently read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is easy to read and makes the gospels come alive with the way Temkin expertly weaves together stories from her own life with stories about Jesus and his disciples.  I really liked that Jesus and his followers seemed like real people with real character defects and struggles.  I liked even more that Temkin especially focuses on Jesus' humanity.  She shows him as a person that struggled with confusion and frustration, often exasperated by his followers failure to get what he was trying to say.  He was someone who wanted support and who often failed to get enough.  Since Jesus was human, he was a person that made mistakes and experienced complex emotion.  Temkin gives us insight as to what some of his mistakes and emotions might be.  I appreciate that kind of insight, as I cannot relate to a perfect person as my savior.

My favorite chapter was chapter 17, "On the Hill Beyond Time," which is about Jesus' execution.  Her writing is very effective and really touched me.  I loved how she equates the suffering that Jesus experienced with all the sufferings that people have experienced throughout all time past, present and future.  Often Jesus is portrayed as this superhuman who has no worries at all, but Temkin knows this cannot be so.  Her Jesus sees his mother at the foot of the cross and is consumed with guilt and worry over her.  He feels unable to do anything to comfort her and in reality, he is unable.  He simply has to deal with the pain that he is experiencing right now and receives no comfort from God.  Oddly enough, this image of an uncomforted Jesus gives me much comfort.  If even the son of God felt totally alone and abandoned by God at times, then I can take comfort in knowing in my times of anguish that I am not alone.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, we cannot hear the voice of God, but Jesus' experience proves that God is still there.  Feelings are not facts.  Recovery from borderline personality disorder has taught me that sometimes I cannot trust my intense feelings, but must instead cling to what I believe to be true.

I recommend this book for an insightful, emotional and thought-provoking read.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Blues Beast Will Help You Learn Mindfulness

Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard and I have come because of your words. Daniel 12:3
Today at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center I led creative writing for the first time.  I showed my peers a picture I took and asked them to write about how it inspired them.  I thought I would post the picture and the short story that I wrote about it because people said it was comforting.  I was thinking of how good I usually feel when I walk on the beltline looking at the art, which is where I took the picture.  I asked myself, "what would this piece of art say to me?"  I hope this bit of writing makes you feel better too.

I love walking on the beltline.  I walk my blues away.

Today is different - I feel restless and sad.

I see a monster painted onto a small building and I sit down beside him.

"He must be lonely too," I think.
"Maybe we can be lonely together."

All of a sudden, I feel a puff of stale air at my back and then there is a huge yawn.

"Oh!  I am so glad to have some company today," the monster says. "Do you feel blue? The people who come to me are the special people who need some love.  I know I look scary but appearances are not always what they seem.  I am the Blues Beast and I eat up people's blues.  I have claws and fangs and horns to scare them away.  People pass me by not knowing how hard I am working, but I can be your friend.  Stay right here for a while and you will feel better.  Listen to the birds, feel the breeze, surrender to the moment and I will chase your blues away.  All you have to do is sit back and relax."

"Thank you, Mr. Monster, sir."

I sit down and feel comforted.  Not all monsters are bad.  The monsters in plain sight are certainly better than the monsters in my head.
Basically, what this monster is advocating for is known as mindfulness, which is the art of appreciating the present moment.  Being mindful makes it easier to appreciate the world around you and it has transformed my life.  If you would like to work with me on becoming better at mindfulness, contact me at hopeisreal42@yahoo.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wisdom Comes From Experience; Recovery Comes From Practice

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament. Daniel 12:3
Wisdom often comes from experience and from working hard. People seem to view wisdom as something coming spontaneously and naturally, but in my experience, it is usually acquired through hardship and lots of intentional practice. I certainly do not think that one can be wise without a whole lot of self-awareness. 

 Tomorrow, a co-worker and I are sharing our recovery stories and our coping skills with an audience who have recently been diagnosed and are learning coping skills themselves. 

This is some of what I will be sharing:
Because I was impulsive and had suicidal feelings, but did not want to continue the cycle of always going to the hospital, I really had to invest my time (and money) into learning coping skills. I practiced the coping skills taught in DBT every day and I still use the skills I learned on a daily basis. Some of them are distracting myself when I feel impulsive, doing something pleasurable every day to keep my mood more pleasurable and to spend more time appreciating the world around me and the good things that are happening instead of dwelling on the bad. 
I also know how to validate myself and self-soothe myself when feeling bad. Other things I know I must do are eating fairly healthy and balanced meals, getting enough sleep, having regular “me” time, journaling out strong feelings or racing thoughts, learning how to ask for what I need, setting healthy boundaries and saying “no” when I need to, belonging to communities, such as my church and my book club, exploring my creative side and talking with people. I do see a therapist once a month and a doctor every few months. 
I have found talking about my mental health journey to be incredibly rewarding and validating. I speak at events whenever I can and write a mental health blog. Being able to talk about my experiences and help and support others is incredibly empowering and gives meaning to a time when I felt there was none. I encourage everyone to talk about their recovery with others, even if it is just one other person. Realizing that people will not run away scared when confronted with my story, but are instead impressed and inspired inspires me to keep reaching for my dreams and to keep on sharing my story. It validates that I have a story worth sharing and I firmly believe that all of you do too. 
If I could leave you with three things, it would be: practice, practice, practice. People that only have gotten to know me in the last year or two think that I have always been mentally healthy. That is absolutely not so. Becoming a healthier person has been intentional and a slow process, often very frustrating. Fortunately, over time, I have witnessed my life becoming better and better and myself becoming more and more capable at handling it. Becoming better takes a lot of practice.
 (Maybe I am able to be focused and practice more easily because of my early piano lessons. Photo by Woodleywonderworks, a creative commons license.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

My God is Loving and Good and Angry - A Book Critique

My new job is very fulfilling, but it gives me less time to read and to review books.  Here is my book review for the Speakeasy book, A More Christlike God by Bradley Jersak.  I have read other books, some that I have liked a lot more, but unfortunately I might never review them because of time.
I feel conflicted about this book.  On the one hand, there are many beautiful passages about God's love that I wrote down in my quote book, but on the other hand, I disagree with Jersak on many points.  His main point is that people put their own inadequate images of God on God, but that the most accurate description can be found in the story of Jesus the Christ.  An interesting proposition and I am not sure if I agree or disagree.  What I do know is that I believe Bradley Jersak does not paint an accurate picture of Jesus and so I do not think he paints an effective or accurate description of God either.

According to Jersak, Jesus never seems to get angry and when he does get angry it is just satire or metaphor.  He also does not think that God has feelings - that saying, "God is angry," is just anthropomorphizing.  I find both of those ideas abhorrent.

I think God and Jesus are furious.

No, I do not think that God is going to send anybody to Hell because I do not believe in a physical Hell, but I do think that God is angry.

You see, there is a difference between righteous anger and self-righteous anger.  It is good to be rightfully angry - it is not good or helpful to be self-righteous and full of one's self.  Righteously angry is Jesus - self-righteous are the Pharisees.

It is right to be angry about injustice.  Anger is an emotion that propels many people to change evil systems.  I am part of a mental health revolution right now fueled partly by anger at the many ways the traditional medical model messes people up.

It is not right to be angry that your privileges as a white male are being levelled out.

You see the difference?

My God experiences emotion.  If Jesus shares my pain, is human and yet is also God, then God shares my painful feelings.  Therefore, God experiences emotion.  I think to deny God the full range of emotion is to deny Her a relationship with human beings.

Therefore, God experiences anger, rage, and fury, especially when confronted with the injustices in our world.  Anger is not a bad emotion, but it does need to be handled responsibly and constructively.  I believe God is the force that allows us to turn from tearing people down to building people up.  God is the force that allows us to turn unadulterated rage into something positive.

Now, I do think that Jersak was right in asserting that God is pure love and pure goodness.  But again, I think constructive righteous anger IS loving.  It is love for humanity and God that propels a person to be angry at injustice in the first place!  If we did not love and care for each other, then we would not consider anything wrong with oppressing other people.

Of course, it is all too easy to become stagnant and say, "yes, I see the problem," but do nothing about it.  It is true love that will prompt a person to change, to prompt a person to work towards a constructive positive solution for injustice instead of just giving up in apathy or giving in to homicidal impulses.

My God is good, loving and kind.  She is also angry  - angry enough to be able to turn people's hearts from mere stone to a pulsing organ of love.  She is angry enough to cut through the bullshit and turn people towards the truth.

My God is angry and I am glad.  I am angry too and with our anger we can change the world into the kindom it was originally intended to be.

Blessed be.

(Side note - I had other disagreements with the author, but these points were the ones I felt the most strongly.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

'Not In My Community' Mentality Helps No One

It was a place to stand. Sing to new stars; speak to new dirt. Two planted legs to help keep me upright for the next couple of decades. First we love music. Then we love food. Many years later, we evolve high enough to love another - if we're lucky. (from Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein)
The Peer Support and Wellness Center where I work is a place where people have evolved high enough to love each other.  We sing, we cook, we eat and that's just what happens at a staff meeting!  It's a truly special place.

After tonight's staff meeting, I was pulled over by a cop because apparently I did not fully stop at the stop sign.  I thought I did, but it is certainly possible that I did not.  I will say that I was definitely embarrassed since he pulled me over on the same street as the center and I was afraid that a co-worker was going to drive-by any second and wonder why there was a flashing police car stopped behind me.  The police officer was very nice and even made some small talk, which was a little weird.  I told him that I was coming home from work and when he found out where I was coming from he informed me that it must be a good place because he hardly ever had to go there, which is a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one.   He also said that a lot of the neighbors in that residential area didn't want us there when the center was first formed.  That information did not surprise me, but it did make me very sad.  I still feel a bit upset.

People seem to agree that there needs to be community services and support for people with mental health challenges.  Our society seems to now know that locking people up in hospitals is not usually for the best.  We also seem to have substituted hospitals for prisons and that is very disturbing, but every major consensus seems to be that we need more community support.  More treatment and support options near people's homes would lead to more people staying well, which will lead to a more stable economy and society and yet when the reality hits that it's time to build a community support for people with mental health challenges, people in the residential area get upset.

Yes, we need more community support options....just not in my community.

This mindset infuriates the hell out of me, because it's not as if one out of every four people in the United States does not live with a mental health challenge.  It's not as if there are not people hiding behind their doors worried that others will find out about their diagnosis.  It's not as if mental illness is not already a part of every community, all the time.  Talking about mental health and supporting those with mental health challenges in one area will not hinder progress, but propel it.  The only way to break the stigma surrounding mental illness is to talk about it.  The only way to get support for mental health challenges is by reaching out and the only way to get out of stigma's depression is by surrounding one's self with people who understand.

We, at the Peer Support and Wellness Center understand and because we understand, we are more compassionate people.  We are people who know how to offer support and a listening ear, a kind touch.  We know how to laugh, how to create art and how to feed each other's souls.  Now wouldn't you want people like that as your neighbor?

Of course, if you believe the stigma and the media's hype then you would assume that we are dangerous.  Surely we must be loud, annoying, highly dramatic and ticking time bombs intent on murdering everyone in the neighborhood.

 Actually, it is the opposite.

 We oftentimes have to support our peers at the center who are afraid for their lives because of the stigma of mental illness.  I have heard from many people that they are afraid of harassment from the cops, their employers, their church members, family and friends if word should get out that they are living with mental health challenges.  Like I have said before, a person with mental illness is far more likely to be abused and bullied than to inflict that pain on others.

How do I know?

Because every time a community member says, "don't build here - stay away from me," then violence is being done to a person with mental illness.  Ironically, the action claiming to be for safety is actually creating more fear and violence for others.

Those who work at the Peer Support and Wellness Center have worked really hard on their recovery and on becoming more stable people.  In fact, in reality we may be the most mental healthy people in town.  I have found that those who were once the most mentally broken can become the most mentally whole and as such are highly worthy community teachers and supporters.

My roommate told me tonight that all people are concerned about is how much value their housing area will have - we with mental health challenges have much to offer of value.  Acknowledging, supporting and engaging with people with mental illness adds value to one's community because it will lessen fear and open up gateways for redemptive friendships.

I hope the neighborhood that our center is at now considers us a worthy neighbor.  Because we are.  People with mental health challenges have much to offer the world if the world will only let us.  Stigma and mental health bias hurts everyone - let us love everyone instead.