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, November 20, 2014

Book Review - Dying to Control

Here is another Speakeasy book that I read recently.  I would only give it two out of five stars, maybe 2.5.  I actually like the author's blog better than the book, I think.
Dying to Control: The 21st Century Dilemma by Leon R. Hayduchok - Hayduchok's basic premise is that what was wrong about Eve and Adam eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was that they were trying to live as they saw fit and not as God saw fit-they thought they were in control.  Okay, I can go with that-Hayduchok seems to that this his premise is radical, but it does not seem that radical to me.  What I cannot buy is that he thinks God cursed the ground and animals in order to help people-to remind us where our priorities should be, but curses do not seem loving to me.  Hayduchok even writes that, "To curse someone is to wish that person misfortune or doom.  Curses tend to be spite or vindictive, and they typically don't have redemptive intentions," (85)  With that in mind, I have a hard time believing that God would even curse animals or the earth that She made.  To love someone is to wish them the best, so I really do not see how a God that curses can be compatible with a God that loves.  I must turn back to what Sea Raven insisted in her book, "Theology from Exile," we must ask ourselves if we believe the nature of God is "violent or nonviolent" when reading Scripture (7).  I believe our God is nonviolent, towards all beings, including Mother Earth, so I must look at the curse in a different way.  I believe "the curse" may be our interpretation of how we feel when life gets harder, but do I really think God cursed anybody?  No.  I may feel cursed, but I am not cursed.  It is much easier for us to raise our fists and cry, "God, you made the Earth hard and not to our liking and you made women feel labor pains!" but that is abdicating our responsibility to see life as it really is.  The fact is that life is hard and we do not need to blame God for it to be so.  It just is.  I do agree with Hayduchok's assertion that life is harder when we try to control everything on our own, but instead of saying that we should leave everything to God, I say that we should do things together. As I review what my options are for the day, I should listen for God's call for the better way, but it is up to I to act.  And it is up to myself to not just do what God says, but rather to dream with Her and to offer my own ideas in prayer and to see what seems like the best way.  My relationship with God is more like a partnership-sometimes I receive encouragement and sometimes I get a scolding and sometimes I praise God and sometimes I am angry at Her and all of that is okay.  We try to do things together and in those moments of harmony are when the world is restored, for it is true that the world is out of balance, but I do not believe it is because of a curse, but because the world and God are not working together.

Hayduchok brings a lot of reflections about his personal troubles into the book, which again, at first I appreciated, but after a while, something else began to bug me: he never uses the phrase, "mental illness."  He talks quite extensively about having a "breakdown" and anxiety, even suicidal thoughts, but instead of saying that he had a mental illness and needed treatment, he says that all he needed was, "perspective" (95).  He seems to think that the total reason for all of his problems is because he was not letting God be fully in control of his life, but I think this is a dangerous idea.  One can follow God and be depressed-look at Mother Teresa, who was depressed for the majority of her years.  Depression, anxiety, are mental illnesses, not a lack of perspective.  While I do think that thinking positively and being in communion with God can offer relief and goodness, sometimes a mental illness is so pervasive that it prevents a person from being able to do so, which is why they need compassion and affordable treatment-not a lecture or "perspective."  I know I was only able to gain a new, healthier perspective after I started taking my current medication.  My medications, therapy, and DBT treatment are the conduit that have allowed my brain to be able to focus on God's will and love, not the other way around.

I started out liking the book and by the end, I was annoyed, so I do not think I would really recommend the book.  It is helpful if you want an overview of different theories about the Eve and Adam story, but otherwise, I would skip it.

Link Love:
Loving your body is an act of sheer courage and revolution in this culture.

this ain’t livin - You Are Never Required to Stay in a Dangerous Situation

You are not under obligation to stay in a situation where your safety is at risk, no matter how much you love someone. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review - Theology from Exile

I had to take a break from reviewing books, as I was getting a little burned out from doing so many, but I have read so many good books lately that my book reviewing days are back again.  Of course, the first books I have to review are from Speakeasy.

Theology from Exile Vol. II: The Year of Matthew by Sea Raven
I really enjoyed this book!  It is the second "in a series of commentaries on biblical scripture that follows the three-year cycle of Christian liturgical readings found inn the Revised Common Lectionary"  (Sea Raven 1).  Sea Raven takes each Sunday in the second year of the lectionary and expounds upon the scripture in a progressive, postmodern way.  It is a book targeted towards scholars and ministers, to help them in their research and sermon preparation, but I enjoyed it all the same.  I like that she acknowledged that the RCL often cuts scriptures short or put seemingly random scriptures together in order to serve their own ends (to support traditional, outdated theology, for instance)-she calls these annoying edits the work of "the elves."  Even more, I liked that she used simple language and did not mess around with metaphors in getting her point across-"Jesus is dead," she said over and over again and curiously enough, those words were balm to my soul.  It was so good to read someone who enjoys studying the Bible, does not believe in taking it literally, and is not afraid to say so in extremely clear language.  Many times when I am in church, I feel like I do not know what people are really talking about, because there is so much double speak-"He is risen!,"
 we say and I have to think to myself, "well, metaphorically, but I do not really believe he rose from the dead-can't we talk about resurrection of the soul without making it seem we believe in supernatural nonsense?  Can't we talk plainly for once and say what we really mean?"  By talking in metaphorical double speak at churches, I will sometimes feel alone, because I do not know if people are having the same internal conversations and scruples than I am with the language-I do not know if the majority of the people around me actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead or if they believe that story is a beautiful myth with lessons to teach us, like I do.  The need for intellectual clarity is something that I sometimes long for and I wonder if other people long for it too.

Sea Raven posits that there are four questions that one must ask one's self when reading Scripture:

  1. What is the nature of God?  Violent or nonviolent?
  2. What is the nature of Jesus's message? Inclusive or Exclusive?
  3. What is faith? Literal belief, or commitment to the great work of justice-compassion?
  4. What is deliverance? Salvation from hell, or liberation from injustice? (7)
She says,
"The answers for the authoritarian right (Empire) are: violent, exclusive, literal belief, and salvation from hell in the next life.  The answers for the countering partnership on the left (Covenant) are nonviolent, inclusive, commitment to the great work, and liberation from injustice in this life, here and now. (7)"
I hope it is obvious that I am on the left. I recommend this book for seminary students, ministers, and scholarly laypeople, like myself. Each section is short-sometimes too short, in my opinion-creative and insightful. I am looking forward to reading Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 sometimes in the future.

  Link Love:

Your Color Looks Good - Is it Really Important to Have a Positive Attitude When Dealing With a Chronic Condition? 
In my personal and professional experience, I’ve found that most people suffering from chronic pain and chronic illness want acknowledgement that what they are going through is real and that it is okay not to be okay sometimes. Pressure to be optimistic all of the time can lead to increased negative emotions. By allowing sufferers of chronic conditions to experience the uncertainty and frustrations that come along with having a chronic illness or chronic pain, family, friends and loved ones are actually making way for more positive feelings because not only can the patient express their feelings during difficult times rather than holding it in, the pressure to be optimistic all of the time is gone.

 Shakesville – Sartorial Misogyny, Feminist Concern Trolling, and the “Little Things” in Science and Elsewhere 
Because feminism by design functions to address all manner of issues, big and small. That women can (and do) utilize the tenets of feminism in every aspect of their lives does not undermine the history of the feminist movement, but instead does it a great honor. Feminism was never meant to be restricted to suffrage and genital cutting, held in reserve like a finite quantity in danger of depletion if it's used for "the little things." Feminism is a renewable resource. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recovery Questions

I am applying for Georgia's certified peer training.  It is a really great program.  Basically, when one is doing really well in one's recovery and would like a job helping others who have mental illness, they can apply to be trained and certified as a CPS.  They are trained on how to use their life experience as someone in recovery in a way to help and reach others and they will have a respected credential that will help them get jobs.  I had to answer a lot of questions about my recovery on my application yesterday and I thought a few of my answers might be interesting to you.  Here they are:

What does recovery mean to you?

 I do presentations about my recovery on a regular basis and I always say that recovery is when a person believes that “mental illness is a part of a person, but does not define the person.”  I am in recovery, because mental illness no longer controls my entire life.  I will always have to acknowledge its presence in my life and cope with it, but I am a person who refuses to be defined by mental illness alone.

What are some of the important factors in your own recovery?

1.      . Taking responsibility for my own recovery-no one can utilize my own coping skills and take my own medication but me.

2. The wonderful, supportive relationship I have with my therapist, family and communities.  I know that isolation is a death sentence and that my recovery depends on the healthy relationships between me and supportive people, which is why I am an active participant in my church, several book clubs, an alumni mental health group and a support group.

3. Providing hope to others.  Posting to my blog, Hope is Real!, and speaking about recovery for NAMI and seeing how my actions influence other people for the better gives my life meaning.  Having a purpose to my life keeps me positive, motivated and away from the pits of depression.

Why do you think it is important to tell your story?

 Our stories provide hope-hope to consumers, hope to families and hope to us. Many people still believe that one is stuck being trapped in an eating disorder or having BPD forever. I am proof that that is not true. Many people believe that they are stuck always being depressed or anxious or in the throes of schizoaffective disorder or the mood swings of bipolar disorder. I am proof that one can learn to manage all of those disorders, because yes, at one time or another, I have been diagnosed with just about every disorder, which makes me very relateable and also living proof that one can have any disorder and still live through it and still have a productive and extremely satisfying life. Our stories of hope are the most important thing for the world to hear in a time when mental illness is equated with gun control laws.

Link Love:
Crunk Feminist Collective

 Clair Huxtable is Dead: On Slaying the Cosbys and Making Space for Liv, Analise, and Mary Jane

Shakesville - This Is Rape Culture
Many of the men who tell apocryphal tales of former brothers-in-law and distant cousins whose lives were "ruined" by rape allegations (which are always, always, presumed to be untrue) really mean that those men were inconvenienced for a little while. Embarrassed. Not that their entire lives were ruined. Or even meaningfully changed.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Enforcing Boundaries-No Diet Talk

"It is not mean to enforce firm boundaries; I respect myself." ~ Myself

It is rude to talk about weight and dieting at the dinner table.  I know that that is not how the commercials see it, but they are trying to sell you a product-they do not actually care about the well-being of your body or soul and they certainly do not care if the behavior they promote will make you popular.  The only people who appreciate diet talk at the table (or really anywhere) are those who are dieting themselves. I DO NOT appreciate it when people talk on and on about how they hate their body and what they are doing to change it in my presence, especially while I am eating-it triggers me and annoys me.

Fortunately, people do not talk this way in front of me very often-I pick my close friends very carefully.  However, it still does happen from time to time, just like it did a few weeks ago-in the past, how I would have dealt with it would have been to try to make a side conversation with someone else in order to try to ignore the harmful dieting conversation, but I was glad to note this time that I have now outgrown that tactic and have become an even better boundary maker - I simply firmly addressed the whole group and said, that since we were all in recovery (which we were) that I thought it would be best if we kept the conversation away from dieting and food talk, as that might bring up issues for some people.  The offending member got the message and said she had no idea that she might be triggering someone.  I reassured her that we were not mad at her, but that there were better topics for us to talk about-everyone else gave me extremely grateful looks.  We did talk about other more neutral topics for the rest of the night and we ended up having a lot of fun.

Later that evening, another friend pulled me aside and praised me for being so direct.  She said that she had been trying to change the subject for a long time and was getting desperate, especially since she had brought a friend who had recently come out of treatment for an eating disorder.  Later that particular person thanked me for changing the subject.  That obsessive dieting topic just had been no good for anybody.

And yes, we were all of us, a group in recovery from eating disorders, so you might say our aversion to diet talk is unique, but I really do not think it is.  I know that if one is dieting that it is tempting to talk about everything that one is doing with everybody, but I sincerely ask to keep it to one's self or at least to talk only to one's dieting group.  It is hard for anyone to enjoy their food when they are constantly being told how many calories it has or how long they should exercise after eating it.  Life is full of wonderful and varied experiences, most of which have nothing to do with whether one is fat or not.  Talk about those experiences - just this last weekend, I attended my book club at the cute Sugar Hill Bakery, took pictures at the Little Five Points Halloween Parade, and did a successful In Our Own Voice presentation for a NAMI family to family class.   If one does not have anything to talk about besides dieting, then one does not have a fitness problem, but a life experience problem.

I must say, I was and am really proud to see how far I have come in setting boundaries.  There was a time when I would have suffered in silence.  I would have quietly fumed and let the offending woman get away with ruining my happiness when all I had to do was to firmly set some boundaries.  I was not mean; I was just firm and there is a big difference, which I did not used to understand.  Understanding that I now have the ability to set my own boundaries in a way that people will listen is empowering- I am no longer a victim, but in charge of my own happiness.

I wish the same for all of you and I believe you can do it too.

Now for your cute moment of the day from the Halloween parade:

Friday, October 10, 2014

My NAMI Candlelight Vigil Speech

My speech was a success and so was the vigil-I found the whole event to be very inspirational.  I made some new contacts and may have some new speaking engagements soon, so that is exciting, but even more exciting is the fact that people really responded to what I said.  Both family members and people with mental illness seemed to be able to relate to my experiences and liked that I ended on a message of hope.  My most touching comment was from a fourteen-year-old who is getting help right now and who appreciated my story.  I told her that I was glad that she was getting help when she was young instead of waiting until she was older like I did.

I promised people that I would put my speech on here, so that they could read it, so here it is:

What is it like living with a severe mental illness?

Well, now that I am on the right medications, and have incorporated various coping skills into my daily life, my life now is a lot like anybody else’s, but it was not always that way.

I started having suicidal thoughts when I hit puberty and I started restricting my food then too.  I thought that controlling my food and my body would make me feel like I had more control over of my life circumstances, but I was just fooling myself.  Instead, I was totally obsessed over what went into my body and those thoughts had control over me.  Still, I was able to hide my behaviors and thoughts from my parents until I went to college.

My freshmen year at college is when my mental illness really escalated.  By the end of that first year, I was severely depressed-I had totally lost all energy and motivation and I cried all the time. I had horrible mood swings depending on the moods of the people around me.  Fortunately, my mom convinced me to see a psychiatrist and that started me on the road to recovery.  Of course though, I had to get worse before I got better.  The next year, I started hallucinating and having panic attacks whenever I got really stressed. I would self-harm to cope with my emotions.  I left that school when during a panic attack I told someone to be happy for me, because I was finally going to kill myself and they called my parents.

I spent the next ten years in and out of inpatient and outpatient programs.  I would have periods of stability, only to have a crisis during a moment of stress. At my worst, I got diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, borderline personality disorder, double depression, an eating disorder, and severe anxiety with panic.

I am glad to say that my life has turned around dramatically.  When I got diagnosed with borderline, I was at the end of my rope-I had had enough of misery and I decided to do something about it.  I took my therapist’s DBT class or dialectical behavioral therapy class, which is a type of therapy that was devised in the 90s for people with BPD and is now being used for anyone with impulse control issues.  It is a four month class that teaches concrete coping skills partly based on eastern philosophies.  Its motto is that it gives one a “life worth living” and in my case, it really has.  I now have better relationship skills, a better ability to tolerate distress, less mood swings, and a more positive outlook on life.   In two years, I have taken the series of courses twice and because of my hard work, I no longer qualify as one having borderline personality disorder or one having an eating disorder.  My anxiety and depression is no longer as severe either.

I take my medication as prescribed, I see a wonderful therapist once a week, a nutritionist every few months and I attend a support group every few weeks.  I also participate fully in my church and have started my own book club-I have learned how important it is not to isolate, but to surround myself with positive people and be part of a community. I have also learned how important it is to monitor my stress level-I do this by only working part time and making sure I get enough sleep.  I believe in the power of positive self-talk, which I used to think was cheesy, and now tell myself things like, “I am not perfect and that is okay,” and “my worth is not determined by my weight or my job.”  I love being a mental health blogger and speaker for NAMI, telling my story and letting people know that there is hope for people with a mental illness diagnosis, no matter how severe-it just takes hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to let other people help.   Hope is real no matter who you are.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mental Health Vigil in Atlanta - Come to Hear Me Speak

Out of the Dark into the Light” Mental Health Awareness Vigil
Light a candle and light up a life.
Hope is a simple gift you can give to people with mental illness.
Thursday, Oct 9th, 7:30-8:30 PM
Decatur Square Bandstand
Decatur, GA 30030
Rain venue:
Holy Trinity Episcopal Parish
515 E. Ponce de Leon Avenue
Decatur, Georgia
If you are in Atlanta, come to this event to hear me speak about my experience with mental illness-I am writing my speech today and will make sure to end on a positive note.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

#NoMoreShame - Donate to NAMI This Year

The NAMI Walk is November first in Atlanta and I will be participating, of course.  It is the National Alliance of Mental Illness' biggest fundraiser and we could really use your help.  Go to NAMIWalks to register to walk or go to my facebook donation page to make a donation-it is safe and secure, I promise.

The work that NAMI does is invaluable.  When I was first introduced to NAMI in 2009, I attended its groups for support and now I have a whole network of friends who understand what it is like living with a mental health condition.  A year later, I became a group facilitator, which helped me develop my leadership skills and now I am an In Our Own Voice program presenter, which is a job I dearly love doing.  I love telling my story and imparting hope to others that one can indeed live a successful life even with a severe mental health diagnosis.  I love educating people and helping to dispel stigma.  NAMI has given me a job that I can do well, where I do not have to hide who I am and that I absolutely love doing every time.  Please support me, so that I can continue doing this good work. 
  (Yes, I know the meme originally applies to addiction, but I think it can equally apply to all mental disorders.)