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.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tips on Navigating The System

When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn't do but on what God said he would do.  (315, The Message Bible)
I was recently asked to speak about “navigating the system” to a NAMI group.   I decided to share some of the lessons I’ve learned after almost fifteen years of receiving mental healthcare.  Here are my notes:

 1.CSBs – Every county has a community service board.  They’re not the best but if you don’t have insurance they can be a lifesaver.

 2.Use Insurance if possible 

3.Good therapists may require to pay out of pocket – my therapist does

 4.A good fit is key – change service providers if not a good fit; if a service won’t allow you to change, then it is not a recovery oriented service; ask your child what therapies, services THEY are interested in, don’t force them into something they don’t believe in – no matter how great it is recommended, it will fail without the consumer’s interest and belief

 My Story: Depression after first year of college.  Mom recognized it and took me to see her psychiatrist.Took years to find the right medication.  Terrible doctors and incompetent therapists – if I
could do over, I would spent more time looking for the right fit in both.  Someone who is knowledgeable and compassionate and takes a person seriously and has good rapport is important, especially for young people.  I wish I had taken finding the right person more seriously instead of getting worse with people who weren’t helping.

 5.Pursue recovery oriented services – individualized; honors choice; no coercion; collaborative; can choose own doctors/therapists; offers more than medication; validates the individual; talks about wellness more than illness – SkyLand Trail, Wellness Centers

6.Research treatments – research services in your area, especially if going to college or about to move – be prepared – I learned that from going to rural colleges and relapsing after not getting my needs met

7.Advocate for what you need

8.Obtaining disability may be the key to independence!  I thought my life would be sad as a “disabled person” but the extra money enabled me to move out of my parents’ house.  I ended up being ready to work just six months later.  I became a CPS and I discovered that one can still work while on disability.  Getting disability escalated my recovery, instead of diminishing it, so beware of inner ableism.

9.There are people called Benefit Navigators whose job it is to info you on how to go back to work while on disability.  They are fabulous people.  Sally Atwell is the benefits navigator that serves the Atlanta area and is a great resource. There are a lot of myths out there about working and disability but don’t despair until you find out the facts!  Her phone number is 404-350-7589.

10.Notice cycles/patterns of behavior and ruts – a change may be needed – for goodness sake, if someone keeps on going back to the hospital, ask yourself what they are needing and see if it can be accomplished outside of a hospital setting – Breaking cycles and patterns of behavior is key in recovery

11.Always remember that recovery is consumer driven.

12.Art and music and horticulture can be just important to recovery as medication or talk therapy.

13. Medication is not the cornerstone of recovery.  I take medication but… Medication is great
For some and not for others.  It is never a cure.  If a service is more focused on medication than the individual then it is not recovery oriented have found sleep to be the most important factor in my wellness.  Healing begins with validation and feeling heard.

14.Do not underestimate the value of peer support.  DBT is the therapy that changed my life but I was introduced to it long before I took it seriously.  What made me take it seriously is seeing results with other peers and hearing how excited they were.  I was inspired by peer bloggers and wanted what they had.  When someone is in the depths of despair, the only thing that can reach them is validation
and being heard and this is easiest supplied by someone who has already been there.

I wish that I had been introduced to peer support earlier.  When I first started hearing and feelingthings, I felt so stigmatized and weird.  If I could have been introduced to someone else who
experienced those same things but was doing well, my life would have been saved much earlier.  I would have been given hope when the professionals were not providing it.  This is why I am so excited to get training in the hearing voices network and to offer their support groups soon.

To sum up, I want to leave you with three things that I have learned:

Advocate for yourself – no one knows what you need better than you.

Secondly, if you believe you need clinical care, then spend time making sure you have the right fit.  Feeling heard and validated by your mental health professional leads to trust and being able to trust others is essential to one’s well being.

Finally, believe in yourself and in your loved one.  You are worth fighting for and you are worthy of being heard, validated and treated with respect.  No matter what obstacles are in your way, I firmly believe that every person has the right and the ability to lead a better life for themselves if only they will put forth the work.  I believe in you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Rising Out Of Fire

In my creative writing activity at the center where I work, I had peers write their thoughts in response to this picture:
This is what I wrote:

It used to be that all I could think of was my pain.  It was all I felt. I called my story The Girl Who Couldn't Stop Crying.  It seems a bit melodramatic now but it was how life was.  Eventually I wore myself out.  I got tired of always being miserable.  I got tired of always crying and wanting someone else to fix me.  Gradually I learned that I had to validate myself.

I had been through the fire but I was not burnt.  I had scars but underneath everything, I was okay. 

I learned to move towards people that emphasized my okay-ness, that do not put me down or dwell in the land of troubles all day.  I learned that it is okay to ask people for reassurance and that it is okay to let myself believe it.  I learned that although life is hard, it is full of joy too.  I learned to embrace the joy and be grateful for the simple things in life.  I grew into the free person I am today. 

I may have been through fire, but I am still cool.   

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Shrill by Lindy West - A Book Review

Saturday, I and thousands of other people, will be marching all over the United States, raising our voices to tell Donald Trump that we will not let his administration take away our rights.  Lindy West is an author who is famous for raising her voice and so it is fitting that I review her book, Shrill.  
The beginning of Shrill reminds me a little too much of Libba Bray's Beauty Queens - the humor almost seems to downplay the seriousness of her topics - until I read about her stand-up comedy.  Obviously, I did not know enough about her before starting the book!  As the book goes on, however, her issues become more and more serious and her writing reflects this.  The passage that resonated the most with me was this:
When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsesssing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time - that moves the rudder of the world.  It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrows interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women's safety and humanity are second to men's pleasure and convenience. (19)
Our society uses its beauty myth and its rape culture to make women want to be small.  It brainwashes us into believing we should take up as little space as possible and it is wonderful to read about a woman who is refusing to do that.

West has appeared on television to talk about rape culture and has written many feminist articles and for that has paid a heavy price: countless dehumanizations by the tweets of trolls.  It absolutely floors me how many people seem to think that the internet exists in a vacuum and how many hours they spend on hateful speech.  Words hurt, no matter if they are spoken out loud or if they are typed.  The fact that these words are made public makes it even worse.  When hateful, hurtful words are directed by the thousands in response to feminist statements they are beyond personal attacks but are an attack on womanhood, itself.  The people writing these tweets and emails are miserable people, but it would be much better if they would work on themselves, instead.

What I don't understand is why more feminist internet publications do not moderate their spaces.  They claim they don't want to lose readers, but personally, I seldom read blogs that aren't moderated.  I think that feminists should create their own spaces and should not worry about keeping the readership of misogynistic assholes.  Feminist spaces should be safe spaces as much as they can be in order to promote female empowerment.  Feminism should be about building women up instead of
maintaining the status quo or being complicit in holding them down.  For this reason, I do not read
Jezebel or other mainstream feminist sites that do not moderate - by not respecting women enough to
keep the space safe for them, I do not think that they are truly feminist.

Of course, at least the moderator will be seeing the harmful comments and I do not really know what the answer to that is. It seems like there could be some kind of computer algorithm that could automatically delete hateful words, but I suppose not.

 Actually, I do know what the answer is - for people who are threatened by others to look inward and for more people to read Lindy West's book, Shrill, so they can know that no matter how many people threaten or demean another, a person can still create positive change and be an empowering voice for others.  In this new era of conservatism, do not let Trump's administration or his supporters shackle or starve you - risk being called shrill and raise your voice this Saturday and every day.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

All Emotions Are Okay

It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world.  ~ Dorothy Dix
In this age of social media, it is easy to get caught in an endless quest for validation.  I definitely get caught in wanting more likes, more comments, more approval from strangers I don't even know.  And yet, I am much better than I used to be!

It used to be that I did not know how to give myself validation and I thought all of my deep, intense feelings were horrible and wrong.  I thought I was "too much" - my feelings were a sign that I was mentally messed up.  Then I discovered blogs where people spoke of their intense feelings as gifts and Marcia Linehan's DBT, where she said that we could learn how to regulate our own emotions, gave me a lot of hope.  My therapist taught me how to ask for validation when I need it, instead of being melodramatic and passive aggressive in order to make someone give it to me.  I was thinking about all of this the other day when I driving in my car and feeling some intense emotions, because I was able to smile and tell myself that I am ok.

We are emotional creatures and all emotions are okay.  Happiness and joy are grand, but the lows of depression and the jumpiness of anxiety and anger are liveable too.  It is all okay, because they all go away; no emotion lasts forever, a concept that took me a long time to believe.  Happiness makes life worth living, but so does anger, as it can propel a people to make much needed changes. Anxiety can stimulate a person to plan for the future.  All emotions can be useful if a person can reassure themselves that through it all, they are okay.  And if you can't reassure yourself in the moment, it is totally fine to find someone you trust and ask for reassurance.  We all need it sometimes and right now, I think we need it more than ever.  My own emotions have been fluctuating from joy to boredom to a whole lot of anger the past few weeks and I think that's to be expected with Trump being president-elect.  I expect that I will experience a whole lot more anger when he is in office.  I will use this anger to act and I will continue to look for moments of joy, peace, and happiness.

Validate yourself and if you can't do it yourself yet, then listen to me: your emotions are fine, you are fine, and you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel.  You are not wrong or too much, but you can learn how to stop resisting and just be in the flow.  Come join me.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

          Beauty Queens by Libba Bray is a delightfully bad B movie of a book.  It is cheese-tactic.  It is not a book striving for believability but for outrageous laughter that slips in quite a few feminist lessons for the teen girl (or woman) reading it.  It is about teen beauty queen contestants who get stranded on a deserted island.  It is not Lord of the Flies, more like Princesses of the Butterflies.  I would not say this was the best book ever written or even that I want to read it again, but it was the perfect beach vacation novel.  It is definitely an intersectional feminist book, as Bray explores nearly every popular trope and what they need, from the Black funny sidekick to the lesbian dropout to even the transgender pop star.  The only problem was that Bray tried so hard to capture everything that I never got any true depth of character or plot, but then, I don't think that's what she was trying to do.  It's light reading, but the feminist girl power passages make it worth reading.

 My two favorite passages were about Mary Lou, who discovers it's okay to be a "wild girl," and discovers her good sexual power and Sosie, the deaf dancer.  I could relate to Sosie's struggle to always be the good kind of disabled person and her story was the one that actually choked me up a little.  Her story has actually made me think a lot about why I perform so much inner work in order to not be bitter about what I go through and I want you all to know that it is not so that I can be the acceptable, inspirational disabled person but so that I can be as happy and content as I can be.  I do not want to be miserable.  However, I am not a magical nonangry person and hopefully I will never be so happy that I cannot be a voice for those who cannot speak about the injustices facing people with disabilities.        
When the virus stole most of Sosie’s hearing, it also stole her right to complain. She figured out early that nobody liked an angry disabled person. It messed with their sympathy, with the story in their head about people overcoming adversity to be shining lights in the world. People wanted to think you were so okay with it all so they wouldn’t have to expend any energy feeling guilty. (Chapter 12)
I am not okay with the fact that it is a world that does not accommodate my differences that makes me disabled - not the other way around.  However, I am okay with myself the way that I am.

Mary Lou's epiphany that our bodies are not curses I found immensely satisfied and I thought applied to both young women:
It was not a curse to fully inhabit your body. You were only as cursed as you allowed yourself to be.  (Chapter Fifteen)
It is not a curse to be disabled, except for in the ways that society makes us feel cursed, which is why we must continually push back against what society says about us.  In a few weeks I am attending the Atlanta March for Women and Social Justice and after much thought, my sign is going to be about disability rights in some way - I am tired of intersectional feminist articles still shoving us to the side.  I'm leaning towards "eating disorders are a feminist cause" OR "Half of all people killed by the police are disabled." That's pretty shocking, isn't it?

This new year claim to fully inhabit your body, disavow curses, complain as much as you want and be as happy as possible.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Beautiful Sleepy Vacation

In today's rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.  ~ Eckhart Tolle
Right now I flying home from Key West, Florida.  I know, I am very privileged and lucky.  If I could name this past holiday vacation anything, it would be, “The Beautiful, Sleepy Vacation.”  Because of I-don’t-know-what, I have a very annoying condition where if I don’t get to sleep in until at least ten a.m., then I usually stay sleepy for the rest of the day.  I am extremely grateful to have a job that accommodates my need for late mornings.  Because we couldn’t sleep in much AND because I did not have a day to rest in between a work-day and the leaving-for-vacation-day, I was sleepy for most of the trip.  The only day I did not feel sleepy was ironically the day we left, because I got to have a good nap in the morning.  Such is a disabled life.

However, I still had a great time!  The weather was perfect and so was the sea.  I have never been to a beach before that practically had no waves!  My favorite experience was when we went to the beach at Bahia Honda state park and I got to sit down in the water.  The water was clear, calm and warm – no fighting the surf in order to relax.  I just sat down in the water and let the smooth sand run through my fingers.  I realized then how much one could be happy with almost nothing and how tied I am to the threat of boredom.

Before leaving for the beach, I had fretted about whether I should bring my IPad, with its Kindle app, or my purse. My purse is always full of books, markers, pens, bits of drawing paper, candy, headphones – anything to keep me distracted in case the boredom monster should appear.  I wonder what I am so afraid of?  There is a world to see, hear, feel, and think about always in front of me.  Do I really need to be constantly distracted?  Is time alone with my thoughts really so bad?  Ok, so sometimes, yes, but often no.  AND what about all those mindfulness exercises I participated in my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy classes?  With the sand running through my fingers, I realized that I do not even need to think.  As I’ve said before, life should not always be about productivity, which is the lie of capitalism, but in learning the value of just being. During my days of sleepiness, I have to look for ways to let go of my productive expectations and just be – otherwise, I will be miserable.  I posit that that might be true for other people too even if they do not have energy issues.

I had a wonderful time in Key West, practicing being content with the little I could do, taking in copious amounts of beauty.  Here are some of the beautiful pictures my family and I captured:
 Of course, I am glad for my energy being back and will have to remember the gift of just being when I am back at work. Just being is the way towards gratitude and peace – just striving is the way towards frustration and anxiety.  May we all be content today, even as we strive towards a more just society.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Finding Your Holiday Spirit When Feeling Bitter

Christmas is not a time or a season, but a state of mind.  To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ Calvin Coolidge
Until last week, I was not feeling the holiday spirit.  I guess you could call me the Trump Grump.  With so much uncertainty and fear in the air, I just did not feel like celebrating anything.  Being in the holiday spirit means a lot to me.  I have always thought it important to relish the joys of the season - it fills the coldness of winter with love and gratitude and kind warmth.  I eventually was able to pull myself out of the pit and into genuine holiday happiness and so I wanted to share what I've learned with you.

Lesson 1 - Authenticity and Validation

 It is a terrible, although common, feeling to feel like one has to lie and say they're fine when they're not.  When at my church two weeks ago and all I could think of was the fact that Trump is going to be president soon, I decided that I would tell people what was on my mind if asked how I was doing.  So I did and both times it opened up genuine conversation instead of mere pleasantries.  It felt good to know that I was not the only one internally struggling.  This is getting validation and it's something everyone needs.

Two caveats:
1. There is a difference between sharing and wallowing - sharing in an effort to receive validation is usually good; sharing but then refusing to switch to a cheerier subject after a long time of talking, so that one is only surrounded by negativity is usually not good - I know because I used to do the latter all the time years ago.

2. Be careful of who you go to for validation.  Fortunately, I go to a very liberal and progressive church, so I already felt sure that whoever I talked to would probably be understanding.  There are other people in my life, however, that I would probably not share why I was struggling with, as I know they would blow it off as an unimportant concern.

Lesson 2 - Opposite Action

Opposite action is a DBT skill that can be hard to do.  It's basically doing the opposite of what you are feeling like doing in an effort to produce a different feeling.  After church that Sunday, it was time for our annual caroling around the Kirkwood area.  I love caroling and look forward to this event all year long - when I was a kid I learned all the verses from almost every carol because I loved it so much.  Now, I amaze people by knowing how Miss Fanny Bright got upsot in Jingle Bells and how we are supposed to strike the harp and join the chorus in Deck The Halls.  Unfortunately, I was still feeling a bit gloomy and didn't want to join in the caroling this year.  I thought about how I had switched shifts at work so that I could go and how I loved going in previous years.  I remembered the opposite action skill and decided to get on the truck and go for an hour in the hopes that I would feel more like in the Christmas spirit afterwards.  It worked!  I sat beside a good friend of mine and we made jokes and sang the whole way.  I impressed her with my knowledge of obscure carol lyrics.  Basically, by totally immersing myself in something that has given me pleasure before, I was able to change my mood and I am so glad I did.

Lesson 3 - Traditions

Traditions make us feel in touch with our roots and be grounded.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to have the motivation to do them if with different people or in different environments than in the past.  When I was younger, my mom and I would make cranberry bread every year - Christmas just didn't feel like Christmas without it.  It's moist, tangy and sweet at the same time - so, so good.

Unfortunately, ever since I moved out of my parents' house, I haven't been as engaged in the old traditions and I hardly ever do holiday specific cooking anymore.  Last Wednesday, I had my peers and I make my family's traditional cranberry bread for whole health.  It's not really a healthy bread but I told them being mindful of holiday traditions is.  It's funny how what we do to teach others usually ends up helping ourselves most of all, because making that holiday bread with my peers is what finally totally turned my frosty mood around.  I had thought that I wouldn't like making a family food away from my family but I found that wasn't true - instead, I felt more connected to the people around me while still feeling connected to my roots.  Eating that tangy, yet sweet bread again and sharing it with new people that I love and care for finally opened me to feeling the holiday spirit.

Of course, there is no rule that you have to get immersed in the holidays, but I will posit that getting connected to people that care is always a good thing.  Thinking of others outside of ourselves, honoring traditions, receiving and giving validation and being authentic are all good things no matter what time of year.  If you are feeling bitter or cynical this year, and there are many good reasons to feel that way right now, I urge you to look for something that you can do to alter your state of mind.  Despite the long road ahead politically, we must never let those who hate steal our joy.