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, November 3, 2018

Jesus Didn't Have My Level of Anxiety

I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. (403, The Message Bible)
I am too hard on myself.  My anxiety causes me to second guess myself and assume I am doing worse than I often actually am.  I hold myself to impossible standards, to Jesus standards.  The phrase, "what would Jesus do," has haunted me since high school and I wish I had never heard it.  The other day I was holding myself up to this impossible standard when I had this epiphany:

Jesus did not have my level of anxiety!  

If Jesus' anxiety was to the level of mine then there would be some writing about the intensity in the Bible somewhere.  There is the normal amount of anxiety that most people feel and then there is a level that can disable a person from working.  This is the level that I have.  When I asked myself, "what would Jesus do?" I then realized that that is actually a very silly question.  I'm not Jesus and it is foolhardy to hold myself to his standard or really to any standard that is not my own.

Jesus did not have borderline personality disorder with severe anxiety.  There is no mention in the Bible of Jesus having panic attacks or questioning himself a million times a day.  Jesus did not fast because he was anxious but because he was religious.  Not one disciple recorded, "and after challenging the pharisees, Jesus asked Peter, "ohmygod, was I too harsh? I know I was!  ohmygod my  hair is out of place, I look terrible, no one believes me, or maybe they believe me too much, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod"

While Jesus was definitely human, it seems he had a level of anxiety that was not totally debilitating.

I don't think it makes sense for us to compare ourselves to Jesus.  Jesus was his own self.  Yes, we are all a part of God, and we are all part of the same body, but we are also individual people.  I cannot tell myself to be like Jesus when I can only be myself with my own limitations, faults, and yes, blessings and gifts.  

What I get from thinking about Jesus is not some magical saying or formula but the fact that he was in relationship with God.  He thought of God as his father.  He prayed every day.  I imagine that he prayed to God so much that he was able to sense what God wanted him to do.  When I think of Jesus this way, as being subservient to the most high, then I can relax-when I think of Jesus as perfect then I get tense.

What would Jesus do?  He would get away and pray.  
What would Jesus say?  Love one another.

I think trying to get any more out of his being is trying to get out more meaning out than perhaps we can.

I find little evidence that Jesus cared as much about people's opinions of him as I do.  He seemed pretty sure of himself and able to speak his mind, but maybe I'm reading the scriptures wrong.  I wish there was an account of Jesus' feelings and not just what he said and did filtered through others viewpoints.

I can only be myself and there is comfort in that.

What would Jesus do?  He would get away and pray.
What would Jesus say? Love one another.

Anything more is too much.

Fuck that shit.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Recovery" Does Not Equal "Appropriate"

"You look good today, Corey.  Appropriate!"  The peer at the computer laughed and then added, "People tell me to be appropriate all the time-do people ever tell that to you?"

I laughed, and said, "yes. When did recovery become synonymous with appropriate?" 

Yes, indeed-how?  I've been asking myself this question for several months now.  It started a few months ago when I broke down in tears during a theater rehearsal.  I called it a "meltdown" and "inappropriate."  I felt embarrassed and slightly ashamed.  "I should have managed my emotions better," I told myself.

It's true that through dialectical behavioral therapy, I have learned many skills to help me regulate my emotions and that's a good thing, but somehow learning skills changed in my mind to mean, "become perfectly appropriate."  However, 

1. Recovery is all about learning how to deal with the fact that we cannot be in total control.  We cannot be perfect ever and accepting that fact is a cornerstone of all types of recovery systems.  
2.  Crying IS often appropriate - it's our society that tells us that it is better to hide our emotions behind a stoic mask.  I was practicing a scene I wrote that triggered traumatic memories-crying is a normal, rational response to trauma!

What does the term, appropriate, even mean?  Appropriate to whom? Or what?  When we think of what is appropriate, usually it is part of a system created by someone else.  At the center where I work, acting appropriately means being trauma informed.  At school, appropriate means raising your hand when asking a question.  At many offices, appropriate means wearing a suit and tie.  These are other people's rules, not our own.  Sometimes there are good reasons behind following these types of guidelines, but we should never base our worth onto conforming to someone else's needs or desires.  Trauma informed environments are great for mental health, but are not ideal for a comedy club.  Raising your hand makes sense in a classroom, but is not needed when about to confront someone's misogynistic behavior. A suit and tie is needed to impress in the courtroom but would be ridiculous in athletics.

Women have always been told that telling our stories of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are inappropriate-boys will be boys-but that is not true.  It is appropriate for a woman (or male) to speak out if we are going to make progress as a nation. Tears are appropriate and anger is definitely appropriate.

Here is a poem I wrote a few days ago based on a scripture from the Wisdom of Solomon.  I hope it keeps you angry.  I think I am going to stop telling myself to be appropriate from now on and just let myself be me. 

“God purified them like gold in a crucible and found them as acceptable.”
Wisdom of Solomon 3:6

Holy Purifier,
Purify me!
I long to be acceptable but not “appropriate.”
Following in your way is not a life dedicated to being nice and sweet.
Was Jesus being “nice” when when he overturned the tables in the temple?
All of life is a test-
To deny this fact is be naive and foolish indeed.
What shall I do?
I must move towards truth-
I must amplify the voices of women seldom believed.

I believe.
God knows.
No more will we be silent.
The God who is always with us can also say, “me too.”
Let us say it with the voice of divine thunder.
Let us overturn the tables of patriarchal tradition;
Let us purify our society until it passes God’s test.

God is testing Her people-
Are we passing?
Like Job, we are right to put our troubles before God.
Like Job, we can criticize those men who tell us we are at fault.
Like Job, we will pass the test by pressing on,
Day by day, step by step, we will hold the men who abused us responsible
God will put them in the kiln and we will hold then to the fire

Until all of God’s people can pass the test together.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Life Changing Art of Dialogue

"My goal is not to change anyone's mind or belief system.  My goal is to introduce you to different worldviews, so that we can support each other better.  As you know, being a certified peer specialist isn't about being right or wrong, but about connecting, learning, and supporting each other. This is what I love about being a CPS." Me, at the beginning of an LGBT Cultural Competency workshop.
Dialogue is part of my religion and I feel no shame in evangelizing.

I just got back last night from the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network's annual recovery conference, where I facilitated a workshop on LGBTQ Cultural Competency.  I am so proud of myself, so proud to be a CPS, so proud of my peers, and so proud of the company I work for.

Certified peer specialists are people in mental health recovery who have been trained in how to use our own lived experiences to support others in their own recovery journey. We believe everyone is their own expert. We do not give advice.  We do not try to change others' opinions to mimic our own.

We are hope-based, instead of fear-based.

The United States is ruled by fear today.  When we live by fear, hatred, anger and judgment result in violence, mental illness, oppression, bigotry, and fascism.

What working at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center has taught me is that moving towards connection is what should rule the United States, for it leads to wellness, growth and empathy.
Desperation. Fear. Impulsive. Violence. Anger. Hurting people shouting.
Love.  Connection. Faith. Curiosity.  Sharing.  Growth.  Compassion.  Empathy.
Not one person said one thing judgmental to me.  No one preached.  No one argued.

Later I overheard two people sharing their religious views and beliefs about LGBT people together.  Their opinions were not my opinions, but I was pleased that they were discussing their beliefs in a calm, respectful manner.  

We believe in dialogue.

I believe in dialogue.

Whatever happened to,
"We have nothing to fear except for fear itself?"
I am sad for my country that we have forgotten who we are.  I am sad that Christians have forgotten who we are.  While at the conference, I helped the R2ISE Theater interact with people through art.
Passion. Connection.  Joy. Love. Togetherness. Music.  Dance.  High energy.  Good vibrations.
When we see and hear horrible things happen and reported, shouting and screaming are not actually going to do any good or change many people's minds.

We keep doing the same things and expecting different results.
"You are bad! You are wrong! Listen to me as I yell at you!"
Shouting matches appease and satisfy our own egos, but I do not believe they actually help very much.
"Who do you love? Why? What is your passion? What is your life like? What connects us together?"
Open ended questions opens people's hearts. Art, creativity, imagination, music, writing, and music bring people together.

Jesus was a storyteller.  He was a carpenter.  He made things with his hands and with his words. He was an artist creatively bringing people together.  Artists of hope may often be killed by the disturbed state but their legacies live far past the reign of a single dictator.

I read an article this week that stated that right now in our polarized world, people have a choice-to follow the low, harmful vibrations of fear or generate the high, bright, lovely vibrations of love and connections.  I experienced powerful vibrations Wednesday night, vibrations similar to ones I felt in the last hospital stay.  Deep connections came easily; I felt high on nothing but positivity.

I know I probably sound horribly cheesy and new age-y,  but if this way of being and thinking brings me and the others around me joy, then I see no problem.

Are we going to let the world fade into a cloud of fear or are we going to let our light transform the darkness?

I think it is time for me to reread Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire and dedicate myself again to the art of dialogue:
“It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.” 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Hospital Prevention Poems

A lot of what I do both for myself and for my peers is hospital prevention.  I would not feel such a pressing need to prevent hospitalizations if they were more ethical, therapeutic experiences AND if they were not so expensive.  Even with insurance, expect to pay a few thousand dollars. 

"What is it that you get from the hospital that makes you want to go?" I asked someone a few days ago.  The answer was, "attention."  


I go to the hospital because I want mental health attention too.  With hospital prevention, it is important to realize the benefits of a hospital to see if you can get those same needs met in another way.  One may or may not get adequate mental health attention in a hospital.  One may or may not need more mental health attention AFTER the hospitalization because of post-hospital PTSD.  

So, what can a person do?  

First, realize that needing attention is not bad.  People with  physical health challenges need attention all the time and rarely get shamed for it.  Figure out what kind of attention you need, and then go after it, unashamed.  This is much easier to do with someone else's help.  

Make a WRAP plan!  WRAP stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan and is where you make a plan of how you will stay well, and also how you will handle every bump in your recovery journey.  You detail what a crisis looks like for you and then you write down what YOU want to happen, so that a crisis will not be worse than it needs to be.  "Take me here, not there... Give me this, not that..." I am currently rewriting my own. A certified peer specialist can help you make one (we have a WRAP activity where I work every Thursday) or you can create it yourself or with your therapist.

Call a warmline for peer support - attend a support group - schedule outings with understanding friends - go to respite at a peer center - schedule more frequent appointments with doctors and/or therapists and/or nutritionists - learn how to self soothe yourself - create art - journal - have a PLAN 

I had a conversation with someone else who kept saying that they would rather sleep outside than in a shelter-a sentiment I've heard before.  People long for peace and safe spaces, especially in early recovery, especially after just getting discharged from a chaotic hospital.  I know a fair amount of people who have opted to sleep in an alleyway rather than the triggers of a shelter.  It's funny-in a sad way-how hospitals and shelters are not peaceful places-people would get better so much faster if deescalation and validation techniques were used instead of yelling and slamming doors.

I was filled with so much emotion when I got home that I wrote several poems. The end of the first poem spells LOVE, which is what we follow on the warmline - Listen, ask Open ended questions, Validate, and Empathize. The poems are a little cheesy, but they're a good representation of what I do and how I feel about my work. 

Attention Seeking Is Not Inherently Bad

It is natural to want and need attention.
Attention seeking is not inherently bad.
But beware of the hospital lure-
(More trauma, less cure)

Call a friend - call a peer - call a warmline -
Say, “Hey! I need a hug, I feel bad.” 
The hospital offers no warm embrace.

Ride the emotion wave with me, 
Let us be each other’s grace.

“I feel hopeless and lonely.”
“I’ve felt that way too but it passes.”
I can Listen, be Open, Validate, Empathize
Together, we are wise

I'd Rather Sleep Outside

“I’d rather sleep outside than in a shelter-
All I want is peace.”
No chaos for me-
No doctor, no bed
No pill, no med      
Replace the "I" with "we"

I am more kin with night owls and butterflies
With prowling cats and homeless sighs
Than those wearing the savior mask in disguise.
You call it a shelter, but at night my heart cries.

Emotional abuse is still abuse
Triggers, needles and weapons
I must run away from here
I need peace for my soul
I won't dig my own hole
I follow peer love, not fear.

(Note: I'm not against medication - the poem is just a reflection of some of the conversations I've had with peers lately.)

I also recently completed a NAMI "End The Silence" program, which is a presentation for teens, parents, and teachers about mental health awareness and suicide prevention.  I thought I'd share a few bits from the application.  
What is it about your (or your family member’s) experience that you think the students, teachers, and/or families will be able to relate to? 
I struggled as a teen and young adult with my mental health challenges. (eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression) I still remember what that was like.  I had to live with my parents for a while and thought life was passing me by.  Learning DBT and getting the right support changed my life.  Now I am a certified peer specialist working at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center and I have a good life.   Also, I go to DragonCon and cosplay every year and everyone gets a kick out of seeing my pictures-you can have a mental health challenge and still enjoy life and have fun.
What does recovery mean to you?
Recovery is being able to live a life filled with hope and promise even with a mental health or addictive disease challenge.  It is focused on strengths and wellness; it is self determined; it promotes hope and continued opportunities in life no matter what.
What are your views on treatment for mental health conditions?
Treatment works as long as the person has access to it and is open to working hard.  It needs to be recovery, hope, and strength based.  It should acknowledge the impact of trauma, be holistic and self directed.  Currently, evidence based treatment can be very hard to afford and find.  Mental hospitals are essentially mental health prisons and do not promote recovery.  There is chronic underfunding, understaffing and under training in hospital and general mental health settings.  Fortunately, Georgia is number one in the nation for peer support.  The free opportunities available for peer support (NAMI, GMHCN, Wellness Centers, RCOs) should be more widely promoted.  Peer support should be recognized as an essential adjunct to standard medical model treatment.  Treatment should always be hope and strength based, so it can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

July 2018 Hope Is Real Mental Health Newsletter

Contact me to schedule an End The Silence presentation to let teens, families, and youth workers know that hope is real for a better life, no matter how young a person may be or how dire the situation seems in the present moment.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Hard Truths of Anxiety

"There is nothing perfect, " August said from the doorway. "There is only life." 
(The Secret Life of Bees)

I hate anxiety.

I mean, I really, really, really hate anxiety.

I know I often talk about the gifts of my disorders but it doesn't mean that I enjoy them in the moment. I have been experiencing some pretty hardcore anxiety the past few days. The kind of anxiety I experience makes me incredibly indecisive-it's f*cking frustrating. The only way that I have found to combat this type of anxiety is to do something, anything. I wonder if normal people just go ahead and do what they need to do instead of mulling the thoughts and all its possible consequences for hours.  I would get so much more done if I didn't spend so much time thinking about my thinking.

I'm currently reading the book, F*ck Feelings, by Michael and Sarah Bennett and I am loving it. It's written by a psychiatrist and his standup comedian daughter, so while it contains good advice, it's also hilarious. If I could summarize Dr. Bennett's point of view, it is that life is not fair, we all have limitations, we all have hard feelings, but it is up to us to learn how to manage and work with life's unfairness, limitations, and hard emotions. While this is not Eckhart Tolle, magical mindfulness, feel-good, I appreciate Bennett's logic, because of course, he is right.

There are so many things that we all want, but almost none of them are actually in our control. I appreciate when someone has the balls to tell us like it is. Bennett spends a lot of time breaking down what things are unrealistic and uncontrollable and what things are in our control, after all. Here is a top wish that I do wish could come true:
To stop anxiety, depression, and self-harmful urges [due to childhood trauma] 

When I read that, oh how my soul ached.  I really, really would like to be able to say that if I use enough skills, or get the right kind of medication, then my anxiety will go to the level of a "normal" person, but I know deep down that that is wishful thinking.  In order to have a good life, I have to accept my limitations and just keep trying to make a life worth living anyway.
Not all abuse victims are troubled by negative feelings, but most must carry some burden of pain, anxiety, and mistrust that doesn't disappear, even with good therapy and loving friends. When they can endure those feelings and nevertheless find a reason to live, love, and restrain negative impulses, they've truly overcome their trauma.  The negative emotions may still be powerful enough to linger, but positive actions are what matter.  (88)
It's funny but him telling me that my "burden of pain, anxiety, and mistrust" may never disappear was actually very validating.  A lot of people have anxiety issues-I am not alone. It also means that I have not failed. I want to be the success story that proclaims that because I am in remission from my disorders that I can now work a full-time job, but it is not true. I am a success not because I no longer feel paralyzing anxiety but because I endure those feelings and still "find a reason to live, love, and restrain negative impulses."


Now that is doable. I may not be able to make quick decisions or not have negative thoughts and impulses, but I can find meaning in my life. I can seek a better way when overcome with negative emotion; my negative impulses can still lead to a positive action if I am aware and mindful of myself.
Take pride in what you've accomplished, despite continuing pressure to despair and hurt yourself and your relationships (89)
Thank you, Dr. Bennett, I think I will take pride in myself! Despite experiencing hardcore anxiety and some disassociation today, I managed to finish cleaning my desk, put away the dishes, go to the dentist, and write, write, write.

Perhaps I should stop being so hard on myself?

Or perhaps I should realize that I will most likely always struggle to an extent with my personal expectations and just be glad that I get things done anyway. It is so easy to tell people to stop being hard on themselves, to love themselves more, but the truth is those things take time and they are never fully done.

A deep part of myself is resentful over the extra burden of anxiety that I almost always feel but a deep part of me is also grateful that I have other talents.  I may struggle with energy but I do not struggle with heart. I may struggle with time management but I do not struggle with compassion or creativity.

Often times when I read self-help books, I love what is said but I also feel like there is something wrong with me for not being able to achieve the inner peace and wealth advertised. It is oddly reassuring to hear someone say, no, there is no magic cure and no way to absolutely turn yourself into the complete opposite of who you already are.

Life is better when I accept life as it is and give myself credit for the things I've done anyway.  A lot of my therapy has been behavioral and sometimes people tell me that they feel like behavioral therapy does not get enough to the root of the problem-well, I can tell you that knowledge alone does not made my life better but having the skills to keep on going does. When I experienced an urge to self-harm earlier today, telling myself why I was feeling it did not really help.  However, telling myself that I could withstand the urge by lying down and cuddling with my cat did help.  The feeling was not fun in the moment but I was right that the emotion did eventually pass. The fact that it passed without leaving a physical scar only made the ordeal that much more victorious.

I am in remission from BPD not because I no longer have urges to self harm but because I no longer act on those urges.

To recap, life is unfair, we all experience hard feelings, and we all have limitations, but this is what makes our persistance so wonderful. I wish I could stop my anxiety but I can't. No amount of mindfulness or self-help magic is going to cure me, but that is okay. My wishes might not be able to always come true, but my life is still full of miracles and successes anyway.

I'm holding a blackout poetry workshop at my house on June 30!  Blackout poetry is a simple art form to learn. Sign up if interested.

View the June Hope Is Real Newsletter

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Push Through or Surrender?

May Jesus himself and God our Parent, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.  (439, The Message Bible)

“When life gets hard, just push through,” the speaker tells the room of people in recovery. “Michael Jordan was sick and yet he pushed through and was able to score his team to victory.”

I raise my hand, “Shouldn’t we stop to take care of ourselves when sick? Isn’t forcing us to push through dangerous?”

I’m not trying to be argumentative - it’s a genuine question.  To me, telling people to push through sickness feels like he is telling us to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.  

There is a dialectic here.

The truth is that in some ways we do have to push through, no matter what.  To not push through is to commit suicide.  It would be to follow through with an impulsive, self destructive thought or desire.  Last year, if I hadn’t pushed through the panic attacks and called my doctor, I might not still be alive.

The truth is that my pushing through was also a surrender, a stopping, a refusal to keep pushing.

An event a month prior unsettled me and set me apart from reality.  I tried to deny it by requesting more hours at work, by giving unasked for advice, by trying to do everything and more that I had been doing before.  Memories and extreme insomnia had pushed me to the limit. I could not push through my denial and continue to work any longer.  To push through would have been to commit suicide. It would be saying that the only option besides appearing “normal” and as a good, productive worker is death.  How ridiculous.

I pushed through panic and called my doctor.  I surrendered self reliance.  I pushed through fear and went to a hospital I didn’t want to.  I surrendered to my own intuition.  I pushed through embarrassment and texted my boss, telling her where I was going.  I surrendered the act of keeping up appearances.  I pushed through pride and called HR to ask for what I needed.  I surrendered to the fact that I am disabled and I do need help.

Does that last sentence bother you?

We must fight the able-ism that says having and accepting disability is bad.  Disability is simply a fact of life.  It is not bad to have limitations, as we all have limitations.  It is not bad to need support, as we all need support.  It is not bad to need medication or therapy, as we have no stigma accepting those things if physically challenged.  (Of course, mental health challenges are also physical challenges.)

When I accepted that I need to work less hours, I rejoiced because I had more time to create art.  Trauma therapy freed me from many of my traumatic memories and paranoias.  Ironically, accepting my disabilities allowed me to thrive.

I can’t push through disability and be something I’m not.

However, I can push through my fear and be my best.   

Monday, May 28, 2018

You Are A Badass - A Book Review

We are all perfect in our own, magnificent, fucked-up ways. Laugh at yourself. Love yourself and others. Rejoice in the cosmic ridiculousness.  ~ Jen Sincero from "You Are A Badass"

What makes Jen Sicero’s self-help book special is its fun language - with the playful swearing, you feel like you’re talking to your older, wiser, and wise-cracking sister. It’s an easy to read book - in fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I skimmed through a few of the sections.  There really wasn’t anything super new in the message, but I think sometimes you need to hear the same words over and over again until you finally get it.  The best thing about the book is how it gets you bubbling over with excitement-I resorted to skimming towards the end because I was so excited about starting my next project.  

A consistent theme is the importance of loving yourself - instructions telling you to love yourself are just about every other page.  If there was one thing I could give one of my ex-girlfriends, it would be the realization that she is worthy of self love, but alas, there is no way to teach another that lesson.  

Another theme is the importance of following your joy.  That message seems to be following me everywhere I go lately - I guess I should listen! Reading self-help books like, “You’re A Badass” are hard to read because they challenge you to be more optimistic, positive, and joyful than what is generally considered “normal.”   We’re supposed to be beaten down with everything that is going on in the world; we are supposed to be depressed and anxious and mediocre - me especially, since I am already on disability, but I do not have to follow the old pattern anymore.  

I must say that the most frustrating thing about the book is how overly simple all of these type of self-help books are. They’re great for everyday people, but the ones who are disabled, or extremely poor, or who are too depressed for just a self-help book are often left out.  

The question I was left with is, ok, I get that we’re supposed to just jump off the ledge of employment predictability but what about the people who depend on Medicare?  Entrepreneurship seems like the holy grail sometimes but it makes it harder to get affordable health insurance.  With my healthcare needs, I feel like it would be foolhardy to just jump off of disability in our current political climate.  I know that one can continue to receive Medicare for the next five years after one gets off of SSDI - my hope is that Trump and his cronies will not last too long and that I will eventually feel secure enough that I can venture off disability even without a standard forty hour a week job.  I love my current job but after just two days of working in a row, I am bone tired.  It would be really nice if the work I enjoy did not exhaust me so.  I feel like it must be possible to achieve that kind of balance, but I have not found it yet. 

I wish self-help books addressed specialty groups - where are the self-help LGBTQ, disabled authors of color?  


I know they must be out there somewhere... 

Perhaps I will be the one to write a disabled, anarchic self-help book one day.  

I feel like I am in a new era of myself.  Ever since my last hospitalization, I realized how important it is to dwell in joy - I was just so tired of anxiety, misery, and depression.  I am never giving up this dwelling place again.