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, April 15, 2017

The Hearing Voices Network Introduced Me To First World Trauma

Let us not ask, "What is wrong with you?" but, " What happened to you?"
I recently took a life-changing, empowering, and validating training to be a support group facilitator for the Hearing Voices Network (HVN).  HVN is an organization that started in England and is now worldwide that provides nonclinical, nonjudgmental support groups for people that experience voices and visions, so that they can find their own meaning in their unique experiences.  I am so excited to be a part of this social justice movement that is trying to change the mental health system by giving the power of meaning back to the people, instead of in the hands of clinicians.

A key value of the Hearing Voices Network is the trauma informed model, which recognizes that people with mental health challenges, including those who experience "symptoms of psychosis" are 500 times more likely to have experienced major traumas in their lives.  The symptoms that are usually labeled as psychosis are actually the brain's way of processing traumatic experiences and so are a natural and normal way for a body to process an abnormal event.  We should not be asking people what is wrong with them, as if they are a problem to be fixed, but what happened to them, because they are actually people in great pain deserving of empathy and validation.  This turns the idea of mental illness on its head: what if we did not have to call ourselves sick in order to gain compassion, but instead received compassion simply because we are all human beings with the capacity to experience great pain in different ways?

In the training, we learned that disturbing voices and images can be looked at as metaphor that is in our best self interest to explore.  For instance, a person who hears voices telling herself to kill myself may actually benefit from learning from those voices and asking herself what in her life does she need to kill - certainly not herself, but perhaps a destructive relationship, job, community, belief, etc. needs to go.  This is a much more compassionate and holistic way of looking at experiences that the behavioral health industry typically looks at as bad and as something to be feared.  In my experience, what gives us the most fear may be the very thing we need to explore.

Also, the word trauma is commonly used in a dangerously narrow way which discounts and minimizes experiences that are really traumatizing.  One of the most popular phrases that I hate hearing is the phrase, "first world problems," as if the people in first world countries do not face real problems and traumas.  I thought of this the other day after hearing about the U.S. military dropping the "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan-as a person who believes in nonviolence, I was horrified
 about us dropping such a large bomb and felt ashamed to live in the country I do.  I began to have very negative thoughts towards myself that started to scare me and I wondered if I should call my doctor to up my dosage and then I thought, "NO!  Living in a country where a leader I did not vote for and do not support is doing things that I find immoral and horrifying is traumatic.  My disturbing thoughts are a normal and natural way of dealing with an abnormal and unnatural situation!" Once I came to that realization, my negative thoughts ceased to have power over me and I held myself in compassion and acceptance of my sadness.

First world problems may be different than third world problems but they are still full of trauma.  It is traumatic that our country has the highest rate of people held in prisons; that healthcare is inaccessible to many; that we have racism, sexism, ableism, classism embedded into the fabric of our police system, the system that is supposed to protect us-indeed, it is embedded into our very society; that mass shootings have become almost commonplace; that our jail systems have essentiallyreplaced
 mental institutions; that students leave college mired in debt; that we treat children like machines, always to be kept busy; that we value production over mental well being.  We are proud that this country is so rich and frivolous - look at me, with my Starbucks coffee, we say - but this richness erodes our sense of self and overall serenity.  We constantly crave more in order to fill the raging hurt inside of us at being lied to all these years, for even if we possess great privilege and power in this society, somewhere deep inside we know that all is not right and good.

I do not wish for third world problems - I wish for a world where people are allowed to be their authentic selves and not be judged, where people can ascribe their own meanings to phenomena without being diagnosed, a world in which total freedom means living in total interdependence with one another and in supportive, accessible community.  Next time you are about to minimize your seemingly tiny problem by labeling it a "first world problem," stop and acknowledge your frustration as valid and with compassion - the frustration you are experiencing, even if it is just for being stuck in a long line at Starbucks, is really the tip of the anger iceberg at living in such a  seriously flawed and messed up Capitalistic system.

In a society that wants to tell us what our meanings are, I am refreshed to belong to a organization that encourages its members to find their own meaning out of their unique experiences.  For them, it is up to the individual to decide what works for them-medication and therapy can be wonderful helpmates if handled skillfully and carefully, but they can also be destructive and debilitating if handled without skill and care.  It is up to us to decide how we want to address our distresses.

I think it is worth noting that it has been proven that people are not bothered by their voices and visions when they are allowed to ascribe their own meaning to them and in countries where those people are considered shamans, holy people, or healers, mental illness is far less stigmatized and those with unique experiences are far more happy with themselves.  This kind of thinking is what is found in many of the countries considered third world and less than our own.  (That is not to say that these countries do not have other horrible flaws and traumas inherent in their system.)

I believe that we should look at people with curiosity, empathy and love and that it is traumatic to live in society that instead looks at people as dollar signs.  I want to be part of something that helps to right this demented system and I hope the Hearing Voices Network, and other similar networks, continue to push back against the current paradigm.  I believe that pushing back in love may be the greatest thing we can do to heal ourselves and our first world trauma.

Link Love:

HVN International Site

HVN USA Site

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Accepting The Limitations Of Creativity

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.  (388, The Message Bible)
About a month ago, I heard someone who was in a position of power make the statement in front of a group of people that everyone can get their needs met if they are creative enough.  I have been thinking about that statement ever since and I have got to say that it is a bunch of privileged, ableist bullshit.

I learned way back in elementary school that needs are the things that keep you alive - you need them to survive.  The fact of the matter is that there will come a day for every single person when they will not be able to use creative means to stop their own death.  We all know that death is as certain as taxes...or do we?  Perhaps for some it is easy to deny that death will ever really happen to them but I seem to have escaped that ability.  I think about death a lot and I do not believe that there is anything wrong with that.  As I have written before, I believe my morbidity is one of my greatest strengths.

I think it must be fairly easy to not think about death if one is able in both body and mind, white, male, and of a higher class but what if one is not?  Was Sandra Bland not creative enough to get her out of the binds of being a woman of color?   What about Jaquarrius Holland, Chyna Gibson, Ciara McElveen, Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Keke Collier and Jojo Striker - the seven transgender women of color who have been killed so far this year in the United States for the crime of disregarding racial gender norms?  Was Anthony Hill's death due to a lack of creativity or to the stigma of mental illness and lack of proper police training?  What about all the poor people I know that cannot afford their medications?  Would a more positive attitude erase their need for medication or would it enable them to bring in more money on their own?  I do not think so.

I keep thinking of the picture of the little Syrian toddler, face caked with tears, blood and dirt, made famous a few months ago and how his needs are most definitely not being met.  He may be physically alive but he is bereft of home, family and safety.  I was taught in DBT that when one is in a situation where their needs are not going to be met, a person has the option to radically accept it and in so doing, may at least experience peace.  I am struggling to make sense of the fact that that famous little boy probably does not have the maturity and brain power to radically accept his situation.  He is in a miserable situation and I see little way out.  I can try to console myself that one of the workers
perhaps has adopted him and that he now has a good home but there is no way to know this for sure.
Reality insists that I have no way of knowing what has happened to him and that he very well may be dead.

I am very much alive, with my physical needs currently being met, but I have many unmet inner needs.  I have a deep longing for a world right with God, a world that honors the sacred in everyone, a world in peace and harmony with all living beings.  I am continually disappointed as I am assaulted with the knowledge that this will never happen while I am alive.  In a way, I wish I could delude myself to believing that if I am creative enough, I can meet all my needs and desires but I am smart enough and disabled enough to know that I cannot.   I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and a host of different mental illnesses - no matter how healthily I live, the possibility of developing an illness that I cannot manage well one day is always a concern of mine.  Ironically, it is precisely when I accept this reality that I experience the most inner peace.

Currently, I carry the burden of loving the life I have built for myself and the job I have but also wanting to attend seminary and become a theological writer.  I have a feeling the speaker I heard a month ago would say that there is a creative solution in which I can have it all, but I know the truth - I am not Wonder Woman and if I were to become seminarian and career writer then it would be the death, at least for a while, of the mental health career that I love.  I absolutely do not know what to do.  Fortunately, this decision is not life or death but I do believe that easing the longing for perfection in this imperfect world may be a need that will always be partly left unmet.  Perhaps that is one of the great joys of life - accepting that there will always be some kind of dissatisfaction in this life, for without dissatisfaction, I would never strive to be creative and to be creative is to be one   universe, with the one who co-created the universe to be.  Therein lies the paradox that I tried to explain to the man - when I accept my permanent state of dissatisfaction then I enjoy the highest sense of satisfaction.  I imagine that I will wrestle with dissatisfaction my whole life until the day it is that I cease to be and who knows what will happen then!  Until that day, there is no way to creatively get out of being a disabled woman and all the vulnerabilities that come with that fact.  Perhaps one day I will develop Alzheimer's and so forget who I am - all the more reason to appreciate who I am now and call out bullshit as I can.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Call or Write Senator Isakson

The new healthcare bill has many harmful parts to it that are concerning to me.  Here is a nice summary of what they are:

1. It allows health insurance companies to charge older Americans up to five times more.
2. It repeals the employer mandate, causing many families covered by their employers to lose coverage.
3. It will take insurance away from millions of individuals and cripple state budgets by phasing out the Medicaid expansion.
4. It gives health insurance companies a tax break for CEO pay over $500,000.
5. It defunds Planned Parenthood, leaving millions without access to breast exams, birth control, and pap smears.
- Call your representative in Congress. You can dial the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
- Tell your friends to call their representatives in Congress.
- Show up at your representative’s town halls.
- Spread the word about this plan on Facebook (COPY/PASTE) and other social media

It also looks like there will be no insurance cap for those with preexisting conditions, making it unaffordable for millions.

In his telephone Town Hall yesterday, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson said that his decision to support or not the current GOP Health Plan will depend on how it will actually affect Georgians. So, if you have evaluated, for instance, how your ability to afford health insurance will be affected by the Plan, please send him that information and reference his statement at tonight's telephone Town Hall. You can reach Senator Isakson here:
ATLANTA OFFICE
One Overton Park
3625 Cumberland Blvd, Suite 970
Atlanta, GA 30339
Tel: (770) 661-0999
Fax: (770) 661-0768
D.C. OFFICE
United States Senate
131 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-3643
Fax: (202) 228-0724

I urge all of my readers in Georgia to call or write  Senator Isakson with how this new bill will negatively affect you.  Here is my letter, which I will send out later today.

Dear Senator Isakson,

You stated in your last town hall meeting that you wanted to know how the new healthcare bill will affect Georgians, so I am writing you to know how it will affect me and my concerns.

I am currently on disability for several mental illnesses, so I am on Medicare.  That is good news, as it means that I will not be negatively affected at first.  However, I would like to be able to get off of disability one day.  I believe that I will continue to get better and may be able to work more in the future.  However, there are practical considerations besides my health that affect whether I will ever get off of SSDI and that includes whether I will be able to afford my healthcare and I am afraid I won’t.  While preexisting conditions will be covered under the new healthcare bill, as I understand it, there will be no cap.  I am afraid that the insurance cost for people with preexisting conditions will be too high for people to afford.  I will never be able to work the kind of fast paced job that will earn me tons of money and I will always be part of a vulnerable population.  I would like to get off of SSDI one day, but if there are no caps on insurance for those with preexisting conditions, then I may never be able to afford any insurance besides the Medicare that I currently use and so my dreams of one day furthering my career are effectively stopped.

I cannot simply just not be on insurance – what if I have to be hospitalized again?  I hope you can see now that no caps on preexisting conditions still discriminates on those with disabilities or who have been sick in the past.  The most vulnerable population should not be penalized for something beyond their control.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Metro Atlanta Eating Disorder Resources

Since I am in recovery from an eating disorder, I get asked about eating disorder resources in the Metro Atlanta area from time to time.  Recently, I decided to compile them in a list so I could just send it to whomever asks.  I think it's such a good resource that I'm sharing it with you.  Feel free to print it out and give to anyone who needs it.  All of the treatment centers and support groups listed are ones that I recommend.  I do not recommend most food related twelve step groups because I firmly believe that abstinence does not work with food  - it does nothing to remove the obsession, as people who are constantly hungry and deprived are going to constantly still be thinking about food - they are replacing one "addiction" with an eating disorder.  I do approve of Eating Disorders Anonymous because they focus on balance, not abstinence.  I have not attended the Atlanta ANAD support groups but I have friends who have and they come highly recommended.  I would feel comfortable attending these EDA or ANAD groups should I ever need extra support in regards to my eating disorder recovery.  I am very lucky to report that I am doing very well right now with it and am far enough in my recovery that I think I can safely say that I do not see a relapse in my future at all.  Being that obsessed about food takes up a lot of mental energy and I just don't have the time or the energy to be that obsessive anymore!

  Ridgeview Women’s Unit (Only inpatient unit in GA but would be fairly short term – I recommend it though if someone needs to go inpatient)
 http://ridgeviewinstitute.com/pat_serv_womens.html

  ACE – Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders (Intensive Outpatient Center – been in Atlanta a long
time – I’ve heard good things. Average length of stay is 12 weeks.  Only place in Atlanta that treats boys and men with eating disorders)
 http://www.eatingdisorders.cc/ 

  Renfrew Center (New to Atlanta – seems good but its too new for reviews – treatment that would be the most long term)
 http://renfrewcenter.com/ 

Veratas Collaborative
Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Outpatient Treatment in the Dunwoody area
Also too new for reviews, but has therapists that are respected.
https://veritascollaborative.com/eating-disorder-treatment-locations/atlanta-georgia

  MANNA  (Christian based eating disorder treatment for adolescents in Lawrenceville) http://www.mannatreatment.com/  

Eating Disorder Therapists

Tara Arnold
  http://www.taraarnoldinc.com/ 404-964-6629
  WholeHeart Psychotherapy
http://www.wholeheartpsychotherapy.net/

Dr. Judi Lee Webb
http://newdirectionsatlanta.com/staff/judi-lee-webb-ph-d-ceds/

Dr. Dina Zeckhausen
(Founder of EDIN)
http://www.atlantapsychologist.com/eating-disorders.html

    Eating Disorder Nutritionists
  Jacy Pitts (love her – I’m sure she could recommend others) http://newdirectionsatlanta.com/staff/jacy-pitts-ms-rd-csp-ld/  

Page Love
770-395-7331
Http://nutrifitga.com
(Two free groups of hers are recommended – one is her monthly “Breakfast Club” and the other is her “Fit for Life” group)

Christine Engstrom
Private Practice at the Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna; also works at ACE
404-683-6557

Support Groups:

EDIN – Eating Disorders Information Network 
http://www.myedin.org/
 http://www.myedin.org/groups-in-the-community.html
 (Fabulous resource - lists all the ED support groups in GA)

  ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders-Support Groups) 
http://www.anad.org/get-help/find-support-groups-treatment/
 ANAD Helpline: 630-577-1330. Hours Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Central Time
(The one started by Page Love at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church is highly recommended.
10-11am. 1978 Mount Vernon Rd., Atlanta, 30338)


  EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous – “Balance – not abstinence – is the key to recovery”) http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/meetings.html
 There are meetings in Lawrenceville, Tucker &aAtlanta

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.