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.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Staying In My Lane

Stay in your lane.  If you're good enough, people will move to you. ~ Russell Simmons

I've always hated the phrase, "stay in your lane;" it always seemed condescending to me.  A few times someone has said it to me when I was asking a question and I felt very offended.  However, recently I realized that it is the perfect phrase for me to use to reframe my sometimes too nosy thoughts.

I went to the Alternatives conference a few weeks ago and had a great time...until I sensed that there was some tension in the air and then I became triggered and teary.  Fortunately, I was able to get the support I needed and ended up having a good enough time to want to return.

I attended a function by the anti-defamation league until I realized that the leader was triggered and her slightly raised voice made me also triggered and teary.  I ended up leaving this event early, even though I did get the support I needed-I just couldn't stop crying until I arrived home.

I started to feel very frustrated and annoyed with myself.  I realized that I was getting triggered when other people were getting triggered and that seemed very codependent.  I knew I needed to stop but how?  And then I remembered the lesson I learned from the trauma therapist last year-all of these things are not my job!  It is not any of my business if another person is triggered. It is not my job to take care of a stranger's feelings.  I realized that with my new job at drug court, I had gotten back into a co-dependent spirit and was trying to take care of everyone's feelings...And that's NOT MY JOB!!

We each have a personal space bubble and my bubble was losing its boundaries and oozing all over other people.

I laughed as I realized: "I need to stay in my lane!" Now I understand what this phrase means - it doesn't mean you can't empathize or be curious about other people, but it does mean that I don't have to let every one else's shit affect my spirit.


What a big sigh of relief!

Now I go to work and church and other functions and I don't feel so afraid.  I can be secure in myself enough to know that I am my own person.  If someone else gets triggered, I may care, but I don't have to feel the same exact way they do.  I'm so glad I caught this before my co-dependency became worse.  Years ago I once went to a mental hospital because my best friend at the time was in a mental hospital.

Not the best reason.

It's frustrating that I have to learn this lesson over and over again, but I think the idea that we should get big concepts all in one go is a damaging myth.  At least this time I can learn my lessons without going to a hospital.  That's progress. Part of the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is having an unstable identity.  I used to hang onto other people way past healthy because I did not know how to define myself.  A few weeks ago my therapist commented that my sense of identity has gotten a lot stronger and I agree.  I could sense when I was beginning to go too far and catch myself.  Now I do not feel so frustrated but proud.

My identity is that I am a passionate person in long term mental health recovery. I am a person who never gives up and who works hard.  Over everything else, this is me.  I may play with my sexuality and spirituality and style but I am riding in my own recovery lane always.  No longer am I Frogger trying not to get squashed.

I am myself.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Life is a Grand Adventure - A Recap of Last Week

Religious laws speak of how to behave; theology and doctrine speak of how to understand and what to believe; but stories appeal to the imagination, to that place within us where our images of reality, life, and ourselves reside. (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg)
I look at my life as a series of grand adventure stories.  I do not believe that our troubles are caused by God and that horror happens to teach us a moral lesson.  However, I do believe we can choose to find meaning in all situations.  We can always learn from life, even if the lesson is just recognizing the support and love around us.  I think looking for possible lessons enforces a joyous perspective.  I know it helps me keep on going when life is tough.  Lately, I have been writing a memory or two to sum up the previous day each morning in my journal and doing this has really cemented the importance of this point of view.  We can choose to claim a life of victimhood or a life of victory, although I do not want to gloss over the fact that it is easier to find the joy in life when one has certain privileges. (treatment that works, safe housing, healthy food, supportive family). I thought seeing how I look back on the past week might be interesting for folks, so I am publishing this recap.  Let me know if you find it interesting or superfluous.

Monday - Positive Affirmations are fun and powerful!  Peer support promotes joy.

I do positive affirmations with the peers at drug court.  I share that I used to think positive affirmations were too cheesy but then I tried them out and found out that they did change my thinking over time.  Peers share their favorite Bible verses and inspirational phrases.  The time passes quickly and happily.  

Tuesday - Sharing mental health stories empower others and helps dismantle stigma, i.e.,      
               “the master’s house.”

I go to a counseling center in Marietta to speak about my book.  I am bothered by how the peers seem to claim their disorders as an identity.  I understand how that can be helpful at times, but the complete illness focus is disturbing.  Still, the staff are trying their best to be encouraging.  I am incredibly touched that the staff chose to use my book to study for several months and by how many peers express their appreciation for a book to be written by someone who also struggles.  There are a lot of mental health memoirs out there, so I didn’t realize just how big a deal it is.  What makes mine different from others?   I am encouraged by how many of the peers there admit to writing poems and short stories and how they too would like to publish them one day-the more we can encourage our peers to put themselves out there-to express themselves creatively, the better our world.  Combating stigma takes creative energy.  “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” ~ Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (I believe the feminist activist was writing about mental health advocacy, although she might not have known it at the time.). 

Wednesday - Dignity and respect for all in mental health are counter to the medical model           hospital structure.  Invest in the free prevention communities available in Georgia.

The eleventh year anniversary of the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center!  I know that my cupcakes are appreciated because my former boss actually called to make a special request for my vanilla cupcakes with homemade vanilla buttercream frosting.  The center is very busy, slightly chaotic. *Sigh* It feels weird to sit around so I help serve the food and lead some games.  Even though I no longer work there, I still promote the wellness centers as much as I can.  People need to know about free hospital prevention-the place isn’t perfect, but it is so much better than any hospital-respect and dignity towards all should not be a radical concept but it is.   

Thursday -  No matter the pattern of the past, life can become more pleasant.  
      Through encouragement and support, goals can be accomplished.
        Short people spend extra money to hem our pants.

My parents and I celebrate my birthday together.  We go to one of my favorite restaurants, First Watch, a hipster-esque brunch place. I get many gifts-more than usual for my birthday.  I think everyone is just so happy that I am happy-that I was able to transition smoothly from one job to another; that’s never happened before!  I got a Captain Marvel cosplay shirt, Ms. Marvel comics, an Anne of Green Gables graphic novel, artistic paper, hair accessories, a wooden bracelet.  My mom returned the Christmas presents that I had left at my brother’s place and I am so glad-the black pens and the watercolor paper presents were expensive and thoughtful and I would have hated having to reorder.  My mom and I go clothes shopping at our usual stores, although this time for “business casual” work clothes.  Of course, the pants need to be hemmed.  I get some pretty skirts and sensible, yet flattering shirts.

Friday - Despite the hardness of life, progress happens.  
  We can claim our own internal power.
  There is beauty in the queer world worth choosing.

Court: a former participant comes to visit.  The judge said that the last time he saw him he had been bothered by a story the man told about how he wanted to go fishing with his son but didn’t have a fishing rod.  The judge then brings out two brand new fishing rods and tells the man to take his boy to the park and teach his son fishing.  The man told the judge that his son now lives with him and they are closer than they were before.  The judge then asks a peer what is her positive affirmation that she had created on Monday.  She tells the judge that she is a queen and that thinking about herself being a queen helps build up her self esteem. The judge asks her to describe the qualities of a queen and she describes all the positive attributes that she is striving for. I am proud-I think it takes a lot of courage to tell a judge that you’re a queen-good for her!  After court, another peer comes to me for comfort because she hadn’t been to able remember enough to answer the judge well when he asked about her positive affirmation-I tell her that it is okay-it’s just nerves and she will become more confident in time.  I know it’s true. 

Friday night I celebrate my birthday party with friends at The Red Light Cafe.  We watch “Saturday Morning Cartoons Burlesque” and have a blast.  People of all genders, sexual orientations, sizes, colors performed sexily.  There is flashy hula hooping, Pinocchio dancing on Pleasure Island, a sexy “dad bod” dragon, milk and cereal pouring over the bodies of several people.  Everyone with me identifies as queer in some way and we all agree that our orientation is lovely.  The creativity that comes from opening up oppressive binaries is healing.  My lifestyle is queer love and I do wholeheartedly choose it.

Saturday - Sharing the hard stories are important-we must speak truth in order to change the 
      present.  We need to end for profit prisons and for profit mental/physical healthcare.
      Disabled people and the people that love them need to rise up in unified power.

I speak at a minority health symposium during the ending panel addressing mental health.  I briefly share my story.  I give out information about the Decatur Peer Center and Wellness Center, GCAL, and mental health first aid classes.  I share the horrible statistic that half of all people killed in the United States of America by police have some sort of disability.  There really needs to be not just a racial or mental health response but an inclusive disability response.  Deaf and blind and autism and mental health challenges and wheelchair users and addicts and all the people that love and support them need to come together as a unified front representing all genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, sizes, abilities, religions, economic classes.  More unity, hope, and understanding is what this country needs more than anything. I talked about how we need to end mental healthcare and prisons for profit-that got a lot of clapping from the audience!  Capitalism can be great but when unregulated, it causes people to die both spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.  It is not okay to destroy the soul because of greed.  I tell the audience that I had to take special trauma therapy after my last hospitalization specifically to address the trauma from that hospitalization-if I had not been able to access it, I might have not have been able to return to work, and I acknowledge my economic and racial privileges. 

Sunday - It is just as important to claim joy as it is to tell our trauma.  Wake up-embrace new 
    life!  It is still the Easter season.

In the morning I am bitten by the piano bug.  It arrived a few weeks ago and then left again.  My fingers itch until I play and play.  I practice some new songs from a piano book that showcases female composers. The songs are relatively easy and it gives me a thrill to glide over the keyboard by way of eighth note scales and arpeggio chords.  I feel alive in a way I haven’t since my first days at college. At night, I make lavender orange honey shortbread cookies for a hiking trip at Sweetwater Creek Park tomorrow.  A friend tells me that the park is a great place to dip hot feet in cool water.  The smell of orange and lavender permeates the air. I am coming alive, I am waking up, I am embracing life, I am whole.  

How much better life is when I think of the good things instead of dwelling on the bad! How much better life is when I know I am doing my part to end stigma and oppression!  Something different I have done this week is write down the people to pray for based on whether they are my enemy or not: my prayers for the week were for the Dekalb County jail, white supremacists, Trump pro-birthers, unchecked capitalism, and homophobes.  Prayers are not enough, but by keeping them in my mind when I pray, I believe I have had a more focused view for what is going right in my life and what truly needs help.  With so much going wrong in politics, I think following the principles of lesbian black feminists, like Audre Lorde, are important: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Thank you, Lorde! (from Sister Outsider)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Rebellious Wellness

God is love.  When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.  (The Message Bible)
When I live in Love, all is well no matter how I feel. (me)
"I'm too tired to take my medicine" is the familiar refrain in my head.

It's the refrain that has tripped me up again and again.

I decide that I'm too tired to take my meds, that one night without won't hurt.  The pattern repeats until I am in some sort of crisis.

But not this time- something within me has changed.

I am a Wellness Rebel, Wellness Rebellious!  No longer will I listen to the evil voices inside that are trying to bring me down. "No, I MUST take it!" I counter the voice.

More and more I am countering the voice of self destructiveness and victimization:  

I WILL take my medication every day.
Yes, I WILL put my clothes away before bed.
Yes, I WILL make my bed after I get up.
Yes, I WILL clean the litter box before going on vacation.
Yes, I WILL get my tire pressure inspected when the light first comes on the dashboard.

These declarations may seem funny in their ordinary-ness but for me they are huge.  Depression and anxiety and intense moods have lied to me most of my life; they tried to convince me that I am not capable of taking care of myself well-that messiness and procrastination are an inherent part of me, just like I am a naturally depressed and anxious person.  

Except, I am not.

My life is the life I want now.  I got a new job that pays well but has low hours.  I go to fairs and sell my artwork.  I write and people want to read it-people pay attention to what I have to say. This actually has been happening for a while but with the new job, I feel like I am stepping onto a higher plane.  I am not willing to give up where I am.  No longer will I let shame trick me into not taking care of myself.  No longer will I let inner shame block my path in recovery.
Today I choose wellness.
I laughingly told my therapist last week that I'm a "wellness rebel-rebellious wellness!" She laughed along with me and said that she is proud. I am rebellious to all the ways depression tells me I can't and anxiety tells me I shouldn't.

I have been practicing wellness/DBT skills for years now and the effort is finally coming to fruition in a big way.  More and more I am finding that I can do more than I can't.  I know that I am not perfect and that pain comes to everyone eventually but I am at a point where I am ready to face the pain of life and ride the wave out until it crashes instead of running away into a worse situation.  It makes me feel powerful knowing that intense emotions don't have to pull me back. 
I can be intense and be well.
I can feel pain and be well.  
I recently read the book, "Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of a Buddha" by Tara Brach and she was able to help me more fully understand that allowing myself to feel intense emotions won't kill me. When we feel intense emotions, it is natural to want to push them away, but that just makes the situation worse.  When we radically accept the painful emotion and let ourselves feel it, then we are no longer held captive  by its fear.  Her book taught me a way of being mindful that is pushing my confidence to a higher level.  

I listen to myself now and I say yes.

I feel like crying, so I cry.  

I feel overwhelmed, so I let myself experience the overwhelm.

I feel it, and while the problem may not be solved, the intensity of the emotion passes more quickly that I would have thought.  

I can even feel the resistance in my personality that wants to procrastinate, to victimize, to wallow, to diminish-I feel it and then it passes.   Letting myself feel more fully is freeing and healing.  I embrace my mental health challenge when she knocks at my door, I give her a hug, and then we walk hand in hand to face life and love together.

I embrace my mental health challenge and she turns into recovery.

You only look back to se where you come from but victory lies ahead. " ~ Howard Finster

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Discomfort Signals Growth

Newness is possible; the future does not have to replicate the past; the dream of God is alive. (Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time)
I'm going through a lot of change and that is good.  It is also stressful.  I started worrying that my increase in anxiety was a signal that I would relapse into my illness.  I am so glad that I finally completed my big goal of publishing a book but trying to figure out how to not overdo it has been really hard.  Fortunately, we had another intentional peer support training at the peer center where I work and it prompted a few "aha" moments.

Turn From Fear Towards Possibility

Discomfort Means I'm Growing

"Aha!" I said. This additional anxiety is not so bad - it doesn't mean I'm relapsing; it means I'm growing! I need to not run away from my fear and discomfort but embrace the change instead. I feel comforted by the fact that I don't need to pathologize my emotions.  I decorated a page in my journal to remind me of the direction I want to keep going in my recovery.

donot worry - choose joy
My thoughts are like butterflies - they flit and move on!
Be mindful! Slow down!
Affirm my self worth
I am valuable!

Does this mean that I should strive to always be anxious so that I can always grow?
Ugh. NO
But it does mean that I can appreciate it, even if not enjoying it.


But it does make me feel victorious when I remind myself that every low point in my life has prepared me for something wonderful later.  I don't think God intentionally gives us suffering to punish or teach us but I do think that through mindfulness we can be open enough to see the creation of good even despite our suffering.

How to do this?

I remind myself that my thoughts are not real - a bad thought does not make me a bad person.  I can choose to give my thoughts power or I can choose to simply notice the thought and then go to something else.  Creativity, watching kid's movies, cuddling with my cat, and talking to my supporters are probably the biggest and best ways I distract myself from my intrusive thoughts.  I will also say that taking my medication is another key for me.  My anxiety is just too severe without it; it is much easier to simply notice my thoughts when I have some medical help.

This is all hard but so important.  I read an article the other day about the difference between a "fixed mindset" and a "growth mindset."  Someone with a fixed mindset has been told that they are talented and so they feel pressure to keep up with their accolades.  This means they feel like a fraud and don't take as many risks-they are even more prone to lie about how well they are doing in order to keep up their talented image.  However, people with a growth mindset have been praised for their hard work.  This means they enjoy a good challenge and taking risks.  They have less inner conflict because they don't see mistakes as failure in themselves but as another challenge to overcome.  They are more honest and content.

This is the type of person I want to be.

Growth isn't always fun but it is satisfying.  

Embrace your discomfort and take care of yourself. Validate your self-worth and grow.
(from the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time-an excellent read.)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

You Can

"Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." (The Message Bible) 
"Why don't they ever tell us that we can recover? 
Why don't they ever tell that us that we can be well? 
My doctor and therapist never told me that my symptoms can go into remission and that I can be really well! 
It's true, because I am!"
These were the words said by a peer a few days ago in a conversation about dynamics with mental health clinicians. I am grateful to have a mental health professional team that I trust, but so many people don't.  If you are uninsured, you have to take what you can get and often these clinicians are over worked, under paid, and burnt out.  They don't have time to share hope anymore.

In case your doctor or nurse or case worker or therapist or social worker doesn't say it, I will:
You can recover from mental health challenges.
You can be well.
You can go into remission from mental health challenges and substance abuse and experience a life worth living.
Will there be more hard times too?  Of course.

Will you relapse or lapse?  Most likely, but each time you will come back even stronger and this will build up resiliency.  Life will get better more and more often.

Life is like a roller coaster - sometimes we are on the top of the hill and sometimes we are hurtling down in a stomach turning rocket.  The one constant in life is change and your roller coaster keeps on going.  At first, riding the roller coaster is very scary but after a while, you start to get used to it.  In fact, you eventually feel thrilled and excited by the twists and turns - it's a hard experience, but it's also an adventure.  You learn that you are strong and can keep on going.  You scream and laugh.  You swear that you will never take another risk again, but then discover that you are standing back in line to ride another adventure roller coaster ride.

My life has gotten better since I started thinking of my life as a grand adventure.  Sometimes it sucks, but there are always changes that surprise me and keep me going.  There are new lands to discover and people to greet.  There are new lessons learned and exciting foods to try.

I am well, although still disabled.  Most days I feel pretty good and I accomplish a lot.  This triumph comes from knowing myself and from taking care of myself.  I take my medication; I balance sleep and food; I create art.  I participate in many communities and I both receive and provide support to others.  The only reason why I still say that I am disabled is because my wellness comes with stipulations.  If I worked the hours of a full-time employee, I would probably not be as well as I am.  I have to take extra care of myself so that I will not be burnt out and exhausted-rather a lot like the social worker who no longer can provide hope! I believe there are many people who are not well in positions of power.

Being well requires a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, but it can be done.

And...sometimes it can't.  Sometimes we can't sleep no matter how hard we try-our bodies hurt and from no fault of our own, we are not well.

It's true.


It's also true that we can be well.

If you are struggling right now, take comfort in the fact that life is change.  You will get better. You will fly up and then hurtle towards the ground in a free fall - you will laugh and scream.  You will learn and grow stronger.  If no one has told you this lately, then let it be me:

You can be well. 
You can recover. 
You can possess a life worth living. 
You can.

At a recent blog-to-book workshop with recovery authors Bicchiere Alta and Ashley Smith.  (left to right) 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Upcoming Events

Friday, March 1

 Saturday, March 2

Saturday, March 9 & Sunday, March 10
The mental health first aid workshop is free for members of Kirkwood United Church of Christ and $20 for non-members.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Both Broken and Whole

"Life is funny like that, when the dust settles at the end of the day - and we’ve said all we can, we’ll realize every part of us, even the loving ones, were a little broken.” 
I like that you're broken Broken like me Maybe that makes me a fool I like that you're lonely Lonely like me I could be lonely with you
~ Broken by lovelytheband
The song, "broken," by lovelytheband is on the radio a lot and it's my current favorite pop song.  It's catchy, musically very similar to Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People, which was the big song on the radio a few years ago.  Catchy melodies are nice, but the reason why I love this song so much is that its words speak to my soul.  It seems sort of funny to me that such a pop-y song can make me cry, but it sometimes does.

We are all broken and it is refreshing to hear a song that acknowledges that deep, spiritual wisdom in an accessible way.  Now when I say we are all broken I do not mean that we are bad or wrong.  I've heard the sentiment from many a troubled warmline caller, so let me be clear:

You are not broken because you have emotions or cry
You are not broken because you have a mental health challenge
You are not broken because you struggle with addiction
You are not broken because of the way you look
You are not broken because you take medication or go to therapy

You are perfect and whole just the way you are.

We are all human and humans feel complicated emotions.
Humans cry and struggle and face challenges.
Disability is natural.

Having a disability does not mean that one is broken or defective or bad or wrong; it simply means that one needs extra support in order to make money in our society. (Literally, this is how the American government defines disability-it's all about whether a person can keep a job.)  Money helps people live but it does not give a person moral value.  (Sorry, Trump.  #sorrynotsorry)

When I say we are all broken, I mean it in the way of Audre Lorde:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
I am broken because our world is broken.

It's another dialectic:

I am a whole person who can declare her goodness to the world - I don't have to let the world convince me that I am bad.

Like the beginning intro to the music video, we are all a little broken due to the trauma of living in this world.

Immigrants and their children separated, mass incarceration of people of color, gun violence in our schools, emotional abuse in mental hospitals, women giving birth while in shackles for nonviolent crimes, hate crimes, rape culture, genocide, dead zones in oceans - There is no way a person can listen to the news and not acknowledge that something in our world is very wrong.

It is our ego.

When we think of ourselves only, we are living in brokenness - when we think of ourselves as inseparable from all, then we are closer to wholeness.

Being disabled is not a deficiency but a world that does not want to recognize and include the talents and gifts of those with disabilities is.

Do you understand the difference?

I like the song, Broken, because it speaks to my experience.  I am dating and I am looking for someone that is willing to admit that they are sometimes lonely and who recognizes the brokenness of this world.  But I also want someone who values themselves and is confident.

One can be vulnerable and confident at the same time.  One can admit their brokenness and still value themselves.  In fact, maybe those states of beings help each other out-perfectionism often comes from a person feeling so completely inadequate that they feel the need to go too far in the other direction.

I am a broken person and my heart aches.

I am a whole person and my heart sings.

I am both and that is good.

(a journal entry from a few weeks ago)