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, November 15, 2015

No One is Alone - Recovery Can Heal the World

This world of ours...must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
I was thinking the other day about how alone people with depression and other mental illnesses feel. Mental illness lies and tells you that you are the only person who cannot get out of bed or has suicidal thoughts. It tells you that you are utterly alone, that you are a burden. These feelings lead to more despair.

 Recovery is different. Being in recovery means that you take risks and that you talk to other people. Opening up is scary as hell, but so is remaining quiet. There comes a point when a person must decide whether to suffer in silence with no hope of getting better or to take the risk of opening up and possibly achieving a more meaningful life. Opening up is risky. One might be ostracized, bullied or traumatized by certain forms of treatment and unfortunately, all of those things do happen. There is one thing wonderful thing that will happen too though - one will finally realize that they really are not alone at all. Whether going to a hospital, calling a warmline, attending a support group, participating in group therapy, spending time at a peer center or even just talking to a stranger or friend, one will start to make connections.

My first forays into the world of standard mental health treatment were not good. I attended a hospital's outpatient program and I was the only one diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and the only one experiencing hallucinations. To top it all off, the professionals spent a lot of their time arguing about my diagnosis because while I experienced hallucinations, I did not experience delusions. Apparently, that's weird. I felt like a freak.

On the other hand, at the college I attended I got wonderful support from my friends. It's a little embarrassing when I think of how needy I was. Like the hospital's professionals, the campus therapists had no idea what to do with me - a theme I experienced at college after college - my friends, however, were there for me. I felt reassured when I realized that a lot of my friends were also seeing the same college therapist, even though we had different symptoms.

 It took five years to find a treatment center that actually helped me instead of alienating me. SkyLand Trail was the first place where I met people who had the same diagnosis as me. It helped me feel a lot less alone. Apparently, I was not so weird after all.

As the years went on, I attended different treatment centers and different support groups. Some places and groups were really helpful and healing and some I will have to value just for their learning experience...that I will definitely not attend there again. But here is what I have learned - no one is alone. No matter how weird your diagnosis, there is someone else with the same symptoms. And even if it takes a while to find that person, more people will identify with the recovery process than you will think.

Here is something else that I have learned and some might find it surprising - a person in recovery is blessed with understanding friends and peers in a way that many people are not. I have been seeing a lot of posts lately by friends who are not in recovery about how hard it is to make and keep friends. I do not have this problem at all. In fact, I have so many friends that I struggle to maintain meaningful relationships with all the people I value. This is a good problem to have, although overwhelming at times.

One article that has been circulating my friends' facebook feeds says that it is hard to make friends after college because people today stay holed up in their homes more than they did in the past. People tend to meet less people on a regular basis and so have fewer opportunities to make connections. I am so glad to say that this not true for me. At the Peer Support and Wellness Center that I work at I am blessed with ample opportunities to develop relationships with different people. I work at a place with a supportive atmosphere that makes it relatively easy to open up and get to know both my coworkers and my peers in a deep, meaningful way. All this is not counting the other people that I have met at previous centers and support groups.

Of course, there are other ways to make friends. I have many connections formed at my church, book club, and past colleges, but none that I see or talk to as regularly as my recovery friends, with the exception of the people that I am dating. Even if I did not work at a recovery center, I would still have many recovery circles that I could go back to and receive support from if needed. Even people in rural areas have access to our warmline, as long as they self-identify as having a mental health challenge. Many times I have felt sorry for the common person who does not have a mental health challenge, for they do not have access to as many forms of support and I fully believe that all people need support and opportunities for genuine connections, whether having an illness or not.

Today I am grateful for my mental illnesses because they led me to recovery, which has led me to meet some amazing people. I am inspired and supported by many people on a regular basis. I have the opportunity to inspire and support other people, in turn, too. I think, though, that those of us who have learned how to be good supporters should perhaps take extra care to reach out to our friends who are not involved in the recovery social circle. Not that one needs to be involved in recovery to know how to be supportive, but it does help.  I would like there to be an effort to add support and sharing in spaces that are not specifically recovery oriented.

What if colleges did not trigger mental illnesses in the first place because they promoted positive coping skills for stress? What if all work environments had supportive atmospheres? What if there were more community centers, especially in rural areas, that had many avenues for learning and communing with different people? What if childcare and transportation were more affordable so that people would have the ability to get out of their houses? In short, I would like there to be a radical shift in our culture - recovery is not just for those living with mental illness or addiction, it is a way to heal our world.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hugging Does Not Always Help Anxiety - A Lesson in Rape Culture

They pretended to know it all but were illiterate regarding life. (308, The Message Bible)
A couple weekends ago, I attended an arts festival with some friends. I enjoyed spending time with them, even though the festival wasn't quite as good as I thought it would be. At one point, the booths got closer together and the noise got considerably louder, both of which made one of my friends anxious. We were trying to get away from the noise when we came upon a group of young people who had a booth for "free hugs." They were blocking the road, shouting "Free Hugs!" at the top of their lungs and would step towards people, whether the person wanted them to or not. My friend did not want to hug them. To be honest, neither did I.

 "No, thank you," she replied to their advances.

"Oh, come on, everyone loves hugs!" they said.

 "Not right now, I don't," she countered.

 "Yes, you do!" they enthused. They continued to push.

"I HAVE ANXIETY!!" she finally yelled.

"Hugging is good for anxiety!" they said, laughing.

Amazed at their lack of insight and genuine listening or caring, we rushed to the other side of the road, onto the grass as far as we could, so that we would not be forced to hug against our will.

I am not against hugging. But unlike some people, I do not feel like hugging 100% of the time, especially when I am stressed. Contrary to what those young people thought, touch is not always good for anxiety. In fact, many times it is not. When I am anxious and on the verge of a panic attack, my plan of defense is to be as alone as possible in as quiet of an area as possible. Touching may trigger tears, which I am trying to avoid when in public. In those times, it is far better for me to get to where I can be alone, take a few minutes of deep breathing and pull myself together, so that I can enjoy the rest of my day without further incident, instead of hugging someone, crying my eyes out and causing a scene. This need is not unique to me but is probably what my friend was feeling and how I know many people deal with anxiety.

I am amazed at the hugging enthusiasts' lack of boundaries. Why is it that there seems to be a lack of boundary respect in our society? If a child does not want to hug a person, I will hear otherwise progressive people force the child to experience unwanted touch.

This is rape culture.

 It appears harmless, but we are a culture that has grown up knowing that our boundaries are not our own. That we should let people comfort us the way they want to comfort us and not the way we actually need. We learn to put other people's touching needs ahead of our own and over time, it becomes hard to internalize that it is our right to set sensory boundaries. If we teach children that they do not have the right to say no to a hug, then they learn that they do not have the respect to say no to sex later. Likewise, if we tell people with mental health issues that they do not have the right to say no to hugs, then they learn that they do not have the right to make their own healthcare choices. Many people at the center I work at are used to being told how to manage their lives, for they have been taught by well-meaning people in the past that they cannot adequately make decisions about their needs.

We start by respectfully listening to one another. We start by honoring one's request for more or less space, no matter how we personally feel about the activity. We start by making sure that people know that even hugging can be harassment.

Free hugs are great, but only if they come with consent.
Some "Free Hugs" are creepy. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self - Conflict Is Not Inherently Bad

quality of life is directly proportional to the delight you can take in discussion. (19, Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living, Mark Vernon)
I facilitated the creative writing activity at the Peer Support and Wellness Center a few days ago and my prompt was to write a letter to your younger self.  I've posted similar posts here before.  This time, my writing had a specific theme in mind - that conflict is not always bad.  This is a concept that is very hard for me to get, as I have spent my life petrified of causing and being involved in conflict.  Raised voices trigger me and I am quick to feel invalidated and defensive.  I was amazed when talking with a friend the other day when she said that she actually loves conflict and is good at it.  She sees conflict as a positive learning and growing opportunity.  Her point of view strikes me as very healthy, but very hard for me to wrap my head around.  She encouraged me to confront a person who I thought was not treating me very well.  I had been furious with this person for several days and had promised my friend that I would stand up for myself, instead of being passive aggressive.

I was all set.

I was going to set boundaries and be ferocious.

I was also terrified.

I made the call to set up the appointment for a face-to-face encounter.  She, of course, could only speak on the phone.  I went ahead and asked the question I needed to ask before really letting her have it.....

......and she was nice and polite and totally gave me the answer I had wanted.

There had been no reason for me to be angry in the first place.  There had been nothing wrong - I just needed to have the courage to ask her some clarifying questions.

Once again, my assumptions made an ass out of me.

Immediately after having this conversation I facilitated the creative writing group and so it was with this lesson in mind that I wrote my letter:

Dear Corey,

It is good to stand up for yourself.  Conflict is not bad and does not have to be scary.  Conflict helps people grow.  You are not a bad person or need to feel guilty if you have to ask questions or advocate for yourself.  Even if you have to cause another person discomfort in order to get your needs met.  You deserve to be happy and to have what is important to you understood.

Remember that more people will try to help you and be receptive to your input and ideas than you will give them credit for.  You live in a world of fear, but the world is far more wonderful than you can comprehend.  Spend more of your time basking in the sun of love than in the shadow of fear.

Remember your worth.  

Remember your rights.

Be strong knowing who you are.  You are a person uniquely made and qualified to help make the world a better place and in order to do a good job you must speak your mind.

Your mind is worth sharing.

Never forget,


Your older yet still learning and growing self.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sight In The Sandstorm Book Review

Sight In The Sandstorm: Jesus In His World And Mine by Ann J. Temkin is the latest speakeasy book that I have recently read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is easy to read and makes the gospels come alive with the way Temkin expertly weaves together stories from her own life with stories about Jesus and his disciples.  I really liked that Jesus and his followers seemed like real people with real character defects and struggles.  I liked even more that Temkin especially focuses on Jesus' humanity.  She shows him as a person that struggled with confusion and frustration, often exasperated by his followers failure to get what he was trying to say.  He was someone who wanted support and who often failed to get enough.  Since Jesus was human, he was a person that made mistakes and experienced complex emotion.  Temkin gives us insight as to what some of his mistakes and emotions might be.  I appreciate that kind of insight, as I cannot relate to a perfect person as my savior.

My favorite chapter was chapter 17, "On the Hill Beyond Time," which is about Jesus' execution.  Her writing is very effective and really touched me.  I loved how she equates the suffering that Jesus experienced with all the sufferings that people have experienced throughout all time past, present and future.  Often Jesus is portrayed as this superhuman who has no worries at all, but Temkin knows this cannot be so.  Her Jesus sees his mother at the foot of the cross and is consumed with guilt and worry over her.  He feels unable to do anything to comfort her and in reality, he is unable.  He simply has to deal with the pain that he is experiencing right now and receives no comfort from God.  Oddly enough, this image of an uncomforted Jesus gives me much comfort.  If even the son of God felt totally alone and abandoned by God at times, then I can take comfort in knowing in my times of anguish that I am not alone.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, we cannot hear the voice of God, but Jesus' experience proves that God is still there.  Feelings are not facts.  Recovery from borderline personality disorder has taught me that sometimes I cannot trust my intense feelings, but must instead cling to what I believe to be true.

I recommend this book for an insightful, emotional and thought-provoking read.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Blues Beast Will Help You Learn Mindfulness

Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard and I have come because of your words. Daniel 12:3
Today at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center I led creative writing for the first time.  I showed my peers a picture I took and asked them to write about how it inspired them.  I thought I would post the picture and the short story that I wrote about it because people said it was comforting.  I was thinking of how good I usually feel when I walk on the beltline looking at the art, which is where I took the picture.  I asked myself, "what would this piece of art say to me?"  I hope this bit of writing makes you feel better too.

I love walking on the beltline.  I walk my blues away.

Today is different - I feel restless and sad.

I see a monster painted onto a small building and I sit down beside him.

"He must be lonely too," I think.
"Maybe we can be lonely together."

All of a sudden, I feel a puff of stale air at my back and then there is a huge yawn.

"Oh!  I am so glad to have some company today," the monster says. "Do you feel blue? The people who come to me are the special people who need some love.  I know I look scary but appearances are not always what they seem.  I am the Blues Beast and I eat up people's blues.  I have claws and fangs and horns to scare them away.  People pass me by not knowing how hard I am working, but I can be your friend.  Stay right here for a while and you will feel better.  Listen to the birds, feel the breeze, surrender to the moment and I will chase your blues away.  All you have to do is sit back and relax."

"Thank you, Mr. Monster, sir."

I sit down and feel comforted.  Not all monsters are bad.  The monsters in plain sight are certainly better than the monsters in my head.
Basically, what this monster is advocating for is known as mindfulness, which is the art of appreciating the present moment.  Being mindful makes it easier to appreciate the world around you and it has transformed my life.  If you would like to work with me on becoming better at mindfulness, contact me at hopeisreal42@yahoo.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wisdom Comes From Experience; Recovery Comes From Practice

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament. Daniel 12:3
Wisdom often comes from experience and from working hard. People seem to view wisdom as something coming spontaneously and naturally, but in my experience, it is usually acquired through hardship and lots of intentional practice. I certainly do not think that one can be wise without a whole lot of self-awareness. 

 Tomorrow, a co-worker and I are sharing our recovery stories and our coping skills with an audience who have recently been diagnosed and are learning coping skills themselves. 

This is some of what I will be sharing:
Because I was impulsive and had suicidal feelings, but did not want to continue the cycle of always going to the hospital, I really had to invest my time (and money) into learning coping skills. I practiced the coping skills taught in DBT every day and I still use the skills I learned on a daily basis. Some of them are distracting myself when I feel impulsive, doing something pleasurable every day to keep my mood more pleasurable and to spend more time appreciating the world around me and the good things that are happening instead of dwelling on the bad. 
I also know how to validate myself and self-soothe myself when feeling bad. Other things I know I must do are eating fairly healthy and balanced meals, getting enough sleep, having regular “me” time, journaling out strong feelings or racing thoughts, learning how to ask for what I need, setting healthy boundaries and saying “no” when I need to, belonging to communities, such as my church and my book club, exploring my creative side and talking with people. I do see a therapist once a month and a doctor every few months. 
I have found talking about my mental health journey to be incredibly rewarding and validating. I speak at events whenever I can and write a mental health blog. Being able to talk about my experiences and help and support others is incredibly empowering and gives meaning to a time when I felt there was none. I encourage everyone to talk about their recovery with others, even if it is just one other person. Realizing that people will not run away scared when confronted with my story, but are instead impressed and inspired inspires me to keep reaching for my dreams and to keep on sharing my story. It validates that I have a story worth sharing and I firmly believe that all of you do too. 
If I could leave you with three things, it would be: practice, practice, practice. People that only have gotten to know me in the last year or two think that I have always been mentally healthy. That is absolutely not so. Becoming a healthier person has been intentional and a slow process, often very frustrating. Fortunately, over time, I have witnessed my life becoming better and better and myself becoming more and more capable at handling it. Becoming better takes a lot of practice.
 (Maybe I am able to be focused and practice more easily because of my early piano lessons. Photo by Woodleywonderworks, a creative commons license.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

My God is Loving and Good and Angry - A Book Critique

My new job is very fulfilling, but it gives me less time to read and to review books.  Here is my book review for the Speakeasy book, A More Christlike God by Bradley Jersak.  I have read other books, some that I have liked a lot more, but unfortunately I might never review them because of time.
I feel conflicted about this book.  On the one hand, there are many beautiful passages about God's love that I wrote down in my quote book, but on the other hand, I disagree with Jersak on many points.  His main point is that people put their own inadequate images of God on God, but that the most accurate description can be found in the story of Jesus the Christ.  An interesting proposition and I am not sure if I agree or disagree.  What I do know is that I believe Bradley Jersak does not paint an accurate picture of Jesus and so I do not think he paints an effective or accurate description of God either.

According to Jersak, Jesus never seems to get angry and when he does get angry it is just satire or metaphor.  He also does not think that God has feelings - that saying, "God is angry," is just anthropomorphizing.  I find both of those ideas abhorrent.

I think God and Jesus are furious.

No, I do not think that God is going to send anybody to Hell because I do not believe in a physical Hell, but I do think that God is angry.

You see, there is a difference between righteous anger and self-righteous anger.  It is good to be rightfully angry - it is not good or helpful to be self-righteous and full of one's self.  Righteously angry is Jesus - self-righteous are the Pharisees.

It is right to be angry about injustice.  Anger is an emotion that propels many people to change evil systems.  I am part of a mental health revolution right now fueled partly by anger at the many ways the traditional medical model messes people up.

It is not right to be angry that your privileges as a white male are being levelled out.

You see the difference?

My God experiences emotion.  If Jesus shares my pain, is human and yet is also God, then God shares my painful feelings.  Therefore, God experiences emotion.  I think to deny God the full range of emotion is to deny Her a relationship with human beings.

Therefore, God experiences anger, rage, and fury, especially when confronted with the injustices in our world.  Anger is not a bad emotion, but it does need to be handled responsibly and constructively.  I believe God is the force that allows us to turn from tearing people down to building people up.  God is the force that allows us to turn unadulterated rage into something positive.

Now, I do think that Jersak was right in asserting that God is pure love and pure goodness.  But again, I think constructive righteous anger IS loving.  It is love for humanity and God that propels a person to be angry at injustice in the first place!  If we did not love and care for each other, then we would not consider anything wrong with oppressing other people.

Of course, it is all too easy to become stagnant and say, "yes, I see the problem," but do nothing about it.  It is true love that will prompt a person to change, to prompt a person to work towards a constructive positive solution for injustice instead of just giving up in apathy or giving in to homicidal impulses.

My God is good, loving and kind.  She is also angry  - angry enough to be able to turn people's hearts from mere stone to a pulsing organ of love.  She is angry enough to cut through the bullshit and turn people towards the truth.

My God is angry and I am glad.  I am angry too and with our anger we can change the world into the kindom it was originally intended to be.

Blessed be.

(Side note - I had other disagreements with the author, but these points were the ones I felt the most strongly.)