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.

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?  

WHERE?!

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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Evolve with Joy and Love

we have two choices: embrace and love what we have and feel joy as deeply and fully as we can, and eventually lose everything—or shield ourselves, be miserable… and eventually lose everything. Living in fear won't stop us from losing what we love, it will only stop us from enjoying it.  ~ More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
Another school shooting.

Today in a coffeeshop I overheard an elderly white man say that he thinks school shootings are happening because kids aren't spanked enough today.  If there was better discipline, then kids would know the difference between right and wrong.

That is a horrible thing to believe and say.

I wanted to say something, but in the end I didn't because I knew it would not have changed his mind.  I think of people like that as dinosaurs on the way to extinction.  It is better to focus on the young people who are changing the system, rather than the people who are stuck in a bygone era.

What do you do after another school shooting?  Another cop called by a racist person?  Another tweet by a dehumanizing president?

It helps when I remind myself that there have always been many horrible tragedies every day since the world began-it's tough now because we are bombarded with the horrible-ness of everything all at once, all the time, if we let it.

I think we have several options: focus on joy and love or focus on fear and pain.  My mantra is to move towards love, not fear, but it's hard when confronted with the awful news so often.

I feel like if I let myself succomb to despair, then I have let evil win.  I don't want to grow up to be a bitter person who thinks violence is the answer.

The other day, I thought to myself, "the world is so bad - everyone should have a "mental illness."  Mental illness diagnosis are rising, at least partly, because people don't know how to handle our society's constant stream of negativity.  My solution is to get out of the stream.

For myself to be productive, I have to focus on what I can do, instead of what I can't.  I have to focus on the people who are changing the current paradigm for a better one - otherwise, I will get stuck in despair and misery.

Last weekend, I attended an LGBT schi-fi convention called OutlantaCon.  It was a lot of fun - I even bought myself a unicorn horn!

Why?

Because it brings me joy!

I attended a panel on activism at the conference because I wanted to meet Park Cannon - the representative for Georgia district 58 - a young, queer, woman of color who is making a difference.  It is important to take notice of those who are upsetting the system - we need to follow them instead of the negativity on the news.

Of course, we don't want to be ignorant, but my wise mind tells me that too much news watching is a recipe for bitterness instead of loveliness.

At the convention, I got to meet people who make their living by having fun and bringing people joy. Stiletto, A drag queen with backup singer puppets; a steampunk couple that makes beautiful clothes; people singing songs from my favorite musicals accompanied on their ukuleles (the ukulele seems to be the "in" nerd convention instrument right now); a ridiculous entertainer named Magnus Moxie, who claims to be the cosmetologist on The Enterprise with an endless supply of horrible puns.


So much joy!

That's what I love about conventions - it's people together who share a passion and passions bring us joy.  It's why I will never give up ice cream.

I want to focus on the Park Cannons and Moxie Magnuses of this world, rather the ignorant, white dinosaurs.  I ate vanilla cinnamon gelato and attended a drumming event (not at the same time) tonight.  Right now, I've got a peaceful cat sleeping in between my feet. Right now, I have everything I need.

Sadness is a valid emotion, but so is joy.  We need to honor both to evolve.  When I feel the urge to detach and ponder evil, I must instead connect with others and move towards love instead.  To move towards joy is to live - to move towards fear is to die: let us evolve and bring new life to this world.
(at the Decatur Square on my birthday)

I have several events coming up, including an open house for The Hearing Voices Network.  Click on the link for more info.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Sometimes Sadness Is Just Sadness

Jesus was portrayed simply as having the courage to be himself under any set of circumstances.  The Being of Jesus thus issues in enormous freedom. It delivers us from the need to impress, to win, or to protect ourselves.  It calls us only to be the self we are, the deepest self, the most real self.  (332, Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes)
I can be sad and still be myself in recovery.  I don't need to hide.  (me)
My doctor declared me, "normal," today, which makes me laugh.  My energy is low again and I was worried that my depression was coming back, but he said no.  "You don't look depressed and it seems like you're pretty motivated," he said.

Yes.

Despite a lack of energy, I took care in my appearance, put on new clothes, complete with bright red lipstick before going out today.

 I went to where I work and talked with a few people who are affiliated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  I just love networking and sharing with people my passion for wellness centered mental health.  On the way home, I stopped and got my emissions tested.  (Of course, I waited til the day before my birthday to get it done.) And THEN, I went to the bank and got a temporary debit card because of course, I had lost it a few days ago.

*sigh*

It wasn't even noon yet and I was exhausted.  Nothing appealed for food - too tired to cook, but instead of just fixing a bowl of cereal, I found a microwaveable meal with protein.  I've discovered that eating more protein and drinking more water really do help elevate my energy.  I smiled as there was a time when a microwaveable pizza would have made me anxious about the calories and fat grams.  Now I think of it as a source of energy that tastes good.  I ate and then cuddled with my cat for a little while.

*sigh*

I had to leave just an hour later for the second round of "must do's."  I saw my doctor and told him about my lower than average energy but also that I was dealing with the disappointment of breaking up with someone that I had really liked.  It's no big drama and we hadn't dated long, but it had been a long while since I had felt so hopeful about a romantic relationship.

"I think that's normal," he said.  "You're sad, but that's okay.  Everyone gets sad sometimes.  You still have motivation-you're not depressed-just going through some sadness. You're growing! Do you want to meet again in two or three months?"

Holy Sh*t, I'm just sad?! Hmmm...

On my way home, I stopped at the Kroger's that had the Georgia license tag kiosk and was delighted that despite my procrastinating, I am not going to get a ticket for no new tag.  I took the moment to look for manager's specials and was able to score a few deals for dinner.  At the checkout, I asked for money back to pay the neighbor's son for mowing my lawn a few days ago.

VICTORY!!!!

I got in my car with a big bravo - despite feeling tired and sad, I got every single of my mutha-f*ckin' chores done for the day!  (my mind swears when I'm excited, apparently...)

Maybe that doesn't sound exciting or grand to you, but it is to me.

I asked a coworker a few weeks ago what recovery means to her and she surprised me by saying,
"it means you've got your sh*t together.  You do what you need to do, whether you want to or not." 
It may not be the prettiest definition, but I think she's right.  Recovery is about doing what one needs to do, despite how one feels.  It means not giving up.  In order to get things done, we may need help, and that's okay.  The point is that one does not need to self-harm or self-medicate in order to get rid of unpleasant feelings.  You use your skills or call someone for support.

Now, okay, obviously that definition is a little simplistic.  Recovery is a process and I don't want to insinuate that someone who does not get all their errands accomplished in one day is not in recovery. That would be ridiculous.

However: not giving up, despite how one feels.  Doing what one needs to do, even if it's boring, even if it's stressful, even if it's tiring - that's recovery.

I'm no longer sad; I'm still romantically frustrated, but hey, that's life.  I've got sh*t to do.  Breaking down will just have to wait for another day.

 Read the May Edition of the Hope Is Real Newsletter and subscribe!  There are some metro Atlanta mental health events and info you may want to know!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When Wise Mind Says Shut Up

Forget about self-confidence; it's useless.  Cultivate God-confidence. (The Message Bible, 356.)
(You can substitute goddess or spirit or Higher Power or ancestors or Love or anything else-The point is to have confidence in something bigger than yourself that guides your life, even if it's just trust in your own intuition instead of your ego.) 

Talking about the prophets and sin left me with my mind swirling a couple of Sundays ago during Bible Study. The people that were talking about how awful everything is really bothered me, but is my insistence on joy ignoring reality?

Here is what I eventually decided:
It is good to reflect on the atrocities of society, but it is not good to wallow in them. It is good to reflect if they cause us to move towards solutions, but it is not if we move towards despair. It is good to be aware of when I miss the mark, but it is not good if that is all of my focus. If I spend more time feeling instead of doing, then I have missed the mark. If I spend no time feeling but only do, then I have missed the mark. 
The answer seems to me to be found in wise mind - the balance of emotion and logic mind.
I do not relate to a Puritan mindset at all.  I feel like I have spent too much time in suicidal depression to choose any kind of theology or philosophy that focuses on sin.  I want to focus on joy while I can.  

Still, when I was just about to launch into my third dramatic speech during Bible Study last week, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear,         “shut up.”        All of a sudden, I was not sure if what I was about to say was true or just egotistical and so I decided to spend the rest of the meeting listening as much as possible.  
“Just because I do not necessarily relate to the feeling of sin does not mean that I should disregard the depths of someone else’s feelings,” my wise mind said.   
*AHA!*  
I then realized why I needed to stop.  It is good to state one’s opinion or belief, but it is not good if I am doing so because I am feeling threatened or invalidated.  I realized I wanted the person to share my joyous feelings because I was feeling attacked, but disagreeing with someone is not actually the same thing as being invalidated.  People are allowed to have different experiences.
By George, I may be growing up!
I have come to view my Borderline Personality Disorder as an angsty, emotional teen.  It is not good to label that part of myself as bad or “disordered” but to instead validate her feelings, mentally hug her, and then whisper in her ear, “It’s okay.  Being quiet right now isn’t about trying to please other people or feeling bad about yourself; you are good-it’s about realizing that your feelings are not the only strong feelings out there-I can empathize with someone without taking their shit on.  I can feel someone else’s feelings without giving up my own.”

Just a few days before, I had read this disturbing passage from the DSM-V:
Compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others associated with interpersonal hypersensitivity (i.e., prone to feel slighted or insulted); perceptions of others selectively biased toward negative attributes or vulnerabilities. 
(In other words, difficulty with empathy due to defensiveness)
People with BPD have an ever changing identity/sense of self. Our insecurity prompts us to feel threatened when someone else is just expressing an opposing opinion or feeling.  This makes it very hard to empathize with others. Unlike what some people think, It is not that people with BPD are incapable of experiencing empathy, it is that we have to do extra inner work in order to access it.  DBT teaches us how to do that-Today I can choose to recognize that I am my own person; taking another’s feelings seriously does not automatically discount my own.  It is a big deal that I could recognize when I was starting to go overboard and wanting to convince everyone to feel the same way as I did in order to feel more comfortable with myself.

I believe we can most fully be in empathy with someone when we are in wise mind.  I can relate  and feel with a person without taking on their own self.

Wise mind rightly told me to shut up, consider, and think.  
It is not all about me.
What I eventually came to realize is that I do not relate to the way sin is usually talked about.  I try my best every day and feel proud that that is what I try to do. I put myself out every day to combat the stigma of mental illness. I feel secure in my intentions.  

So, what is my sin?  (Remember that sin simply means “to miss the mark.”). 
I sin every time I do not trust in the partnership of God and I.  I sin when I put material goods over spiritual goods.  I sin when I give advice, as if I know a person better than they do.  I sin when I waste my gifts and ignore my purpose.  I sin when I value making money over listening to the spirit. I sin when I think that I alone am right on any issue.  I sin when I do not trust in what I know is right.  I sin when I am not kind or jump to conclusions or talk badly about another. 
I sin when I view myself as a disorder, instead of as a human being, originally good.  I sin when I do not trust in the wisdom of my wise mind in partnership with Sophia, the wisdom of God.
So what do I do?
I reflect without wallowing; I move towards hope, not despair; I trust in myself and in my God.   
Never alone. 
Yes. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

All Can Change

God is the source of everything that is in every moment of time.  For this view, affirming that God is creator is not primarily a statement about origination in the remote past, rather, it is a statement about the present dependence of the universe upon God.  (72, Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time) 

I worry that I do not do enough.  I don't like calling people, so I don't call my senators as often as I feel I should.  I don't attend every march or rally-my feminist meetup is more of a social group than an activist one.  Where I have found solace is my work for mental health/disability advocacy and in my writing.  As much as I love to berate myself, no one can do everything - we must spend time where our talents lie.  I did not attend the March for Our Lives last week, but it influenced this writing.   The arts are important-writing is what keeps people alive in hope when their feet can no longer lift.  Writing has the ability to change people and movements years after the writer has died.  Will my writing do that?  ummmm, maybe? I only know that I feel my best when I write. 

Here is a piece of writing from the writing activity where I work.  This week's prompt was the first line in Anne Lamott's book, Grace (Eventually):
There is not much truth being told in the world.
*****
There is not much truth being told in the world.  But if you look around, the truth can be seen.  The news will have you believe the lie that all hope is lost, that we shouldn’t try to make changes.  They are saying that because those in power know their time is up and they are terrified of what that will look like.  We must tell the truth if those in power will not.  If we are not acknowledged, then we must act out our truth anyway. 

The truth is the truth - no amount of ignoring will cause it to not be so.


The truth is that the world of absolutes has come to an end.  Everything is fluid; all can change, all can be made better.  Transformation and redemption always have the final word.  It is that time of year when we acknowledge that truth-this time the children who are fed up will enforce the truth to stay.
******
Additional Thoughts:

I hear a lot of older adults complain about how everything is so complicated know, with people deciding how they want to label themselves.  I think it's much simpler though: people have the freedom to be who they were created to be without worry of fitting into society's labels.  It is a wonderful thing.  I think God wants us to create with her outside the bounds of our rules but inside the borders of God's grace and love.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mental Gifts

That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives.  Each one of us is an original."  (The Message Bible, 402)

In the hospital, I overheard someone call another an “entitled Borderline,” and that made me feel like I was five-years-old.  Even when I got out of the hospital, I felt like there was a flashing sign on my forehead saying, “Borderline Personality Disorder,” even though I have had years of DBT training and am by now a pretty mild case.  I had had to be hospitalized due to severe insomnia and a fairly recent traumatic event.

I know that most people think of BPD as a bad thing and that it has an intense stigma, but I have found a positive dialectic in the “disorder.” Yes, I got the diagnosis because my life was miserable, HOWEVER, it introduced me to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which has completely turned my life around.  A way for people to learn how to regulate their own emotions, prevent crisis, handle distress, be in the moment, and have healthy relationships?  This is hard stuff that we don’t learn in school but should. 

I can on the one hand want to learn better ways of being while also being grateful that I was given the chance to learn these skills in the first place.  I realized something similar when I was hospitalized for an eating disorder many years ago - that I was going in with a disorder but that I was leaving with skills that all people should learn. Paradoxically, the gateway to misery is also the door to freedom.

BPD isn’t the only disorder that I have - you might as well just call me the walking DSM, as I have at one time or another been labeled with almost every type of mainstream mental illness.  I see this now as a positive for my job as a certified peer specialist because I can relate to just about any kind of mental health challenge experience in some way.

Here are the gifts of my mental disorders as I see them.

Borderline Personality Disorder:
Intense sensitivity/Empathy
The ability to deeply feel brings me the gift of empathy.  I used to hate being so sensitive as a child but I have to come to say that I would rather be intensely sensitive than apathetic.

Rage/Passion:
the drive that I can put towards impulsive gestures I can also put towards my own recovery.  This has served me well in changing old ways of thinking and behaving.  It has made me a fierce advocate for others.

Severe Anxiety:
Chronic Pain/Mindfulness
My body acts up when I get severely anxious - back pain, headaches, tingly sensations in my arms, upset stomach, lightheadedness, even hallucinations.  Basically, if I experience a new weird pain then I know it’s probably anxiety.  I see these cues now as a warning sign.  When I start to feel a twinge of pain I ask myself what is stressing me out.  Once I figure it out, I can check the facts to see if the situation is as bad as my subconscious thinks it is and it never is.  

Sensory Overload/Freedom:
When I am severely anxious, I can have meltdowns like a little child because of being so overwhelmed by my environment.  I do not handle loud noises well and insomnia makes it worse.  In fact, it is one of the reasons why I choose not to have children.  These  meltdowns are deeply embarrassing to me and fortunately I rarely have them anymore but I understand why people meltdown better than most - I never blame the person but our society for making this world a much harder place to be than it needs to.  I understand the need for validation and how relieving a good cry can be. 

Restricting/Depression/Intuitive Eating:
I used to restrict in order to feel more in control.  Not eating eventually makes a person more depressed, so I would always end up in the hospital before my restricting had become totally out of control.  I realized that most likely every person in our society has eating issues and so I could use my treatment as an opportunity to become healthier than most if I was open to learning.

Depression/Acceptance of Death; Appreciation of Life
Ever since I was about eleven years old, I thought about death - a lot.  This forced me to come to grips with my own beliefs much earlier than probably most. I have a dark sense of humor and while I no longer want to kill myself, I am not afraid of death either.  I am very aware of the fact that no moment is for certain, so I really try to live in the moment.

OCD/Organization Skills:
It’s a cliche but it is true that I have organizational super powers.  I do not have cleaning powers, but I am known as the organizer at work.

Delusions/Creativity - 
Psychosis/Spiritual Connection/Curiosity:
I call delusions or psychosis as “getting weird.”  It’s really the best way I can define it for myself.  When I am in “psychosis” my mind is open to different and unusual ways of thinking and I don’t necessarily see these as bad.  It is good to have an open mind, to be curious.  To me, openness to the unusual gifts of the universe is one the best presents that I have received. During my last episode, I felt an intense and profound sacred connectedness with all living beings, especially people who have been through trauma, and I am thankful for that mystical and spiritual experience, even if it was unpleasant in other ways.

Disability/More Time for Art
I was at an art show yesterday, and I told several people that I was glad to be on disability because it gives me the time to concentrate on creating art.  Also, I have met many, many interesting and wonderful people that I would not have if I was not a part of the mental health and disability world. People with disabilities are invisible to most of society-I am glad to enjoy a point of view denied to many.

If I could choose, would I give up my disabilities?  I do not think it is a question that I can answer. The reality is that I have them, so I might as well look for the positives, instead of playing the victim in a Lifetime movie.  Even if I could give them up, they would only be replaced with some other type of hardship because that is the way life works.  Life isn’t easy for anyone, but it can still be a life worth living.



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