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, April 22, 2020

DBT Week Four - Opposite Action

What is the word of God for us underneath the words of Paul? It is that each of us, no matter how dark our shadows, or how condemned we are made to feel, are nonetheless the objects of the infinite and graceful love of God.  Each of us is called to live in the wholeness of that love as one who has ben embraced by the giver of infinite value.  Accepting that divine valuation, we are to find the courage to be the self God has created us to be, the self we are inside the graceful gift of the righteousness of Christ. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism)

When we're feeling an emotion we don't like and it does not fit the facts, then one of the best tools we can use is "opposite action" to get us to the emotion that we do want.  For instance, if I am depressed and I want to feel better, I need to do the opposite of depression, which is to become engaged in community.  Opposite Action is one of the most popular DBT skills because it's fairly easy to understand and is super helpful.  The more we do opposite action, the more we rewire our brain to actually start wanting to do those things that help us instead of wanting to lay in bed all day.  I think it's interesting that the opposite of shame is vulnerability, which I know from direct experience.  The more I talk about my "shameful" mental illness, the more I feel comfortable with myself.  We imagine that vulnerability will be awful, but in my experience it usually leads to more acceptance not just with myself but with other people.  People are drawn towards authenticity and I think it is one of my gifts.

We were tasked with the assignment to write down the opposite action for our disorders.  I have so many, that I was able to fill a whole page and I thought you all might enjoy seeing my interpretation.

  1. do what I fear
  2. cope ahead
  3. be productive
Anxiety tells me to fear the world and my immediate urge is to avoid.  The thing is, the more I avoid, the more avoiding seems like the only option.  Doing the action becomes scarier and scarier and my world gets smaller and smaller. I have to do what scares me in order to rewire my brain to not be so afraid.  In order to convince myself to do what I fear, I have to plan ahead and cope ahead.  When I can imagine my feared scenario going well, then I will feel more confident that it actually can go well and in fact, it usually does work out close to the way I planned.  I do this especially before having to have a big talk with someone.  I plan out what I should say and the job is then so much easier and it never is nearly as big a deal as I thought it would be.  Lastly, anxiety tells us that we are so imperfect that we should not try at all, but of course, we're not perfect, so I do as well as I can and then try to not worry about the rest!

  1. be productive
  2. stay out of bed
  3. be active
  4. cheerlead myself 
  5. be with people
  6. be grateful
  7. think before talking
  8. don't research ways to kill myself
Depression overlaps with anxiety in a lot of ways.  It's harder right now with the quarantine because some of the things that are helpful for depression, we can't do, like being around other people.  I make do with zoom and texting and social media, but it is definitely not the same.  Right now, we are all experiencing trauma together, so we need to cut ourselves some slack.  I don't like being depressed and anxious, so I will do my best to be productive, but if I sleep away a day or so, I need to not beat myself up-these are not normal times and normalcy is just not to be fully expected. I get really angry when I depressed and will say mean things to people, so I have had to learn how to catch myself.  If I notice I am getting angry about really small things, then that's a clue the I am probably in depression-land.  The last makes me sort of laugh to see-when I am depressed, I am really depressed and researching ways to die really used to be like a hobby of mine.  According to my therapist, that kind of research qualifies as "acting out."  I haven't done this in a while but it's another warning-if I notice myself thinking about how easy it would to check out, then I am probably deep deep in depression-land.  I'm so glad that I am hardly in that deep anymore.  In the beginning of this quarantine, I struggled with some more depression urges than usual, which is why I got myself into DBT so fast-I knew enforced isolation would need some more in depth emotional coaching.

Eating Disorder:
  1. no weighing
  2. no counting calories
  3. no restricting
  4. no all or nothing thinking (think dialectically)
  5. sit with uncomfortable feelings and sensations
I started having a lot of anxiety surrounding possible weight gain.  On one hand, it seems awfully petty to be concerned about weight gain during a pandemic, but I need to not judge my worries and just accept them instead.  Once I accept them, then I can disregard them a lot easier.  Feeling full sometimes is a stressful sensation for me, but one that I need to sit with instead of stressing out over it.  There is no "good" or "bad" foods when in eating disorder recovery-nothing is off limits as long as I stay in moderation and balance.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
  1. stay away from the mirror
  2. don't take forever to plan an outfit
When I'm anxious, my OCD comes out in face picking and perfect outfits.  I get a lot of pleasure and compliments from my sense of fashion but there's a balance between wanting to look good and being obsessive.  When I try on clothes for over an hour just to see my therapist, then I am deep in anxiety OCD-land.

Schizoaffective Disorder:
  1. take meds
  2. cuddle with Scully
It's funny-schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type) is one of the diagnosis that freaks people out-due to stigma, expectations for functioning are held at an offensively low level but this is the disorder that I struggle with the least.  As long as I take my medication, then I'm pretty good.  The only symptom I really struggle with is a little bit of paranoia at night, but cuddling with my cat helps a lot, so really, no big deal.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):
  1. use DBT Skills
  2. set boundaries
  3. validate and self soothe myself
  4. force myself to move out of my comfort zone
This is the other diagnosis that really scares people, but at this point, I have taken DBT so many times, that I do not struggle with this one neither as much as I used to.  I will always need to use my skills but I barely count as still living with this disorder.  The quarantine has brought it out of remission but barely.  It feels good to write that. Urges that I have to fight are fears of abandonment, self judgment, and high expectations.  I combat these with setting boundaries with myself, telling myself good things and by forcing myself to try new things without super intense expectations.

I will be so glad when all of this is over, but in the meantime, I have my opposite actions and my cat. Cat cuddles is my favorite coping tool.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Week 2 of DBT Skills: Overcoming Exhaustion

The smallness you feel comes from within you. 
God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes. 
~ The Message Bible 

We started the DBT session with a mindfulness tapping exercise called EFT.  I had never tried "EFT tapping" before but after practicing the "overcoming exhaustion" exercise, I have actually found it to be pretty useful.  The practice is so easy, it seems like magic, but I know it's just another way of validating my emotions, the first step in healing.  Try it yourself.  

We're still in the emotional regulation section of DBT.  Tomorrow is Easter and we talked about how we might ease our stress on this holiday.  The first is by honoring our traditions, for traditions often bring comfort.  I plan to make coffee cake this afternoon, wake up early tomorrow, get dressed up, eat coffee cake for breakfast, and attend church with the people I love. Yes, the church service will be on my computer and technically, I could watch it in my pjs.  However, there is something rejuvenating about honoring a tradition with others, no matter if there is social distancing involved.  I can feel the loving energy of my friends if I let myself breathe deeply for a while.  We also talked about finding comfort by making meaning out of our current reality.  Now, I don't believe that COVID-19 was sent here as a moral lesson to teach us anything, but I do believe that we can choose to find some meaning in it and if we do, then we will feel better.  So.... I am using this time to work on being nonjudgmental and mindful towards myself, to take more walks and enjoy nature more.  I am even using this time to publish a book and open an Etsy store and facilitate more groups at my job.  When I think about wanting to be with people, I feel sad, but when I think of the strengths that I am gaining, I feel energized.  Dialectically, I have to both validate my sadness and validate my joy at the same time.  (That's what dialectic means-accepting two opposing concepts at the same time!)

Our emotions and our thoughts are interwoven together after an event; our thoughts influence our emotions and our emotions influence our thoughts.  If we don't like our emotion, we can try to check the facts and see if the emotion fits the facts.  Usually they do not.  

When we tell ourselves that the outcome is a total catastrophe, we are minimizing our ability to cope. The truth is that we are all extremely resilient people and we are all much more capable then we oftentimes give ourselves credit.  How do we convince ourselves of how much good we can do?  By coping ahead of time.  Imagine handling whatever it is you need to handle well.  Face the threat to see that the threat is not actually as big as you think it is.  Don't get stuck in your "emotion mind," because your emotions will balloon up big and won't fit the facts.  Instead, be in "beginner's mind," and think of the problem as if for the first time, reviewing the facts and coming up with at least five different interpretations.  The more interpretations you come up with, the more you will see that life is not as stuck as you think it is.

I also found this reframing of exhaustion very helpful.  My body's energy often drops throughout the day.  The therapist suggested that I may have started dropping my energy, "checking out," as a coping skill to survive trauma.  If I just go to sleep or disassociate, then I do not have to face whatever I feel is threatening me.  The more I think about the failure, the problem, the conflict, the threat...the more I will feel drained, which will then make me be more vulnerable to act and feel in other ways I do not ideally want.  However, if I validate my emotion and cope ahead, then my energy will rise and I will feel better.  I found this way of thinking very helpful-my low energy isn't bad, it's just an old coping skill that no longer works for me.  I don't want to spend the rest of my life emotionally drained-I want to take charge and live a meaningful life!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What Serves You? Helpful DBT Questions During a Pandemic

There is no room in love for fear.  Well-formed love banishes fear.  Since fear is crippling, a fearful life-fear of death, fear of judgment-is one not yet fully formed in love. (Marcus Borg)

Thank God for DBT!  I was doing so well emotionally that I was able to stop therapy for a while. And then...the global pandemic happened!  I started getting paranoid and lonely and really worried, especially since my job is on hiatus during this time.  After having some old impulses resurface, I decided that it was time to re-enroll in a DBT class. Let me be clear:
 There is no shame in returning to therapy or returning to a skills class-in fact, it is a good sign that you are self aware of what you need to stay well.   
Immediately after the first class, I felt so much better.  It is soothing for me to see my therapist on a regular basis and it feels good to know I am doing something that tends to work for me.
Right now, we are needing to self soothe ourselves even more than usual.
I thought I would share what I am learning in DBT class-even though I've taken it many times before, I always receive fresh insights into myself and into what works.  I am fully aware that I made this promise the last time I took DBT and then didn't follow up with it here, but I was still working then-the gift of this pandemic for me is that I have more time to write.

We started emotional regulation this past Monday.  The theory is that there are things we can do besides taking medication that can help to regulate, or even out, our mood.  It is always so frustrating to me when people only focus on medication, because no matter how well medication may work, it's still only part of the puzzle.

The topic of their homework was three concepts of mindfulness:

  1. being "radically open" 
  2. being nonjudgmental towards ourselves and our thoughts
  3. approaching actions "one mindfully"
I really like the phrase, "radically open."  During times of fear and isolation, we have to be radically open to accept the good that is also going on.  I learned in "The Body Keeps The Score," by Bessel Van Der Kulk, that we tend to remember negative experiences much more so than positive ones and so we have to be radically open to see the good, especially during a global crisis, especially if you are someone who is prone to severe anxiety and depression.  (That's me!)

It can be really easy to go off the deep-end when having severely negative thoughts, especially urges to "act out," self harm, etc.   Even though we did not act out, we beat ourselves up just for having the thoughts.  Our thoughts are not reality - it is the intensity and interpretation that we give them.  For instance, I have an urge to self harm-I could catastrophize and beat myself up for having that thought, OR I can say, "huh," and just dismiss it from my head onto the next thing, letting the thought come and go without any great harm to myself.  I don't have to suffer just because a thought wanders in I don't like.  

"One mindfully," is being totally absorbed in an activity.  Yesterday when I cleaned the kitchen, I did it "one mindfully," and I experienced great delight in getting the job done in the time I allotted for myself.  Since I was focusing solely on the task, I was able to finish it in a fairly short time.
Now onto emotion regulation skills.  These skills are especially helpful right now - if we can catch our pain before it gets too bad, we have the power to change them, instead of letting them get worse.    

We talked about the "scale of distress," with 1 being not that bad and ten being horrible.  When you are somewhere 1-5, then try emotional regulation skills to get to the feeling that you want to be.  However, if your distress is somewhere 6-10, then your feelings are too distressing to try to change at the moment; you need to switch to distress tolerance skills, because it is going to be just too hard to try to change them at that point.  I really like that DBT acknowledges that there are limits to our powers, especially in deep distress-you can always tolerate emotions if you use your skills, but you can't always change them right away.  (I know you're thinking, no you can't always tolerate them, but I promise you, you can if you have enough practice.  Otherwise, it's off to the hospital, and at some point you gotta realize that it's better to sit through the emotion than to go somewhere that is only going to cause more trauma.)

Ask yourself, "What do I need right now?" and "Does this serve me?" to reduce your emotional suffering.  This is especially good to use to check our interpretation of events.  Basically, our emotions come from somewhere.  An event happens and it is our interpretation of the event that determines how we feel about it.  Keep in mind that something is already going on in the background that influences how vulnerable we are to interpreting the event negatively.  Here's an example:

Vulnerability: tired-late at night

Prompting Event: get an email from work

Interpretation of Event: "oh no, not another thing, this is too much!"

Biological Change: stomach tightens up, shallow breathing, beginning to panic

Emotion: Extreme worry/panic/fear

However, if we interpret the event in a different way, then our body and emotion will be different.
Let's try this again:

Vulnerability: tired-late at night

Prompting Event: get an email from work

Interpretation of Event: I know I'm tired, so I will check the email in the morning.  As long as I give myself enough time in the morning, there is nothing to fear.

Biological Change: body loosens up; I relax knowing that I will go to bed soon and that I have a plan of action for the next day.

Emotion: Relaxed, Peaceful

*I have more of these exercises in my book, Hope Is Real: I Have A Purpose.  If you want something to read during this pandemic that might be helpful in combatting worry, consider ordering my book on this website (through PayPal on the upper right hand corner, just under the main picture).  I will be able to personally sign the book before sending it to you.  Of course, you can still buy it on Amazon as a physical book or for kindle.

We talked about how our interpretations can sometimes be overly intense when we are comparing them with events from our past.  Something bad happened then, so surely the same bad thing will happen again!  Hmmm...might need to check the facts on that thinking...

I then asked the facilitator,
 "what if you're worrying about genocide? That's about as intense a worry can get!" 
 I was expecting the therapist to laugh, but thankfully she was very kind.  I explained that I read a lot of articles on facebook that compare our current events with the events right before World War II and that possible genocide and the downfall of our civilization is constantly on my mind, so that there is an underlying sense of fear at all times.  (Fortunately, this is a fairly recent thing-being around people was enough to snap me out of it before, but with the isolation, my brain has too much free time).  

First, my therapist spoke up and said,

"Catastrophizing, Corey.  You know you have a tendency towards this..." 
"oh yeah," lol 
 Even just saying that was enough to bring down my panic.  

The other therapist then said, 
"you know, there are some similarities to past world events and it's good to be aware of that, but does it serve you to think that times are exactly the same?  You can look at the worst possible outcomes or you can look for the positives and try to be a part of that. Be aware of similarities but also be aware of the differences." 
I found that really helpful.  Since the majority of the depressing articles are found on facebook, and because I just spend too much time on Facebook and Instagram in general, we decided to set some boundaries around my social media.  I've decided that I will spend some time right after breakfast and then again, right after dinner where I will allow myself to be on Facebook and Instagram, only for an hour at a time.  (I do like to post positive mental health memes and continuing to promote this blog and art I think is important.)  I am hopeful that charting my progress and talking about it in the DBT group will help me stay on track and even make a social media lifestyle change.  Think of all the extra energy I will have to be fully present in my life when I am not mindlessly scrolling through depressing article to depressing article!

Being reminded of my tendency towards catastrophes and having a social media action plan has already helped to clear my mind and calm me down.  I will leave you with the questions I am asking myself - let me know if you find them helpful too." 

"What serves you and your mental health? Are you being radically open to the goodness in the world? What do you need right now to reduce your emotional suffering?"

Link Love: 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review of Unbusy by Andy Dragt

Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.  (The Message Bible)

Unbusy: How to leverage the physics of flow to accomplish more of what truly matters and feel less busy at the same time by Andy Dragt

This is a Speakeasy book, so I got this book for free because I promised to write a book review.  You can do this too!

In this short book, Andy Dragt explains how if we structure our lives based on the laws of physics then we will get more accomplished but feel less. busy.  I was very interested in this book, as I am trying to structure my life and it is so hard for me!  Fortunately, Dragt understands how hard this is, as he is also a person who does not naturally come to structure but he has found it very useful in his life.  It certainly is true-I definitely get more accomplished when I structure my time.  I like that he has you build in time that is for being spontaneous.  That may seem like an oxymoron, but it's not-it's merely saying that in this time frame, I will do what I want and not worry about it fitting in somewhere else time-wise.  Dragt explains that freedom is not the opposite of structure, but chaos "and a chaotic life is not freedom."

This book was also good for me because it talks about developing your why, your purpose, and your values, and I had just attended a workshop that touched on these topics.  Sometimes it seems like everyone talks about needing a why, but it is nice to have something that actually leads you to it through helpful thinking exercises.  The book had me write down my memories of times when I felt really fulfilled and out of those memories, I could start to see what I value and what my purpose is.  Now, with my "hope is real" brand, I already had a good idea of what my values and purpose are, but it was a good exercise to do anyway.  Our ideas can always benefit from a more thorough fleshing out.

This is what I eventually came up with:

(I value this/my how)               (my why)        (so this is a priority/ my what)
Follow my call.                   -> big purpose -> to stay singleminded
Create joy.                           -> big purpose -> to change the system from one of fear
Immerse myself in Spirit.    -> big purpose -> to be able to hear my call
Challenge myself                 -> big purpose -> to inspire hope (which changes the system)
Receive genuine validation -> big purpose -> to enable people to see the benefit of community

Big Purpose: To change the mental health system of isolation and fear into a community system of joy and hope.

As a friend then said to me: What does community look like to you?

I think community looks like relying more on people than just clinicians.  Clinicians can be wonderful-my therapist really did change my life for the better-but still having them on an equal plane as other supporters is a more balanced view.  I think it's important not to set clinicians as the ultimate authority because in the end, no one knows ourselves better than ourselves.  I am my own true expert, although I may need the expertise of others to see that at times.  The more people that we have as supporters in our lives, the more balanced and enriched our lives will be.  We will learn how to sift through everyone's many viewpoints and come up with our own truth.  Having a wide community safeguards our supporters from burnout and it makes it more likely to get our needs met in a compassionate way.  In our capitalist society, the system is ultimately about money-we need people and places who's ulterior is not getting paid in order to truly care for our soul.  If I look to a hospital for a solution, my pockets will always be empty and I will probably feel pretty empty too.  I believe a community of compassionate people fills us up regardless of whether we have insurance or not.  Communities also tend to have more creative solutions to problems rather than a bureaucratic system. When I create a wellness plan for my recovery, I look towards all of my possible resources, not just the ones that fit the medical model.  Relying on a wider community also makes us more independent from structures we may not want to always depend on-knowing that I have supporters to back me up inspires me to take more chances.

After figuring out your values, purpose, and priorities comes the task of structuring your time so that you use it well.  I have found that knowing these things motivates me to want to follow them more wisely.  My days are lot more structured than they used to be, but I will certainly admit that becoming more structured can be a hard and frustrating process.  And yet, I guarantee you it is true-when your life contains more structure, you really do get more done and feel less busy and tired overall.

I promise.

What I have found the most useful is using Instacart as needed (lol), grouping my days as themes, using Monday to plan for the week and Friday to plan for the weekend, starting the day by reading helps my mind calm down and then writing out what I need to accomplish that day is super, super helpful.  Also, two cups of coffee every morning.  (lol)

Different strategies will work for different people.

What works for you?  I hope this book review was thought provoking.  I'm interested in hearing people's thoughts on exploring their values, purpose, and priorities and about adding in more structure.  Do those things seem intimidating and overwhelming, or exciting and interesting? Let me know!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy New Year Book Reviews - Keep Reading and Talking!

Every day we wake up in the middle of something that is already going on, that has been already going on, that has been going for some time: genealogy and geology, history and culture, the cosmos-God.  We are neither accidental nor incidental to the story.  (The Message Bible)

2019 was the year of books!  It was the first time I completed my yearly book goal-I read 34 books.  Now, yes, several were kid's picture books and many were graphic novels and quite a few were audio books...books are books and it is important to read to learn and to exercise that imagination.  These are not all the books I read this year but this list covers most.  It's sorta funny; I didn't realize just how many existential, depressing books I read this year til I looked at the list.  I do run a facebook group called "Morbid Positivity," after all...  Since I enjoyed more books than I would want to write a full blown review for, I decided to give them all descriptive awards with links galore.  I hope you notice that none of the links are for Amazon or imdb.

Most real life depressing yet also inspiring theology graphic novel
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix
(a SpeakEasy book, which means I have a fuller book review at the end of this post.  SpeakEasy lets you read books for free if you will review them within a month)

Most existential awful horrible scary audio book,
Revival by Stephen King
(even over the book where a guy turns into a cockroach; HUGE Trigger Warning)

Second worst to imagine award
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
(The first is Revival; that book really is NO JOKE)

Most real life existential horrible graphic novel
Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
(about the creation of the first atom bomb)

Most horror nerd fun to read award:
Most non-politically correct award:
Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker
(FREE on Kindle)
(The book was recommended at a horror panel at DragonCon
2019 DCon Horror Track Ruled)

Most unexpectedly relatable award
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dystoyevsky
(anxiety is very relatable)

Most practical and useful awards
How to Boycott: Make Your Voice Heard, Understand History, and Change the World Zine by Joe Biel
A People's Guide to Publishing: Build A Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful, Book Business From The Ground Up by Joe Biel

Most beautiful pictures award
Anne of Green Gables Graphic Novel adapted by Mariah Marsden

Second Favorite Childhood Book Turned Into Graphic Novel
A Wrinkle in Time Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson
(Anne of Green Gables won first place)

Comics I wished were available when I was a teenager:
Ms. Marvel
Raven: Pirate Princess

The cutest book award
Award for library book I almost bought because I loved it so much
The Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Most nerdy award:
The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs
-fairly dry but I loved it, especially finding out that C.S. Lewis had a fetish for whips
WHAT?  YES, it's TRUE!

Best Audio Book:
True Grit by Charles Portis
Read by Donna Tartt
(OMG, her voice made the book! Fantastic.
The 2010 movie by The Coen Brothers is fantastic too.)

Most profound book you should go read right now!
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

Yes, Neil Gaiman is Fantastic Award:
Anansi Boys
Neil Gaiman Audio Collection
(He reads his own books and has a great voice too)

Most boring kids audiobook award:
Crispin: The End of Time by Avi
Full Length Review of The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix.

I couldn't put this book down-I stayed up late one night to read it.  Before reading the book,  I had heard the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer but I didn't know much about him; now I want to investigate some of his theology more in-depth .  To briefly, briefly sum up, Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian in Germany during the beginning of the twentieth century.  He loved his country but was troubled by the rise of Hitler's fascism.  He studied theology in America, which changed his theology from passive to active-he recognized the role of the church as a community that can be used to create positive change.  He wrestled with the question, "is it okay to sin if you know it is for the greater good?"  He eventually decided,"yes," and became a spy working for the German resistance, involved in several plots to kill Hitler.  Unfortunately, all of the plans failed and he was jailed, tortured, and killed for his part.

What I found fascinating about the book is that it is not just about chronicling Bonhoeffer's life and story but also the story of Hitler's rise to power and how Germany could fall for such an evil man.  I think this is something incredibly important to study right now, as the world is falling under the spell of nationalism, fascism, and world leaders who want to take over for evil means.  I do not believe I am exaggerating.  I learned that Germany's leaders did not take Hitler seriously until it was way too late.  It was a case of underestimating run amok!  What author, John Hendrix, seems to want us to do is to wake up and learn.  The Faithful Spy speaks to my deepest fears-one of the reasons why the Germans did so little against the concentration camps is that so few knew what was actually being done at them.  This worries me to my core.  Do we know what is really happening at our refugee concentration camps?  I hate to sound so alarmist but I feel if I do not say out loud my most profound fear, then I am a failure as a human being.  What I learned is that we have to keep asking questions; we have to focus on what is going wrong if we do not want to be silently complicit.  I don't think this means not taking care of our mental health, but it also means not checking out either.  I believe if we are truly intersectional feminist spiritual people, then we must intentionally act against the forces of fascism and alienation taking hold of our society.  If you cannot do anything outwardly in solidarity, then at least be a person of kindness.  Kindness and service to love is needed now more than ever and is the only way I can see that will do any good.  Let your kindness, curiosity, and creativity take up space wherever you go.  Be a beacon of hope!  Read any way you can and then talk about what you read.  Be curious and kind into the new year.  Be morbidly bold, loud in your wonderful unique-ness.

While you can, choose love.

(photo taken at the Chicago Botanical Gardens)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Trauma Informed Revolution

It invites us to ask, "To what am I in bondage, and to what are we in bondage?" (The Message Bible)
Let us break the bondage of trauma with trauma informed care. (me) 
Earlier this week I attended a trauma informed care training for continuing education.  The whole point of the training is to introduce trauma informed care into behavioral health settings that need to get up to date, as trauma informed care slowly is becoming the new standard.  What I really liked about it was that we learned practical ways to take the information back to our workplaces-let the trauma informed revolution begin!

The trauma informed training made me reflect on a lot of painful memories but it also left me grateful for my recovery, and for my mental health care treatment team.  A lot of bad memories spin around my last hospital stay, but when I hear stories of hospital abuse, I realize that my doctor did the best he could.  He listened to me and tried to make me as comfortable as he could. Unfortunately, one good doctor cannot make up for other, awful staff.  As I thought back, I realized how many of traumatizing memories from the stabilization unit were from watching how the staff "cared" for the other patients.  I experienced a lot of first hand trauma in the beginning of my stay, but towards the end, the trauma was secondhand, as I watched patients be ignored and cry from distress.

As the training went on, a lot of us talked about how discouraged we are about the rise of prisons and hospitals that are for profit.  How can these programs get better when they are not bound to at least state and federal regulations?  The answer: certified peer specialists and certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists as hospital and prison treatment staff.  As the only certified peer specialist working for Dekalb County drug court, I am helping lead the way for trauma informed care coming out of jail.  (I must mention that I have a friend who is doing peer support work in Dekalb County veterans and mental health court by conducting NAMI mental health support groups.)  It is  our hope that one day every hospital and treatment program be required to include CPS and CARES professionals as staff, even in private, for-profit places.  People with lived experiences in the mental health system are the missing ingredient for trauma informed success.

The last assignment on day two of the training was to write a speech where we advocate to start a talk about the impact of trauma and why it's important to address.  The audience could be to anyone we wanted, from family members to our workplaces to our peers.  I wrote a speech towards the staff working at Dekalb County drug court. I was glad to discover that I already am doing well in addressing trauma with my peers, but my dream is to impress upon the judge why talking to my peers in a trauma informed way is important.

Here is my speech:
I just attended a trauma informed care training.  You might wonder why; what is it about?  Let's talk about trauma and why addressing it is important.  Ninety percent of the people that use behavioral health services have been through trauma.  Trauma is when the body and mind are overwhelmed in fear of what has happened and have no idea how to cope.  The body/mind is flooded with negative hormones and this affects the whole body.  This can occur at any time, even to a newborn.  Continual flooding of these negative hormones changes a person's physical health, their mental and physical development, their whole view of the world.  If we do not address the trauma then true recovery will not happen.  We need to change the conversation from, "what's wrong with you," to "what happened to you" and then our whole world can start to heal.  How can our organization address trauma so that we can start the healing process and have better, more lasting physical and mental change?  (By the way, this focus on trauma will save money in the long run.)
What do you think?

Everything I wrote is true!

Yes, trauma from as early as birth can affect and change a person because of the intense flooding of negative hormones.  When a person is constantly flooded with these hormones, perhaps because of violence or poverty or neglect, the person's whole mind, body, and spirit are changed.  '

However, there is hope!  Validation, support, encouragement all help, but the main key is validation.  As we talked about the importance of validation, I felt pride in being a follower of dialectical behavioral therapy, which is a skills based therapy with validation at the heart of it.  I very well understand how resistant a person will be to recovery unless they feel validated.

Our experiences are real!

By acknowledging our painful realities, the space is opened up to allow for a better reality in time.  People do not have to be stuck in trauma their whole lives and behavioral health places need to know how to become healing centers of hope instead of continuations of pain.  I am proud to be a certified peer specialist and I am proud of the hard work my peers and my colleagues do.

Have you learned anything new about trauma?

Let's talk about it!

Spread the word that addressing trauma is important and that transformation from it is real.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Power of Words

It's true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say.  (The Message Bible)
I'm really struggling with writer's motivation; I have ideas, so it's not exactly writer's block, but I am struggling so hard with the sitting down and typing bit.  Maybe I'm out of practice?  I have been spending a lot of my time cleaning and organizing and decorating and just enjoying my new house that my writing drive is a bit rusty. 

Yes, you heard that right - A NEW HOUSE!

It was such a huge landmark when I was able to move out of my parents' house almost five years ago but this is even bigger.  My parents trust me and I trust me.  I will take care of the house, I will pay bills on time, and I belong to a wide community net that I know will help me when I need it. Tonight I am selling blackout poetry and leading a short blackout poetry workshop at a peer recovery event and yesterday I interviewed a friend for a LGBT cultural competency workshop that I am putting together.  I've been thinking a lot about how well I am doing these past few weeks and how desperate my life used to be.  I do not own any "positivity magic," just a lot of intention, time, practice, and support.  Here are a few images from my housewarming party a few days ago:

(That's right-cupcakes with edible fake blood!)

I remember about fifteen years ago, I went to a psychiatrist for a second opinion, and he said that I had "very severe mental illness" and that I would need "long term care."  He also said that he thought I should go to SkyLand Trail, as they're the only mental health facility that offers long term care in Atlanta and they are actually evidence-based as doing good work.  I took the doctor's advice and attended SkyLand Trail for nine months.  I am so glad I did!  I discovered myself again through art and music and I made many wonderful connections.  It was the first place where I actually bonded with therapists and felt like they were actually helping me instead of causing more harm.  In fact, I first met my current therapist at SkyLand Trail so long ago.

I am very grateful.

Even so, words have power and they really can hurt and cause trauma.  I wish the doctor I saw had used other descriptors and had promised more hope and recovery.  What if he had said, "You're going through a really rough and challenging time right now and I know it feels like this has been going on forever and like it will never stop.  I really think that a place like SkyLand Trail could help you.  The length of stay will be longer, but you'll get so much more out of it-skills and therapy and support and art.  I think you can still have a productive, meaningful life if you work hard and keep on going."

Instead, I have been left with the label of "severe" mental illness ever since.  It hurts in a very deep and primal way.  If only he could see me now! I have had to face this label again as I talked to a local psychologist's class about recovery from "SMI," "SPMI," and psychosis.  ("Severe mental illness" and "severe, persistent mental illness"). I am glad that I was able to talk to his class.  The instructor has turned out to be a wonderful ally and I think he is doing very good work.  He is trying to get a grant for him to be able to pay certified peer specialists to tell their recovery stories to more graduate psychology classes.  Here is a bit that I wrote in a letter supporting his request:
Having schizophrenia, psychosis, and other serious mental illnesses are still very stigmatized with few resources and oftentimes, little hope given for a productive and meaningful life in recovery.  As a person with serious mental illness, I find great meaning in dispelling these myths.  Empathy is gained by hearing a personal story filled with hope and I believe there is really no other way than through dialogue that a student can gain this type of knowledge.  I firmly believe that listening to personal experiences are critical for empathy, openness, and success for mental health professionals wanting to relate to clients with SMI.
Still, I wish we did not use words like "severe" or "psychotic" at all.  I wish our charts were full of our strengths and possibilities instead of just our symptoms and failures.  Symptoms and labels are just so limiting to the human psyche.

Words hurt.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a person in power tell a peer the classic line, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me," and I was appalled!  I thought that we were beyond this naive cliche by now.  I thought our mental healthcare system was trauma informed enough to know that this ignorant phrase actually causes trauma!  I was then left to clean up the damage and I told the peer about the importance of validation:
Your feelings are your feelings. It doesn't matter if another person gets why you feel a certain way, you feel that way and that is okay.  Needing attention and needing validation is not bad-we all need those things sometimes.  Unfortunately, oftentimes those in power will not give us the things we need to take care of our emotions.  Look for people who can genuinely support you and build you up when you need it.  Learn how to validate yourself.  Sometimes validating ourselves is as simple as saying the feeling out loud: "I feel sad," "I feel angry," "I feel hurt," etc.  Once we have said out loud the feeling, often it goes away much quicker.  If we try to cover it up with fake cheeriness though, then it usually gets harder and harder to bear.  
Words can hurt but they can also heal. 

In drug court last week, I talked to the peers about being gentle with themselves-how important it is to treat ourselves well, especially if other people don't.  I hate that a person in power was so careless with their words, but it reminds me of how much power I have with mine.  Our society is divided and negative nowadays, so every little drop of kindness is precious.

Acknowledge the power of words and use your words with care.  Now that I am well, I am in a position of power myself and I have to be aware of that.  I want to be a person that validates instead of disregarding others' feelings-just because I don't feel something doesn't mean that emotion is not real or intense.   I am also a person in power who can apologize.  I can be called out to make right a wrong.  Can you imagine how different the world would be if our leaders apologized when caught wrong?  If our leaders were powerful in the ways of authenticity, sincerity, honesty, humility, then the ways in which we are wrong could be used for civilization's growth instead of civilization's degradation.

Be the person our leaders aren't, instead.  

Be the change.  


I see you.

Let us see each other.