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, January 7, 2018

An Anxious Revelation

“The story doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him.  (The Message Bible, 240)
How do you recognize a panic attack or being triggered?  How can one cope with hearing or seeing scary things?  I had an experience the other day that I felt compelled to write down afterwards and share.  So many people ask me questions about recognizing panic attacks, being triggered, coping with hearing or seeing things that I thought some people might find how I handled a recent intense experience calmly interesting.  (BTW, these are the kind of things we sometimes talk about at a Hearing Voices Network group.)

I was sitting on the couch reveling in my new found peace and coloring.  All of a sudden, I felt a great sense of clarity. “It doesn’t matter what I do,” I thought.  “Life really is like in Ecclesiates, there is nothing new under the sun - all is vanity of vanities.  The only thing that really matters is being kind  - everything else is just icing on the cake.”  I wanted to run and tell everyone, 

“Stop worrying so much.  Stop trying to be perfect-the only thing that matters is being kind! Seriously, that’s it!” 

My whole life I have been an incredibly morbid person - in the past, I had trouble setting long range goals because the awareness that nothing is certain and that death is always a possibility has always been strong with me.  A lot of people are in denial of death, while I have always been a little too aware.  There are so many things that I want to do but now I know that I do not need to stress over whether they will ever get accomplished or not.  All I can do is my best and as long as I am kind and striving to do the next right thing, then I am following God’s will. 

The realization is such a relief.  

Getting books published, performing, speeches, art - all of that stuff is nice and important in its way but none of it is as important as just being loving and kind every day.  As long as I keep my goal on sharing God’s loving kindness then everything will work out.  I don’t mean work out as in everything going my way, but that I will be able to accept what happens because I will be in peace.

I wanted to tell people my good news but I was also afraid that people would think that I’m crazy - that this was just another psychotic episode.  Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I started to get paranoid.  While I knew no one was behind me in the house, I had to turn around several times because I knew Shadow Man was behind me (a figure that comes to me when feeling extremely anxious).  I started feeling more and more fearful as the visions of Shadow Man got worse and worse.  And then I experienced more clarity - 

this is the beginning of a panic attack and I need it to end! 

So I took my klonapin (normally I try to avoid taking it but the paranoia was serious enough that I felt taking it was the responsible thing to do).  Still, I wondered why was I having all of this anxiety right after a beautiful moment.  I really wanted the clarity to be real, but I feared that this was a bad psychosis naturally following a more positive psychotic state, when I had another light bulb moment:

I was triggered!  

During the time I was having the spiritual moment, I was also watching a show where someone was in a mental hospital and had just gotten a shot.  Watching the scene brought back memories in Peachford when I had a similar experience and how scary that was and so the show turned what had been a beautiful moment into a really triggering moment. Once I realized that the paranoia and hallucinations were the result of triggered trauma, I laughed.  (There is a reason why I normally do not read or watch media about mental hospitals or mental illness - it’s just too real for me.)

The great thing about anxiety is that its cure is to simply recognize that one is going through a panic attack or an anxious spell - recognizing it for what it is takes its fearful power away.  Now I knew that I was not going crazy, my earlier spiritual experience was still valid, and that it had only turned sour because of my own internal fear coupled with being triggered.  With this recognition, my panic attack passed, I laughed in relief, and I finished doing the dishes.

Now that I am getting better at deescalating my voices and visions, I think they’re pretty cool (sometimes).  I mean, I do not like the paranoia and the fearful visions but I also feel like I get a richness of life experiences that a lot of people do not.  I think it is pretty amazing how a person can just be casually sitting on the couch and then the next minute be immersed in a spiritual, mystical experience.  Sometimes I wonder if all the prophets simply had schizophrenia.  I imagine another beatitude where Jesus says, 

“Blessed are those who are open to new voices and visions, for they shall experience God.”
"Blessed are those in the mental hospital, for they shall have an understanding denied to many.” 
  “Blessed are those who do not seem blessed, for their ego shall be small.”


Sometimes I worry that I am not as humble or meek as I should be but I feel like in this world where people of unusual experiences are usually put down that my ego and enthusiasm is a type of social justice response.  It certainly is an exercise in vulnerability.  Poor Trump just doesn’t get it at all - he doesn’t want scientists to use the word, “vulnerable” and that to me is the greatest shame of all - if there is one group that is blessed, it is the vulnerable.  Jesus was so vulnerable that he allowed himself to be killed.  He wanted his followers to be vulnerable, like children.  We are not blessed when we inherit money but when we allow ourselves to be so vulnerable that healing amid pain can happen.  Sharing our unusual experiences is a beautiful thing, and believing that only money is true power is a type of delusion in itself. When I see Trump, I see a lot of sadness and I do not see power, except in the most fake way.  Trump is like fool’s gold, but the true riches are found in the people who are open to new truths, even if they walk the Haldol shuffle.
("She will rule over you clothed in love."  A blackout poem I made recently from Genesis.)












Link Love:

Hope Is Real! January 2018 Newsletter

Also, check out my new "teen resources" page - let me know if you would like for me to send it to you as a pdf.

Anxietycoach.com -The Key to Overcoming Panic Attacks
(I have found this article to be really helpful and true.)
Why should I accept a panic attack?Because the more I resist panic, the worse it gets.  The more I develop the habit of acceptance, the more progress I make toward my goal of overcoming panic attacks.

Brene Brown - The Power of Vulnerability
The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating -- as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary.They talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first ... the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees ... the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental. 
CDCRadio - Sarah Silverman's Response to a Twitter Troll is a Master Class in Compassion

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Gratitude For A Hard Year

Everyone I meet - it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple-deepens my sense of  interdependence and obligation.  (The Message Bible, 307)

2017: this will always be the year of the Donald Trump election and so politically it is a terribly sad year for progessives.  Oh yes, it’s seen an increase in activism and more Democrats are now getting elected in conservative areas but still, it seems like such a tiny consolation.  

Objectively, this seems like a horrible year for me too.

In one year, I became single again after a two-year serious relationship, had a relapse with a traumatic ten-day hospital stay, which included a major psychotic break.  I had PTSD so severe that I startled too easily to drive for a few months.  I am now working the bare minimum hours at work and was declared still disabled by the government.

Or was I?  

I am not disabled in spirit.  

This year I had to confront a lot of issues that needed confronting and I have come back stronger.  Don’t get me wrong - each depression where I am not in reality and every ended relationship is definitely a type of death, but it is also a birth into new discoveries and new enlightenments. What I let go I needed to let go, even if they were painful. I participated in two weddings, which made me realize the kind of romantic relationship that I want for myself.  My relapse humbled me, as I had become more arrogant during my time of denial over not being well again.  

I am no longer willing to let myself settle in romance and I have come to peace with my disability.  I see now that working low hours at a job is not a bad thing if it keeps me well.  I had always wanted to be an artist when I grew up and so I can see now that being disabled actually frees me to pursue some of my dreams.  I am working on promoting myself more in regards to giving presentations and resources.  I am embracing my calling as a peer support worker and as a writer.

I made a lot of big, positive changes this year - I go to bed much earlier than I used to now, I became vegetarian, cut down on milk and caffeine, added more fiber, protein, and water to my diet.  I try to write something every single day. I got rid of about half of my clothes and other things too. I am very proud of these accomplishments

I read some fantastic books and I co-hosted a fabulous book discussion potluck about race and feminism by focusing on the book, Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde.  Lorde’s work is still so relevant and I encourage every modern feminist to read and study it.

Other books I read this year that I recommend are:


(also, the documentary about Baldwin - I Am Not Your Negro)

(both the novel, the graphic novel, and the movie)

(autobiography, the Netflix documentary and her Amazon show, One Mississippi.  This is the year in which I fell in love with Tig Notaro.)
(It really was life-changing!)



Web MD made a short documentary about the theater group I am involved with and I have performed several times this past year.  I have reignited my passion for the performing arts.

I have learned to set major boundaries in all areas of my life - friends, romance, work, family.  I have a better understanding of how to take care of myself.  I know now that I am not so important that I should not skip an event if I am overwhelmed and tired.  I MUST take care of myself first.

While I may not work at my main job as much as before, I have continued to progress professionally, as I now publish a monthly mental health newsletter and continue to make resource pdfs (check out my "Mental Health Cheat Sheet" on this blog.)  I am going to pursue putting some of my art in galleries or coffeeshops.

This year I have grown in my transparency.  I publish a gratitude list almost every night on Facebook - this became all the more special to me when I got out of the mental hospital.  The hospital really distilled some truths for me - that while I am not eager to experience more psychosis, I can recognize its mystical, spiritual benefits.  That above any job, I am called as a writer, activist, and artist.  That a commitment to authenticity gives the gift of freedom to myself and others.  I came to know a peace in regards to being disabled and I came to recognize my own inner strength.  I have seen the power of positivity and for the first time, I went to the hospital still feeling grateful for myself and not ashamed.  

I took the first training in the American South for The Hearing Voices Network and I currently help co-facilitate an HVN support group in Tucker.

I discovered some great apps: BlackOut Bard, DBT Travel, Recovery Record.  I also discovered a new type of trauma therapy, called Rapid Resolution, that dramatically changed my life for the better.  I rediscovered my passion for Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  I got a tattoo of the DBT motto: “a life worth living.”

When I think of all that I have accomplished this year, I am in awe.    

The world is awful and wonderful at the same time.  It is not good to live in denial but it is not good to wallow in misery and traumatize ourselves either.  This past year has really been focused on finding the balance. 

I cannot save the planet.

I cannot personally change any politician’s heart or prevent every horrible policy from being passed.  

Most likely, many people will be dropped from Medicaid next year and that is truly tragic.  

AND YET, 

I must not become so mired in the misery that I lose sight of my own privileges.  I can fight for justice while not catastrophizing my own situation.

The new trauma therapist taught me that watching news and after news about situations out of my control is a type of trauma in itself and that it may be better to focus on the specific issues I can influence instead of everything that I cannot.

I do have a few goals for 2018: to have my artwork displayed in some sort of public space besides The Rise Theater, to get higher paid speaking gigs, to start working on altered books again, to publish my poetry, to cook more, to try stand-up, and to take better care of myself. 

If I am exhausted, I will stay home.  

If I am sad, I will let myself cry. 

If I am uncomfortable, I will enforce my boundaries. 

I will take chances and enjoy life, as I balance out the knowledge that no year is perfect and that there are bound to be some sadness and frustrations in the new year too.  I will learn more hard truths and experience more disappointments, but I will also grow strong and become more of the person I truly am. 

Today I am grateful to be who I am, despite all the pain.  I am excited to embrace the new me that was reborn when I died due to depression last year.  We all die multiple deaths while we live - if we are lucky, we will see them as gateways to growth, instead of graves to linger in.  Let us linger in love instead and embrace life next year.













Link Love:


(the article that made me not want to support the movie)

(the article that convinced me to stop eating meat)

(this therapy changed my life)

I first heard at the Hearing Voices Network the link of psychosis to trauma, and this changed my view on mental illness and allowed me to feel more compassion for myself and others

When you own your disability, you become proud. You regain your self-confidence and don’t waste any time trying to pretend or hide (your disability); you value your time and make the most of it. You become less interested in pity and more attuned to self-reflection and self-approval. Complaints and feelings of inadequacy cease. You become kind to yourself and rejoice in your individuality. You rise into the understanding that having a disability means that you are competent and not incompetent. Self-gratitude becomes a daily and natural practice. When you embrace your disability, comparisons end, enhancing your focus and enabling you to function at your best. Your disability becomes simply a merit badge of challenges overcome and the ability to succeed

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Getting Used To My Calling

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” 
― Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider)
I have been practicing with the Rise Theater lately and it has brought up memories of old career goals and passions.  Here is a reworking of a long post I wrote on FaceBook a few days ago:
*****
Today I briefly thought that maybe I should go back to school and finish my music therapy degree and then I thought no, I should just look for nursing home activity coordinator jobs - I'm already qualified and it's my passion. 

And then reality hit. 

It is so incredibly frustrating to be good at many things but know that the stress and energy involved would most likely derail me. Some people would probably say that I'm being defeatist but at some point you have to admit that not everything you are good at is a viable option as a career because of factors outside your control. It seems that if I can be good at many different things but can't use them to make enough money to live on because of my need for lower stress, then something is wrong. 

I don't think God gave us talents for them to be wasted and that it is immoral to base a system on human production. 

We are not products, we are not machines. 

We all have inherent worth as human beings, whether or not the 1% thinks we have. 

I've been writing a lot more lately as I am trying to get used to the idea that writing and providing peer support really are my callings. Writing heals my soul and I know I am good at it and if I could ever finish a writing project, then I think it could eventually be lucrative. The same with providing peer support, as long as the hours are not too many. Of course, if I did make enough money, then that would mean that I would eventually have to give up Medicare, which would be fine if the country's healthcare industry was not in shambles. Unfortunately, there is no way I could trust getting off of disability in our current political climate and that is immoral too. 

Figuring out how to afford my medication and therapy shouldn't be a full time job, but it is. 

What we really need is a system that does not view humans as money making machines. 

I do believe with all of my heart that powerful writing can create powerful change and I am glad that I spent my time at the mental hospital reading Audre Lorde even if it did mean that I called out the poor hospital workers whenever they said something stupid. I called them out a lot. It gives me a lot of pleasure now to think of it. 

*laughs*

That's the power of the written word. Well written literature gives confidence to small people, both in stature and in the eyes of society.

(handout from a WRAP workshop I took recently)











I've started an online mental health newsletter and the first issue is out! If you sign up here, then you will also get a free PDF that I wrote for a NAMI Family to Family class with the top things I'd like supporters to know and some basic resources.


Link Love:

The Feminist Wire - The Magic and Fury of Audre Lorde: Feminist Praxis and Pedagogy
 Lorde suggests that in order to stop the abuse, we must begin the dialogue. And we cannot accept some forms of violence and condemn others. In other words, we can’t fight against domestic violence and sexual abuse and do nothing about homophobia.

WRAP - A Season Of Wellness

The Guardian - A Journey Through A Land Of Extreme Poverty: Welcome to America


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Escape From Special" Book Review

My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. ~ Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
"Escape from Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross is about a girl who is labeled “special” as a child and how that label affected her.  I was never given that specific label but I was held back a grade in elementary school and I did have many of the same experiences.  Like her, I could never finish my work on time-I still struggle with that.  I have always found it so frustrating that people put such emphasis on finishing by a certain time when we are all different people who work in different ways.  How in the world can someone know how much time I need to finish a project when they are not me? We are all on our own time tables and I wish that our society recognized that truth.  















The book is about the author’s childhood, which was spent mostly worrying about what people thought of her.  While I know that that must be a pretty universal experience, it was still sort of freaky to read all of the similarities.  I also was pulled aside by some friends right before high school and told that I could no longer hang out with them.  I guess I wasn’t deemed cool enough but really how could flautists have a chance at being cool anyway (we were the four flute players in the middle school band - not exactly the cool crowd.)  It was an experience that I will never forget. 















The book is essentially about how someone deemed special in a bad way was actually special in a good way.  Melissa really was special because she questioned authority and she spoke her mind. She was talented, funny, and she questioned all the rules and boxes that public-school tried to put her in.

*sigh* I remember that feeling so well. 

I questioned the way things have always been done also. I would straight up ask my teachers why we learned more about men than women. I even wrote to the health book company in fifth grade because I disagreed with Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs. (I thought that love and acceptance should be the most important level on the pyramid - the foundation to survival, for without love, there is no other reason to live.  I cited documentaries and news articles in my letter!  I still stand by what I wrote.)  Clearly I was not stupid but I also was not smart in the way that the other kids were. 

I did not know how to conform well enough. 

I thank God now that I am not a shallow person but it does make it hard fitting in at school.  As I was reading more of the book I kept wondering how it was going to end as the storyline was really just a series of vignettes of the author's elementary and middle school years.  Fortunately, the ending was not an epiphany about boys or the possibility of romance-it was not about becoming more popular or prettier but it was about her becoming more self-confident and sure of herself. 

I am not sure if self-confidence is all that realistic for a middle school teen but it was nice to read.

I doubt if anyone ever truly gets to a place where they are absolutely and totally done caring about what others think.  The epiphany of realizing that I am special in a good way and that I really do not need to care about what other people think is something that I know will need to happen again and again and again until it finally becomes a part of myself that I can trust.  Perhaps the realization she has at the end of the book is the time when she has the first inkling of her own importance and self worth. There are people who never become that self-aware or deep-  I am glad that I possess the gift of self-awareness. 

I am thankful today for the intensity of my emotions-I am empathetic and that is a wonderful thing. (I could do without the panic attacks though.) I can take a long time to finish projects because I am so thorough and because I care so much about the quality of my work. Those are not bad traits but they are often misunderstood.

I wish the word, “special,” did not have a derogatory component to it. I don’t think the solution is to remove the word from our vocabulary but to stop saying it when meaning a person is awkward or is less intelligent or does not fit in.  We are all special and we all deserve that to be acknowledged. 

I struggled with finishing on time in school and I cried during math class about every other day. I felt that I was just stupid and that I was special in the bad way. I am still angry that not one teacher brought it to my parents’ attention how much I cried. When a kid is that distressed and they cry that much in a certain class it really should be assumed that there is some kind of underlying issue going on.

I should have had some kind of early intervention by the school but we all know that culturally girls are universally thought to be stupid at math anyway, so what was really a learning disability was dismissed all too easily because of my gender.  Fortunately, my parents were able to pay for a math tutor growing up, but I wish I could have learned some mindfulness and distress tolerance skills too, along with the mathematics.

I wonder when was the first time in my life when I realized that I didn’t care about what other people thought of me?  Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had that experience!

For me, I don’t think it is so much that I don’t care what other people think as much as I feel like I need to say some my truths anyway. I care, but not enough to let it stop me.  Audre Lorde came to the same conclusion many years ago in the essay,  “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”- ever since I read her words that, “your silence will not protect you,” I have felt her spirit within me.  One day I will get that saying tattooed on my arm. It is a sentiment that I believe in whole heartedly.  

It is better to speak up than to be silent even if it means that there will be unpleasant consequences.  As Lorde says, even if I do not speak, people may still find out the truth so I might as well say my truths out loud now. This insight has been my saving.

Just like Gross, I am special and that is not a bad thing.  I am disabled; I have strange, mystical experiences; I have experiences and ways of looking at the world that is out of the ordinary-I could easily be judged as crazy or difficult.  Yes, I care about what other people think but I do not let it stop me from speaking my mind because it’s not just only about me.  When I speak up, then I give permission for others to do the same. We must speak out if we are ever going to change our system of oppression.  

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled with not fitting in, with questioning authority, or with thinking differently.  It is for anyone that has struggled because society labelled them as different or special.  The older I get, the easier it is to brush other people’s concerns aside but I think I will always care to a certain extent.  It’s nice to realize that I do not need to let my quest for validation compromise my values.  I believe that we all have more to offer outside of the box rather than in. Furthermore, that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is also the source of our greatest strength. As Lorde writes: the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. (42, Sister Outsider)  Let us not be silent, but speak our truths for the world to hear-our voices are needed if we are ever going to truly smash the patriarchy.