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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Obligatory Robin Williams Post - You Are Never Guilty Of Someone Else's Suicide

***********Trigger Warning: Suicide***************

Last week was a hard week not to succumb to depression-first there was the news about Robin Williams and then there was the news about Ferguson, Missouri and seeing the articles constantly on Facebook began to get me down.  I think constant contact with the news can re-traumatize people-there's no way you cannot convince me that that did not happen with the coverage of 9/11.  Seeing the Twin Towers go down over and over again and hearing the news stories over again made me paranoid and majorly furthered my depression at the time and I know it did for many other people too.

With Robin William's suicide, it is easy to blame his actions on other people-why did no one adequately help him?  I do think it is good to be more aware of how we can reach out to others if you know they are depressed, but when I think about my two friends that killed themselves in 2005, I know that it is a lie that suicide is always preventable.

Suicide is usually impulsive.  That is not how it is portrayed, but it is true, which is why it is so hard to prevent.  Also, if a person is truly suicidal, then they are probably not going to tell you, but are just going to do it.  My friend, Dan, had people concerned about him-he even talked to his doctor before going home, but he was able to convince his doctor that he would be fine.  Maybe Dan really thought he would be, but then he got home and his suicidal thoughts became too unbearable and he succumbed to his mental illness.  That very same day, my friend Bryce killed himself.  Like Dan, he had been attending a mental health center in Atlanta at the time,  so he also had people looking out for him.  He had been granted a week's leave to visit his family in another state and he would not have been granted this vacation if the staff thought he was in danger, but sometimes the most highly trained staff cannot tell when someone is suicidal.

Why am I telling you this?  To absolve you of guilt.  You are never guilty of someone else's suicide.  They are not guilty for their suicide, for in reality what happened is that they lost their battle with mental illness.  They did not "commit suicide," as if they committed a crime, but succumbed to their illness just as if someone died of cancer or AIDS.

For a long time after Dan and Bryce's death I was mad at the mental health center, at them, and at God, but I am finally at the place where I can say that it was no one's fault. Fortunately, I can also say that although I still have periods of depression and anxiety, you do not have to worry about me because I have made a pact with myself that I intend to keep that I will always live in recovery and that I will do whatever it takes to stay alive.  I wish that all people had that resolve, but not all people have that faith in hope yet.

This is what I want Robin Williams death to do-motivate people to reach out to their friends when they know they are in the throes of mental illness-give them a call or better yet, make them dinner, take them to a support group, offer to pick up their medication, go with them to the grocery store, take them to the movies or watch a movie with them at the house, do their dishes-change how we talk about mental illness-be kinder, non judgmental, non stigmatizing, BUT most importantly, I want us to celebrate his life, instead of purely focusing on how he ended it.  Robin Williams was a part of my childhood-his movies were the talk of all my friends and they imparted joy to our lives.  Mrs. Doubtfire is the one that made the biggest impression on me-the idea seemed a bit too silly, but he turned old lady crossdressing into an art form with his jokes and different voices.   When it comes to people who died due to mental illness, I want us to focus on the whole person and not just their illness or how they died-there is so much more to people than their mental illness no matter what.  We are more than a label-we are whole people.

Monday, August 11, 2014

You Don't Need To Be Loud For Your Light To Shine

I talked about the grocery store incident at church yesterday and I thought y'all might be interested in what I had to say:

A few months ago, I stopped by the grocery store on my way to volunteer at Soup Saturday.  There was a woman driving a car in the parking lot and I couldn’t really tell what she was doing-I waited a little while and then parked.  After I parked, I realized I had taken her spot.  I felt a bit embarrassed, as I usually try to be nicer to people.  Before I could apologize, she lowered her window, looked at me and yelled, “At least I’m not fat!!!”  I was stunned into silence.  Really?  That’s the first thing she thought of when she looked at me?  I was hurt.  I have done a lot of work on my body-image and self-esteem and still I must say it cut me to the core.  Fatness should be just a describing word, but we all know what it really means in this society-calling someone “fat” means calling them lazy, smelly, incompetent, ugly, an underachiever and I am none of those things.  I met this woman again when we passed at the doorway-I was leaving with two boxes of cookies and she was entering.  Holding the boxes of cookies, I felt embarrassed and like a cliché.  I wanted to prove to her that I am not who she thought I was-I desperately wanted to say, “These aren’t for me.  These cookies are for a church event where we feed people.  I help people, so don’t you see, I am more than a fat mindless-cookie-eating woman!”  But I didn’t.  I breathed deeply and kept on walking.  I prayed that perhaps one day fatness would not be the ultimate insult to this woman and that she could have a better relationship with her body.  Anyone that imagines fatness as the enemy and supreme insult must be very afraid of becoming fat themselves.  I know from experience that living in body fear instead of body-love is a horrible way to live.

I didn’t tell the woman why I had the cookies ultimately because I did not think it was any of her business.  The scriptures (Matthew 6) say to practice your piety in secret and I agree. I did not think it was right to brag about a good deed, as if it made me a better person, a more holy person, a more special person in the eyes of Godde.  I did not ultimately think it would be right to talk about something good in order to bring someone down.  I had wanted to use them as a means of justifying myself, but I comforted myself, instead by reminding myself that I am already justified.  We are all already good enough and I think that is one of the messages that Jesus tried to tell people.  When we truly believe in our own goodness, then we do not need to justify or impress other people.  We don’t need to lift ourselves up, because we are already lifted up and we know it.  We can let our actions speak for themselves.  We can be quiet in our good work and be filled with a much greater inner joy and peace than if we were loud and famous.

I am good enough-you are good enough.  I do not need to boast or brag about my good deeds to others to bring attention to myself if I am already satisfied by what I have, which is an abundance of peace, joy, and love.  Sometimes I have to remind myself of these gifts that I possess when others try to take them away from me and that is okay.  As Marianne Williamson says in A Return to Love,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
     We don’t need to be loud for our light to shine, we just need to follow in the way of Jesus, remembering the blessed people that we are. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Art of Helping Others - A Book Review

The Art of Helping Others: How Artists Can Serve God and Love the World by Douglas C. Mann - I picked this book from Speakeasy because I am an artist myself.   I really enjoyed it and many of the words went into my quote book.  Mann is an artist who believes art can heal and help bring disadvantaged people together.  I believe this too.  He brings forth the idea of "creative incitement," restorative acts reconciling lives wherever and whenever the spirit leads (11).  Creative inciters are those willing to embrace the role of risk taker, people willing to be agents of change and a driving force (35).

I found this book to be very inspirational with its call to action and authenticity.  I like that his definition of Christian art is not based on the content, but rather on its intention and outcome: "Christian art is not primarily a matter of form (e.g. biblical imagery and worship music), but a posture toward the world that bridges the divide between Creator and creation, flowing out of God's mission for us (94)."  He says that ultimately the definition of art is, "to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts (36)." Jesus was an artist, Mann asserts, for Jesus "worked to creatively reveal truth, inspiring people with wonder and engaging their minds to get them out of the way of their hearts," and so artists that strive to do the same are followers of his way.  "Christians are meant to be artistic oddities that draw others to God," he says and I wholeheartedly agree.  Mann reminds us that Christians are not meant to be living a life of complacency, but should be stirring people up to see the injustice around them and help bring compassionate justice to it.  "How refreshing it would be to see artists of faith considered dangerous to the powers that be because they're activiely involved, engaging and influencing the society around them" (94).  How refreshing indeed.   Unfortunately, social change is not the first thought I have when I think of the terms Christian artist, but annoying nuisance or sanctimonious piety - this needs to change.  I recommend this book to any Christian artist or simply any person who wants to get charged up about their faith and how to put it into action.  There's a great list of resources at the back of the book.  My only complaint is that the artist's paintings were not in color.

I am happy to report that this past Thursday, I came to realize that my own artwork creatively incites people-the altered book that won the award at SkyLand Trail inspired everybody so much that they decided to make their own.  They spent a whole six weeks working of their books-more time than they have ever spent on an art project!  I am going to submit it to another art contest for people with disabilities, which is very exciting.  It is so gratifying to know that my work is helping and inspiring other people, just like it is helping me.  Right now, I am working on another altered book called, "My Dating Rules" and it is an intentional way for me to set my mind on how I want my dating life and potential relationships to be like.  I will post pictures when I done!

Be a creative inciter!  Don't just sit there, but do and do good!  Be an artistic oddity that draws others to God.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gratitude for My Support Network


Healing does not always refer to the transformation of the physical body. The activity of healing, while sometimes bodily, is the action of restoring wholeness and community where there is exclusion, corruption, individualism, fragmentation, and brokenness. Thus, salvation is found in Jesus and in those who imitate Jesus in these acts of healing. (95, Making a Way Out of No Way, Monica A Coleman)
I would like my physical body healed! Currently, I am suffering from a major cold and it is making my nose runny, my throat sore and me not wanting to move a muscle. Yuck! No one likes a cold. And yet, I am still very, very happy. Though my body is still on the mend, my spirit is very much whole and joyous for I am now in my new house. I have two roommates, whom I get along well with so far. I am closer to my church and my therapist and to my favorite city, Atlanta. I feel redeemed by being closer to my community and no longer feel marked by my mental illness - not that I'm going to stop taking my medications, seeing my therapist, or using my DBT skills any time soon. Many people helped get me here and acted-still do act-as healers and I want to acknowledge them in this post. They are:

  1. My Parents-Financially and Emotionally they have supported me.  They have taken care of me when I could not take care of myself.  They have visited me in the hospital, attended therapy sessions, have helped me obtain disability.  My mom is an expert on helping me manage an anxiety attack.  Their loving support is something not everybody with a disability, especially with a mental illness, experiences.
  2. My Therapist-She has seen me shed many a tear.  She finally advised me to attend her DBT classes after just psychiatric medications and regular talk therapy was not enough.
  3. Supportive Friends-I have some fabulous friends who have listened to me and provided me with distraction when I needed it.
  4. Various Church Communities-Being a part of a spiritual community is a great part of my healing.  Contributing to churches, which I still do, helps give my life meaning.
  5. Various Support Groups-I used to attend several support groups a week, but now that I am more mentally stable, I just go a few times a month-when I feel physically well to have the extra spoon.  Support groups have allowed me to be able to ask for feedback and get support from others similar to me when I have felt troubled. 
  6. Feminist Gwinnett Readers-I started this group about a year and a half ago and it has increased my self-confidence, given me more friends, and a feeling of safety in conservative suburbia.  
All of these people and groups are what I call my "recovery net" in my In Our Own Voice speeches.  Building your own support network is incredibly important for sane and joyful living.  Everyone needs a support network whether they have a mental illness or not. No matter if you are an extreme introvert or a loud extrovert, we all need community in order to get our needs met-it is a lie that one can completely pull themselves up by their bootstraps alone.
Thank you family, mental health workers, friends, and churches-without your support I would not be where I am today...and today is good.
(A Creative Commons license; art by geralt)

If you need help finding support groups, NAMI, E.A., and E.D.A. are good places to start.  Don't forget that you can find online meetings if there's not a meeting close by!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Virgin Islands Vacation Day Five - Patience and Freedom from "Stinky Donkey Dip" Days

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. ~ Aristotle 
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. 
Fear of people and of economic (and housing) insecurity will leave us.
~ First and Tenth Promise of the 12 Steps
I am so excited!  After so many years of living with my parents, I am finally moving out and I would not be able to be trusted to do this successfully if I was not living in recovery.  In the past, I have lived on my own or with roommates while I attended college and the situation always spiraled out of control after a while.  Hospitalizations, extreme loneliness and neediness, relapses into disordered behavior would always happen and after coming home from college, I worked hard on my recovery.  Unfortunately, I experienced more relapses; fortunately, those relapses pushed me to work even harder and to take two rounds of DBT classes.  Now that I have been practicing using my DBT skills on a regular basis for several years now, have a strong support network of trustworthy friends, knowledge of support groups, and a future plan should I start to feel a little shaky, I am confidant for the first time since being diagnosed with severe mental illness that I can live on my own with success.  Success means happiness, independence and freedom-it means living in love, instead of fear.

BUT before I get too carried away....I must wait.  For I am not moving out until the end of this week.  The best thing to do when the waiting is hard in my experience is to keep yourself busy in order to keep the anxiety at bay.  Bumpyboobs post, "Ten Things To Do While Waiting for Test Results" has many good ideas, including blogging, which prompted me to write this post.  Instead of pacing the floor (I have already pretty much packed), I will now take you back in time to the fifth day of my Virgins Island vacation.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
First we snorkeled at Maho Bay.  I enjoyed seeing lots of coral and fish in beautiful focus using the "turtle board," which we decided to rent out for the rest of the trip.  My dad took some great pictures using my underwater camera:




Aren't those pictures gorgeous?  Argh!  Looking at them makes me want to go back!  If I can't physically go back, then I will just use my imagination as I look at more of these photos...

After a nap, my family hiked on the Cinnamon Bay Factory Ruins Trail.  This cute little lizard greeted us at the beginning of the trail:
 
The ruins are from an old sugar factory.
I thought it was another instance of creepy beauty.
I especially like how the forest seemed to be reclaiming what used to be a site of exploitation.
The trail is a .5 mile loop that goes through the forest to the crypts of a Danish family.  Creepy....  Besides looking at the man-made structures that were becoming one with the forest, I admired the forest itself.  I thought the trees were simply gorgeous, like graceful goddesses with their arms stretching to the sky:

As I look at these pictures of water, trees, and animals, I am starting to feel more relaxed.
And as I look at this "Stinky Donkey Dip Ahead" picture I laugh and my anxieties seem to melt away.
Anxiety is its own "stinky donkey dip" and the best way to beat is to stay busy, and when I cannot be busy, then it is time to take a deep breath and be grateful for what I have already.  Remembering the love that I have already experienced and my previous pleasurable activities gives me hope for a new, creative future where that love can continue.  

What are you grateful for?  If you are anxious, what is a pleasurable event that you would like to remember? 

Link Love:

 Bumpyboobs
Feminism and Religion

Many of the women that I interviewed in my book Baby, You Are my Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall lived a closeted gay life. Their respect for their gay self had to be hidden in order to survive. It was how they respected the gay inner self—it is how they protected that self’s very survival.
[So] How can we support our gay elders? 

 Feminism: My New Religion by Michele Buscher

Feminism is the reason I get to live healthfully another day. […]Feminism is my new religion.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Story Lives - A Book Review - Being Nonjudgmental

For example, a black man in America is oppressed in a racist society.  If God is the God of the oppressed, then God is on his side.  But if this black man abuses his female partner, does God switch sides to be with her?  What if she abuses her child?  A God who resists oppression does not love or hate, accept or despise one person in this scenario more than another.  God resists the oppressive activity and calls each party to justice in their lives.  (82, Monica A Coleman, Making A Way Out of No Way)

The Story Lives: Leading a Missional Revolution by Henriet Schapelhouman (her website), a Speakeasy book, was sort of a mistake for me-it should have been really obvious that this book was about "winning people to Christ," which is not my theology at all and I would not have ordered it if I had not realized it in the first place, still I would say that for what it is, it is really well written, the best possible book for that genre and even made me think a bit.

I put the quote by Monica A. Coleman with this review, because I think it illustrates my feelings on Godde's favor well-just like God does not choose sides when it comes to supporting and loving those who are oppressed, even if they are being oppressed by each other, so I do not think that God chooses sides on who gets to enter heaven, that is, IF there is a heaven.  I don't believe that there are people who are extra special, that by believing or saying the right things will put a person in a better category than someone who does not when they die and so I do not feel a rush to evangelize.  I want people to have a peaceful and fulfilling life now whether that means living a life as a follower of Christ or as an atheist-both are valid, in my opinion.

That being said, I do consider myself an ambassador of Christiandom, meaning that I recognize that I represent Christians, especially progressive Christians; therefore, I must be on my best behavior.  I must still be authentic to who I am, of course, but basically, what I want is when people find out that I am a Christian, I want them to be left with a good taste in their mouth, which is why I like the book's caution of not being "too salty."  Christians are supposed to be the salt of the world and I liked that this book cautioned against overdoing it and not being in people's face about my faith-what the book called being "too salty."  In fact, The Story Lives, for the most part, is presented in a way that I can support for it is about being authentic, not overdoing or overstepping boundaries, helping others in a nonthreatening way, going beyond the church to help others, looking beyond the church for leadership opportunities.  Since I participate in the feminist, intellectual, and geek worlds, many of my friends are atheist, agnostic, or from different faiths, and I want them to know that I am not judging them or even tolerating them, but that I like to hear what they have to say.  I do not consider a judgmental Christian to be a Christian with their priorities in true order.    
Of course, being nonjudgmental also applies to one's self and funnily enough, I actually find that to be much harder sometimes.  My therapist was reminding me to be nonjudgmental towards myself just this past Monday.  I suppose though, if I taste alright to other people, then surely I must taste fine to myself too, right? That is the goal, anyway.  I am really just a little anxious-it is so hard to be patient!-because soon I will be moving out of the house after five years of living with my parents!!!  A big part of me is still in shock.  Happy shock!   A big smile is on my face just thinking about it.  Don't worry, I will write more in depth about it later. 

Do I recommend the book?  Well, I do if that is your theology.  I think it is very well written and extremely respectful, but just not quite my cup of tea.  If you think people need to be saved, then I think this book could be very thought provoking and could really help you be more respectful and holistic.  I appreciated this book and it helped me see that not all people who think this way are obnoxious, which is how I hope a lot of people see me, so it is perhaps a very good thing that I read the book.  It helped me be a little less judgmental towards people of my own faith.  Sadly enough, it is the "too salty" Christians that the author talks about that I am often the most judgmental or afraid of and I need to look beyond our differences and towards our similarities, just like I do with the other people in my life.  With all that is going on in the news about Hobby Lobby and reproductive rights and gay rights, I am feeling a little sore against conservative Christians, but even so, looking at people as the enemy only breeds hate and despair, while deep inside I know it would be better to breed love and understanding, which would help lead us towards reconciliation. 

Let us look at each other as people to understand, rather than as people to oppose.

Link Love:
Congress should not make any decisions about programs meant to help families living in poverty without people who know poverty first hand at the decision-making table.

He explained that now that I knew what was required, we could have a great time in the bedroom. I told him no. I would not hide from my own body. 


“You can’t change the laws without changing the images,” she said. “It is one thing to say we exist; it is another thing to show it. Art is political, art is about activism. And it’s beyond just the art. I also want to contest the notions of an African homosexuality, and I’m hoping that others will come up with similar visual narratives in Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Virgin Islands Vacation Day Four - Revealing Godde In A Recipe and More

We are distinct from God-we are not God ourselves - but we are part of who and what God is, and God is a part of who and what we are. The entire world reveals God. (75, Making A Way Out of No Way, Monica A Coleman)

The fourth day was much better because I remembered my new mantra from the "Girls Are Not Chicks" coloring book:
I do not need conventional femininity!
Also, my parents solved my snorkeling problem by renting me a "turtle-board," which is a plastic board with a clear bottom-perfect for being able to paddle around with my glasses on to see the fish and coral. I recommend it for anyone who is as blind as I am! I discovered that the pictures of the coral do not come out well through the clear bottom, so the next day I gave my water-resistant camera to my dad. Having enough sleep, and with a fresh perspective, I was ready to witness how the Virgin Islands reveal Godde on day four. I saw it in the animals, as we ran into a herd of goats running around and I thought they were so cute!
I tasted God with my tastebuds in a pina colada from Shipwreck Landing, which made the best pina colada I have ever had!
At Shipwreck Landing, I looked awful-my hair was a mess, I was wearing grey leggings over an emerald green bathing suit and sneakers, but I was not there to model, I was there to enjoy myself and enjoy myself I did!  Happily, I had learned my lesson from the previous day.

I touched God by cooking the best meal of the trip that day.  I say, "touched God," because by cooking I was able to feed and thus heal and restore the energy of myself and my parents in a very pleasurable way.  When I cook for other people I am giving part of my essence to them, just like Godde gives part of her essence to us in Her creation every day.  

(from Allrecipes.com with adaptations-originally was Mahi Mahi)

Ingredients
2 T Olive Oil
1 1/2 t Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic
1 t Ground Black Pepper
1/2 t Ground Ginger
Salt to taste
1 lb Chicken Breasts
2 Cups Uncooked Jasmine Rice
1 Can Chicken Broth
2 T White Sugar
1 Can Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Butter
1 1/2 White Sugar
1 Fresh Mango, Cubed

Instructions
Whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, ginger, salt together in a bowl.  Add the chicken breasts and toss to coat.  Cover and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring the rice, chicken broth, and butter to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, about twenty minutes.  Pour in the coconut milk and the 2 T of sugar.  Stir and simmer uncovered until the rice has absorbed almost all of the milk.

While the rice is cooking, remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off excess.  Discard extra.  Place chicken in a large baking dish in a single layer.  Bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes.  

After the chicken is placed in the oven, melt 1 1/2 T butter and 1 1/2 T sugar in a skillet over medium-high heat.   When the mixture begins to bubble, stir in mango cubes.  Cook and stir until the mango is tender, about five minutes.  Serve by placing a chicken breast over a mound of hot rice with a topping of mango salsa.

OMG!!!  The creamy rice is addicting and the super sweet mangoes make your lips go smack!  The chicken is tender and one can really taste the marinade.  This recipe is a WINNER!!!

I am going to make this recipe again soon, this time with fish and I cannot wait!

So what did I learn from day four?  That just when my disability seems to be limiting and frustrating, with some investigating and help, I can often find a solution to help ease my stress.  I learned that I can appreciate Godde's spirit by admiring her wandering animals and that I can experience being a part of Godde by cooking for other people.  I learned that there is value in enjoying the simple pleasures in life and that how I or others feel about my looks should not hamper a trip to get a tasty treat.  I hope that you take the time to notice how the world reveals God to you between now and the next time I write!