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 15, 2017

All Emotions Are Okay

It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world.  ~ Dorothy Dix
In this age of social media, it is easy to get caught in an endless quest for validation.  I definitely get caught in wanting more likes, more comments, more approval from strangers I don't even know.  And yet, I am much better than I used to be!

It used to be that I did not know how to give myself validation and I thought all of my deep, intense feelings were horrible and wrong.  I thought I was "too much" - my feelings were a sign that I was mentally messed up.  Then I discovered blogs where people spoke of their intense feelings as gifts and Marcia Linehan's DBT, where she said that we could learn how to regulate our own emotions, gave me a lot of hope.  My therapist taught me how to ask for validation when I need it, instead of being melodramatic and passive aggressive in order to make someone give it to me.  I was thinking about all of this the other day when I driving in my car and feeling some intense emotions, because I was able to smile and tell myself that I am ok.

We are emotional creatures and all emotions are okay.  Happiness and joy are grand, but the lows of depression and the jumpiness of anxiety and anger are liveable too.  It is all okay, because they all go away; no emotion lasts forever, a concept that took me a long time to believe.  Happiness makes life worth living, but so does anger, as it can propel a people to make much needed changes. Anxiety can stimulate a person to plan for the future.  All emotions can be useful if a person can reassure themselves that through it all, they are okay.  And if you can't reassure yourself in the moment, it is totally fine to find someone you trust and ask for reassurance.  We all need it sometimes and right now, I think we need it more than ever.  My own emotions have been fluctuating from joy to boredom to a whole lot of anger the past few weeks and I think that's to be expected with Trump being president-elect.  I expect that I will experience a whole lot more anger when he is in office.  I will use this anger to act and I will continue to look for moments of joy, peace, and happiness.

Validate yourself and if you can't do it yourself yet, then listen to me: your emotions are fine, you are fine, and you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel.  You are not wrong or too much, but you can learn how to stop resisting and just be in the flow.  Come join me.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

          Beauty Queens by Libba Bray is a delightfully bad B movie of a book.  It is cheese-tactic.  It is not a book striving for believability but for outrageous laughter that slips in quite a few feminist lessons for the teen girl (or woman) reading it.  It is about teen beauty queen contestants who get stranded on a deserted island.  It is not Lord of the Flies, more like Princesses of the Butterflies.  I would not say this was the best book ever written or even that I want to read it again, but it was the perfect beach vacation novel.  It is definitely an intersectional feminist book, as Bray explores nearly every popular trope and what they need, from the Black funny sidekick to the lesbian dropout to even the transgender pop star.  The only problem was that Bray tried so hard to capture everything that I never got any true depth of character or plot, but then, I don't think that's what she was trying to do.  It's light reading, but the feminist girl power passages make it worth reading.

 My two favorite passages were about Mary Lou, who discovers it's okay to be a "wild girl," and discovers her good sexual power and Sosie, the deaf dancer.  I could relate to Sosie's struggle to always be the good kind of disabled person and her story was the one that actually choked me up a little.  Her story has actually made me think a lot about why I perform so much inner work in order to not be bitter about what I go through and I want you all to know that it is not so that I can be the acceptable, inspirational disabled person but so that I can be as happy and content as I can be.  I do not want to be miserable.  However, I am not a magical nonangry person and hopefully I will never be so happy that I cannot be a voice for those who cannot speak about the injustices facing people with disabilities.        
When the virus stole most of Sosie’s hearing, it also stole her right to complain. She figured out early that nobody liked an angry disabled person. It messed with their sympathy, with the story in their head about people overcoming adversity to be shining lights in the world. People wanted to think you were so okay with it all so they wouldn’t have to expend any energy feeling guilty. (Chapter 12)
I am not okay with the fact that it is a world that does not accommodate my differences that makes me disabled - not the other way around.  However, I am okay with myself the way that I am.

Mary Lou's epiphany that our bodies are not curses I found immensely satisfied and I thought applied to both young women:
It was not a curse to fully inhabit your body. You were only as cursed as you allowed yourself to be.  (Chapter Fifteen)
It is not a curse to be disabled, except for in the ways that society makes us feel cursed, which is why we must continually push back against what society says about us.  In a few weeks I am attending the Atlanta March for Women and Social Justice and after much thought, my sign is going to be about disability rights in some way - I am tired of intersectional feminist articles still shoving us to the side.  I'm leaning towards "eating disorders are a feminist cause" OR "Half of all people killed by the police are disabled." That's pretty shocking, isn't it?

This new year claim to fully inhabit your body, disavow curses, complain as much as you want and be as happy as possible.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Beautiful Sleepy Vacation

In today's rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.  ~ Eckhart Tolle
Right now I flying home from Key West, Florida.  I know, I am very privileged and lucky.  If I could name this past holiday vacation anything, it would be, “The Beautiful, Sleepy Vacation.”  Because of I-don’t-know-what, I have a very annoying condition where if I don’t get to sleep in until at least ten a.m., then I usually stay sleepy for the rest of the day.  I am extremely grateful to have a job that accommodates my need for late mornings.  Because we couldn’t sleep in much AND because I did not have a day to rest in between a work-day and the leaving-for-vacation-day, I was sleepy for most of the trip.  The only day I did not feel sleepy was ironically the day we left, because I got to have a good nap in the morning.  Such is a disabled life.

However, I still had a great time!  The weather was perfect and so was the sea.  I have never been to a beach before that practically had no waves!  My favorite experience was when we went to the beach at Bahia Honda state park and I got to sit down in the water.  The water was clear, calm and warm – no fighting the surf in order to relax.  I just sat down in the water and let the smooth sand run through my fingers.  I realized then how much one could be happy with almost nothing and how tied I am to the threat of boredom.

Before leaving for the beach, I had fretted about whether I should bring my IPad, with its Kindle app, or my purse. My purse is always full of books, markers, pens, bits of drawing paper, candy, headphones – anything to keep me distracted in case the boredom monster should appear.  I wonder what I am so afraid of?  There is a world to see, hear, feel, and think about always in front of me.  Do I really need to be constantly distracted?  Is time alone with my thoughts really so bad?  Ok, so sometimes, yes, but often no.  AND what about all those mindfulness exercises I participated in my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy classes?  With the sand running through my fingers, I realized that I do not even need to think.  As I’ve said before, life should not always be about productivity, which is the lie of capitalism, but in learning the value of just being. During my days of sleepiness, I have to look for ways to let go of my productive expectations and just be – otherwise, I will be miserable.  I posit that that might be true for other people too even if they do not have energy issues.

I had a wonderful time in Key West, practicing being content with the little I could do, taking in copious amounts of beauty.  Here are some of the beautiful pictures my family and I captured:
 Of course, I am glad for my energy being back and will have to remember the gift of just being when I am back at work. Just being is the way towards gratitude and peace – just striving is the way towards frustration and anxiety.  May we all be content today, even as we strive towards a more just society.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Finding Your Holiday Spirit When Feeling Bitter

Christmas is not a time or a season, but a state of mind.  To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ Calvin Coolidge
Until last week, I was not feeling the holiday spirit.  I guess you could call me the Trump Grump.  With so much uncertainty and fear in the air, I just did not feel like celebrating anything.  Being in the holiday spirit means a lot to me.  I have always thought it important to relish the joys of the season - it fills the coldness of winter with love and gratitude and kind warmth.  I eventually was able to pull myself out of the pit and into genuine holiday happiness and so I wanted to share what I've learned with you.

Lesson 1 - Authenticity and Validation

 It is a terrible, although common, feeling to feel like one has to lie and say they're fine when they're not.  When at my church two weeks ago and all I could think of was the fact that Trump is going to be president soon, I decided that I would tell people what was on my mind if asked how I was doing.  So I did and both times it opened up genuine conversation instead of mere pleasantries.  It felt good to know that I was not the only one internally struggling.  This is getting validation and it's something everyone needs.

Two caveats:
1. There is a difference between sharing and wallowing - sharing in an effort to receive validation is usually good; sharing but then refusing to switch to a cheerier subject after a long time of talking, so that one is only surrounded by negativity is usually not good - I know because I used to do the latter all the time years ago.

2. Be careful of who you go to for validation.  Fortunately, I go to a very liberal and progressive church, so I already felt sure that whoever I talked to would probably be understanding.  There are other people in my life, however, that I would probably not share why I was struggling with, as I know they would blow it off as an unimportant concern.

Lesson 2 - Opposite Action

Opposite action is a DBT skill that can be hard to do.  It's basically doing the opposite of what you are feeling like doing in an effort to produce a different feeling.  After church that Sunday, it was time for our annual caroling around the Kirkwood area.  I love caroling and look forward to this event all year long - when I was a kid I learned all the verses from almost every carol because I loved it so much.  Now, I amaze people by knowing how Miss Fanny Bright got upsot in Jingle Bells and how we are supposed to strike the harp and join the chorus in Deck The Halls.  Unfortunately, I was still feeling a bit gloomy and didn't want to join in the caroling this year.  I thought about how I had switched shifts at work so that I could go and how I loved going in previous years.  I remembered the opposite action skill and decided to get on the truck and go for an hour in the hopes that I would feel more like in the Christmas spirit afterwards.  It worked!  I sat beside a good friend of mine and we made jokes and sang the whole way.  I impressed her with my knowledge of obscure carol lyrics.  Basically, by totally immersing myself in something that has given me pleasure before, I was able to change my mood and I am so glad I did.

Lesson 3 - Traditions

Traditions make us feel in touch with our roots and be grounded.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to have the motivation to do them if with different people or in different environments than in the past.  When I was younger, my mom and I would make cranberry bread every year - Christmas just didn't feel like Christmas without it.  It's moist, tangy and sweet at the same time - so, so good.

Unfortunately, ever since I moved out of my parents' house, I haven't been as engaged in the old traditions and I hardly ever do holiday specific cooking anymore.  Last Wednesday, I had my peers and I make my family's traditional cranberry bread for whole health.  It's not really a healthy bread but I told them being mindful of holiday traditions is.  It's funny how what we do to teach others usually ends up helping ourselves most of all, because making that holiday bread with my peers is what finally totally turned my frosty mood around.  I had thought that I wouldn't like making a family food away from my family but I found that wasn't true - instead, I felt more connected to the people around me while still feeling connected to my roots.  Eating that tangy, yet sweet bread again and sharing it with new people that I love and care for finally opened me to feeling the holiday spirit.

Of course, there is no rule that you have to get immersed in the holidays, but I will posit that getting connected to people that care is always a good thing.  Thinking of others outside of ourselves, honoring traditions, receiving and giving validation and being authentic are all good things no matter what time of year.  If you are feeling bitter or cynical this year, and there are many good reasons to feel that way right now, I urge you to look for something that you can do to alter your state of mind.  Despite the long road ahead politically, we must never let those who hate steal our joy.  
 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Vegan Thanksgiving?

I am grateful for what I am and have.  My thanksgiving is perpetual.  ~ Henry David Thoreau  
I used to hate Thanksgiving, but every year of my recovery, I am starting to like it more and more.  I actually can appreciate it being about gratitude instead of cynically thinking it is only about stuffing ourselves silly. 

One of the reasons why I used to hate Thanksgiving was because of the rich food.  While traditional food does contain some happy family memories, the richness makes me feel overly full and slightly sick.  I have a very sensitive stomach, so sensitive that even the Morningstar veggie burgers at Burger King are making me feel queasy nowadays.  My brother's fiancĂ© and my mom are both vegan and this delighted me, as it meant I could try my hand at some lighter, healthier versions of classic Thanksgiving dishes.  We had turkey and nonvegan stuffing, but the mashed potatoes and sweet potato dishes were both without dairy.  I was a bit worried about the mashed potatoes, as I do enjoy the ultra rich, cheesy ones I usually make, but I must say that I was very impressed and can truthfully say that I did not miss the butter, cheese, or milk in either dish!

Vegan Mashed Potatoes with Onion Gravy

From the blog, Fried Dandelions.

 Ingredients
3lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
 2T Olive Oil
 4-6 Cloves of Garlic
 1t Salt
 1 cup nonsweetened soy milk
  2T nutritional Yeast (I didn't have it so I didn't use it and it still tasted great)

 Onion Gravy
 1 Large Onion
 2-3T Olive Oil
 2-3T Corn Starch
 1t Salt
 1 Chopped Garlic Clove
 2Cups Water

  Directions
1. Peel Potatoes and dice them into one inch cubes.
 2. Place them in a large pot of room temp water.  Once all of the potatoes are peeled and cut, place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
 3. While the potatoes are cooking, begin the gravy - directions below.
 4. Once the potatoes are fork tender, drain them and return the empty pot to the stove over low heat. 5. Add the olive oil and garlic to the empty pot and lightly brown the garlic.
 6. Mix in the nutritional yeast and salt and mix well.  It will become a thick paste.
 7. Slowly stream in the milk while stirring and mix until well incorporated.
 8. Add potatoes on top and mash until desired consistency.

  For The Gravy:
 9. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
 10. Slice onion into thin half moons.
 11. Place them into the pan and sautĂ© them over medium heat for at least twenty minutes.
 12. Once the onions are translucent and browning, add the corn starch and stir well.  This will form a roux and will be quite dry.
 13. Add the salt and garlic and continue to stir.
 14. Let the gravy simmer for ten minutes to thicken.
 15. Use an immersion blender to blend the sauce.
 16. Pour over potatoes!

 Notes: I was really impressed with this dish!  Who knew that olive oil and garlic could make potatoes taste incredibly rich?  I really didn't miss my usual additions of cream cheese, sour cream, butter and cheese whiz.

  Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole

 From the blog, Happy Healthy Mama

  Ingredients
3.5 lbs Sweet Potatoes
 1 Cup Coconut Milk
 2T Maple Syrup
 3/4 t Salt
 1t Ground Cinnamon
 1/2 t Ground Cloves
 1/8t Ground Nutmeg
 2T Orange Juice
 1/2t Orange Zest

  For The Pecan Topping:
1 Generous Cup Whole Raw Pecans
 1T Coconut Oil, Melted
 1T Maple Syrup
 3/4 t Ground Cinnamon

  Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and place them on a baking sheet. Bake them in the oven until they are soft, 60-90 minutes.  Turn the potatoes once during their baking time.
 2. When the sweet potatoes are finished, allow them to cool.  Once they are cooled, use a knife to cut open the skin and peel it out.  Discard.  Put the sweet potato flesh into a large bowl and mash well.  Add the next 8 ingredients (through orange zest, if using) and mix well.  Place the sweet potato mixture into a 2 quart baking dish.
 3. In a small bowl, mix together the pecans, coconut oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon.  Place the mixture on top of the casserole, completely covering it.

  Notes: Like the original blogger, I never understood why sweet potato casseroles usually have so much sugar - they don't need it!  With some maple syrup and coconut milk as sweeteners, the casserole is plenty sweet and very tasty.

Having healthier food this Thanksgiving helped ease my food fears, my body felt better and my taste buds were still happy.  However, if you love the traditional rich fare, do not feel guilty.  Recovery is all about being able to enjoy the present moment and I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving.  Six years ago, I was incapable of feeling gratitude and now I feel it every day, even on my bad days.  I hope that you are able to experience some gratitude too.

   

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Letter to Governor Nathan Deal

Your silence will not protect you.  ~ Audre Lorde
Last Thursday, like many people, I was devastated.  I cried and did not want to interact with anyone, even though I had a job to go to.  Worse yet, at my job I am expected to be an optimistic person who embraces recovery, but I did not feel that way at all then.  I am still devastated, but fortunately I am no longer in the pits of despair.  Just because Trump is the president elect does not mean that all hope is lost - it does mean, however, that no one with a conscience can rest and be silent anymore.  A friend of mine said that we just need to wait and trust in the Lord, well, my theology is different.  I believe that the Lord acts through us and so the time for waiting is over if we truly want to show others that ours is a God of Love and not a God of discrimination.  Activism, for me, is also a form of self-care.  It makes me feel powerful and useful and it prevents the darkness from consuming me.  I decided to write my governor about my concerns and I urge you to do the same.  I decided to keep the letter positive, so that he would be more willing to listen to me and I kept it personal.  I think it's important for our elected officials to know how their policies and actions actually will affect their constituents.

Here is my letter that I wrote last night to Governor Deal of Georgia.  I kept it focused on two main areas - standing up to discrimination and religious freedom bills and to increase mental health and social security funding. I hope that you will become more active in your local politics too.

 ~~~~ 
 11/19/16 

 Dear Governor Deal,

 I am writing you to thank you for some of things of you have done this year.  I was very proud when you stated that you, “do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia,” in response to HB 757.  I want to urge you to remember this powerful statement during the next four years.  As a member of the LGBT community, a Christian, and a Georgian, I hope that you will remember your previous words if another “religious freedom” bill comes forward and never take them back.

 I am also very proud that Georgia is a state with mental health courts.  We need extensive criminal justice reform in our country and mental health courts are a big step in the right direction.  I am a constituent who is evidence that recovery is possible.  I am a certified peer specialist that works at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center.  We are a nonclinical, trauma informed environment that works to prevent psychiatric hospitalizations and empower our peers.  I am also on social security disability insurance.  Many people think that getting on SSDI means that a person’s life is over but for many people it is the beginning of a wonderful recovery journey.  It was for me.  Because of obtaining SSDI, I was able to move out of my parent’s home and work on myself.  It enabled me to move towards my true life goals and now I have a wonderful career where I do not feel stigmatized.  I would like you to remember people like me during the next four years when pressured to make cuts to the budget.  Mental health services and social security funding needs to be increased – recovery is real but is hard to obtain without the right supports.

I am a Georgian constituent whose life has been made better by some of your decisions – please continue to fund mental health services and to veto discrimination during these next four years no matter how much pressure you face – the very lives of many Georgians depend on it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

DBT Class Over But I'm Not Done Growing

All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But it's not only around us, it's within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within.  We're also feeling the birth pangs.  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting.  We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.  (The Message Bible, 322)
It's hard to believe that I started my third Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class six months ago, but it's true.  I wish I could say that my life is magically stress free now, but that would be a big, fat lie.  What is true is that I am able to handle my stressors a whole lot better than I could before.  Now, when I am stressed out, I try to focus on the moment.  When that doesn't work, then I cheerlead myself by repeating mantras to myself that make myself feel better.  
Everything's gonna be alright. 
 Things will eventually work out.
 Everybody gets in trouble sometimes.
 This situation/emotion is going to change.
I know now that my recovery/sanity absolutely cannot withstand putting myself down anymore - my goal is wellness and when I put myself down, I instantly start spiraling into an anxiety that is out of control.  I really try to check myself and turn my thoughts around when I realize that I am putting myself down.  Fortunately, I have many supporters who help me check myself too. 

Besides being able to handle stress better, my energy is a whole lot improved too.  That's because of many factors:
  1. I recognize my sadness now.  DBT got me more in touch with my emotions - I had no clue how much sadness I was carrying around!  When I first took the class, all I knew was that I was always exhausted.  I was tearful and miserable.  The therapist asked me what I felt and the only feeling I could identify was exhaustion, so imagine my surprise when she told me that exhaustion is actually not a feeling but a physical state.  I learned that sadness often shows up as tiredness/exhaustion.  Of course, this is not always the case, but it is a helpful thing to remember.  When I become tired and there's no logical explanation, then I look inward to see where my sadness lies and I meditate on it.  Confronting and exploring my emotions helps relieve them a lot faster than just shoving them down does.  Similarly, I have begun to work on recognizing my anger also - another emotion that I am used to just shoving down deep.
  2. I pace myself better now.  I do still have chronic fatigue syndrome - no amount of emotion exploring is going to negate that, so I have become a lot more conscious of how I spend my time.  I take more naps; I spend more time in quiet.  I am still very, very busy but in order to be happy amidst the busy-ness, I have to factor in moments of stillness.  
  3. I go to bed a lot earlier now. I know that probably seems like a very obvious solution to the problem of tiredness but I had to do a lot of inner work in order for me to feel ok going to bed at an earlier time.  I discovered that I had a lot of harmful preconceived notions around the idea of going to bed early - that I would become a boring person or would miss out on something great.  What I have replaced those harmful notions with is the drive to be well.  I do not want to dwell in exhaustion, panic, and negativity anymore - I want to be well from the depths of my being.
Like I've said, just because I handle stress better now, does not mean that I don't still have it in my life. It is a wonderful thing though to no longer feel controlled by the effects of stress.  It still gets me down but I no longer feel totally crippled by it. To support me in my transition from a weekly DBT class to none, I am increasing my individual counseling sessions and I am continuing to track my progress using the The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Wellness Planner by Amanda Smith.  It's a shorter, easier diary card that is helping to keep me motivated. 

I hope that hearing about my progress gives you hope if you are struggling.  Change is the only real constant in life and I do believe our lives will change for the better if we work hard for it.  We cannot eliminate stress but we can increase positive ways of living with it.  I am very happy and proud of myself for my hard work and subsequent change in my personality and life.