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.

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.


Monday, November 20, 2017

A Responsible Relapse - Rethinking Recovery Language

The phrase “responsible relapse” has been rolling around in my head for several days now.  I have returned to work and it is incredibly surreal that I am back when just a month and a half ago, I was in the stabilization unit at Peachford Hospital. 

It’s a weird thing. 

I struggle with shame and guilt over relapsing into old symptoms.  I used to end my mental health presentations by saying that I no longer fit the criteria for an eating disorder and for Borderline Personality Disorder and so now my ego is struggling because those are things I cannot say right now. I took such pride in that.

I think it may be time now to not take so much pride in being rid of something undesirable but of handling returning symptoms in a responsible way.  I desperately want recovery to be a straight line but it isn’t.  A part of me is sad that I was hospitalized again but my therapist reminds me that this is the longest I have ever been out of the hospital as an adult and that it was the result of old traumas getting triggered.

 I realize now that putting all of my focus on not being somewhere is perhaps what led me back in the first place. It was my fear that led me to believe that I was not safe.  

I think there is some value in adding up the days but perhaps not as much value as I used to think.  I should celebrate each day instead of waiting for some special moment. When I think about the magnitude of my being able to relapse and still advocate and listen and return to my job and my house and my relationships, I am astounded.  It is easy to take it for granted until I remember how I used to be.  Sometimes relapses sneak up on us, especially when triggered by trauma.  I think we should perhaps not focus on the relapse but more on the resiliency.  

This relapse has taught me many things and I am proud of myself. I hope that I can be an example of self-care during times of pressure.  I hope I can show that shame and guilt are really useless emotions.  

There is such a thing, I think, as a responsible relapse. 

Once I realized where I was, I asked myself what did I value and I found that I valued my life, my relationships, and my job more than I thought. I also realized that to keep these things, I needed to change some others. When I am in wise mind, I choose to use this relapse as a learning experience.

Lessons I Am Learning: 

If I cannot do something, then it is not my job

Shame and guilt are useless emotions.  Anger can be useful but not for wallowing.

When working through trauma, it is tempting to wallow, but I actually need to follow positivity or else I will be dragged down.

(Those first three realizations are courtesy of the new trauma therapist.)

If I am productive in the morning then I won’t feel like staying up too late because I didn’t get enough done.

If I cook dinner in the morning, then I can relax when I get home

If having food anxiety, I can eat with my eyes closed and just focus on the experience.  Being mindful and savoring the flavors will reconnect myself with my body.  Life deserves to be appreciated.  

Protecting myself is my number one job.  Jesus may be my savior but only metaphorically. 

It is not entitlement to want to be treated with dignity and respect - that is something that all human beings deserve.  Mental health professionals are sometimes the best at gaslighting.

Being vulnerable allows for deeper connections

I need people just as much as I need boundaries

Stretching is spiritual

Waves of awful emotions really do eventually pass - the trick is to ride the wave.  The ride isn’t pretty or graceful.  (It usually involves a lot of tears - good thing I’m already in the water.)

Crying is a gift not often recognized - anyone that’s been hospitalized with me knows that I am epically gifted.

A cleaner house really does help clean the mind

Even when I stop having panic attacks, I should still bring my anxiety PRN with me 

99% of my symptoms point towards anxiety

Mindfulness, laughter, and positivity are hard things for me to grasp but are vital for my survival.

It is more important to notice what lifts me up than what brings me down.

It is possible to imagine problems resolving well

People will often give validation when I ask for it.  The result will still feel good.

Recovery is not a straight line

I am not perfect

I really love Greek yogurt.

Gay dance music is excellent for motivation and feeling good.  
How else would we survive?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Contentment Through Disability - A Reflection

“When you hear the word ‘disabled,’ people immediately think about people who can’t walk or talk or do everything that people take for granted. Now, I take nothing for granted. But I find the real disability is people who can’t find joy in life and are bitter.” -Teri Garr


 As I reflect back on my day, I think I’m happy. 

 How did this happen? 

I woke up this morning with a lot of pent-up anxious energy.  I sat on the couch perseverating for about three hours when I realized that I just better do something, so I started cooking.  I prepared cinnamon apple steel cut oats in the crockpot (I had wanted to make them last night but was too tired) and then I chopped up all my remaining vegetables, threw in some other ingredients that were laying around the kitchen and tossed it with a quick homemade tahini dressing that I had wanted to make. 

Check.

I made some changes to my “Adult Function Report” needed for disability, which I printed out, and then I put my shoes away, got dressed, tidied up my bathroom, and then changed the cat box.  

I drove to my therapist’s office and for the first time I did not nearly have a panic attack on the I-85 connector. 

I told my therapist about how anxious I was about the stupid disability review and how I kept on comparing myself to other people I know.  She reminded me that the relapse actually is a good thing, as far as disability is concerned.  I decided that the next thing I needed to do was to fax the forms, so that I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.  My therapist told me that she would like for me to have more compassion towards myself.  I shouldn’t beat myself up for a relapse that happened due to a trauma outside of my control.  That this is the longest I’ve ever been out of the hospital, that I was able to keep my job, and that I listened to my treatment team and followed their suggestions instead of being impulsive and making the situation even worse.

That was helpful.

I posted what my therapist had told me on Facebook.  I needed some validation and figured this was a safe way to get some.

I went to Kinko’s and faxed the SSDI paperwork.  

I went to Sam Flax and they did not have the brand of paint pens I wanted.

I went to Dick Blick and they did not have the brand of paint pens I wanted.  I remembered that it is not the cashier’s fault that they do not carry what I want and held myself back from being rude and instead thanked him for trying.  That’s actually a pretty big deal - in the past, I would have been rude and loudly complained.

Finally learning, I CALLED Binders before going to the store.  They also did not have the brand that I wanted but they were able to order some over the phone.

I went to Sprouts.  Except for the bananas, everything I bought was with electronic coupons.  That really was a proud moment, as I had almost ordered from Instacart this morning.  To order from Instacart, I would have needed to order at least $35 worth of food and I told myself that it is silly to make yourself order $35 worth of food when all you really need is Greek yogurt and bananas. As I was checking out, I checked my FaceBook feed and became a little teary after seeing all the words of encouragement from my friends. 

My anxiety finally started to diminish after saving the money on groceries. 

When I got home at 6:30pm, I put another set of paperwork in the mailbox.  

*BIG SIGH OF RELIEF*

The disability paperwork is out of my hands and head now. 

I was greeted with hot cinnamon apple steel cut oats.  I put some in a bowl and stirred in some peanut butter for protein.

Heavenly.

Then I put in some coconut ice cream and ginger snaps with the steel cut oats and nearly had an orgasm.  I sat down on the couch in utter delight and savored the food that I had made.

My roommate came home and I offered her some of the steel cut oats, which she enjoyed.  I figured out how to get Showtime to stream on our Roku in order for us to keep up with the latest season of Shameless

That is a top priority for us.

We watched an episode of Family Feud together and I realized that I was genuinely happy and content.

It would be great if I had just woken up happy but that is not often reality.  Today I worked hard and I feel satisfied.  I won’t have this amount of energy every day, so I am glad to take it when I can.

I don’t really have a moral to this story.  While I know I worked hard today, none of that would have been possible without the support of my therapist, family, and friends, without nutritious food and without the medications that ensured that I slept well last night.  I am aware that if I had kids I would not be well.  Everything is so precarious for me - when people tell me how “mentally healthy” I am, I have to remind them that I also do not have children, a romantic relationship, or a job that pays all my bills.  I have a disability and if I have figured out how to have some peace, it is not without a cost.  I do not say this to make anyone feel bad or to make myself feel bad.  

It is what it is.

I think I wrote this just to say that lately I have come to realize that I want a peaceful life.  

That’s it.  That’s my goal.

I don’t wish for a lot of money or a prestigious position.  I don’t wish for marriage or kids.  I don’t even wish to be self-supporting, although all of those things would, of course, be wonderful.

I just want peace from my incessant anxiety.

The world measures our lives through the lens of productivity and monetary wealth.  It measures our lives by how well we conform to the “norms” and by those standards I don’t do so well.

But I’ve got a purring kitty beside me, warm food in my belly, supportive friends, and the knowledge that I did all I could.  I feel pretty rich in the things that matter to me and I guess that’s all that really, truly matters.  I may not have made it by society’s yardstick and yet I have created for myself a life I consider worth living. 

When I tell my story, so many parents want the end of my story to be that I work full-time and am completely independent, but that is not my story.  

My story is that even after how hard I work, I still need the support of many people, including financial help from both the government and my parents still as I approach middle age.

I guess I just want to say that there can be blessings found in disability.  If I had everything else but was not content, would any of it really matter?


Maybe.  Maybe not.

It is nice to give up striving and when I start comparing myself to others who appear more "successful" I remind myself that my goal is to experience peace and that may not be their goal.  I look at all the people that strive and strive and still aren't content.  I am not always content but I'm better than I used to be.  That is enough for today.















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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - A Book Review

When we honestly confront the things we own, they evoke many emotions within us. Those feelings are real. It is these emotions that give us the energy for living. Believe what your heart tells you when you ask, “Does this spark joy?” If you act on that intuition, you will be amazed at how things will begin to connect in your life and at the dramatic changes that follow.
~~~~~
One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy. A comfortable environment, a space that feels good to be in, a place where you can relax—these are the traits that make a home a power spot. Would you rather live in a home like this or in one that resembles a storage shed? The answer, I hope, is obvious.
. ~ The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Not that long ago, I was friends with someone who tightly held onto things.  She would buy two of the same books - one to read and one to display.  Her house was cluttered with books she never read, appliances she never used, odds and ends that she did not need.  She attached so much meaning into things she never used that it made me sad to step into her house.  As time went on, the clutter started bothering me more and more and I came to realize that holding onto things no longer fits into my value system.  I don’t want to be the kind of person who places more value onto things than people and who looks for fulfillment through possession.  I don’t want to be so attached to any thing so that I would feel devastated if it was lost.  We cannot take any of our belongings with us when we die, so I figure it is better to leave an energy of positivity and love behind than a collection of things for other people to throw away.  I want to leave a legacy of love, not a legacy of stuff.  

I very much have a tendency towards hoarding myself and so being with this friend was a huge wake-up call to me - do I want to live in peace, passion, and joy or do I want to live drained and depressed? 

A lot of people when they heard me complain about how cluttered my house was recommended I read the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering by Marie Kondo. I was very skeptical and did not believe that any book could be motivating or life-changing when it comes tidying up and myself.

Fortunately, I was wrong!

Kondo is not a pretentious writer, but is very down-to-earth, as she explains her life-long struggle to be tidy and why it is important to her. She makes the case that our home should be our sanctuary, a peaceful place full of joy.  However, we cannot live in joy if our house is cluttered with things that do not really matter to us - what we actually need to keep are the things that bring us joy.

Here is a basic summary of the book:

  1. Clean your house at one time. Doing a little bit every day will mean that you never finish.
  2. You must touch every belonging.
  3. You must inspect it to see if it brings you joy or not.
  4. Clean your house by like items, not by room.
  5. Be in the here and now.  Do not save things for later that do not bring you joy or save things because they brought you joy in the past but no longer - only keep what gives you joy right now.
  6. Every item must have its own place.
  7. Clean out your purse every night and put the items away then.
  8. Fold clothes so that you can see each item.
  9. Do not stack items or you will forget about the ones on the bottom and you will attract clutter.
  10. Make your home into a sacred space - a sanctuary that gives you meaning and peace.

Because of her book, yesterday I was able to donate six bags of clothing and shoes to Second Life thrift store, which gives the money to animal rescue organizations.  

IT FELT SO SATISFYING!!!

By touching and inspecting every item, I discovered that all of my white leggings had holes in the crotch!  I had been walking around in hole-y pants and I never even knew!  *facepalm* I had so many clothes that no longer fit or that I never really liked and giving them away cleansed my soul.  Now all my clothes fit in my dresser and they are all clothes that I desire to wear.

She was even right about folding clothes - when I get to see my shirts and pants and skirts standing up, my humble bureau transferred into a work of art, so that I actually enjoy folding my clothes up now! I never thought that would happen!  





(Leggings give me a lot of joy!)

 

(Yes, I am bragging.)
Today I am cleaning my bathroom and it feels so wonderful to get rid of the dirt and grime and things I do not actually want or need.  I feel like I am taking ownership of my house and my life-I am saying that I will not be a victim to preconceived ideas, but will reclaim my life, acknowledging and honoring the fact that I do possess the ability to make my life into the life I want.

Now, does this mean that I am cured?  No.

I still have many diagnosis and I still have limitations, but I believe that everybody has some kind of limitation, even if it is not the same as mine.  Just because I have limitations does not mean that I do not still have value and power - my power is in my ability to make a clear assessment of my life and to decide how can I make it better. 

Over the past few years, it has become clear to me that my overarching value is to experience a peaceful life, filled with joy.  As a follower of the Way, I believe that this is doable but only by using intentionality and mindfulness and gratitude towards the good things/people/beliefs already in my life right now.

However, a peaceful life is not an apathetic life.  I still care about causes; I will still volunteer, protest, make calls and live my life as an outspoken intersectional feminist, but I have come to realize that I can still have an inner peace even while I witness and work against the horrible violence of the world.  I do not have to let social media, the news, and gossip bring me to despair, when I can instead allow myself to cultivate peace with the aim to share that with the world.  

Getting out of that relationship made me realize that I did not want to follow my friend down her path, which has meant some major life changes.  As I have been decluttering my home, I have also been decluttering my life.  When it comes to an obligation, I ask myself if it will bring me joy and if not, then I don’t go.  The same goes with the people that I hang out with and talk to.

Of course, there are some useful things that I must keep that do not bring me joy. I would love to throw my hospital statements away but I will need them when it is time for my next disability review.  How I have reframed these kinds of deals is by saying that while the hospital statement itself does not bring me joy, the freedom that being on disability gives me does.  My medications do not bring me joy when I am tired and just want to go to bed, but they do bring me a lot of joy in the morning, for without them I would be too depressed to be able to declutter my house in the first place.

The news outlets, the politicians, want us to live in fear.  Fear sells and causes us to support those whom we normally would not.  I believe that it is our job to live in peace as much as possible and to try to offer it in contrast to what the media and politicians want us to believe and support.  My blessing is that I am constantly aware of death and so I know how I want my ending to be, which is a life of peaceful joy rather than one of fear and suffering.  

Make the choice to embrace peace and joy with me and to spread it around. Let us infect the hive of fear with something better.


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