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, October 20, 2014

Enforcing Boundaries-No Diet Talk

"It is not mean to enforce firm boundaries; I respect myself." ~ Myself

It is rude to talk about weight and dieting at the dinner table.  I know that that is not how the commercials see it, but they are trying to sell you a product-they do not actually care about the well-being of your body or soul and they certainly do not care if the behavior they promote will make you popular.  The only people who appreciate diet talk at the table (or really anywhere) are those who are dieting themselves. I DO NOT appreciate it when people talk on and on about how they hate their body and what they are doing to change it in my presence, especially while I am eating-it triggers me and annoys me.

Fortunately, people do not talk this way in front of me very often-I pick my close friends very carefully.  However, it still does happen from time to time, just like it did a few weeks ago-in the past, how I would have dealt with it would have been to try to make a side conversation with someone else in order to try to ignore the harmful dieting conversation, but I was glad to note this time that I have now outgrown that tactic and have become an even better boundary maker - I simply firmly addressed the whole group and said, that since we were all in recovery (which we were) that I thought it would be best if we kept the conversation away from dieting and food talk, as that might bring up issues for some people.  The offending member got the message and said she had no idea that she might be triggering someone.  I reassured her that we were not mad at her, but that there were better topics for us to talk about-everyone else gave me extremely grateful looks.  We did talk about other more neutral topics for the rest of the night and we ended up having a lot of fun.

Later that evening, another friend pulled me aside and praised me for being so direct.  She said that she had been trying to change the subject for a long time and was getting desperate, especially since she had brought a friend who had recently come out of treatment for an eating disorder.  Later that particular person thanked me for changing the subject.  That obsessive dieting topic just had been no good for anybody.

And yes, we were all of us, a group in recovery from eating disorders, so you might say our aversion to diet talk is unique, but I really do not think it is.  I know that if one is dieting that it is tempting to talk about everything that one is doing with everybody, but I sincerely ask to keep it to one's self or at least to talk only to one's dieting group.  It is hard for anyone to enjoy their food when they are constantly being told how many calories it has or how long they should exercise after eating it.  Life is full of wonderful and varied experiences, most of which have nothing to do with whether one is fat or not.  Talk about those experiences - just this last weekend, I attended my book club at the cute Sugar Hill Bakery, took pictures at the Little Five Points Halloween Parade, and did a successful In Our Own Voice presentation for a NAMI family to family class.   If one does not have anything to talk about besides dieting, then one does not have a fitness problem, but a life experience problem.

I must say, I was and am really proud to see how far I have come in setting boundaries.  There was a time when I would have suffered in silence.  I would have quietly fumed and let the offending woman get away with ruining my happiness when all I had to do was to firmly set some boundaries.  I was not mean; I was just firm and there is a big difference, which I did not used to understand.  Understanding that I now have the ability to set my own boundaries in a way that people will listen is empowering- I am no longer a victim, but in charge of my own happiness.

I wish the same for all of you and I believe you can do it too.

Now for your cute moment of the day from the Halloween parade:

Friday, October 10, 2014

My NAMI Candlelight Vigil Speech

My speech was a success and so was the vigil-I found the whole event to be very inspirational.  I made some new contacts and may have some new speaking engagements soon, so that is exciting, but even more exciting is the fact that people really responded to what I said.  Both family members and people with mental illness seemed to be able to relate to my experiences and liked that I ended on a message of hope.  My most touching comment was from a fourteen-year-old who is getting help right now and who appreciated my story.  I told her that I was glad that she was getting help when she was young instead of waiting until she was older like I did.

I promised people that I would put my speech on here, so that they could read it, so here it is:

What is it like living with a severe mental illness?

Well, now that I am on the right medications, and have incorporated various coping skills into my daily life, my life now is a lot like anybody else’s, but it was not always that way.

I started having suicidal thoughts when I hit puberty and I started restricting my food then too.  I thought that controlling my food and my body would make me feel like I had more control over of my life circumstances, but I was just fooling myself.  Instead, I was totally obsessed over what went into my body and those thoughts had control over me.  Still, I was able to hide my behaviors and thoughts from my parents until I went to college.

My freshmen year at college is when my mental illness really escalated.  By the end of that first year, I was severely depressed-I had totally lost all energy and motivation and I cried all the time. I had horrible mood swings depending on the moods of the people around me.  Fortunately, my mom convinced me to see a psychiatrist and that started me on the road to recovery.  Of course though, I had to get worse before I got better.  The next year, I started hallucinating and having panic attacks whenever I got really stressed. I would self-harm to cope with my emotions.  I left that school when during a panic attack I told someone to be happy for me, because I was finally going to kill myself and they called my parents.

I spent the next ten years in and out of inpatient and outpatient programs.  I would have periods of stability, only to have a crisis during a moment of stress. At my worst, I got diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, borderline personality disorder, double depression, an eating disorder, and severe anxiety with panic.

I am glad to say that my life has turned around dramatically.  When I got diagnosed with borderline, I was at the end of my rope-I had had enough of misery and I decided to do something about it.  I took my therapist’s DBT class or dialectical behavioral therapy class, which is a type of therapy that was devised in the 90s for people with BPD and is now being used for anyone with impulse control issues.  It is a four month class that teaches concrete coping skills partly based on eastern philosophies.  Its motto is that it gives one a “life worth living” and in my case, it really has.  I now have better relationship skills, a better ability to tolerate distress, less mood swings, and a more positive outlook on life.   In two years, I have taken the series of courses twice and because of my hard work, I no longer qualify as one having borderline personality disorder or one having an eating disorder.  My anxiety and depression is no longer as severe either.

I take my medication as prescribed, I see a wonderful therapist once a week, a nutritionist every few months and I attend a support group every few weeks.  I also participate fully in my church and have started my own book club-I have learned how important it is not to isolate, but to surround myself with positive people and be part of a community. I have also learned how important it is to monitor my stress level-I do this by only working part time and making sure I get enough sleep.  I believe in the power of positive self-talk, which I used to think was cheesy, and now tell myself things like, “I am not perfect and that is okay,” and “my worth is not determined by my weight or my job.”  I love being a mental health blogger and speaker for NAMI, telling my story and letting people know that there is hope for people with a mental illness diagnosis, no matter how severe-it just takes hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to let other people help.   Hope is real no matter who you are.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mental Health Vigil in Atlanta - Come to Hear Me Speak

Out of the Dark into the Light” Mental Health Awareness Vigil
Light a candle and light up a life.
Hope is a simple gift you can give to people with mental illness.
Thursday, Oct 9th, 7:30-8:30 PM
Decatur Square Bandstand
Decatur, GA 30030
Rain venue:
Holy Trinity Episcopal Parish
515 E. Ponce de Leon Avenue
Decatur, Georgia
If you are in Atlanta, come to this event to hear me speak about my experience with mental illness-I am writing my speech today and will make sure to end on a positive note.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

#NoMoreShame - Donate to NAMI This Year

The NAMI Walk is November first in Atlanta and I will be participating, of course.  It is the National Alliance of Mental Illness' biggest fundraiser and we could really use your help.  Go to NAMIWalks to register to walk or go to my facebook donation page to make a donation-it is safe and secure, I promise.

The work that NAMI does is invaluable.  When I was first introduced to NAMI in 2009, I attended its groups for support and now I have a whole network of friends who understand what it is like living with a mental health condition.  A year later, I became a group facilitator, which helped me develop my leadership skills and now I am an In Our Own Voice program presenter, which is a job I dearly love doing.  I love telling my story and imparting hope to others that one can indeed live a successful life even with a severe mental health diagnosis.  I love educating people and helping to dispel stigma.  NAMI has given me a job that I can do well, where I do not have to hide who I am and that I absolutely love doing every time.  Please support me, so that I can continue doing this good work. 
  (Yes, I know the meme originally applies to addiction, but I think it can equally apply to all mental disorders.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Coping Skills for S.A.D. & Fall Anxiety

One of my many diagnoses is seasonal affective disorder or S.A.D., which just means that darker weather tends to negatively affect my mood.  Of course, we start to experience more darker days in a row during the fall and so seasonally I become more depressed in the fall and winter months.  This month I have really noticed a change in me, as I have become more anxious, which I think is also because I have been busier than usual too.  To remind myself of how to keep my disorders in check and to perhaps help you too, I present:

My Fall List of Coping skills for S.A.D. & Anxiety

1. Use a Light Box Every Morning! (I forgot last year-won't do that again.) A lightbox is an electronic box that emits 10,000 lux, which fools your brain into thinking that you are underneath the sun.  You use it for at least fifteen minutes a day.  I have a small one that sits on my kitchen table and I simply turn it on while I eat breakfast and read in the morning.  I know it may sound a little weird, but it does boost my energy level, motivation, and mood quite a bit.  The one I use is called, "Lightphoria," and I got it for about fifty dollars.  My only caution is that if you have bipolar disorder, you do not want to use it more than forty-five minutes a day, because than you could become too happy and may end up manic.
2.  When It Is Sunny, Be Outside!  Fall and Spring are the two best times of year for people with bad joints, like me, to walk.  Hot weather makes joints swell and painful, but cooler weather makes walking much more pleasant.  I find that I enjoy walking so much more in the Fall than I do in the Summer and I can usually walk longer and more strenuous trails too, which is exciting.  I noticed this just last Monday when I went to Oconee Forest Park with a friend.  The weather was perfect and I had an easier time walking than I had had in a while.  Here are some pictures:

Aren't those pictures gorgeous?  I recommend checking out Oconee Forest Park-it's connected to UGA, in Athens, Georgia.  The people were friendly, the trails were mainly level, the grounds were lovely, and it even had a dog park.  It could have used better signage, but it's a small detail. 

3. Mindfully Appreciate Fall Beauty.  Today as I was driving I wondered at an amazing sunset and wished I could have taken a picture.  The trees have not yet started changing colors down here in Georgia, but they will soon.  The changing leaves, dancing flames in a bonfire, the harvest moon are all a part of fall that are especially beautiful and can be calming if I take the time to notice and fully appreciate them.
 (These leaves were found on the Lilburn Greenway last year.)

4.  Self Soothe by Drinking Seasonal Hot Teas & Lattes.  Fall is pumpkin spice latte season at Starbucks and Celestial Seasonings Herbal cinnamon apple spice tea at home for me.  Tea and coffee make me feel so comforted.  Take a sip and then a long, deep breath-you will feel so relaxed.  What I like about the cinnamon apple spice tea is that it smells of cinnamon, so it has an extra sensory experience that really helps you settle down.
5.  Mindfully Cook Seasonal Food.  While you are sipping on your hot tea, get out your seasonal vegetables and prepare a simple crock pot meal or a soup.  Besides nourishing my body with good food, I actually feel relaxed while cooking because I put my whole mind into the activity.  But then, I already enjoy cooking.  If cooking stresses you out, you can skip this one. 

  • Apples
  • Bok Choy
  • Brussel Sprouts (starting in November)
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Collard Greens
  • Grapes (through October)
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Okra (through October)
  • Spinach
  • Winter Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes (through October)
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini (through October)
Here are some of my favorite fall recipes:

6.  Look Forward to & Plan a Holiday.  Holidays can seem boring if you do them the same way year after year, but having something to look forward to can help bring excitement and pleasure.  I am looking forward to attending the Little Five Points Halloween Parade for the first time and to attending a friend's costume party.  What's your favorite holiday?  Mine is Christmas.

(I watch the movie Nightmare Before Christmas every year.)

So those are my Fall coping skills-do you have any to add?  I hope my suggestions help you as much as they help me!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Virgin Islands Vacation Day 6 - Perspective in Art and Sexuality

I bet you never thought I'd never get back to telling you about my Virgin Islands vacation!  Sadly, I keep on running out of spoons to write, because I am so busy!  Busy day, resting day, that's how it goes with fibromyalgia....

But today I write.

Day six was maybe my favorite day - we went to Drunk Bay.  You walk down a short trail and then are greeted by the ocean and a rocky shore.
Beautiful!  But then you turn your head and slowly you realize that you are not alone-hundreds of rock people are lying about, staring at you!
Are they creepy or are they whimsical?
I thought they were creepy.  Still do.  I would love to send these pictures to Steven King in the hopes that he would write a book about them, but I am sure hat he gets similar requests from people all the time and does not want to get bothered with my story ideas.
I was entranced and spooked-I kept on imagining ghostly stories about the rock people! 
I made two of my own and of course, I went for the creep factor: 
However, my dad saw them as whimsical, which just shows you how different our perspectives are, BUT some of them really were quite cute.  


If you ever go to the Virgin Islands, go to Drunk Bay on St. John's.  Like me, you may come away feeling chilled to the bone or like my dad, you may come away feeling silly.  Either way, you'll want to explore and see every statue.  It will inspire you to be creative and to play with the rocks to create your own little person.  You will then daydream the rest of the day about the first person to create a piece of art there, perhaps never knowing that it would spawn hundreds of other creations.

Months later, I am working on my perspective to try to turn to one that is a little more positive in the subject of love.  As you may have noticed, I tend to turn toward the creepy and dark faster than most. 

  I am frustrated.  I am bisexual, but I lean more towards women.  I have dated mostly men in the past.  I am ready to date women.  I feel in my heart/gut that this is just the period in my life when I need to explore being with women.  I value my times with men, but it's just not what I'm feeling right now.  I need to honor that.  It's hard to remember that when I make a connection with a man.  It's hard to remember that when it seems like every single man that I meet falls in love with me at first sight.  (I think I'm going to start a tumblr account called Fat Heartbreaker.)  Where I need to shift my perspective is that I worry that every time I say, "no" to a man that I am losing out on something wonderful and I will be alone for the rest of my life, but this is not true and deep down I know it.  What is really true is that every recent male relationship leads me back to thinking about women and so I am already losing out on something wonderful, because I am not fully invested in the straight relationship.  Furthermore, I will only be alone for the rest of my life romantically speaking if I continue in this way.  I need to look at my saying no to men as an opportunity to say yes to women.  

Saying no to men is an opportunity to say yes to women!

I am not putting men down by thinking this way-in fact, I am protecting them and myself.  

I don't write about my sexuality often, but I am writing about my frustrations here, because no one I have talked has really been able to relate specifically with what I am going through, but I figure someone out there is and maybe this post can be of some help.

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.