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 3, 2021

2020 Year in Books and Body Acceptance

Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things!  Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit.  Joel 2:21-22

Fear not, even though Donald Trump is not yet out of office.  Fear not, though we are still in a pandemic.  Fear not, even though you are in pain and confusion.  Fear not and be glad, for change is still coming.  (myself)

I must admit that for a long time I did not believe a full recovery from an eating disorder was possible.  I thought you could get better and even claim to be in remission but I could not imagine being completely satisfied with my body and not wanting to change it.  Fortunately, throughout the years I have been acting as if I believed it anyway.  I take selfies and tell myself good things.  I follow body positive and fat acceptance social media people. This Christmas I received the gift of more body acceptance.   

Here is what I wrote in my nightly gratitude post:

I am very pleased to say that I think I am in full recovery from my ED now. There came a point today when I actually thought to myself, "I'm glad I'm fat; it takes the pressure off of trying to stay slender and I can just be and enjoy myself, my foods, my body." What a freeing thought and as I analyze it, I find that it still rings true hours later. I am happy to be fat. All bodies can be beautiful and I have earned this. I am fat, beautiful, and proud. I restricted as a teen and as a person in my twenties and I am so glad that is over with. Life is meant to be savored. The nitty gritty obsessiveness of eating disorders are really not glamorous at all and I am glad to be in recovery.

Now just because I arrived at this place of acceptance on Christmas does not mean that I will not have days where I struggle again. Recovery is more like a roller-coaster than a straight path. I hope that this post can give some encouragement to those that still struggle with their body image, which is, of course, just about everybody. I am stronger now-a few years ago I fell into the new diet trap and tried Noom; wasting money and energy, but this year I am seeing the new diet traps-cleanses and fasts seems to be this year's "nondiet" diet trend and I just laugh. Nope! Not gonna do it. I will eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. If I overeat, I will deal with the uncomfortable feeling of over-fullness until it passes, but I will not beat myself up. I will eat a combination of healthy and unhealthy things and not feel bad about either. I will listen to my body and mindfully eat what I want. This means I will most likely not lose weight-fortunately, I no longer care. I was put on this earth to convey the message that hope is real for a better life always and diet culture is a never-ending treadmill, not a pathway that leads to hopeful, healthy living. I am fat. I am beautiful. I am powerful. I was put on this Earth for weightier issues than my BMI. (sorry, I couldn't resist!)

However, I was put on this earth to read wonderful books and I did finish my goal of reading thirty-five books in 2020. Ok, so the last eight were kid's books-a book is a book is a book. Here are the books I read last year that I endorse:

My Newest Book!

Hope Is Real: Radical Recovery Prayers

You need to read these right now

The Body Keeps The Score by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

Our Time is Now by Stacey Abrams

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

(Note about White Fragility - I think it is a great book in some respects and I think it is a problematic book in some respects. It's a good book to read since it is a part of our pop culture, but please don't stop there. As important as this book may be, reading books from thoughtful, influential people of color like Audre Lorde, Paulo Freire, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Octavia E Butler, Roxanne Gay, Howard Thurman, James Baldwin, etc. is way more important. Go to Charis Books and More for some really great feminist reading lists.)

Graphic Novel Adaptations of Octavia E Butler Novels


Parable of the Sower


Anxiety is Really Strange; Trauma is Really Strange; Pain is Really Strange by Steve Haines and Sophie Standing

Unbusy: How to Leverage the Physics of Flow to Accomplish More by Andy Dragt

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Inspirational Quick Reads

The Gift, a poetry collection by Hafiz

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

Inspirational, Non-quick Reads

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Just for Fun

The Last Castrato by John Spencer Hill

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

Feminist Fairy Tale Books for Kids (or Adults)

The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

 Contact me for a signed copy of my newest book!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Fourth of July Dialectics

Cause my dry bones to live and breath life into my soul.  Awaken my senses; fill me with wonder, may I speak with Spirit.  Ezekiel 37:13
I've been thinking about dialectics a lot lately-the true sign of a DBT nerd! (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). Dialectics refers to the idea that two different things can be true at the same time.  For instance, we can experience two different feelings at the same time. You can recognize a dialectic when someone as a "both and," instead of "but."  I talked about dialectics yesterday in my peer support wellness group and how they help me. One of the themes we talked about was keeping on going, no matter what.  Dialectics can help when feeling discouraged.  An example: "I feel like giving up And I know I can keep on going."  Here is the slide I used to explain:
Dialectics also help me process my Fourth of July feelings and thought they might help you too.  It's not that I did not know about racism before this year, but before all the videos of racist murders by our police, our nation's White Supremacy did not fill my awareness and the immediacy of needed change in the same deep way it does now.  On top of everything, Covid-19 adds another disturbing layer over every single decision involving advocacy, or really, just people, in general.  Relatively easy decisions are now life or death.  Trump's and Kemp's evilness combined with the true facts that our nation is founded on genocide and slavery takes away my patriotism and yet, this is where I live.  This is where the people I love live.  Despite it all, this country is my home.   Dialectical behavioral therapy is about making sense of dialectics, the gray, the complexities of life.  

And so here are the dialectics that I am leaning on right now:

I can feel love for my family and hate white supremacist ancestors. 
I can love the city of Atlanta and detest gentrification. 
I can love my country because it is my home and also know that my country commits evils. 
When I look back at history, I can see that evil has always been among us, and yet I can claim to follow Love. 
I can acknowledge that I am a part of a White Supremacist nation and yet I can commit to being as anti-racist as I possibly can. 
I can acknowledge that I will make racist, defensive statements sometimes, and I can take those moments as learning opportunities instead of wallowing in my emotions.

I can acknowledge the deep sadness I feel on this Fourth of July and yet I can also acknowledge my joy in being alive and being a part of the solution.   
I can acknowledge my feelings of anger and participate in a prayer protest walk in Kirkwood tomorrow and yet also host a little celebration tomorrow night with my roommate-we will roast marshmallows in my new fire pit!
 I can hate the actions of many past and present leaders and yet still feel immense pride for the many change makers that have and are working for good.  
I hope thinking about dialectics can help you process your emotions too.  When I celebrate at my fire pit with my roommate and his boys tomorrow, I will be celebrating all of those working for real change.  I will be thankful for my church, my recovery community, the female leaders of color that are running to make a difference.  I will be thankful and joyous for myself, my friends, and the ability to choose a different way.  I will be thankful for the idea and destination of freedom, even if it will not be reached during my lifetime.
(Another slide from my powerpoint-thank you to my friend who let me steal some of her words.)

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Keys to Mental Strength

Take a good look at me, God, my God, I want to look life in the eye, so no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face.  (The Message Bible)

Last week I showed my wellness group the TED Talk by Amy Morin and we were all incredibly touched.  Her story is basically that just when life seemed perfect, tragedy struck, and over a few years her mother, then her husband, and then her new husband's father died.  One of the main ways she dealt with her grief was to create a list of things mentally strong people don't do and look at it and study it every day.  She figured she needed build up her mental strength to get her through as much as she could.  She then wrote the book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, and became a best-selling author.  As she talks in the video, even though she may be "mentally strong," you can still see her grief and it is touching.  The realness of her emotion transforms her rather trite collection of "don't's" into something inspiring.  After the talk, I looked up what her thirteen don't's are and was a little taken aback by how simplistic they seemed to me.  All of the items in her list might be true, but I feel the need to call out just how hard some of them can be to master.  I made a powerpoint presentation for my group and we are discussing each principle on her list.  I thought you all might be interested in it too.  Each principle is followed by a writing from a short article she wrote and then some of my own thoughts.  I just feel like they need some balancing.  I'll also say that I'm surprised she focused on the things mentally strong people "don't" do-don't we all know by now that focusing on what you should not is like a negative self-fulfilling prophecy?  You attract what you send out, which is why I am still surprised that she didn't name it the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Do.  This would have kept the article on the positive and surely, if she knows what people don't do, then she must be able to surmise what they actually do.  All that is to say, here is our lists combined.  Let me know what you think-is the list still too trite or do my added words make the message more palatable?

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Moran

Mentally strong people have healthy habits. They manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that set them up for success in life. 

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves 

Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair. 

However, they do take the time to acknowledge and validate their difficult feelings.  They know you first have to face your feelings before you can change them.

2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power

 They don’t allow others to control them, and they don’t give someone else power over them. They don’t say things like, “My boss makes me feel bad,” because they understand that they are in control over their own emotions and they have a choice in how they respond.
In other words, mentally strong people have firm boundaries.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”   ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
 3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change 

Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid change. Instead, they welcome positive change and are willing to be flexible. They understand that change is inevitable and believe in their abilities to adapt. 
Change can be hard but since it is inevitable, it is best to embrace it.
“All that you touch you change.  All that you change changes you.  The only lasting truth is change.” ~ Octavia E. Butler
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control 

You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.
However, they do at least inwardly acknowledge their frustrations.  One cannot change without
awareness.  They do spend time being grateful.  

 5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone 

Mentally strong people recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. They strive to be kind and fair, but can handle other people being upset if they didn’t make them happy. 
“You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself.” ~ Ricky Nelson
How are you with saying no or speaking up when needed?  Is it easy or hard? Are you assertive or 

6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks

 They don’t take reckless or foolish risks, but don’t mind taking calculated risks. Mentally strong people spend time weighing the risks and benefits before making a big decision, and they’re fully informed of the potential downsides before they take action. 
When was the last time you considered all your options before making a big decision?

7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past 

Mentally strong people don’t waste time dwelling on the past and wishing things could be different. They acknowledge their past and can say what they’ve learned from it. However, they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future. 
Trauma can make this very hard to do.  Flashbacks, nightmares, old anxieties may stick around for 
awhile, but it is possible to heal and to learn how to live in the moment.  Practice mindfulness and it 
will get easier with time.

8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over 

Mentally strong people accept responsibility for their behavior and learn from their past mistakes. As a result, they don’t keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead, they move on and make better decisions in the future. 

They don’t beat themselves up for their mistakes either.  Everybody makes mistakes.
What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned from your mistakes?

9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success 

Mentally strong people can appreciate and celebrate other people’s success in life. They don’t grow jealous or feel cheated when others surpass them. Instead, they recognize that success comes with hard work, and they are willing to work hard for their own chance at success. 
The kinder you feel towards others, the kinder you can be towards yourself.  With kindness comes 

10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure 

Mentally strong people don’t view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right. 
They also know when it is time to give up and try something else.  They listen to their intuition.

11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time 

Mentally strong people can tolerate being alone and they don’t fear silence. They aren’t afraid to be alone with their thoughts and they can use downtime to be productive. They enjoy their own company and aren’t dependent on others for companionship and entertainment all the time but instead can be happy alone. 

They also don’t isolate.  They balance isolation and community.

12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything 

Mentally strong people don’t feel entitled to things in life. They weren’t born with a mentality that others would take care of them or that the world must give them something. Instead, they look for opportunities based on their own merits. 

However, they also know deep inside that as humans they are entitled to respect and dignity.  They may not always receive it from others, but this knowledge keeps them grounded and gives them the ability to advocate for themselves and others. 

13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results 

Whether they are working on improving their health or getting a new business off the ground, mentally strong people don’t expect immediate results. Instead, they apply their skills and time to the best of their ability and understand that real change takes time.
Time seems to move both quickly and slowly at the same time in recovery.  Waiting is one of the 
hardest things to do, but they know that good results come in time.
Are you seeing progress already? It’s all about the journey.

(both graphics are from my powerpoint-I am currently looking for more wellness activity opportunities-if you are interested, contact me at kcjones899@gmail.com.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

DBT Week Four - Opposite Action

What is the word of God for us underneath the words of Paul? It is that each of us, no matter how dark our shadows, or how condemned we are made to feel, are nonetheless the objects of the infinite and graceful love of God.  Each of us is called to live in the wholeness of that love as one who has ben embraced by the giver of infinite value.  Accepting that divine valuation, we are to find the courage to be the self God has created us to be, the self we are inside the graceful gift of the righteousness of Christ. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism)

When we're feeling an emotion we don't like and it does not fit the facts, then one of the best tools we can use is "opposite action" to get us to the emotion that we do want.  For instance, if I am depressed and I want to feel better, I need to do the opposite of depression, which is to become engaged in community.  Opposite Action is one of the most popular DBT skills because it's fairly easy to understand and is super helpful.  The more we do opposite action, the more we rewire our brain to actually start wanting to do those things that help us instead of wanting to lay in bed all day.  I think it's interesting that the opposite of shame is vulnerability, which I know from direct experience.  The more I talk about my "shameful" mental illness, the more I feel comfortable with myself.  We imagine that vulnerability will be awful, but in my experience it usually leads to more acceptance not just with myself but with other people.  People are drawn towards authenticity and I think it is one of my gifts.

We were tasked with the assignment to write down the opposite action for our disorders.  I have so many, that I was able to fill a whole page and I thought you all might enjoy seeing my interpretation.

  1. do what I fear
  2. cope ahead
  3. be productive
Anxiety tells me to fear the world and my immediate urge is to avoid.  The thing is, the more I avoid, the more avoiding seems like the only option.  Doing the action becomes scarier and scarier and my world gets smaller and smaller. I have to do what scares me in order to rewire my brain to not be so afraid.  In order to convince myself to do what I fear, I have to plan ahead and cope ahead.  When I can imagine my feared scenario going well, then I will feel more confident that it actually can go well and in fact, it usually does work out close to the way I planned.  I do this especially before having to have a big talk with someone.  I plan out what I should say and the job is then so much easier and it never is nearly as big a deal as I thought it would be.  Lastly, anxiety tells us that we are so imperfect that we should not try at all, but of course, we're not perfect, so I do as well as I can and then try to not worry about the rest!

  1. be productive
  2. stay out of bed
  3. be active
  4. cheerlead myself 
  5. be with people
  6. be grateful
  7. think before talking
  8. don't research ways to kill myself
Depression overlaps with anxiety in a lot of ways.  It's harder right now with the quarantine because some of the things that are helpful for depression, we can't do, like being around other people.  I make do with zoom and texting and social media, but it is definitely not the same.  Right now, we are all experiencing trauma together, so we need to cut ourselves some slack.  I don't like being depressed and anxious, so I will do my best to be productive, but if I sleep away a day or so, I need to not beat myself up-these are not normal times and normalcy is just not to be fully expected. I get really angry when I depressed and will say mean things to people, so I have had to learn how to catch myself.  If I notice I am getting angry about really small things, then that's a clue the I am probably in depression-land.  The last makes me sort of laugh to see-when I am depressed, I am really depressed and researching ways to die really used to be like a hobby of mine.  According to my therapist, that kind of research qualifies as "acting out."  I haven't done this in a while but it's another warning-if I notice myself thinking about how easy it would to check out, then I am probably deep deep in depression-land.  I'm so glad that I am hardly in that deep anymore.  In the beginning of this quarantine, I struggled with some more depression urges than usual, which is why I got myself into DBT so fast-I knew enforced isolation would need some more in depth emotional coaching.

Eating Disorder:
  1. no weighing
  2. no counting calories
  3. no restricting
  4. no all or nothing thinking (think dialectically)
  5. sit with uncomfortable feelings and sensations
I started having a lot of anxiety surrounding possible weight gain.  On one hand, it seems awfully petty to be concerned about weight gain during a pandemic, but I need to not judge my worries and just accept them instead.  Once I accept them, then I can disregard them a lot easier.  Feeling full sometimes is a stressful sensation for me, but one that I need to sit with instead of stressing out over it.  There is no "good" or "bad" foods when in eating disorder recovery-nothing is off limits as long as I stay in moderation and balance.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
  1. stay away from the mirror
  2. don't take forever to plan an outfit
When I'm anxious, my OCD comes out in face picking and perfect outfits.  I get a lot of pleasure and compliments from my sense of fashion but there's a balance between wanting to look good and being obsessive.  When I try on clothes for over an hour just to see my therapist, then I am deep in anxiety OCD-land.

Schizoaffective Disorder:
  1. take meds
  2. cuddle with Scully
It's funny-schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type) is one of the diagnosis that freaks people out-due to stigma, expectations for functioning are held at an offensively low level but this is the disorder that I struggle with the least.  As long as I take my medication, then I'm pretty good.  The only symptom I really struggle with is a little bit of paranoia at night, but cuddling with my cat helps a lot, so really, no big deal.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):
  1. use DBT Skills
  2. set boundaries
  3. validate and self soothe myself
  4. force myself to move out of my comfort zone
This is the other diagnosis that really scares people, but at this point, I have taken DBT so many times, that I do not struggle with this one neither as much as I used to.  I will always need to use my skills but I barely count as still living with this disorder.  The quarantine has brought it out of remission but barely.  It feels good to write that. Urges that I have to fight are fears of abandonment, self judgment, and high expectations.  I combat these with setting boundaries with myself, telling myself good things and by forcing myself to try new things without super intense expectations.

I will be so glad when all of this is over, but in the meantime, I have my opposite actions and my cat. Cat cuddles is my favorite coping tool.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Week 2 of DBT Skills: Overcoming Exhaustion

The smallness you feel comes from within you. 
God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes. 
~ The Message Bible 

We started the DBT session with a mindfulness tapping exercise called EFT.  I had never tried "EFT tapping" before but after practicing the "overcoming exhaustion" exercise, I have actually found it to be pretty useful.  The practice is so easy, it seems like magic, but I know it's just another way of validating my emotions, the first step in healing.  Try it yourself.  

We're still in the emotional regulation section of DBT.  Tomorrow is Easter and we talked about how we might ease our stress on this holiday.  The first is by honoring our traditions, for traditions often bring comfort.  I plan to make coffee cake this afternoon, wake up early tomorrow, get dressed up, eat coffee cake for breakfast, and attend church with the people I love. Yes, the church service will be on my computer and technically, I could watch it in my pjs.  However, there is something rejuvenating about honoring a tradition with others, no matter if there is social distancing involved.  I can feel the loving energy of my friends if I let myself breathe deeply for a while.  We also talked about finding comfort by making meaning out of our current reality.  Now, I don't believe that COVID-19 was sent here as a moral lesson to teach us anything, but I do believe that we can choose to find some meaning in it and if we do, then we will feel better.  So.... I am using this time to work on being nonjudgmental and mindful towards myself, to take more walks and enjoy nature more.  I am even using this time to publish a book and open an Etsy store and facilitate more groups at my job.  When I think about wanting to be with people, I feel sad, but when I think of the strengths that I am gaining, I feel energized.  Dialectically, I have to both validate my sadness and validate my joy at the same time.  (That's what dialectic means-accepting two opposing concepts at the same time!)

Our emotions and our thoughts are interwoven together after an event; our thoughts influence our emotions and our emotions influence our thoughts.  If we don't like our emotion, we can try to check the facts and see if the emotion fits the facts.  Usually they do not.  

When we tell ourselves that the outcome is a total catastrophe, we are minimizing our ability to cope. The truth is that we are all extremely resilient people and we are all much more capable then we oftentimes give ourselves credit.  How do we convince ourselves of how much good we can do?  By coping ahead of time.  Imagine handling whatever it is you need to handle well.  Face the threat to see that the threat is not actually as big as you think it is.  Don't get stuck in your "emotion mind," because your emotions will balloon up big and won't fit the facts.  Instead, be in "beginner's mind," and think of the problem as if for the first time, reviewing the facts and coming up with at least five different interpretations.  The more interpretations you come up with, the more you will see that life is not as stuck as you think it is.

I also found this reframing of exhaustion very helpful.  My body's energy often drops throughout the day.  The therapist suggested that I may have started dropping my energy, "checking out," as a coping skill to survive trauma.  If I just go to sleep or disassociate, then I do not have to face whatever I feel is threatening me.  The more I think about the failure, the problem, the conflict, the threat...the more I will feel drained, which will then make me be more vulnerable to act and feel in other ways I do not ideally want.  However, if I validate my emotion and cope ahead, then my energy will rise and I will feel better.  I found this way of thinking very helpful-my low energy isn't bad, it's just an old coping skill that no longer works for me.  I don't want to spend the rest of my life emotionally drained-I want to take charge and live a meaningful life!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What Serves You? Helpful DBT Questions During a Pandemic

There is no room in love for fear.  Well-formed love banishes fear.  Since fear is crippling, a fearful life-fear of death, fear of judgment-is one not yet fully formed in love. (Marcus Borg)

Thank God for DBT!  I was doing so well emotionally that I was able to stop therapy for a while. And then...the global pandemic happened!  I started getting paranoid and lonely and really worried, especially since my job is on hiatus during this time.  After having some old impulses resurface, I decided that it was time to re-enroll in a DBT class. Let me be clear:
 There is no shame in returning to therapy or returning to a skills class-in fact, it is a good sign that you are self aware of what you need to stay well.   
Immediately after the first class, I felt so much better.  It is soothing for me to see my therapist on a regular basis and it feels good to know I am doing something that tends to work for me.
Right now, we are needing to self soothe ourselves even more than usual.
I thought I would share what I am learning in DBT class-even though I've taken it many times before, I always receive fresh insights into myself and into what works.  I am fully aware that I made this promise the last time I took DBT and then didn't follow up with it here, but I was still working then-the gift of this pandemic for me is that I have more time to write.

We started emotional regulation this past Monday.  The theory is that there are things we can do besides taking medication that can help to regulate, or even out, our mood.  It is always so frustrating to me when people only focus on medication, because no matter how well medication may work, it's still only part of the puzzle.

The topic of their homework was three concepts of mindfulness:

  1. being "radically open" 
  2. being nonjudgmental towards ourselves and our thoughts
  3. approaching actions "one mindfully"
I really like the phrase, "radically open."  During times of fear and isolation, we have to be radically open to accept the good that is also going on.  I learned in "The Body Keeps The Score," by Bessel Van Der Kulk, that we tend to remember negative experiences much more so than positive ones and so we have to be radically open to see the good, especially during a global crisis, especially if you are someone who is prone to severe anxiety and depression.  (That's me!)

It can be really easy to go off the deep-end when having severely negative thoughts, especially urges to "act out," self harm, etc.   Even though we did not act out, we beat ourselves up just for having the thoughts.  Our thoughts are not reality - it is the intensity and interpretation that we give them.  For instance, I have an urge to self harm-I could catastrophize and beat myself up for having that thought, OR I can say, "huh," and just dismiss it from my head onto the next thing, letting the thought come and go without any great harm to myself.  I don't have to suffer just because a thought wanders in I don't like.  

"One mindfully," is being totally absorbed in an activity.  Yesterday when I cleaned the kitchen, I did it "one mindfully," and I experienced great delight in getting the job done in the time I allotted for myself.  Since I was focusing solely on the task, I was able to finish it in a fairly short time.
Now onto emotion regulation skills.  These skills are especially helpful right now - if we can catch our pain before it gets too bad, we have the power to change them, instead of letting them get worse.    

We talked about the "scale of distress," with 1 being not that bad and ten being horrible.  When you are somewhere 1-5, then try emotional regulation skills to get to the feeling that you want to be.  However, if your distress is somewhere 6-10, then your feelings are too distressing to try to change at the moment; you need to switch to distress tolerance skills, because it is going to be just too hard to try to change them at that point.  I really like that DBT acknowledges that there are limits to our powers, especially in deep distress-you can always tolerate emotions if you use your skills, but you can't always change them right away.  (I know you're thinking, no you can't always tolerate them, but I promise you, you can if you have enough practice.  Otherwise, it's off to the hospital, and at some point you gotta realize that it's better to sit through the emotion than to go somewhere that is only going to cause more trauma.)

Ask yourself, "What do I need right now?" and "Does this serve me?" to reduce your emotional suffering.  This is especially good to use to check our interpretation of events.  Basically, our emotions come from somewhere.  An event happens and it is our interpretation of the event that determines how we feel about it.  Keep in mind that something is already going on in the background that influences how vulnerable we are to interpreting the event negatively.  Here's an example:

Vulnerability: tired-late at night

Prompting Event: get an email from work

Interpretation of Event: "oh no, not another thing, this is too much!"

Biological Change: stomach tightens up, shallow breathing, beginning to panic

Emotion: Extreme worry/panic/fear

However, if we interpret the event in a different way, then our body and emotion will be different.
Let's try this again:

Vulnerability: tired-late at night

Prompting Event: get an email from work

Interpretation of Event: I know I'm tired, so I will check the email in the morning.  As long as I give myself enough time in the morning, there is nothing to fear.

Biological Change: body loosens up; I relax knowing that I will go to bed soon and that I have a plan of action for the next day.

Emotion: Relaxed, Peaceful

*I have more of these exercises in my book, Hope Is Real: I Have A Purpose.  If you want something to read during this pandemic that might be helpful in combatting worry, consider ordering my book on this website (through PayPal on the upper right hand corner, just under the main picture).  I will be able to personally sign the book before sending it to you.  Of course, you can still buy it on Amazon as a physical book or for kindle.

We talked about how our interpretations can sometimes be overly intense when we are comparing them with events from our past.  Something bad happened then, so surely the same bad thing will happen again!  Hmmm...might need to check the facts on that thinking...

I then asked the facilitator,
 "what if you're worrying about genocide? That's about as intense a worry can get!" 
 I was expecting the therapist to laugh, but thankfully she was very kind.  I explained that I read a lot of articles on facebook that compare our current events with the events right before World War II and that possible genocide and the downfall of our civilization is constantly on my mind, so that there is an underlying sense of fear at all times.  (Fortunately, this is a fairly recent thing-being around people was enough to snap me out of it before, but with the isolation, my brain has too much free time).  

First, my therapist spoke up and said,

"Catastrophizing, Corey.  You know you have a tendency towards this..." 
"oh yeah," lol 
 Even just saying that was enough to bring down my panic.  

The other therapist then said, 
"you know, there are some similarities to past world events and it's good to be aware of that, but does it serve you to think that times are exactly the same?  You can look at the worst possible outcomes or you can look for the positives and try to be a part of that. Be aware of similarities but also be aware of the differences." 
I found that really helpful.  Since the majority of the depressing articles are found on facebook, and because I just spend too much time on Facebook and Instagram in general, we decided to set some boundaries around my social media.  I've decided that I will spend some time right after breakfast and then again, right after dinner where I will allow myself to be on Facebook and Instagram, only for an hour at a time.  (I do like to post positive mental health memes and continuing to promote this blog and art I think is important.)  I am hopeful that charting my progress and talking about it in the DBT group will help me stay on track and even make a social media lifestyle change.  Think of all the extra energy I will have to be fully present in my life when I am not mindlessly scrolling through depressing article to depressing article!

Being reminded of my tendency towards catastrophes and having a social media action plan has already helped to clear my mind and calm me down.  I will leave you with the questions I am asking myself - let me know if you find them helpful too." 

"What serves you and your mental health? Are you being radically open to the goodness in the world? What do you need right now to reduce your emotional suffering?"

Link Love: 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review of Unbusy by Andy Dragt

Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.  (The Message Bible)

Unbusy: How to leverage the physics of flow to accomplish more of what truly matters and feel less busy at the same time by Andy Dragt

This is a Speakeasy book, so I got this book for free because I promised to write a book review.  You can do this too!

In this short book, Andy Dragt explains how if we structure our lives based on the laws of physics then we will get more accomplished but feel less. busy.  I was very interested in this book, as I am trying to structure my life and it is so hard for me!  Fortunately, Dragt understands how hard this is, as he is also a person who does not naturally come to structure but he has found it very useful in his life.  It certainly is true-I definitely get more accomplished when I structure my time.  I like that he has you build in time that is for being spontaneous.  That may seem like an oxymoron, but it's not-it's merely saying that in this time frame, I will do what I want and not worry about it fitting in somewhere else time-wise.  Dragt explains that freedom is not the opposite of structure, but chaos "and a chaotic life is not freedom."

This book was also good for me because it talks about developing your why, your purpose, and your values, and I had just attended a workshop that touched on these topics.  Sometimes it seems like everyone talks about needing a why, but it is nice to have something that actually leads you to it through helpful thinking exercises.  The book had me write down my memories of times when I felt really fulfilled and out of those memories, I could start to see what I value and what my purpose is.  Now, with my "hope is real" brand, I already had a good idea of what my values and purpose are, but it was a good exercise to do anyway.  Our ideas can always benefit from a more thorough fleshing out.

This is what I eventually came up with:

(I value this/my how)               (my why)        (so this is a priority/ my what)
Follow my call.                   -> big purpose -> to stay singleminded
Create joy.                           -> big purpose -> to change the system from one of fear
Immerse myself in Spirit.    -> big purpose -> to be able to hear my call
Challenge myself                 -> big purpose -> to inspire hope (which changes the system)
Receive genuine validation -> big purpose -> to enable people to see the benefit of community

Big Purpose: To change the mental health system of isolation and fear into a community system of joy and hope.

As a friend then said to me: What does community look like to you?

I think community looks like relying more on people than just clinicians.  Clinicians can be wonderful-my therapist really did change my life for the better-but still having them on an equal plane as other supporters is a more balanced view.  I think it's important not to set clinicians as the ultimate authority because in the end, no one knows ourselves better than ourselves.  I am my own true expert, although I may need the expertise of others to see that at times.  The more people that we have as supporters in our lives, the more balanced and enriched our lives will be.  We will learn how to sift through everyone's many viewpoints and come up with our own truth.  Having a wide community safeguards our supporters from burnout and it makes it more likely to get our needs met in a compassionate way.  In our capitalist society, the system is ultimately about money-we need people and places who's ulterior is not getting paid in order to truly care for our soul.  If I look to a hospital for a solution, my pockets will always be empty and I will probably feel pretty empty too.  I believe a community of compassionate people fills us up regardless of whether we have insurance or not.  Communities also tend to have more creative solutions to problems rather than a bureaucratic system. When I create a wellness plan for my recovery, I look towards all of my possible resources, not just the ones that fit the medical model.  Relying on a wider community also makes us more independent from structures we may not want to always depend on-knowing that I have supporters to back me up inspires me to take more chances.

After figuring out your values, purpose, and priorities comes the task of structuring your time so that you use it well.  I have found that knowing these things motivates me to want to follow them more wisely.  My days are lot more structured than they used to be, but I will certainly admit that becoming more structured can be a hard and frustrating process.  And yet, I guarantee you it is true-when your life contains more structure, you really do get more done and feel less busy and tired overall.

I promise.

What I have found the most useful is using Instacart as needed (lol), grouping my days as themes, using Monday to plan for the week and Friday to plan for the weekend, starting the day by reading helps my mind calm down and then writing out what I need to accomplish that day is super, super helpful.  Also, two cups of coffee every morning.  (lol)

Different strategies will work for different people.

What works for you?  I hope this book review was thought provoking.  I'm interested in hearing people's thoughts on exploring their values, purpose, and priorities and about adding in more structure.  Do those things seem intimidating and overwhelming, or exciting and interesting? Let me know!