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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fine Tuning Our Self-Awareness

It is more useful to be aware of a single shortcoming in ourselves than it is to be aware of a thousand in somebody else.  ~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
I am loving this new format!  Here are two excepts from conversations I had on a recovery social media site.  I am posting my words only and I'm not going to provide a link or to give more details for confidentiality reasons.  The first is responding to a post about being triggered and urges to self-harm.  The second time was responding to a post I had started about the difficulty of self-care when being physically sick. 

No matter how well we are, there is always going to be the potential to be triggered and to want to respond in self-destructive ways. When I can recognize that though and be able to stop myself and do something else... That's really pretty cool.  I think recovery is about fine tuning our self-awareness but getting to where we are not intimidated by it.   In other words:
Recovery is about fine tuning our self-awareness but not living in fear.
   I have a hard time being okay with taking it easy and spending a whole day sleeping or relaxing. I constantly feel the need to be productive. Of course, this leads to a faster burnout. I'm trying to tell myself that I am able to get more done if I actually slow down and take care of myself. Hard to unlearn the old way of thinking that I need to be perfect. In other words:
I do not need to prove my worth by extreme levels of busy-ness.  
                  Another piece by artist, Sacha Chua.  A Creative Commons license.  (I really like her stuff!)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Be Strong - Trying Out Something New

O [wo]man greatly beloved, fear not!  Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong! Daniel 10:18
  Even though I have a new fancy keyboard and IPad, I am finding it hard to blog like I used to.  I realized last night that something will have to change.  It's strange because I worked hard to hone my blogging skills and become a good essayist but I may have to go back to the basics.  The funny thing is that even though I have stopped writing long posts, I still write a lot of shorter posts on Facebook that I think are quite good.  Ultimately, I want to get back to writing longer, more thoughtful pieces.  In the meantime, in order to keep this blog going the format will have to change and so I think I will start sharing my short little tidbits that I post on various websites on a nearly daily basis is a good compromise. There's no sense in keeping my writing confined to my friends when I'm wanting to share a wider recovery message with the world on this blog.   

 ************** 

 In response to the article, "The Rise of the Artisanal Funeral," which is about getting more in touch with death.  I want to meet the funeral director and be her friend.  I'm giving my body to science and medicine but I love the idea.  Since I won't be giving people a body, we're going to have to go the party route.  I think about this often, actually.  I wish more people were more comfortable with death-I think we would lose a lot of fear. 

 *************** 

 I identify as many many many things.  One of them is disabled (mental yes, but I have some physical stuff too - all invisible - except for my height which I am realizing more and more lately is a disability in itself as the world really is not made for people my height).  I find it empowering to claim my limitations and demand that people honor them. 

 ****************

 In my response to the article, "Anglican Communion to Restrict US Church Over Gay Marriage."   So much for actual unity and now more people are going to leave the Church.  If the church doesn't become relevant, it's going to die.  In this case, it wouldn't be a bad thing.  I love my own church but news like this is discouraging, mainly because I know churches as progressive as mine are super rare outside of big cities and fundamentalist churches cause death to LGBT people, especially teenagers. When you're told that there is something inherently wrong with you and your only option is to abstain from any kind of romantic or sexual relationship then people, especially young people, are going to experience serious issues including high suicide rates and homelessness.  Which I seriously don't think is what the church is supposed to be about.   A friend responded that there is something inherently wrong with all of us, hence the need for salvation. My problem is that the church is separating gay relationships from straight.  All relationships have the potential to be sinful or loving - it's not the gender that matters and saying so kills.  "It might be the need for salvation but it's not the need to abstain from honoring loving, consenting partnerships between two people." 

 **************

 Got a bad headache, so went home instead of to the rally, which is disappointing. In case you don't know, there will be a 24/7 vigil in front of Decatur County Courthouse from now until January 21st for Anthony Hill.  If my body starts cooperating, I may pop over to support - we shall see.  In any case, it is cold and they could use your prayers, good vibrations and warm blankets.  If you can, stop by and say a good word.  It is organized by Rise Up Georgia, an intersectional social justice group that I really respect.  Their hashtag for the event is #mentalillnessisnotacrime  

 *************

 This was fun putting together!  My hope is that consolidating my weekly blurbs will be a lot easier to put together and so I can be still blogging more.   Everyone is sick in Atlanta right now, so be sure to drink lots of hot tea, sleep well and take your vitamins - we need each other to be present during these times.  Blessed be!
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
From artist Sacha Chua on Flickr, a Creative Commons license
 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It's 2015 and It's Still Alright To Cry

You better watch out.  You better not cry. Better not pout.  I'm telling u why - patriarchy discourages men from displaying emotions.  #FeministXmasSongs from Gemma Correll. It's alright to cry. Crying gets the sad out of you. [...] It might make you feel better.  ~ Carol Hall, as sung by Rosie Grier in Free To Be You And Me  
Crying is wonderful and sometimes I need it.  It empties my chest of painful pressure and fills me up with clean energy.  

I cry a lot but I used to cry more.  Fortunately, I am no longer ashamed of my tears.  Growing up, I was.  I cried in school when I was frustrated, which was often.  I self-identify as having a mathematical learning disability and for being a highly sensitive person.  I got teased a lot about being shorter than average as a kid - in fact, dealing with it was the subject of my college entrance essay. Plus, there was the fact that I was a budding intersectional feminist and so was teased about that from kindergarten onward.  

I hated my sensitivity as a child.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed a lot.  Adults used to tell me that they wished that they were that sensitive but I told them they wouldn't if it caused them to cry and be miserable all the time.  I still think I'm right, at least through the eyes of a child.

However, now I am glad.

My sensitivity causes me to be more aware of the world around me and of what is going on with myself, which helps me take care of myself.  I cry now when I need to cry and I am not ashamed.

The other day I had forgot to return something at work and I felt panicked when I realized that I needed to go back to work and return it immediately.  Then I got even more anxious when I realized that my boss already knew about my mistake.  I handed the item to my coworker and informed her that I was going to go to my car and cry before my shift.  She reassured me that I did not need to, that everybody makes mistakes, but I did need to and it wasn't because I did not know that - it was because I could feel the pressure in my chest and I needed to let it out.  When I got to my car I cried for about five minutes and then I was good and ready to go to work.  

Attending to my emotional needs makes me a better worker but many places would deny this.  Most jobs do not want to support the worker and so the unsupported worker develops health problems from holding their emotions in.  Read the book, The Managed Heart, by Arlie Russell Hoschild for proof.

And then this past weekend, I was with a friend and feeling very rushed.  This made me feel very anxious again and I started to cry.  I pulled over and told my friend how I felt.  I just needed to cry for a little bit and so I did.  And after about five minutes I felt a whole lot better.  I laughed and suggested we go to Waffle House.  She agreed and we had a pleasant dinner together. 

That afternoon as I was crying, I thought to myself, "I am so glad that I am a woman and that I am allowed to cry."  Yes, growing up I felt ashamed of my tears but it was not because I was a girl but just because it happened so often.  I did not feel like I fitted in but at least it was not because of my gender.  Of course, the reason why boys are not allowed to cry is because they are not supposed to emulate little girls.  Little girls are weak.  They are emotional and sensitive and fragile....which are all actually very wonderful things.

I wish men were allowed to cry.  I wish when they felt the pressure building up in their chest they would feel safe enough to let it go.  Of course, in most work environments crying is frowned upon and I am very lucky to have a job where I can safely express my feelings but even so, men experience a much greater degree of stigma related to their tears than women do.

Here's our secret: crying cleanses the soul.  I wish women weren't the only gender allowed to be pure.  It is unfair to make us the ones responsible for  washing away the stains of the patriarchy.

It's 2015, almost 2016, and we still need to hear Rosie Grier sing, It's Alright To Cry.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent Lessons: Do Not Fear, Welcome Strangers, and Start a Revolution of Love

According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remains among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:5 The world is a friendlier place than I think it is. (Me)
My laptop became agonizingly slow. Holiday busy-ness made me agonizingly anxious. Hence, little blogging. It was frustrating for everybody.

 Fortunately, I just bought a new ipad and a fancy new keyboard.  Expensive, but so worth it if you are a writer.  I also finally managed to get back into my routine and so I am feeling less anxious and back in the holiday spirit.  Yay!     

I am now the community coordinator at work.  I love it!  Basically, I have found a way to get paid to play.  

Last Saturday, I took a group of peers to a free holiday party, called the Jingle Bell Jubilee.  Corny name, corny music, but still fun.  Octave, Atlanta's all-female a capella group, needs some diversity, but for the most part, they were good.  I almost always enjoy a free concert.  I did not enjoy the two upper class white guys obviously not aware of their privilege and space who were standing and talking right in the middle of one of the doorways to the refreshment tables.  It was a bit uncomfortable to everyone who had to squeeze by them in order to get the food that was advertised to be available to everyone, not just the men who saw no awkwardness in almost totally occupying a doorway.  Now that I am mentally envisioning the scene I realize that I should have asked them to move.  I didn't because I did not already know them but that really is no excuse for not calling out people unaware of their own privilege. Being more direct and assertive with people is a skill that I am trying to improve.  

The party overall was a good idea, but the best idea was to walk to the MARTA station instead of taking a bus.  We also missed the bus.  I would have had us jump on when it stopped by us but we did not yet know exactly where it was going and hopping on a bus with vague hopes that it will get you where you need to be is best experimented with by one's self.  Here's the thing about walking though: it is harder to walk and read than it is to sit and read, therefore walking leads to more possibilities of human interaction and glimpses of natural beauty, at least to a reader like me.  

Here is when I fear many people would respond in fear-you should not talk to a stranger, you should never accept anything from a stranger, you should certainly never step into a stranger's yard.  Except that we are all strangers in that we all have our own private thoughts and revolutions that we never share with anyone else.  I am proud to say that we did all three.

The end result was glorious.

It was really the man's fault - he was just so eager to share his passion for gardening that he called out to us as we walked by, "Hey! Did you know that if you take a branch from this plant and stick it in the ground, it will grow and spread?  Isn't that great?  Let me tell you all about it!"

He had no idea who we were, except that we looked like a happy bunch.  Turned out he is in law enforcement, considers it his duty to try to prevent more youths from going to jail, has major home and garden renovation plans, is actually supremely pleased that the area is pretty gentrified  because he has lived there forever and now his house is worth a lot and oh, yeah, follows HGTV religiously.

"Everything you need to know is on HGTV!" he would burst out about every five minutes.

The man is, was, a character.  We learned a lot and we laughed a lot.  In the end, we also left with a lot, as he decided to generously give purple plants to anyone that wanted some.  He did not just give a little, either.  People were leaving his yard with armfuls of purple-ness.  Bags and backpacks were overflowing.  When we got back to the center, we spread the plant-love to anyone else who wanted some.

Now I am not stupid.  I joked to one person afterwards, "I may venture into someone's yard, but I am not stepping foot into someone's house that I have never previously met."  She nodded and smiled with relief.  

You know, our society is based on a rhetoric of fear.  In the beginning, we feared a certain type of government, so we created our own.  It would have been better if we had decided we did not need any government because we are compassionate and responsible enough to each rule ourselves in a mutually loving way but that is not the way of man, unfortunately.  

Fear now almost totally rules our society and the whole world today.  The whole Republican party has decided that the famous quote, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," by FDR was a crock of shit and today their motto could be summed up as, "fear everything that is not you (and by you, we mean only those who are white, male, straight, -cis, able bodied, "Christian"and rich).

BUT 

This is advent.  Strangers, more than ever, are to be trusted at this time of year.  Wise ones from the East followed a star, as dirty, out-on-the-fringes shepherds also trusted mysterious celestial beings.  An innkeeper offered a stable when he had no other room to a young, pregnant foreign couple who, as it turned out, had to go home another way because people in power wanted them dead.  Even the wise people, possible powerful rulers themselves, had to go home in secret also.  

Even more so than at other times, this is the time of year when we are called to not fear but trust in divine possibility, no matter how strange or foreign the source.  All who speak of fear at this time should be ashamed.  You ask me how I can be a Christian feminist?  It is because I follow the way of Christ, whose tradition tells us to be fearless and start a revolution of love and joy, not because of capitalistic expectations but because of a more beneficial gain - the power of love, peace, hope and joy that is available to all, especially to those of us with oppressions, challenges of mental health and otherwise and who believe on erring on the side of idealistic goodness rather than promoting an ideology of fear. 

Talk to strangers, open your heart, call out oppression and always, always, let your living be love. 

artwork by artist HappyBloomMarket

Sunday, November 15, 2015

No One is Alone - Recovery Can Heal the World

This world of ours...must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
I was thinking the other day about how alone people with depression and other mental illnesses feel. Mental illness lies and tells you that you are the only person who cannot get out of bed or has suicidal thoughts. It tells you that you are utterly alone, that you are a burden. These feelings lead to more despair.

 Recovery is different. Being in recovery means that you take risks and that you talk to other people. Opening up is scary as hell, but so is remaining quiet. There comes a point when a person must decide whether to suffer in silence with no hope of getting better or to take the risk of opening up and possibly achieving a more meaningful life. Opening up is risky. One might be ostracized, bullied or traumatized by certain forms of treatment and unfortunately, all of those things do happen. There is one thing wonderful thing that will happen too though - one will finally realize that they really are not alone at all. Whether going to a hospital, calling a warmline, attending a support group, participating in group therapy, spending time at a peer center or even just talking to a stranger or friend, one will start to make connections.

My first forays into the world of standard mental health treatment were not good. I attended a hospital's outpatient program and I was the only one diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and the only one experiencing hallucinations. To top it all off, the professionals spent a lot of their time arguing about my diagnosis because while I experienced hallucinations, I did not experience delusions. Apparently, that's weird. I felt like a freak.

On the other hand, at the college I attended I got wonderful support from my friends. It's a little embarrassing when I think of how needy I was. Like the hospital's professionals, the campus therapists had no idea what to do with me - a theme I experienced at college after college - my friends, however, were there for me. I felt reassured when I realized that a lot of my friends were also seeing the same college therapist, even though we had different symptoms.

 It took five years to find a treatment center that actually helped me instead of alienating me. SkyLand Trail was the first place where I met people who had the same diagnosis as me. It helped me feel a lot less alone. Apparently, I was not so weird after all.

As the years went on, I attended different treatment centers and different support groups. Some places and groups were really helpful and healing and some I will have to value just for their learning experience...that I will definitely not attend there again. But here is what I have learned - no one is alone. No matter how weird your diagnosis, there is someone else with the same symptoms. And even if it takes a while to find that person, more people will identify with the recovery process than you will think.

Here is something else that I have learned and some might find it surprising - a person in recovery is blessed with understanding friends and peers in a way that many people are not. I have been seeing a lot of posts lately by friends who are not in recovery about how hard it is to make and keep friends. I do not have this problem at all. In fact, I have so many friends that I struggle to maintain meaningful relationships with all the people I value. This is a good problem to have, although overwhelming at times.

One article that has been circulating my friends' facebook feeds says that it is hard to make friends after college because people today stay holed up in their homes more than they did in the past. People tend to meet less people on a regular basis and so have fewer opportunities to make connections. I am so glad to say that this not true for me. At the Peer Support and Wellness Center that I work at I am blessed with ample opportunities to develop relationships with different people. I work at a place with a supportive atmosphere that makes it relatively easy to open up and get to know both my coworkers and my peers in a deep, meaningful way. All this is not counting the other people that I have met at previous centers and support groups.

Of course, there are other ways to make friends. I have many connections formed at my church, book club, and past colleges, but none that I see or talk to as regularly as my recovery friends, with the exception of the people that I am dating. Even if I did not work at a recovery center, I would still have many recovery circles that I could go back to and receive support from if needed. Even people in rural areas have access to our warmline, as long as they self-identify as having a mental health challenge. Many times I have felt sorry for the common person who does not have a mental health challenge, for they do not have access to as many forms of support and I fully believe that all people need support and opportunities for genuine connections, whether having an illness or not.

Today I am grateful for my mental illnesses because they led me to recovery, which has led me to meet some amazing people. I am inspired and supported by many people on a regular basis. I have the opportunity to inspire and support other people, in turn, too. I think, though, that those of us who have learned how to be good supporters should perhaps take extra care to reach out to our friends who are not involved in the recovery social circle. Not that one needs to be involved in recovery to know how to be supportive, but it does help.  I would like there to be an effort to add support and sharing in spaces that are not specifically recovery oriented.

What if colleges did not trigger mental illnesses in the first place because they promoted positive coping skills for stress? What if all work environments had supportive atmospheres? What if there were more community centers, especially in rural areas, that had many avenues for learning and communing with different people? What if childcare and transportation were more affordable so that people would have the ability to get out of their houses? In short, I would like there to be a radical shift in our culture - recovery is not just for those living with mental illness or addiction, it is a way to heal our world.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hugging Does Not Always Help Anxiety - A Lesson in Rape Culture

They pretended to know it all but were illiterate regarding life. (308, The Message Bible)
A couple weekends ago, I attended an arts festival with some friends. I enjoyed spending time with them, even though the festival wasn't quite as good as I thought it would be. At one point, the booths got closer together and the noise got considerably louder, both of which made one of my friends anxious. We were trying to get away from the noise when we came upon a group of young people who had a booth for "free hugs." They were blocking the road, shouting "Free Hugs!" at the top of their lungs and would step towards people, whether the person wanted them to or not. My friend did not want to hug them. To be honest, neither did I.

 "No, thank you," she replied to their advances.

"Oh, come on, everyone loves hugs!" they said.

 "Not right now, I don't," she countered.

 "Yes, you do!" they enthused. They continued to push.

"I HAVE ANXIETY!!" she finally yelled.

"Hugging is good for anxiety!" they said, laughing.

Amazed at their lack of insight and genuine listening or caring, we rushed to the other side of the road, onto the grass as far as we could, so that we would not be forced to hug against our will.

I am not against hugging. But unlike some people, I do not feel like hugging 100% of the time, especially when I am stressed. Contrary to what those young people thought, touch is not always good for anxiety. In fact, many times it is not. When I am anxious and on the verge of a panic attack, my plan of defense is to be as alone as possible in as quiet of an area as possible. Touching may trigger tears, which I am trying to avoid when in public. In those times, it is far better for me to get to where I can be alone, take a few minutes of deep breathing and pull myself together, so that I can enjoy the rest of my day without further incident, instead of hugging someone, crying my eyes out and causing a scene. This need is not unique to me but is probably what my friend was feeling and how I know many people deal with anxiety.

I am amazed at the hugging enthusiasts' lack of boundaries. Why is it that there seems to be a lack of boundary respect in our society? If a child does not want to hug a person, I will hear otherwise progressive people force the child to experience unwanted touch.

This is rape culture.

 It appears harmless, but we are a culture that has grown up knowing that our boundaries are not our own. That we should let people comfort us the way they want to comfort us and not the way we actually need. We learn to put other people's touching needs ahead of our own and over time, it becomes hard to internalize that it is our right to set sensory boundaries. If we teach children that they do not have the right to say no to a hug, then they learn that they do not have the respect to say no to sex later. Likewise, if we tell people with mental health issues that they do not have the right to say no to hugs, then they learn that they do not have the right to make their own healthcare choices. Many people at the center I work at are used to being told how to manage their lives, for they have been taught by well-meaning people in the past that they cannot adequately make decisions about their needs.

We start by respectfully listening to one another. We start by honoring one's request for more or less space, no matter how we personally feel about the activity. We start by making sure that people know that even hugging can be harassment.

Free hugs are great, but only if they come with consent.
Some "Free Hugs" are creepy. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self - Conflict Is Not Inherently Bad

quality of life is directly proportional to the delight you can take in discussion. (19, Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living, Mark Vernon)
I facilitated the creative writing activity at the Peer Support and Wellness Center a few days ago and my prompt was to write a letter to your younger self.  I've posted similar posts here before.  This time, my writing had a specific theme in mind - that conflict is not always bad.  This is a concept that is very hard for me to get, as I have spent my life petrified of causing and being involved in conflict.  Raised voices trigger me and I am quick to feel invalidated and defensive.  I was amazed when talking with a friend the other day when she said that she actually loves conflict and is good at it.  She sees conflict as a positive learning and growing opportunity.  Her point of view strikes me as very healthy, but very hard for me to wrap my head around.  She encouraged me to confront a person who I thought was not treating me very well.  I had been furious with this person for several days and had promised my friend that I would stand up for myself, instead of being passive aggressive.

I was all set.

I was going to set boundaries and be ferocious.

I was also terrified.

I made the call to set up the appointment for a face-to-face encounter.  She, of course, could only speak on the phone.  I went ahead and asked the question I needed to ask before really letting her have it.....

......and she was nice and polite and totally gave me the answer I had wanted.

There had been no reason for me to be angry in the first place.  There had been nothing wrong - I just needed to have the courage to ask her some clarifying questions.

Once again, my assumptions made an ass out of me.

Immediately after having this conversation I facilitated the creative writing group and so it was with this lesson in mind that I wrote my letter:

Dear Corey,

It is good to stand up for yourself.  Conflict is not bad and does not have to be scary.  Conflict helps people grow.  You are not a bad person or need to feel guilty if you have to ask questions or advocate for yourself.  Even if you have to cause another person discomfort in order to get your needs met.  You deserve to be happy and to have what is important to you understood.

Remember that more people will try to help you and be receptive to your input and ideas than you will give them credit for.  You live in a world of fear, but the world is far more wonderful than you can comprehend.  Spend more of your time basking in the sun of love than in the shadow of fear.

Remember your worth.  

Remember your rights.

Be strong knowing who you are.  You are a person uniquely made and qualified to help make the world a better place and in order to do a good job you must speak your mind.

Your mind is worth sharing.

Never forget,

Love,

Your older yet still learning and growing self.