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, October 28, 2012

Help Me Fight Stigma - Donate to NAMI

You've been reading a lot about my participation in NAMI's In Our Own Voice (IOOV) presentations lately.  NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the United States largest grassroots organization that educates, advocates, and does research for people living with mental illness and for the people that love them.  It's a wonderful organization that does a lot of good for lots of people.  I have been familiar with what NAMI does since 2009 when I started attending their support group for consumers.  After a year I became a facilitator for the same support group and now I mainly speak to different groups, telling them my recovery story, and I show them a NAMI video that re-enforces my message that one can lead a successful life even with a severe mental illness.  I love doing my IOOV presentations!  I feel like I am helping other people, which as I have said before, makes me feel redeemed from all of my years of being severely sick.  Even more than that though, it majorly increases my self esteem.  Each time I tell my story, I gain more confidence in myself.  I tell myself I have nothing to hide, no shame to try to run away from, and each time, I believe it a little more.

*trigger warning: I talk about cutting.  Not in graphic detail, but still.*
This past Monday and Tuesday, I did three presentations at a college for psychology students.  I told myself that it was especially important that I be truthful about my experience with recovery, as I spoke to many people who were in training to become therapists.  So I did something I had never done before-I spoke openly about an old negative coping skill, namely, cutting.  I wanted people to know that I hadn't done it for attention, but to cope with extreme anxiety.  I told them that even though cutting is painful, it releases endorphins, a brief high, that temporarily takes one away from the severe emotional pain.  Finally, I told them to look at people who cut with compassion, because they are people who are in severe emotional pain and who do not know how to appropriately deal with that kind of pain yet.  I say yet, because it is one hundred percent possible for a person who used to be addicted to cutting to learn better ways of dealing with their emotional pain. I am living proof.  I now know that if I distract myself long enough, then the pain will eventually diminish.  I know to not fight the horrible feelings and to give myself permission to cry.  Afterwards I soothe myself with a cup of tea or a hot bubble bath.
*trigger warning over*

There's only one way to beat stigma and that's by talking about the subject that is so stigmatized.  Mental illness and addiction are still very much stigmatized.  Most people delay getting the help they need, because they are afraid of what the help may look like or what other people might say.  Not talking about what one is going through though does not help the person in the long run, because it creates a thick cloud of shame that follows them wherever they go.  I am so proud to be able to do the stigma-busting IOOV presentations and I am grateful to NAMI for paying me to do them and for providing me with the materials needed.  If you would like me to speak to your organization, you can contact me at hopeisreal42@yahoo.com.  If you would like to help the organization that is enabling me to help myself and so many other people, then please donate to NAMI.  On Saturday, we are going to do our annual NAMI Walk, which is where many of us gather together to show our support for those affected by mental illness.  Click here to make a donation.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Staples are Banana Fudgesicals and Service Work

Most people consider foods like bread and milk and sugar to be staples, but ever since I discovered how to make homemade fudgesicals out of nutella, those have become a staple at my house too.  I got the idea off of the foodie blog, Daily Waffle.  The recipe is incredibly simple: just mix together one cup of milk and 1/3 cup of nutella.  Then, if you want it to be extra special, add sliced bananas.  (That was my idea!)  Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and let them set overnight.  The next day you have fudgesicals that are much better than the ones from a store.  I say better, because of the bananas-banana and hazelnut is a genius combination!  The flavor is so rich and delicious!
Mmmm, look at that fudgesical!  After I finish typing this I'm going to make some more.  Also, these are a great way to use up overripe bananas!

Speaking of staples, I have been doing a lot of service work lately and I feel so good afterwards that I think it is a good idea of service work being a staple of one's recovery.  By service work I basically mean work that helps other people.  I have been doing more In Our Own Voice presentations lately-in fact, tomorrow I am going up to Dahlonega, Georgia, to do three IOOV presentations to psychology classes at North Georgia College.  It is my hope that speaking about my experiences of living with mental illness will help ease some of the stigma present and that it will spawn some great discussions.  Even more than that, I hope that if there are any students in the classes who deal with mental illness, which there probably are, then I hope the presentations will help give them some hope and let them know that they are not alone.  I completed college even while grappling with major depression, anxiety, and undiagnosed borderline personality disorder.  I am so glad that I completed college, but there were many times when I felt alone and isolated.  I wish that colleges offered more support groups or group therapy-I think the outcome would be worth the extra work.

When I got really depressed and anxious last year, I feel like a part of me died, but doing service work where it is my experience of having mental illness that helps people, I feel like I gain a part of myself back.  To borrow a phrase from Christianity, I feel "born again."  I feel like a worthwhile person and for a person that has struggled with low self-esteem, I cannot say how much this feeling means to me.  Just like the fudgesicals, sometimes recovery is sweet.

Recommended Links:

This Ain’t Livin- To Live with Compassion
Living with compassion is the only way I can navigate the world and be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning; caring for other beings and believing they deserve equal space in the world is my foundational belief.

 I lost the faith I once had. I stopped believing that God only loved me if I was happy and peaceful. I also gave up on the idea that depression was punishment or isolation from God. I can't enjoy the same songs. I cannot bear the same sermons. That faith is gone. Just like the hours, weeks or months I lose to melancholy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Trusting in the Process of Life

Peace is the gift from God that allows us to trust in the process.  (70, Monica A. Coleman, Making a Way Out of No Way)
In my last therapy session, I was not trusting in the process and so I was not at peace with myself. I just got denied by disability and I felt defeated. I cried a lot. I looked at my life and it seemed like I was in the same space that I was in a few years ago and that made me sad. But the fact of the matter is that my life story is not over and the process that is my life is still evolving. There is still hope. Coleman says that it is peace that allows us to trust in the process, but if that is true, then it is true that is is also the outcome. I feel more peaceful when I trust that things will work out. I know life will not end up the way I think it will and frankly, that is a relief, because what I come up with causes me a lot of anxiety. What I need to do is the hard work of living my life doing the next right thing-calling Social Security and asking them some questions, perhaps getting a lawyer, and most importantly to continue working on my recovery. I will continue to go to therapy, doctor's appointments, and support groups, to take my medications and practice my coping skills. There really is nothing wrong with my life right now as it is. Today I did an In Our Own Voice presentation for NAMI and at the end I stated that I am proud of my life right now. I feel like I want my life to change when I start comparing my life to what others have, but what I need is more peace and trust in the process of living that is my life. My life does not need to be like anybody else's - it is my own and when I look at life that way, then I am proud of what I have accomplished and I am peaceful from trusting in the process. Perhaps I should write myself a note that reminds me to "have peace-trust the process."

 Recommended Link:

This ain’t livin - Disability As Beauty

And I see the same thing in some people with physical disabilities; they aren’t beautiful ‘in spite of their disabilities’ or ‘because of their strong spirits,’ but because their bodies are beautiful, and to me, disability can be beautiful. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trigger Happy - Avoid Triggers, Stay Positive

Another picture from my Color Me Calm coloring book.  I like this one-she looks so calm and happy.  "Evening vespers" are a sunset prayer service found usually in Catholicism and I interpret this to mean that the girl in the picture is filling her head with positive thoughts, sounds, and sights before going to bed, which is a good idea.

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and filling your mind with positivity before going to bed is a way you can stay in good mental health.  I do that by reading from several devotionals at night -if I am not too tired.  Doing that helps me refrain from criticizing myself and worrying about the next day.  I also need to stay away from things that may trigger me to become emotionally unbalanced.  For me, that means not watching cop shows or shows with graphic rape or abuse scenes or where the topic is about suicide or eating disorders.  Shows with those topics make me depressed and upset and so I avoid them.  It can be hard enough trying to remain positive when one has mental illness, so I might as well not fill it with any more unpleasant and stressful sounds and images than I need to.

If you've been following this blog for a while, then you know that I have been having a hard time with my body image lately.  My therapist does a twelve week course on body image that she wants me to take soon.  We use a workbook and have homework exercises that she says are really helpful for people like me.  I hope that I can take it-I think I could use the help.  If I do take it, I'll let you know what workbook I'm using and will share my insights.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Good Earth and Good Cupcakes

When I reviewed The Good Earth, I talked about how frustrating it was to read about the sexism and the communication problems that were present in the Chinese culture.  But there are good and bad aspects of all cultures and one part that I think is perhaps better than American is how close the families were.  In The Good Earth, everyone in the family lived together and there was no shame or stigma in the adult children staying home.  In fact, it was an expected and honorable thing to do as they helped take care of their parents.  Ideally, everyone worked together to help take care of the family.  This helped me feel better about myself, as I live with my parents and I help with the household by doing some of the grocery shopping and cooking.  More and more college graduates are coming home to live after college, because it may be hard to get a good paying job.  Still, others may have a disability.  Neither situation is a cause for shame, even though it can be very hard to internalize that.

One way that I contributed to my family a few weeks ago was by making special cupcakes for my mother's birthday.  I made Philly Blackforest Stuffed Cupcakes.


1 Box Chocolate Cake Mix
1 Block Package of Cream Cheese
1 Egg
2 T Sugar
1 Can Cherry Pie Filling
1 1/2 Cups of Chilled Cool Whip


  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare cake batter as directed on package for the light or low-fat version; set aside. Mix cream cheese, egg and sugar until well blended.
  • Remove 3/4 cup of the cherry pie filling for garnish; set aside. Spoon 2 tablespoons cake batter into each of 24 paper-lined medium muffin cups. Top each with 1 tablespoon each of the cream cheese mixture and the remaining cherry pie filling. Cover evenly with remaining cake batter.

  • (Here you can see the different layers, with a couple already covered up by the chocolate cake.)

    3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centres comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan to wire racks. Cool completely. Top with whipped topping and reserved cherry pie filling just before serving.
    Aren't they beautiful?  I think they are by some of the prettiest cupcakes I have ever made and my mom loved them!  I was surprised at how many cherries were in one can of pie filling.  I liked using the cool whip as frosting and getting a bite of chocolate, cherry, and cream cheese was divine.
    It's a surprise inside!  I love how the cake is almost just as pretty inside as it is on the outside!  It felt good to make these for my mom and it feels good to be a contributing member of the family.  I am thankful that The Good Earth reminded me of how I can be grateful for my family.

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    Self - Love is a Hard Road to Travel When Triggered

    By now, I usually consider myself pretty much eating disorder free, but Tuesday it got triggered when someone suggested that I join weight watchers.  The fact that I have gained enough weight that someone would think that I should lose it made me think that I was a failure and I was anxious and depressed for several days.  My self esteem went down dramatically.  I became paranoid that all people saw when they saw me was someone who was fat and that all I was was a series of problems to be fixed.  I forgot all my good qualities, even though I continued to do a lot of service work through my job and volunteer work.  Fortunately, I talked to my therapist Thursday and she was able to convince me that the majority of the people I know like me for me.  She also told me that while weight loss could be a goal for me one day if I wanted it to be, that I was too triggered by diet talk for it to be a feasible option for me now.  My health is not threatened by my fatness - contrary to popular opinion - and so she just wants me to continue to work towards accepting and loving my body the way it is now.

    This means more pictures!
    I took these pictures right before a party last year.  I got both the shirt and the skirt from Old Navy.  I felt really pretty that night!  It's hard for me not to be concerned with how people are thinking about me or for me not to judge myself incredibly harshly using black and white thinking. My therapist said that when I start focusing on the food that I should ask myself what emotions I am trying to avoid.

    I wish our society would recognize how much weight talk hurts and how much it triggers that awful self-judging tyrant in our heads.  I wish we spent more time being grateful how all the things our bodies can do, instead of always putting them down.  Fortunately, I am in a much better place mentally right now and I am back to trying to love my body.  It's a hard thing to do when society tells you you're not good enough unless you're thin enough.  But I am enough - my self-worth has nothing to do with my size

    Recommended Links:

    The Fat Nutritionist – About that Video

    Next time you are concerned about a fat person’s health, consider that the best thing you might do for them is to treat them like capable adults and let them sort it out for themselves. Don’t add to the unhealthy storm of negativity and pressure and fear-mongering that is already surrounding them.

    According to the researchers, K'abel was one of the greatest rulers of the Late Classic period. She ruled with her husband, K'inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years (672-692 AD). She was also the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title "Kaloomte'," which translates to "Supreme Warrior," higher in authority than her husband, the king.

    It seems pretty clear, then, that what George had committed was sexual assault. Yet, in an amazing feat of willful blindness, none of the articles comment on this, even as they reproduce Greta’s words for us. Without a single acknowledgement of the problematic nature of the photo that her comments reveal, they continue to talk about the picture in a whimsical, reverent manner, “still mesmerized by his timeless kiss.” George’s actions are romanticized and glorified; it is almost as if Greta had never spoken.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    September 2012 Book Review

    Steeple Envy by Vic Cuccia – Already reviewed – Don’t Recommend

    Mutiny: Why We Love Pirates and How They Can Save Us by Kester Brewin – Already reviewed – Do Recommend

    The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck – This book should have been named, “The Good Repressed, Passive-Aggressive People!”  The Good Earth is the story of a man and his relationship to the Earth and to his family in nineteenth century China.  I enjoyed the book, although it was frustrating at times that the people in his family hardly ever talked directly to each other-I felt like they needed a recommendation to a good family therapist!  It was also frustrating to read all the sexism-for example, when females are born they are referred to as slaves!  The main character is an example of how the patriarchy hurts men too in that he does love his daughters and his wives, but he is too concerned with appearing unmanly and so has a very hard time expressing any of his love.  I am concerned that the characters sometimes seemed as if they are only stereotypes, instead of deeply thought out characters.  The book did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and enable Buck to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces," but I wonder if these “descriptions of peasant life” are colored by her white lens.  I do think it is interesting that Buck was a huge champion for interracial adoption in a time when that topic was probably considered taboo. 

    The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner – This was the book selected by my book group and I really liked it, but then I loved studying Modernism in college.  The book is told from the perspective of four members of the Compson family.  The style of writing varies from person to person and ranges from stream of consciousness to a third person narrative.  I liked how Faulkner played with those elements in order to give us a clearer vision of each person.  I’ll go ahead and tell you that the title is taken from a soliloquy in Macbeth.  One of my fellow book club members’ thought that the book was way too dreary, but I didn’t mind watching the Compson family decline-it seemed fitting to me that a family that oppresses its women and Black workers should go into decline, with the women-except for the mother-running away to freedom, albeit an unhappy freedom, and the feeling that the Blacks are the ones who are really in control.  The Compson family’s story is the story of the American South at the time, the Whites who had been so powerful before are going down without the free labor of slaves and both women and Blacks are quietly preparing for the revolutions that arrive in the 1950s and 60s.  I liked it, but if you want a book where you don’t have to think, then the next book may be for you…

    Once Upon a Full Moon by Ellen Schreiber – What a boring book!  It took over half of the book for the werewolf to appear and despite reading the whole book, I never really felt like anything happened.  I don’t know why Schreiber’s books are so popular!  Celeste is a popular high schooler who cares way too much about what her friends think.  She falls in love with a boy from the wrong side of town and clich├ęs abound.  Ugh!  There are even cheesy romantic scenes between her and a werewolf!  I mean, come on.  If you like Twilight, then maybe you’ll like this book.  Maybe.

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    College Scholarship Available!

    I got this info about a scholarship for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to go to college in my email today:

    Lilly Reintegration Scholarship Applications Available for 2013-2014 Academic Year

    INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE:LLY) today announced that applications for the 2013-2014 school year are now available for the 15th annual Lilly Reintegration Scholarship. The program provides funding for tuition, books and lab fees to people living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and related schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, so they may pursue and achieve their educational and vocational goals. Information is available at www.reintegration.com.

    I didn't include all of article, because I thought it made it sound like going to school or getting a job are the only ways to reintegrate into society and that is just not true.  One can be a valuable member of society by going to support groups and being a good, supportive group member.  One can do volunteer work or join a meetup group about a hobby.  A person can make artwork or play an instrument or sing in a group.  One can take care of animals or write a blog.  There are so many ways to be a part of society and I just don't want anyone to get the idea that one has failed if they don't have the right schooling or the right job.  I say that, because I felt that way myself for many years.  I felt like a failure, because I don't make enough to live on my own and because I didn't finish music therapy school, but there is so much more to me than that.  I am a success at living in recovery and in being a friend and those are much more valuable markers of success than a job, money, housing or schooling.  Still, it is a pretty cool scholarship - it almost makes me wish that I was still diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder!