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, September 29, 2013

Huzzah! I Am Now In Recovery From BPD!!!

We can sift through the inputs of the past and the future possibilities and become our own thing. We own that decision.  In that moment, we are that decision. ~ Monica. A Coleman, Making A Way Out of No Way, 74

Two Years ago I was diagnosed by my therapist as having Borderline Personality Disorder and when I was then psychologically tested, the result was that I had very strong traits of it, which I wrote about here.  My therapist and I treated the results as if I had been diagnosed with the disorder.

During that time I was in and out of Ridgeview's inpatient and outpatient programs.  I had been in some tough situations and now was basically addicted to the hospital.  I liked the feeling of being nurtured, being taken cared of, being validated and receiving kind attention.  I also didn't trust myself to deal with my difficult feelings on my own without hurting myself-I love how Marsha Linehan calls people with BPD emotional third degree burn victims.

However, the last time I was inpatient I did not have the wonderful nurturing experience.  I felt severe emotional pain and I acted out.  Then I felt ashamed that I acted out while around other people.  That loss of control was my bottom and I remember on the third day inpatient making the decision to not physically hurt myself anymore.  In that moment, I became the decision that I was going to get better.  I wasn't going to try anymore-I was going to do. 

After that, things got a lot easier.  Of course, it took a long time for my emotions to catch up with my brain, but because I had made the decision to really work at getting better, I started to see results.  Those of you who have been following my blog all through this have also witnessed me change on my journey to wellness!

I took a DBT class about a month after my last hospitalization and boy, did that really change my life!  I had a hard time adjusting to the group dynamic at first, but by the end, the group was sad to see me go.  Now I am taking the DBT class again.  DBT has helped me learn how to communicate more effectively, how to pause and reflect instead of reacting impulsively, how to safely handle emotional triggers myself, how to regulate my emotions, how to stay present and mindful-in short, how to have a life worth living.

My family attended family therapy sessions about once a month for about a year and that really helped us communicate better.  It also helped me accept the fact that I would be living with my parents for a longer time than I had previously thought and that I don't need to be ashamed for that.

I also got a sponsor and found a twelve-step group that I like.  After I finished my first DBT class, I worked on the steps and kept going to support groups.  I also started doing service work, chairing meetings and being discussion leaders sometimes, doing more In Our Own Voice presentations for NAMI, and playing music at an assisted living home.  These things kept me from focusing too much on myself.

Another change is the abundance of pleasurable events and hobbies that are in my life now.  Two years ago, I felt so out of place in social situations, especially ones where I didn't know a lot of people.  It was because I didn't have a clear sense of my own identity.  I wanted someone to cling to, follow and identify with, but these past two years I have really pushed myself to rediscover myself and explore social situations with people I do not already know.  And I have done well!  Upon my therapist's advice, I joined meetup.com and I joined several social groups.  In fact, I did so well that I decided to start my own book club almost exactly a year ago today!  Now I feel quite comfortable in most social situations and have many friends that live close by.

I've had a lot of stressors in my life this year, but I think I have handled them pretty wonderfully.  So wonderfully, in fact, that about a month ago I ventured to share with my therapist my dream-I told her that my goal was to one day be in recovery from BPD.  I was not prepared for what she said next: "You're doing so well, you may already be!"  I was astounded!  She told me that when she got her new DSM that we would look in it together and see if I still fit in the diagnosis!

Well, I have good news!  Last Wednesday we got out the DSM and looked and talked and we came to the conclusion that I no longer fit any of the criteria!!!  Whoo-Hoo!  Two years ago I fit eight out of the nine!  (One only needs to fit five out of the nine.  I'm an over-achiever.)   I feel so happy, I am practically glowing!

Now I can say that I am in "recovery" from BPD!  My therapist says I am in "remission," but I like the sound of being in recovery better.  Of course, I will keep on practicing my DBT skills and the steps, going to meetings and therapy, but I feel so proud of where I am right now.

On Thursdays I attend a support group and we introduce ourselves by stating how we feel and I told them I felt "radiant" and then explained why.  Everyone was immensely happy for me and incredibly supportive.  A group of my friends went out to eat afterwards at my favorite BBQ restaurant, Jim 'N Nick's.
(Darn that pesky glare on my glasses!) As I sat there chatting with my friends, I reflected on how sure of myself and comfortable and happy I was.  I don't mean to gloat, but it is so fine to achieve a goal and to have friends to share in that victory.

And to eat banana pudding.  Can't forget the banana pudding!  This banana pudding was thick and rich, with chunks of banana and cake-like wafers.  Really, really good, although to be honest, there weren't quite enough chunks of banana in my opinion.  It was really good, but not the best banana pudding I've ever tasted.

Send me a congratulations!  I am quite proud of myself, although I must admit that I could not have done any of the hard work without the support of my Godde whom I experience in the forms of my therapists, doctors, friends, and family.  I have received so much support and love that at times I feel completely overwhelmed by gratitude and I just want to give the world a hug.  Of course, I cannot do that, but what I can do instead is to pass the love on by being supportive to someone else.  Let us remember to support each other on this journey towards mental wellness and healing.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Exercise and Chronic Pain - Honoring the Mind-Body Connection

Isn't it funny how often when we don't think we'll find what we want, then that's when what it appears?  I have been wanting to find some kind of exercise that I can do and I have been very frustrated.  About a month ago I tried going to my old yoga studio again after about a year and even though I adore the instructor, I really did not enjoy the session all that much.  Being in a large class stressed me out - exercising with a large group has always been one of my worst anxieties! - and I was in pain most of the time.  I just was not able to let go and be mindful at all, which I believe is what yoga is supposed to be about  in the first place!

I've started seeing my old nutritionist again and that is going quite well.  We're discussing mindfulness and ways to get me moving without me hurting.  I was feeling pretty dismal after that yoga session and told her so.  She then assigned me the goal of seeing if there was anyone in my area who was leading a gentler yoga class that would be easier on my joints than the Hatha classes I was previously taking.  I was a bit skeptical.

Of course, I had already looked before many times, and never with any luck.

Begrudgingly, I looked for a yoga studio in my area that offered restorative yoga, a kind of lower impact yoga, and I was very surprised to actually find it in my area! I found a place called Your Mindful Path Counseling & Yoga with Jennifer Del Castillo as the yoga instructor.  She specializes in offering yoga for people with disabilities and has fibromyalgia, herself.  She offers restorative, gentle, and chair yoga.  So far, I have only tried her restorative yoga class.

I was very nervous about trying the new class-remember the group exercise anxiety?  I found her website first on meetup.com and so for a while, I was RSVPing yes and then pressing, "no" at the last minute until the instructor finally asked me if there was anything she could do to ease my fears.  I asked her which class would be the easiest one to start out with and she advised me to start out with the restorative yoga.

The day came when I finally got up the courage to try it out!  It was the last time it was offered before seeing my nutritionist the next day and I really wanted to be able to report my experience, so it was do or die.  I nearly barged in on the class before me, so then I felt embarrassed and more anxious, but I needn't have worried so much.  In fact, no one else turned up for the class and it ended up being a one-on-one session.  Ironically, if I had known that I was going to have an individual session I would have been too anxious to come, so I guess it's best to be surprised sometimes!

 Castillo is very laid back and calming and I astounded myself by being able to let go and be fully engaged and present after about just ten minutes. Consequently, I ended up having the best exercise class experience in my entire life!  Also, I experienced absolutely no pain the whole time!  The whole experience was completely different than a typical "exercise" class-it's really a class to help people de-stress and relax and not to lose weight or reach some target heart rate.

It's hard to deprogram myself from what I've learned from society and school-I want to become more attuned to my body, to learn how to relax and to just in general do what feels good to my body and my brain and to not worry about whether or not the activity will result in me losing weight or any other superficial grading scale, but I still find myself internally asking if I will lose weight if I do a certain activity or refuse to eat a kind of food. It is a battle I fear I will always wage inside of myself. Ultimately, what is important to me is the mind-body connection and what is not is fitting into the patriarchy's mold.  Ultimately becoming friends with myself is my true goal and I must keep this goal ever in my mind.

I am glad that I was able to surrender to the moment during the yoga class and I will definitely go again.  I am finding more and more that the world is a lot more friendlier place than I often think it will be and that I often can find what I am looking for when the time is right.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Together We Can Break the Stigma - Donate to NAMI

It's that time of year again - Georgia's NAMI Walk is on October 5th, which is the National Alliance of Mental Illness' biggest fundraiser campaign and it's a time when we gather with banners and balloons to show people that there is no need for the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction.  My personal fundraising page can be found HERE.  I'm not sure if I'll actually be there physically on the day-I'd like to, but there's another recovery fun activity on that same day that I would like to support also.  In case you do not follow the link, here is what I wrote on my page:

Welcome! I am walking for NAMI, because I believe in the work that the National Alliance of Mental Illness does.  NAMI provides free support groups of families and consumers, education programs, conducts valuable research, and works hard to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness.

 The program that most affects my life is NAMI"s In Our Own Voice (IOOV) program, where I get a chance to share my own recovery story with different groups of people. Not once have I ever not felt like my telling did not positively affect at least one other person's life! I have seen the program give hope to family members and consumers alike that recovery from mental illness is real and absolutely possible, as well as educate many other populations. Not only that, but each time I share my story with others, a part of myself is healed and a little more of my own internal stigma is erased. NAMI pays for me to make these presentations and I believe it is important work.

 If you can donate to help keep programs like IOOV running, please do! But more importantly, please tell people about NAMI, and refer them to the NAMI website - it has tons of great information! (nami.org). Contact me at hopeisreal42@yahoo.com if you would like to schedule an IOOV presentation for your organization with me. Having mental illness and getting treatment for it is not a weakness! Together we can break the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions!  And don't worry-this should be the only post I do this year on fundraising...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rule 62 Makes Me “Happy, Happy, Happy”

Sometimes I write an article for a recovery newsletter and here is my latest one.  The newsletter's theme was on rule 62, which is, "Don't take yourself too damn seriously," from AA's The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book on page 149.  It was a fun topic!  You'll probably notice that I make more Alcoholics Anonymous recovery references than usual and that's because at least half of the targeted population are in recovery from drug and alcohol, themselves.  Most of the people that submit articles to the newsletter are recovering addicts or alcoholics, so I am always glad that they let me add my perspective of anxiety and depression recovery for the other folks. I'm proud of this particular article-I think it's fun and one of my more well written ones.  The benefit of my online article is I get to include some pictures! ________________________________________________________ 
This may sound silly, but Duck Dynasty is a part of my recovery.  Okay, let me explain: as someone who has episodes of severe anxiety and depression, I tend to take life too seriously sometimes.  A few weeks ago I was watching my guilty pleasure, Duck Dynasty, and I laughed out loud.  To my amazement, I then realized that that was the first time that I had laughed all day!  That silly show had put a smile on my face and had forced me to stop thinking such serious, deep thoughts for once. 

Laughter is important!  AA’s Big Book says on page 132, “but we aren’t a glum lot.  If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it.  We absolutely insist on enjoying life.”  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s (DBT) creator, Marsha Linehan, made sure to include a section of coping skills about adding positive and pleasurable experiences into one’s life, because that is what helps create a “life worth living.”  (If you do not know what DBT is, just know that it is a therapy that helps people like me with impulsivity and mood problems.  It is relatively similar to a twelve-step group in that its principles and coping skills become a lifestyle and can be worked on alongside an anonymous program.)  Although probably none of us got into recovery specifically to laugh again, would we really stay in it if we never did?  Boredom and stress tend to lead us back into a relapse fairly quickly.

When someone smiles and when someone laughs, you know there’s hope.  I remember once telling a therapist about the “stupid” and “pointless” activities a recreation therapist had me perform while at a mental hospital several years before (not at Ridgeview).  She had us walk in circles around the gym while she played loud Gloria Estefan music, continually yelling at us to, “Swing your arms! Move with the rhythm!”  The whole activity seemed surreal and ridiculous and finally the young woman behind me and I couldn’t hold in our shared reaction and we started giggling uncontrollably.  For years afterward I was convinced that we were sort of mean in our laughter at her, but the newer therapist explained to me that actually, no, getting us to laugh was the whole point and the fact that we did proved that she was quite competent in her job!  She explained that the fact that we laughed let the hospital staff know that we were doing better and could be discharged soon.  Getting us to not be so serious was her goal!

There is a misconception that people in recovery are a glum lot and always take life super seriously.  Think of how people in recovery are portrayed in the media-have you ever seen a TV show where someone in recovery laughed or did something fun?  No, they’re always coming to make an amends, saying something heavy at a meeting or having a relapse and while those things do happen-it is only showing one side of a story.  Here is my side-I attended DragonCon this year, which is the world’s largest science fiction and fantasy convention and I went dressed up as a character from the movie, Brave.
(I went as Merida!)

Other people in recovery went too!  There was a twelve-step meeting every night and people talked about dancing for the first time sober, looking forward to actually being able to remember the event, and just in general learning that they could be serious about remaining in recovery, while not taking recovery so seriously that they passed up the opportunity to make costumes (cosplay) and bond with other sci-fi geeks once they were ready.  I do need to take my recovery seriously, but I am thankful for all the forces in my life, from my sponsor and friends, to the events that I attend, to even the television shows that I watch that keep me from taking it too damn seriously.  And that makes me happy, happy, happy!
I hope this article and the pictures made you laugh!  What is your humorous guilty pleasure?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Love & Feminism By Ruth Whitney - August Book Review 2013 Part I

This was the month of feminism!  I’m going to do this month’s book reviews a little differently and just do one book at a time.  The two books I read were for my feminist book club. I underlined a lot of passages and wrote down quotes for my “Quotes Book” while I was reading, so I already had a lot of material for more in depth reviews.

This was the book for my September feminist book club.  All of us thought that it was not nearly as soul stirring or as eloquent as The Beauty Myth was (our book for August), but we did think that it did have a lot of ideas that we certainly appreciated.  I like that she views feminism as a loving way of life, which is very similar to how I view feminism-it is why I cannot separate my Christianity from my feminism either.   (And why I have trouble fitting into most mainstream churches!)  She says that, “feminism is the vision and practice of love.  Feminism is acts of love that eliminate all form of domination […] Feminism is love in action.”  This is very different than simply saying that feminism is women achieving equality to men, which is how many people define it.  I prefer her way of “creating communities of love,” which would certainly go much farther ahead than just closing the wage gap, which in my mind, is simply a step in the right direction. 

While we all liked a lot of her ideas, there was a lot that we vehemently disagreed with too!  (That, in itself, was actually quite nice, as it led to a very spirited discussion!)  Our main objection was that we thought her statements were way too broad and simplistic.   For instance, she says that, “Acting dominant not only harms the person being dominated, but it also violates the dominator’s own inner core of love.”   While we agreed that the patriarchal system of domination and coercion is negative and damaging, we thought her statement that acting dominant is harmful, with the implication that it is always harmful was incredibly too all or nothing thinking.  (She could use some DBT!!!)  Both of the other members in the group talked about how they are caregivers and how if they did not “act dominant” while on the job, then their client’s safety would be at stake.  I believe there is a difference between “acting dominant” in a patriarchal, coercive way and “acting dominant” in a loving, caring way.  I would have to read the book again to see if she makes that distinction using different words.

I also thought her explanations for people’s behavior were often too simplistic.  She never addresses the mind-body connection.  She seems to think that all mental illnesses are the result of not receiving enough love and never accounts for chemical imbalances.  The “Power of Love” section is particularly problematic.  She first talks about suicidal ideation in regards to murderers,which  is absolutely ridiculous and stigmatizing.  Then on p.119 she talks about people with mental illnesses in a very impersonal and dehumanizing way.  I was a bit shocked after all of her speech about giving respect to all humans.  Her reasons were all too simplistic.  I get that she is trying to illustrate that these people are all out of touch with their “inner core of love,” but I found her language very triggering as someone who has severe mental illness, myself and I felt it was very insensitive and potentially ablest.  Also, it is hard to be in touch with one’s inner core of love if one’s brain chemistry is mixed up and she never once in the book mentions anything about the mind-body connection, brain chemistry, or genetics, which again, leads me to believe that her take on mental illness is way too simplistic. All in all, she seemed to flip-flop between not giving people any responsibility for their actions or feelings and then giving them too much. 

We also thought she seemed pretty codependent once she started talking about forgiveness.  She says: “Once I forgive you I try to trust you again even though you were untrustworthy before,” and, “Forgiving re-establishes my relationship with you even though you injured me.”  What in the world?! In our opinion, this is not feminist theory thinking at all!!!  Should an abused wife go back to her abusive husband just because she “forgives” him?  Should she not put forth the effort to forgive him, just because she is moving on with her life?  From a therapeutic angle I have been taught to view forgiveness as, “I forgive to release myself from my own bondage.”  To forgive does mean that I come back to a place of loving, but if a person has been abusive, then to trust again would be perhaps codependent and definitely damaging!   We thought it was odd that she stressed trusting and re-establishing the relationship when she had just talked about how women give too much of themselves away anyway.  Forgiveness is definitely important, but one does not need to be a martyr.  I thought it was then very wise when a member stated that she thought it was awfully shortsighted that the author said nothing about boundary making, because in her opinion, setting boundaries is a big part of being in a loving relationship.  I agree!  For instance, there is no way that the patriarchy will ever be brought down if feminists do not set some tight boundaries on how they will talk and act to each other and to the world.  (Will they act out in sisterly love towards each other and other people or will they continue in the path of the patriarchy?  Will they take time for self-care or will they follow in the footsteps of patriarchal martyrdom?)

Would I recommend this book?  Well, its audience was obviously for a college class and not for someone who was recovering from an intense injury, like one of our members was. I would recommend it, because it really does have some great ideas and quotes, but just read it with a questioning mind.