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.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

September Book Review 2013

This week has been full, fun at times, but also very stressful.  My dad has been sick for weeks and no one could figure out why, which was scary.  Yesterday, he ended up going to the hospital three separate times!  Fortunately, they finally figured out that he had a lung infection and they prescribed him antibiotics, drained some yucky fluid out and injected him with some steroids.  Today he felt much better than he has in a long time, which was great, but I still felt stressed out and needed a quiet day to recharge.  Self-care for me today included canceling social plans, so that I could rest, and then going back to bed; staying in bed until I was caught up on sleep; taking a lavender scented bubble bath; drinking many cups of soothing hot tea; having long entertaining talks with friends on the phone; and scheduling several outings with friends in the coming week, so that my day of rest would not turn into a week of isolation.  The end result is that I finally feel serene and grateful again-ready to face the world.

And I am finally ready to review September's books!
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery


Of course, I loved it!  In this book, Anne and Gilbert move into their first house together.  It's a cute house in a desolated area of the island.  They only have a few neighbors, but they are, of course, real characters and become good friends.  I love Miss Cornelia Bryant and her catchphrase, "Wasn't that like a man?!"  Her making fun of men and Methodists had me laughing.  I also appreciated that this book delves deeper into the themes of suffering and loss, the complexities of real friendships and even disability. Anne becomes good friends with Leslie Moore, but sometimes Leslie is bitter towards Anne, because Anne has such a happy and a carefree life.  Leslie has a very sad family history and her own mother forced her into an unwanted marriage to a mean man at a young age.  Her husband got hurt in an ship wreck and became brain damaged and now Leslie has to care for a man she doesn't even like.  She is still young herself and it is a big burden to carry-she values Anne's friendship, but one can certainly understand how hard it would be not to build up any resentments.  As someone with severe mental illness and chronic pain, there have been times when I have been resentful of "normal" people too. Later, when Anne gives birth to a baby that dies a few hours later, one feels so much pain for her and yet one feels almost glad that she gains a little knowledge of what pain and suffering is really like.  It helps her friendship with Leslie deepen and it helps her become wiser and more able to relate to others.  Of course, Leslie's situation does improve so incredibly nicely by the end that it's a bit unbelievable, but I don't mind-L.M.M.'s "Anne" books are basically brain candy, after all. The book ends with Anne and Gilbert packing up to move to a bigger house and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was a little teary.  It's just that I have left quite a few relationships and places this year and so I can relate to that bittersweet feeling of leaving a place you love for somewhere more appropriate.
Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide For Introverts, The Overwhelmed, and The Underconnected by Devora Zack

This book is fabulous!  In fact, I put it on my recommended books list.  I am job hunting right now and a friend recommended it to me and I am so glad that she did.  I checked it out of the library and read it in a couple of days, but I think I might request it for Christmas and reread it over and over again, because I found it very validating and helpful.  I found it validating, because it's an empowering book for introverts and centroverts. (A centrovert falls between the introvert and extrovert world.) I am an introvert, but I didn't really know much about my personality type, as American society is really focused on extroversion.  Without knowing why, I have often felt like a part of me is lacking and this book addressed that issue very well and gave concrete ways for an introvert like me to add networking into my life.  It is an easy read and is not overwhelming at all.  It's also very funny and entertaining.  I showed it to my therapist, who also got excited about it, as she's an introvert too.  It sort of made me laugh to think that she would think she needs help in that area of her life, but I suppose there is always room for improvement.  If you are job hunting or feel like you could use some improvement in your networking skills, then I really recommend checking this book out.  It's very likely to be found at your library, but I would suggest going ahead and buying it!

Link Love:

Days Like Crazy Paving – The Patriarchy’s Greatest Victory
Being pretty only confers privilege because men say it does.

Marketing history has had a tendency to depict women as sex objects, and in order to combat this, the argument has been made to take sex out of media & advertising all together. But instead of pretending that women aren’t seen as sexual beings, women need to take the reigns and regain control.
the F Word - Why does disability make people more vulnerable to domestic abuse?

Disabled people will become less vulnerable when we have more control over our lives and are allowed to see ourselves as the whole, complex and contributing individuals we are, rather than the unwieldy baggage of our families, partners and society at large.

Nobody takes up too much space just by virtue of existing. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Love Your Body: What Self Love Looks Like

I wish I had more compassion towards others.

 Tuesday I was in a therapy group and a woman there was talking on and on about how she hates her body, even though she has dieted and has lost weight.  While listening to her, I could just feel my anger and frustration rising.  I wanted to tell her to shut-up.  I wanted to tell her that I didn't care about her dieting and to please not talk about her body in that way unless she had something constructive to say.  What I said instead was an awkward statement about loving her body.  My statement was of course, completely disregarded and I didn't say anything more.  My regular therapist who leads my DBT group and who specializes in eating disorders would probably not have allowed someone to talk on in that self-deprecating way, but I suppose the good that came out of it is that I pondered over the subject of body-love so much throughout the week that I could probably write a whole self-help book on the subject now.

First, of course, there's aesthetics:  In body image workshops, individuals learn to become more comfortable with their body simply by looking at their body more.  I started doing this by taking more pictures of myself. The trick is then to not look for your flaws in the photographs or mirror, but to actually start looking for something that you like.  One thing.  Then another.  Repeat this often. The fat acceptance community, has really, really helped me with this.

Aesthetics are only a tiny part of loving our bodies though.  It's the part that society tries to jam down our throat and is the standard empowering message for all women to accept: "All bodies are beautiful!" But with gender dysphoria, disability issues, fat stigma etc. not everybody can get on board with believing that their body is beautiful and admiring their own body and I don't believe that they should. Shakesville's post, You Should Stop Telling Me To "Love My Body" is a good read on this issue. It caused me to think about bodily loving essentials and so I don't believe that loving one's body is the same thing as believing one's body is beautiful.

 When I say, "I love my body," I think people assume that I mean my superficial looks, but I mean much more than that.  I mean my muscles, my blood, my intestines, my bones, my gut, my brain, my heart.  I mean that I am glad that I can eat, that I can taste food and enjoy it.  I am glad that my body keeps me alive and that it provides me pleasure.  (Two words: My Clitoris!  It has twice as many nerve endings as a penis!)

So another way that I show my body love is by doing things that give it pleasure.  This can be enjoying bubble baths, rubbing on lotion, smelling flowers, looking at something beautiful and especially savoring and appreciating tasty food. (In DBT, we learn to self-sooth by attending to our five senses.  Being able to approach things one-mindfully also helps one more fully notice and appreciate these small gifts of pleasure to ourselves.)

 Recently a friend of mine took me to Sweet Hut Bakery in Doraville, GA and it was a lot of fun!  I guess I've gotten old, because I was astounded by how many people were there so late at night! It's a Korean bakery and I'm still haven't been to enough of them to not get overwhelmed by all the options, especially by this one where everything looked so good.  I ordered a caramel milk tea and it was a bit too sweet for me, but the lid sure was pretty:
I also got a small coconut tart, which was absolutely delicious!  Sweet and sticky, dense and full of coconut, with a cherry on top!
My friend bought some "fried fish balls" and to my surprise, they were actually by far the best thing I tasted!  They were small, zesty, warm bits of heaven!  I heartily recommend them.

And so I gave and I give thanks for my taste buds.  

Ultimately, I believe that loving one's body is about being grateful for being alive.

Thursday I found out that one of the residents at the assisted living home where I volunteer that I had really bonded with died and so I have been thinking about the temerity of life and how grateful I am to be alive.  This is far different from where I was a few years ago when I was so depressed and in the hospital for wanting to kill myself!

Which brings me to my conclusion - loving my body means acting in a way that promotes my optimal living.
Optimal living is living in a that way promotes my thriving in this world, instead of merely surviving.

 That's why I started seeing my nutritionist again - I wanted to work on getting more in touch with my body; on eating healthier without falling into the diet trap; seeing if there is a way that I can get some sort of exercise back into my life, despite my fibromyalgia.  I've learned how to start eating when I'm hungry and how to stop eating when I'm full.  Doesn't that sound funny?  Gradually I realized this year that I had hung onto some eating disordered behaviors and thoughts that were because I had put other people's needs in front of my own.  My nutritionist says that I have "worked really hard" and that I am the most stable I have ever been-I know for a fact that I have worked harder on my nutritional goals than I ever have before and I believe it is because this time around I actively practice loving myself.

 "Optimal living" looks different for everyone and I especially want to caution my readers against judging people for not looking or acting in accordance with their vision of what "optimal" is.  We all have different amounts of energy, ability, money, and access to resources-I think the biggest key is to healthily live into your passion in whatever way you can and to be as kind to yourself as possible.  That's what I would tell the group member now if I had the chance-to be more kind to herself.

 Treating ourselves with kindness is hard for people hardened by depression and other mental health issues, but it is essential to practice if we are to heal into people who also know how to self-love.  As a Christian, I know I am instructed to love my neighbor as myself, which means I need to love myself (Matthew 22:39).  Funny, how so many Christians, like the woman in my group, live in self-denial and self-deprecation, instead of self-love.

I realized today that I must practice self-love towards my body for my survival-it is no longer an option for me.  If I tell my body hateful things and if I do not practice healthy living actions, then I am no longer in recovery, for I will be back in the clutches of anxiety, depression, mania, BPD and my eating disorder.  Soon I will have lost all gratitude for life and I will be back at the hospital, back at square one.

I love my body, but it is not a superficial love based on looks alone-it is a sloppy, wild, overflowing love that comes from a knowing that it is what I must do and that I must work ever on to increase its flow.

 "We were born to make manifest the glory of Love that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our love shine out, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson from A Return to Love (edited to emphasize love)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

August Book Review: The Beauty Myth Part II

I found the section on religion very interesting and sadly, very relatable.  I can remember attending a dieting program at the church I grew up in when I was a teenager.  Unequivocally, I think dieting and teenagers and church programs together are a sinful combination.  Wolf states, “Our new religion offers no salvation, only a perpetually escalating cycle of sin and precarious redemption.” Even at my last church, a feminist congregation, so many women there failed to see the connections between the diet industry and the patriarchy and would talk about their dieting efforts.  That failure bothered and disturbed me greatly and often made me feel alone in my stand against the diet industry.

The section on hunger has some incredibly thought-provoking passages.  It talks a lot about eating disorders, which in a way is quite lovely, since over twenty years later after the book was written you STILL don’t hear a lot of feminists talking about the issue.  It’s all obesity, obesity, obesity and hardly anyone is focusing on the fact that eating disorders are the mental disorders with the highest mortality rate-not depression and not anxiety.  That makes me so incredibly angry!  She writes, “A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience” (187) and makes the point that women who are constantly hungry tend to be passive, anxious and emotional (188).  How many women are constantly hungry?  Well, how many women do you know are dieting?  It becomes much easier to think of hunger as a means of the patriarchy and as a political tool when one thinks of the billions of dollars the government puts into programs combating childhood obesity as opposed to ending childhood hunger. 

Furthermore, Wolf makes the point that whom a society values, it feeds well.  Whom a society allows to be fat without ridicule has the power.  Isn’t it true that it is more socially acceptable for a skinny wife to have a fat husband than the other way around?  Slowly, the tides are changing and we can see that in the visibility of a few more fat female celebrities like Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson.   Several years ago, we only had Queen Latifah.  How lucky for them that they all seem to enjoy being in the comedic role. 

I very much appreciate how Naomi Wolf talks about the epidemic of restrictive eating disorders on college campuses on page 208.  I remember this so well and I felt outraged by the lack of action by the counseling department at every school I attended.  Eating disorders have become a bonding experience for the millennial generation and that is tragic.  I remember when I was a member of the feminist organization at Berry College in Rome, GA and the president of the club confided to me how ashamed she was to be a feminist and yet to be a bulimic.  I felt so bad for her.  I told her that it didn’t make her a bad feminist, but in truth, I was unsure and struggling with the same feelings myself.  And while I do believe that it is a disease that needs treatment, I so appreciate Wolf’s un-stigmatizing viewpoint that one can look at it as “self-defense.”  “Self-defense is the right plea when it comes to eating disasters; not insanity.  Self-defense bears no stigma, whereas madness is a shame.” (198)

As you can probably tell,I found The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, although it has some problems and is a bit dated now, to be quite revolutionary and I highly recommend it.  Probably my biggest critique would be is that it doesn’t come close to proposing a solution to any of the huge problems-at least none that I can remember.  However, it does an excellent job at raising awareness, which in my opinion, is at least fifty percent of the solution right there.  The best thing that we can do to smash the patriarchy is to make people aware that there is a patriarchy and that it needs to be smashed in the first place.  So many women and men are still unaware of just how big the problem is.  Learning the depth of the problem is a lifelong journey and I believe so is learning how to help heal our suffering society and our own suffering hearts. 

I will leave you with this: “Whatever is deeply, essentially female-the life in a woman’s expression, the feel of her flesh, the shape of her breasts, the transformations after childbirth of her skin-is being reclassified as ugly, and ugliness as disease. These qualities are about an intensification of female power, which explains why they are being recast as a diminution of power.” (232) 

Hunger is not power.  The ability to give life, to nurture, to heal, to care, to demand, to work zealously, to live with passion is to live with power.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

August Book Review: The Beauty Myth Part I

I decided I need to do the second half of last month’s book review before doing this month’s, so here it is-Naomi’s Wolf’s The BeautyMyth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women.   I loved the book so much that I am doing it in two installments!  And since I have already written both, you can be sure that you will be able to read both in a timely manner!

The Beauty Myth is a classic and for a good reason-it is well written, easily understandable, makes many good, clear points and is still applicable today.  It is a great book for a beginner feminist and will certainly make one properly angry.  I absolutely loved it and underlined many passages while reading it.  My feminist book club had a grand time discussing all the points in the book AND how we thought some of the key points have changed since the book was first published in 1991.  I thoroughly recommend this book to any young, budding feminist. Also, I have been posting passages from The Beauty Myth on tumblr from time to time ever since reading it.  If you don’t already, follow me on tumblr to read some of the passages.

So, here are some things to consider:

We talked about the fact that the book is basically directed towards white, middle-class women.  And while I suppose that is not a bad thing, some intersectionality would have been nice.  The topics of race, class, ability, transgender were not mentioned and sexual orientation was barely mentioned.  Whenever someone seems to be focusing their empowerment message on a certain group then I get a little uncomfortable and worried about the people who are left out, especially when the people targeted are already fairly privileged.  (Privileged and yet still female, if you know what I mean)

We also talked about how the book proves why the fat acceptance movement is so important.  With the beauty myth being constantly shoved into men and women’s lives, pressuring them to diet, to hate themselves, undergo surgery, belittle and judge each other based upon looks, live in constant fear of losing a lover or a job if they gain a pound-it is imperative that we learn to love our bodies as they are right now.  The fat acceptance movement, which was just beginning at the time when Naomi Wolf was writing her book is a direct way that people are fighting against the beauty myth-it is fat people saying that we are people too and it is okay for us to also have pride in our bodies!

Another way that people, particularly young people, are taking action against the beauty myth is their presence on social media.  Wolf says, “the magazines’ role should be seen as very serious.  For a mass female culture that responds to historical change, they are all that women have.”  This is no longer true at all!  For something that is “all that women have,” I must admit that I don’t read them at all, but I do read feminist blogs like Shakesville, fat acceptance blogs like Dances with Fat, and recovery blogs like Healing from BPD.  There are blogs on tumblr that post pictures of stretch marks, fat bodies, and skin disorders, so that women can see how normal it is to be different.  Mothers, homemakers, activists, teenagers, feminists, cooks, artists are starting a revolution by blogging and sharing their intimate details with one another.  No longer is the corporate magazine world controlling “mass female culture.”  Teenagers post pictures they take of themselves all the time and each time they do, they gain a little bit of the self-confidence that the advertising world tries to steal.

The chapter on work describes today’s rape culture perfectly.  If you’re having trouble understanding the concept of the patriarchy or why we need feminism, then you only need to read this chapter.  Here is a quote for you:  “When a brilliant critic and a beautiful woman puts on black sueded spike heels and a ruby mouth before asking an influential professor to be her thesis advisor, is she a slut?  Or is she doing her duty to herself, in a clear-eyed appraisal of a hostile or indifferent milieu, by taking care to nourish her real gift under the protection of her incidental one?”  Someone close to me casually called a woman on TV a slut and I felt like telling him, “Do not dare to call a woman a slut until you are aware of the inequalities this woman has to navigate on a daily basis.  You have no clue why she dresses the way she does and it may have nothing to do with sex at all.”

“Modern women are worn out.” “It is this exhaustion that may call a halt to women’s future collective advancement, and that is the point of it.”  (53)  “All labor systems that depend on coercing a work force into accepting bad conditions and unfair compensation have recognized the effectiveness of keeping that work force exhausted to keep it from making trouble.” (54)  Those quotes are all from the work section and it is why I and some others I know do not want the lifestyle of successful men, but want to create our own version of success-one that does not equate to much material wealth or prestige, but on autonomy and satisfaction.  I know that I could not handle the kind of success that our culture celebrates, because of my anxiety and stress level.  I would absolutely love to open a feminist mental health center and I have even talked about that before, but how that could get started I don’t know.

Link Love:

I feel like a world of true feminist equality would be one in which I could genuinely dislike other women on the basis of their character alone.

Planet of the Blind - Presidential Proclamation -- Blind Americans Equality Day, 2013
Today, let us recommit to ensuring we remain a Nation where all our people, including those with disabilities, have every opportunity to achieve their dreams.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Back to School Eli Lily Scholarship for Those with Severe Mental Illness

I am happy to bring you news of a scholarship sponsored by the Eli Lily company to help those with severe mental illness go back to school.  From their website:
The Lilly Reintegration Scholarship was established 16 years ago to help students with severe mental illness offset their tuition, books and lab fees. The program is designed to help individuals acquire the educational and vocational skills needed to reintegrate into society and is open to persons living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and – this year the program expands to include those living with major depressive disorder, as well.
Apply now for the 2014-2015 school year!  Applications must be postmarked by January 31, 2014, and recipients will be notified in June 2014.
My Thoughts:

Graduating from Georgia State University in 2006 was one of the hardest things I've ever done and I am very proud of that accomplishment!  I had to take several breaks from school and attend treatment centers for my eating disorder and my other mental illnesses, but I kept my graduation goal ever in my mind.  I wish I still had my graduation pictures on my computer, so I could post one of them on here for you to see.  I looked very differently almost eight years ago!

College was incredibly stressful and now I would not go back for any amount of money.  Every time I hear a back-to-school advertisement, I think to myself, "Thank God that I'm no longer in school and have to do homework!"  I made some lifelong, dear friends in college and I am so glad that I went, so I think scholarships like this are important, but I do think it is sad that colleges and universities are places that are so incredibly hard for people with severe mental illnesses to survive and do well in.  I encountered an astounding amount of stigma in college towards all of my mental illnesses, which came from the lack of understanding, empathy, and competence from some of my professors, the disability office, and shockingly, even most of the school counselors. (I graduated from GSU, but combined, I've attended three schools.  I will give credit by saying that I had a great therapist at GSU.)  

While I love that there is a scholarship to help mentally ill students go back to college, I would also like to see programs in place that would make sure that faculties and staff at schools are properly trained on how to work with mentally ill students and that the way that they do so is in a positive, empathetic, logical, and non-stigmatizing way.

What do you think? How could we make colleges better?  Pass this info on to anyone you know that wants to go back to school!