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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fat Acceptance, Feminism, and My Favorite Selfies of 2013

There was a time last year when I was feeling very frustrated with my body and with gaining weight-it was before I started seeing my nutritionist again and started working on eating mindfully.  I was grappling with the dilemma of wanting to lose weight, but feeling ambivalent about dieting.  I was telling a woman that had just told me that she was a feminist, that society tells us that dieting is the answer to our weight "problems," but that after reading fat acceptance blogs, I knew that there must be a better way to deal with how I was feeling about my body.   I told her that I didn't think that dieting was a feminist way to deal with the issue. I confessed that I felt conflicted.  Radical things to say, I know.  She responded, "I don't think it's bad to want to look better!"

I felt like I had been slapped in the face!

I felt betrayed.  

Here was a "feminist" who was judging me based on the patriarchy's standards.  Who was she to tell me that I needed to do to "look better?!"  

And what exactly does looking "better" mean anyway?

Instead of it meaning being thinner or having bigger breasts, how about we instead reframe it as meaning that we have more self-confidence, peace of mind, or better boundaries?  Why don't we each define what "looking better" for ourselves means independent of the impossible physical expectations put forth by the patriarchy and its diet industry?

From ANAD's (Anorexia and Associated Disorders) website:
 • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight within 5 years.
• 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.
• The body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females.

I'm not feeling so dissatisfied with my body nowadays.  Seeing my nutritionist again, practicing mindfulness and continuing to read fat acceptance blogs and taking pictures of myself when I feel good about myself has all helped-vanity isn't always a sinful thing, in my opinion.  I am proud to say that I am still in recovery from ED-NOS! In that spirit, I present to you my favorite selfies from 2013: (The pictures are in no real order)

New Year's Eve
 boot socks from graceandlace.com
My dad made me the cross for Christmas.  Isn't it beautiful?
A Christmas Party
Christmas Caroling
A Glittery, Feminist Fist Ready for the  New Year!

Link Love:

 “I DARE you to see beauty. And once you do, it overwhelms you.”

That Crazy Crippled Chick - Ed Roberts: The Civil Rights Leader That Time Forgot

But there was another holiday last week, celebrating another great civil rights leader, that went quietly unnoticed by people not in tune with disability culture.  It was Ed Roberts Day.

Friday, January 24, 2014

December 2013 Book Review - Holy Adventure

Way back in the Spring of 2013 when I knew that the time had come for me to leave my old beloved worship community, I proposed to a friend of mine that we start our own feminist Bible study, since I knew there are no other feminist worship communities anywhere and she said, "yes."  Sure, there are progressive churches and fortunately, I have found one that I truly like, but a place where I can delve deeply into feminist theology and debate and vent about the patriarchy and how it affects how we relate to scripture, our world, and a place where I can help to raise women's consciousness, so that they know there is a better more egalitarian and process-y way of viewing the Bible, Christianity and life, in general is my goal and even an extraordinarily progressive Christian church is not going to totally meet those needs unless it directly calls itself feminist, and last time I checked there is no feminist denomination with a capital "F."

What I have learned in recovery is that I have to take care of myself and my needs and my spiritual desires and passions are a need for my soul.

So, my friend and I had our first meeting two weeks ago and it was very exciting!  It certainly boosted my self confidence knowing that people trusted me to led a theology/Bible study group even though I haven't attended seminary.  I was also pretty anxious, but I handled it expertly by being extremely prepared (I had all of my extensive notes in front of me), by reminding myself that I did not need to be perfect, by being fully in the moment once the group started, and by sharing the work load with my friend.

Of course, I did realize that it would probably be a good idea for me to start reading more of my theology books in preparation for the group instead of letting them sit around and collect dust.  I decided to ease my way back into it by picking out the easy to read process devotional by Bruce G. Epperly called Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living.  It was recommended to me by my super smart theologian friend, Monica A. Coleman.

Holy Adventure was written as a response to Rick Warren's famous A Purpose Driven Life and it counteracts the idea that we have one purpose supplied by God that we must figure out or we are doomed to be living against God's Will.  Instead, Epperly invites us to be open to the healing found by being open to the mysterious moments in our lives and then be willing to act on the best of those possibilities.  This philosophy resonates with me, as I too do not follow Rick Warren's view of a set plan.  Sure, I have certain traits and talents, but nothing is set in stone-Godde and I together shape my destiny-together, not Godde alone.

I really enjoyed the devotional.  I didn't read it as a devotional though, meaning I didn't read it one day at a time, but then I never do-I simply lack the patience for regular devotional reading.  Each day has a guided meditation where you're supposed to imagine a certain scenario, which I think is very creative, but it is another element that I am yet again too impatient for, but I feel that I may be able to use it the second time reading it.  Each week is a different theme and I enormously liked the fact that he covers difficult topics that most devotionals will not touch-even though the book is very easy to read, he does not treat his audience as a simpleton.  Words cannot express my gratitude on that aspect! My favorite chapter is "Healing Adventures" and its about our bodies, ideas on healing, disease, and the mind body connection.  Epperly is a very compassionate writer and he addresses mental illness, developmental disabilities and the possible need for therapy in a very non-stigmatizing way and I so appreciate that.  The book has a study guide in the back, so if my feminist Bible study group ever wants to take a break from the Bible and wants to explore process theology instead, this would be an excellent book to use.  I wrote a lot of the sentences in my quote book.

I recommend the book-I know I'll end up rereading it over and over again-and if you live in Atlanta and are a Christian feminist, then I advise you check out my feminist Bible study - Feminist Bible Explorers!

Link Love:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In 2013, I Learned There is Strength and Freedom in Being Alone

What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be. Ellen Burstyn
I've heard people define Borderline Personality Disorder as "people who cannot handle being alone."  It's one of my pet peeves, as I think it is pretty lazy a descriptor, but there is an element of truth to it. People with BPD have intense fears of abandonment and make frantic, desperate efforts to avoid being abandoned, so much so that often their fears are not even based on reality. According to the DSM-IV, "These abandonment fears are related to an intolerance of being alone and a need to have other people with them."  I think just saying borderlines can't handle being alone at all is lazy, because I was and still am an introvert and so I need time to be alone and recharge after being around outgoing people all day.  I always have needed this and always will.
(You can find the comic at Incidental Comics by Grant SniderI love reading books alone and eating in restaurants alone-preferably while reading a book!-and writing and painting and playing the piano and singing and walking in nature all alone - I always have and always will.  The reference to "the intolerance to being alone" majorly confused me for a long time and may have prevented me from being properly diagnosed for many years.  BUT it is true that I used to have an intense fear of abandonment and I would franticly struggle against the thought of being alone for more than I was internally comfortable with and would act out, so that I would not be alone.  Of course, I was not aware at the time that this is what I was doing, but it was.  I also was so uncomfortable with my own identity and being by myself-both characteristics of BPD-that I absolutely hated going to parties or other supposedly fun functions by myself.  I felt like I needed another person there to hide behind, to be my safety net, against the dangers of intense emotions that might take me by surprise at the party.  I also felt I needed a friend to rescue me, because I didn't trust my own interpersonal skills-I felt extremely awkward, lost in my own world, inappropriate and completely unable to grasp the simplest small talk.  

Fortunately, I no longer feel that way about myself!  In 2013, I learned that one can find strength and freedom in being alone. 

 I attended two events in the fall that were loads of fun by myself.  Both times, I tried to get people to go with me, but in both instances, I did not let the fact that people could not come prevent me from going and I am so glad I did!

The first event was the The Muppet Movie Sing-Along held at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta-one of my ultimate favorite places!  The sing-along was created by Jim Henson's daughter, Heather Henson, and she was there with her co-host Davey Rocker, leading a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like experience to The Muppet Movie-we were all given prop bags with our ticket and we used the props at specific times during the movie.
Oh my gosh, it was so much fun!  I had almost chickened out and not gone, but I am so glad that I did.  The whole experience reminded me of DragonCon-there was a long line to get in and everyone in line bonded and we talked about...you guessed it, Jim Henson and DragonCon.  I instantly clicked with the man sitting next to me and we chatted throughout the whole experience and I realized that events like this that are built around a passion or special interest are actually perfect for an introvert like me, because I don't have to try so hard at small talk, but can instantly zoom into the passion that we already know we share!  That's the reason why I love DragonCon so much and so I wonder why I didn't think it would not also apply to something like The Muppet Movie.  

You may not know this, but there are many people who are passionate about Jim Henson.  He was a passionate, compassionate man and I think it shows in his work.  Whenever I watch a documentary on his life, I always cry at the end.  I also cry at the end of "Alfie, the Christmas Tree" on the Muppet Album with John Denver, which is slightly embarrassing, but I know for a fact that I am not the only one.  I cried a little at the end of The Muppet Movie-I forgot how beautiful the rainbow scene is. 

It was cool though-I was by myself and yet I was not, because I was with all of these people who were also incredibly passionate about Jim Henson and lovers of The Muppets.  
(Heather Henson and Davey Rocker had a living room-like set on the side of the stage.)
(Not a very clear picture, but here you can see the museum employees, Henson, and Rocker working up the crowd.  Animal was lounging on the right.)
(We all got glow necklaces, which were fun.  The police badge was pulled out "when Kermit says, "Motorcycle cop." We were supposed to, "Join the fuzz and help pull over the Electric Mayhem bus.")

I am so glad that I worked through my anxiety and went anyway, because it allowed me to feel confidant enough to go to another fabulous event two months later: Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands.

Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands is a band that I fell in love with last year at DragonCon.  Her music reminds me of Danny Elfman-quirky, mysterious, and usually in a minor key.  I got an invitation to attend a house party in early December where she would be performing, because I'm on her mailing list.  The price was right, and the venue sounded great, because it was only for a small, intimate experience, but it was going to be very risky, because it was at a person's house whom I didn't know and I wasn't able to get anyone to go with me.  BUT I put on my big girl leggings and went anyway.  My identity and excitement as a hip follower of Crystal Bright was strong enough to carry me past my anxiety.  Besides, I had an exit strategy-I would only stay for the concert and I had a friend I would call if I got too anxious and needed some relief.

Look at me all cute:
(The dress has pockets!!!)  And oh! I am so glad I went!  When I got to the house, which was really more like a mansion, and I saw all of the eclectic weirdos there, I breathed a sigh of relief-"these are my people," I thought.  It was just like being at DragonCon!  I remember thinking to myself, "I am breathing in happiness!"  I was able to grow mightily that night, as I surrendered my soul to the moment and enjoyed the night.  And enjoy it I did.  There was a burlesque show and then Crystal Bright sang:
She plays the accordian, the piano, even the saw!  She has a gorgeous voice and would tell us the origins behind every song.  I was able to speak to her after the concert and she even said that she recognized my face from when she had played at DragonCon, which gave me a little thrill.

During the intermission, we watched a woman put on a fire show.
She danced and twirled and as I look at the pictures, the words that comes back to me are strength and freedom-I am strong, because I am no longer sucking energy out of people by codependently over-relying on people and freedom, because by not needing people to be with me quite as much I now have more opportunities to go out and enjoy the world.

I wish that this world was not so traumatic and that a woman going to an event alone was not so often set up as something so dangerous.  Of course, one should be mindful of one's surroundings and one should have an exit plan and have a way to contact someone if the need arises, but it is time for women to look our fears face forward and go out alone if no one will go out with us.  I refuse to let my mental illness win and I refuse to let the patriarchy win also.  I know that I will still struggle with feelings of abandonment from time to time, but I am stronger than those feelings.  I am strong and I am free!
I'm so sorry that I made you cry. I know it's not Christmas anymore, but still, here's all the happy, Christymas-y blubs.

Link Love:

Shakesville – It’s Okay to Cry
But I suspect if she said, "This fat hatred hurts. I am crying." that tweet would not have gone 'round the world. Because we are prepared to deal with evidence of fat people not being harmed by hatred, and not with evidence of fat people being harmed by it.

                    What Is This Article?
Setting aside the false distinction between "online life" and "real life," any person can draw whatever lines they like about who has access to them, in what space. Plenty of people, myself among them, give access to online readerships to certain parts of our lives, some of them incredibly intimate, while wanting to retain privacy in offline life.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Whispers of Horror - A Book Review and Thoughts on Domestic Violence

I am bringing in the new year right by starting with a feminist book review.  This horribly cold weather is the perfect time to cuddle up with a good book and a mug of hot tea.
I read two books in December and because one of them was given to me to review, I am going to do them separately, so that I can give it adequate attention.  This book was a serious book and if you're not up for that kind of a review, then just wait for my next one, which will not be accompanied by a trigger warning.  When I issue a trigger warning, it's not because I talk about the issues graphically, because I don't, but because I want to warn you about the subject at hand, in case their presence will trigger an anxiety attack.

****Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence & Alcoholism****************

The book is My Whispers of Horror: Letters Telling Women's True Tales from Ex-USSR Nations edited by Chris and Olga Brine from Brine Books Publishing.  It is filled with letters from women giving first-hand accounts of how a horrible patriarchal society has worn down their soul and in many cases turned them into the feminist stereotype-bitter and hateful towards men, but with a good reason, for these women have been victims of domestic violence, the sex trade, rape, manipulation, and stigma, all with no help from the police at all.

I was worried before I read it that it would be too much to handle, but fortunately the way it is written in short letters it is very easy to manage-I would just read a few letters at a time and then put the book down and purposely do something more upbeat or self-soothing.  I found myself underlining passages that caused me to think or exclaim in outrage with the women and so I think it is a very important book for privileged people like me to read.  The book is obviously not for everyone-if you already have experience with domestic violence or get triggered easily, then this is probably not the book for you, but if you are more emotionally healthy and live a fairly sheltered life, then I would say it might be good to stretch yourself.  

I think it is wrong for a person to always live comfortably.  Once a person has achieved stability for a little while, they need to take another risk-that's how we grow and learn.  We need to push ourselves to go a step farther and hear what people who are not exactly like us have to say-if enough of us do that, then we will grow as a culture, a people, collectively.

A common theme in the book was that the women were expected to do all the work and the men were just lazy alcoholics all day.  It made me wonder: what would happen if all the women in these countries stopped enabling?  Just stopped doing what the men told them to do.  Just. Stopped.  It would be monumentally hard to undo thousands of years of brainwashing, but some of the women in the stories did it, which means that other women can too.  Isn't it a thrilling mental picture?  Millions of women one day all at once suddenly saying, "NO, I will not do your laundry!" and "NO! I will not cook your supper!" and "NO! I will not work extra hours for you!" (I'm not saying that it's wrong for a wife to do those things, just that the partner should pull their equal weight.) What would the men do?  They would be resistant at first, but eventually some of them would actually get to work or admit they have a problem with alcohol and get the help they desperately need.  

Which was another thing: something that surprised me was that I actually felt a little sorry for these pathetic creatures called men.  They all lived such sorry lives, just drink after drink after drink and so consumed with presenting a picture of the sexy, macho man.  But what is sexy?  Not being tied down to a gender binary.  Being your true self.  Living by lovingkindness.  Unfortunately, stigma for mental health problems, including alcoholism, is huge and so the cycle continues.

The book made me thankful to live in America.  We've certainly got domestic violence here in the United States, but countries like the Ukraine have got it even worse-they have less laws and protection and a higher number of cases of violence-one in three Ukrainian women have been abused by their spouse or partner and one in four murders are due to domestic violence according to this source!  (I did compare - Here's America's fact sheet.) 

Some people question why I might care about the state of another country, but we are all interconnected.  Until all women are treated fairly, then I am not complete and my mission is not yet done.  My feminism is not confined to only my own country the way some feminists' are.  Besides, as one of the first letters pointed out, we cannot afford to-with the internet and mass transportation/immigration, people and ideas do not stay in one place for very long.  If in one area of the world, like the ex-USSR nations, is having a problem with increased domestic violence, alcoholism and sex trafficking, you can be sure that before too long it will spread to other parts of the world too.  In the last few years, we have seen an explosion of anti-choice laws, slut shaming speeches by politicians and radio personalities, and even rape insurance policies-could this be because we have failed our ex-USSR sisters and brothers? 
Link Love:

New York’s new first lady won’t be one of those examples. When an interviewer fromEssence brought up the B word, Ms. McCray replied: “I am more than just a label. Why are people so driven to labeling where we fall on the sexual spectrum? Labels put people in boxes, and those boxes are shaped like coffins.”

 Cox brought up the facts that trans women face absurdly high lives of homelessness, violent crime, discrimination and poverty. Then Cox hit it out of the park when she said, “by focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”

 Awesome Dad Styles Daughter's Hair, Breaks Internet

Until we can get to the point where men and women can complete the same parenting tasks and the reaction."s are the same, we will have problems. If you want to create a statue for me for taking care of my daughters, create one for the moms who are doing the same damn thing every day for their kids without receiving a 'Thank you' or an 'Ooooh' or 'Ahhhh.' These behaviors should be expected of moms and dads. No exceptions

Mock your children as they struggle and they will learn to never share their struggles with you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year's - Look Forward to Adventure!

The icky in-between time between Christmas and New Year's is over and we can now look forward to achieving new hopes and dreams this year, which is such a relief-I hate those in-between days! There are only five days in between Christmas and New Year’s, but they seem like five months-the non-normative schedule, the boredom, the way the mind cannot help but perseverate over the last year’s heartaches and regrets… I told my therapist on Monday (the day before New Year’s Eve) that I had had a lot of losses that year and she reframed it as situations and people that I outgrew and I like that framing much better.  It’s true-last year was the year of intense spiritual, emotional, and mental growth for me, as I set major boundaries with people and places.

The year started out slow and frustrating, as the year often does for me.  I had a great birthday party in May and then I ended up leaving a job, a really good friend and my beloved church community, because they had all become too stressful for me.  I still communicate with them a little, but those three things have been a monumental adjustment and to be honest, I’m still adjusting.  Fortunately, I recognized that I needed help in dealing with these big decisions and decided to retake my therapist’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class, which has helped me immensely. 

I am doing well now-really well!

So well, in fact, that in October my therapist and I came to the conclusion that I no longer fit the diagnosis of Borderline PersonalityDisorder!!! Fabulous!

Back up to September, when I attended DragonCon, the world’s largest sci-fi and fantasy convention in Atlanta-it was my first time doingcosplay and I had gotten a costume designer (cheater, I know!) to create Merida’s archery dress for me.  Little girls and boys worshipped the ground I walked on and I had a blast, although I sometimes worried that my massive wig would strangle me!
I have found another church that I like a lot, called Kirkwood United Church of Christ.  I had never heard of that denomination before a friend recommended it to me recently, but it’s very progressive and gay-friendly, and so far I have liked everything I have researched about it.  The church I attend is very welcoming, with a bluegrass band.  (Bluegrass seems to be really popular right now-it was even popular at DragonCon this year!)  I participated in their Christmas choir and have been their pianist a few times during worship and it feels really good to contribute and fellowship in soulful worship.  I have desperately missed that connection.

I took an art therapy class, which was incredibly healing and helpful.  I started the year by making a collage where I celebrated the fact that I am now older than Sylvia Plath-an accomplishment that I used to worry that I would not accomplish.  I then made a boundary protector dragon I named Gertrude, who helped me keep me strong during my time of deep stress. 
Right now I am in the middle of creating an altered book I call, “Corey’s Book of Truths,” and it is a hardback book in which I have altered the pages and have written and decorated my own set of positive affirmations.  As I write the affirmations, they become like a prayer that is written indelibly on my mind, mixed with the power of the Holy Spirit, filled with wisdom and strength.  In the end, I decided to end the class for now, but I am continuing to do the art on my own.

Finally, a few weeks ago, my baby, my dear feminist bookclub had our first year anniversary party!  It was a horrible, stormy, traffic-y night, so I was proud that that all of our most regular attendees made it for the party.  We ate some good food and then ooh’ed and ahh’ed over the best cake ever-with a bright rainbow, it said, “I love feminism and cake!”
I felt very appreciated and loved.  We then watched the 1970s classic, Free to Be You and Me, which fostered some great discussion and laughs.  I hope that we do some more social meetups in the next year.

Milestones of 2013:
  1.  Listened to My Anxiety and Set Boundaries 
  2. Turned 32
  3.       DBT Class
  4.   DragonCon and Merida
  5.   No More BPD!!!
  6. Art Therapy Growth
  7.  Found KUCC and Joined Choir
  8. Anniversary of Gwinnett Feminist Readers

I have some great things to look forward to in 2014!

I learned that out of great heartache comes great growth and opportunities if you have the faith to follow what your wise mind is telling you to do.  A good friend of mine and I have longed for feminist Biblical and theological discussion and so have set up a meetup on meetup.com called Feminist Biblical Explorers.  It starts on January 12th and we have put an immense amount of work into it.  We already have eight people RSVP’ed for the first meeting, which is both exciting and anxiety-making.

On Tuesday, the 7th, I will start a new volunteer job at another nursing home where I will play and sing big band songs.  I already do this at one place, but I want to do this type of thing more often.  It is an activity that I enjoy and I hope that it will lead to some connections-maybe even a job at a nursing home one day.

My new church (KUCC) will start its choir up again for the liturgical season of Lent and I will join it for that, which I know I will enjoy.  I am particularly looking forward to joining it then, because I really do not enjoy that season very much.  I usually find the season of Lent to be very depressing and always semi-seriously consider taking a vacation from church during that time-participating in choir will give me a positive reason to stay connected and keep me spiritually fed in church during that month and a half.

Lastly, hopefully I will be done with my altered book by the spring, so that I can enter it into my county’s public library’s annual altered book contest!  I don’t expect to win, but they display all the entries and I think it will be way cool to see my book on display and perhaps it will provide some inspiration to someone else.

Looking Ahead:
  1.  Feminist Bible Explorers Jan.12
  2.  New Volunteer Job
  3. KUCC Choir for Lent
  4.  Enter Altered Book Contest
Whew!  So much heartache, but so much growth!  And so much more expected growth and hope in the coming year!  I hope you will continue to journey with me through this year with me and that my ramblings provide some sort of inspiration and hope. Let us learn from the past, look forward with eagerness and adventure, and enjoy the present as best you can. Don’t forget that you can now follow me at Hope is Real On facebook!

Link Love:

it's the mindfulness i gotta work on.
but how about this tiny little twist? - to keep in mind that whoever i'm with
matters to me and i'm grateful they're here.

 If respect is my one non-negotiable for how people treat me, it also has to be my one non-negotiable for how I treat other people.

Sure my belly is a bit softer nowadays, but the way it moves when I jump up and down sends my girl into fits of giggles. And yeah, my hips are hardly as narrow as they used to be, but they sure know the perfect figure-8 motion to sway her to sleep. My twenty-one year old hair is even beginning to gray, but not much soothes her more than my hair between her tiny fingers.


I'm Smashing the Scale this year because I've recently had a revelation, its not okay to hate yourself.