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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

January Book Review - Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon

I absolutely love Carolyn Turgeon's writing-her trademark is taking fairy tales and then twisting them.  She makes them real and intensely relatable.  Her way with words and with imagery is just magical.As I was reading the book, Godmother, I found myself underlining passage by passage, as I related to the feelings of loneliness, lost beauty, and redemption.

Here are some passages on loneliness and hardship:

(I needed to get to work, to get out into the world before I was sucked under completely.)
(I was lonely, but I was surviving.)

Beauty - Artificial:

(I looked at them both and saw how vulnerable they were behind the masks of makeup, the elaborate clothes and hair.)
Beauty: Lost 
(This is not who I am, I thought.  Sometimes I ached so badly for my former beauty that I wanted to pull off my skin like an old robe. - How sad that this is the passage that most resonates for me.)

Redemption and Healing:
(The clink of spoons against mugs, forks against plates, made me feel safe and warm...I liked to play this game, to make the city into something else, to seek out the places that didn't fit.)
(You can always become new.)
(There's so much love behind everything, so much beauty.  You cannot give up on it...This is what it means to be human.")

(I was alone, finally, completely free.)
*********************************
Spoiler Alert-I reveal the ending!
*********************************
Trigger Warning: CN: Suicide
*********************************


Beautiful, yet lazy writing. For a book that is centered around redemption, it is such a letdown that the main character, Lil, is not allowed to have some herself. I suppose one could say that the other two characters getting to know each other and getting to care about the old lady is a type of redemption, but it's a piss poor substitution.

I want real redemption.

The main character (Lil) deserves real redemption, her readers deserve real redemption, and women-kind in general deserve real redemption.

It is not okay to live through other people anymore.  I suppose one could take that as the lesson from the book: Lil lived her life as a nobody and she thought her only purpose was to protect someone very dear to her, which she failed to do and the consequence of completely living one's life for others is that eventually the soul will wither and vanish and one will likely kill one's self or will die a quiet death unnoticed.

However, that lesson is not enough to make this a feminist book! (Or even a book worth reading at all, in my opinion.)

Lil kills herself with a lot of melodrama and even with some glamour, I would say, and that is not acceptable.

 I want an empowering story and with all the beautiful and truth-filled passages about love, friendship, and redemption, I really thought that the main character was going to get the help that she needed-that she would experience her own redemption.  Maybe it would not be fairy-tale, maybe her match-making skills would not be validated-maybe they would show her the true values of friendship instead, but no-in the end, suicide won; in the end, her redemption was found by killing herself and I find that to be an abhorrent and completely unacceptable thought!

It's not that I deny that that sometimes happens in life-sometimes people in really awful circumstances kill themselves and one can then say to comfort themselves, "well, at least they have peace now from their troubles," but the fact remains that for most of these people if they had stayed alive, the opportunity for a living redemption would still have been available.  My Godde is a Godde who gives us second chances to infinity and when all options seem exhausted She is still showing us different ways of being and choosing.

The ending is presented as Lil finding peace and forgiveness through suicide, which raises a whole bunch of deep ethical questions-questions that I would love to explore and talk about as someone who has thought quite a bit about death and suicide in the past, BUT NOT in a glamorous, encouraging way.

My new mantra has become, "the words we use matter," lately and if that is true, then it is also true that the images we use and watch matter too.  I would not have minded so much if Lil had killed herself, even if it showed that she was doing it to gain a feeling of peace-if it had also showed the further complexity of the situation; what were the complete consequences of her actions and how exactly are we all interconnected?  One of the book's main themes is the interconnectedness of people and yet the ending image is simply that of Lil alone releasing herself into the water, leaving out everybody else, which I feel is completely lazy and untrue to the telling of the majority of the story.

I feel betrayed.  I am very angry at this book for being so beautifully written and yet being so lazy at the same time.  It suffers under the Florence and The Machine's problem of romancing suicide (in her song, What The Water Gave Me).  I have sworn not to buy any more of Florence's music, but I already have all of Turgeon's books-Christmas presents!-and her books are so beautifully written that I want to give her another chance, but I am not happy.

Fortunately, I am enjoying the book I am reading right now...most of the time.  On topics of religion and disability, it can be a little trigger-happy, but so far, I recommend it.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

IOOV 2014 Part III - Coping Skills & Positive Affirmations

Coping Skills

One of my biggest coping skills is not isolating.  I belong to many communities, like my church, several hobby groups, and a support group-I call these my “recovery net” and they hold me up when I need help.  I have a sponsor who I call almost every day and she’s someone I can call if I feel emotionally overwhelmed, but I’m not in a full blown crisis.  I try to keep my stressors to a minimum by journaling, eating healthy and balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and only working part-time. Lately, I have found a lot of joy and peace in doing more art and in playing piano for my church.  I think it is important for people who have any kind of severe illness to find a way to give back to their community, because it helps them feel like they are a valuable member of society, which is important considering the amount of stigma that surrounds mental illness.  I will also say that this year I have also discovered the importance of positive affirmations.  I used to think they were cheesy, but they are not-the trick is to make them your own-something that you can actually believe in and then repeat them when you feel insecure or worried.  Right now, I am working on an art project, which I am going to enter in an art contest in a few months and it is a journal filled with positive affirmations that are ones that I have mostly made up myself.  The words we use matter and I have found that replacing my old negative thoughts with more positive thoughts have really helped me feel better about myself and have more confidence.  Lastly, I practice the many coping skills I learned in DBT and in the twelve steps.
(My friends call me "the craft queen!")

The trick to positive affirmations really is to create phrases that you actually can believe, at least in some small way.  The positive affirmations that are often handed out in institutions are so incredibly optimistic and cheery that they do not seem realistic to me and they certainly did not seem like anything more than a joke when I was in the throes of a depression in the hospital.  Telling myself that I am calm or happy or serene when I am not is not helpful-it is denying my reality and so just makes me feel worse.  In my opinion, it is better to validate what I am feeling (In DBT, this is called "observing the emotion") and then counter that with a positive statement of where I would rather spend my thoughts: "I am feeling sad, but I need to remember that I will never be perfect and that is fine-there is growth in making mistakes." After validating my feeling, I continue to repeat my positive affirmation to myself until I actually begin to feel more positive, hopeful, or calm.  I do this a lot now and it really works!  I have created a lot of positive affirmations for my art project and I put some of them down in a handout and here as examples of how different positive affirmations can look.  I think mine are really empowering-I can't wait to show you my artwork when I am done! 
Positive Affirmations
  1. I will never be perfect and that is fine-there is growth in making mistakes.
  2. I don't need to know all the answers.
  3. My body is beautiful just the way it is.
  4. I must not give up what I value for any person.
  5. Reclaim my right to speak my truth.
  6. I am no longer a victim.
  7. Take life one step at a time.
  8. Anger, sadness, and tears are all healthy responses to stress.
  9. I am enough!
  10. Disability does not devalue me!
  11. I am not a job or a number on a scale.
  12. Choose who I let into my inner circle wisely.
  13. We must risk to get the things we want.
  14. I have the power to stop myself from suffering.
  15. Be nonjudgmental of where I am.
  16. Comparisons are unfair-we are all unique.
  17. Boundaries are healthy.
  18. My needs come first-I must love myself first.
  19. Healthy relationships are based on love, not fear.
  20. I have a right to voice my own opinions.
  21. The world is often a friendlier than I think it is.
  22. I cannot please everyone, so do not even try.
  23. I can trust my own intuition.
  24. Being firm is not being mean.
  25. I do not need to fear saying no.
  26. I am not responsible for other people's feelings.
 What are your favorite coping skills? Do you have any positive affirmations that you use?   


Friday, February 21, 2014

IOOV 2014 Part II Acceptance, Treatment, & Success

Today has been a good day-it's the first day in a while that I have actually felt energized, which is nice!  In this post, I am going to skip over the coping skills section, as it is another one that is a bit long-so look for part III soon!

Acceptance

Has been a long, difficult process for me.  It took me a long time to accept that I would need to learn how to manage my illnesses and live in recovery for the rest of my life.  Medication alone is not going to cure me. Mental illness is a part of me, but it does not define me.   I used to really struggle with taking my medication, but I think it was because I had not fully accepted that I needed it.  Taking my medication is no longer hard for me, but for a long time, I had to remind myself that I was sick when it was time for my medication, so that I would take it.   For a long time, I struggled with feelings of shame, resentment and disbelief, but it helped me when I thought that all of the coping skills that I learned and now use as a result of having mental illness have helped make me a healthier and more positive person than I was before I became sick.

Treatment
I have been inpatient hospitalized six times, which helped keep me safe, get onto a new medication regime and have taught me how to eat healthily.  I have participated in many outpatient programs and those programs allowed me to process my feelings, learn about and practice using coping skills and shown me that I am not alone.  I have taken art and music therapy at different times, which I have really enjoyed, because I am a really creative and artistic person AND because sometimes it feels safer exploring feelings in art and song than it does talking about it in a group.  I see my therapist once a week, I see a psychiatrist every other month, and I see a nutritionist every few months.  What really turned my life around is when I took my therapist’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class or DBT and I have now taken it twice.  It has changed my life!!!  Its motto is that it creates a life worth living and in my case it really has!  DBT teaches four key skills: how to have better relationships; how to tolerate distress; how to be mindful or “in the moment,” and how to regulate your emotions, i.e. not have so many mood swings. 
This is a Creative Commons picture that I altered, originally photographed by William Murphy.

Successes, Hopes, and Dreams
Graduated in 2006 with an English degree-It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Proud of my life right now-I am able to use my DBT skills and to rely on my communities and for the most part I am doing better than I ever have before. Because of my hard work, last fall I was able to have my diagnosis of Borderline removed and now I am able to say that I am in recovery from it and the eating disorder.  I have moved away from only being comfortable in mental health settings and now am a full participant in the community and am the leader of my own book club and my own Bible study.  I have my own recovery blog and hope to one day turn it into a book to show other people that hope is real for a life worth living even if one lives with severe mental illness.

Link Love:

 Because conservatives don't value work. They value "having a job"—a thing defined by the most privileged aspects of employment in the US.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

IOOV 2014 Part I Dark Days

I  absolutely love doing the National Alliance of Mental Illness's (NAMI) In Our Own Voice (IOOV) presentations!  Sharing my positive story, positive energy, and message of hope for a better life despite having severe mental illness really feeds my soul and gives me great energy.  I am very excited as I will now do IOOV presentations at a psych inpatient hospital on a regular basis now.  Besides sharing my story of hope to the clients and I getting energized in return, I also think that we-my IOOV partner and I-give the clients validation, humanity, and extra respect just by talking to them as equals, as fellow consumers who have struggled and who still struggle with mental illness from time to time, as opposed to the staff who mean well and probably do a lot of good, but will always represent an uneasy power dynamic. 

I already did my first IOOV presentation yesterday and since it had been a while since I had presented one, I ended up modifying some of the sections quite a bit-I think it is really important to periodically think of your story anew and how it will relate to your audience and to be willing to revise.  Whenever I heavily revise my presentation I post it here, in the hope that some of you will be able to learn, relate to it, and find hope.  Also, if you like the way my story is told and formatted and think this presentation would be a good fit for your organization, please feel free to contact me!  Because the presentation when written out is a little long, I am going to do it in installments-here is part I:

Dark Days

I have had many diagnoses over the years, but in 2011 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and severe anxiety, which covered most of the previous symptoms.  Fortunately, I can now say I am in recovery from it, but first I went through some pretty rotten days.  BPD looks different for everyone, as it is a combination of at least 5 out of 9 symptoms, so I will just describe what my experience was like, in the hopes that some of you will be able to relate.  I first started having suicidal thoughts as a teenager, right around the time I went through puberty.  I also started restricting my food and becoming obsessive about calories and fat grams.   I became this way, at least partly because there was a lot of stress going on at my home and controlling what I ate made me feel like I was in control of at least one part of my life, but that was only an illusion and twice during college I was hospitalized in an eating disorders unit.  During my first year of college is when my mental illness really escalated.  I was constantly afraid of being abandoned and would manipulate people in the hopes that they would continue to take care of me.  I had no clear identity.  I had to hang around close friends all the time and follow their interests, and follow what they said.  I was afraid to voice an opposing opinion.  My self-image changed depending on who I was hanging out with.  I had no clear boundaries and would let people walk all over me and so I had low self-esteem and was depressed.  (Depression, for me, is having absolutely no energy, not wanting to be with people, and not wanting to eat-basically, not wanting to exist.  My family and I used to think that I had some weird kind of learning disorder because I couldn’t clean my room – we seriously thought that I was incapable, but then my antidepressants kicked in and so imagine our surprise when we realize that I had just been depressed all along – that, to me, proves just how powerful depression really is-it can make you think that you are totally incapable of certain tasks.)  I had really bad all or nothing thinking concerning other people where I would idolize someone one minute and then absolutely hate them the next.  I was impulsive and I would self-harm as a way to cope with my strong emotions.  I had moods that would wildly go up and down, depending on the moods of the people around me and these moods would cause me to go from feeling extremely productive and euphoric to almost suicidal and extremely dejected.   Sometimes I felt empty or extremely paranoid-I was certain that everyone hated me and was talking about me behind my back.  To cope, I would often disassociate, which is when my mind separated from my body and everything just went blank. Depression, anxiety and BPD was so bad in college that I had to change my major from vocal performance to English, because I went through a period of time where I couldn’t sing or play an instrument without crying and I stopped doing something that I had dearly loved all my life for several years. I still deal with anxiety, although I am much better handling it than I used to be-before, my anxiety would put me in a panic where all I could think of was to kill myself and I would disassociate and hallucinate (see and hear scary things that I knew were not really there, but were scary nonetheless) and could not at the time yet believe that the moment would pass, which just made the anxiety worse and was a large reason for the majority of my problems before I discovered Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
This is a Creative Commons picture taken by Chuck Taylor at a NAMI Walks event in Seattle.

My next post will be about how I came to accept my illnesses and my treatment, both past and present.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adrenal Fatigue

I mostly speak about my mental health challenges on this blog, but as you know, I also struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia.  Recently I was contacted by a woman whose mentor, a licensed neuropath and expert in adrenal fatigue, created an amazing website and I want to share it with you all.  I have posted the website, The Guide to Adrenal Fatigue, on my blogroll.  The symptoms for adrenal fatigue are very similar to fibromyalgia and CFS, with the main difference being that adrenal fatigue can be diagnosed by using hormonal testing, whereas fibro and CFS are only diagnosed by describing symptoms.  This is good news and should prompt people to get tested, because if one does have adrenal fatigue then one can begin the recovery process and may be fully restored in two years.  Like fibro and CFS, adrenal fatigue is linked to stress and the website suggests finding out what your main stressors are and eliminating them, even if they are big things like a job or type of lifestyle-this feels very validating to me, because I have had to do the same thing.  There is a possibility that I do not have fibromyalgia and CFS, but rather adrenal fatigue, but even if I do, I know I will still have to watch my stress levels and modify my lifestyle, so that my condition does not come back or get worse.  And of course, I have to watch my stress levels for my mental health conditions too. I am not planning to get tested any time soon, since I already follow many of the suggestions on the website and since I feel like my life is pretty well established and managed the way it is.  If you are someone who is in the diagnostic stage of chronic illness or just wants to find out more ways to manage your illness though, check out this website!

Also, here is a website that is about how adrenal fatigue relates to chronic fatigue syndrome

and then another one on how it relates to fibromyalgia.

a Creative Commons picture

Link Love:
Rose are red. Violets are Blue. Smashing the patrirarchy makes me super attracted to you.

Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating our differences

 Civil rights activist Audre Lord said: "It is not our differences that divide us. It's our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."


As Andrea Smith says, “If we were to develop a feminist history centering Native women, feminist history in this country would start in 1492 with resistance to patriarchal colonization.” Part of patriarchal colonization includes white women. White settler feminism likes to say we’re “all” fighting the patriarchy and ending violence against women without acknowledging or claiming the part they played in instilling patriarchy into Indigenous communities.


Feminists often discuss the “the male gaze,” in terms of its distortion of women’s realities. When will mainstream feminisms address the distorted representations perpetuated by the cisgender white female gaze?
We love the idea of using Valentine’s Day to talk about what respect and consent look like and how we can stand up against sexual violence.  However, due to the mistreatment and disrespect of women of color, indigenous women, and queer women by Eve Ensler and the V-Day campaign, we can no longer support her work.
Women of color, indigenous women, and queer women are all more likely to suffer sexual violence, and also (due to people and institutions that operate in racist, homophobic, and transphobic ways) face even more of a struggle when they try to find justice.  As such, we believe that we cannot campaign against sexual violence without also fighting against racism, homophobia, and transphobia. 



We need urgent action, not feel-good platitudes.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Finding Myself Again By Defining Goals

I lost myself.

 It was an easy thing to do-people noticed my success in my current activities and so started suggesting additional activities and goals for me to do that were similar to what I was already doing.  All of these things sounded worthwhile and fun and I got excited about every one; they also played to my ego, and I did not want to tell anyone "no" and so I wrestled with going against anyone else's vision of me.

I forgot about my own vision.

I forgot what my real goals were and what I, myself, really would like to do-I temporarily forgot who I really am and what I really know about myself, because I was dazzled by the visions and possibilities that people were suggesting for me, instead of considering if they really aligned with my real self or not.

 I became overwhelmed, exhausted, tearful, and anxious.

 I stopped appreciating the good things that I was already doing, because I was always looking years ahead at the far-off goals that other people were suggesting. I became too busy to be mindful and I stopped doing my nightly gratitude lists.

I stopped honoring the goddess of creativity and honored the god of anxiety instead.

NOT GOOD!

Fortunately, by Monday I had already realized that I needed to make some major changes and to reclaim my life.  My therapist and I had a good talk-I had a good cry-and it was decided that I would cancel some commitments and that I would spend the rest of the week relaxing, resting, and being creative.  It helps that it is supposed to snow this week, so that I will probably be forced to stay home, anyway.  (I do live in Georgia, after all.)

I went home and rested and then I did something that settled my mind and made me feel whole again-I wrote down my goals in a way that would remind me of who I really am and what is important to me.

This is actually a dialectical behavioral therapy distress tolerance skill.

When I took the class, I filled out a questionnaire where I rated the different parts of my life, with the highest ranking ones being the ones that are the most important to me and then I broke the top three down into specific goals to keep me motivated and to remind me what is important to myself.  It is a distress tolerance skill, because knowing what is important to you can help ease your discomfort if the thing that is important involves some unpleasantness.

This time, I made it my own and I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off of me and like I am friends with myself again.

I know myself again.

Here are my goals, in the hope that this format might help you too:

BIG Artistic Goals: (These goals MUST be worked on in order!)
  1. Skyland Trail Art Contest
  2. Blog Book
  3. Find Artist to Mentor Me in Photoshopping Altered Book Pictures
  4. Finish Writing Feminist Psalms
Continuing Artistic Goals:
  1. Writing Blog Entries
Feminist Community Building Goals
  1. 1st Friday of the Month - Book Club
  2. 3rd Friday of the Month - Book Club's Dinner
  3. 2nd & 4th Sundays of the Month - Bible Study
Relationship Goals - New Church
  1. Attend Every Sunday I Can
  2. Attend Choir When It Meets
  3. Attend Dinners & Events When It Works With My Schedule & Energy Level
Work Goals - In Our Own Voice 
  1. So far, every Tuesday at Wesley Woods.
  2. Eventually I want to target educational groups and use it to also sell my books and artwork.
Supplemental Activities - ONLY WHEN I HAVE ENERGY
  1. 1st & 3rd Mondays - Play & Sing at Woodland Ridge
  2. Mondays - Ridgeview Aftercare
  3. Tuesdays - Gentle Yoga
Bucket List
  1. Book Signing at Charis Books & More
  2. Sell Altered Book Artwork at an Outdoor Festival - I've Always Thought That Would Be Fun!
  3. Finish and Publish My Book of Feminist Psalms.

After making the lists, which surprisingly did not take me long to do at all, I realized what is most true to me-building feminist community and expressing myself artistically. 

I have several big art projects that I am working on that I will talk about later and I actually created a "romantic relationship" list, but some things do have to be kept secret.

By nature, I am a very anxious person, so I want a relaxing lifestyle.  I am very spiritual and I like to have stimulating spiritual intellectual discussions-from time to time I feel called to preach, but I am not feeling that urge now.  After talking with my minister last week, I feel confident that if I feel that urge down the road, then I can look into alternate methods of fulfilling that urge other than needing to go to seminary.  (That was one of the suggestions that I had been ruminating over for several weeks.) I do not feel called to attend seminary or to a school for music therapy or any other kind of degree.   I do not need the pressure and my chronic fatigue syndrome would not let my body handle it.

I am an artistic person and that is good, but sometimes it feels weird to give in to that knowledge. Children are warned against becoming too fond of art and of writing and singing, because it is too hard to support yourself with those talents and so I have been afraid to give in to it for a long time, but it is who I am.  People in this culture are taught to be constantly busy and to constantly multi-task, but multi-tasking actually slows down productivity and increases anxiety.  I cannot handle that lifestyle. 

Writing down my goals stabilizes me and reminds me of what is really important to me and by writing down my regular activities, I am reminded to be mindful of my energy level and to honor my body.  Slowly, I am learning to say, "no" to other people's thoughts and "yes" to my own ideas.

Link Love:
   
Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94
Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”
So Feminist Style was born, and with it a debut line of consent-themed panties and briefs. The collection features different styles for both men and women, detailed with statements like “Ask first,” “Consent is sexy,” and “Only yes means yes,” mixed with messages of body positivity. Her hope is that it will encourage a more thoughtful discourse on consent and sexual boundaries.

The Day We Lost Atlanta
We’re not morons, Northerners: The problem was not one of Southerners’ inability to drive on icy roads, but of too many cars headed for congested highways.

And what this former NASA scientist and mathematician has learned while using this system is something she really already knew: that everything – even love, even belonging – has a pattern to it. And she finds those patterns through those lists – she breaks the codes of disconnection. And then she gets lonely kids the help they need. It’s math to her. It’s MATH.
All is love- even math.  Amazing
.
TRIGGER WARNING
Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

Things that protect sex predators from prosecution: Money, power, fame, white straight cis male privilege. Allen has all of these.

You cannot identify a rapist just by looking at him. But you know who can identify rapists? Their victims.

Their victims deserve the presumption of being believed.

Both Bates and Coman had successful careers at Wellesley College. After graduating as a student, Bates later chaired the English department, and Coman chaired the economics department and was dean of the college. Their relationship grew over the years until they soon considered themselves bound as one. Their friendships included other female couples at the college known as "Wellesley marriages."