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, March 28, 2014

Coloring Helps Me Cope with Stress and Exhaustion

God does not give up on us, but calls each and every one of us to God self, to relationship, to community and to God's ideal vision.  And we, imbued with that kind of calling, have the power to change the world. (77) Making a Way Out of No Way by Monica A. Coleman
The hearing was very hard-one of the most stressful things I have done in a long time.  My lawyer was very nice and the psychologist was on my side, but still, talking about my diagnosis with people I had never met before was intimidating and even though I knew why my lawyer had my files, it was not comfortable.  

It absolutely wore me out and unfortunately talking about old urges and symptoms brought some of them back.  Anxiety returned and I was having trouble finding peace of mind, so it was time to figure out what coping skills would work until I returned back to normal.  It's funny how different coping skills will work at different times and I found last weekend that art did the trick-it seemed the only time that I experienced peace of mind was when I was painting or collaging or coloring.

Here are two pictures from the Color Your Heart with Joy coloring book by Claire Christin (You can buy it at Donna Van Gogh's in Atlanta):
"Slow down and listen to your heart."

"Children need love most when they deserve it least."

I love this coloring book!  I used fine point sharpies and I was able to mindfully fully immerse myself into the activity and so forget about my stress.  I stayed in the art room all day Monday working on my art project and fortunately by the end of the day I felt rejuvenated and back to my old self.

I did not give up on myself, but was gentle with myself, which was something I absolutely did not know how to do a few years ago.  I believe "God's ideal vision" is for us to not give up on ourselves and to trust that the bad time will eventually change; not only will it change, but one can find comfort by focusing on this truth.  I have found that there is always at least one thing that can distract me and bring me peace during a hard time.  And when we find peace during hardship, we show others that they can achieve that too and so "the power to change the world" has begun it's rippling effect. Even though I consider myself a Christian, I also see Godde in my therapist, in my art, and in the DBT principles.  I see Godde anywhere that seems to promote healing and love.

Link Love:

Nobody does life perfectly.
Nobody gets it right the first time out.
Which is a deep shame because, well, we only get one shot. So the one shot we have is a shot that will be marked by mistakes and missteps. We’ll try to avoid adding to the shit around us, but inevitably we will add to it, pile it on, and step in it.
And then we’ll probably put our foot in our mouth.
Which means we need to learn grace. It needs to permeate our interactions and expectations.

$400 million: The amount of money the US federal government and state governments could save in ink costs if they exclusively used Garamond fond on printed materials, as determined by clever and curious 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani "when he was trying to think of ways to cut waste and save money at his Pittsburgh-area middle school."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Women Writing About Men by Jane Miller - A Book Review

This was the book my feminist book club chose for February and it lent itself to one of our best discussions!  The book is definitely academically focused and can be dry at times.  I do not think I would recommend it for pleasure reading, but if you want another way to think about the classics, then this book may be for you.  In it, Miller focuses on the “Great” female writers and looks at how they wrote about men.  I’m going to share the ideas and quotes that I think are the most interesting and intriguing.

Miller introduces the concept of “learned androgyny”- that women writers in order to be successful must try to write “like a man” in order to be taken seriously.  Women who are known as women have a lot more to fear. “Let us pause to consider androgyny and the possibility that women have been schooled in androgyny.  Any such notion must be permeable, for they have also been schooled to be women and to be women for men.  They must avoid mannishness and monstrousness, they must keep their cool.  Yet women readers who have unlearned their androgyny, or have at least started on the process, become attuned to the expression of danger and of fear in women writers.  They learn to recognize fear about writing as a fear about love.” Furthermore, in order to be the “right sort of woman,” the woman writer should be able to detach from her identity as a woman.  (24)

One of the most notable ideas is that a woman’s adventure ends with marriage, while a man’s adventure lasts throughout his life.  It’s a sad narrative that is extremely familiar-we saw it with Austen and we see it today with Disney.  It’s a narrative that made all of us very mad, for we are tired of missing out on adventure-we want a life and to read about lives that are just as full as any man’s!  I want to read about women that do not complete themselves by becoming married, but by having adventures and experiencing life in all its fullness, with or without a man by her side.

Miller also said that mother’s experiences are silenced; that they don’t speak for themselves, but for their sons and husbands (110).  This made me think about the prevalence of “mommy bloggers” and I wondered if this dynamic has changed with this new medium, or is framing it as a “mommy blogger” still silencing?  In a way, I think so, because the concerns and joys of mommy bloggers are often considered less important or frivolous to any other kind.  I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Miller had some interesting insights on heroes and I agreed with them:

If a woman loves a hero that is more likely to make her a wife of a mistress than a heroine.  This, I think, has presented male readers with difficulties, for if they approve of a heroine they would like her to marry a man’s hero.  They are disconcerted to find that women do not propose such men as the husbands for their heroines.  Indeed, many women’s novels centre on the dangers for a young woman of loving or marrying her hero. 

On George Eliot: They expected this phenomenally intelligent writer to recommend that her heroines marry men’s heroes rather than their own, and they have ignored the possibility that it was her intelligence, which was a woman’s intelligence, not a male accretion, which demanded that a woman understand her own sexual nature and needs when she offered to spend her life with a man.  Hanging about, alertness to the needs of a remarkable man, are not good enough for George Eliot’s heroines.  […]Critics who judge that Stephen Guest or Will Ladislaw are unworthy of these complex moral women ignore the fact that both Stephen and Will have what the other men in their novels notably lack: they have a direct, instinctive, powerful sexual presence, and in matters of sex they are driven to know what they desire and to develop love from desire.  Both behave well to the women they come to love, though both are in positions where their love is substantially prohibited by custom, social propriety, good taste.  They are sexually honest, and they communicate their sexual feelings clearly to the women they love, and they develop morally through contact with them.  (141)

 Basically, women's heroes are good, moral, and sexually mature, which is as much of a hero as I want.  What most men do not understand is that if a man treats a woman with equal respect to anyone else then he is hero enough, for that is not a truly common practice.

A book like Miller’s is important, because as she says on page 31, “Projecting women’s problems as apolitical, as personal and untheorised, has made women vulnerable to kinds of masculine political analysis, whether reactionary or revolutionary, which subsume women’s concerns into more general ones, concealing their specificity and ignoring women’s accounts of them.” But if men’s works and problems can be seen as political and All Important, then surely our culture can one day turn around and do the same for subjects written by women.  

And how do we do that?-By not pooh poohing women writing about women’s issues (mommy bloggers, victims of domestic violence, fashionistas, feminists, for example) and by holding up the concerns of women to equal importance as those typically of concern to men.  Only then will the right to bodily autonomy be seen as automatic as the right to buy Viagra.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cinematic States by Gareth Higgins - A Book Review

My next few posts will be book reviews  - my periods of depression have kept me from posting them as regularly as I usually do, so you will be getting a bunch in a row, but hopefully they will serve to inspire and give you food for thought.

This was a Speakeasy book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  It was a quick, easy, and interesting read.  The premise is that Higgins, who has come to live in the United States from Ireland, needs a way to connect with his American neighbors and since he is a film buff, he decides to watch and analyze films that he feels represent each American state to see what he can learn about its people.  

As I was reading, it was fun to guess what films he would pick to represent each state-some were obvious, like Gone with the Wind for Georgia or The Wizard of Oz for Kansas and some were not so obvious, like Fight Club for Delaware.  I was disappointed that so many of the movies that represented the South portrayed it in a bad light, but I really was not surprised.  Most of my favorite sections were on the Midwest states.

Another delight about the book is that Higgins is a peace activist and spiritual writer and he infuses his insights on our society, ways to attain peace and thoughts on spirituality within the film analysis. I included many quotes in my inspirational quote book. My only criticism is that the passages were too short and I sometimes felt that he could have gone a lot more in depth.  Again, the passages about each state were fun to read as Higgins included references to famous people and events from each state that made me feel a little ashamed that I did not have as good a grasp on my own country's history.  

I recommend the book for fun and insight and the insight that has stuck with me the most is the fact that the most common element Higgins found in the films was violence.  In his book, he examined films from the early days of cinema to now and while the violence has become more graphic over the years, it was always present.  America nurtures a culture of violence and this makes me sad.  As a Christian and as a fellow peacemaker, I want America to be known as leader of peace and of positive, healthy communities, but this the opposite of how people think of us and for good reason.  Over and over again, violence towards women and degradation is practically celebrated by our TV shows and movies, instead of inspiring dialogue about peace and true liberation.  One way that I try to support peace-making is by not supporting movies and TV shows that show gratuitous violence, especially in regards towards violence to women-I flat out refuse to pay money to watch a movie with a rape scene in it if it does not directly further the plot and even then I am hesitant to support it.  I know my point of view is not very popular, but I do not believe the way to peace is found by glorifying violence.  Right now I am reading All About Love: New Visions by Bell Hooks and she talks about the very thing that Cinematic States inspired me to ponder-that we must work hard to transform our society into one that is loving, instead of violent and greedy.

You can find Gareth Higgins on Huffington Post
The Film Talk - a pocast of film reviews and interviews 
and on his blog, God Is Not Elsewhere

I really recommend his blog if you are interested in movies from a unique peace-making perspective, as opposed to every other voice in this culture's violence-obsessed perspective.

"I Think I Understand"-Joni Mitchell Offers Insight to Coping with Fear

Today, in Atlanta, it is Spring.
(Daffodils from our garden)
Last Sunday, in Atlanta, it was Spring and I sang a song by Joni Mitchell and I was welcomed as I joined my new church. Like I imagine the bright yellow flowers do, my heart sang jubilantly.  I had originally chosen the song, because it fit the Scripture passages we were using that day so well, but I realized later that it also fit my feelings of trepidation and fear of making such a commitment perfectly:
Daylight falls upon the path
The forest falls behind
Today I am not prey to dark uncertainty
The shadow trembles in its path
I've robbed its blackness blind
And tasted sunlight as my fear came clear to me

I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones or sinking sand

Now the way leads to the hills
Above the steeple's chime
Below the sleepy rooftops round the harbor
It's there I'll take my thirsty fill
Of friendship over wine
Forgetting fear but never disregarding her

Oh, I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones or sinking sand

Sometimes voices in the night
Will call me back again
Back along the pathway of a troubled mind
When forests rise to block the light
That keep a traveler sane
I'll challenge them with flashes from a brighter time

Oh, I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones or sinking sand
Here is a video of me singing the song: (It's basically just audio, no picture.)
The song also speaks to me right now, as I fearfully face my disability hearing on Friday. I am trying not to be fearful and not to let the fear overcome me and so turn into depression, but it is hard. I write posts on how "disability is natural" and the stigmatization of disability in our society; I talk about mental illness recovery empowerment every Tuesday during my In Our Own Voice (IOOV) presentation and I am the first to offer open-minded encouragement to others when it comes to hardship and fighting invisible illness stigma and yet I cannot escape our bootstrap culture and I am trying to make peace with the fact that I live in a culture that equates invisible illness disability with laziness and exaggeration and that this is not the truth.

  It is not my truth.

Every time I do an IOOV presentation, I tell people that, "mental illness is a part of me, but it does not define me." I think I need to write this down on a card and keep it in my purse.

 Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome do not define me either.

I bring a lot of value to this world, irregardless of how much money I make and it is time for me to claim that truth not just aloud, but internally by repeating it over and over in my mind until I truly believe what I say.

Another way that the song speaks to me is that while it is about fear, it is also about coping skills-the singer makes a resolution to challenge her fear by reminding herself of better times.  I equate this to reminding herself that, "this too shall pass."  In other words, good times will come again.  Choosing to remember the good times, instead of dwelling on the bad times are an excellent way to help bring about more gladness.  It certainly is hard to choose dwelling on goodness when depression and fear start making home in our brains, but goodness,gratitude and self-love are powerful medicine.  Right now, I can remember the joyous moment last week when I joined my church and I can revel in the joyful Spring weather that is coming more and more often here in Georgia.

Other Coping Skills That I Am Currently Using:

  • Mindfully Drinking Tea
  • Mindfully Cooking
  • Eating Healthy Meals
  • Getting Extra Rest
  • Being with Friends
  • Using My Light Box
  • Reading Outside
  • Reading Inspirational Books
  • Journaling
  • Being Gentle with Myself
  • Watching Lighthearted Shows/Comedies
  • Distracting Myself on Facebook
  • Cuddling with My Cat
  • Talking About My Feelings
  • Continuing to Rejoice over Small Gratitudes
  • Purposely Doing Activities With The Intention of Making Myself Feel Good
I do not always have a choice over whether I am depressed or not-a few weeks ago I was depressed because of a medication change and that was a depression due mostly to my chemical imbalance at the time.  However, I continued to use my coping skills as a way to keep the depression from spiraling out of control and so I was able to stick out a medication change depression at home when in the past I might have had to be hospitalized.  Today, I will probably not be able to completely stave off my depression and anxiety due to my fear, but I can choose whether to listen and dwell in the fear or to distract myself when it comes until it passes. 

Disability does not define me-I am my own person, regardless of the hearing outcome. 

 I am a person of value, even if I do not add monetary value to the system. 

 My "wilderland" of fear will be my stepping stones to a new awareness as I practice calming my fear with self-love.