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, August 18, 2014

My Obligatory Robin Williams Post - You Are Never Guilty Of Someone Else's Suicide

***********Trigger Warning: Suicide***************

Last week was a hard week not to succumb to depression-first there was the news about Robin Williams and then there was the news about Ferguson, Missouri and seeing the articles constantly on Facebook began to get me down.  I think constant contact with the news can re-traumatize people-there's no way you cannot convince me that that did not happen with the coverage of 9/11.  Seeing the Twin Towers go down over and over again and hearing the news stories over again made me paranoid and majorly furthered my depression at the time and I know it did for many other people too.

With Robin William's suicide, it is easy to blame his actions on other people-why did no one adequately help him?  I do think it is good to be more aware of how we can reach out to others if you know they are depressed, but when I think about my two friends that killed themselves in 2005, I know that it is a lie that suicide is always preventable.

Suicide is usually impulsive.  That is not how it is portrayed, but it is true, which is why it is so hard to prevent.  Also, if a person is truly suicidal, then they are probably not going to tell you, but are just going to do it.  My friend, Dan, had people concerned about him-he even talked to his doctor before going home, but he was able to convince his doctor that he would be fine.  Maybe Dan really thought he would be, but then he got home and his suicidal thoughts became too unbearable and he succumbed to his mental illness.  That very same day, my friend Bryce killed himself.  Like Dan, he had been attending a mental health center in Atlanta at the time,  so he also had people looking out for him.  He had been granted a week's leave to visit his family in another state and he would not have been granted this vacation if the staff thought he was in danger, but sometimes the most highly trained staff cannot tell when someone is suicidal.

Why am I telling you this?  To absolve you of guilt.  You are never guilty of someone else's suicide.  They are not guilty for their suicide, for in reality what happened is that they lost their battle with mental illness.  They did not "commit suicide," as if they committed a crime, but succumbed to their illness just as if someone died of cancer or AIDS.

For a long time after Dan and Bryce's death I was mad at the mental health center, at them, and at God, but I am finally at the place where I can say that it was no one's fault. Fortunately, I can also say that although I still have periods of depression and anxiety, you do not have to worry about me because I have made a pact with myself that I intend to keep that I will always live in recovery and that I will do whatever it takes to stay alive.  I wish that all people had that resolve, but not all people have that faith in hope yet.

This is what I want Robin Williams death to do-motivate people to reach out to their friends when they know they are in the throes of mental illness-give them a call or better yet, make them dinner, take them to a support group, offer to pick up their medication, go with them to the grocery store, take them to the movies or watch a movie with them at the house, do their dishes-change how we talk about mental illness-be kinder, non judgmental, non stigmatizing, BUT most importantly, I want us to celebrate his life, instead of purely focusing on how he ended it.  Robin Williams was a part of my childhood-his movies were the talk of all my friends and they imparted joy to our lives.  Mrs. Doubtfire is the one that made the biggest impression on me-the idea seemed a bit too silly, but he turned old lady crossdressing into an art form with his jokes and different voices.   When it comes to people who died due to mental illness, I want us to focus on the whole person and not just their illness or how they died-there is so much more to people than their mental illness no matter what.  We are more than a label-we are whole people.

Monday, August 11, 2014

You Don't Need To Be Loud For Your Light To Shine

I talked about the grocery store incident at church yesterday and I thought y'all might be interested in what I had to say:

A few months ago, I stopped by the grocery store on my way to volunteer at Soup Saturday.  There was a woman driving a car in the parking lot and I couldn’t really tell what she was doing-I waited a little while and then parked.  After I parked, I realized I had taken her spot.  I felt a bit embarrassed, as I usually try to be nicer to people.  Before I could apologize, she lowered her window, looked at me and yelled, “At least I’m not fat!!!”  I was stunned into silence.  Really?  That’s the first thing she thought of when she looked at me?  I was hurt.  I have done a lot of work on my body-image and self-esteem and still I must say it cut me to the core.  Fatness should be just a describing word, but we all know what it really means in this society-calling someone “fat” means calling them lazy, smelly, incompetent, ugly, an underachiever and I am none of those things.  I met this woman again when we passed at the doorway-I was leaving with two boxes of cookies and she was entering.  Holding the boxes of cookies, I felt embarrassed and like a cliché.  I wanted to prove to her that I am not who she thought I was-I desperately wanted to say, “These aren’t for me.  These cookies are for a church event where we feed people.  I help people, so don’t you see, I am more than a fat mindless-cookie-eating woman!”  But I didn’t.  I breathed deeply and kept on walking.  I prayed that perhaps one day fatness would not be the ultimate insult to this woman and that she could have a better relationship with her body.  Anyone that imagines fatness as the enemy and supreme insult must be very afraid of becoming fat themselves.  I know from experience that living in body fear instead of body-love is a horrible way to live.

I didn’t tell the woman why I had the cookies ultimately because I did not think it was any of her business.  The scriptures (Matthew 6) say to practice your piety in secret and I agree. I did not think it was right to brag about a good deed, as if it made me a better person, a more holy person, a more special person in the eyes of Godde.  I did not ultimately think it would be right to talk about something good in order to bring someone down.  I had wanted to use them as a means of justifying myself, but I comforted myself, instead by reminding myself that I am already justified.  We are all already good enough and I think that is one of the messages that Jesus tried to tell people.  When we truly believe in our own goodness, then we do not need to justify or impress other people.  We don’t need to lift ourselves up, because we are already lifted up and we know it.  We can let our actions speak for themselves.  We can be quiet in our good work and be filled with a much greater inner joy and peace than if we were loud and famous.

I am good enough-you are good enough.  I do not need to boast or brag about my good deeds to others to bring attention to myself if I am already satisfied by what I have, which is an abundance of peace, joy, and love.  Sometimes I have to remind myself of these gifts that I possess when others try to take them away from me and that is okay.  As Marianne Williamson says in A Return to Love,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
     We don’t need to be loud for our light to shine, we just need to follow in the way of Jesus, remembering the blessed people that we are. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Art of Helping Others - A Book Review

The Art of Helping Others: How Artists Can Serve God and Love the World by Douglas C. Mann - I picked this book from Speakeasy because I am an artist myself.   I really enjoyed it and many of the words went into my quote book.  Mann is an artist who believes art can heal and help bring disadvantaged people together.  I believe this too.  He brings forth the idea of "creative incitement," restorative acts reconciling lives wherever and whenever the spirit leads (11).  Creative inciters are those willing to embrace the role of risk taker, people willing to be agents of change and a driving force (35).

I found this book to be very inspirational with its call to action and authenticity.  I like that his definition of Christian art is not based on the content, but rather on its intention and outcome: "Christian art is not primarily a matter of form (e.g. biblical imagery and worship music), but a posture toward the world that bridges the divide between Creator and creation, flowing out of God's mission for us (94)."  He says that ultimately the definition of art is, "to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts (36)." Jesus was an artist, Mann asserts, for Jesus "worked to creatively reveal truth, inspiring people with wonder and engaging their minds to get them out of the way of their hearts," and so artists that strive to do the same are followers of his way.  "Christians are meant to be artistic oddities that draw others to God," he says and I wholeheartedly agree.  Mann reminds us that Christians are not meant to be living a life of complacency, but should be stirring people up to see the injustice around them and help bring compassionate justice to it.  "How refreshing it would be to see artists of faith considered dangerous to the powers that be because they're activiely involved, engaging and influencing the society around them" (94).  How refreshing indeed.   Unfortunately, social change is not the first thought I have when I think of the terms Christian artist, but annoying nuisance or sanctimonious piety - this needs to change.  I recommend this book to any Christian artist or simply any person who wants to get charged up about their faith and how to put it into action.  There's a great list of resources at the back of the book.  My only complaint is that the artist's paintings were not in color.

I am happy to report that this past Thursday, I came to realize that my own artwork creatively incites people-the altered book that won the award at SkyLand Trail inspired everybody so much that they decided to make their own.  They spent a whole six weeks working of their books-more time than they have ever spent on an art project!  I am going to submit it to another art contest for people with disabilities, which is very exciting.  It is so gratifying to know that my work is helping and inspiring other people, just like it is helping me.  Right now, I am working on another altered book called, "My Dating Rules" and it is an intentional way for me to set my mind on how I want my dating life and potential relationships to be like.  I will post pictures when I done!

Be a creative inciter!  Don't just sit there, but do and do good!  Be an artistic oddity that draws others to God.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gratitude for My Support Network

Healing does not always refer to the transformation of the physical body. The activity of healing, while sometimes bodily, is the action of restoring wholeness and community where there is exclusion, corruption, individualism, fragmentation, and brokenness. Thus, salvation is found in Jesus and in those who imitate Jesus in these acts of healing. (95, Making a Way Out of No Way, Monica A Coleman)
I would like my physical body healed! Currently, I am suffering from a major cold and it is making my nose runny, my throat sore and me not wanting to move a muscle. Yuck! No one likes a cold. And yet, I am still very, very happy. Though my body is still on the mend, my spirit is very much whole and joyous for I am now in my new house. I have two roommates, whom I get along well with so far. I am closer to my church and my therapist and to my favorite city, Atlanta. I feel redeemed by being closer to my community and no longer feel marked by my mental illness - not that I'm going to stop taking my medications, seeing my therapist, or using my DBT skills any time soon. Many people helped get me here and acted-still do act-as healers and I want to acknowledge them in this post. They are:

  1. My Parents-Financially and Emotionally they have supported me.  They have taken care of me when I could not take care of myself.  They have visited me in the hospital, attended therapy sessions, have helped me obtain disability.  My mom is an expert on helping me manage an anxiety attack.  Their loving support is something not everybody with a disability, especially with a mental illness, experiences.
  2. My Therapist-She has seen me shed many a tear.  She finally advised me to attend her DBT classes after just psychiatric medications and regular talk therapy was not enough.
  3. Supportive Friends-I have some fabulous friends who have listened to me and provided me with distraction when I needed it.
  4. Various Church Communities-Being a part of a spiritual community is a great part of my healing.  Contributing to churches, which I still do, helps give my life meaning.
  5. Various Support Groups-I used to attend several support groups a week, but now that I am more mentally stable, I just go a few times a month-when I feel physically well to have the extra spoon.  Support groups have allowed me to be able to ask for feedback and get support from others similar to me when I have felt troubled. 
  6. Feminist Gwinnett Readers-I started this group about a year and a half ago and it has increased my self-confidence, given me more friends, and a feeling of safety in conservative suburbia.  
All of these people and groups are what I call my "recovery net" in my In Our Own Voice speeches.  Building your own support network is incredibly important for sane and joyful living.  Everyone needs a support network whether they have a mental illness or not. No matter if you are an extreme introvert or a loud extrovert, we all need community in order to get our needs met-it is a lie that one can completely pull themselves up by their bootstraps alone.
Thank you family, mental health workers, friends, and churches-without your support I would not be where I am today...and today is good.
(A Creative Commons license; art by geralt)

If you need help finding support groups, NAMI, E.A., and E.D.A. are good places to start.  Don't forget that you can find online meetings if there's not a meeting close by!