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, February 23, 2015

Social Justice Is For Everyone

Social justice is for everyone, including people with disabilities. ~ Marlee Matlin
This Saturday I will be participating in a social justice workshop at my church.  I feel so grateful that I now belong to a denomination that actively participates, preaches and teaches about social justice. When I was a Presbyterian, I felt disgusted that we never celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day or talked about social justice issues being a part of the church's work.  I do not believe that God calls us merely to be pious, but also to advocate positive change  - to not passively but to actively participate in bringing Godde's kin-dom to Earth.

I am attending the conference because I am interested in learning how to apply social justice work in a religious institution, but also because I feel like I am not doing enough work on my own.  Part of that reasoning I know is simply a part of my personality, as an Enneagram Four, I am constantly longing for more-more out of myself and more out of this world.  It is a longing that can motivate myself to take on more than I can handle and to slip me into melancholy if I am not careful, but with the right attention it can also motivate me to push past my comfort zone and try new experiences.

Pushing past my comfort zone is another reason why I am taking the workshop - I feel like the work I do feels too safe and I do believe that staying in safe waters limits our potential.  Sure, I fill out online petitions every day for causes I care about, but that is easy - I can do it in my pajamas at home.

And then I had an extraordinary thought - a reminder from my higher power if you will - doesn't my mental health work count as social justice work?

I tend to dismiss my advocacy because it is from the comfort of my own home, but does that really matter if the material reaches those who need it?  And besides, I do have a disability - with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and anxiety, strenuous marches and lobbying is not usually an option for me.  Social justice is not about doing easy work, but it should not be about doing miserable work either.  If the work is not life - enriching, full of love, then it is not worth doing in the first place.

My mental health advocacy is not always easy either.  Sure, it is pretty easy for me to write, but it is not always so easy to make public the parts of my life where I have seemed the most "crazy." I usually do it anyway, because I know that the only way to beat mental health stigma is by speaking about mental health issues.  Also, while by this time speaking at hospitals about my recovery is fairly easy now, that was not always so.  In fact, until just a few months ago, it was very hard for me to share in hospitals - being in that unpredictable environment made me very anxious and sometimes even triggered me.  Yet I did it anyway because again, I think providing hope and reversing stigma is that important.  When it comes to my mental illness, I try to lead an authentic life by talking about my struggles or by sharing some encouragement with others in everyday conversations.  When I had an eating disorder, I tried to project a perfect image, but now I try to do the opposite!  I try to project an authentic image of a person that sometimes struggles with mental and physical illness, but who also still leads a productive and successful life.  I hope that what people realize after getting to know me is that everyone can lead a successful life, as long as they define what success is for themselves and are open enough to let people help.  Success looks different for everyone and certainly does not necessarily mean that a person has money, a job, an able body/mind or the "right" education.

I am still glad that I am taking the workshop this weekend, but I am also glad that I reframed my reasons.  I do a lot of advocacy work already - it's just that the mental health arena is so left out of the conversation that it's advocacy is usually forgotten about or left unrecognized.  That needs to change.  Like Matlin said, "social justice is for everyone, even those with disabilities."
Link Love:

Indecent theology, then, aims to strip away theology’s false claim to sexual neutrality and its obsession to control, and instead aims to develop a theology free from the heterosexism that confines it (FFTIT, 83). 

The medical establishment tells me I have “failed” a number of therapies. That's not right: The establishment and its therapies have failed me

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Three Years of Change

Even when functioning at its best, a theology of change - walking the way in a diverse community that teaches and learns together - is hard work. (Monica A Coleman, Making a Way Out of No Way, 146)
Yesterday was a very big day for me - it marked the three year anniversary of being mental hospital free.
 And it really does feel like I have had the help of a million angels!

 I have made the three-year mark before but have never made it to four and yet I do not feel afraid. Someone recently asked me what has changed for me and my reply was that I now ask for help from my community of supporters.  It used to be that people did not know that I was not doing well until I announced that I was checking into a hospital.  Those actions made people frustrated, confused, disappointed and unable to help me before my anxious state turned into a crisis.  I tried to squeeze comfort out of an institution when there were people that had something better to offer me: love.

Today I ask for help when I need it.  Today I have a whole community of supporters and I use them.

When I recently was having a crisis with a friend of mine, I needed help.  Fortunately, I knew where to go.  I returned to support groups that I had not been to in a while and I spent more time with family. I upped the number of times I saw my therapist. I made sure to attend church and asked for prayers and hugs.  I told people what was going on and how I was feeling and got so many invitations to talk that I did not have enough time to make dates with them all.

I am truly blessed.

Another thing that has changed is that now I know how to be gentle with myself.  The second to last time I was hospitalized, a therapist said that I probably had not been gentle enough with myself and I felt perplexed because I did not know how to be.  Thanks to the skills I have learned through dialectical behavioral therapy, I do now.  During this last time of trouble, I practiced many things to help self-sooth and relax me like coloring, reading comic books, taking hot baths, drinking hot tea and cocoa, eating comfort foods, like chocolate chip pancakes and watching familiar children's movies with friends.
(from Awesome Animal Designs coloring book)

I also did some emotional eating, which may not be the best thing to do, but I cut myself some slack-I and many other people agree that a little emotional eating is okay when faced with a crisis.  Food is energy, but it is also so much more than that - it can be enjoyable and soothing too. I think it is good to treat our bodies with compassion when we are hurting and so eating a few extra soothing foods can be good for our mental health.  Of course, now that the crisis is over, I am trying to be more intentional with my food again, paying attention to my hunger/fullness signals and eating in moderation a balance of the healthy food groups.  Life is like an ocean that ebbs and flows - when the waves crash, we need to take extra care to self-soothe and relax and when the waves are gentle, we need to ease on acting impulsively. 

I am grateful for my life now.  Even when I was scared and anxious last week, I was glad to have so many people surrounding me with love.  Life is partly what we make of it and a good life includes letting authentic, caring people help us.

Link Love:

2013 German study of 935 first and second graders used a teacher-centered school-based approach designed to prevent cardiovascular disease. It started by giving excellent training to teachers. Results showed that focusing on health made a difference. An unintended positive consequence of the educational intervention was that disordered eating also decreased. In other words, instead of calling kids fat, teach them to make good food choices and to be more active.

It's past time for mental health to be a priority for colleges. […]College applicants and their parents would be well advised to check out the mental health centers on campus as carefully as the dorms and gyms. Particularly if a student has experienced psychological problems, parents should delve beyond schools' idle promises to care for the total person. What is staffing like? What is the cost? A little pressure from parents could help ensure that no one in crisis is told to take a number or handed a list of doctors they will never call.

by Stuart Wolpert
"The implication," Craske said, "is to encourage patients, as they do their exposure to whatever they are fearful of, to label the emotional responses they are experiencing and label the characteristics of the stimuli — to verbalize their feelings. That lets people experience the very things they are afraid and say, 'I feel scared and I'm here.' They're not trying to push it away and say it's not so bad. Be in the moment and allow yourself to experience whatever you're experiencing."

Sexually speaking, this movie feels like a porn you clicked on because the video title appealed, and then five minutes into it something terrible starts to happen and you close your computer and you’re worried you may never be horny again

Friday, February 13, 2015

January 2015 Book Review

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford
This is an epic book about a woman who rises out of poverty and becomes one of the world’s most powerful business women.  I like the premise, but the editor could have removed about two hundred pages and we would still be fine.  Bradford belongs to a school of writers who thinks that everything has to be described, including every article of clothing and every piece of furniture, which does not leave much to the imagination.  Still, I liked the book fairly well until a sex scene where the male lover is constantly being described as not being able to help himself.  Now, I know that this book was written in the 1970s and was describing a time even older than that (approx. 1920’s?), but still that kind of language really bugs me.  Saying that one cannot help themselves makes the act sound suspiciously close to rape and it certainly does not sound romantic.  At that point, I was too disgusted to want to finish the book.  The book is considered a modern classic, but I really do not think it is worthy of that title-I guess my standards are too high.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – Fortunately, this book is absolutely lovely.  This is a wonderfully written book, but I must warn you that although it ends on a positive note, it will still break your heart.  It is a story about animal cruelty and how we thoughtlessly use animals for testing and consumer products without thinking of the consequences.  Ultimately, it is about what happens when we do not think through our actions involving animals.  It also asks us to reexamine our assumptions about family - are family members just people or can an animal move past the role of pet and become another true brother or sister?  Fowler makes the case that at least for orangutans they can.  This book tore my heart out and yet I am very glad I read it.  It moved me outside of myself and caused me to grow in compassion towards all living creatures.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – This is the book I read for my young adult book club.  It is a quick read and very smartly written, having won the Newbery Book Award and the National Book Award.  I recommend it.  It is a series of poems based on the author’s own experiences of being a refugee from Vietnam right after the Vietnam War, moving to a small town in Alabama, learning English, going to a new school, and dealing with the death of her father.  The poems are charming and I think it would be relatable to any kid who has moved to a new school or culture and certainly to anyone whom English is a second language.  I enjoyed the book and my only complaint is that it is not very memorable.  While I do like to read books over and over again, I would like to be able to remember how it ends a few weeks after reading it and I don’t know if I would have awarded it those awards because of that.

X-Files Fight the Future Graphic Novel – This adaptation of the first X-Files movie was a surprise, because the classification as a graphic novel is not quite right - it’s more like a novel with pictures and that disappointed me.  I thought it was well written and I enjoyed being reminded of the movie, but I would have liked the story to have been told through the pictures, like a true graphic novel, instead of just having lots of illustrations to go with the writing.  The pictures were very dark, adding a nice level of mystery to the story.  I enjoyed it, but I would have enjoyed it more as a true graphic novel.

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?: How Moralism Suffocates Grace By Sam Williamson – This was a speakeasy book and I am glad it was short because it was awful.  The funny thing is that I do not totally disagree with his premise-I do think that we water the scriptures down and that more emphasis should be on grace and not on acting morally.  In my view, we should also stop focusing so much on piety because there is more important work to do social justice wise.  The book suffers from the same fate as Inside Out and Back Again in that it is also not memorable.  It is written too simply and is filled with trite sayings that make me cringe.  I came away from the book thinking that the author is not a very good writer with not really all that much to say -nothing new, at least.  I always feel badly when I give a bad review, but do it I must-I do not recommend this book.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – Fabulous!  Katniss has unknowingly become the most important person in the revolution.  Her contestants in the hunger games beautifully sacrifice themselves so that she and Peeta will live, which reminds us that when it comes to causes some people really are more important than others, at least more important in the public eye.  While most people are pawns in the hunger games, Katniss is horrified when she discovers that she is a pawn in the revolution, as she had been manipulated to stay alive, which asks, is sometimes manipulating people justified?  Are all people equal or when it comes to social justice, are the more visible people more worth keeping alive?  From a moral standpoint, the answer is no, but from a logical standpoint, the answer is yes.  I felt sort of sorry for her, as she is too busy trying to survive to ever really be able to think about what her complicated feelings towards Peeta and Gail mean.  I also really love that Collins has made a female character who absolutely does not want children due to her circumstances.  I do not want children, partly because I just don’t, but also partly for many logical reasons too, like not wanting to pass my mental disorders to another person, not thinking that I have the right personality to be a mother, knowing that I become overstimulated by loud noise way too easily, and not having enough money.  It’s nice to read about a character that thinks about motherhood in a practical way too.

Link Love:
RH Reality Check – Andrea Grimes - 
Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told me that to her, it sounded like Krause’s proposal “is not about a voice for fetuses; it is about inserting the state” into a private medical decision.

 RH Reality Check by Zoe Greenburg 
The population of women in prison has risen sharply over the past three decades. The United States currently incarcerates more women per capita than any other country in the world, according to the report. As more and more women have been locked up, prisons have become one of the largest providers of reproductive health care in the nation.

If we can’t bear to look at what we are doing, then we shouldn’t be doing it. Of course, this precept reaches far beyond our relationship with our fellow animals into our politics, our environmental policies, our wars, and our prisons. A lot of what the animal rights activists do is simply make us look. I’m all in favor of that. […] As children we are encouraged to feel a great sympathy for animals and then expected to cast that off as part of growing up.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Staring Into The Abyss

Health and wholeness come through teaching, healing, remembering, honoring, possessing, adopting, conforming, and creatively transforming saving. It is making a way. (Monica A Coleman, Making a Way Out of No Way, 169)
I have come to the conclusion that the two hardest concepts to accept are that life is unfair and that we can only control ourselves, and sometimes not even that.

I am dealing with a very difficult situation right now that is unfair, out of my control, and very uncertain.  It is very hard right now.

The situation: someone close to me relapsed into her mental illness, which was triggered by physical illness and a new full-time job.  I watched her rapidly decline and then last Sunday she disappeared.  Her sister had to file a missing persons report.

I feel angry, worried, sad, happy, frustrated, worried, disappointed, positive, pessimistic, worried, okay, not okay, melancholy, worried, despairing, forgetful, overwhelmed, worried, exhausted, in denial, anxious, tense, fed up, worried…

My two main consolations are that I have a big support network of friends, family and mental health professionals who are helping me through this and that everybody that I have talked to, whether with a mental health diagnosis or not, has told me that handling uncertain and out of control situations is universally tricky, baffling, hard. 

And then today I received news that an acquaintance of mine lost her life to her mental illness.

Sometimes I am grateful for my mental illnesses because without them I would not have learned my current coping skills and would not lead such a healthy life.  Today I am not.

I know a lot of people will want to comfort me by telling me that, “it’s all part of God’s plan.”  But I call that bullshit, so don’t even try.  If God gives some people a condition that makes them feel so full of despair that they decide to dangerously run away or kill themselves, then I do not want that God.  No, I do not believe that everything is part of a plan, but rather that in everything we can find meaning.  Because of these tragedies, I can renew my vow to take my medication as prescribed and to otherwise take care of myself.  I can choose to renew the bonds I have with the people I love.  I can decide to reach out to others who are suffering and to reduce the amount of mental health stigma all that I can.  These are meanings that I can assign to the sufferings that I have witnessed, but these sufferings were not started so that I would do these things. 

Sometimes life is just unfair, out of control, incomprehensible and uncertain.

I think if we can deal with that reality without becoming too jaded or mean then we have reached enlightenment.  Enlightenment and self-actualization are not about becoming the perfect person, but about staring into the abyss and not succumbing to the spirit of despair.

I am not perfect, but I am self-aware.  I am determined to keep growing, living, and improving as long as I can.  My mind is muddy and I am doing everything I can to try to self-soothe myself in healthy ways and sometimes it works.  Sometimes not so much, but that is life. Today I want to keep living, doing the next right thing, just one day at a time.
Link Love:
For now, I will try to add broad splashes of green and blue and purple and orange to science's black and white brush strokes. Together, we will fill in autism's canvas until a clearer picture comes forward.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Californication Features Boring Bodies-Give Me Self-Love Instead

Our sexuality is who we are as thinking, feeling, and caring human beings. It is our ability to love and nurture. To express warmth and compassion. It is not only our gonads. (Monica A. Coleman, Making a Way Out of No Way, 156)
If you know me, then you know that I am a devoted fan of the X-Files. I still read the comics and when it was announced that there may be a new X-Files mini-series soon, at least three of my friends posted an article about it on my facebook page.
(Mulder & Scully-a picture from The X-Files Classics Comics Vol. 1)

As a devoted fan, I like to keep up with what my favorite actors are doing and so I decided to try Duchovny's series, Californication, again.  I watched two episodes and I am sad to say that that was all I could take.  The series is one big sex-fest, but that is not my problem!  My problem is that all of the women in the show look exactly the same-"perfectly" slender, the Hollywood ideal.  Duchovny's character, Hank, has sex with many women in each episode, so we get to see a lot of female nudity and they all look like carbon copies of each other!  In my world, there are some women who are slender, some who are inbetween and some that are fat.  There are some people of every shade of color and there are some young and old, rich and poor, able-bodied and disabled, but in Californication's world, there is only young, insecure, rich and skinny.  I get bored seeing the same old naked bodies.  I suppose some people get turned on by seeing "perfect" naked body after "perfect" body, but I get bored and irritated.  What was even worse to me than seeing all these women that looked the same is that many of them would ask Hank if they were pretty enough, if their body needed any more alteration, but what they are saying is that women are never enough and it's true.  In this society, women must always be insecure because we can never be perfect enough.  One of the women in the show even asked Hank if she should get her vaginal lips rejuvenated!  The question is absurd and yet it is our reality. 


Unless you step out of society's reality and create your own.  Start working on learning how to love your body.  Dress for yourself and to your own desires.  Only shave when you want to, even if wearing shorts or a bathing suit.  I promise people will not run away screaming.  I promise you'll still go on dates and even have sex.  Life is so much more interesting and exciting when we all take ownership of our bodies and start to love them, no matter what size, color, class, orientation, gender, age or ability.

One way I create my own beautiful reality is by praising myself when I feel good.  As I have written about before, I take pictures of myself when I feel good or to remember an important occasion, so here are some pictures of me when I tried something fancy and new - having high tea at Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party in Atlanta with a friend.

High tea is something special for me, so, of course, I had to dress up!  I looked cute in this outfit:
(Yellow shirt, SteinMart L; white sweater, Delia's XL; pear skirt, Goodwill, 14; white leggings, Sam's Club, XL; tan boot socks, ?; gray boots, ?; wooden necklace, gift from aunt)

I delight in being thrifty-I got the earrings for $1!

Oh my goodness, high tea was so much fun!  I felt like I was nurturing my inner little girl.  I felt like a posh person on Downton Abbey!

First, we ordered our tea from a long list.
We ordered chai tea.

Then we talked for hours while munching on scones with clotted cream, brownies, cupcakes, and little sandwiches.  
 While it was delightful to eat these scrumptious snacks, it was even more delightful to get to know my friend more.  It was the second time that week that I had gotten together with a church friend and I am glad - when I left the previous church, I made a vow to myself that I would not wait so long to get to know new church friends, for I had been at that church for eight whole years and waited until I needed to leave to finally decide to see my church friends one-on-one.  Not this time!

I may not be slender or be obsessed with only eating healthy food, but I am, for the most part, happy and confident and those two things are much sexier qualities to me than simply looking a standard way.  Self-love rejuvenates me more than any pricey surgery could!

Link Love:

NYTimes.com – Laura Hudson
“All of the tools that have been honed to make video games are essentially centered around violence and systems of violence,” she says, rather than working to develop what she calls “mechanics of intimacy,” ways that games might express emotional experiences and relationships.