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, March 30, 2015

Acceptance and Stigma

Saviors use their perceived vulnerabilities and differences to create, strengthen, and creatively transform community. (170, Monica A. Coleman, Making A Way Out Of No Way)
I recently did an IOOV presentation for a group of pharmacy students who had just learned about personality disorders, so I took them step-by-step through how I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2012.  I felt awkward during the presentation, as it was a departure from how I usually present, but it was received very well, with many of the students saying that they could see that there is hope for people with mental illness, so my job there is done.  I am not going to post my whole presentation here, but I am going to post some of the parts that are different from what I have posted previously.

One of the major criteria is recurring suicidal gestures or self-harming behavior.  I usually do not talk about that here, but I did talk about it during the presentation.  I think it is important for people to know some facts about self-harm, specifically cutting, as it is very stigmatized and misunderstood in our culture.  It is popularly portrayed in our media as just "teenage girls looking for attention" and that idea belittles people who are in a lot of emotional pain.  For one thing, the act is not just limited to teenage girls and for another, it is not a signal that the person is selfish or manipulative, but that he is in a lot of emotional pain and needs help.  Cutting is a coping skill for a person who does not know any other way to give themselves immediate relief from the intense emotional pain that they are experiencing.  There are many reasons why someone may self-harm, but at the core of all of them is the fact that physical pain actually produces endorphins.  It is the same kind of endorphin rush that an addict gets and I consider cutting/self-harm to be a kind of addiction.  People do not become addicts because they are trying to be difficult, but because they do not know a better way of living - they need help, not judgment.  Dialectical behavioral therapy helped me get to the point where I no longer needed a quick fix to feel better so desperately because after using the skills enough I finally came to understand that all pain is temporary and will eventually pass.  I still struggle with that concept sometimes, but now I have more constructive coping skills to get me through the dark sides to the other side.  I do not want people to judge others who self-harm, but to see them as people who do not have the skills yet to be more constructive and are trying the best they can to stay alive, despite their intense emotional pain.

Acceptance has been hard for me.  I used to go off of my medications, because I either felt like I didn’t need them or wasn’t willing to take responsibility for my recovery.  Even now, I have to give myself a pep talk every night.  I have struggled with shame and resentment.  By the time, I was diagnosed with BPD in 2012, I was finally ready to accept my diagnosis because I was so miserable.  I was at a bottom and actually felt some relief because I had a reason for my behaviors and I was ready to work hard to change.  Acceptance for me now means that I realize that I will never be magically cured and that is okay-I will work on becoming as better as I can, while realizing that mental illness is only a part of me and does not totally define me.  I am more than my mental illnesses and disorders.

By the way, in the beginning quote I am not meaning to elevate myself to capital "S" savior status, but I am recognizing that all who creatively counteract society's message of stigma and shame are together helping to save humanity.

If you feel this post can help counteract stigma, please do not hesitate to share it.  We must work together to save each other.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

February 2015 Book Reviews

X-Files Classics Vol.1, written by Stefan Petrucha, art by Charles Adlard, published by IDW – As you can tell, this is the month of X-Files and that is a great thing.  I bought the X-Files Classics Vol.1 with Christmas money.  What makes it confusing when ordering is that there are two different sets of X-Files comics called, “Classics” and I believe they each have three volumes!  The one I bought was the original, first X-Files comics (the other set are comics that simply retell the first season of the TV show-I want those too, of course).  These were fun, although I had not realized that I had already read many of the issues, but still, it is nice to have them all collected together.  A theme in the stories seems to be how breaking deadly taboos can be seen as beautifully spiritual or absolutely terrible, depending on the way you look at the situation.  I think my favorite continued series was “Firebird,” which I have reviewed before and my overall favorite was “Trepanning Opera,” which was both creepy, mysterious, slightly spiritual, and would have translated well as video.

What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins – This was fabulous!  It was my feminist book club’s selection for February and one of my favorites for the month.  It tells the life story of Laura Bridgman, a woman before the time of Helen Keller, who only had the sense of touch and was the first blind and deaf person to learn how to use language.  Elkins expertly weaves together fact and fiction and it was fun to read the afterward that detailed what exactly was made up and what was known.  Bridgman lives at the Perkins School for the Blind with founder Samuel Gridley Howe and the famous Julia Ward Howe.  Samuel Howe is totally selfish, egotistical, and disgustingly patriarchal.  He worries about Bridgman’s vanity and views her as a Unitarian spiritual experiment.  I do think that his penchant for phrenology is both pretty funny and pathetic and makes me wonder what “scientific” methods people will feel the same way about in the future.  And I am very glad that Elkins gave Bridgman a lover-so many times, we assume that romance is unavailable for people with disabilities and in so doing, we take away an aspect of their humanity. Bridgman is very popular during her time and is an instance of the ever popular “inspiration porn,” the term for when people get off on being inspired by other’s disability accomplishments.  Inspiration porn is very problematic, for is elevates disabled people to an angelic and infantilized status, whose only purpose is to inspire able-bodied people, when we all have a right to be recognized as  whole people with full autonomy and value as our own selves, without any need to prove our worth by inspiring others.  This is a powerful, witty, and thought-provoking book that I recommend.      

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – This is the book my young adult book club read for February.  I recommend it, although I don’t think I’ll read it again.  It’s a spy novel that I really think qualifies more as an adult novel than as a young adult one-we think it’s marketed as a young adult novel because it’s about female friendship, which apparently is not an adult topic.  Of course, if it was about male friendship, it would be alright, but female friendship is cute-sy and not serious enough for marketers.  Despite the theme, it is actually a very serious novel about patriotism and war.  It has quite a big plot twist, which is why so many people like it, but personally, I think the book is more concerned with the plot than with making you care about the characters and I am a big character person. I was impressed, but ultimately underwhelmed. If you are more of a plot person and if you like spy novels, then you will probably love this book.

Ms. Marvel “No Normal” by Marvel Comics (writer Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona) – This is the collection of Ms. Marvel comics one through five and is another one of my favorite readings last month.  I am not a huge superhero fan, but I am absolutely a fan of this one.  Ms. Marvel is refreshing because it is about a teen of color Muslim female nerd.  I like that the comics also feature her family and shows how her culture and religion intersect with typical American teen culture.  Kamala Khan just wants to be like the pretty heroine Ms. Marvel and one day to her surprise she actually turns into her favorite super hero.  Khan does not feel like herself in the sexy, blonde body she’s always imagined would be the best and eventually discovers that being a super hero that looks like herself is just as awesome.  This is a female empowerment comic that I can truly support.  The made-up product ads are pretty funny too.

30 Days of Night X-Files by Steve Niles and Adam Jones – This is one of the most well-written X-Files comics I have ever read, I think.  It is also the goriest, so be warned: there is a lot of blood and just general creepiness.  If you have a problem with horror, then you will probably not like this book.  I, however, liked it a lot.  In fact, I really appreciated how the creators were willing to go out on a creepy limb and give us something different.  The series is a merging of the popular X-Files series and 30 Days of Night, which is a bloody vampire series.  I had never read 30 Days of Night before, but now I am intrigued.  Read this collection if you are not squeamish.

X-Files X-MAS Special Comic by Joe Harris, IDW Publishing – This is my third February-read favorite.  I loved the Christmas party with our X-Files favorites-it really made me feel sentimental.  This is a feel good X-Files comic and just warmed my heart.  It is especially nice to see Mulder and Scully being sweet with each other.  This special also has the opener comic for the new Year Zero X-Files series, which I already own, but have not read yet.  Year Zero is about the first X-Files agents in the 1940s and I cannot wait to read it, as I think it is an exciting new angle. This is a great edition to any true X-Files fan.

Currently Reading: 

Link Love:
“[Seventeen Magazine] asked me what I was like when I was 17 and I wasn’t going to say, ‘I was great!' because I wasn’t. I was suffering from a mental disorder. But what I so often find is that it becomes about the facts. ‘How much weight did you lose? How were you treated? Were you hospitalized?’ And that’s not important to me. What is important is to talk about the feelings, to talk about the help that young girls, and young men, who have this problem can get if they find that they are suffering.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Warmlines and LGBT Mental Health Resources

Mental illness can be very isolating.  Depression makes one want to hide and feel unloved, anxiety makes timid about talking/interacting with others, BPD makes one push others away, schizophrenia takes one out of reality and scares other people, mania makes one irritable, eating disorders make one shun eating activities.  Of course, these are generalizations, but I have experienced all of those hardships (yes, I am super DSM girl!) and the fact remains that mental illness is not usually good for anyone's social life.  I used to have no boundaries and so would tell everyone everything about my life and this would overwhelm people and push them away.  Whenever I am depressed, I become super irritable and argumentative.

Mental illness is isolating and unfortunately during the time when one most needs to talk, it can be the hardest to find someone to trust,

Fortunately, I am glad to report that in the U.S. there are warmlines.  I just discovered them and I wish I had known about them sooner.  Warmlines are a number you can call when you need to talk to someone, but you're not in crisis.  I think it's wonderful!  I can remember calling a suicide hotline several times when I was having suicidal ideations, but I knew I was not going to act on it.  Those calls were very frustrating because there was basically nothing that the person could do for me.  To my pain, I discovered that they did not want to talk to me if I was not in absolute crisis, which is a shame because talking about anxieties and ideations can prevent them from elevating and it made me feel isolated even more.  Like I have written about before, talking about suicidal ideations is an incredibly taboo subject, but talking about them is exactly what diminishes them.  A common recovery phrase is that "our secrets make us sicker" and that is definitely true.  Talking about our frustrations and impulses towards self-harm or suicide reduces their power and appeal.  Having a warmline that I could call when feeling impulsive would make me feel less alone and I would not be worrying whether I am pushing someone away.

People who are LGBT also can feel a double layer of isolation.  I recently put together a list of resources for LGBT people in Georgia for a new NAMI mental health support group that is starting this Saturday for the queer population.  It is sorely needed-Atlanta has one of the largest gay populations in the U.S. and yet this will be the only free mental health support group for them, which is just shocking.  Group details:

First Baptist Decatur Church
1st & 3rd Saturdays

Here are Atlanta and some national LGBT resources for youth and adults:

Youth and Families:

Born This Way Foundation
      Lady Gaga's foundation for creating a more inclusive and accepting society

Lost-n-Found Youth
     an Atlanta-based nonprofit corporation whose mission is to take homeless LGBT youths to age 26     off the street and transition them into more permanent housing. We operate a 24/7 hotline at 678-       856-7825, a Youth Center, a 6-bed 90 day housing facility, and 3-6 month host home program.

Real Youth
      Mission to provide LBGTQ youth and allies the space to be themselves.

The Trevor Project
      24/7 hotline for LBGTQ youth in crisis

      Parents, friends, and family of lesbians and gays.  national support, education and advocacy 
      organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, their families, friends and       allies.
 Adults with Mental Illness:

Trans Lifeline877-565-8860  
        staffed by transgender people for transgender people in crisis

       12-step clubhouse for LGBT people in Atlanta

Chrysalis - All Female LBTQ AA Group
       Virginia Highland Church, Fridays at 7:30

       First Baptist Decatur Church
       1st & 3rd Saturdays     11am-12 
I also just discovered that NAMI now has an anonymous support app now called NAMI AIR.  Try it out and let me know how you like it.

Link Love:

The Science Museum Blog - Professor Stephen Hawking Gives London's Guest of Honor a Tour of the Museum

“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression. It may have had advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory, or partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all. A major nuclear war would be the end of civilization, and maybe the end of the human race. The quality I would most like to magnify is empathy. It brings us together in a peaceful, loving state.”

It is brilliant that 40-plus years has allowed growth and change enough that the question of having it all has been eliminated. Of course women can have it all. Nor is the question should women have it all. The question is, must women have it all.