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.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

HAWMC #27 - Medications and Poetry for World Health Day

I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, and that means not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one's nature. Have fun with it and you know, is to accept everything about ourselves. Anthony Hopkins
World Health Day was April 7, but I'm always writing about mental health, so I feel like I celebrate it every day.  Recently, The American Recall Center inspired me to talk about medication for world health day, so here are my two cents.

No one wants to be on medication and there is a stigma to taking medication, but I have found that some people need it anyway.  I do.  Medication helps control my depression, anxiety, mood swings, the amount of sleep I get and psychosis.  I've tried going without, but then I don't sleep as well and within a few days I start decompensating, so meds are for me.

Some think that patients should not talk about their side effects or drugs with others since everyone reacts to them differently, but I say knowledge is power.  Of course, one should always be aware that different bodies will react in different ways, but sharing information about drug reactions can be validating and informing.  I go to patient sites fairly often to see if what I am experiencing could be the result of my medication when I am on a new drug.

Questions to ask your pharmacist/doctor are:

  • What are the most common side effects?
  • Are there any foods or activities to avoid?
  • How often/how many can I take for a PRN?
  • When will I know if it is working?
Some medications take a long time to start working, so it is important to have a good idea of when you can expect to see results.  Try to see a doctor that allows you to call between appointments if you have a question or concern.
Since I am writing for world health day, it is only fitting that I do Monday's prompt, which is to make acrostic poem out of the word "health."

How
Everbody
Accepts
Lies
That
Hurt

How
Everybody
Accepts
Love
That
Heals

The poems represent the worst and the best of what the health care world can do.  On one hand, the healthcare industry is fueled by brainwashing diet programs that do not work, doctors are pushed to promote pills whenever possible and prices and access to proper healthcare are often unavailable. 
On the other hand, health care has prompted me to learn about body mindfulness, more balanced nutrition and coping skills. Many pills are indeed life-saving and therapy has done wonders for me. 

Health care can be hurtful or healing depending on who you listen to and where you go.  My best advice for finding quality health care is to shop around, ask for recommendations and only accept care from people that you feel are treating you with the respect and dignity you deserve.  Educate yourself as much as possible about your diagnosis, different types of treatment and coping skills. Find a group of supportive people that can help you on your recovery journey.  It is hard to separate the lies from the truth, but somewhere along the way hope and healing can be found.

Link Love:

Foxglove & Firmitas -"Big Pharma" & Privilege: Or Why I Wish Allies Would Stop Using This Phrase


Sunday, April 26, 2015

My First Vlog! Giving Yourself Grace

After watching a few vlogs the other day, I decided to make my own!  It took me a while to figure out how to upload the video to youtube and I probably did some things to my Google account that I really shouldn't have, but at last, it is done.  It is a bit awkward, but for my first attempt, I am really quite pleased.  I will work on getting better lighting and being more expressive over time.

It is called, Giving Yourself Grace, and is a companion piece to yesterday's blog post.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 24, 2015

HAWMC #24 - Recovered Vs. Recovery - Giving Myself Grace

Today's prompt is to tell you about how I maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I am not going to talk about maintaining a physically healthy lifestyle, but a mentally healthy one and that is by giving myself grace.

I am realizing more and more how much I doubt myself.  I put my foot in my mouth and jump to conclusions too.  I participate in gossip and live in fear.  These are just the not-so-great things I noticed I did today.  Each time I noticed what I was doing, I sort of laughed at myself and said,
"Well, that's better than I used to do."

And so I gave myself grace.

Grace is the knowledge that while I will try to do better at living, I acknowledge that I am imperfect and that is how it should be for nobody is perfect.

Grace is life-changing and life-affirming.  It enables one to start over instead of staying stagnant.

This brings me to something I mentioned during The Respect Institute workshop I recently attended:
I am not recovered.
Because of sickness, I, unfortunately, missed out on the debate that followed that comment the next day, but when I returned I explained myself.  I am not fully recovered and I never will be.  However, I am in recovery.

I believe part of being in recovery involves giving myself grace and that means recognizing that I will never be fully recovered.  I just don't think that science has developed a pill yet that totally cures mental illness - the messiness of mental illness I will have to deal with forever.  I may be in recovery from borderline personality disorder, but I will always have some of the traits.  The same for the eating disorder.  I will probably always cycle through periods of depression and intense anxiety, as so any person would who has to deal with the intricacies of life.  Depression and anxiety are my lot in life, but that does not mean that I am always suffering - I am actually really doing pretty well.  Recovery, to me, means admitting I have troubles and yet still continuing to face life on life's terms.  It means making mistakes and not beating myself up over them.  It means giving myself grace.

I will never be fully recovered because I will always be fully human and humans make mistakes and get sick.   Being in recovery means that I use these times as a way to learn and grow instead of as a way to die.  I think anyone that would say that they are fully recovered from anything is fooling themselves into thinking they are better than they really are.

I am not recovered, but I am in recovery.  I am grateful that I have the grace to appreciate this.  May you find that grace too.
Link Love:

Social Skills for Autonomous People - The Power of "I Can't"
It helps a lot to be confident in your ability to judge what you can and can’t do. Sometimes you have to say no over and over. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

HAWMC #19 - More Honesty, Less Stress

"It takes strength and courage to tell the truth." Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid
Yesterday's prompt asked me what do I do to help ease my stress and there are many things, like drinking hot tea, journaling and playing music.  One of my top ones is speaking my truth.  I have a wonderful therapist and sharing with her what I am stressed about helps me gain clarity about what is important and what can be discarded.  I did that with her just a few hours ago and we decided that one event I was stressing about I should forego and the other I should pursue.  Talking with her helped me focus on my goals and what would actually make me happy.  I also have several close friends that I know I can call if I need to talk about something and my therapy appointment is far away.  Talking to them strengthens our bond and helps me not feel overly burdened by troubles.

I was recently at a wonderful workshop called The Respect Institute.  It was a transformative experience where people living with mental illness, including me, learned how to tell our stories in about ten minutes.  One of the themes of the workshop was how important it is to get one's story out because if we don't, then it will fester and become a boil in our mind leaking toxic juices to our soul. We will begin to think that no one should hear our story and we will feel invalidated and stigmatized.  The good news is that people DO want to hear our stories - people are hungry for messages of hope and even if one does not have a lot of hope, then one can at least find solidarity in sharing their experiences.  In each one of our stories, there was the same fact that we each tried to hide our painful experiences out of fear only to find out that the more we tried to hide and smile, the sicker we became.

Our secrets made us all deathly ill.

I have found that each time I share my story, I gain acceptance, solidarity and hope.  I receive validation that I am not alone and this strengthens everybody in the room.  Sharing my secrets with others is a healing like no other.

One thing that I really liked about The Respect Institute's way of telling was that we ended each speech with three things that we wanted our audience to know.  I think we all found that incredibly empowering.  Here are my three things:

If I could leave you with three things, it would be: validate, validate, validate. It is amazing how treating people with empathy and validation can help heal mental health issues. Secondly, in our society a lot of emphasis is placed on what job a person has and how much money they make, but those things really do not matter. The truth is that we all have inherent worth and value as a human being, regardless of whether we have a job or not. Being a disabled person has forced me to make peace with that truth. And lastly, everyone can have a life worth living-I truly believe that hope is real for everybody, no matter how dire the circumstances seem in the moment.

Practice sharing your truth, whether it be with a therapist, a close friend or even just a journal, I think you will find it incredibly healing.
 Link Love:

 Feminism and Religion - Cheeky Buddha by Oxana Poberejnaia



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

HAWMC Day 14 - I Need Sleep (and so do you)

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book. ~ An Irish Proverb

 Today's topic is what makes me feel my best and it is hands down getting enough restful sleep.  A doctor once told me that sleep is just as important as medication for bipolar disorder.  I talked with a friend about it yesterday and we think it's more important than medication and that that applies to everybody.  Unfortunately, I got to find out just how important it is by suffering with insomnia for about three weeks.

Sleep deprivation absolutely makes one crazy.

 By the end of the three weeks, I had absolutely no energy and was severely depressed.  I came home from a workshop yesterday and just cried and cried from exhaustion and the realization that I was not happy at all.  It was a terrible feeling because I knew that as soon as I got enough sleep that I would be back to my old self, but how to get it?  I felt desperate in a way that I have not felt in a while.  I took a chance that it might be my new medication and so I tried not taking it last night and lo and behold, I slept well for the first time in weeks!  I let myself sleep in until noon today and I feel so wonderful.  I have energy and motivation and feel like myself.  I am so glad too because one more day and I may have had a crisis.

All of this is to say, do not take getting enough rest for granted.  A schedule that makes you unable to get enough sleep could be your undoing.  Setting boundaries and protecting your sleep is not being nerdy, it is being smart.  What kind of medication works for us or whether it even works at all is totally out of our control but getting enough sleep is.  I have learned in recovery to do what I can that is in my control so that the other factors do not affect me as much.

I leave you with this prayer:
May sleep envelop you as a bed sheet floating gently down, tickling your skin and removing every worry. Reminding you to consider only this moment. ~ Jed Dickerson

Saturday, April 11, 2015

HAWMC Day 10 - Don't Be Jealous, Make a Cupcake!

Yet the children of your people say, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' But it is their way that is not fair. Ezekiel 33:17
Recently I sent an email to a friend and after reviewing it, I realized that I had fallen prey to the envy monster.  I was jealous that everyone around me seemed to have more money, to have less anxiety, and less struggles.  Anytime someone mentioned what they were doing, it reminded me of what I was NOT doing.  I wanted to have just as much as everyone else and everything seemed incredibly unfair.
But then I thought - these things that other people have are not even things that I want!  Why bemoan about how everyone has more when I already have all that I need.  Yes, it is true that I am not the same.  I get my food from food stamps, I get money from the government and my parents, but why does it matter where I get my money and my food if all my needs are fulfilled?  It is our system that is unfair - we see post after post about obtaining new things and making more money and none of that truly gives us lasting happiness.

I need to review what I do have in abundance:

  • caring friends
  • supportive family
  • books
  • food
  • music
  • cuddly animals
  • my faith
  • recovery
  • love 
  • hope

I also have a recipe for death by chocolate cupcakes!  Super chocolate-y cupcakes were requested for some celebrations, so I found the perfect recipe from the blog, Sally's Baking Addiction.  The batter is the best batter ever! It tastes and has the consistency of pudding, so I could eat the whole bowl very easily, forgoing baking them into cupcakes.  But then I would miss out topping them with the chocolate cream cheese frosting from Cupcake Project.

Ingredients


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoonn baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature*
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the cupcake pan with liners. Set aside.
  • Melt the butter and chocolate in low heat on the stovetop.Stir until smooth and then set aside to cool.
  • In a medium bowl, toss the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.  Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla together until smooth.  
  • Add the cooled chocolate/butter and whisk until smooth.
  • Add half of the flour mixture, then half of the buttermilk.  Repeat until everything is added.  Stir until "just" combined; do not overmix.  The batter will be very thick, like pudding.
  • Divide the batter into 12 cupcake liners.  Bake for 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.
* Room temperature eggs are required for this recipe. To bring eggs to room temperature quickly, put them in a glass of warm water for 5-10 minutes.
 
(Don't you want to lick the bowl?)

Frosting Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
Frosing Directions

  • Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy.
  • Mix in powdered sugar, one cup at a time.
  • Mix in cocoa powder.



I've improved my frosting skills!

Having as much and wanting as much as my neighbor will not make me happy, but chocolate in abundance will.  Of course, we should work to level the playing field and make things more equal, but we should always remember that our value lies not in how much we make, how much we have, or where the source of our goods comes from, but from being human.  I can be happy if I let myself not be distracted by what society deems is important, but instead focus on what I think is important.

And I think chocolate-y cupcakes are very important.

Link Love:

 in my experience, there is naught that casts aside every last remnant of inhibition like profound trust.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

HAWMC Day 6 - Emotional Safety

Day six is about your hero and my hero is my therapist.  I have been seeing her for nine and a half years and our relationship has changed my life. Some people criticize having a therapist for so long, saying that it must surely mean that I am not doing better, but that is not true - I started out seeing her twice a week and now I only see her twice a month.  What I really do not think those people realize is how bad my mental illnesses were and how bad my anxiety continues to be.  I need someone that I can unload my anxieties onto and ask for help in figuring out how to overcome them.  I need someone who is emotionally safe.

Because I am so sensitive, a question I often ask myself is does this person seem emotionally safe to me?  Emotional safety, to me, is being able to talk to someone without fear of being judged, made fun of, lectured, condescended to, yelled at, bossed, disregarded, or feel invalidated because of our interactions.  For a long time, she was the only person I felt I could trust to actually treat me the way I want to be treated.  She respects, validates, and listens compassionately to me.  She tells me hard truths, but in a way that prompts me to listen and care about what she is telling me, instead of in a way that shuts me down.  Having a safety person in my life, especially during the years when I was usually paranoid and in crisis has saved my life on more than one occasion.

When I do presentations, I tell people that the relationship between them and their therapists and doctors is incredibly important.  If one does not feel that they can trust their therapist or other mental health professional, then they flat-out do not need to be paid.  Life is hard enough as it is living with mental illness without mental health professionals that only tell you what you want to hear, are not specialized enough to be helpful or are condescending and rude.  I tell people to shop around to find the right fit - someone they feel they can trust, has a sense of humor and simply connects with.

Unfortunately, my friends and I often talk about how hard it to find the right help.  It took me four years to find a therapist that was actually competent, let alone one that actually worked well with me.  Skyland Trail was the first treatment center where I found respectful, competent, knowledgeable staff, so I was delighted when I discovered that one of them had just started her own practice and that she specialized in eating disorders when it was time for me to leave.  We have been together ever since, with some time-outs for school in Milledgeville.

Emotionally safe people are important in this fat-shaming, sexist, ablist, heteronormative, classist, white supremacist, rape culture society.  Often, once we have established one emotionally safe person, then we can start building up our own safe community of supporters, but it all starts with that first relationship.

My therapist is my hero, but I have others.  Other heroes are my family and, funnily enough, myself, for continuing to keep pressing on these many years.

I hope you have some heroes in your life, including someone who is emotionally safe.  Those people are hard to find, but worth their weight in gold once found.

 Link Love:

 in my experience, there is naught that casts aside every last remnant of inhibition like profound trust.

Monday, April 6, 2015

HAWMC Day #5 - Proud Pain

You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.  Psalm 30:11


Day #5 asks us to share our achievements in the last five years, so if you don't mind some bragging, here they are:

Became IOOV Presenter
Diagnosed with BPD &; Now In Recovery
Started Feminist Book Club & Feminist Bible Group
Won Two Art Awards
Granted Disability
Moved out of parent's house
Started Website
Three Years Hospital Free
Still Have Faith
Still Alive - Older Than Sylvia Plath

What I noticed in writing these achievements is that I am wonderfully resilient.  In order to celebrate still having faith, still being alive, having a business based in recovery is that I, of course, had to go through awful events to make those achievements note-worthy and I did.  The year I celebrated living past Sylvia Plath, I was barely hanging on, myself.  I experienced trauma, which started a cycle of hospitalizations that left me miserable.  I was in hell.  I shudder when I remember those times.

But somehow, I hung on.  I finally took my therapist's advice and took her DBT course twice.  I got very frustrated many times and eventually had to let go of some people and institutions that no longer served me, which was immensely hard, but still I pressed on.

The DBT helped and so did the new connections that I forced myself to make.  Slowly, I found my footing and became a person willing to share my recovery story to all who will listen, for my story is great and inspirational, even to myself.

My faith is bigger and deeper now.  I know that Godde is always with me and shares in my joy and especially my pain.  I take comfort from the fact that Jesus sometimes felt abandoned too.  (Some of his last words on the cross were, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?")  We both are people that feel emotions intensely and experience such empathy for others that sometimes it feels devastating and unbearable.  Jesus was not perfect - at least, not in society's eyes.  A man who feels deeply and speaks up for women breaks gender roles and rules.  A person who speaks truth to power is surely not the "perfect" citizen, according to the government.  We forget that and think that he is only about being "nice" to everybody, but there is so much more richness, and deepness, and emotion in Jesus' story and I appreciate that so much, being a person who is also rich and deep in emotion and passion, myself.

To write this post right after Easter seems fitting, for I certainly have experienced a great measure of redemption and even a rising up from the depression-dead.

 Hope is Real!

 It is real in the Easter story and it is real in my own story.  Blessed be!


Link Love:

Crunk Feminist Collective - Teachers Are Not Magical Negroes

Friday, April 3, 2015

HAWMC Day #3 - Do Not Fear, But Live in Freedom and Love

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ― Frank Herbert, Dune
Today's prompt is it write about a time that I've benefitted from the kindness of a stranger.  Most of the times when I've been helped by a stranger involve food and money.  There have been several times when I left my wallet at home and so the cashier paid for my food anyway.  I have always been very grateful in those situations.  Fairly recently, I was at a supermarket with a good friend when she found to her dismay that the store would not take debit cards and she did not have enough money on her credit card to pay for all of her food.  As she started to put food back, the woman behind her in line decided to pay for all the discarded food and gave it to my friend.  We were both overcome by happiness at the generosity of this stranger.  Moments like that remind me of the positive affirmation that I wrote in my altered book last year:  
The world is often friendlier than I think it is.
As a small female, I have been raised to view the world as dangerous - there might be a rapist, stalker, or molester around every corner.  And the world is dangerous, it is true, but it is also true that living in fear keeps us in a cage that we can never escape, even if in the open air.  It is also true that while there are aspects of this world that are much worse than we would like to imagine, there are aspects of this world and its people that are much better.  Of course, we must always fight for justice, but if we fight so hard that we become jaded then we have lost our soul and what good is a just world if we are but empty shells of who we are called to be?

The answer is balance - to remember the good while fighting for justice from the bad.

My upbringing taught me to fear and when I am depressed, these fears are strengthened.  I am anxious and fearful of everyone's reaction to me, but my fear becomes my own worst enemy.  I need these random acts of kindness to remind me of the goodness that is in everybody and in this creation.  To remind me that more people than not want me to do well, be productive and happy.  I need to be strengthened by recognizing goodness when I see it than to be weakened by dwelling in a place of fear.

Right now, there is backlash against the strides that have been gained by the LGBT community by "religious freedom" acts being passed at an alarming rate.  What we need is for unity - for the haters on both sides to realize that we are more alike than different and that trying to separate us from another will only serve to divide us rather than bring us together.  There is a Christian song that says, "We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord/And we pray that all unity may one day be restored./And they'll know we are Christians by our love."  Well, right now, people do not know we are Christians by our love and these "Christians" are not working towards unity.  I urge these right-wing Christians to look for the inherent good in us all, to actually follow Jesus' call for unity and to live into truly loving one another, not in the fear that is evident in the media.  

These random acts of kindness remind me of our similarities-let us continue to be kind, even when it is hard, for it is the way to live in liberation.

HAWMC 2015 Day #1 & #2 - The Key to Happiness

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” Frederick Keonig

It is April and that means it is time for the annual WEGO Health, Health Activist Writer's Monthly Challenge!  I try to do a majority of the posts every year.  Yesterday's prompt was easy - take a selfie of me showing how excited I am to be writing:
Note that my earrings are heart-shaped, showing my self-love.  I am also excited because I just bought me a ticket to see my favorite musical, Pippin, at the FOX Theatre in downtown Atlanta.  Since I do love myself, I love to be alone with myself and will be attending the show alone.  Some people think that being alone is always lonely, but that is far from true - often times, the best times I have are by myself and the times when I feel the most lonely are when I am surrounded by other people.  It's all a matter of how I feel in the moment - if I am comfortable in my own skin, then I feel pretty happy, even if by myself, but if I feel out of place and awkward in a crowd, then I just want to hide.

Day two asks me what is my key to happiness and the biggest thing that has made a difference in my life is noticing every little thing that brings me pleasure throughout the day.  I have even started using an app called Happier, where I post pictures of what makes me happy as they happen.  It helps keep me aware, grateful and grounded.  Even if I am experiencing a rotten day, I know at some point in the day, there will be something that I will be able to receive with pleasure.  Today, I took many beautiful pictures in my neighborhood, as evidence that Spring is here!  Whoo-Hoo!




Aren't they gorgeous?  I hope they make you happy just looking at them. Maybe if there is still snow where you are, then you can imagine yourself down here in Georgia where the grass is green and the sun is bright.  The sun and Spring weather affect my mood so much, I am feeling much better these days.  Today I stopped and admired the flowers and I am so glad I did!  When I am depressed, nothing gives me pleasure, so I have learned to take my pleasure when I can and like one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, almost nothing gives me greater pleasure than Spring.

Spring

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?         
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.