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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mental Health Anarchy

You see, love is energy. The soul is a huge vast place, and lots of it is dark, and it's full of energy and power, and thus can be bad, but it can be good, and that's the work, to change bad energy into good, when we desire good things and are attracted magnetically by them. (Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living by Mark Vernon, 20)
I was telling my dad the other day about how there are no badges worn at the place where I work to differentiate the staff from the other participants, he exclaimed,  
That's anarchy!
I smiled inwardly in delight and agreed.  Yes, it is anarchy to have a place where everyone is a peer - staff and participants alike are equals in that they both have a shared experience (in this case, self-identifying as having a mental health challenge and very likely also having an addictive disease) and can learn from each other in a mutually beneficial way.  This IS anarchy and it is good.  In the United States, anarchy has been twisted to mean chaos, but that is not classically so - libertarian anarchy is a system where people govern themselves in a mutual and interdependent way.  It is compassionate and life-affirming - it is outside the patriarchy and I believe it is a possible way to bring heaven to earth.  It is about building relationships between equals and feeling personally responsible for one another because while the one in power will abuse power, the one in love will uplift all. (This is why I still resist the title of Jesus as king and favor instead the image of Jesus as friend).  To those who work from a place of love, redeeming, empowering abundant life is given - to those who come in power death of the soul is certain.

The traditional mental health-care systems torture many souls by keeping them alive, but retraumatizing them at every turn by constantly re-enforcing systems of power over and dominance.  It is only when systems embrace  a philosophy of power with that true healing can begin.  Good therapists do this by earning clients' trust and then teaching them how to trust in themselves.  CPS's do this even further by saying,
I, too, have through Hell and am now well - you, can do this too, so let us learn and grow together.
 This is a concept that I believe in my whole soul, both as a theology student (Self-directed studying counts!) and as an experiencer of life who has been shown and thus follows the way of faith and hope.

I work in a profession that promotes anarchy - shhh! don't tell the government agency that funds us - we just might dismantle the harmful mental health system and achieve true loving equality despite ourselves.

*Many thanks to Noam Chomsky's book, On Anarchy, for helping me understand the true redemptive and equalizing force of libertarian anarchy (not to be confused with the United States' libertarian political party).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mark 5, Mental Health and a New Job

I spoke at my church last Sunday in a service about mental health based on the scripture Mark 5.  Here is what I said about my new job:
I just got a part-time job at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center, a place that believes in focusing on strengths, not illness; on hope, not fear; on compassionate peer support, instead of cold, clinical diagnosis. I believe in these things too. I feel like my possibilities are endless now.  
Here is Mark 5 and how I related the verses about the man living among the tombs to my own life.
Mark 5 New International Version (NIV) Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man 5 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” 
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” 
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 
14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
I am like the man in the tombs and so are many others.  Borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia are labels that scare many people.  I have seen papers where psychiatrists and psychologists have called people with BPD “monsters” and it is common to see schizophrenia associated with violence in the media, when the truth is that people with mental illness are much more likely to be abused, scapegoated and bullied than to cause the violence themselves.  Because of the stigma, I have felt that I could tell no one what I was going through and that there was no way that people could truly love or value me.  This belief caused me to do desperate things in order to get my needs met.  The good news is that the man in the tombs was healed and so was I.  I believe he was healed by the bringing of him back into community, for it is community where we belong and it is community that we are healed.  We need people and we need God-just as we are in a relationship with God, we are in a relationship with the world and our communities.  It is a reciprocal relationship, as God and community have given so much to me, so I too have much to offer the world.  It needs to be recognized that people with mental illness, no matter how severe, have community value and the potential to change and grow.  We all have value.  We all have the ability to change and grow, just like Jesus and the man he healed, into our own resurrection and redemption. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Recovery Revolution

Cause my dry bones to live and breath life into my soul. Awaken my senses. Fill me with wonder. May I speak with Spirit. Ezekiel 23 7:19
Again, you can replace "Spirit" with "Recovery."

As a feminist, I love the word and the notion of revolution.  As a Christian, I think all forms of revolution should be loving and soul-affirming.  That's why I loved the certified peer training - it was continually reiterated that we were part of a mental health recovery revolution dismantling the harmful beliefs and practices of the old medical treatment model.  The old system is patriarchal, dominating and invalidating, seeing people as problems, diagnoses and disorders who need to be controlled.  The new recovery way affirms the whole person, looking to build upon a person's strengths instead of their weaknesses, to motivate and encourage instead of simply stabilizing and managing symptoms.  Yesterday I had a job interview at the Decatur Peer Wellness Center and I was impressed on how the goal is to always support the peer, no matter what.  As I told the director, "if the person is not presenting an issue like a problem, then I won't treat it as a problem."  This is different from the old model that tells you whether and when you are ready for your next step, instead of letting the person decide on their own.  In my experience, when people do not put their own assumptions in the way of my dreams then I soar.

 There was a time while attending the treatment center, SkyLand Trail, that I expressed that I wanted a job.  The staff encouraged me to find one myself in something I was interested in and I got a volunteer job helping a music therapist.  It was great and I flourished.  When I had a family meeting a month later, a staff member said that they were glad that it was working out because they were worried in the beginning that I was becoming manic.  If they had acted on their fear and stopped me from applying to jobs, then my recovery would have suffered and my dreams would have been crushed.  Fortunately, they did not give in to their assumptions and I was allowed to soar.

 When we do not allow people the freedom to make mistakes, we also do not give them the freedom to fly.  Before one flies, one will fall - what we need is support, encouragement and resources for flight, not negativity, discouragement and preconceived notions of what we can do.  There is no way to know what one can do without trying it out first.

 We need to be encouraged to see mistakes as learning and growth opportunities and not as symptoms of our diseases.  We need validation that we are loving beings always capable of doing better.

 We are not manipulative, but seeking ways of fulfilling our needs.  We are not "non-compliant," but dissatisfied with our options.  We are not "attention-seeking," but needing encouragement and validation.

This is my revolution - let us awaken mental healthcare's senses and fill them with the wonder of what we can achieve.