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, August 27, 2015

The Blues Beast Will Help You Learn Mindfulness

Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard and I have come because of your words. Daniel 12:3
Today at the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center I led creative writing for the first time.  I showed my peers a picture I took and asked them to write about how it inspired them.  I thought I would post the picture and the short story that I wrote about it because people said it was comforting.  I was thinking of how good I usually feel when I walk on the beltline looking at the art, which is where I took the picture.  I asked myself, "what would this piece of art say to me?"  I hope this bit of writing makes you feel better too.

I love walking on the beltline.  I walk my blues away.

Today is different - I feel restless and sad.

I see a monster painted onto a small building and I sit down beside him.

"He must be lonely too," I think.
"Maybe we can be lonely together."

All of a sudden, I feel a puff of stale air at my back and then there is a huge yawn.

"Oh!  I am so glad to have some company today," the monster says. "Do you feel blue? The people who come to me are the special people who need some love.  I know I look scary but appearances are not always what they seem.  I am the Blues Beast and I eat up people's blues.  I have claws and fangs and horns to scare them away.  People pass me by not knowing how hard I am working, but I can be your friend.  Stay right here for a while and you will feel better.  Listen to the birds, feel the breeze, surrender to the moment and I will chase your blues away.  All you have to do is sit back and relax."

"Thank you, Mr. Monster, sir."

I sit down and feel comforted.  Not all monsters are bad.  The monsters in plain sight are certainly better than the monsters in my head.
Basically, what this monster is advocating for is known as mindfulness, which is the art of appreciating the present moment.  Being mindful makes it easier to appreciate the world around you and it has transformed my life.  If you would like to work with me on becoming better at mindfulness, contact me at hopeisreal42@yahoo.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wisdom Comes From Experience; Recovery Comes From Practice

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament. Daniel 12:3
Wisdom often comes from experience and from working hard. People seem to view wisdom as something coming spontaneously and naturally, but in my experience, it is usually acquired through hardship and lots of intentional practice. I certainly do not think that one can be wise without a whole lot of self-awareness. 

 Tomorrow, a co-worker and I are sharing our recovery stories and our coping skills with an audience who have recently been diagnosed and are learning coping skills themselves. 

This is some of what I will be sharing:
Because I was impulsive and had suicidal feelings, but did not want to continue the cycle of always going to the hospital, I really had to invest my time (and money) into learning coping skills. I practiced the coping skills taught in DBT every day and I still use the skills I learned on a daily basis. Some of them are distracting myself when I feel impulsive, doing something pleasurable every day to keep my mood more pleasurable and to spend more time appreciating the world around me and the good things that are happening instead of dwelling on the bad. 
I also know how to validate myself and self-soothe myself when feeling bad. Other things I know I must do are eating fairly healthy and balanced meals, getting enough sleep, having regular “me” time, journaling out strong feelings or racing thoughts, learning how to ask for what I need, setting healthy boundaries and saying “no” when I need to, belonging to communities, such as my church and my book club, exploring my creative side and talking with people. I do see a therapist once a month and a doctor every few months. 
I have found talking about my mental health journey to be incredibly rewarding and validating. I speak at events whenever I can and write a mental health blog. Being able to talk about my experiences and help and support others is incredibly empowering and gives meaning to a time when I felt there was none. I encourage everyone to talk about their recovery with others, even if it is just one other person. Realizing that people will not run away scared when confronted with my story, but are instead impressed and inspired inspires me to keep reaching for my dreams and to keep on sharing my story. It validates that I have a story worth sharing and I firmly believe that all of you do too. 
If I could leave you with three things, it would be: practice, practice, practice. People that only have gotten to know me in the last year or two think that I have always been mentally healthy. That is absolutely not so. Becoming a healthier person has been intentional and a slow process, often very frustrating. Fortunately, over time, I have witnessed my life becoming better and better and myself becoming more and more capable at handling it. Becoming better takes a lot of practice.
 (Maybe I am able to be focused and practice more easily because of my early piano lessons. Photo by Woodleywonderworks, a creative commons license.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

My God is Loving and Good and Angry - A Book Critique

My new job is very fulfilling, but it gives me less time to read and to review books.  Here is my book review for the Speakeasy book, A More Christlike God by Bradley Jersak.  I have read other books, some that I have liked a lot more, but unfortunately I might never review them because of time.
I feel conflicted about this book.  On the one hand, there are many beautiful passages about God's love that I wrote down in my quote book, but on the other hand, I disagree with Jersak on many points.  His main point is that people put their own inadequate images of God on God, but that the most accurate description can be found in the story of Jesus the Christ.  An interesting proposition and I am not sure if I agree or disagree.  What I do know is that I believe Bradley Jersak does not paint an accurate picture of Jesus and so I do not think he paints an effective or accurate description of God either.

According to Jersak, Jesus never seems to get angry and when he does get angry it is just satire or metaphor.  He also does not think that God has feelings - that saying, "God is angry," is just anthropomorphizing.  I find both of those ideas abhorrent.

I think God and Jesus are furious.

No, I do not think that God is going to send anybody to Hell because I do not believe in a physical Hell, but I do think that God is angry.

You see, there is a difference between righteous anger and self-righteous anger.  It is good to be rightfully angry - it is not good or helpful to be self-righteous and full of one's self.  Righteously angry is Jesus - self-righteous are the Pharisees.

It is right to be angry about injustice.  Anger is an emotion that propels many people to change evil systems.  I am part of a mental health revolution right now fueled partly by anger at the many ways the traditional medical model messes people up.

It is not right to be angry that your privileges as a white male are being levelled out.

You see the difference?

My God experiences emotion.  If Jesus shares my pain, is human and yet is also God, then God shares my painful feelings.  Therefore, God experiences emotion.  I think to deny God the full range of emotion is to deny Her a relationship with human beings.

Therefore, God experiences anger, rage, and fury, especially when confronted with the injustices in our world.  Anger is not a bad emotion, but it does need to be handled responsibly and constructively.  I believe God is the force that allows us to turn from tearing people down to building people up.  God is the force that allows us to turn unadulterated rage into something positive.

Now, I do think that Jersak was right in asserting that God is pure love and pure goodness.  But again, I think constructive righteous anger IS loving.  It is love for humanity and God that propels a person to be angry at injustice in the first place!  If we did not love and care for each other, then we would not consider anything wrong with oppressing other people.

Of course, it is all too easy to become stagnant and say, "yes, I see the problem," but do nothing about it.  It is true love that will prompt a person to change, to prompt a person to work towards a constructive positive solution for injustice instead of just giving up in apathy or giving in to homicidal impulses.

My God is good, loving and kind.  She is also angry  - angry enough to be able to turn people's hearts from mere stone to a pulsing organ of love.  She is angry enough to cut through the bullshit and turn people towards the truth.

My God is angry and I am glad.  I am angry too and with our anger we can change the world into the kindom it was originally intended to be.

Blessed be.

(Side note - I had other disagreements with the author, but these points were the ones I felt the most strongly.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

'Not In My Community' Mentality Helps No One

It was a place to stand. Sing to new stars; speak to new dirt. Two planted legs to help keep me upright for the next couple of decades. First we love music. Then we love food. Many years later, we evolve high enough to love another - if we're lucky. (from Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein)
The Peer Support and Wellness Center where I work is a place where people have evolved high enough to love each other.  We sing, we cook, we eat and that's just what happens at a staff meeting!  It's a truly special place.

After tonight's staff meeting, I was pulled over by a cop because apparently I did not fully stop at the stop sign.  I thought I did, but it is certainly possible that I did not.  I will say that I was definitely embarrassed since he pulled me over on the same street as the center and I was afraid that a co-worker was going to drive-by any second and wonder why there was a flashing police car stopped behind me.  The police officer was very nice and even made some small talk, which was a little weird.  I told him that I was coming home from work and when he found out where I was coming from he informed me that it must be a good place because he hardly ever had to go there, which is a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one.   He also said that a lot of the neighbors in that residential area didn't want us there when the center was first formed.  That information did not surprise me, but it did make me very sad.  I still feel a bit upset.

People seem to agree that there needs to be community services and support for people with mental health challenges.  Our society seems to now know that locking people up in hospitals is not usually for the best.  We also seem to have substituted hospitals for prisons and that is very disturbing, but every major consensus seems to be that we need more community support.  More treatment and support options near people's homes would lead to more people staying well, which will lead to a more stable economy and society and yet when the reality hits that it's time to build a community support for people with mental health challenges, people in the residential area get upset.

Yes, we need more community support options....just not in my community.

This mindset infuriates the hell out of me, because it's not as if one out of every four people in the United States does not live with a mental health challenge.  It's not as if there are not people hiding behind their doors worried that others will find out about their diagnosis.  It's not as if mental illness is not already a part of every community, all the time.  Talking about mental health and supporting those with mental health challenges in one area will not hinder progress, but propel it.  The only way to break the stigma surrounding mental illness is to talk about it.  The only way to get support for mental health challenges is by reaching out and the only way to get out of stigma's depression is by surrounding one's self with people who understand.

We, at the Peer Support and Wellness Center understand and because we understand, we are more compassionate people.  We are people who know how to offer support and a listening ear, a kind touch.  We know how to laugh, how to create art and how to feed each other's souls.  Now wouldn't you want people like that as your neighbor?

Of course, if you believe the stigma and the media's hype then you would assume that we are dangerous.  Surely we must be loud, annoying, highly dramatic and ticking time bombs intent on murdering everyone in the neighborhood.

 Actually, it is the opposite.

 We oftentimes have to support our peers at the center who are afraid for their lives because of the stigma of mental illness.  I have heard from many people that they are afraid of harassment from the cops, their employers, their church members, family and friends if word should get out that they are living with mental health challenges.  Like I have said before, a person with mental illness is far more likely to be abused and bullied than to inflict that pain on others.

How do I know?

Because every time a community member says, "don't build here - stay away from me," then violence is being done to a person with mental illness.  Ironically, the action claiming to be for safety is actually creating more fear and violence for others.

Those who work at the Peer Support and Wellness Center have worked really hard on their recovery and on becoming more stable people.  In fact, in reality we may be the most mental healthy people in town.  I have found that those who were once the most mentally broken can become the most mentally whole and as such are highly worthy community teachers and supporters.

My roommate told me tonight that all people are concerned about is how much value their housing area will have - we with mental health challenges have much to offer of value.  Acknowledging, supporting and engaging with people with mental illness adds value to one's community because it will lessen fear and open up gateways for redemptive friendships.

I hope the neighborhood that our center is at now considers us a worthy neighbor.  Because we are.  People with mental health challenges have much to offer the world if the world will only let us.  Stigma and mental health bias hurts everyone - let us love everyone instead.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mindfulness Leads to Acceptance, Change and Gratitude

O [wo]man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong! Daniel 10:18

I recently did a presentation on mindfulness at NAMI Augusta's Women's Empowerment Conference and for those of you that missed it, here is part of my speech:

Mindfulness is taught through DBT, but one doesn’t need to take a class or have a diagnosis in order to start receiving the benefits.  I believe that most people can learn mindfulness if they have patience and an open mind and that it can definitely benefit everyone.

Mindfulness is about staying in touch with one’s “wise mind.” Wise mind is the state that balances one’s emotions and one’s logic.  In DBT and in Buddhism, one tries to be with one’s wise mind instead of living with the extremes of logic and being detached from life or the extreme or emotion and becoming too impulsive.

Mindfulness lets one stay in the present moment and I would say that being in the present is one of the keys to happiness.  Most people stay stuck in the past or worry about the future and while it is good to reflect on the past and learn from it and it is good to plan for the future, constantly thinking about the past or the future will keep a person stuck in a dark or worrisome mood.  Mindfulness is about accepting one’s current reality, instead of hiding from it. Paradoxicallly, when a person can accept their current situation, then they are better able to change it because they are no longer running away from their problem or uncomfortable feeling, but facing it head-on.

Pay attention to your body.  How does your body feel like when you are becoming stressed?  Learn to listen to your body and if you catch yourself tensing up, do some mindfulness exercises then and see if you can prevent your anxiety from getting worse.  Deep breathing.  Breath deep from your diaphragm – you are breathing through your nose and will feel even your back opening up.  Purposely make your inhalations and exhalations slow.  Some people find it helpful to count.  I have trouble concentrating on numbers, but I do concentrate on words.  As I breathe in, I think of a positive word or phrase, like “Love,” or “Thank you” and then I let it go when I exhale.  This helps me concentrate of the positive word, instead of what I was previously anxious about.  It is helpful to know that if you struggle with this, you’re not alone.  Many people struggle with mindfulness in the beginning.  When you notice your mind start to wander nonjudgmentally bring it back to the word or number and start deep breathing again.  The more you practice, the easier it will be.   

Mindfulness can also bring me back to an attitude of gratitude.  When I start to feel anxious or just grumpy, I look around me for something to admire or to feel grateful about. This is called “participating” in DBT. That way, I am not stuck in my head, but in the present moment admiring the beauty of the world around me.  I may look out the window and notice how gorgeous the sunset is or how mysterious my cat’s eyes seem to be or try to think something that happened recently that I can feel good about.
(The sunset at Sunset Beach)

  I find that when I write down what I’m grateful for often enough, I start to notice positive things more often, which in turn helps me feel more positive in the long run.  It’s not that we are running away from problems or never have to feel uncomfortable, but that when we notice the positive things in life, we are less stressed, which will give us the peace of mind to handle our problems in a more constructive, clear-headed manner.   I write down what I am grateful  for several times a day on an app called Happier and I write a gratitude list every night before I go to bed.  It really does help even my moods.

 Those are several of the ways that I use mindfulness.  There are many more ways.  If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, you can study DBT, Buddhism, listen to recordings.  You can also contact to work with me.  (look at the top right side of this page for my contact info.)