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, September 24, 2015

Hugging Does Not Always Help Anxiety - A Lesson in Rape Culture

They pretended to know it all but were illiterate regarding life. (308, The Message Bible)
A couple weekends ago, I attended an arts festival with some friends. I enjoyed spending time with them, even though the festival wasn't quite as good as I thought it would be. At one point, the booths got closer together and the noise got considerably louder, both of which made one of my friends anxious. We were trying to get away from the noise when we came upon a group of young people who had a booth for "free hugs." They were blocking the road, shouting "Free Hugs!" at the top of their lungs and would step towards people, whether the person wanted them to or not. My friend did not want to hug them. To be honest, neither did I.

 "No, thank you," she replied to their advances.

"Oh, come on, everyone loves hugs!" they said.

 "Not right now, I don't," she countered.

 "Yes, you do!" they enthused. They continued to push.

"I HAVE ANXIETY!!" she finally yelled.

"Hugging is good for anxiety!" they said, laughing.

Amazed at their lack of insight and genuine listening or caring, we rushed to the other side of the road, onto the grass as far as we could, so that we would not be forced to hug against our will.

I am not against hugging. But unlike some people, I do not feel like hugging 100% of the time, especially when I am stressed. Contrary to what those young people thought, touch is not always good for anxiety. In fact, many times it is not. When I am anxious and on the verge of a panic attack, my plan of defense is to be as alone as possible in as quiet of an area as possible. Touching may trigger tears, which I am trying to avoid when in public. In those times, it is far better for me to get to where I can be alone, take a few minutes of deep breathing and pull myself together, so that I can enjoy the rest of my day without further incident, instead of hugging someone, crying my eyes out and causing a scene. This need is not unique to me but is probably what my friend was feeling and how I know many people deal with anxiety.

I am amazed at the hugging enthusiasts' lack of boundaries. Why is it that there seems to be a lack of boundary respect in our society? If a child does not want to hug a person, I will hear otherwise progressive people force the child to experience unwanted touch.

This is rape culture.

 It appears harmless, but we are a culture that has grown up knowing that our boundaries are not our own. That we should let people comfort us the way they want to comfort us and not the way we actually need. We learn to put other people's touching needs ahead of our own and over time, it becomes hard to internalize that it is our right to set sensory boundaries. If we teach children that they do not have the right to say no to a hug, then they learn that they do not have the respect to say no to sex later. Likewise, if we tell people with mental health issues that they do not have the right to say no to hugs, then they learn that they do not have the right to make their own healthcare choices. Many people at the center I work at are used to being told how to manage their lives, for they have been taught by well-meaning people in the past that they cannot adequately make decisions about their needs.

We start by respectfully listening to one another. We start by honoring one's request for more or less space, no matter how we personally feel about the activity. We start by making sure that people know that even hugging can be harassment.

Free hugs are great, but only if they come with consent.
Some "Free Hugs" are creepy. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self - Conflict Is Not Inherently Bad

quality of life is directly proportional to the delight you can take in discussion. (19, Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living, Mark Vernon)
I facilitated the creative writing activity at the Peer Support and Wellness Center a few days ago and my prompt was to write a letter to your younger self.  I've posted similar posts here before.  This time, my writing had a specific theme in mind - that conflict is not always bad.  This is a concept that is very hard for me to get, as I have spent my life petrified of causing and being involved in conflict.  Raised voices trigger me and I am quick to feel invalidated and defensive.  I was amazed when talking with a friend the other day when she said that she actually loves conflict and is good at it.  She sees conflict as a positive learning and growing opportunity.  Her point of view strikes me as very healthy, but very hard for me to wrap my head around.  She encouraged me to confront a person who I thought was not treating me very well.  I had been furious with this person for several days and had promised my friend that I would stand up for myself, instead of being passive aggressive.

I was all set.

I was going to set boundaries and be ferocious.

I was also terrified.

I made the call to set up the appointment for a face-to-face encounter.  She, of course, could only speak on the phone.  I went ahead and asked the question I needed to ask before really letting her have it.....

......and she was nice and polite and totally gave me the answer I had wanted.

There had been no reason for me to be angry in the first place.  There had been nothing wrong - I just needed to have the courage to ask her some clarifying questions.

Once again, my assumptions made an ass out of me.

Immediately after having this conversation I facilitated the creative writing group and so it was with this lesson in mind that I wrote my letter:

Dear Corey,

It is good to stand up for yourself.  Conflict is not bad and does not have to be scary.  Conflict helps people grow.  You are not a bad person or need to feel guilty if you have to ask questions or advocate for yourself.  Even if you have to cause another person discomfort in order to get your needs met.  You deserve to be happy and to have what is important to you understood.

Remember that more people will try to help you and be receptive to your input and ideas than you will give them credit for.  You live in a world of fear, but the world is far more wonderful than you can comprehend.  Spend more of your time basking in the sun of love than in the shadow of fear.

Remember your worth.  

Remember your rights.

Be strong knowing who you are.  You are a person uniquely made and qualified to help make the world a better place and in order to do a good job you must speak your mind.

Your mind is worth sharing.

Never forget,

Love,

Your older yet still learning and growing self.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sight In The Sandstorm Book Review

Sight In The Sandstorm: Jesus In His World And Mine by Ann J. Temkin is the latest speakeasy book that I have recently read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is easy to read and makes the gospels come alive with the way Temkin expertly weaves together stories from her own life with stories about Jesus and his disciples.  I really liked that Jesus and his followers seemed like real people with real character defects and struggles.  I liked even more that Temkin especially focuses on Jesus' humanity.  She shows him as a person that struggled with confusion and frustration, often exasperated by his followers failure to get what he was trying to say.  He was someone who wanted support and who often failed to get enough.  Since Jesus was human, he was a person that made mistakes and experienced complex emotion.  Temkin gives us insight as to what some of his mistakes and emotions might be.  I appreciate that kind of insight, as I cannot relate to a perfect person as my savior.

My favorite chapter was chapter 17, "On the Hill Beyond Time," which is about Jesus' execution.  Her writing is very effective and really touched me.  I loved how she equates the suffering that Jesus experienced with all the sufferings that people have experienced throughout all time past, present and future.  Often Jesus is portrayed as this superhuman who has no worries at all, but Temkin knows this cannot be so.  Her Jesus sees his mother at the foot of the cross and is consumed with guilt and worry over her.  He feels unable to do anything to comfort her and in reality, he is unable.  He simply has to deal with the pain that he is experiencing right now and receives no comfort from God.  Oddly enough, this image of an uncomforted Jesus gives me much comfort.  If even the son of God felt totally alone and abandoned by God at times, then I can take comfort in knowing in my times of anguish that I am not alone.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, we cannot hear the voice of God, but Jesus' experience proves that God is still there.  Feelings are not facts.  Recovery from borderline personality disorder has taught me that sometimes I cannot trust my intense feelings, but must instead cling to what I believe to be true.

I recommend this book for an insightful, emotional and thought-provoking read.