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, December 29, 2016

The Beautiful Sleepy Vacation

In today's rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.  ~ Eckhart Tolle
Right now I flying home from Key West, Florida.  I know, I am very privileged and lucky.  If I could name this past holiday vacation anything, it would be, “The Beautiful, Sleepy Vacation.”  Because of I-don’t-know-what, I have a very annoying condition where if I don’t get to sleep in until at least ten a.m., then I usually stay sleepy for the rest of the day.  I am extremely grateful to have a job that accommodates my need for late mornings.  Because we couldn’t sleep in much AND because I did not have a day to rest in between a work-day and the leaving-for-vacation-day, I was sleepy for most of the trip.  The only day I did not feel sleepy was ironically the day we left, because I got to have a good nap in the morning.  Such is a disabled life.

However, I still had a great time!  The weather was perfect and so was the sea.  I have never been to a beach before that practically had no waves!  My favorite experience was when we went to the beach at Bahia Honda state park and I got to sit down in the water.  The water was clear, calm and warm – no fighting the surf in order to relax.  I just sat down in the water and let the smooth sand run through my fingers.  I realized then how much one could be happy with almost nothing and how tied I am to the threat of boredom.

Before leaving for the beach, I had fretted about whether I should bring my IPad, with its Kindle app, or my purse. My purse is always full of books, markers, pens, bits of drawing paper, candy, headphones – anything to keep me distracted in case the boredom monster should appear.  I wonder what I am so afraid of?  There is a world to see, hear, feel, and think about always in front of me.  Do I really need to be constantly distracted?  Is time alone with my thoughts really so bad?  Ok, so sometimes, yes, but often no.  AND what about all those mindfulness exercises I participated in my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy classes?  With the sand running through my fingers, I realized that I do not even need to think.  As I’ve said before, life should not always be about productivity, which is the lie of capitalism, but in learning the value of just being. During my days of sleepiness, I have to look for ways to let go of my productive expectations and just be – otherwise, I will be miserable.  I posit that that might be true for other people too even if they do not have energy issues.

I had a wonderful time in Key West, practicing being content with the little I could do, taking in copious amounts of beauty.  Here are some of the beautiful pictures my family and I captured:
 Of course, I am glad for my energy being back and will have to remember the gift of just being when I am back at work. Just being is the way towards gratitude and peace – just striving is the way towards frustration and anxiety.  May we all be content today, even as we strive towards a more just society.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Finding Your Holiday Spirit When Feeling Bitter

Christmas is not a time or a season, but a state of mind.  To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ Calvin Coolidge
Until last week, I was not feeling the holiday spirit.  I guess you could call me the Trump Grump.  With so much uncertainty and fear in the air, I just did not feel like celebrating anything.  Being in the holiday spirit means a lot to me.  I have always thought it important to relish the joys of the season - it fills the coldness of winter with love and gratitude and kind warmth.  I eventually was able to pull myself out of the pit and into genuine holiday happiness and so I wanted to share what I've learned with you.

Lesson 1 - Authenticity and Validation

 It is a terrible, although common, feeling to feel like one has to lie and say they're fine when they're not.  When at my church two weeks ago and all I could think of was the fact that Trump is going to be president soon, I decided that I would tell people what was on my mind if asked how I was doing.  So I did and both times it opened up genuine conversation instead of mere pleasantries.  It felt good to know that I was not the only one internally struggling.  This is getting validation and it's something everyone needs.

Two caveats:
1. There is a difference between sharing and wallowing - sharing in an effort to receive validation is usually good; sharing but then refusing to switch to a cheerier subject after a long time of talking, so that one is only surrounded by negativity is usually not good - I know because I used to do the latter all the time years ago.

2. Be careful of who you go to for validation.  Fortunately, I go to a very liberal and progressive church, so I already felt sure that whoever I talked to would probably be understanding.  There are other people in my life, however, that I would probably not share why I was struggling with, as I know they would blow it off as an unimportant concern.

Lesson 2 - Opposite Action

Opposite action is a DBT skill that can be hard to do.  It's basically doing the opposite of what you are feeling like doing in an effort to produce a different feeling.  After church that Sunday, it was time for our annual caroling around the Kirkwood area.  I love caroling and look forward to this event all year long - when I was a kid I learned all the verses from almost every carol because I loved it so much.  Now, I amaze people by knowing how Miss Fanny Bright got upsot in Jingle Bells and how we are supposed to strike the harp and join the chorus in Deck The Halls.  Unfortunately, I was still feeling a bit gloomy and didn't want to join in the caroling this year.  I thought about how I had switched shifts at work so that I could go and how I loved going in previous years.  I remembered the opposite action skill and decided to get on the truck and go for an hour in the hopes that I would feel more like in the Christmas spirit afterwards.  It worked!  I sat beside a good friend of mine and we made jokes and sang the whole way.  I impressed her with my knowledge of obscure carol lyrics.  Basically, by totally immersing myself in something that has given me pleasure before, I was able to change my mood and I am so glad I did.

Lesson 3 - Traditions

Traditions make us feel in touch with our roots and be grounded.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to have the motivation to do them if with different people or in different environments than in the past.  When I was younger, my mom and I would make cranberry bread every year - Christmas just didn't feel like Christmas without it.  It's moist, tangy and sweet at the same time - so, so good.

Unfortunately, ever since I moved out of my parents' house, I haven't been as engaged in the old traditions and I hardly ever do holiday specific cooking anymore.  Last Wednesday, I had my peers and I make my family's traditional cranberry bread for whole health.  It's not really a healthy bread but I told them being mindful of holiday traditions is.  It's funny how what we do to teach others usually ends up helping ourselves most of all, because making that holiday bread with my peers is what finally totally turned my frosty mood around.  I had thought that I wouldn't like making a family food away from my family but I found that wasn't true - instead, I felt more connected to the people around me while still feeling connected to my roots.  Eating that tangy, yet sweet bread again and sharing it with new people that I love and care for finally opened me to feeling the holiday spirit.

Of course, there is no rule that you have to get immersed in the holidays, but I will posit that getting connected to people that care is always a good thing.  Thinking of others outside of ourselves, honoring traditions, receiving and giving validation and being authentic are all good things no matter what time of year.  If you are feeling bitter or cynical this year, and there are many good reasons to feel that way right now, I urge you to look for something that you can do to alter your state of mind.  Despite the long road ahead politically, we must never let those who hate steal our joy.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Vegan Thanksgiving?

I am grateful for what I am and have.  My thanksgiving is perpetual.  ~ Henry David Thoreau  
I used to hate Thanksgiving, but every year of my recovery, I am starting to like it more and more.  I actually can appreciate it being about gratitude instead of cynically thinking it is only about stuffing ourselves silly. 

One of the reasons why I used to hate Thanksgiving was because of the rich food.  While traditional food does contain some happy family memories, the richness makes me feel overly full and slightly sick.  I have a very sensitive stomach, so sensitive that even the Morningstar veggie burgers at Burger King are making me feel queasy nowadays.  My brother's fiancĂ© and my mom are both vegan and this delighted me, as it meant I could try my hand at some lighter, healthier versions of classic Thanksgiving dishes.  We had turkey and nonvegan stuffing, but the mashed potatoes and sweet potato dishes were both without dairy.  I was a bit worried about the mashed potatoes, as I do enjoy the ultra rich, cheesy ones I usually make, but I must say that I was very impressed and can truthfully say that I did not miss the butter, cheese, or milk in either dish!

Vegan Mashed Potatoes with Onion Gravy

From the blog, Fried Dandelions.

3lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
 2T Olive Oil
 4-6 Cloves of Garlic
 1t Salt
 1 cup nonsweetened soy milk
  2T nutritional Yeast (I didn't have it so I didn't use it and it still tasted great)

 Onion Gravy
 1 Large Onion
 2-3T Olive Oil
 2-3T Corn Starch
 1t Salt
 1 Chopped Garlic Clove
 2Cups Water

1. Peel Potatoes and dice them into one inch cubes.
 2. Place them in a large pot of room temp water.  Once all of the potatoes are peeled and cut, place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
 3. While the potatoes are cooking, begin the gravy - directions below.
 4. Once the potatoes are fork tender, drain them and return the empty pot to the stove over low heat. 5. Add the olive oil and garlic to the empty pot and lightly brown the garlic.
 6. Mix in the nutritional yeast and salt and mix well.  It will become a thick paste.
 7. Slowly stream in the milk while stirring and mix until well incorporated.
 8. Add potatoes on top and mash until desired consistency.

  For The Gravy:
 9. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
 10. Slice onion into thin half moons.
 11. Place them into the pan and sautĂ© them over medium heat for at least twenty minutes.
 12. Once the onions are translucent and browning, add the corn starch and stir well.  This will form a roux and will be quite dry.
 13. Add the salt and garlic and continue to stir.
 14. Let the gravy simmer for ten minutes to thicken.
 15. Use an immersion blender to blend the sauce.
 16. Pour over potatoes!

 Notes: I was really impressed with this dish!  Who knew that olive oil and garlic could make potatoes taste incredibly rich?  I really didn't miss my usual additions of cream cheese, sour cream, butter and cheese whiz.

  Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole

 From the blog, Happy Healthy Mama

3.5 lbs Sweet Potatoes
 1 Cup Coconut Milk
 2T Maple Syrup
 3/4 t Salt
 1t Ground Cinnamon
 1/2 t Ground Cloves
 1/8t Ground Nutmeg
 2T Orange Juice
 1/2t Orange Zest

  For The Pecan Topping:
1 Generous Cup Whole Raw Pecans
 1T Coconut Oil, Melted
 1T Maple Syrup
 3/4 t Ground Cinnamon

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and place them on a baking sheet. Bake them in the oven until they are soft, 60-90 minutes.  Turn the potatoes once during their baking time.
 2. When the sweet potatoes are finished, allow them to cool.  Once they are cooled, use a knife to cut open the skin and peel it out.  Discard.  Put the sweet potato flesh into a large bowl and mash well.  Add the next 8 ingredients (through orange zest, if using) and mix well.  Place the sweet potato mixture into a 2 quart baking dish.
 3. In a small bowl, mix together the pecans, coconut oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon.  Place the mixture on top of the casserole, completely covering it.

  Notes: Like the original blogger, I never understood why sweet potato casseroles usually have so much sugar - they don't need it!  With some maple syrup and coconut milk as sweeteners, the casserole is plenty sweet and very tasty.

Having healthier food this Thanksgiving helped ease my food fears, my body felt better and my taste buds were still happy.  However, if you love the traditional rich fare, do not feel guilty.  Recovery is all about being able to enjoy the present moment and I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving.  Six years ago, I was incapable of feeling gratitude and now I feel it every day, even on my bad days.  I hope that you are able to experience some gratitude too.