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, June 27, 2017

Expressing Gratitude for Bipolar Disorder

And now, isn't it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God?  You're more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. (The Message Bible, 381)
I often attend Javamonkey Speaks, which is the open mic spoken word held every Sunday at Javamonkey, a coffeeshop near where I live.  I went there two weeks ago with some peers; when I go with peers I usually make a deal with them that if they present a poem, I will too, but I just wasn't feeling it that night.  I told them I would just support them this time.  But sometimes when I tell myself that I will be quiet at a function, something will happen that will make me feel compelled to speak anyway.  First, my favorite Javamonkey regular announced that he had been diagnosed with bipolar and that it was very hard and challenging.  I felt bad for him, as even though we haven't talked together much, I hold a lot of fondness towards him.  He is one of the most vulnerable poets I know, very quirky and special.  That night, he did a hilarious monologue as a German radio show host that  made me laugh until I cried.  I felt for him but I did not yet feel compelled to say anything.  A few poems later, another regular came on stage and announced that she had bipolar too.  It was the way that she said it that made me feel that now it was time for me to speak up.  She is a teen who I admire for bluntly putting her struggles out there week after week.  Unfortunately, being a melodramatic teen, her poems are almost always epically cringe-worthy.  This one was no exception.  Her life, as she sees it, is terrible, pure misery, and having bipolar disorder just makes it that much more excruciating.  I get it, I do.  When I was first diagnosed with my illnesses, life was hard.  It was excruciating and I was melodramatic too.  Yes, it was reassuring to talk with other people who were struggling but what I truly needed was hope, which unfortunately, very few people gave me in the beginning. Hearing this teen's troubles let me know what I needed to do.  I quickly found a poem that I didn't mind too much and signed up to share.  When I got on stage, this is what I shared, as much as I can remember:

I also have bipolar disorder but I want to say that I am actually grateful for it.  Yes, life is hard, but life is hard for everyone for different reasons.  Because of my experiences with bipolar, I have learned how to have more compassion, be less judgmental and I have met many wonderful people.  I have gone through many hardships but each time it gets easier and I have found that getting through hardships is what gives us resiliency, which is essential for a good life.  

I then read a poem that I posted here way back in 2011.  How life has changed since then for the better and how I can now trust it will continue to change for the better, even as these good times will, I know, be interrupted by hardships from time to time.  I think people were a little shocked when I followed my diagnosis with the statement that I was grateful for it but I really truly am.  I am never thankful for it when in the throes of depression or anxiety but I am thankful that I at least have the tools now to get me through it.  Earlier today, I had an anxiety attack, which was frustrating but at least I knew what to do and why it was happening - I was experiencing some joint pain and pain usually triggers anxiety for me, so I took some Advil, took my anxiety PRN, and turned up the air conditioning to get myself comfortable again.  I really would make a terrible homeless person because being physically uncomfortable isn't just annoying for me but actually triggers my anxiety.  In a pretty short while, my anxiety passed, and I laughed at myself out of relief, so grateful that I know how to manage myself now.  I believe everyone has their own challenges but as long as we keep trying new things and reflecting on what works and what doesn't, we will grow and get better, despite our setbacks.  

I hope this post provides some encouragement; feel free to share it with those who are struggling, especially with a new diagnosis.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What An Ally Looks Like

Nobody's free until everybody's free. - Fannie Lou Hamer
 Recently I read an article from the queer point of view and was surprised at how many people were defensive about the advice given.  Of course, I should not have read the comments but it did prompt me to think about what I consider to be the hallmarks of a good ally. Here is what I have come up with - none of it is really original thinking but hopefully it is helpful to someone.  I have written these guidelines in generic language because there are many types of oppression and I do not believe that any oppressed group should be freed before another.  We all need to be allies to each other in order to end ableism, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, size-ism homophobia, transgender hate, environmental abuse, and the rise of fascism.

1. A Good Ally Does Inner Work & Sets Aside Their Ego
I think sometimes people think they can be successfully supportive without doing inner work and that is just not true.  In order to knock down oppression, we must set our own egos aside.  All of us have biases and prejudices - it is the responsibility of all of us to be willing to examine ourselves and what we may be doing that is problematic.  If we do not understand what are doing that is wrong, then we cannot change our behavior and we cannot change our world.  The process towards understanding can be painful but is necessary to make a more peaceful community.

2. A Good Ally Wants to Learn
Some people want to say that they are supportive but they do not want to put any effort into learning about the issue.  Curiosity is a wonderful thing and I believe that a desire to learn is one of the greatest ways that we can show value - showing interest in another's experiences and hardships shows that you value them as a person.

3. A Good Ally Studies Their Own Culture
Of course, a good ally strives to understand the worlds of others, but if they do not understand their own world, then they will not be able to truly change it.  Black people understand the world of White people more than most White people do-that's why most Black people I talked to were not surprised when Donald Trump became president.  I was, because I did not take the time to understand my own culture-I stayed in my own liberal bubble, not understanding what has always been a part of white culture.  But this does not apply to just white people-heterosexuals, cis-gender, able-bodied, thin, neuro-typical, Christian, young, rich-you, we, all need to understand yours, ours, culture.  We need to understand the way it brainwashes us and the way it hurts us-the way it convinces us that we are superior to someone else.  Until we look closely at our own selves, we will not be able to change.
4. A Good Ally Does Their Own Research
I used to have a friend that would constantly ask me to define words I used and it got very aggravating.  It is disrespectful to repeatedly ask a person to explain themselves.  We live in an age with google, so use it. Taking the time to do research shows others that you respect their time. If a person tells me that they looked things up but still have questions, then I feel gratified and respected and I have no problem with answering a few questions.

5. A Good Ally Practices Empathy
Sympathy is feeling sorry for a person-empathy is feeling what they feel.  Sympathy involves a sense of superiority, while empathy brings mutuality and connection.  We do not want to do advocacy work because we feel sorry for another but because we feel connected to another and know that their struggle is our struggle is everybody's struggle.  I am not free until everyone is free.  Empathy involves active listening and admitting when we do not know what to do or what to say - in fact, I think admitting that we do not have all the answers but being willing to stay with someone through the uncomfortableness, through heartache, and say, "I do not know what to do, but I am here," can be very healing.  It is not the ally's job to solve all problems, but it is the ally's job to empathize in a way that others do not.  I think a person that strives to be empathic will be more willing to learn, to listen, to apologize if needed, and to ultimately act in a way that is helpful than a person who says they want to support/help but doesn't take the time to truly understand what the oppressed party is feeling and experiencing.

6. A Good Ally Gives Preference To The Other's Lived Experience
It may be tempting to assert your own opinion on a topic, but when an oppressed person tells their story or preference, it is your job to listen.  If what the person says bothers you, take some time to think about it and set your own ego aside before critiquing them.  The person with the lived experience knows more about what their oppression is like and what they need than you do.

7. A Good Ally Tries Not To Take Criticism Personally
Often times advice may be given in general terms - if it doesn't apply to you, then it's not about you.  Try not to get defensive when someone is sharing anger.

8. A Good Ally Does Not Get Offended By Anger
Oppressed people have a right to be angry about their oppression - don't police their tone or tell people that you would listen if they were nicer.  That makes the issue all about you and not about their own experience.  Remember, if it doesn't apply to you, then it's not about you.

9. A Good Ally Supports The Work Of Others
Once a person gets it, it can be tempting to want to save the day, but that is really putting the focus back on you.  White feminists have a long history of doing this.  Instead of forming your own rescue mission, find out what advocacy groups are run by the oppressed group and support them.  Become a follower rather than a leader if you are not part of the oppressed experience.

10. A Good Ally Uses Their Privilege To Speak Out
While it is good to let the oppressed group take the lead, you do have an important part to play in the move towards equality.  Talk about oppression and ways to combat it with your friends.  Do not let the people you know get away with using oppressive words or speech.  It is not that we are trying to be politically correct but that we are trying to create a more peaceful world.  If I hear a friend use the word, "retarded," I will gently ask that friend to use another word.  Here is what I usually say, "Please don't use that word-I have friends with developmental disabilities and that language has been used to hurt them.  Just say what you mean."  Be sure to have some suggestions ready in case they ask what they should say instead.  The appropriate term is developmental disability, although most people that say the r-word are actually referring to people they do not like or think are ignorant.  I have never had pushback when people hear that it is actually hurtful to use certain words and when given other words as options.  As a person of privilege, others will especially listen to you.

11. A Good Ally Promotes Dialogue
This is a hard one. I am troubled by how all or nothing our society has become and I believe it is  dialogue that can help save us.  We must be willing to have hard conversations with people who deeply disagree with us that are not shouting matches if we are to build unity.  It has become popular to make a grand pronouncement on Facebook telling people who do not agree with a certain issue to just go ahead and unfriend us and I find that disappointing.  The more separated our society becomes, the easier it is to turn certain people into an other and an enemy, which paves the road to fascism and genocide.  Here is my caveat though - in my quest for dialogue, I will not tolerate abuse and negativity in my space - I do not unfriend people just because they disagree with me but if they are rude, negative, demeaning, abusive, trolling, etc., then they have to go.  I promote dialogue, but I do not tolerate negativity in my sacred, safe spaces.  (That's called having boundaries.)

12. A Good Ally Owns Their Mistakes
We are all human and we are all going to make mistakes.  If a person makes an inappropriate assumption or uses the wrong language, that's okay.  Listen, learn, apologize, and then commit to not doing it again.  There is no need to beat yourself up or shower yourself in guilt, for no one is perfect.  Sincere apologies and dialogues can be healing, as it shows that a person really cares.

13. A Good Ally Practices Self Care
This actually applies to everybody.  You cannot help others if you are totally burned out.  Take good care of yourself.  Tell yourself good things and be with people that lift you up.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the negativity in the media but an atmosphere of despair helps no one.  Activism and protesting actually can be a wonderful form of self care, as it brings people together and helps people feel like they are being productive.  No, protests alone will not change the world but the coming together of many people for a single cause should never be underestimated.  It benefits the current social order to keep people isolated and think they are alone.  If you cannot protest, then do something else and do not feel guilty - there are many ways to bring about peace and they are all important.  This includes taking care of our wellbeing - the patriarchy feeds on isolation, negativity, and despair and we must fight it with optimism, unity, and hope.  These are not shallow feelings, but ways of being that require concrete action.  Pursue community, curiosity and creativity in healing and kind ways always in order to create a more just, equal, and peaceful society.

14. A Good Ally Holds Hope
If a person says they are a support person for a person with mental illness but does not believe that person will get better, then they are not really a support person.  This may be the hardest requirement for an ally, or anybody, to do though.  It's really hard to be hopeful when the world is as it is. Personally, I try to look for articles that report on the good side of things-what things that are being done that are actually positive and who are the people that trying to do good.  I follow groups and people that are trying to make change and participate in the ways they suggest.  I think hope is something best cultivated in community and action-it is hard to keep hope alive if all one does is sit at home and read/watch horrible stories all day.   I do not think we can be hopeful all the time-or empathetic or non defensive or any of the things I am suggesting.  I put these ideals out there because I think they are important-not because I think it is remotely possible to be this kind of person all the time.
This writing exercise sort of turned into a monster-I had no idea that I had so many things to say when I first started writing this!  I came to the realization that these guidelines really transcend being a good ally and could be considered guidelines to being a good person.  Our society needs to support each other by employing empathy, understanding, compassion, kindness, dialogue, and love or else we will continue down our path of destruction and end up annihilating us all.  No one is perfect but together we can make a difference.

Nobody's free until everybody's free. - Fannie Lou Hamer

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Hearing Voices Network Introduced Me To First World Trauma

Let us not ask, "What is wrong with you?" but, " What happened to you?"
I recently took a life-changing, empowering, and validating training to be a support group facilitator for the Hearing Voices Network (HVN).  HVN is an organization that started in England and is now worldwide that provides nonclinical, nonjudgmental support groups for people that experience voices and visions, so that they can find their own meaning in their unique experiences.  I am so excited to be a part of this social justice movement that is trying to change the mental health system by giving the power of meaning back to the people, instead of in the hands of clinicians.

A key value of the Hearing Voices Network is the trauma informed model, which recognizes that people with mental health challenges, including those who experience "symptoms of psychosis" are 500 times more likely to have experienced major traumas in their lives.  The symptoms that are usually labeled as psychosis are actually the brain's way of processing traumatic experiences and so are a natural and normal way for a body to process an abnormal event.  We should not be asking people what is wrong with them, as if they are a problem to be fixed, but what happened to them, because they are actually people in great pain deserving of empathy and validation.  This turns the idea of mental illness on its head: what if we did not have to call ourselves sick in order to gain compassion, but instead received compassion simply because we are all human beings with the capacity to experience great pain in different ways?

In the training, we learned that disturbing voices and images can be looked at as metaphor that is in our best self interest to explore.  For instance, a person who hears voices telling herself to kill myself may actually benefit from learning from those voices and asking herself what in her life does she need to kill - certainly not herself, but perhaps a destructive relationship, job, community, belief, etc. needs to go.  This is a much more compassionate and holistic way of looking at experiences that the behavioral health industry typically looks at as bad and as something to be feared.  In my experience, what gives us the most fear may be the very thing we need to explore.

Also, the word trauma is commonly used in a dangerously narrow way which discounts and minimizes experiences that are really traumatizing.  One of the most popular phrases that I hate hearing is the phrase, "first world problems," as if the people in first world countries do not face real problems and traumas.  I thought of this the other day after hearing about the U.S. military dropping the "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan-as a person who believes in nonviolence, I was horrified
 about us dropping such a large bomb and felt ashamed to live in the country I do.  I began to have very negative thoughts towards myself that started to scare me and I wondered if I should call my doctor to up my dosage and then I thought, "NO!  Living in a country where a leader I did not vote for and do not support is doing things that I find immoral and horrifying is traumatic.  My disturbing thoughts are a normal and natural way of dealing with an abnormal and unnatural situation!" Once I came to that realization, my negative thoughts ceased to have power over me and I held myself in compassion and acceptance of my sadness.

First world problems may be different than third world problems but they are still full of trauma.  It is traumatic that our country has the highest rate of people held in prisons; that healthcare is inaccessible to many; that we have racism, sexism, ableism, classism embedded into the fabric of our police system, the system that is supposed to protect us-indeed, it is embedded into our very society; that mass shootings have become almost commonplace; that our jail systems have essentiallyreplaced
 mental institutions; that students leave college mired in debt; that we treat children like machines, always to be kept busy; that we value production over mental well being.  We are proud that this country is so rich and frivolous - look at me, with my Starbucks coffee, we say - but this richness erodes our sense of self and overall serenity.  We constantly crave more in order to fill the raging hurt inside of us at being lied to all these years, for even if we possess great privilege and power in this society, somewhere deep inside we know that all is not right and good.

I do not wish for third world problems - I wish for a world where people are allowed to be their authentic selves and not be judged, where people can ascribe their own meanings to phenomena without being diagnosed, a world in which total freedom means living in total interdependence with one another and in supportive, accessible community.  Next time you are about to minimize your seemingly tiny problem by labeling it a "first world problem," stop and acknowledge your frustration as valid and with compassion - the frustration you are experiencing, even if it is just for being stuck in a long line at Starbucks, is really the tip of the anger iceberg at living in such a  seriously flawed and messed up Capitalistic system.

In a society that wants to tell us what our meanings are, I am refreshed to belong to a organization that encourages its members to find their own meaning out of their unique experiences.  For them, it is up to the individual to decide what works for them-medication and therapy can be wonderful helpmates if handled skillfully and carefully, but they can also be destructive and debilitating if handled without skill and care.  It is up to us to decide how we want to address our distresses.

I think it is worth noting that it has been proven that people are not bothered by their voices and visions when they are allowed to ascribe their own meaning to them and in countries where those people are considered shamans, holy people, or healers, mental illness is far less stigmatized and those with unique experiences are far more happy with themselves.  This kind of thinking is what is found in many of the countries considered third world and less than our own.  (That is not to say that these countries do not have other horrible flaws and traumas inherent in their system.)

I believe that we should look at people with curiosity, empathy and love and that it is traumatic to live in society that instead looks at people as dollar signs.  I want to be part of something that helps to right this demented system and I hope the Hearing Voices Network, and other similar networks, continue to push back against the current paradigm.  I believe that pushing back in love may be the greatest thing we can do to heal ourselves and our first world trauma.

Link Love:

HVN International Site


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Accepting The Limitations Of Creativity

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.  (388, The Message Bible)
About a month ago, I heard someone who was in a position of power make the statement in front of a group of people that everyone can get their needs met if they are creative enough.  I have been thinking about that statement ever since and I have got to say that it is a bunch of privileged, ableist bullshit.

I learned way back in elementary school that needs are the things that keep you alive - you need them to survive.  The fact of the matter is that there will come a day for every single person when they will not be able to use creative means to stop their own death.  We all know that death is as certain as taxes...or do we?  Perhaps for some it is easy to deny that death will ever really happen to them but I seem to have escaped that ability.  I think about death a lot and I do not believe that there is anything wrong with that.  As I have written before, I believe my morbidity is one of my greatest strengths.

I think it must be fairly easy to not think about death if one is able in both body and mind, white, male, and of a higher class but what if one is not?  Was Sandra Bland not creative enough to get her out of the binds of being a woman of color?   What about Jaquarrius Holland, Chyna Gibson, Ciara McElveen, Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Keke Collier and Jojo Striker - the seven transgender women of color who have been killed so far this year in the United States for the crime of disregarding racial gender norms?  Was Anthony Hill's death due to a lack of creativity or to the stigma of mental illness and lack of proper police training?  What about all the poor people I know that cannot afford their medications?  Would a more positive attitude erase their need for medication or would it enable them to bring in more money on their own?  I do not think so.

I keep thinking of the picture of the little Syrian toddler, face caked with tears, blood and dirt, made famous a few months ago and how his needs are most definitely not being met.  He may be physically alive but he is bereft of home, family and safety.  I was taught in DBT that when one is in a situation where their needs are not going to be met, a person has the option to radically accept it and in so doing, may at least experience peace.  I am struggling to make sense of the fact that that famous little boy probably does not have the maturity and brain power to radically accept his situation.  He is in a miserable situation and I see little way out.  I can try to console myself that one of the workers
perhaps has adopted him and that he now has a good home but there is no way to know this for sure.
Reality insists that I have no way of knowing what has happened to him and that he very well may be dead.

I am very much alive, with my physical needs currently being met, but I have many unmet inner needs.  I have a deep longing for a world right with God, a world that honors the sacred in everyone, a world in peace and harmony with all living beings.  I am continually disappointed as I am assaulted with the knowledge that this will never happen while I am alive.  In a way, I wish I could delude myself to believing that if I am creative enough, I can meet all my needs and desires but I am smart enough and disabled enough to know that I cannot.   I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and a host of different mental illnesses - no matter how healthily I live, the possibility of developing an illness that I cannot manage well one day is always a concern of mine.  Ironically, it is precisely when I accept this reality that I experience the most inner peace.

Currently, I carry the burden of loving the life I have built for myself and the job I have but also wanting to attend seminary and become a theological writer.  I have a feeling the speaker I heard a month ago would say that there is a creative solution in which I can have it all, but I know the truth - I am not Wonder Woman and if I were to become seminarian and career writer then it would be the death, at least for a while, of the mental health career that I love.  I absolutely do not know what to do.  Fortunately, this decision is not life or death but I do believe that easing the longing for perfection in this imperfect world may be a need that will always be partly left unmet.  Perhaps that is one of the great joys of life - accepting that there will always be some kind of dissatisfaction in this life, for without dissatisfaction, I would never strive to be creative and to be creative is to be one   universe, with the one who co-created the universe to be.  Therein lies the paradox that I tried to explain to the man - when I accept my permanent state of dissatisfaction then I enjoy the highest sense of satisfaction.  I imagine that I will wrestle with dissatisfaction my whole life until the day it is that I cease to be and who knows what will happen then!  Until that day, there is no way to creatively get out of being a disabled woman and all the vulnerabilities that come with that fact.  Perhaps one day I will develop Alzheimer's and so forget who I am - all the more reason to appreciate who I am now and call out bullshit as I can.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Call or Write Senator Isakson

The new healthcare bill has many harmful parts to it that are concerning to me.  Here is a nice summary of what they are:

1. It allows health insurance companies to charge older Americans up to five times more.
2. It repeals the employer mandate, causing many families covered by their employers to lose coverage.
3. It will take insurance away from millions of individuals and cripple state budgets by phasing out the Medicaid expansion.
4. It gives health insurance companies a tax break for CEO pay over $500,000.
5. It defunds Planned Parenthood, leaving millions without access to breast exams, birth control, and pap smears.
- Call your representative in Congress. You can dial the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
- Tell your friends to call their representatives in Congress.
- Show up at your representative’s town halls.
- Spread the word about this plan on Facebook (COPY/PASTE) and other social media

It also looks like there will be no insurance cap for those with preexisting conditions, making it unaffordable for millions.

In his telephone Town Hall yesterday, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson said that his decision to support or not the current GOP Health Plan will depend on how it will actually affect Georgians. So, if you have evaluated, for instance, how your ability to afford health insurance will be affected by the Plan, please send him that information and reference his statement at tonight's telephone Town Hall. You can reach Senator Isakson here:
One Overton Park
3625 Cumberland Blvd, Suite 970
Atlanta, GA 30339
Tel: (770) 661-0999
Fax: (770) 661-0768
United States Senate
131 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-3643
Fax: (202) 228-0724

I urge all of my readers in Georgia to call or write  Senator Isakson with how this new bill will negatively affect you.  Here is my letter, which I will send out later today.

Dear Senator Isakson,

You stated in your last town hall meeting that you wanted to know how the new healthcare bill will affect Georgians, so I am writing you to know how it will affect me and my concerns.

I am currently on disability for several mental illnesses, so I am on Medicare.  That is good news, as it means that I will not be negatively affected at first.  However, I would like to be able to get off of disability one day.  I believe that I will continue to get better and may be able to work more in the future.  However, there are practical considerations besides my health that affect whether I will ever get off of SSDI and that includes whether I will be able to afford my healthcare and I am afraid I won’t.  While preexisting conditions will be covered under the new healthcare bill, as I understand it, there will be no cap.  I am afraid that the insurance cost for people with preexisting conditions will be too high for people to afford.  I will never be able to work the kind of fast paced job that will earn me tons of money and I will always be part of a vulnerable population.  I would like to get off of SSDI one day, but if there are no caps on insurance for those with preexisting conditions, then I may never be able to afford any insurance besides the Medicare that I currently use and so my dreams of one day furthering my career are effectively stopped.

I cannot simply just not be on insurance – what if I have to be hospitalized again?  I hope you can see now that no caps on preexisting conditions still discriminates on those with disabilities or who have been sick in the past.  The most vulnerable population should not be penalized for something beyond their control.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Metro Atlanta Eating Disorder Resources

Since I am in recovery from an eating disorder, I get asked about eating disorder resources in the Metro Atlanta area from time to time.  Recently, I decided to compile them in a list so I could just send it to whomever asks.  I think it's such a good resource that I'm sharing it with you.  Feel free to print it out and give to anyone who needs it.  All of the treatment centers and support groups listed are ones that I recommend.  I do not recommend most food related twelve step groups because I firmly believe that abstinence does not work with food  - it does nothing to remove the obsession, as people who are constantly hungry and deprived are going to constantly still be thinking about food - they are replacing one "addiction" with an eating disorder.  I do approve of Eating Disorders Anonymous because they focus on balance, not abstinence.  I have not attended the Atlanta ANAD support groups but I have friends who have and they come highly recommended.  I would feel comfortable attending these EDA or ANAD groups should I ever need extra support in regards to my eating disorder recovery.  I am very lucky to report that I am doing very well right now with it and am far enough in my recovery that I think I can safely say that I do not see a relapse in my future at all.  Being that obsessed about food takes up a lot of mental energy and I just don't have the time or the energy to be that obsessive anymore!

  Ridgeview Women’s Unit (Only inpatient unit in GA but would be fairly short term – I recommend it though if someone needs to go inpatient)

  ACE – Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders (Intensive Outpatient Center – been in Atlanta a long
time – I’ve heard good things. Average length of stay is 12 weeks.  Only place in Atlanta that treats boys and men with eating disorders)

  Renfrew Center (New to Atlanta – seems good but its too new for reviews – treatment that would be the most long term)

Veratas Collaborative
Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Outpatient Treatment in the Dunwoody area
Also too new for reviews, but has therapists that are respected.

  MANNA  (Christian based eating disorder treatment for adolescents in Lawrenceville) http://www.mannatreatment.com/  

Eating Disorder Therapists

Tara Arnold
  http://www.taraarnoldinc.com/ 404-964-6629
  WholeHeart Psychotherapy

Dr. Judi Lee Webb

Dr. Dina Zeckhausen
(Founder of EDIN)

    Eating Disorder Nutritionists
  Jacy Pitts (love her – I’m sure she could recommend others) http://newdirectionsatlanta.com/staff/jacy-pitts-ms-rd-csp-ld/  

Page Love
(Two free groups of hers are recommended – one is her monthly “Breakfast Club” and the other is her “Fit for Life” group)

Christine Engstrom
Private Practice at the Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna; also works at ACE

Support Groups:

EDIN – Eating Disorders Information Network 
 (Fabulous resource - lists all the ED support groups in GA)

  ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders-Support Groups) 
 ANAD Helpline: 630-577-1330. Hours Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Central Time
(The one started by Page Love at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church is highly recommended.
10-11am. 1978 Mount Vernon Rd., Atlanta, 30338)

  EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous – “Balance – not abstinence – is the key to recovery”) http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/meetings.html
 There are meetings in Lawrenceville, Tucker &aAtlanta

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tips on Navigating The System

When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn't do but on what God said he would do.  (315, The Message Bible)
I was recently asked to speak about “navigating the system” to a NAMI group.   I decided to share some of the lessons I’ve learned after almost fifteen years of receiving mental healthcare.  Here are my notes:

 1.CSBs – Every county has a community service board.  They’re not the best but if you don’t have insurance they can be a lifesaver.

 2.Use Insurance if possible 

3.Good therapists may require to pay out of pocket – my therapist does

 4.A good fit is key – change service providers if not a good fit; if a service won’t allow you to change, then it is not a recovery oriented service; ask your child what therapies, services THEY are interested in, don’t force them into something they don’t believe in – no matter how great it is recommended, it will fail without the consumer’s interest and belief

 My Story: Depression after first year of college.  Mom recognized it and took me to see her psychiatrist.Took years to find the right medication.  Terrible doctors and incompetent therapists – if I
could do over, I would spent more time looking for the right fit in both.  Someone who is knowledgeable and compassionate and takes a person seriously and has good rapport is important, especially for young people.  I wish I had taken finding the right person more seriously instead of getting worse with people who weren’t helping.

 5.Pursue recovery oriented services – individualized; honors choice; no coercion; collaborative; can choose own doctors/therapists; offers more than medication; validates the individual; talks about wellness more than illness – SkyLand Trail, Wellness Centers

6.Research treatments – research services in your area, especially if going to college or about to move – be prepared – I learned that from going to rural colleges and relapsing after not getting my needs met

7.Advocate for what you need

8.Obtaining disability may be the key to independence!  I thought my life would be sad as a “disabled person” but the extra money enabled me to move out of my parents’ house.  I ended up being ready to work just six months later.  I became a CPS and I discovered that one can still work while on disability.  Getting disability escalated my recovery, instead of diminishing it, so beware of inner ableism.

9.There are people called Benefit Navigators whose job it is to info you on how to go back to work while on disability.  They are fabulous people.  Sally Atwell is the benefits navigator that serves the Atlanta area and is a great resource. There are a lot of myths out there about working and disability but don’t despair until you find out the facts!  Her phone number is 404-350-7589.

10.Notice cycles/patterns of behavior and ruts – a change may be needed – for goodness sake, if someone keeps on going back to the hospital, ask yourself what they are needing and see if it can be accomplished outside of a hospital setting – Breaking cycles and patterns of behavior is key in recovery

11.Always remember that recovery is consumer driven.

12.Art and music and horticulture can be just important to recovery as medication or talk therapy.

13. Medication is not the cornerstone of recovery.  I take medication but… Medication is great
For some and not for others.  It is never a cure.  If a service is more focused on medication than the individual then it is not recovery oriented have found sleep to be the most important factor in my wellness.  Healing begins with validation and feeling heard.

14.Do not underestimate the value of peer support.  DBT is the therapy that changed my life but I was introduced to it long before I took it seriously.  What made me take it seriously is seeing results with other peers and hearing how excited they were.  I was inspired by peer bloggers and wanted what they had.  When someone is in the depths of despair, the only thing that can reach them is validation
and being heard and this is easiest supplied by someone who has already been there.

I wish that I had been introduced to peer support earlier.  When I first started hearing and feelingthings, I felt so stigmatized and weird.  If I could have been introduced to someone else who
experienced those same things but was doing well, my life would have been saved much earlier.  I would have been given hope when the professionals were not providing it.  This is why I am so excited to get training in the hearing voices network and to offer their support groups soon.

To sum up, I want to leave you with three things that I have learned:

Advocate for yourself – no one knows what you need better than you.

Secondly, if you believe you need clinical care, then spend time making sure you have the right fit.  Feeling heard and validated by your mental health professional leads to trust and being able to trust others is essential to one’s well being.

Finally, believe in yourself and in your loved one.  You are worth fighting for and you are worthy of being heard, validated and treated with respect.  No matter what obstacles are in your way, I firmly believe that every person has the right and the ability to lead a better life for themselves if only they will put forth the work.  I believe in you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Rising Out Of Fire

In my creative writing activity at the center where I work, I had peers write their thoughts in response to this picture:
This is what I wrote:

It used to be that all I could think of was my pain.  It was all I felt. I called my story The Girl Who Couldn't Stop Crying.  It seems a bit melodramatic now but it was how life was.  Eventually I wore myself out.  I got tired of always being miserable.  I got tired of always crying and wanting someone else to fix me.  Gradually I learned that I had to validate myself.

I had been through the fire but I was not burnt.  I had scars but underneath everything, I was okay. 

I learned to move towards people that emphasized my okay-ness, that do not put me down or dwell in the land of troubles all day.  I learned that it is okay to ask people for reassurance and that it is okay to let myself believe it.  I learned that although life is hard, it is full of joy too.  I learned to embrace the joy and be grateful for the simple things in life.  I grew into the free person I am today. 

I may have been through fire, but I am still cool.   

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Shrill by Lindy West - A Book Review

Saturday, I and thousands of other people, will be marching all over the United States, raising our voices to tell Donald Trump that we will not let his administration take away our rights.  Lindy West is an author who is famous for raising her voice and so it is fitting that I review her book, Shrill.  
The beginning of Shrill reminds me a little too much of Libba Bray's Beauty Queens - the humor almost seems to downplay the seriousness of her topics - until I read about her stand-up comedy.  Obviously, I did not know enough about her before starting the book!  As the book goes on, however, her issues become more and more serious and her writing reflects this.  The passage that resonated the most with me was this:
When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsesssing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time - that moves the rudder of the world.  It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrows interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women's safety and humanity are second to men's pleasure and convenience. (19)
Our society uses its beauty myth and its rape culture to make women want to be small.  It brainwashes us into believing we should take up as little space as possible and it is wonderful to read about a woman who is refusing to do that.

West has appeared on television to talk about rape culture and has written many feminist articles and for that has paid a heavy price: countless dehumanizations by the tweets of trolls.  It absolutely floors me how many people seem to think that the internet exists in a vacuum and how many hours they spend on hateful speech.  Words hurt, no matter if they are spoken out loud or if they are typed.  The fact that these words are made public makes it even worse.  When hateful, hurtful words are directed by the thousands in response to feminist statements they are beyond personal attacks but are an attack on womanhood, itself.  The people writing these tweets and emails are miserable people, but it would be much better if they would work on themselves, instead.

What I don't understand is why more feminist internet publications do not moderate their spaces.  They claim they don't want to lose readers, but personally, I seldom read blogs that aren't moderated.  I think that feminists should create their own spaces and should not worry about keeping the readership of misogynistic assholes.  Feminist spaces should be safe spaces as much as they can be in order to promote female empowerment.  Feminism should be about building women up instead of
maintaining the status quo or being complicit in holding them down.  For this reason, I do not read
Jezebel or other mainstream feminist sites that do not moderate - by not respecting women enough to
keep the space safe for them, I do not think that they are truly feminist.

Of course, at least the moderator will be seeing the harmful comments and I do not really know what the answer to that is. It seems like there could be some kind of computer algorithm that could automatically delete hateful words, but I suppose not.

 Actually, I do know what the answer is - for people who are threatened by others to look inward and for more people to read Lindy West's book, Shrill, so they can know that no matter how many people threaten or demean another, a person can still create positive change and be an empowering voice for others.  In this new era of conservatism, do not let Trump's administration or his supporters shackle or starve you - risk being called shrill and raise your voice this Saturday and every day.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

All Emotions Are Okay

It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world.  ~ Dorothy Dix
In this age of social media, it is easy to get caught in an endless quest for validation.  I definitely get caught in wanting more likes, more comments, more approval from strangers I don't even know.  And yet, I am much better than I used to be!

It used to be that I did not know how to give myself validation and I thought all of my deep, intense feelings were horrible and wrong.  I thought I was "too much" - my feelings were a sign that I was mentally messed up.  Then I discovered blogs where people spoke of their intense feelings as gifts and Marcia Linehan's DBT, where she said that we could learn how to regulate our own emotions, gave me a lot of hope.  My therapist taught me how to ask for validation when I need it, instead of being melodramatic and passive aggressive in order to make someone give it to me.  I was thinking about all of this the other day when I driving in my car and feeling some intense emotions, because I was able to smile and tell myself that I am ok.

We are emotional creatures and all emotions are okay.  Happiness and joy are grand, but the lows of depression and the jumpiness of anxiety and anger are liveable too.  It is all okay, because they all go away; no emotion lasts forever, a concept that took me a long time to believe.  Happiness makes life worth living, but so does anger, as it can propel a people to make much needed changes. Anxiety can stimulate a person to plan for the future.  All emotions can be useful if a person can reassure themselves that through it all, they are okay.  And if you can't reassure yourself in the moment, it is totally fine to find someone you trust and ask for reassurance.  We all need it sometimes and right now, I think we need it more than ever.  My own emotions have been fluctuating from joy to boredom to a whole lot of anger the past few weeks and I think that's to be expected with Trump being president-elect.  I expect that I will experience a whole lot more anger when he is in office.  I will use this anger to act and I will continue to look for moments of joy, peace, and happiness.

Validate yourself and if you can't do it yourself yet, then listen to me: your emotions are fine, you are fine, and you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel.  You are not wrong or too much, but you can learn how to stop resisting and just be in the flow.  Come join me.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

          Beauty Queens by Libba Bray is a delightfully bad B movie of a book.  It is cheese-tactic.  It is not a book striving for believability but for outrageous laughter that slips in quite a few feminist lessons for the teen girl (or woman) reading it.  It is about teen beauty queen contestants who get stranded on a deserted island.  It is not Lord of the Flies, more like Princesses of the Butterflies.  I would not say this was the best book ever written or even that I want to read it again, but it was the perfect beach vacation novel.  It is definitely an intersectional feminist book, as Bray explores nearly every popular trope and what they need, from the Black funny sidekick to the lesbian dropout to even the transgender pop star.  The only problem was that Bray tried so hard to capture everything that I never got any true depth of character or plot, but then, I don't think that's what she was trying to do.  It's light reading, but the feminist girl power passages make it worth reading.

 My two favorite passages were about Mary Lou, who discovers it's okay to be a "wild girl," and discovers her good sexual power and Sosie, the deaf dancer.  I could relate to Sosie's struggle to always be the good kind of disabled person and her story was the one that actually choked me up a little.  Her story has actually made me think a lot about why I perform so much inner work in order to not be bitter about what I go through and I want you all to know that it is not so that I can be the acceptable, inspirational disabled person but so that I can be as happy and content as I can be.  I do not want to be miserable.  However, I am not a magical nonangry person and hopefully I will never be so happy that I cannot be a voice for those who cannot speak about the injustices facing people with disabilities.        
When the virus stole most of Sosie’s hearing, it also stole her right to complain. She figured out early that nobody liked an angry disabled person. It messed with their sympathy, with the story in their head about people overcoming adversity to be shining lights in the world. People wanted to think you were so okay with it all so they wouldn’t have to expend any energy feeling guilty. (Chapter 12)
I am not okay with the fact that it is a world that does not accommodate my differences that makes me disabled - not the other way around.  However, I am okay with myself the way that I am.

Mary Lou's epiphany that our bodies are not curses I found immensely satisfied and I thought applied to both young women:
It was not a curse to fully inhabit your body. You were only as cursed as you allowed yourself to be.  (Chapter Fifteen)
It is not a curse to be disabled, except for in the ways that society makes us feel cursed, which is why we must continually push back against what society says about us.  In a few weeks I am attending the Atlanta March for Women and Social Justice and after much thought, my sign is going to be about disability rights in some way - I am tired of intersectional feminist articles still shoving us to the side.  I'm leaning towards "eating disorders are a feminist cause" OR "Half of all people killed by the police are disabled." That's pretty shocking, isn't it?

This new year claim to fully inhabit your body, disavow curses, complain as much as you want and be as happy as possible.