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, October 26, 2017

Stop Looking For Signs

Ask the questions, take a deep breath, and release it to the universe.  Stop thinking about it and engage in the present moment.  If you have to think about whether or not it’s a sign or guidance, then it’s not - you’re forcing it.  If something comes into your radar that sparks a physical reaction - a clear sense of truth - you have your answer.  
~ Stephenie Zamora

When I was in the hospital, I wrote on a piece of paper, “Stop looking for signs.”  I later told my roommate and she laughingly agreed.  “Looking for signs is usually not a good sign.” She said.

I pride myself on being somewhat of a skeptic - I try to look at the world through scientific eyes.  I am also open to mysticism, which I know seems incongruous with science.

I don’t believe in horoscopes, numerology, the zodiac, the da Vinci code, or tarot.  I do think that tarot cards can be inspiring and show us insights, but I think it’s because of what our subconscious wants us to see and not because we are channeling some divine prophecy.

Some people think that if you start seeing a lot of the same thing then it’s a sign that that’s what you should do.  That can turn dangerous, though.  It’s like if you were driving and you keep seeing the sign for Walmart at every exit and so you decide that it must mean that you need to go there for your shopping EVEN THOUGH you actually find shopping at Walmart very stressful and confusing.  (That’s my experience - Walmart gives me panic attacks - too big and overwhelming.). Just because a lot of people love to go someplace - better cost, less travel - does not mean that it is what I should do if it causes me more stress.  

I have an alternate theory.

I think that sometimes life seems to show us a lot of similar things and the point is to know yourself well enough to not fall into their trap.  I think also that we tend to notice what we’re used to.  It’s like if I am used to hearing people say bad things about me that it might still be what I notice even if I change the type of people I’m around and they actually usually say nice things.  I’m used to the negative, so it’s all I notice. 

With me, I’m used to do doing whatever clinicians or other well-meaning people suggest, even if they don’t know me well.  For a long time, I was trying to figure out what kind of treatment and support worked for me so I tried a little bit of everything.  That was great because it enabled me to try out a lot of different stuff and I eventually found people I could really trust and what actually works for me.  The problem is that it set me into a mindset of doing whatever kind of treatment people suggested, even though by now I know what works for me.  Usually after a hospitalization people start suggesting all kinds of more clinical therapies for my continued “healing” and that was helpful for a while in the past but it’s not helpful anymore.  I started to think that I needed more intense trauma therapy and more intense eating disorder support because I was having issues in those areas and other people were suggesting it.  

“It’s a sign of what I need to do!” I thought.

Or maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe these signs are really opportunities for me to ask myself, “what do I really want,” and make my own decision.

In the end, I decided that I should do things one thing at a time.

I am keeping my therapist because she is wonderful and is able to support me in between sessions through texting.  She is expensive but worth it.

I am working with my nutritionist one-on-one.  I journal about my emotions and food and then we look at them together.  When it’s just her and I then it’s easier for me to hear what she has to say - if I join a treatment program then I would probably start trying to compete with the other peers with eating disorders and that’s not what I want.

I am going to do some trauma therapy with a therapist one-on-one after the new year.  A friend introduced me to a wonderful resource for free sexual assault therapy and support groups in the Atlanta area, but I am going to wait until I am already settled back into my job and am a little more stable before adding something new to my life.

The fact that I am able to listen to my own voice, I think, is a sign that I am doing quite well.  I hope you are too.

(taken this year at DragonCon)

Link Love:

By Rachel M Cohen

Deborah Menkart, the executive director of Teaching for Change, agrees that Rothstein’s research supports what teachers have long known from their own experience on the front lines. “I think it also affirms the focus,” she said, on having “children not just see schools as a ticket out of poverty, as a way to ‘rise above’ your community, but as a way to [be] agents for change within their communities.” “Part of the problem,” she adds, “is that the whole conversation around education has become so focused on helping individuals ‘escape’ their bad circumstances, rather than helping them become part of the solution.”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Setting Myself Up For Vacation Success

Jane had to learn to allow herself to have the anxiety rather than try desperately to get rid of it. 
for distraction to work, you have to do it mindfully. Pay close attention and throw yourself into whatever activity you are using to distract yourself. If you engage in distracting activities but think about your problems the whole time, then it won’t work. 
If you change your actions, you can change your emotions. 
Chapman, Alexander L.. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety: Breaking Free from Worry, Panic, PTSD, and Other Anxiety Symptoms (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook) (Kindle Locations 912-914). New Harbinger Publications. Kindle Edition.

In a few days I am going on vacation to celebrate my brother’s wedding.  I’m really excited! 

I’m also a little worried. 

It would be nice to be able to just turn my head on to vacation mode so that I could be worry and flashback free, but that is not how recovery works.  While yes, medications and a positive attitude can help, the fact of the matter is that while I am in the recovery process from PTSD, painful memories and intrusive thoughts are going to happen.  

Often when I say I am sad, people will wish that I will be happier the next day - usually now though, I interrupt people and tell them that no, I fully expect to be sad tomorrow. I do not want to deny my current reality and wishing myself to be happy will not magically make it so.

It would be weird if I was all of a sudden super happy right now.  I am not sad all the time but I would be setting myself up for emotional failure if I did not acknowledge that I feel some amount of sadness every day.  Sadness and anxiety are not necessarily bad things though - of course I don’t want to be depressed and panicked, but it is natural to mourn the death of an old self and be anxious about the creation of a new one. 

However, I can set myself up in ways so that my experience is more positive than negative.  I really do want to fully enjoy officiating my brother’s special day.  While I am still struggling, I am genuinely glad that my brother and sister in law are in my life.

As I am trying to prepare, I am asking myself three things:

  • What makes me happy now that I can bring with me?
  • What is soothing that I can bring? 
  • What are my strengths?

Writing, creating art, and listening to music are the top three things that make me feel good right now, so I plan to do these things at least a little bit every day.  I am so thankful that I can carry an iPad or journal with me everywhere I go!  I plan to bring some of my paint markers, coloring books, and other small art supplies as a healthy distraction.  I’ve discovered a BlackOut Poetry app called “BlackOut Bard” that will enable me to be creative even without pen and paper

Other things that I will bring to self soothe myself are are comfy clothes, scented lotion, ear buds, my anxiety PRNs, my microwaveable tea pot, high protein snacks and low acid coffee in the hopes that traveling will not mess up my digestive system too much.  I have talked about self soothe kits before to bring on vacations.

I hope the older generation will not think that I am too much of a rude millennial because I will probably be on my phone a lot.  Smartphones are good distracting tools and I really, honestly, don’t understand all the condescension a lot of people have towards them.  People have always used things to distract themselves, but now instead of physical books and newspapers, we just read articles and blog posts on our phones.  I use my phone to create artwork and read Emily Dickinson and Audre Lorde - so what if the medium is a phone instead of a physical book?  When my thoughts become too intrusive, fully expect me to start writing, reading, creating art, or listening to music if I can.

Here is my plan for success:

  • Focus on how I can support others.

  • Distract or soothe myself in positive ways from intrusive thoughts. 

  • Mindfully accept painful thoughts/memories when they are too loud. 

  • Begin and end each day in gratitude and positivity - I seem to have more control over the morning and night than I do of the middle. 

  • Listen to uplifting music. 

  • Validate my emotions as legitimate. 

  • Accept where I am so that I can enjoy as much as I can. 

  • Continue to read DBT & PTSD self help books. 

  • Stay true to myself and not compare myself to others. 

  • Give myself permission to enjoy food and not second guess myself.

  • I hope this post is helpful to anyone who is about to go on vacation but still struggles with painful thoughts or anxieties.  Here are two examples of blackout poetry that I have created using an app called BlackOut Bard. (Click on the picture to see it better.) Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep up with my artwork and travels.

    Monday, October 16, 2017

    I Am Not A Burden - Accepting Support

    Paul countered by speaking of "the wisdom of God" (which he also spoke of as "the foolishness of God" because it is the opposite of "the wisdom of this world") which "destroys the wisdom of the wise." (106, Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time: The Historical Jesus and The Heart of Contemporary Faith). 
    Mental health professionals do not speak as the "wisdom of God" - listen more to the people that already know and love us.  (Me)
    My Mom is my best friend.  She knows how best to support me in a way that no one else does and now that I’m an adult, I support her too.  When I am super, super anxious she is a safe person for me to vent to and cry.  Unfortunately, I like to create problems when there aren’t any so sometimes I obsess over how I will handle life when certain support people are gone.   

    One of the reasons I went to the hospital is because I wanted to handle my problems myself.  I do think it is good to be more independent but after a meltdown last week in front of my mom who handled it perfectly, I have come to realize that our connection is sacred. It is wrong to push a wonderful support person away out of fear for the future. 

    The second to last time I was hospitalized my mom told me that I am never a burden to her and I think I forgot that.  This last time at the hospital, the “professionals” talked about how we shouldn’t depend on others and stress them out.

    I am calling this stigmatizing bullshit.  

    Yes, we should not be co-dependent with people and we definitely should not continually go to someone if they are not a good influence or if they signal that they are getting burnt out - we should never try to use one person to satisfy all of our needs. 

    However, if there is one thing that intentional peer support has taught me it is that there is nothing more sacred than connecting with others.  I should not pull away from others because I am afraid of my feelings when they go - I should honor our connection, commitment, and love while the person is still here.  I need to trust that I already have all that I need and that moving towards people that genuinely love and support me is never wrong. 

    The clinicians at Peachford Hospital do not know the dynamic between my mom and I-if they feel that family members with mental illness are a burden, then that is their stigma and baggage-it does not have to be mine. 

    Today I choose to honor the connections between me and my supporters, instead of trying to hold back, second guessing, and holding back my feelings - in reality, people love me, value my authenticity, and they see through my masks anyway.  Hiding my emotions just does not work for someone like me and that is a good thing.  Believing that one’s self is a burden, especially to family members, is a recipe for self-loathing and stigma and those are things I am no longer willing to hold.  (Of course, this is totally different if your family is toxic.)

    You can see how I analyzed my meltdown below.  I thought it might be helpful.

    Situation: Going home to do scrapbooking; looked at triggering papers right before leaving

    Bodily Sensations: Racing Thoughts, Flashbacks, Teary

    Thoughts:  I just need to power through; I shouldn’t be dependent on my mom to fix my problems

    Action Tendencies: cover up anxiety

    Action: went home and cried; took anxiety PRN, vented to mom

    Realization:  She was willing to help me.  I need to enjoy letting my mom support me while she is alive.  I AM NOT A BURDEN - I need to counter this lie.

    What I Need To Remember: Enjoy connecting with my mom while I can.  Don’t try to hide anxiety from my mom - it doesn’t work anyway.  Ask for help - state what I need.

    Mantra:  Connections are sacred - honor them.  Don’t take on other people’s baggage or stigmas.

    What I Want To Do Now:  Make a commitment to be more honest when asked to do things that make me anxious.  Maybe something can be done differently.  

    How I Feel Now: Gratitude and Love

    (Picture taken on the Atlanta Beltline #tinydoorsATL)

    Link Love:

    Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    My World Mental Health Day Message

    God is better partnered than fought. (141, Monica A Coleman, Making A Way Out Of No Way: A Womanist Theology) 
    Mental health challenges and disabilities are better partnered than fought too. I must love all parts of myself in order to be well. (Me)

    It's World Mental Health Day, so I am going to post some of what I wrote on FaceBook last night about mental health.  Every day is a day we should choose to take care of our mind.  The mind, body, and soul are all connected and to be well we need to take care of our whole selves.  Lately I decided that I no longer will go to bed depressed and irritable, so my new nightly practice is to make sure I do something to put me in a better mood if I am not feeling well before going to sleep.

    Reading and completing exercises from The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety are what I chose last night to make me feel better.  You've already seen some of the exercises I've done and I will post later on another one that I did.  I have discovered that almost nothing makes me feel better than writing, so that's why there have been so many posts lately.  I hope when I return to work that I will still be able to write fairly often.

    From yesterday:

    My BPD & Anxiety (OCD, GAD, PTSD, & Panic - I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'm basically a walking DSM) are back. Amazingly, I'm still grateful for them - they've introduced me to DBT, which dramatically changed my life. 
    Right now, I'm really trying to work on my people pleasing and my tendency to overcommit to projects. It's really tough because these have been a way of life for so long, but the thing that DBT has taught me is that 
    our personalities are much more malleable than we previously thought.
    I no longer want to get rid of my "disorders" but instead find ways to make them useful. I have so many diagnoses, that to hate or want to be rid of them would be hating and wanting to rid myself of myself. 

    No, I am not my mental illnesses, but I do see the world through a lens that most people fear. However, I see it as a strength: 
    through and because of the intensity of my emotions, I am learning how to care for myself and set boundaries at a younger age than many. 
    I love how DBT was designed for a population usually incredibly stigmatized but now is promoted as a tool helpful even for people with no mental health challenge - it's just good stuff.
    From the workbook:  "and over time, DBT has come to be the most scientifically supported therapy for people who struggle with BPD. [...] BPD and anxiety disorders often go hand in hand. Therefore, a lot of people with anxiety disorders have been treated with DBT; they just happened to have BPD as well. However, beyond the fact that many people with BPD have anxiety disorders, evidence suggests that many DBT strategies and skills may be very helpful for a lot of the problems that go along with anxiety disorders. For example, studies (see Robins and Chapman 2004, for a review) have found that DBT can be quite useful for: anxiety disorders and symptoms, depression, substance-use problems, eating disorders, and trauma. In fact, the skills taught in DBT are so practical and based in such common sense that almost anyone could potentially benefit by at least knowing something about them."
    I am very aware of the language I use and I change how I label myself often to get different points across. I don't usually like identifying as a "mentally ill person," as that just seems so impersonal and objectifying, although I will sometimes say it if I'm trying to make a point about accepting people with mental illness. 

    However, I do absolutely identify as a disabled person. 

    My challenges do affect how much I can work and other areas in my life in a way that not everyone else does. But this is not necessarily bad - I think disabled people grasp the evils of Capitalism much better than the general population and it is this understanding that pushes us to seek better ways. (I think about how evil Capitalism is quite a lot these days - if anyone has any books to recommend on how to positively change the current system, please let me know in the comments!)
    Tonight's final thought: as my roommate and I were walking in the neighborhood together just a few hours ago, we talked about how even though we are both experiencing some mental hardships right now, we are both in a better place than we ever dreamed.  We are both astounded at the quality of friendships we have now. Somehow, we have managed to find people that truly understand and relate to our challenges and who support and encourage us on our paths towards wellness.  

    On this world mental health day, try not to get so caught up in material things and instead work on your connections.  Connect with your body, your creativity, your soul - connect with those who support and encourage too.  Pursue positivity while accepting where you are.  We all have mental health needs, so let us talk about them openly with all who will listen with an open heart and mind.

    (exercise 1.2 from The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety)

    Link Love:

    Levar Burton Reads 'Good Night Moon' to a Sleepy Neil deGrasse Tyson - Seriously, this is the best video you will watch tonight.  Major Major Good Feels

    Friday, October 6, 2017

    Checking Anxiety's Facts

    I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds.  I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power.  Then you will that I am the Lord.  Ezekiel 14:20-21

    Anxiety and fear do often ensnare me.  Sometimes I feel like I am trapped in low self-esteem and societal expectations.  Sometimes I become trapped in other people’s fears and do not even investigate to see if the fears and anxieties are mine to worry about in the first place.  Since one of the main reasons why I was recently hospitalized was due to extreme anxiety and panic attacks, I am slowly going through The Dialectical Behavioral Skills Workbook for Anxiety.  

    Two things I like so far in the workbook is that it stresses how common the experience of anxiety and panic attacks are and how the feelings of fear and anxiety can also be useful.  
     Around 11 percent of people have experienced a panic attack in the past year, and 28 percent of people say that they have had a panic attack at some point in their lives (Kessler et al. 2006).
    [...]both fear and anxiety serve a very important purpose: they tell you that you may be in a situation where there is risk of harm. That’s good information to have! Anxiety also has an additional function, however. Specifically, anxiety can tell you that something matters to you, or is important and meaningful to you. Think about it. When you are about to interview for a job that you really want, you are probably more anxious than if you are about to interview for a job that you couldn’t care less about. This is because the job matters to you.

    So many people struggle with anxiety that I thought showing my process might be helpful to others.  The original exercise stops at, “action,” but I realized that if this exercise was really going to alter my feelings and thoughts then I needed to do even more self examination.  I added a mantra section because they are so helpful for me during times of high stress.  Often when I notice that I am coming close to a panic attack, I will examine my thoughts, realize that they are not grounded in total reality and then counter them with a more realistic or empowering mantra over and over again in my head until I believe it and my worry has diminished.  (In CPS language, we call this “Catch It, Check It, Change It.”  In DBT language, we call this, “Checking The Facts.” Either way, it is a very effective tool for self examination and for changing one's perspective). 

    I’ve noticed that I often struggle with the same anxieties, just in slightly different ways.  I will continue to go to doctor’s appointments and I won’t always feel well, so I need to remember that my doctor will not penalize me for being honest. (I’m talking about my specific doctor - I cannot speak for any other.) I will get nervous at the beginning of another meet up, so I need to remember that what happens is what needs to happen; that I cannot control the outcome - just myself - and that what I have to say is important and needs to be heard.

    Identify How I Experience Anxiety and Fear

    Situation: Doctor Appointment

    Bodily Sensations:  Sore throat, metallic taste in mouth, chest pressure

    Thoughts: If I’m honest about how I still feel, I’ll be put back in the hospital.

    Action Tendencies:  lie

    Action:  was honest; did some research & realized that     those were symptoms of a panic attack, so I took my PRN when I got back home and napped.

    Realization:  Being honest didn’t put me in the hospital, but I was able to get my medications adjusted some more. 

    What I Need To Remember: My doctor is a good doctor and very transparent.  If he thought I needed to be hospitalized again, he would say so first.  We would be able 
    to have a dialogue.  He would not 10-13 me over my feelings.

    Mantra:   My doctor is a good doctor.  My doctor is transparent.  My doctor trusts me.  It is okay to ask questions - He will not laugh.

    What I Want To Do Now:  I want to thank him for being such a good doctor.  Most doctors aren’t as good as he is.  He lets me stay longer for a session if I have a lot of 
    questions, he validates my feelings, and he has open dialogue with me instead of making assumptions.

    How I Feel Now: Gratitude

    Situation: Audre Lorde meetup

    Bodily Sensations: metallic taste in mouth, chest pressure; tense muscles

    Thoughts: People aren’t going to like what I say;  people won’t show up and I will have organized this for nothing 

    Action Tendencies: complain; be angry; not share my points, even though I think they will add something new

    Action:  accepted that people were just going to come late; spoke my points but was also aware of my space, so that I didn’t talk the whole time. 

    Realization:  We had the perfect sized group by 8pm.  My honesty brought the conversation to a new, deeper level.

    What I Need to Remember:  Things will often work out if I just let go of the time and accept the fact that whoever shows up will be the people that really need to come.  I am 
    a socially appropriate person and a thoughtful and smart communicator.  Even if I am not the most oppressed person in the room, my words are still important and worth hearing, as long as I come from a genuine place and not become 
    defensive if challenged.  Despite my anxiety, the evening turned out absolutely perfect.  I am better at being socially aware and a facilitator than I often think I am.

    Mantra: Let go and let God.  What will be is what it needs to be.  My thoughts and ideas are important and offer a new and needed perspective.  People will appreciate what I have to say.

    What I Want To Do Now: Organize more meet ups in multiple platforms, so to reach more people. I am really good at this!  Feminist meet ups with more diversity makes me feel good and is a passion of mine.  More Please!  

    How I Feel Now: Excitement!

    (I made carrot cake cupcakes with homemade maple buttercream frosting for the event. I've found that I can get away with boxed cake mix, as long as I make my own frosting. YUMMM)

    (I organized a Sister Outsider book discussion/potluck and of course I had to bring Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, with me!)

    BTW, my organization is Metro Atlanta Feminists and you can find us on meet up.com and on Facebook.