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.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Message To Youth: It's All Okay

“It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be, the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help.  Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ Gets help. (The Message Bible)  

Sunday night I went back to the church I grew up in and talked to the youth group about mental health. It was a surreal experience to know that X-Files is still popular and cosplay makes me cool - it was not so cool to be a nerd in the mid 90s.  I am trying to not think about my own youth group years with regret. I did feel victorious eating dinner with the teens like a normal person; I was so stuck in the eating disorder back then, memories of teenage meals are not pleasant.

I thought I would share some of my notes.  I tend to write a lot to prepare for a presentation but never get to cover nearly all of it.  I focused on giving encouragement to decrease the sting of stigma even more so than usual.  
No matter how intense or scary your experience or feelings are, know that God loves you and it is always possible to get better and to move toward the life you want. No matter what.  You may have to change your exact course, but a better life is ALWAYS possible.  


My story - always intensely sensitive and cried easily.  Yelling, loud noises, not enough sleep were top triggers.  As a teen, I struggled with thoughts of hurting myself, mood swings, restricting food as a way to feel in control; only told a few - I wish I had told my parents.  I was deathly afraid of the stigma and of hospitals. 

College is often when people first get diagnosed. 


College is tough - for many it is the first time that they have been on their own.  It introduces so many changes and freedoms and questions.  If you start struggling with intense stress, or urges to self harm, make an appointment with your college’s mental health center - that’s what they are for.

In College, I had more intense anxiety, panic attacks, more restricting, more mood swings, so anxious I couldn’t memorize music and had to change my major.  The first summer I came home I was severely depressed and had no motivation or energy.  

The importance of setting a goal - College was very hard for me-I didn’t know how to manage stress, but having the goal to finish no matter what is what kept me going.  I am very proud to have a degree.  

What keeps you going?

I continued to be  in and out of mental hospitals until I got to the point where I no longer wanted to go to the hospital anymore - I took a class called DBT and it taught me skills that help prevent crisis and keep me well. In the last eight years, I have only been hospitalized once.

Shame  - I knew that something was wrong but I struggled with a lot of shame for many years.  Because I so did not want to be “sick” I would stop taking my meds once I started feeling well and then I would relapse.  

It was only when I started looking at what keeps me well instead of what are my problems are and once I started learning skills that I could do on my own to help myself that life really started turning around.   The focus on wellness is part of my job and training as a CPSI don’t look at myself as sick anymore, but as someone with mental health challenges to overcome.  I look at what keeps me well as living skills instead of as coping skills.  I don’t think of myself as “mentally ill,” although I do acknowledge that I have some extra limitations (we all do in some way).

I see a therapist, psychiatrist, a nutritionist a few times a year, facilitate support groups, participate in the community (church, The Rise Theater), art.

A large part of prevention is doing those things that keep you well and reaching out when you notice signs that things are not as well.

More tips to help with stress…sleep, balanced eating, positive affirmations, mindfulness, relaxation, not abusing drugs/alcohol - THEY ALL HELP

Getting help is strong

Peer Support can be life saving.  I desperately wish that someone had introduced me to peer support when I first started experiencing high anxiety.  

Focus on your wellness and strengths.  
What’s right with you?  What keeps you well? 

I leave with these thoughts:

Consent: Everyone is in charge of their own body. Don’t assume anything - yes means yes.

Life is better the more I reach out, the more vulnerable and authentic I am, and the more I serve others. 

Don’t play “the comparison game.” Comparisons will make us miserable.

I’m on disability but I still have a full life.  I work low hours because I’ve found that helps me stay well.  Our worth is not found in our jobs - we are inherently worthy as children of God. 
Of course, only life’s experience will truly be able to teach any of these lessons, but it is my hope that some of the teens can learn these lessons sooner than I did.  I am so grateful that I can be honest and transparent with people - I find life to be so much fuller when I can give all of myself to the world and not just a thin facade.  I really do believe that life is meant to be full and enjoyed, although getting there takes a lot of hard work.  This hard work is definitely worth more than all of Trump’s hotels and golfing courses, bless his little, tiny heart.

(My goals for January)

Link Love:
when we compare ourselves (unfavorably) to others, we often beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough. It’s much more likely that the differences we see reflect an uneven playing field—a reality that Americans just don’t like to accept. Hard work just isn’t enough sometimes.

Huiting Xie - Strengths-Based Approach For Mental Health Recovery
Instead of employing the traditional medical model which emphasizes on pathology, focusing on problems and failures in people with mental illnesses; the strength-based approach allows practitioners to acknowledge that every individual has a unique set of strengths and abilities so that he/she can rely on to overcome problems. [...] Firstly, everyone possesses strengths that can be utilized to improve quality of their life.  Secondly, the consumer's motivation to have a better life stems from the focus on their strengths.  And, finally, all environments contain resources that help consumers develop their strengths.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mindfulness Makes Life Worth Living

“May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that our believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! (336, The Message Bible) 
Cause-and-effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. 
Solnit, Rebecca. Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (p. 3). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

When I first got out of the hospital, I was pretty miserable with intense PTSD. My goal was first to begin the day in a positive way, then the goal became to begin and end the day feeling well and then finally, the goal was to be positive during the middle of the day too.   It was hard but misery is a wonderful motivator.

Many people know that a gratitude practice is one of my main wellness skills.  I do want to say though that I do not force my actual feelings.  Negative feelings are valid feelings and often to move towards positivity, one has to first acknowledge and honor where one is in the present moment, which includes misery, anger, fear, anxiety, etc. I do not lie and say I am grateful for things I am not, I just try to find a few things each day that actually make me feel better.

People ask me all the time if mindfulness works because it feels like nothing is happening, no progress being made, and I say yes.  I think of mindfulness like water wearing away stone.  For years, it seems like nothing is happening and then one day, you realize that you are standing in the Grand Canyon and that you are grateful.  

Yesterday I marched in the MLK Black Lives Matter Parade, representing people with disabilities, and there was a moment in which I took in the joy of seeing all the activists together and I thought to myself, “without mindfulness, life would just crush the soul” - with so much awfulness in the news, I feel like it is even more vital to take joy when we can.

I used to have a friend who would often say, “I GET to do this” about every little thing, including boring or troublesome stuff.  I thought it a bit much, especially his attitude towards unpleasant things but lately, I have been thinking it too.  Yesterday I had a few hours before work and I was shocked to discover that instead of thinking, “oh no, I only have this short amount of time,” I was thinking, “I get to have all this time.”  Life seems richer, fuller this way.

Today I see life as full with artistic growth.  Even though technically I have a lot of limitations, I see myself as incredibly privileged.  My roommate and I talk about our privileges a lot and it seems to me that often the people who appreciate their privilege  the most are those society would deem as still not having that much. I can honor where I am and still acknowledge that I am so much better off than many people with the same disabilities. 

Whiteness should not be a privilege and our limitations should only be our imaginations.

I will leave you with these words from the march: 

Disability Rights Are Civil Rights! 
Don't Roll Back Our Rights 
No Nursing Homes - Our Homes
Don't Dis My Ability

(My favorite picture from the march - one day I'm going to get this quote by Audre Lorde tattooed)

Link Love:

(I found the article helpful.)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

An Anxious Revelation

“The story doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him.  (The Message Bible, 240)
How do you recognize a panic attack or being triggered?  How can one cope with hearing or seeing scary things?  I had an experience the other day that I felt compelled to write down afterwards and share.  So many people ask me questions about recognizing panic attacks, being triggered, coping with hearing or seeing things that I thought some people might find how I handled a recent intense experience calmly interesting.  (BTW, these are the kind of things we sometimes talk about at a Hearing Voices Network group.)

I was sitting on the couch reveling in my new found peace and coloring.  All of a sudden, I felt a great sense of clarity. “It doesn’t matter what I do,” I thought.  “Life really is like in Ecclesiates, there is nothing new under the sun - all is vanity of vanities.  The only thing that really matters is being kind  - everything else is just icing on the cake.”  I wanted to run and tell everyone, 

“Stop worrying so much.  Stop trying to be perfect-the only thing that matters is being kind! Seriously, that’s it!” 

My whole life I have been an incredibly morbid person - in the past, I had trouble setting long range goals because the awareness that nothing is certain and that death is always a possibility has always been strong with me.  A lot of people are in denial of death, while I have always been a little too aware.  There are so many things that I want to do but now I know that I do not need to stress over whether they will ever get accomplished or not.  All I can do is my best and as long as I am kind and striving to do the next right thing, then I am following God’s will. 

The realization is such a relief.  

Getting books published, performing, speeches, art - all of that stuff is nice and important in its way but none of it is as important as just being loving and kind every day.  As long as I keep my goal on sharing God’s loving kindness then everything will work out.  I don’t mean work out as in everything going my way, but that I will be able to accept what happens because I will be in peace.

I wanted to tell people my good news but I was also afraid that people would think that I’m crazy - that this was just another psychotic episode.  Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I started to get paranoid.  While I knew no one was behind me in the house, I had to turn around several times because I knew Shadow Man was behind me (a figure that comes to me when feeling extremely anxious).  I started feeling more and more fearful as the visions of Shadow Man got worse and worse.  And then I experienced more clarity - 

this is the beginning of a panic attack and I need it to end! 

So I took my klonapin (normally I try to avoid taking it but the paranoia was serious enough that I felt taking it was the responsible thing to do).  Still, I wondered why was I having all of this anxiety right after a beautiful moment.  I really wanted the clarity to be real, but I feared that this was a bad psychosis naturally following a more positive psychotic state, when I had another light bulb moment:

I was triggered!  

During the time I was having the spiritual moment, I was also watching a show where someone was in a mental hospital and had just gotten a shot.  Watching the scene brought back memories in Peachford when I had a similar experience and how scary that was and so the show turned what had been a beautiful moment into a really triggering moment. Once I realized that the paranoia and hallucinations were the result of triggered trauma, I laughed.  (There is a reason why I normally do not read or watch media about mental hospitals or mental illness - it’s just too real for me.)

The great thing about anxiety is that its cure is to simply recognize that one is going through a panic attack or an anxious spell - recognizing it for what it is takes its fearful power away.  Now I knew that I was not going crazy, my earlier spiritual experience was still valid, and that it had only turned sour because of my own internal fear coupled with being triggered.  With this recognition, my panic attack passed, I laughed in relief, and I finished doing the dishes.

Now that I am getting better at deescalating my voices and visions, I think they’re pretty cool (sometimes).  I mean, I do not like the paranoia and the fearful visions but I also feel like I get a richness of life experiences that a lot of people do not.  I think it is pretty amazing how a person can just be casually sitting on the couch and then the next minute be immersed in a spiritual, mystical experience.  Sometimes I wonder if all the prophets simply had schizophrenia.  I imagine another beatitude where Jesus says, 

“Blessed are those who are open to new voices and visions, for they shall experience God.”
"Blessed are those in the mental hospital, for they shall have an understanding denied to many.” 
  “Blessed are those who do not seem blessed, for their ego shall be small.”

Sometimes I worry that I am not as humble or meek as I should be but I feel like in this world where people of unusual experiences are usually put down that my ego and enthusiasm is a type of social justice response.  It certainly is an exercise in vulnerability.  Poor Trump just doesn’t get it at all - he doesn’t want scientists to use the word, “vulnerable” and that to me is the greatest shame of all - if there is one group that is blessed, it is the vulnerable.  Jesus was so vulnerable that he allowed himself to be killed.  He wanted his followers to be vulnerable, like children.  We are not blessed when we inherit money but when we allow ourselves to be so vulnerable that healing amid pain can happen.  Sharing our unusual experiences is a beautiful thing, and believing that only money is true power is a type of delusion in itself. When I see Trump, I see a lot of sadness and I do not see power, except in the most fake way.  Trump is like fool’s gold, but the true riches are found in the people who are open to new truths, even if they walk the Haldol shuffle.
("She will rule over you clothed in love."  A blackout poem I made recently from Genesis.)

Link Love:

Hope Is Real! January 2018 Newsletter

Also, check out my new "teen resources" page - let me know if you would like for me to send it to you as a pdf.

Anxietycoach.com -The Key to Overcoming Panic Attacks
(I have found this article to be really helpful and true.)
Why should I accept a panic attack?Because the more I resist panic, the worse it gets.  The more I develop the habit of acceptance, the more progress I make toward my goal of overcoming panic attacks.

Brene Brown - The Power of Vulnerability
The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating -- as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary.They talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first ... the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees ... the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental. 
CDCRadio - Sarah Silverman's Response to a Twitter Troll is a Master Class in Compassion