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.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Trauma Informed Revolution

It invites us to ask, "To what am I in bondage, and to what are we in bondage?" (The Message Bible)
Let us break the bondage of trauma with trauma informed care. (me) 
Earlier this week I attended a trauma informed care training for continuing education.  The whole point of the training is to introduce trauma informed care into behavioral health settings that need to get up to date, as trauma informed care slowly is becoming the new standard.  What I really liked about it was that we learned practical ways to take the information back to our workplaces-let the trauma informed revolution begin!

The trauma informed training made me reflect on a lot of painful memories but it also left me grateful for my recovery, and for my mental health care treatment team.  A lot of bad memories spin around my last hospital stay, but when I hear stories of hospital abuse, I realize that my doctor did the best he could.  He listened to me and tried to make me as comfortable as he could. Unfortunately, one good doctor cannot make up for other, awful staff.  As I thought back, I realized how many of traumatizing memories from the stabilization unit were from watching how the staff "cared" for the other patients.  I experienced a lot of first hand trauma in the beginning of my stay, but towards the end, the trauma was secondhand, as I watched patients be ignored and cry from distress.

As the training went on, a lot of us talked about how discouraged we are about the rise of prisons and hospitals that are for profit.  How can these programs get better when they are not bound to at least state and federal regulations?  The answer: certified peer specialists and certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists as hospital and prison treatment staff.  As the only certified peer specialist working for Dekalb County drug court, I am helping lead the way for trauma informed care coming out of jail.  (I must mention that I have a friend who is doing peer support work in Dekalb County veterans and mental health court by conducting NAMI mental health support groups.)  It is  our hope that one day every hospital and treatment program be required to include CPS and CARES professionals as staff, even in private, for-profit places.  People with lived experiences in the mental health system are the missing ingredient for trauma informed success.

The last assignment on day two of the training was to write a speech where we advocate to start a talk about the impact of trauma and why it's important to address.  The audience could be to anyone we wanted, from family members to our workplaces to our peers.  I wrote a speech towards the staff working at Dekalb County drug court. I was glad to discover that I already am doing well in addressing trauma with my peers, but my dream is to impress upon the judge why talking to my peers in a trauma informed way is important.

Here is my speech:
I just attended a trauma informed care training.  You might wonder why; what is it about?  Let's talk about trauma and why addressing it is important.  Ninety percent of the people that use behavioral health services have been through trauma.  Trauma is when the body and mind are overwhelmed in fear of what has happened and have no idea how to cope.  The body/mind is flooded with negative hormones and this affects the whole body.  This can occur at any time, even to a newborn.  Continual flooding of these negative hormones changes a person's physical health, their mental and physical development, their whole view of the world.  If we do not address the trauma then true recovery will not happen.  We need to change the conversation from, "what's wrong with you," to "what happened to you" and then our whole world can start to heal.  How can our organization address trauma so that we can start the healing process and have better, more lasting physical and mental change?  (By the way, this focus on trauma will save money in the long run.)
What do you think?

Everything I wrote is true!

Yes, trauma from as early as birth can affect and change a person because of the intense flooding of negative hormones.  When a person is constantly flooded with these hormones, perhaps because of violence or poverty or neglect, the person's whole mind, body, and spirit are changed.  '

However, there is hope!  Validation, support, encouragement all help, but the main key is validation.  As we talked about the importance of validation, I felt pride in being a follower of dialectical behavioral therapy, which is a skills based therapy with validation at the heart of it.  I very well understand how resistant a person will be to recovery unless they feel validated.

Our experiences are real!

By acknowledging our painful realities, the space is opened up to allow for a better reality in time.  People do not have to be stuck in trauma their whole lives and behavioral health places need to know how to become healing centers of hope instead of continuations of pain.  I am proud to be a certified peer specialist and I am proud of the hard work my peers and my colleagues do.

Have you learned anything new about trauma?

Let's talk about it!

Spread the word that addressing trauma is important and that transformation from it is real.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Power of Words

It's true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say.  (The Message Bible)
I'm really struggling with writer's motivation; I have ideas, so it's not exactly writer's block, but I am struggling so hard with the sitting down and typing bit.  Maybe I'm out of practice?  I have been spending a lot of my time cleaning and organizing and decorating and just enjoying my new house that my writing drive is a bit rusty. 

Yes, you heard that right - A NEW HOUSE!

It was such a huge landmark when I was able to move out of my parents' house almost five years ago but this is even bigger.  My parents trust me and I trust me.  I will take care of the house, I will pay bills on time, and I belong to a wide community net that I know will help me when I need it. Tonight I am selling blackout poetry and leading a short blackout poetry workshop at a peer recovery event and yesterday I interviewed a friend for a LGBT cultural competency workshop that I am putting together.  I've been thinking a lot about how well I am doing these past few weeks and how desperate my life used to be.  I do not own any "positivity magic," just a lot of intention, time, practice, and support.  Here are a few images from my housewarming party a few days ago:

(That's right-cupcakes with edible fake blood!)

I remember about fifteen years ago, I went to a psychiatrist for a second opinion, and he said that I had "very severe mental illness" and that I would need "long term care."  He also said that he thought I should go to SkyLand Trail, as they're the only mental health facility that offers long term care in Atlanta and they are actually evidence-based as doing good work.  I took the doctor's advice and attended SkyLand Trail for nine months.  I am so glad I did!  I discovered myself again through art and music and I made many wonderful connections.  It was the first place where I actually bonded with therapists and felt like they were actually helping me instead of causing more harm.  In fact, I first met my current therapist at SkyLand Trail so long ago.

I am very grateful.

Even so, words have power and they really can hurt and cause trauma.  I wish the doctor I saw had used other descriptors and had promised more hope and recovery.  What if he had said, "You're going through a really rough and challenging time right now and I know it feels like this has been going on forever and like it will never stop.  I really think that a place like SkyLand Trail could help you.  The length of stay will be longer, but you'll get so much more out of it-skills and therapy and support and art.  I think you can still have a productive, meaningful life if you work hard and keep on going."

Instead, I have been left with the label of "severe" mental illness ever since.  It hurts in a very deep and primal way.  If only he could see me now! I have had to face this label again as I talked to a local psychologist's class about recovery from "SMI," "SPMI," and psychosis.  ("Severe mental illness" and "severe, persistent mental illness"). I am glad that I was able to talk to his class.  The instructor has turned out to be a wonderful ally and I think he is doing very good work.  He is trying to get a grant for him to be able to pay certified peer specialists to tell their recovery stories to more graduate psychology classes.  Here is a bit that I wrote in a letter supporting his request:
Having schizophrenia, psychosis, and other serious mental illnesses are still very stigmatized with few resources and oftentimes, little hope given for a productive and meaningful life in recovery.  As a person with serious mental illness, I find great meaning in dispelling these myths.  Empathy is gained by hearing a personal story filled with hope and I believe there is really no other way than through dialogue that a student can gain this type of knowledge.  I firmly believe that listening to personal experiences are critical for empathy, openness, and success for mental health professionals wanting to relate to clients with SMI.
Still, I wish we did not use words like "severe" or "psychotic" at all.  I wish our charts were full of our strengths and possibilities instead of just our symptoms and failures.  Symptoms and labels are just so limiting to the human psyche.

Words hurt.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a person in power tell a peer the classic line, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me," and I was appalled!  I thought that we were beyond this naive cliche by now.  I thought our mental healthcare system was trauma informed enough to know that this ignorant phrase actually causes trauma!  I was then left to clean up the damage and I told the peer about the importance of validation:
Your feelings are your feelings. It doesn't matter if another person gets why you feel a certain way, you feel that way and that is okay.  Needing attention and needing validation is not bad-we all need those things sometimes.  Unfortunately, oftentimes those in power will not give us the things we need to take care of our emotions.  Look for people who can genuinely support you and build you up when you need it.  Learn how to validate yourself.  Sometimes validating ourselves is as simple as saying the feeling out loud: "I feel sad," "I feel angry," "I feel hurt," etc.  Once we have said out loud the feeling, often it goes away much quicker.  If we try to cover it up with fake cheeriness though, then it usually gets harder and harder to bear.  
Words can hurt but they can also heal. 

In drug court last week, I talked to the peers about being gentle with themselves-how important it is to treat ourselves well, especially if other people don't.  I hate that a person in power was so careless with their words, but it reminds me of how much power I have with mine.  Our society is divided and negative nowadays, so every little drop of kindness is precious.

Acknowledge the power of words and use your words with care.  Now that I am well, I am in a position of power myself and I have to be aware of that.  I want to be a person that validates instead of disregarding others' feelings-just because I don't feel something doesn't mean that emotion is not real or intense.   I am also a person in power who can apologize.  I can be called out to make right a wrong.  Can you imagine how different the world would be if our leaders apologized when caught wrong?  If our leaders were powerful in the ways of authenticity, sincerity, honesty, humility, then the ways in which we are wrong could be used for civilization's growth instead of civilization's degradation.

Be the person our leaders aren't, instead.  

Be the change.  


I see you.

Let us see each other.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Staying In My Lane

Stay in your lane.  If you're good enough, people will move to you. ~ Russell Simmons

I've always hated the phrase, "stay in your lane;" it always seemed condescending to me.  A few times someone has said it to me when I was asking a question and I felt very offended.  However, recently I realized that it is the perfect phrase for me to use to reframe my sometimes too nosy thoughts.

I went to the Alternatives conference a few weeks ago and had a great time...until I sensed that there was some tension in the air and then I became triggered and teary.  Fortunately, I was able to get the support I needed and ended up having a good enough time to want to return.

I attended a function by the anti-defamation league until I realized that the leader was triggered and her slightly raised voice made me also triggered and teary.  I ended up leaving this event early, even though I did get the support I needed-I just couldn't stop crying until I arrived home.

I started to feel very frustrated and annoyed with myself.  I realized that I was getting triggered when other people were getting triggered and that seemed very codependent.  I knew I needed to stop but how?  And then I remembered the lesson I learned from the trauma therapist last year-all of these things are not my job!  It is not any of my business if another person is triggered. It is not my job to take care of a stranger's feelings.  I realized that with my new job at drug court, I had gotten back into a co-dependent spirit and was trying to take care of everyone's feelings...And that's NOT MY JOB!!

We each have a personal space bubble and my bubble was losing its boundaries and oozing all over other people.

I laughed as I realized: "I need to stay in my lane!" Now I understand what this phrase means - it doesn't mean you can't empathize or be curious about other people, but it does mean that I don't have to let every one else's shit affect my spirit.


What a big sigh of relief!

Now I go to work and church and other functions and I don't feel so afraid.  I can be secure in myself enough to know that I am my own person.  If someone else gets triggered, I may care, but I don't have to feel the same exact way they do.  I'm so glad I caught this before my co-dependency became worse.  Years ago I once went to a mental hospital because my best friend at the time was in a mental hospital.

Not the best reason.

It's frustrating that I have to learn this lesson over and over again, but I think the idea that we should get big concepts all in one go is a damaging myth.  At least this time I can learn my lessons without going to a hospital.  That's progress. Part of the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is having an unstable identity.  I used to hang onto other people way past healthy because I did not know how to define myself.  A few weeks ago my therapist commented that my sense of identity has gotten a lot stronger and I agree.  I could sense when I was beginning to go too far and catch myself.  Now I do not feel so frustrated but proud.

My identity is that I am a passionate person in long term mental health recovery. I am a person who never gives up and who works hard.  Over everything else, this is me.  I may play with my sexuality and spirituality and style but I am riding in my own recovery lane always.  No longer am I Frogger trying not to get squashed.

I am myself.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Life is a Grand Adventure - A Recap of Last Week

Religious laws speak of how to behave; theology and doctrine speak of how to understand and what to believe; but stories appeal to the imagination, to that place within us where our images of reality, life, and ourselves reside. (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg)
I look at my life as a series of grand adventure stories.  I do not believe that our troubles are caused by God and that horror happens to teach us a moral lesson.  However, I do believe we can choose to find meaning in all situations.  We can always learn from life, even if the lesson is just recognizing the support and love around us.  I think looking for possible lessons enforces a joyous perspective.  I know it helps me keep on going when life is tough.  Lately, I have been writing a memory or two to sum up the previous day each morning in my journal and doing this has really cemented the importance of this point of view.  We can choose to claim a life of victimhood or a life of victory, although I do not want to gloss over the fact that it is easier to find the joy in life when one has certain privileges. (treatment that works, safe housing, healthy food, supportive family). I thought seeing how I look back on the past week might be interesting for folks, so I am publishing this recap.  Let me know if you find it interesting or superfluous.

Monday - Positive Affirmations are fun and powerful!  Peer support promotes joy.

I do positive affirmations with the peers at drug court.  I share that I used to think positive affirmations were too cheesy but then I tried them out and found out that they did change my thinking over time.  Peers share their favorite Bible verses and inspirational phrases.  The time passes quickly and happily.  

Tuesday - Sharing mental health stories empower others and helps dismantle stigma, i.e.,      
               “the master’s house.”

I go to a counseling center in Marietta to speak about my book.  I am bothered by how the peers seem to claim their disorders as an identity.  I understand how that can be helpful at times, but the complete illness focus is disturbing.  Still, the staff are trying their best to be encouraging.  I am incredibly touched that the staff chose to use my book to study for several months and by how many peers express their appreciation for a book to be written by someone who also struggles.  There are a lot of mental health memoirs out there, so I didn’t realize just how big a deal it is.  What makes mine different from others?   I am encouraged by how many of the peers there admit to writing poems and short stories and how they too would like to publish them one day-the more we can encourage our peers to put themselves out there-to express themselves creatively, the better our world.  Combating stigma takes creative energy.  “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” ~ Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (I believe the feminist activist was writing about mental health advocacy, although she might not have known it at the time.). 

Wednesday - Dignity and respect for all in mental health are counter to the medical model           hospital structure.  Invest in the free prevention communities available in Georgia.

The eleventh year anniversary of the Decatur Peer Support and Wellness Center!  I know that my cupcakes are appreciated because my former boss actually called to make a special request for my vanilla cupcakes with homemade vanilla buttercream frosting.  The center is very busy, slightly chaotic. *Sigh* It feels weird to sit around so I help serve the food and lead some games.  Even though I no longer work there, I still promote the wellness centers as much as I can.  People need to know about free hospital prevention-the place isn’t perfect, but it is so much better than any hospital-respect and dignity towards all should not be a radical concept but it is.   

Thursday -  No matter the pattern of the past, life can become more pleasant.  
      Through encouragement and support, goals can be accomplished.
        Short people spend extra money to hem our pants.

My parents and I celebrate my birthday together.  We go to one of my favorite restaurants, First Watch, a hipster-esque brunch place. I get many gifts-more than usual for my birthday.  I think everyone is just so happy that I am happy-that I was able to transition smoothly from one job to another; that’s never happened before!  I got a Captain Marvel cosplay shirt, Ms. Marvel comics, an Anne of Green Gables graphic novel, artistic paper, hair accessories, a wooden bracelet.  My mom returned the Christmas presents that I had left at my brother’s place and I am so glad-the black pens and the watercolor paper presents were expensive and thoughtful and I would have hated having to reorder.  My mom and I go clothes shopping at our usual stores, although this time for “business casual” work clothes.  Of course, the pants need to be hemmed.  I get some pretty skirts and sensible, yet flattering shirts.

Friday - Despite the hardness of life, progress happens.  
  We can claim our own internal power.
  There is beauty in the queer world worth choosing.

Court: a former participant comes to visit.  The judge said that the last time he saw him he had been bothered by a story the man told about how he wanted to go fishing with his son but didn’t have a fishing rod.  The judge then brings out two brand new fishing rods and tells the man to take his boy to the park and teach his son fishing.  The man told the judge that his son now lives with him and they are closer than they were before.  The judge then asks a peer what is her positive affirmation that she had created on Monday.  She tells the judge that she is a queen and that thinking about herself being a queen helps build up her self esteem. The judge asks her to describe the qualities of a queen and she describes all the positive attributes that she is striving for. I am proud-I think it takes a lot of courage to tell a judge that you’re a queen-good for her!  After court, another peer comes to me for comfort because she hadn’t been to able remember enough to answer the judge well when he asked about her positive affirmation-I tell her that it is okay-it’s just nerves and she will become more confident in time.  I know it’s true. 

Friday night I celebrate my birthday party with friends at The Red Light Cafe.  We watch “Saturday Morning Cartoons Burlesque” and have a blast.  People of all genders, sexual orientations, sizes, colors performed sexily.  There is flashy hula hooping, Pinocchio dancing on Pleasure Island, a sexy “dad bod” dragon, milk and cereal pouring over the bodies of several people.  Everyone with me identifies as queer in some way and we all agree that our orientation is lovely.  The creativity that comes from opening up oppressive binaries is healing.  My lifestyle is queer love and I do wholeheartedly choose it.

Saturday - Sharing the hard stories are important-we must speak truth in order to change the 
      present.  We need to end for profit prisons and for profit mental/physical healthcare.
      Disabled people and the people that love them need to rise up in unified power.

I speak at a minority health symposium during the ending panel addressing mental health.  I briefly share my story.  I give out information about the Decatur Peer Center and Wellness Center, GCAL, and mental health first aid classes.  I share the horrible statistic that half of all people killed in the United States of America by police have some sort of disability.  There really needs to be not just a racial or mental health response but an inclusive disability response.  Deaf and blind and autism and mental health challenges and wheelchair users and addicts and all the people that love and support them need to come together as a unified front representing all genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, sizes, abilities, religions, economic classes.  More unity, hope, and understanding is what this country needs more than anything. I talked about how we need to end mental healthcare and prisons for profit-that got a lot of clapping from the audience!  Capitalism can be great but when unregulated, it causes people to die both spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.  It is not okay to destroy the soul because of greed.  I tell the audience that I had to take special trauma therapy after my last hospitalization specifically to address the trauma from that hospitalization-if I had not been able to access it, I might have not have been able to return to work, and I acknowledge my economic and racial privileges. 

Sunday - It is just as important to claim joy as it is to tell our trauma.  Wake up-embrace new 
    life!  It is still the Easter season.

In the morning I am bitten by the piano bug.  It arrived a few weeks ago and then left again.  My fingers itch until I play and play.  I practice some new songs from a piano book that showcases female composers. The songs are relatively easy and it gives me a thrill to glide over the keyboard by way of eighth note scales and arpeggio chords.  I feel alive in a way I haven’t since my first days at college. At night, I make lavender orange honey shortbread cookies for a hiking trip at Sweetwater Creek Park tomorrow.  A friend tells me that the park is a great place to dip hot feet in cool water.  The smell of orange and lavender permeates the air. I am coming alive, I am waking up, I am embracing life, I am whole.  

How much better life is when I think of the good things instead of dwelling on the bad! How much better life is when I know I am doing my part to end stigma and oppression!  Something different I have done this week is write down the people to pray for based on whether they are my enemy or not: my prayers for the week were for the Dekalb County jail, white supremacists, Trump pro-birthers, unchecked capitalism, and homophobes.  Prayers are not enough, but by keeping them in my mind when I pray, I believe I have had a more focused view for what is going right in my life and what truly needs help.  With so much going wrong in politics, I think following the principles of lesbian black feminists, like Audre Lorde, are important: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Thank you, Lorde! (from Sister Outsider)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Rebellious Wellness

God is love.  When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.  (The Message Bible)
When I live in Love, all is well no matter how I feel. (me)
"I'm too tired to take my medicine" is the familiar refrain in my head.

It's the refrain that has tripped me up again and again.

I decide that I'm too tired to take my meds, that one night without won't hurt.  The pattern repeats until I am in some sort of crisis.

But not this time- something within me has changed.

I am a Wellness Rebel, Wellness Rebellious!  No longer will I listen to the evil voices inside that are trying to bring me down. "No, I MUST take it!" I counter the voice.

More and more I am countering the voice of self destructiveness and victimization:  

I WILL take my medication every day.
Yes, I WILL put my clothes away before bed.
Yes, I WILL make my bed after I get up.
Yes, I WILL clean the litter box before going on vacation.
Yes, I WILL get my tire pressure inspected when the light first comes on the dashboard.

These declarations may seem funny in their ordinary-ness but for me they are huge.  Depression and anxiety and intense moods have lied to me most of my life; they tried to convince me that I am not capable of taking care of myself well-that messiness and procrastination are an inherent part of me, just like I am a naturally depressed and anxious person.  

Except, I am not.

My life is the life I want now.  I got a new job that pays well but has low hours.  I go to fairs and sell my artwork.  I write and people want to read it-people pay attention to what I have to say. This actually has been happening for a while but with the new job, I feel like I am stepping onto a higher plane.  I am not willing to give up where I am.  No longer will I let shame trick me into not taking care of myself.  No longer will I let inner shame block my path in recovery.
Today I choose wellness.
I laughingly told my therapist last week that I'm a "wellness rebel-rebellious wellness!" She laughed along with me and said that she is proud. I am rebellious to all the ways depression tells me I can't and anxiety tells me I shouldn't.

I have been practicing wellness/DBT skills for years now and the effort is finally coming to fruition in a big way.  More and more I am finding that I can do more than I can't.  I know that I am not perfect and that pain comes to everyone eventually but I am at a point where I am ready to face the pain of life and ride the wave out until it crashes instead of running away into a worse situation.  It makes me feel powerful knowing that intense emotions don't have to pull me back. 
I can be intense and be well.
I can feel pain and be well.  
I recently read the book, "Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of a Buddha" by Tara Brach and she was able to help me more fully understand that allowing myself to feel intense emotions won't kill me. When we feel intense emotions, it is natural to want to push them away, but that just makes the situation worse.  When we radically accept the painful emotion and let ourselves feel it, then we are no longer held captive  by its fear.  Her book taught me a way of being mindful that is pushing my confidence to a higher level.  

I listen to myself now and I say yes.

I feel like crying, so I cry.  

I feel overwhelmed, so I let myself experience the overwhelm.

I feel it, and while the problem may not be solved, the intensity of the emotion passes more quickly that I would have thought.  

I can even feel the resistance in my personality that wants to procrastinate, to victimize, to wallow, to diminish-I feel it and then it passes.   Letting myself feel more fully is freeing and healing.  I embrace my mental health challenge when she knocks at my door, I give her a hug, and then we walk hand in hand to face life and love together.

I embrace my mental health challenge and she turns into recovery.

You only look back to se where you come from but victory lies ahead. " ~ Howard Finster