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, 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