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)