x137 (a low)

By Ben Grantham, used with Creative Commons License

By Ben Grantham, used with Creative Commons License

Last week was a rough one for me. I found myself frequently in tears and overwhelmed by simple tasks. While I’m on medication to help with my depressive lows, it’s important to remember that medications don’t make you emotionless. You’ll still experience highs and lows, but they should be considerably more manageable than they would be without the meds. I’m not sure what triggered this low, or why it lasted almost two weeks. I had to be very gentle with myself and give myself a lot of grace, while at the same time jumping that hurdle from “I feel like emotional shit” to “I sort of feel like emotional shit so let’s see how long I can milk the sympathy.” It’s not even so much that I’m demanding sympathy from others… it’s just that there is a large grey area between being depressed, and being typical and high functioning, and that grey area is sometimes more difficult to overcome than the depressive low itself. When I’m barely functioning at all, spending a lot of time in bed or taking too much time to get household chores done, that’s one thing. But when I’m feeling sad and I know that I have work to do, but I’m not quite sad enough to justify laying in bed or being “lazy”, it takes a lot of effort to get to an area of higher functioning. It’s no fun to be feeling off and having to be productive at the same time. A thought that often clouds my mind when this is going on is that I would be better off not being around because if I can’t do the hard work it takes to get to a place of higher functioning then I’m not a worthwhile person or a productive member of society. It’s a difficult place to be in.

I’ve been trying to develop a routine that balances kindness toward myself and self-care with productivity and timeliness. I start my day with a cup of coffee and some time to lounge in bed while checking my e-mail and keeping up with my RSS feed. After taking the dogs out and making sure all the pets are fed, I watch a little bit of TV while getting breakfast, writing in my prayer journal, and reading the Bible. Then I wash my face and get dressed, do the chores that need to be done on a daily basis, and take the dogs on a walk. The rest of the day has a much more flexible schedule, but I find that starting my day out slowly and in a manageable way helps me get things done while keeping me motivated.

I’m hoping that I won’t have a depressive low as bad as this past one for a while to come. Knowing that I can get through it, however, is powerful fodder that can remind me of my strength and capability.

x136 (in my dreams)

By Moise Nicu, used with Creative Commons license

By Moise Nicu, used with Creative Commons license

I’ve been having a recurring dream lately. It’s only been going on for a few days, but it’s really affected me. It’s pretty simple – just a Facebook status post. Talking about it here gives me some distance between an actual post that might appear on a Newsfeed because not everybody clicks on links. It makes me wish I had the courage to actually be this blunt. The status is as follows:

Hey: everybody who has a problem with people on welfare? I’m on welfare, and I’m sick of seeing your status posts demonizing folx like me. If you have a problem with me being on welfare, kindly de-friend yourself. I’m done with feeling guilt and self-loathing because of your status posts.

Now, not being able to work because of a disability is a different sort of welfare than someone who is struggling to find a job (or, in the minds of the people who post the types of statuses I referred to above, someone who refuses to work and prefers to take govn’t handouts). But that doesn’t make it any easier for me to read the hateful posts that clutter my Newsfeed and try to not feel like it’s a personal attack. It’s bad enough that I have to put life plans on hold because I can’t afford to not be on disability. And I worry constantly, am I taking advantage of the system? – it plagues me. Do I need to be more careful about how I spend the small amount of money I receive on the third of the month? Am I too high-functioning to be on disability to begin with – should I just suck it up and get a job? I don’t want to be the drain on the system that these people on Facebook are constantly complaining about.

Maybe, though, the thing I actually need to be thinking about is how valuable these online relationships really are if they consistently make me feel like shit. Regardless of whether or not I want to keep in touch with extended family and former co-workers, maybe I do need to gather the courage to either post a status like this or cull my friends list myself. Just because I’m on welfare doesn’t make me lesser-than, or a loser, or deserving of attack.

I’m not a burden on the system that you’re pissy about because I’m a waste of your tax dollars – I’m a human being, thank you very much.

x135 (so… what do you do all day?)

I had my annual physical with a new primary care on Monday. I’m much less picky with my primary care than I am with my therapy team, primarily because most of my care is outsourced to specialists and I tend to take pretty good care of myself. When I met with my new primary care about a month ago to set up a preliminary, introductory appointment, I should have noticed that she seemed to ignore that I have a diagnosis of PTSD in addition to bipolar disorder. I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. Probably because my new PTSD diagnosis is one of the few solid, concrete things that says, “Yes, she has experienced valid trauma and no, she was not lying, or making it up, or delusional.” I cling to it because it validates me and my experiences. And she ignored it.

Further than that, I was bothered by the way she addressed some of the “lifestyle” questions that doctors are required to ask (and as much as it irked me that she said “So you’re a homosexual?” instead of asking “So you’re gay?”, I won’t harp on that). First, she asked me what I did for work. I said that I don’t work. Then she asked me if I was going to school. I said that I went for a little bit and dropped out. So then she said:

“So… what do you do all day?”

Granted, I probably should have seen that coming. When she asked what I did for work, I should have said I was a homemaker or a housewife. Even admitting that I’m on disability probably would not have warranted that as a response. But seriously? What do you do all day?

Go fucking ask that to the conservative Christian bloggers who promote being a homemaker as a Biblical calling.

Go fucking as that to my grandmother, who has been a housewife since 1950, when this sort of thing was more common.

And for the record, go fucking ask that to the “secretary” who sits at a desk all day and has access to Facebook at work. Because how the fuck is keeping house not as difficult as that? (And for the record, I have been that receptionist, so I know that it can be a trade-off.)

I’m sick of people trivializing what I do all day. Since when did work, a career, become the be-all end-all to existence? Since when do I need to validate my position as a homemaker with the caveat that I’m disabled, so I can’t work, so of course I would work if I were psychologically able? Why does that italicized statement have to be the assumption? Maybe I don’t want to work. Maybe I don’t want to have a career, or a college degree. Maybe my partner is OK with these goals and likes having someone at home to take care of the cleaning, the dinner, the pets, and G-d willing, the kids. Maybe she likes coming home to a dinner that took two hours (granted, that was partially due to a new recipe and time management skills) and that included handmade, from-scratch tortillas. Maybe she likes coming home to a house that requires very little maintenance on her end, because the trade-off is she is the one who makes the money. Maybe she likes knowing that the dogs and cat have attention all day and are exercised without a pet-sitter.

So what do I do all day?

A lot, actually. Just because I can’t/don’t work doesn’t mean I’m lazy, or a moocher, or a Welfare Queen. And for the record, the psychological work I do in therapy is also pretty heavy stuff. So don’t fucking laugh at me and ask me, “So… what do you do all day?”

But at least she didn’t harp on my weight, and since my BMI is technically overweight (despite my blood work/cholesterol/blood pressure all coming back normal), I guess I’ll take what I can get. I don’t have the mental energy to go through what I just went through in trying to find a therapist all over again, but this time with a primary care physician. I’m fucking done.

“So… what do you do all day?”, my ass.

x134 (offbeat home & life guest post)

Hey y’all! I had another piece picked up by Offbeat Home & Life, titled “Ch-ch-changes: It’s okay to change your mind.

There are certain times in your life when you think you have your shit all figured out. You make a decision and, not knowing how the future will mold and shape and affect you, you think that you’ll keep to that decision for the rest of your life.

Vegan or vegetarian but have experienced cravings for red meat due to being pregnant? Want nine kids but don’t realize that as you get older, your deteriorating relationship with your family will influence your desire for a large brood? Think you want to keep your last name forever but then you realize you’re excited to have a change in identity due to marriage? Things change. Life happens. And just because you told your best friend when you were both thirteen that you wouldn’t want to adopt a teenager from foster care doesn’t mean that once you’re an adult you can’t do a 180 and decide that you’d prefer to adopt a teenager rather than a younger child.

Newsflash: People and choices change. It happens.

Check out the rest on Offbeat Home & Life!

x133 (how to fast safely – a religious person’s guide)

This is the third year in a row I have run this post, so it’s become a sort of tradition seeing as this year Lent almost coincides with National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I wanted to re-post this article this Lent to help anybody who is struggling with fasting because of a history with an eating disorder.

Whenever I see a religious person talking about fasting for a specific holiday, my mind wanders to “I can’t fast because it would trigger eating disordered thinking and behavior.” I wrote the following guide to fasting safely and healthfully. While it can apply to any religious person, in particular it is geared toward religious people who currently struggle with or who have struggled with an eating disorder. It provides tips for working through your triggers or avoiding them, and alternatives to fasting. It was written for use in a Christian setting, but can be adapted for any religious purpose. If you’d like me to adapt it for your specific religion, please contact me and I gladly will. The information and statistics about eating disorders were gathered from NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org). The information about trauma triggers was gathered from Wikipedia, and the information about filling foods was gathered from various weight loss and Web MD type websites.

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Eating Disorders: What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that is common – 15% of women in their teens and twenties qualify as anorexic or sub anorexic, and 7% of women have exhibited bulimic behaviors at some point in their life. An eating disorder is not a choice, but instead develops over time due to multiple complex reasons and is frequently found alongside other mental illnesses. Anorexia and bulimia are the most common types, but are not the only ones. A “not otherwise specified” eating disorder includes behaviors such as maintaining a healthy body weight while still retaining anorexic thought patterns, or combining aspects of anorexia and bulimia, such as restricting eating while purging. Eating disorders primarily affect women, but can also plague men as well. Nearly half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder. Warning signs include teen dieting, and the idea that “anorexic people don’t eat” is false – they simply eat smaller portions, low calorie foods, or strange food combinations. Often times, one cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them – eating disorders are easy to hide. Control issues and low self esteem are key elements of an eating disorder that need to be treated. There is hope – you can recover. About half of all people diagnosed with anorexia make a full recovery.

Eating Disorders: My Story

I was diagnosed with a not otherwise specified eating disorder when I was fourteen. My symptoms predated my diagnosis; I started restricting my food and purging when I was thirteen. I began seeing a specialist and a nutritionist after my diagnosis, and my doctors no longer allowed me to look at a scale to determine how much I weighed. As an adult, I looked back at my medical records and discovered that at 5’ 7”, my lowest weight was 111 pounds. According to an adult BMI, this was underweight; however, I was still in the 85th percentile for juvenile weight. The specialist told me that if I were to lose any more weight, she would recommend for me to be hospitalized. Terrified by that prospect – I’d had two psychiatric hospitalizations by that time – I stopped purging and returned to normal eating habits. I’ve had two notable relapses since then, and to a certain extent, I still retain anorexic thinking patterns. My weight tends to fluctuate, and whenever it drops to the low end of the spectrum, I consider restricting my diet and purging so I can reach that elusive goal weight, which I know would continue to drop until I couldn’t stop. I still maintain that I “wasn’t good at being anorexic”, which, ironically, is a classic anorexic thinking pattern. My weight continues to be a constant source of guilt for me. Because of this, I choose not to engage in fasting from food for religious reasons – it’s too much of a trigger for me.

Trigger: What is a trigger?

A trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a severely distressing event. A traumatic event involves a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. The sense of being overwhelmed can be delayed by weeks, years or even decades, as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances.

Basically, this means that if something has made you severely uncomfortable in the past, something that’s currently going on that reminds you of that disturbingly uncomfortable event is called a trigger. It’s difficult to control triggers, so you may be able to safely fast for years and then suddenly the fasting triggers memories or emotions associated with the eating disorder you struggled with as an adolescent. In this specific case, while dealing with an eating disorder being the trigger, a trigger may simply mean that while fasting, you are moved to return to unhealthy eating habits.

There are two ways to overcome triggers: one way is to avoid the trigger – in this case, avoiding restricting food in a way that could mimic eating disorder behavior – or to challenge the trigger head on and work through it until it is no longer a trigger. This can sometimes be a scary approach, so make sure you have the supports in place that you need to process the trigger of restricting food to make sure you don’t slip back into eating disordered behavior. Keeping a food journal can be helpful here. Things to record in your food journal should include what you’ve eaten, the time you’ve eaten it, the room you ate it in, how you were feeling when you were eating, whether or not you were hungry and whether or not you ate until you were full, and if you ended up purging the food purposefully afterward. You may want to not include certain things I’ve mentioned or include other things depending on the nature of your eating disorder or personal eating habits. Making sure you have a therapist and maybe even a dietician on hand to discuss what it feels like to fast and what it feels like to return to normal eating habits after a fast are a great way to make sure you have supports in place. NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, can be found at nationaleatingdisorders.org and offer some great resources, including a helpline that operates during business hours where you can talk through your trigger and process some of your emotions.

Fasting: What Food is Allowed?

According to the following Catholic source, “[f]asting as explained by the U.S. Bishops means partaking in one full meal. Small amounts of food not equating to one full meal are permitted in the morning and at either midday or evening, depending on when the full meal is taken.”

The two days that require fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence from eating meat is also required on those two days, as well as every Friday during Lent.

Eating nutritious foods that are also filling is a great way to make fasting easier and healthier on your body. For the small amounts of food to be eaten in the morning or at midday or evening, things like sweet prunes, veggies with peanut butter or a hummus or other filling dip, fresh fruits that are high in fiber, Greek yogurt, a small bowl of oatmeal, cheese and crackers, popcorn, and various nuts and seeds are great, filling, nutritious foods. For your meal, you might want to think about including things such as a potato with its skin left on, beans and other legumes (especially on Fridays when you can’t eat meat), lean proteins (fish is included in this group, something else which would work on Friday), and high fiber vegetables, which should be eaten first before the rest of your food. Ensuring that the grains you eat are whole grains is another great way to up your nutritional value and feelings of fullness.

Fasting: It’s Not Just About Food

Every time we partake in the Eucharist, Jesus dwells in us, in our hearts. A church is not a building – a church is a group of people who gather to worship. We are the church, and we are the temple of the Lord. We must take care of this temple in honor of Jesus.

Fasting during Lent doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food. It can also mean abstaining from things that prohibit spiritual growth. For example, take a page from the cardinal sins – fast from anger, greed, laziness, pride, desiring things you know you shouldn’t, or envy. The last cardinal sin is gluttony, and if abstaining from eating is triggering for you, try this take: incorporate more healthful foods into your diet, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also try fasting from impatience, selfishness, or self-righteousness. Maybe for you, fasting from things that prohibit spiritual growth could include a day of being unplugged from things like the computer, your phone, the internet, and television, and instead spending your time focusing on your family or strengthening your faith through prayer and scripture reading. Going to church services more often during Lent and praying and reading scripture daily are ways to take this sentiment and make it flow throughout the entire Lenten season. If you already pray every day, maybe you could try increasing your daily prayer time, and remember that prayer isn’t just talking to God – it’s listening, too. Try incorporating meditation into your prayer routine – this can also really help with stress and give you some time to process your day. For Catholics, going to confession more often is also a great Lenten practice that can be adopted instead of fasting.

Two important things to remember during Lent are:
“I am a child of God. I am His holy temple, and He lives in me.”
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Maybe for you, Lent isn’t so much about taking away as it is adding. Adding an exercise routine – even something as simple as taking a walk after dinner – and focusing on a more healthful diet can be great ways to take care of the temple God has given you. Daily affirmations can also be helpful in realizing your potential as God’s child. “Affirmation is more than words. It is a validation of the beauty and presence of God dwelling in you.” Reciting a daily affirmation out loud is the best way to drive home the message. Something as simple as “I am beautiful, I am strong, and God loves me” recited out loud three times daily can help improve your self-esteem. I do this daily, and I find it to be helpful in the healing process that comes with recovery from an eating disorder.

The following was taken from the eating disorder recovery website WeBiteBack.com: “First, the Catholic tradition in the Church promotes Lent as a season of fasting, self-denial, etc., but has maintained that these practices are to be modified for anyone who is ill. Anyone who is in a recovery program fits the bill by definition. Please don’t do anything in the name of religious practice which can hurt your recovery.

Lent is not about dieting, not about not eating to get oneself healthier. Healthy dieting (if there is such a thing) is aimed at getting one’s body into healthier shape. Neither is Lent about eating more if one is anorexic. Observing Lent is a spiritual exercise. Its aim is about our relationship with God and Jesus; it’s not about “me”. For people with an eating disorder, my “ME” is all about food and eating or not eating.

Lent is not about eating or not eating. For lots of people with an eating disorder, to deny oneself of eating is not denial at all.

The purpose of fasting during Lent is not to get in shape. Lent is not about the condition of our bodies. Fasting in Lent is to allow people to focus of their own spiritual relationship with God, to let them intentionally set aside the pleasures and distractions of life and recognize the importance of other matters. Again, for anyone with anxiety issues, some of these distractions are important and healthy. Be careful what you decide to set aside.

For anyone with an eating disorder, deciding to eat or not eat as part of their religious discipline is bound to fail, because “eating” is all about the eating disorder, all about the “me”, and not about their relationship with God and Jesus. There are lots of other things one can do to observe Lent, to simplify and deny ourselves that don’t involve food.

Jesus brought healing to people. He does not want us to do anything in his name that is against healing and recovery.

Have a blessed, gentle, deep and healing Lent.”

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Most importantly, remember that God and Jesus will forgive you, so learn to forgive yourself. Every moment we experience is a fantastic chance to start again. You are more than capable of putting your past behind you and beginning a spiritually and physically healing journey – you just have to want to.

x132 (down and out: of race and marriage)

So I had written this whole big long self-deprecating blog post about the phenomenon of black women either marrying out, marrying down, or not marrying at all. It was inspired by Rachel W. Miller of APW, who read a book called “Is Marriage For White People?” by Ralph Richard Banks (good book if you’re into sociology; I recommend picking it up at the library), and also partly by a different Rachel from APW who wrote about the societal pressure for women to marry “up” and the letdown that happens when they don’t. I started asking Ashley questions so I could get her input for the blog post, and she immediately shut me down. She very firmly believes that while she did marry out, she most certainly did not marry down. So instead I’ll focus on the (incredibly heteronormative) concept of marrying down and how that’s a bunch of BS in modern society. Let’s discuss, shall we?

I want to preface this by saying that as a white ally, I really have no business discussing race. If you have questions about race, turn to the internet and Google some self-identified marginalized authorities on the issue (Black Girl Dangerous being one of my favorites). Any discussions of race will be taken directly from either Rachel W. Miller, an biracial woman, or Ralph Richard Banks, a Black man (or from Ms. W. Miller quoting Mr. Banks, in which case both of them had some input). Because I am in an interracial relationship, I will have a little bit to say about that, but not much (perhaps I’ll talk some other time about how much fun it is to get glares from Black women while in public because I stole a “good Black woman” from one of their own).

Essentially, the concept we’re discussing is this: Black women are less likely to get married than white women. Trends in Black families and marriages tend to eventually get picked up by white people, so pretty soon it’s not all that likely that white women will be getting married, either. The reason for this is that more women (Black and white) are getting college degrees and becoming “successful” (read: entering the middle or upper class), and when given the choice between marring “down” (marrying a man who doesn’t have a college degree or who has amassed less wealth than they have) and marrying “out” (marrying a man of a different race who has a college degree and is equally financially successful), they choose to marry down or not marry at all.

We have two issues here: interracial marriage and interclass marriage. Rachel W. Miller did a pretty good job of discussing the former (and how sad it is that it‘s not happening more often), so I’m going to focus on the latter and why I think it’s inherently problematic. For starters, is it even possible for a woman in a lesbian relationship to marry down? I’m not a sociologist, but in recent history the concept of marrying “down” has been relegated to men in the following way: if a man can’t support his wife and children, then he’s not worth marrying. It generally was a woman’s place to take care of the family and to marry someone who can support her. And with Disney’s “Aladdin” being the notable exception, fairy tales and media inundate us with the idea of a woman either marrying up or marrying her equal, if she’s already wealthy. In a lesbian relationship, the idea of marrying down would require heteronormative gender roles to be in effect – the classic question “which one of you is the man?” would inevitably be asked. Even in a heterosexual relationship, the idea of a man caring for a woman is becoming old fashioned – most households intend to be dual income, and I can tell you from personal experience that the majority of high earning men expect their partner to have a college education and pull equal weight – or at the very least, they’d rather not date a woman who works in retail or who is on disability. Men aren’t looking to take care of a woman, and women with wealth and college degrees aren’t looking to be taken care of, either. The issue is simply that in a society that promotes egalitarian marriages between people of the same class, there are less eligible men because men aren’t receiving the same schooling that women are.

But if men are the ones who aren’t obtaining college degrees, how does this even affect gay women and bisexual women involved with other women? It would seem that the chances of a lesbian having to marry down are pretty slim. And yet, here we are with a woman who chose to both marry “out” and marry “down”. I suppose it’s worth noting that a college degree is not an indicator of intelligence, but moreso of socioeconomic status: yes, there are scholarships available, but the way our education system is designed (from pre-k on) is both classist and abelist and does not provide as many opportunities for the poor and for those with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. What we’re really looking at is a system that society has designed that rewards women for marrying wealthy men (or in this case, other wealthy women). And in a day and age when women are able to be breadwinners and primary earners, why is there so much pressure for her partner to be in the same earnings bracket? Simple: society hates it when men take on positions formerly occupied by women. As an intersectional feminist, I think it’s important to note that we’ll have reached true equality not when women can do all the things men are allowed to do, but when men can do all the things women are supposed to do. Put plainly, femininity is feared.

In a situation where one woman is the financial caretaker and one woman is the homemaker and familial caretaker, both are often providing needed services to keep the family functioning. As Ms. W. Miller states in her APW article “Feminism and ‘The New Domesticity’ ”, “…[W]e have to stop perpetuating the idea that ‘women’s work’ is silly and inherently oppressive, and the idea that anyone who says she enjoys it is just pretending to like it in an effort to put other women down and get herself a husband.” Instead of marrying down, Ashley is marrying an intelligent young homemaker who is contributing to the partnership and who was adversely affected by an abelist education system. Had she married a man in the same situation, the same would be true, but the people around us would be hard-pressed to admit it. Marrying down is simply a societal construction that puts emphasis on demonizing men for taking up a position formerly occupied by women. If we stop looking at it as marrying “down” (or marrying, in actuality or symbolically, a woman) and start looking at it as marrying a partner who is simply bringing different things to the table, we remove the classist and misogynistic implications of the term. We find a family who functions much as families have for years: one person as the primary earner, and one person earning less but contributing non-monetarily to the partnership. Gender becomes irrelevant, and as long as the family unit functions properly, nobody is left “down and out”, so to speak.

x131 (finally)

I’ve finally found a therapist who is willing to acknowledge not only the initial issue but the traumatic effect of December, whether or not it was a reflection on any childhood trauma. I’ve been seeing her for about six months, and she said that I would need to be patient – that uncovering this kind of trauma in therapy is like peeling back layers of an onion, and it would take time. We went back to EMDR today, and she said that next week we would start using the EMDR to focus on the initial issue. I felt such a profound amount of relief. While I had managed to do some work processing my emotions by myself and with the help of some close friends, this issue has only been briefly touched upon in therapy when I used BARCC’s free services. I’m so glad to finally be touching on this issue. While when I first clandestinely discussed this with a few people I found support, for the most part this issue has been swept under the rug as me “overreacting” or being “sensitive”. While some have acknowledged my story, others have said that while the behavior was problematic, it wasn’t sexual abuse. I’m tired of people telling me that my reaction and emotions regarding the initial issue are inappropriate. I’m ready to discuss this with trusted people and try to move forward.

Finally.