Friday, December 20, 2013

What I Teach My Son When I Say I Am Fat

I saw this great article going around Facebook again this week called When Your Mother Says She's Fat by Kasey Edwards. It is a letter by Edwards to her Mom about what she learned from her mother when her mother insulted herself due to her weight. What Edwards learned struck a cord for me and the many women who have been sharing this article because these are the same things we learned from our own beautiful mothers who never thought that they were beautiful

As the mother of a boy, I then thought about what mothers teach their sons when we speak badly about our own weight and appearance.

What particularly struck me in Edwards' article is where she writes that as a child she looked forward to the day when she would be like her mother, until:

"But all of that changed when, one night, we were dressed up for a party and you said to me, ‘‘Look at you, so thin, beautiful and lovely. And look at me, fat, ugly and horrible.’’

At first I didn’t understand what you meant.

‘‘You’re not fat,’’ I said earnestly and innocently, and you replied, ‘‘Yes I am, darling. I’ve always been fat; even as a child.’’
 
In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:
1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly and horrible too."

In that article I heard two voices from my own life. 

I heard my own voice, just a few weeks ago when I was talking to my husband, in front of my son, about going to my husband's annual Christmas party. I told my husband: "I don't want to go. I am fat, disgusting, and you deserve someone who looks good like you." 

I heard my son's voice who so often has said "No Mommy, you are pretty" at the many times I have made comments like I did about this Christmas party. 

I bet almost daily I say something negative about the way I look and I know my son hears it. It has become a daily part of my life, natural for me. As natural as the girls in grade school who told me I had to be at the bottom of the pyramid because I was so fat the rest of them could not hold me up. As natural as the people who made fun of me for having fat legs. As natural as the people who told my husband when we were dating that I was not pretty enough for him. It seems totally normal to me to feel required to never let myself forget that I am fat and ugly.

The comment I made to my husband about the Christmas party- "I don't want to go. I am fat, disgusting, and you deserve someone who looks good like you," told my son a lot about me, about himself, about his father, and about women in general. 

These are the potential lessons I taught my son that day:
  • Body weight is a sign of beauty and thus there is one universal idea of beauty that we all must conform to.
  • Fat is disgusting.
  • His idea of beauty is wrong (because he thinks I am pretty and I am telling him this is not true.)
  • A wife must look a certain way for her to be good enough to be seen with her husband.
  • I am worth less than my husband.
  • I am not someone that anyone would want to be seen with in public, and thus maybe even my son should not be seen in public with me
  • Men should not love women who do not fit the cultural ideas of beauty.
  • A person's self worth is based on their weight.
  • I do not practice what I preach. I preach body acceptance and self-love, but I do not practice it. 
  • To practice self-loathing rather than self-compassion and love. 
  • To judge other's worth by their weight.
  • To judge himself by his weight.
Since this type of body hatred is so normal for me, I do not even realize I am doing it. It was not until I saw this graphic going around Facebook today that I realized how often, every day, and every year, I talk about my weight and how much I hate my body. This comes from a Facebook page called Grrrl:


So, rather than resolving to loose weight again this year I resolve to not talk about weight loss or worth being attached to weight and looks in front of my son. Eventually I want to never talk about it to anyone again, but I know I am not able to do that yet. However, I can take the step now to not expose my son to seeing his own mother hate herself because of her weight. 

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

P.S. After I wrote this post, I took a break to have dinner with my family and noticed that in order to follow through on this resolution I already had to stop myself from saying things I typically would have said before. Such as "I can't believe I ate that much. I should stop eating because I ate too much already today. I feel disgusting that I ate this."

Also, I should add that "fat" is not in itself a bad word. When we add qualifiers to it like "disgusting," or when we use it in a negative way, that is when it becomes a problem.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How I Discovered the Brain/Gut Connection

There is a news article going around from NPR called "Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Working of Our Minds." Quite a few people have contacted me about this article asking if I have seen it since they know I use diet rather than medication to manage my bipolar disorder. For me, the article is not new information. I heard about the brain/gut connection many years ago but it has not been widely accepted or talked about in main stream medicine so few people know about it. However, this information is saving my life so I wanted to let you know how I found out about it and give you some resources for your own research.

The NPR article only talks about gut bacteria and how they have found that the bacteria in our gut effects our brain. For instance, in one study with mice, they put the gut bacteria of non-anxious mice into mice with anxiety and the anxiety in those mice decreased. They then reversed it and gave non-anxious mice the gut bacteria of anxious mice and the non-anxious mice developed anxiety.

I first discovered at least a connection between what you eat and mental illness when I was a child. As early as I can remember, I would constantly overeat sugar in order to make myself feel better. I actually ate spoonfuls of sugar out of a 5lb. bag. Throughout my childhood I was anxious, scared, sad, manic, angry, and seeing things that were not there. Somehow I discovered when I ate large amounts of sugar, these things got better. Of course, at that age I had no idea what was really happening and I did not make the connection that eating large amounts of sugar only perpetuated the problem, making me more manic if I did not keep up with eating copious amounts of sugar daily. I first read about this and how sugar increases serotonin in the brain when I was in my 20's and found the book "Potatoes, Not Prozac." This started my journey of researching how food and gut bacteria effect the brain.

Brain food snack. Photo copyright Jeff Norris.
I think the hardest part about using dietary and lifestyle changes to manage an illness, any illness, is that most of the researchers never work together and they only focus on one part of the problem. For instance, "Potatoes, Not Prozac" does tell you to eliminate sugar but there is no research in there about gut bacteria and brain health. Basically, you need to do a lot of your own research and put together the information all of the scientists have discovered and find what works for you.

My next step was a psychiatrist who told me that cutting out sugar and increasing my daily amount of animal protein could help with my ADD and mania. He said he read a few papers on it but usually did not recommend it because medication was easier, "no one wants to change their diet," he said. As I did more research, it was not surprising to me that more animal protein helps with mania. There is a lot of research about using a ketogenic diet to manage epilepsy and the drugs used for epilepsy control bipolar disorder so it seems to make sense that for some reason a diet that helps epilepsy would also help bipolar disorder. But again, two fields of research working independently of each other and thus information is rarely shared.

Every time I implemented one of these dietary changes, I got better. After a few weeks of sugar withdrawal, not eating sugar made my depression better, but I was still angry all the time (mania). Increasing animal protein got rid of the anger. The biggest issue with any of this though, at least in my experience living in the midwest, is that few doctors, even if they have read the research, really ever use diet to treat mental illness so none of them can help guide you find out what works for you. I will write a full post on this issue, but this has been for me and the people I work with, the biggest reason it is so hard to stick with dietary and lifestyle choices, it is just not supported in our culture, especially by society in general. Try going to a dinner party and not eating dessert or drinking and you will find just how difficult it is to eat what is best for you. I also developed a binge eating disorder from the sugar addiction and then trying to follow Weight Watchers which got me to be militant about food rules. So for years I have gone back and forth with what I eat.

Then my husband, who has always had a iron stomach, got very sick. He could not keep any food in him and his immune system was shutting down. He had all the tests done and was told he had Irritable Bowl and there was nothing they could do for him. We could not imagine that his whole life would be like this and a friend told us to try cutting out gluten (wheat) even though my husband did not test positive for a wheat allergy. He got better right away and since I was eating the same as him, I noticed my moods evened out. From there I went back to researching the link between food and mood and then found the Paleo diet which cuts out all grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes and I felt even better.

Photo copyright Jeff Norris.
Through the Paleo community is where I found a wealth of information. Books explaining why I had Irritable Bowl since I was a child, as well as eczema and a whole host of other issues. There were many stories from people who said their moods improved on the Paleo diet and then I found all of the research on bacteria and gut health. It was amazing. All of these things completely made sense to me and just a week into a Paleo diet I start to feel remarkably better.

Over these many years, my eating disorder has gotten worse and today that is still the thing that makes it hard for me to stick to eating Paleo. Not only will people argue, shame, and pressure you not to eat this way, but any way of eating that seems to have a lot of rules can trigger your eating disorder if you have not worked through the eating disorder with a therapist. However, more people are writing about this and talking about how to ease into a Paleo diet and find the foods that work with your body and help you recover from an eating disorder. That might mean you eat some dairy or none at all. You might tolerate white rice, or not. However, no where have I found that people with mental illness do well eating wheat, sugar, or artificial sugars. Sugar and wheat easily allow detrimental bacteria to grow like wildfire in your gut.

I will not say this has been an easy path because it has not been for me. I will write more about the journey in future posts. Basically, I have been Paleo for over a year now and when I can be 100% Paleo, my moods even out within a week and I am very stable. It works better and faster than any medication I have ever tried, with none of the side effects. As I work through my eating disorder I am confident I will be able to stick to this better and better as time goes on.

I would like to link you to some resources that you might find helpful in doing your own research about the brain/gut and food/mood connections. These are just a few of the resources I have, but I think it is enough to get you started!

Blessings,
Rev. Katie

General Resources:
Blog: Evolutionary Psychology by Emily Deans, M.D. This is the place to go for all the real research and studies about food/mood and the brain/gut connection.  Seriously, fantastic. This is the place to start your research!

Blog: i bee free - Fantastic blog by Courtney who has been able to really stick with the Paleo diet with modifications that fit for her. From i bee free: "Under a doctor’s care for hypothyroidism, Courtney Rundell ended up in a mental hospital and was misdiagnosed bipolar. A year later, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disease that causes both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Neither her psychiatrist or endocrinologist reconsidered her bipolar diagnosis...Improperly treated Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Adrenal Fatigue were the cause of decades of suffering. After a lot of trial-and-error, she’s found the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, minor supplementation, a regular sleeping schedule, yoga and meditation to be much more powerful than handfuls of pharmaceuticals."

Book:  Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia. by Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D.


Paleo Resources:
Website & Books : Balanced Bites by Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC. Diane's website is a wealth of information but so are two of her books, Practical Paleo and The 21 Day Sugar Detox. She has information about the connection between food and your gut and all different illnesses.

Website:  Paleo Parents by Matt and Stacy. They have two cookbooks as well as chronicle living Paleo with kids. Stacy has lost over 100 pounds and talks about finding the diet that works best for you and loving your body as it is. This is a great resource for anyone with an eating disorder to start to learn how to eat even if you have health restrictions but not turn to eating disordered militant rules and body shaming.

Podcast: The Paleo View. Podcast featuring many Paleo experts covering all kinds of topics, including eating disorders, food and mood, and the brain/gut connection.

Website: The Paleo Mom by Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. Sarah is a wealth of information about using Paleo to heal autoimmune disorders and she explains the science behind the Paleo diet.

Website: Chris Kresser L.AC. Lots of science about the brain/gut connection.

Go-to Books about Paleo and all the science behind it:
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. If you want a book with all the science but that is easy to understand, this book is for you.

The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. Considered the first book about Paleo that really got the movement started. There is a lot of science in this book and on his website with tons of published research papers.

Paleo and Eating Disorders Information:
Paleo and Eating Disorders from Paleo Diet Lifestyle by Sebastien Noel
Can the Paleo Diet Cure Bulimia? from Paleo Healing by Doron Dusheiko
Disordered Eating from Paleo Pepper.




Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mental Health Awareness 2013: 4 Points to Consider

It's Mental Health Awareness week (Oct. 6 - 12, 2013), and it is sad to know of all the people who have died due to mental illness, such as actor Lee Thompson Young. His story, like all similar stories, is tragic. I noticed that his particular story brings to light many of the things people are not aware of with mental illness.

Here are 4 points I think we need to consider in raising awareness regarding mental illness and suicide. (Reading this article first will help you see why I am raising these points in connection with Young's story.):
  1. Medication does not fix everything. It is a myth that medication fixes mental illness in everyone. Young was on medication for bipolar and it was even found in his blood that he was actually taking it. Medication works great in some people, helps a little for others, may not help at all in some, and for others it actually makes them worse. We need to be aware and look at all aspects of a person's life if we are to help people treat their mental illness. We can't just put people on med's and think they will be fine. In fact, almost all of these medications have warnings on them that they can all cause suicidal thoughts and actions.
  2. Being religious is not an illness. In the article about Young's death, it states that the coroner had made a point to report that Young had an altar in his house, implying that his religion had something to do with his mental illness. Then other news outlets have been saying his faith caused his depression, almost insinuating that the religion was cult-like. It is not weird to have an altar in your house. If someone had a wall of crosses in their house (many Christian's do), no one would even think to say this had anything to do with their illness. Can I also say that there is clearly a race and culture issue here as well? The only time religion should be considered a factor in mental illness is if the person was treated badly, shamed, or bullied in their faith due to their illness or any other reason. This could happen in any faith. There is not reason to think that Young's faith was a result of mental illness or a cause of it. When I first went into ministry and people found out I was bipolar, I often was asked "Are you sure you are not just experiencing hyper-religiosity? You know that's a symptom of bipolar."
  3. Not all people with mental illness look "unstable." A lot of this article focuses on how Young never exhibited symptoms of illness. He was stable, he had a stable family, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. What people don't realize is that mental illness is ordinary. We live and work in your communities. It is an invisible disability and we should not be so shocked to find out someone who seemed "normal" has a mental illness. Mental illness does not always mean visible instability. Also, those of us with mental illness know we are not allowed to have a voice because of the stigma around our illness, and so we often hide our illness.
  4. Believing "If only we knew, if only we paid more attention" does not always stop a suicide. No matter how hard we try, we can not stop death due to any illness 100%. There is no benefit in engaging in collective or individual guilt over a suicide. Young's story shows that we may never be able to adequately see the severity of a person's illness. True, we always need to do the best we can to help keep people safe, within the confines of the actual knowledge we have. In some cases though, there really are no visible signs, at least not ones that most people would recognize, before a suicide. In fact, many people seem to have a decrease of symptoms of their illness a few days or weeks before a suicide. Young saw his doctor on August 14 and he appeared fine. He died by suicide just days later on August 19, 2013. I recommend taking a Mental Health First Aid class in order to know how to properly asses a potential suicide, to the best of your ability, knowing that we can't predict everything.  
Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Friday, October 4, 2013

Did Sinead O'Connor Slut-Shame Miley Cyrus?

This is my second post about the whole Miley Cyrus/Sinead O'Connor issue, you can read the first one here. (Basically, I think both of them did things that were inappropriate.)

Many people on the internet are applauding Sinead for advising Miley not to pimp herself out for men and the music industry who do not care about her. While I understand the message Sinead was trying to go for, namely not to let other people use you, it does come dangerously close to being slut-shaming.

Slut-shaming is when a person publicly or privately calls out a woman for being "too sexual" (in action, dress, or for any other reason) and not conforming to societies ideas of what is acceptable for a woman. Read a few excerpts from Sinead's letter to decide for yourself if you think it fits the definition of slut-shaming:

"I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping."

I think this could have been worded better. I am not a fan of the whole "Don't dress or act like that or other people will hurt you message" because I believe no ones dress is responsible for another person's bad actions. Also, saying Miley pimped herself out is basically publicly calling her a prostitute. That sounds like shaming to me.

Sinead goes on to say:

"This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it’s associated media."
 
This part is especially concerning to me. Men walk around all the time in nothing more than boxers and no one says anything. A girl puts on a bikini and the whole country gets upset. We hold men to a different standard than women, assuming women need to cover themselves up so as to not incite "prey" to hurt us. What?! If a naked body incites you to harm another person, that is your issue, not the problem of the naked person. And, can we please remember that our American issues with sexuality and nakedness are not shared by the whole world.
Copyright: Katie Norris

We also, as a society, seem to think that because we all saw Miley grow up in front of us on the Disney Channel that we all have a say in her choices. This is exemplified by Sinead's comment: "So this is what I need to say… And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love." Motherliness and love, the two words we use just before we shame someone. We think that if we say something we are doing is done out of "good intentions" that what we are about to say is justified. America, we are not Miley's mother and I do not believe mother's (or parents) have the right to shame their children anyway.

I think the underlying message in Sinead's letter was meant to be that women claim their power and sexuality for themselves, not because they think it will sell more records. It could have been said without the slut-shaming language which not only effects Miley but every other woman who wears a bikini, dances in a certain way, or falls out of our social norms. Maybe we should seek to understand before we judge. By creating a national scandal out of Miley's actions, we only brought out her defensiveness rather than anyone asking her what she wants from her career and what she wants from her life. I am not saying we do not address consequences of our actions. We can talk about the realities of being judged in our society by what we do and how much of that judgement we are willing and able to take on at this point in our lives. We can help people discern what is right for them rather than telling them what is right for them. Maybe we should also consider the power dynamic here. The power of a male industry and older male directors over a young woman. Could you imagine being put in her position? To even think that you have the ability to make your own choice when those with so much power over you probably say you do not? Just something to consider.

I don't care if Miley is naked on a wrecking ball, I don't care what she wears, and I don't care how she dances, as long as she does these things for herself, with intention, and not because she thinks it will cause a scandal or to be rebellious, and especially not if she feels powerless to make her own choice. I don't have the right to judge what she wears or if she licks a wrecking ball, and really, why do I care anyway?

I am far more concerned about the disgusting message of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines song than Miley's dancing. In fact, it is not Miley's sexuality and dress that bothered me the most about the Video Music Awards, but other more important issues. Such as Miley sharing the stage with Robin Thicke in singing about dominating women. (Do we really think Miley had a choice in that decision? And why is she the only one being blamed for it?) Then there are the issues of race in Miley's performance when she uses African American women as props. Miley also culturally misappropriated twerking. This has resulted in a judgement of twerking as inappropriate and it sends a terrible message to the African American community for whom this is their dance form. Again, I will reiterate that while I say Miley did these things, we have to understand that "Miley" is not one woman but a whole industry of people telling her what to do and I don't know how much power I would feel I had in that situation at 20 years old. Heck at 34 I don't know if I could stand up to the people she had to deal with.

While these issues mainly concern two people, I think it illustrates a much bigger issue in our society. We think we can tell people who they are and who they can be, and then we assume they will be healthy of body and mind. That's just not true. We destroy people by shaming them. And, one act of shame creates another, such as how Miley then responds to Sinead by shaming her for having mental illness. How is this cycle healthy for either one of them?

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Miley Cyrus Shames Sinead O'Connor for Having Mental Illness

This is the first of two posts on the Miley and Sinead issue. Please see my other post here. (Basically, I think both of them did things that were not all that helpful.)

Some of you may be following the Miley Cyrus/Sinead O/Connor debacle. Basically due to concern over Miley's recent performance on the Video Music Awards, her Wrecking Ball video, and then Miley saying that she was inspired by Sinead's work, Sinead wrote an open letter to Miley. Sinead voiced her concern that Miley was allowing the music industry to exploit her. Miley replied immediately by shaming Sinead for having mental illness.

First of all, I can't even believe I wrote the paragraph above. I feel like I am in high school with a bunch of petty girls who don't know how to communicate directly with each other.

Second, I believe both Sinead and Miely behaved poorly in this encounter. Indirect communication almost always ends in fighting and slander. I do understand the greater purpose in open letters and possibly why Sinead made that choice. Open letters are not only for the person you are writing to, but they are a social commentary, written to bring larger issues to light to society. Sinead's letter was not really just a message for Miley, but for the music industry as well and to raise awareness in our society about the industry and how it exploits people. I think it was also a message to young women who might idolize Miley and want to act like her.

Copyright: Katie Norris
 Miley's response to Sinead's letter was to post old tweets from Sinead when she was in the middle of a mental health crisis, asking for help. Miley tweets these by first shaming Amanda Bynes by tweeting "Before Amanda Bynes...There was..." and then posting the old tweets from Sinead about needing mental health care. (Amanda Bynes was recently in the psychiatric hospital.)

This whole thing is a great example of why every person with mental illness knows it is not safe to tell our story and it is not safe to ask for help when we need it. In her last tweet Sinead says "I realize I will be in trouble for saying this but...Ireland is a VERY hard place to find help in. So having tried other ways first, I'm asking."

She was right. She did get in trouble for asking for help and being proactive about her treatment. Two years later it is being used against her.

While I am not thrilled with the indirect communication between these two women and the vitrol with which both of them communicate, I do think that this whole ordeal brings up a few of the issues people with mental illness struggle with.

First is that we are not free to ask for help or tell our story because other people will not only judge us negativly in our time of need, but also for the rest of our lives.

Second it shows how if you talk about your mental illness, few people ever take your seriously again and they will use your illness against you if they have a disagreement with you.

Third it points out just how hard it is for people with mental illness to find work. Sinead came out with another open letter to Miley stating: "If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal precedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness."

Fourth, Sinead's statement quoted above shows a deeper issue in society. We tend to promote a myth that mental illness goes away, that you recover from it and it never effects you again. We like this myth because it is convenient for society to think it's an illness that can be cured. For those of us living with it we play into the myth as well because we know society cannot handle the reality that mental illness is a chronic illness so we cover up the fact that we live with it every day. For some people yes, the illness is something they completely recover from, but this is rare. In order for people to hire you, listen to you, even think you deserve a family or a life at all, you have to pretend like you are fine most of the time. I find it sad that even those of us living with mental illness have to pretend like we don't have it because society does not understand that even in the midst of pretty severe illness we can work and be reliable.

I think this whole Cyrus vs. O'Connor thing has gotten way out of hand. They are just both shaming each other back and forth. When we use shame tactics to "teach" others, it never works out well. Shame destroys people and I think we can see how this is happening to both of these women.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie
If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness. - See more at: http://perezhilton.com/2013-10-04-miley-cyrus-third-open-letter-from-sinead-oconnor-facebook-feud#sthash.Wxj4Id8H.dpuf
If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness. - See more at: http://perezhilton.com/2013-10-04-miley-cyrus-third-open-letter-from-sinead-oconnor-facebook-feud#sthash.Wxj4Id8H.dpuf
If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness. - See more at: http://perezhilton.com/2013-10-04-miley-cyrus-third-open-letter-from-sinead-oconnor-facebook-feud#sthash.Wxj4Id8H.dpuf

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Halloween Tip: How to Dress Like a Crazy Person!?

Halloween. A fantastic holiday where you can be anyone you want to be and eat tons of candy. Some of my favorite costumes through the years have been Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Bright, a girl from the 50's, Belle, and some really great spiderweb eye makeup one year. I love to dress up like other people, but did you know that for around $30 you can dress up this Halloween like me?

Apparently, according to Sears Department Stores, I look like this:


There are quite a few options on Amazon, including this one here, but you really need to get the "crazy eyes" down to make it look authentic:


If you spend $50 apparently you can get the sexy version of "Goin' Out of My Mind":


Oppressive, and stigmatizing costumes abound at Halloween. Please choose your costumes wisely.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

P.S. Good news from the UK, "mental patient" costumes were taken out of stores recently! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Another Shooting, Another Discussion of Mental Illness

After the shooting at the Navy Yard this week, of course the media turns to mental illness as a cause. Unlike many of the other recent shootings, there is documentation that the shooter, Aaron Alexis, probably had some form of mental illness. He did report hearing voices and other paranoid beliefs weeks prior to this event. However, for me, the key is not that there was documented possible mental illness (he had never been officially diagnosed) but that he also had documented past gun offenses and more importantly, he received poor mental health care. (I wonder why a person with previous gun offenses even had a gun, and those offenses apparently occurred before he ever reported experiencing paranoia or any mental health issues.) It is not the mental illness alone that causes an event like this, it is a combination of factors.

Apparently Alexis had spoken to police weeks before about hearing voices through the walls and the police reported it to the Navy and nothing was done. Then Alexis went to the Veterans Affairs ER twice for insomnia but did not mention the paranoia, and he was given sleeping pills. To give sleeping pills to someone with possible mental illness is just wrong. Clearly there is something wrong in the system that Alexis was given those pills, on two separate occasions, even though police had reported that he was experiencing paranoia. Some sleeping pills can increase risks of suicide and depression. Many medications can interact with mental illness negatively, such as how antidepressants trigger manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. You have to correctly diagnose the mental illness before you start perscribing medications. To me it seems that previous issues with violence and gun offences combined with poor regulation of medicine is more of a possible cause of this shooting than just blamining it on mental illness alone.

When we just look at mental illness in general as a cause, we promote the idea that all people with mental illness are as much of a risk to society as Alexis was on that day. We assume if we never let anyone with a mental illness have a gun, there will be no more shootings. This is not true, especially since most shootings are not committed by people with mental illness. There are many factors which go into creating the perfect storm that lead to an event like this, and possible mental illness is one factor for this particular situation. However, I know many people who hear voices, think they are being followed, and have paranoia who are not violent, have never used a gun, and have never committed a crime.

I think we also need to look at the fact that the stigma against mental illness is terrible in our society, but especially bad in the military. This means most people do not even seek treatment for mental illness. We know that people in the military are not able to ask for help with mental health issues for fear of loosing their job, even for very mild mental health issues. Maybe Alexis could have gotten help earlier if he would have felt safe enough to get mental health care much earlier when mild symptoms probably presented themselves months ago, if not years ago. 

I just wish we would look at each of these cases individually and not lump violence and mental illness into a category together which stigmatizes all people with mental illness. We need to look at each person individually.

Clearly we need better mental health care, not only because of events like this where poor mental health care is very likely to be a factor, but also for the 1 in 4 Americans with mental illness who need better care- and most of them are not violent. The need for better mental health care is not because of violence, it is because people with mental illness deserve good care and a chance at the best life possible.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Creativity and Recovery

I recently gave a presentation at a conference to mental health care providers and consumers of mental health care and I was reminded of why I do this work. It focused on all of the mind, body, and spirit changes and activities we can do to create a stable foundation for our recovery. Of course, part of this included talking about how important and healing it can be to bring creativity into your treatment plan. Many people do not see creativity as an essential part of recovery, but it is. Creativity is not only a mind and body activity, but a spiritual one as well. When we create things, we tap into our inner wisdom and power. We discover how amazing we are, how we can create something so beautiful or interesting. When we create something, we are reminded of how we do contribute special things to this world, not only for ourselves but for those around us sometimes too. We also feel the power of something greater than ourselves. Maybe that is God for some of us, the Universe, greater humanity, or the Spirit of Love. Through creating something special, we feel a sense of awe and wonder at all that is in the Universe.

Many people do not understand this spiritual and important part of creativity, especially people who do not consider themselves artistic. However, every time I have asked someone to keep an open mind and just try a simple art project with me, they end up being proud of what they did. They see themselves in a new light, and they love the fact that they created something special. It makes them happy.

I was reminded of this at the conference when I asked everyone to engage in a mediative art practice inspired by the Zentangle® method. In this practice, you create patterns, any patterns you imagine, on a small sheet of paper. You do this in pen, which helps you accept things as they are. We let people know that there is no wrong way to create this art, and in so doing, this helps people learn to accept themselves as they are. Creating patterns allows your mind to slow down and become calm, which is great in all kinds of situations, especially in helping with anxiety. When people see the finished product of what they made, they see the beauty and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Meditative Art Practice. Bipolar Spirit©

After everyone finished their meditative art I asked how they felt. One man, who is just about a year into recovery from mental illness, said that he never considered himself an artist, but he liked what he created. He said this simple art piece made him feel like he had worth. All of his repetitive thoughts of self-loathing, despair, and thinking he was not good enough stopped for a bit when he saw what he had made. He said the art showed him that he was not worthless. We talked about how every time those negative thoughts come to his mind, he can look at this piece of art and know he has worth, he is creative, he contributes to the world, and the world can be beautiful.

This is why I do this work. I show people different ways they have agency in their own treatment and help them find things that give them strength, hope, and purpose. People need support for all the times between visits to therapists and doctors, and they need to know they have the ability to be active in their recovery. People with mental illness need to know that something as simple as a 4"x4" piece of paper and a pen can stop a panic attack or manic episode. It can help you manage your illness enough so that you can remain in recovery rather than end up in a hospital ward.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

No Home's Complete Without a Rabbit

Today ends a legacy in our family, an era. Since 1998, for fifteen years, we have had house rabbits. My husband and I got our first bunny together when we were in college. Then our next bunny was my wedding gift from Jeff to me. After that, all our bunnies were adopted. Our third bunny was one a neighbor bought for their child on Valentine's Day but they could not keep it. Our fourth bunny was found dumped in a local park after Easter one year, and our fifth bunny was from a friend who could not keep her. We agree with Clare Turlay Newberry when she writes: "No home's complete without a rabbit."

Some people are not pet people and don't quite get the connection many of us have with our animals. We love our furry family members and are grateful for having them in our lives. House rabbits are not your typical pet, and having a bunny is a new experience in animal parenting. There is a lot of misunderstanding about how to properly care for a bunny and you need a vet that specializes in rabbits. They have special souls who bring a lot of love to a house. Having bunnies in general taught us a lot about life, but in particular, each one taught me something special.

Bunny #1: Freckles
Freckles ate through walls, box springs, and all other various furniture pieces. He begged at the table like a dog, and loved being with people. From him I learned that I could handle a lot more than I thought I could. Both Freckles and Dot got GI stasis often (where their stomach gets clogged with hair) because of their breed. If they do not get fluids fast enough, they can die, so we learned how administer subcutaneous fluids to the bunnies. You would often find us in the kitchen with an IV bag hanging from our ceiling. Freckles also taught me that even the smallest being can feel and give love and express gratitude for their family. He loved giving me kisses on the nose.

Bunny #2: Dot
Dot was the Queen Bunny. She was bossy and assertive. She nipped at your ankles when you were in her way. She taught me to be yourself, and interestingly enough, she was an example of a strong woman who knew what she wanted. Dot, Freckles, and Lando were also Mini Rex rabbits, the breed with the softest fur, which are also the breed of the rabbit in The Velveteen Rabbit. These bunnies have big hearts and share a lot of love.
One heart for each bunny was buried with Lando.

Bunny # 3: Val
Val was a little grey dwarf rabbit and he was really laid back. He just took life as it came, hanging out with his siblings. He taught me to be more relaxed about life. Nothing ever seemed to phase him.

Bunny #4: Circuit
Circuit was unlike any bunny we had before. He was an albino with red eyes and probably for that reason he was dumped in a park after Easter. Many people dump bunnies after Easter, but especially albino bunnies because the red eyes scare people and they call them "devil bunnies." Being abandoned effected him his whole life. He was sweet, yet cranky, and he totally fell in love with his bunny siblings. If you did something he did not like, he would snort at you and stomp his feet. He taught me that even if you have been hurt before, abandoned and left in the wild, you can learn to trust and love again.

Bunny #5: Lando Bunrissian
Lando was just a sweet bunny. For some reason, she was our only bunny that was sick a lot and we could never figure out why. She would loose weight rapidly at times and often had respiratory infections. We ran many tests and never could figure out what was wrong. Lando taught me to always maintain a bright outlook on life. Even when she was sick, she was always just a happy bunny. In her last days, she looked terrible, but she was hopping around and never seemed to be in any pain.

We buried Lando today under the "bunny tree" near her brother Circuit and five paper hearts, one for each bunny we have had. We all talked about our favorite memories of each bunny and we read our favorite poem about bunnies which of course ends with: "No home's compete without a rabbit." I don't know when our home will feel complete again without our bunny children who taught us so much.

P.S.: Actually, my first bunnies were a small litter of bunnies I rescued when I was a child. Most of them died right away, but one held on a little longer. I fed it through a dropper and kept it warm in a little box with towels. I really wanted that bunny to live and thought that if I just could give it enough love, it would survive. This little bunny taught me that we can't save everyone, no matter how hard we try. After my bunny died, my Dad wrote me a note reminding me that I had tried as hard as I could, the bunny was grateful for my love, and that we never completely loose those we love. I still have that note today as it was so important in my understanding of life and death. It is what I pass on to our son every time one of his bunnies has passed away.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How To Stop A Panic Attack in Two Minutes

A few weeks ago, I found myself on vacation in a situation that caused such panic I thought we would have to end our vacation just after it had begun. My husband, son, and I went to GenCon (yes, a gaming convention, we are quite geeky) and while I have been at many conventions for all sorts of things before, this one was really crowded and the convention center was so convoluted that you were often in places that had no exit to the outside near you. As some of you know, I panic when I do not know I can easily get out of a room or situation. Thus, large buildings with few exits like conventions centers, indoor malls, movie theaters, and hospitals scare me to death.

As soon as we walked into the convention center, I was a wreck. I got overheated and sweaty, I was breathing fast, I was shaking, and I felt sick. I was having a terrible panic attack. No matter what I did- deep breathing, repeating to myself that I was safe, talking to my family to distract me- nothing stopped the panic and I did not have my Ativan with me. I went into the convention center and saw a corsetiere booth and knew I could stop my panic attack in two minutes.

At another convention I had bought a corset as a costume piece and while wearing it I noticed I was calm and did not feel my usual constant anxiety or have panic attacks.

As soon as the corset was laced up, I calmed down. My husband and son were surprised at my almost instant turn around. We were able to continue our vacation and I had no more panic that weekend, all because of the corset.
Copyright: J. Norris

It is not surprising to me that a corset can calm panic, since deep touch pressure has been used for many years with animals (such as the Thundershirt), and now for people with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Deep touch pressure became more popular and widely studied by Dr. Temple Grandin after she discovered that she was calmed after putting herself into a squeeze chute made for cows.

The corset is not that different than the weighted clothing they make for autistic children. The nice thing about the corset is that you can adjust the amount of pressure throughout the day. There are also different lengths of corsets.  You can get some that are smaller which cover mostly just your waist (waist cincher or short underbust corset), or one that goes farther up your back and chest (overbust corset), depending on how much pressure you need over your body. When I am really manic in the evenings sometimes I will put on my obverbust corset, which covers my whole torso. They do make corsets for men as well and you can get a corset made to your exact measurements and body shape, such as an asymmetrical corsets if you have one hip higher than the other. You can wear corsets under your clothes, but I find it more uncomfortable and a bit hard to handle because you can not adjust the pressure of the corset if it is under your clothes, especially a dress.

Corset under clothes. Copyright: J. Norris
I will write more posts in the future about with details about corset wearing, but in the mean time, Lucy's Corsetry will tell you everything you need to know about getting a good corset and how to properly wear one.

For me, wearing a corset is a quick and safe fix for panic and mania. I can wear it all day, it's adjustable, and it does not cause addiction like anti-anxiety medications such as Ativan do. I would like to use Ativan all day due to how much anxiety I have, but I can't because it is an addictive substance. However, I can use the corset all the time and it is totally safe. (Read about corset safety here.)

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

P.S.: The corset I am wearing in these photos is the short underbust corset from Timeless Trends.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Stigma Alert: NBC Nightly News: Ariel Castro, "The Face of Mental Illness."

If you live in Cleveland, Ohio like I do, you know the story of kidnapper Ariel Castro who held three women captive in his home for 11 years. It is a tragic story that has effected our community greatly. I would never justify what he did, and I will not argue that he does not have some form of mental illness. It is possible that he does. However, I do not agree with NBC reporter Brian Williams (or whoever his text writer is) saying that Ariel Castro is "the face of mental illness."


Again, this is just the media promoting stigma against people with mental illness. We can not say that the few people with mental illness who are violent represent mental illness as a whole. In previous posts I have written about the facts of violence and mental illness, namely incidents of violent crimes are low in people with mental illness and we are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. 

I don't understand why the news media can not report these stories without throwing everyone with mental illness under a bus. If he has been diagnosed with a mental illness and part of his illness led to criminal activity, you can report that. You do not speculate as to possible mental illness and you do not generalize that mental illness means a person is violent.

Is it any wonder that people with mental illness have to hide who they are even to the point of not seeking treatment? Everyone is afraid of us because of media hype like this and that means we are at serious risk for physical and emotional violence against us if we ever speak up. 

Ariel Castro is not "the face of mental illness." He is the face of his possible illness and his crimes.

The real faces of mental illness are the faces of many amazing people who contribute beautiful things to this world. 

Want to do something about this now? SIGN THIS PETITION to NBC asking for an apology.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

P.S. For another blog post on this subject, visit Pete Earley's blog where he shows how Brian Williams violated the Style Book of the Associated Press which states how reporters should talk about mental illness.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Movie Review by Mother and Son: Phoebe in Wonderland

This is a joint movie review by me and my son. We watched the movie together and he said it was so good that I should blog about it and he wanted to help.

Phoebe in Wonderland (2008) is a movie about a nine year old girl with Tourette Syndrome. The movie shows her and her family's struggle as she starts to engage in obsessive rituals, inappropriate behavior like spitting and saying mean things, and repeating what other people have said. At the same time that all of this is happening, she is in a play of Alice in Wonderland where her symptoms disappear because she is able to hyper-focus. Her drama teacher, Ms. Dodger is really the only person who can get through to Phoebe, but after Phoebe jumps from the catwalk in the theater, Ms. Dodger is fired. There are other meaningful subplots such as Phoebe's classmate Jamie who is harassed because the other kids think he is gay, and Phoebe's mother who struggles with wanting to work and being a mother.

Review by Rev. Katie:
This movie was powerful in so many ways, not all of which I will have enough room to talk about here. For me, these themes stood out the most:
  • Phoebe believes scary things people tell her and then in order to avoid them, she creates rituals. One ritual she has is something I did when I was little too. The first time we see Phoebe with "odd" behavior, she is repeating "Step on a crack, break your mother's back," and she is avoiding the cracks in the tile floor. I did the same thing when I was little, avoiding cracks wherever I walked. Phoebe also has compulsive hand washing, which I have to this day, thinking that she needs to wash her hands a certain number of times in order to do well in her audition or make something else good happen. Then her friend tells her that she either needs to pray or do something she hates in order to get the part of Alice in the play, so Phoebe starts rituals of jumping and clapping with a pattern and number of squares on the walkway outside and on the steps. When I was little and walking up stairs, I always had to jump two steps in order to feel safe. What this shows is that for some of us, our brain latches on to superstition or fear and desperately makes us try anything in order to be safe. This means what we say to kids really matters and tormenting kids with scary things is seriously life threatening. 
  • Throughout the movie, Phoebe explains so well what it is like in her brain. She says at one point "I can see myself wrecking and ruining and I don't know how to stop." There is a heart wrenching scene with Phoebe crying in her bed to her Mom that she does not know why she does these things. It is also eye opening when Phoebe's father blurts out an unkind statement to her and when he goes to apologize he says, "The words just came out." Phoebe replies that the same thing happens to her. This is when her father is able to understand more of her inability to control her behavior. 
  • At one point, Phoebe and her sister and running around the table, giggling and asking their parents to have a baby. Their father clearly gets overwhelmed with the noise and the stress, and blurts out: "Really? Do you think your mother could handle another one like you?" Immediately Phoebe runs away and starts into ritual jumping of squares on the tile floor and is saying "screw you!" She is trying to calm down and tell herself that what her father said was not true. Phoebe also sees and speaks to characters from Alice in Wonderland when she is scared or upset and in this scene she asks them if she is the reason why her mother would not have another child. Again, Phoebe is trying to calm herself and tell herself she is not a bad person. This scene shows so clearly how insulting and shaming a child with difficult behavior only triggers the behavior and makes them think they are bad. If this happens over and over again, the child can not longer fight off the belief that they are bad and they start to believe it. By the time they reach adulthood, it is programmed into them and this is their default belief about themselves so even their own beliefs then trigger the negative behaviors. Fortunately in the movie, the father apologizes, which really is important. None of us will be perfect parents, but sincere apologies and letting your child know that your reaction was due to your problem, and not because they are bad, is one way we we can help them not end up believing these things about themselves as an adult and making the illness worse. 
  • There is a scene where Phoebe's younger sister says she wants a different sister, one she does not have to take care of and does not have whatever Phoebe has. The mother insists that Phoebe is fine, but the little girl rightly says that the mother has no idea what is going on. This scene not only shows how hard it can be for siblings who know what is going on but also for parents who are unwilling to see that their child may need help. For most of the movie, the little sister is the only one in the family who even helps Phoebe, even participating in some of her rituals. The sister just gets tired of basically being the only adult in the house. 
    Theatrical Poster
  • Phoebe's parents eventually take her to a psychiatrist who diagnoses her with Tourette Syndrom, but Phoebe's mother insists this is not true and that Phoebe's behavior is her fault, so she fires the psychiatrist. Phoebe's mom does not want her labeled, thought of as "less than," and medicated leading to a life full of side effects. This is understandable. The problem is the mother blames herself, and thinks she can fix Phoebe, rather than accepting the diagnosis and looking for a better way to handle it if she does not want to use medications and such. There is too much shame in our culture surrounding brain disorders so parents become scared and are unable to see what is going on and search for the right kind of treatment for their child. I was a bit disappointed that the movie ends with the parents accepting the diagnosis and Phoebe explaining it to her class without going into what they do to help her. It might be assumed that they went with the medications and that the psychiatric diagnosis and now somehow things are ok. This ending risks promoting the idea that medication works for everyone and cures all. This mentality leads a lot of people to judge parents who use alternative methods of treatment for their children. But, no movie can be perfect or cover every aspect of life. There is not enough time!
  • Twice Phoebe gets punished by her teacher and principal for spitting on other kids when the kids have chased, berated, and scared her and she has asked them to stop but they won't. This happens way too often- a child gets pushed to their limit and then punished while the larger group of bullies is defended, all because this child is "different." Even my son asked "Why is it always the nice kids who get in trouble when the mean kids do something wrong?" He said the approach of the drama teacher was much better: Rather than taking a punishment approach when someone writes "faggot" on Jamie's costume, the drama teacher addresses the whole group and teaches them something. This actually created a change in the way people treated Jamie rather than punishment which creates no understanding. It's a very powerful scene.
  • The drama teacher, Ms. Dodger, is the only person who understands working with children and how to help them be their best selves. She allows children to make decisions on their own, encourages the kids to be the directors of the play, and is non-authoritarian. Unfortunately, after accidentally saying something hurtful to her friend Jamie, Phoebe runs and climbs up the catwalk. Phoebe retreats into Wonderland for solace and looks down the ladder of the catwalk and sees the hole that brought Alice to Wonderland, so she jumps. It is not a long jump and Phoebe gets a sprained wrist. However, the drama teacher gets blamed for this and there is a terrible, yet typical, scene when the principle questions Phoebe and distorts what she says to make it look like Ms. Dodger told her to jump. Ms. Dodger was the only person who actually helped Phoebe and the other children. In fact, it is Ms. Dodger who gives Phoebe the most beneficial advice- that one day she will see herself as she is, even the parts that are different, accept herself, and on that day she will feel love. Far too often, it is the more creative teachers who know how to help children with brain disorders, but few people ever listen to them.
  • After the jump off the catwalk, Phoebe asks her parents if people usually feel hope. They think she did not feel hope and that is why she jumped. Rather, Phoebe explains that she felt hope when looking into Wonderland and that is why she jumped, but in the real world she feels no hope. This illustrates how people often misinterpret behavior that seems to them like self harm. Also, when Phoebe's mother confronts Ms. Dodger and mentions her daughter does not feel hope, again Ms. Dodger gives the best advice- that sometimes we don't feel hope but we keep on anyway, and then we know we have it.
Review by Jeffrey, age 9:

"This movie will change your life.

The movie was awesome. I think it kind of showed me what Mommy's life was like when she was little.

I think teachers could learn a lot from Ms. Dodger, like that kids can do things on their own and they do not need you watching over them every second. 

Parents could learn to not think when something goes wrong that it is their fault. In the part of the movie where Phoebe is crying with her Mom in bed and the Mom asks "What's wrong" and Phoebe says she does not know, the Mom did not keep asking her what was wrong. If we don't know what is wrong, don't keep asking us anymore because it really gets annoying and it puts too much pressure on us. 

People can also learn from the movie that if you are different, that does not mean you are bad, it just means you are special. If someone ever punishes you for being different, then you should talk to your parents and have them fix it. If someone punishes you for being different, that is very mean and it can make you feel bad about yourself."


Both Jeffrey and I recommend that you watch this movie and talk about it afterwards. We both learned things about one another and how to help each other when we are having a difficult time.

I know now not to try and fix everything for him when he says he is not sure what is wrong, and he knows that he should always tell me if he ever starts to feel overwhelmed like Phoebe's little sister. We also talked about apologizing when we say unkind things to each other and how that makes all the difference in how he sees himself as a person. Of course, we also discussed that you you can't just be mean all the time and think if you apologize that it makes everything better. You need to try and act better each time.

When you watch the movie, let us know in the comments what spoke to you.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie and Jeffrey

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Recovering from Mental Illness by Combatting Shame

I have had many good therapists since I was 19 years old but recently one noticed that I had a lot of trauma and abuse which was not being addressed properly. She referred me to another therapist who specializes in this and I have been seeing him for ten months. He is really the first therapist who has been able to help me actually start to recover from my bipolar disorder rather than just manage it. How did he do this? He requires me to have compassion for myself. (Which is probably advice now I have shared with many of you personally.)

Why does this work? Because it combats shame. In trauma and abuse, shame is what devastates you in the end. It is what hurts your soul, reprograms your brain, creates imbalance, and ruins your life. Shame becomes programmed into us. It is so automatic in many of our own minds and in our culture that we do not even realize this is what is hurting us, or even that it is happening.

Frankly, many people think shame is the way to make/encourage people to do better in life. Many parents subscribe to a definition of "tough love" which really entails shaming. I noticed this when my son spilled a milkshake into my purse the other day. At first, I heard in my mind the reaction I was trained to have: "Jeffrey! What's wrong with you? You need to be more careful! Look what you did! You ruined my purse. I can't take you anywhere." But instead I said "Jeffrey!" and paused knowing I could never say those things to my beautiful child. I continued with "Oh no, your milkshake! Let's clean it up and get you a new one. We all spill things." 

As shame researcher Dr. Brene Brown says we need to understand the difference between guilt and shame:

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

Yelling at my son "What's wrong with you? I can't take you anywhere!" would have been shaming him- telling him he was bad. 

If we think we are bad, if we feel shame or other people shame us by telling us we are bad, then we believe we are not worthy of connection and belonging. If we are not worthy of connection and belonging, which humans are hard-wired for, then we enter into despair and our lives fall apart. In her Super Soul Sunday show with Oprah, Dr. Brown says: "Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying, and aggression. Guilt is inversely correlated with those."

Watch this amazing clip to see this explained in a powerful way:




My therapist has been continually working with me to help stop me when I go into shaming myself. As I have worked with my therapist, I see how shame pervades my life. In everything I do, good or bad, I shame myself. I believe bad things happen because I am a bad person who makes them happen and good things must only happen to me due to a fluke or I must have done something bad in order to get this thing that is good. That means I probably shame myself almost 24/7. That is just not healthy and if shame is correlated with high rates depression, I am sure it is correlated in many ways to other mental illnesses.

So, how has my therapist helped me recognize shame? Dr. Brown says the one thing that combats shame is empathy, which for me is the compassion that my therapist is trying to teach me to have for myself. He notices when I shame myself right away, but in order to get me to see it, he asks me if what I say to myself is something I would say to a congregant or my own son. It is not.

When I believe other people's shaming of me, he again asks me to have compassion for myself and ask if what that person did to me I would do to someone else. I would not.

He also reminds me that when someone shames me, I need to first stop and acknowledge to myself that it hurt and that was not ok, rather than jumping to the conclusion that I deserve to be hurt because I am bad.

So, how does this work, this whole guilt and shame thing when you actually do something that is not all that great? Maybe this story will help:

One morning my husband left very early to go out of town. I forgot to set my alarm and I woke up late, took a shower, and walked out of my bedroom to realize my son was still home! I had not only forgotten wake up, but also get him breakfast and take him to school! He was just hanging out playing on his computer. Then, since it was so late and I was overwhelmed, I decided just to keep him home from school rather than have to explain what happened to the school. I felt like the worst mother ever and I told my therapist that. I said I was irresponsible, lazy, didn't care enough about my son evidenced by the fact that I even forgot he was in the house! What mother does that? His reaction was that I needed to have compassion for myself. To first realize that I must have been very exhausted to have slept in so late. That does not mean what I did was great, and I could have still taken him to school, but I am not a bad mother. Next time I will try and remember to set the alarm and if I do wake up late, I should probably take him to school anyway. Feeling guilt for doing something not so great and learning from it was an appropriate reaction. Feeling shame and thinking I am a bad mother who does not deserve her child was an inappropriate and damaging reaction.

The thing is it is hard to stop the negative programming in our brains. If we have been shamed long enough and thus learned to shame ourselves, we actually need to reprogram the way our brain thinks in order to stop it. It takes a long time of practicing compassion for yourself at every situation for you to start making a dent in the negative programming. And then when others shame you, it is very easy to fall back into automatically shaming yourself. It takes a lot of work on your own, support from positive friends, and sometime distance from those that shame you frequently until you have enough shame resilience to not have their behavior set you back.

The best way to practice compassion for yourself is to do a lovingkindness meditation daily, or even a few times a day. The lovingkindness meditation starts with yourself and then moves outward eventually to the whole world. I like the way Jack Kornfield describes this meditation since he encourages you to see yourself as a child because that allows you to feel love and compassion for yourself. Below is the first part of that meditation and you can click here for the rest of it:

"Begin with yourself. Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed toward our own well-being. You being with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.

As you repeat these phrases, picture yourself as you are now, and hold that image in a heart of lovingkindness. Or perhaps you will find it easier to picture yourself as a young and beloved child. Adjust the words and images in any way you wish. Create the exact phrases that best open your heart of kindness. Repeat these phrases over and over again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind. Practice this meditation for a number of weeks, until the sense of lovingkindness for yourself grows.

Be aware that this meditation may at times feel mechanical or awkward. It can also bring up feelings contrary to lovingkindness, feelings of irritation and anger. If this happens, it is especially important to be patient and kind toward yourself, allowing whatever arises to be received in a spirit of friendliness and kind affection. When you feel you have established some stronger sense of lovingkindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others."

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adventures in Acupuncture

Five weeks ago I started acupuncture to help with my bipolar disorder. It seems to be helping as I am finally getting numerous days in a row that do not end up in manic meltdowns. I am able to handle things a better and have more functional time during the day. I have actually been letting my husband sleep and not talking to him all night, which he is very happy about. It takes at least a few months to be sure a treatment is working, but this looks promising. Part of the actual experience of getting the acupuncture though was an adventure for me though.

I have no trouble with needles so I did not anticipate any issues with getting acupuncture. However, at my first appointment, after the practitioner put all the needles in me and left the room, I instantly panicked. For some reason it did not cross my mind earlier that someone who has panic attacks being in confined areas might have a serious problem with being basically pinned down and unable to move, at all.

I had one of my worst panic attacks that day because I could not get out of the situation I was in without serious pain and I could not do any of the little things I usually do to try and calm myself down. You can not really move any part of your body because the needles really hurt if you move. It's fine if you lie still, but I tried to wiggle my fingers to clench my hand, which I do when I am panicking, and it was extremely painful. Technically I could get up, with the pain, but really, what would I do then with no clothes on and tons of needles all over me? There is really no where for a human pin cushion to go.

Attempting to relax. Photo by J. Norris

That was one of the worst half hours of my life. I kept panicking, fearing I would get sick, unable to move, knowing I could yell for help but that would be extremely embarrassing.

Apparently, most people fall asleep during acupuncture and they find it very relaxing. I find it excruciatingly terrifying and I lay there doing anything to try and distract myself- singing songs in my head, counting, but mostly I kept saying over and over again in my mind "When is this going to be over?"

Until we can figure out how to get rid of my panic, I can not go to acupuncture by myself. So, my loving husband takes three hours out of his week to go with me (between driving there and back, meeting with the practitioner, getting all the needles put in, laying there, and getting everything removed.) It may sound odd that he would figure out how to go with me, but the acupuncture seems to work enough that it is worth all the time and effort.

Some days I am able to lay there quietly and we both get some meditation time in, which is nice and he finds that quite relaxing. Other times I am an anxious wreck and I have him talk to me to try and make the time pass faster.

My acupuncturinst is not quite sure what to do with me and the anxiety since he has not had anyone have acupuncture make them so anxious, every time. Then I realized though that most people who have severe anxiety over being confined would never get acupuncture in the first place.

I am glad I did not think this whole thing through and realize acupuncture would cause me to panic because then I would have missed out on a treatment that really helps me- better than medications have done. Even if acupuncture makes you nervous for any number of reasons, I would encourage you to try it because it might really help.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why Having Fun Creates Better Mental Health

We have been trying to add different kinds of exercise, adventure, and fun to our lives. This is good for everyone's mental wellness, but it is especially helpful for people with mental illness. We chose some activities the other day that were inspired by a few of the principles in the book Running with Nature. We got outside, laughed and played, and had some adventure.

Research shows are many reasons why these activities help create mental wellness. Being outside gets us out in the sun, which elevates the mood. People with Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD) and depression are often treated with light therapy. Too much darkness increases melatonin. Melatonin is needed for sleep, but too much of it can make people depressed and tired. Laughing and playing is proven to make everyone happier. Taking a bit of time each day for fun means we then have enough energy for the rest of our life such as work and it even helps us handle difficult situations better. It is also said that laughter helps us heal. Some hospitals and use humor therapy as part of their program and have found it reduces the need for medication.

Copyright, Jeff Norris
In order to get all of these benefits for us as a family, we decided to use the slackline that my husband Jeff bought on a whim a few months ago. Slacklining is basically balancing on a piece of nylon that is suspended between two trees. We also spent some time on our trampoline which is always fun. I often forget to do anything fun, ever, and I was reminded how important it is to my mental health and also the health of my family.

The slackline is basically a balance exercise, which means you need to be in tune with yourself. Balance exercises require you to pay attention to your body and really focus on what you are doing. This is never one of my favorite things to focus on because I am very self consious about my size and I often feel like a big bull in a china shop. I would rather forget I even have a physical body, but you can not do that when you are doing any kind of exercise that requires a focus on balance. Slacklining helped me be a little less upset about who I am as I started to just let go, have fun, and focus on learning to balance more. I found that when I started taking stronger antipsychotics a few years ago, my balance was severely effected and even though I stopped taking them, I have never gotten my balance back. I hope slacklining will help me reverse that.

I also found slacklining brings us closer together as a family. We were all encouraging each other and helping each other get across the line. We wanted to see each other succeed and we were all engaged in helping each other reach our goals. (My son is currently working on his best yet, four steps without help from anyone.) When we were on the trampoline, I commented that our neighbors must think we are so weird. Other people have trampolines, but we never see parents using them. Our son, while jumping high up in the air said, "You guys are the best parents and the most fun!" Seriously, how could you not feel happier after hearing that?

Copyright, Jeff Norris
As Jeff was helping me across the slackline I had this profound sense that we rarely are just present with each other. The longer partners are together, the less we remember to have any daily physical contact. You hold hands less and don't spend as much time really looking at each other. When Jeff helped me go across the line, I remembered how we still need to make time to be present with each other rather than just going through our daily lives. It is all too common for couples to loose connection with each other, especially when one of them is living with an illness. It can feel like all of your life is about the illness and everything becomes stressful. Spending time together having fun brought us much closer together and allowed us to appreciate each other more. All in just an hour.

They suggest one hour of play per day in Running with Nature and I can tell that the more we try and stick to that suggestion, the better off we will all be.

What will you do today that gets you outside, let's you have fun, and is a bit adventurous?

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Running with Nature

Running with Nature by Mariel Hemingway and Bobby Williams is, simply, a book that helps people live their best life. It's not a book specifically about mental illness, but a book about having a well rounded life.

Many of you know that I use many lifestyle initiatives in order it treat my bipolar disorder. I have researched what diet, sleep schedule, meditation techniques, exercise, etc... are effective in treating bipolar. While there is a lot of overlap in what works, I have also come to learn that exactly what works is different for each person. You really need to experiment and see what is your perfect treatment plan, knowing that it will need to change as you age and as life changes.

So, I have been looking for a book that speaks clearly and concisely about basic principles which create mental wellness while also giving room for discovering what works for you personally. Running with Nature (formerly The WillingWay), is just that book. This is one of those few books where you highlight and flag almost everything in the book and you read it over and over again so everything can sink in.

Each chapter talks about an essential element to living a well balanced and healthy life and achieving mental wellness. I will go through each chapter and highlight some of the main points.

Photo from Mariel Hemingway.com
Get Outside
This chapter is all about the benifits of being in nature which brings us closer to ourselves and the divine. One of the great suggestions in this chapter is a simple one: walk barefoot. We truly connect with nature when walking barefoot - it grounds us, and we feel the rejuvinating energy of the earth by walking upon it without rubber soles on our feet. Try it and I guarantee you will feel better in a few minutes.

Sleep Well
If you have read anything about treatment for mental illness, you will know that keeping a good sleep schedule is extremely important. This chapter explains why sleep is important and how to create an environment so you get the best sleep you can. They also talk about your natural circadian rhythm and how to honor it. Circadian rhythm is one of the things most disturbed by bipolar disorder so you have to get this on track. 

Breathe Consciously
This chapter explains the importance of breathing and also how to use breathing techniques for mental health such as alternate nostril breathing, which my therapist taught me. This technique helps balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain and helps you feel more balanced. This chapter is a great resource for quick ways to improve your mental state no matter where you are.

Live Silence
We rarely ever have silence in our technology laden, fast paced world, but without silence we can not tune into ourselves and get to know who we are. This chapter talks about different forms of meditation and their benefits. I am glad that they mention how during meditation deep emotions come up, so if you are experiencing depression, trauma, etc..., you should see a professional counselor to help you through the process. They also talk about the importance of prayer, which they define as asking our inner self, the Universe, and God (or what you find divine) for help. What I love about their prayer practice is that they say to always add at the end "For the highest good of all concerned in connection to the universe and the source of all that is." This means prayer is not about asking to get what you want, but asking for the greatest good of all. Another part of silence is turning off technology and they suggest turning it off for one day a week. This is something I want to try soon as I think it would help our whole family.

Eat Wholesome Food
An amazing chapter about how to eat good food, but not giving a prescription that everyone must eat the same way. They believe that each of us, if we pay attention to our body, can discover the right diet to maximize our wellness. I find this to be so true. While I know that the basics of a Paleo diet work best for me, there are things I need to modify for it to work best in treating my bipolar disorder. This chapter gave me the freedom to listen to myself and be my own expert. It covers such things as eating as local and organic as possible, the issues of pasteurized dairy, keeping an acid alkaline balance, healthy protein sources, gluten sensitivity, and the issue of sugar. Nothing in this chapter conflicts with what I have researched about a healthy diet for people with mental illness.

Drink Pure Water
Basically, pure water helps us in many ways by keeping us hydrated, clearing out toxins, and it gives you great skin. This chapter talks about how to actually make sure you are drinking pure water that will give you the most benefits for a healthy mind and body. I am glad they talk about the environmental impact of drinking bottled water and also some of the things you need to watch for in tap water.

Cleanse and Heal
I admit, I was a bit afraid of this chapter because there are so many detox and cleanse fads out there. Few of them are a good idea, most of them will set someone like me with an eating disorder up for increased disordered eating. Mariel addresses the issue of disordered eating and fasting, so thankfully this chapter explains the basics of cleansing and how to find what method is right for you. Too many "experts" recommend cleanses and fasting to people with eating disorders and that is a serious problem. There is a whole range of ideas from just eating mild foods for part of the day to give your body a break, to people who fast for a few hours a day. I also love that Mariel talks about the connection of food and mood, she says "I have a passion for making people aware of health, nutrition and lifestyle as it relates to mental well-being. When I eat unheathy food, I become mentally challenged and off-kilter." There is a lot in this chapter about mental wellness and food choices, it is a wealth of information.

Laugh and Play
One of the best chapters ever! As adults, we think we are not supposed to have fun and play, and we teach our kids that they need to play less and act more like adults. Mariel and Bobby quote Unitarian minster Rev. James Freeman Clark (shout out to my fellow Unitarian Universalists!) when he said: "The love of play and sport shows that amusement is evidently one of the original instincts of human nature." Having fun is essential to a well balanced life. Play games, find fun exercises, use a trampoline, laugh. Make a conscious effort to bring happiness into your life through laughter and play. This chapter has made such a difference in our lives, especially as a family. This has allowed us to focus more on finding time to have fun as a family, which also means I am participating in activities which combat the depressive side of my illness.

Adventure
This chapter talks about how adventure keeps us growing. This is also where they talk about the mental health benefits of exercise. Exercise helps combat depression and boosts cognitive ability. Keeping up with exercise means you need to pick something that is fun and adventurous, or challenging for you. Exercise is key to a good mental health treatment plan, I can not stress that enough. This chapter and the Laugh and Play chapter have really added to our lives. (Look for an upcoming post about Slacklining!)

Be Mindful in Your Relationships
Wow, a book about wellness that recognizes true wellness is not created in a vacuum! If you are in a partnership, you have to communicate well in order for both of you to maintain wellness. They talk about being honest with each other, having time together, and making time for yourself. They also talk about male and female energy, but not just that only men have male energy and women female. I acknowledge that not everyone feels there is male and female energy and so that part of the chapter may not speak to some people as much.

This is just a basic review'summary, and I don't feel it does the book justice! It has really changed the way our whole family lives, even to the point that my son told me today "Mommy, you need to get in touch with nature more" when he was asking me to play outside on this warm spring day.

Look for future blog posts that talk about the many ways in which we have implemented the principles of this book for better mental health by clicking on the Running with Nature tag/label on the right side of the blog. I am feeling so much better, with a more even mood and better ability to implement diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle components after embracing the suggestions in Running with Nature.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie