Counseling

Healing Expressions: Restorative Art

Yesterday, I was blessed with the privilege of attending a Therapeutic Collage Workshop, offered by Therapeutic Arts Facilitator, Lani Kent, of Healing Expressions, located in Vancouver, WA. Going into the workshop, I wasn’t sure how doing collage can be therapeutic, but, when Lani shared her story and her process, I saw how it can be another way to express and explore experiences, thoughts, and emotions. It can give the unspoken and unspeakable a voice and be a powerful part of one’s healing process.

Lani’s art both speaks from and to the soul. You can view her gallery here. You can also find her on Facebook.

img_7297When we arrived to the workshop, we were greeted by Lani and chose our seats. Each setting had a folder and a small gift packet with a Blessing Card attached to it. Each table had small displays of Lani’s collage art.

She had a very long table almost overflowing with magazines and had lined the perimeter of the room with more of her collage work.

After she had shared her story and experience with Restorative Art and how it had helped her on her personal journey of healing and recovery, she invited us to wander the room and select any of her pieces that drew our attention, in either and inviting way, or even one that repelled.

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At that point she gave us instruction and time to reflect. Then, she explained how to go about the process of collecting the elements we would use in making our own collages.

I confess that I just started tearing into magazines and collected way more than I could use. I collected so many possibilities, that I probably only had time to cut out elements from 1/3 of the material I had collected. I suspect that I have enough leftover magazine pages to make several more than the two I did make.

We were encouraged to write the date and what we were experiencing during this time period, whether it was about what we were doing with the collages in that moment or in the greater context of our lives. Lani counseled that we may not know or fully understand the meaning of our collages, at first. That we may come back to them multiple times throughout our journey and learn more about ourselves, from ourselves, in this way.

As I said, I did two. I’m only going to show one, here. The other one requires some processing and unpacking with my therapist. Both of them do, actually. However, I think the symbolism of the one I’m posting here is probably a very universal theme. Though, when I researched the symbolism I learned some deeper meaning and insight into what this could be saying.

Please let me know how this speaks to you, if it does

Now What?

I’ve spent the past six and a half weeks focusing on prerequisite to job search activities:

Additionally, since I’m trying to get into work I’ve never done before . . . or haven’t done in 25 years (Really?!?!? That much time has passed?!?!?), I’ve applied for two different training opportunities, one which I didn’t get and one which I’m waiting to find out if I get in. I’ve also completed a Volunteer Orientation with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and am scheduled for my first volunteer shift for next week.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been attending a Peer-to-Peer class by NAMI, a REST/DBT class, and other classes and groups taught/hosted by my mental health provider organization (which also happens to be where my application for training was submitted), and attended my 1:1 counseling sessions. I’ve also been taking care of some physical health situations and have been to the doctor a couple of times, acupuncture once, and have my very first chiropractic appointment, ever, later this morning.

There are only two things I haven’t done yet, and one of those is scheduled for this afternoon, Career Exploration. The other, Google training, has been put on the back burner, for the moment, while I take care of some other things that have to be scheduled when that class is available.

Why do I need either Career Exploration or Google training, since I know I want to go into Mental Health Peer Support? For one, I need to know more specifics about transferable skills, more in depth understanding of duties/responsibilities, and what I can expect in regards to compensation. I have a basic, functional understanding of Google Gmail, Docs, and Sheets, however, I don’t really know how they, and the other Google applications work together for business purposes. Like the MS Office classes I took, I figure it’s good information to have, even if my future job isn’t directly related to office work.

Additionally, I need to get a “survival job” ASAP! My electric bill is almost two months behind and my internet bill is almost three months behind. My youngest daughter’s father may or may not be able to cover those expenses for me. Even if he does now, his circumstances have changed to where it’s not a viable long-term solution to getting the bills paid anymore. Even if I get into the training I’ve applied for, it won’t be complete until February or so, then I have to register with the State of Oregon in order to be legal to work. That’s about six or seven months until I MIGHT have a certification.

At any rate, the point is that in six weeks I’ve done about everything I can do, on my own, to get ready to actually look for a job. I’m still not fully ready to actively search for a job. I need to actually work on getting my resume set up for the career I want instead of the kind of work I’ve done in the past. I need a damn good cover letter.

I need interview clothes. I haven’t been employed for over seven years. So, what few clothes left over from my previously employed time are at least 10-15 years old and more than a little worn. A majority of the clothes I’ve acquired since then are mostly hand-me-down, hand-me-overs and beyond casual. The newest clothes have been bought with summer comfort in mind: several spaghetti strap camisole like tank tops and a pair of denim shorts. I don’t have any interview dress shoes. Again, worn out, out dated, and unprofessional describe the shoes I own.

If I can’t afford to pay my bills, I can’t afford to go shopping. Which means, I need to access more services to obtain these necessities. That means I have to find organizations and programs that offer funding to do these things. Funding requires proof of accountability. So, in order to move forward, it’s time to stop being the Lone Ranger and get more help.

Which brings me back to what’s next after completing the NCRC?

It turns out that “membership has its privileges.” Now that I have that certification, I have been assigned a WorkSource Employment Specialist. I have to be in communication with her at least weekly and meet with her on a regular basis. At each meeting, I have to complete and Opportunity Plan.

It’s basically an action plan worksheet. There’s a minimum of one thing that has to be done in each of four categories: Skill Building, Job Search, Networking, and Self-Care.

The benefits of working with her and in this program are:

  • I get a monthly bus pass for the duration of my job search and for three months after employment.
  • I get a small clothing allotment ($100)
  • I have access to Dress for Success – which actually opens a whole new level of pre-employment services, including actually getting a small, employment oriented, wardrobe for interviews and post-employment and a more focused and intensive week of job readiness classes that will help me even more with the resume, cover letter, and interview preparation.

I’m most excited about getting access to the Dress for Success program! However, in order to get the referral to them, I either have to have an interview or attend a Job Fair. When I met with the Employment Specialist yesterday, she didn’t have any Job Fairs scheduled for the near future.

I’m afraid of losing momentum.

Last week, when my daughter was sick, I didn’t leave the apartment to do anything other than check the mail, if I even did that. As the days went on, I felt the depression trying to assert itself. The apathy started rising it’s ugly head. Inertia started taking hold. I basically did NOTHING.

So, I’m concerned that I may relapse with my mental illnesses, if I lose the structure I’ve been building up of having something to leave my apartment for, each day, that is moving me toward a future I want to have.

I’m happy to report that, while preparing this post, I found a Job Fair, left a message to register, and shot my Employment Specialist an email, requesting a referral to Dress for Success.

Much Ado About Nothing Major

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I took the NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate) assessment yesterday. It’s a certificate that lets employers know that you have basic workplace skills to understand workplace documents, mathematics, and graphic representations of data. Each of the three assessments can achieve rating levels from bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Whichever of the three has the lowest rating, determines your overall rating. So, a platinum in reading, a silver in math, and a bronze in graphic literacy will yield and overall rating of bronze.

As previously discussed, my perfectionistic nature isn’t happy with the idea of having the lowest score determine the overall outcome. You may also be aware that I was super worried that my math score would drag me down. So, I was incredibly anxious about taking the math assessment.

The assessments are proctored and each one is 55 minutes long with 35 questions. On the math assessment, I guessed at two and ran out of time before finishing the last one or two problems. I assumed that meant I had gotten a low score.

Apparently not! I scored PLATINUM!!!!

I also scored Platinum for reading. The score that dragged me down was Graphic Literacy. I got a Gold rating for that one. So, my overall rating is Gold. Evidently, I’m not suited to be a chemist, medical researcher, or engineer. I’m good with that.

I have to admit, though, that in addition to feeling quite ecstatic about my results – I couldn’t stop smiling for at least the first half hour after finding out my scores – I’m also feeling a bit sheepish.

Why?

Well, I’ve known about the NCRC since 2013, the first time I thought I was ready to reenter the job market. I doubted myself and got overwhelmed by life and didn’t follow through on taking it then. In 2015, I started the process of getting ready to go back to work then, again, and avoided it completely. I could probably have taken it six weeks ago. However, I was so full of self-doubt about my math abilities, that I avoided it.

That pesky perfectionistic nature, that all or nothing attitude has been holding me back.

I’d like to say that this revelation means I won’t give into it’s immobilizing effects again. But, that’s probably not true. What is true is that I can start questioning the self-doubt when it rises its ugly head in the future. I can ask myself if I’m worried about doing something imperfectly or if I’m holding back because I genuinely don’t have the knowledge or skills to attempt it.

Another thing I can do to combat the perfectionism is to evaluate whether the goal I have in mind or the result I want requires the level or even the thing at all that I’m working so hard to be as perfect as possible at.

For instance: A Peer Wellness/Support Specialist doesn’t really need advanced MS Office 13 skills. Yet, I pushed myself to attain advanced certificates in Word and Excel. That job also probably doesn’t require algebra or geometry. Therefore, it would have been no big deal if I had gotten a lower score on the math assessment.

It seems that I have a lot of unpacking to do around the perfectionism. It will give me something to work on with my therapist when next we meet.

Is there an area in your life where perfectionism could be holding you back?

I got nuthin’ – free write

I had no cohesive thoughts about what to write for today’s post, day 16 of The Ultimate Blog Challenge. I know daily prompts are emailed, I just don’t get them, for some reason. So, what you get is a brain dump. Continue reading at your own risk. I have no idea what’s about to come out.


I’m on new meds…rather different meds. At least I’m supposed to be. I keep forgetting to take the iron. Liquid iron is an interesting thing. I need to figure out where to put it to where I’ll most likely remember to take it.

Or, maybe I forgot to take it last night because I subconsciously don’t want to take it because I was nauseated most of the day after taking it for the first time the night before.

Anyway, different thyroid med, different iron med, and brand new vitamin D. These changes are supposed to help mitigate the fatigue I’ve been experiencing.

Sleep would help with that, I’m sure. But, 30 years of disrupted sleep catches up to you.

Yes, I have sleep apnea…but not 30 years ago. Yes, there’s often a 10 year old Cling On, in bed next to me…but not for the first 20 years.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when I was 20, and one of the symptoms the doctor used to identify it was sleep disturbance.

My hands are tingling from holding the phone…yes, I mostly use my phone to write my blogs. That’s because I usually write in the middle of the night, when it’s dark and I can’t sleep, but the child who cannot sleep alone is asleep next to me. Also, for about three years, I didn’t have a computer. Now that I have one, I forget about using it a lot.

Anyway, the numbing and tingling has been happening for as long as the sleep disturbance has been a thing. Yes, I have diabetes, but, I wasn’t even pre-diabetic when I was 20. It was another symptom used to diagnose fibromyalgia…as was the fatigue, and seemingly rootless aches and pains.

My research found that often people with a history of trauma developed it. I also found out that, at the time, it wasn’t usually diagnosed until someone was in their 40’s. Of course, I didn’t do the research until 10 years after the initial diagnosis.

Why? Because I was a single mom, in college, trying to change my life and my destiny. So, I forgot about it. Poor memory is another fibromyalgia thing. Except, it’s also a trauma thing.

Something I’ve noticed is that my fibro symptoms have greatly diminished over the past five and a half years, as I’ve been in therapy and actively working on my mental health, including getting a diagnosis of and getting treatment for PTSD.

I wonder if, in my case, maybe the fibromyalgia is primarily trauma-based. I know that isn’t always the case for everyone who is diagnosed with it. I mean, I’d experienced plenty of trauma by the time I was 20: sexual, emotional, psychological, and physical. It wasn’t all at once and it wasn’t the same people for each kind.

It makes me pause and question if I had been diagnosed and treated for PTSD back then, would I still feel like a mental and emotional basket case most of the time. I mean, what’s past is past, I know. I’m just curious if there’s a connection between trauma and fibromyalgia, then couldn’t doctors screen for trauma and refer for mental health services.


Ok. I didn’t expect that. Now, I’m sleepy again and dozing off. So, I’ll close for now.

In recovery: sharing my story

I may or may not have mentioned that one of the myriad of things I’m doing, for myself and for my employment readiness, is NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer class. On Saturday mornings for several weeks, I get together with a group of other people also experiencing mental health issues and we learn with and from each other about what our mental health conditions are and do and how to live with them. Yesterday was the day to share our stories.

I’ve shared bits and pieces, summaries and rants, and some full out essays on my history in various other posts in the past. I’m not doing any of that, this time. I’m going to transcribe what I shared in the group. Then, I’ll let you know what makes it different.


WHAT HAPPENED?

Sentinel Event – what was the spark that you believe led to your mental decline? (Ex: job loss, housing loss, win the lottery, broken relationship, life gain, etc.)

I’ve known for decades that I experienced depression. I’d begun to suspect PTSD and Bipolar 2 for a couple of years. On 12/06/13 there was an explosive breakdown of my family.

Behavior/Symptoms? Progressive onset?

Hyper-reactivity; rapid and disorganized speech; getting “stuck” or “lost” in the stories of my trauma experiences.

Difficulty accepting or asking for help:

Decades of denial of manic/hypomanic episodes and “manipulating” psych service providers to only see and treat the depression. Ignoring symptoms of anxiety. Initial refusal of meds for Bipolar, Anxiety, and Depression.

WHAT HELPS?

Wellness strategies (Ex: Self-care, medications, sleep, self-talk, spiritual)

Medications, DBT, Therapy, Engaging with my faith community, Writing/Blogging. Need to increase physical activity and nutrition.

Results/Reflection

Improved and restored relationships with my adult children. Increased self-awareness. Hope for the future.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Successes: Continuing to work towards employment – doing the PSS/PWSS Training and volunteering; continue therapy and do possible med adjustments.

Hopes: Financial independence and self-sufficiency

Dreams for the future: Write/publish a book.


The assignment was to write this outline to tell our story in a way that would be five minutes or less in order to allow others time to tell their stories. That’s not something I could have done five years ago. Probably not even a year ago.

Remember how I identified getting stuck or lost in my trauma stories as a symptom or behavior? It’s a manifestation of PTSD. I didn’t know that five and a half years ago when my life imploded. Turns out that PTSD flashbacks don’t necessarily manifest themselves in vivid reliving or re-experiencing the moments of trauma. PTSD manifests differently according to the variations of the trauma and the individual. My trauma was successive and chronic. I dissociated as my coping mechanism – didn’t even realize I was doing it. So, I could share my story, but, I couldn’t just summarize it, keep it brief, or access the mental shut off valve to my mouth even as I wanted to stop.

This is probably the thing that’s driving my fearfulness around doing job interviews. Not being able to briefly describe what happened, without going into excruciating detail from the beginning of time, and turning into a sobbing mess.

My adult daughter thinks I’m too honest for my own good. Wait. What? How can you be too honest? Well, by telling more than was asked and spiraling into details they don’t need to know. So, some of the most common interview questions are psychological landmines for me.

I know that if I “finesse” my answers to avoid mentioning the mental illness, that I will be lying by omission. Lying, misleading, and manipulating people to get what I want is something I absolutely cannot bring myself to do, 99% of the time. (The truth is we all lie a little, even if it’s just to ourselves. So, no one is 100% truthful, 100% of the time.) There’s a trauma story there. That story rises to the surface and can be seen in my facial expressions and body language if I attempt to verbally manipulate someone. That’s kind of disastrous in an interview. So, I’m going to have to tell my truth when I’m in the interview room.

The fact of the matter is that the mental illnesses of Bipolar 2, PTSD, and Depression live in my brain and sometimes come out to play, without invitation and at inopportune times. Most of the time, they’re well behaved because of the meds and the retraining of my thinking processes through therapy. But, once in awhile, they like to party like Beetlejuice and wreak a little havoc.

So, I have to learn how to be brief, concise, and honest and keep the story reined in. I didn’t think that was something I could do. But, after sharing my story, like that, in a room of my peers, I am slightly more confident I can do it in an interview.

Not Alone

I seem to be straying from my original intent to focus on my job readiness journey this month. But, perhaps not. Today, I’m talking about mental health.

Here’s why: If you’re struggling with mental illness or emotional instability OR you have a loved one who is OR you have experienced trauma OR any combination of the aforementioned, you need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I want you to know that, despite however weak, fragile, overwhelmed, and incapable you may feel right now, you are one of the strongest, most courageous people you know.

Feeling the way you feel, experiencing anxiety, depression, hyper-reactivity, mania, having compulsive self-harming behaviors, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or any other “wrong” thing does not mean you are “less than,” unworthy, insignificant, or “damaged beyond repair.”

You see, I’ve been there. Some days I’m still there. I have friends and family who have been or are there. I’ve known those who didn’t make it and know those who make it one day at a time, if not moment by moment.

Last night I had the privilege to speak with another mom, who is facing and navigating challenges similar to those I have experienced – some of which I’ve come out on the other side of and some that will ever be with me. A history of physical and mental trauma, mental illness, and parenting a child with mental health and behavioral challenges through childhood and into adulthood.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair, and thoughts of permanently packing it in are all things I’m more than familiar with and gave me the empathy she needed. I was able to listen with understanding. I had knowledge of resources and professionals better equipped to help her than I am to offer her. I was able to share some of my stories, giving her hope and shoring up her faith.

By the end of the call, we had established a rapport and a bond borne of shared experience and the knowledge that neither of us is alone in our struggle. She seemed genuinely hopeful, a 180 degree turnaround from where she was when we first began talking.

My lived experience of surviving trauma and mental illness has equipped me to be of service to others who are living through similar things. Even though I still have my struggles and even though I’ll never be “fully” healed and recovered, I’m far enough along that I have something good to offer.

I have a friend who says, “God doesn’t waste a wound.”

While I am not of the belief that God punishes and wounds us by causing trauma and devastation in our lives, I do believe he is present in and with us throughout these things. Furthermore, I believe that, if we are able to participate in the healing process, he redeems our personal tragedies in ways that can bring good.

This is what I want to do with my life. I want to walk alongside others on this healing and recovery journey, bolstering them up when they’re walk is shaky and help them stand back up, dust off, and get going again.

That’s what it’s about, right?

We all stumble. We all fall. We all get exhausted, worn down, and overwhelmed. We all need a little help getting by.

Now, due to several factors, prior student debt to a private institution being chief among them, going back to college isn’t a feasible option. Especially if I want to start working ASAP.

What I CAN do is get a certification to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist.

I didn’t get into the certification training I wanted to, this go around. But, I’m only getting started and there are other things I can do while I figure out how to access the training I need.

Today I start a Peer to Peer class put on by NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It will help me be less isolated on my own journey and add to my toolbox of coping skills.

Wish me luck!

30 Day Writing Challenge- Days 6 & 7: The Past Informs the Future

2019-05-06-and-07SpeakWriteNow30DayChallenge

Prompts
06: When was the last time you _______________?
07: What will life be like for you in 2025?

The last time I really tried to think ahead to 2025, I was graduating from a high school completion program. That was in 1990 . . . 30 years ago. I had a hard time imagining it then, I have a difficult time imagining it now. I couldn’t really figure out why it was so challenging then. Now, I know why. PTSD and “trauma brain,” plus Bipolar II Disorder . . . none of which I was diagnosed with until I was almost 45 years old. Those diagnoses didn’t happen until five years ago.

I’m going to be 50 next month. I’m not scared of that number. I’m looking forward to it, as a matter of fact. After five years of therapy and learning about how these things affect the brain, how and why I’ve done many of the things I’ve done, I feel like I’m finally starting to “grow up.” In a way, I’m like that 20-year-old young woman who thought she could bulldoze her way into a different, better life than she’d had before.

I learned early that the only constant in my life was going to be change. Major change. Epic change. Frequent change. Every six months to three years, my life was turned upside down. New people. New places. New schools. New kids. Even new dads. By the time I was six years old, my mother had been married three times and we had made countless moves between Los Angeles, Abilene, Houston, and Birmingham; California, Texas, and Alabama. We sort of stabilized with the third husband for a few years. However, it turned out that he’d married my mom in order to get to me. We moved three times during their marriage and I lived through a year and a half of grooming and a year and half of emotionally manipulative sexual abuse. So, we moved again . . . and again . . . and again. I wound up attending three schools in sixth grade.

That was when we landed in Oregon. (The state I’ve spent most of my life living in and acclimating to.) More upheaval and life altering changes. My mother’s undiagnosed mental health problems came to a head. She surrendered custody of me to her younger brother; he was only 15 years older than me. Then she moved back to Houston and the Depression killed her. At 12 years old I, essentially, became an orphan. I won’t go into details of the next four years. Suffice it to say, there were several more moves and new powers in charge of my life, until I became the child in charge of adult realities, including being a primary caregiver to my baby cousin.

Then, I met the “love of my life.” Another predator. He was 14 years older than me and a professional, low-level con artist. From 16-19, I lived out of cars, hitchhiked across the country, became a teen mom, and learned how to manipulate people into giving me money and other things he wanted. At 19, I was done. When he couldn’t use me anymore, he nearly killed me in front of our two-year-old son and abandoned us. Since that time, I’ve moved a lot more, parented two more children, lived through an 18-year toxic, some would say abusive, relationship, and much more.

When you’ve lived that kind of life, it’s difficult to imagine the next five minutes, let alone the next 30 years. On top of that are the ongoing mental health issues. The Depression aspect of the Bipolar Disorder has always had a strong hold. Today, even after five years of therapy and med management, a lot of days it’s hard to do the self-care basics…tooth brushing, showering, eating nutritious meals, and so on. I’m functional enough to parent in semi-constructive ways and attend my therapy groups and counseling appointments. Mostly, I’m functional for the benefit of others and not for myself. It’s hard to think about what I want for myself beyond being able to get my kid and I to both take a shower.

I know what kind of life I hope to be living in 2025. I want to be more than functional. I want to be mentally and emotionally stable enough to be financially independent. I want to be disciplined and confident enough to at least put forth the effort to pursue my writing in a professional manner. I want to be in a vocation where I’m helping others navigate their way through life with mental health issues. I want to be a fully engaged parent and grandparent. I want to care enough about me to take care of me.

In order to bring those things to fulfillment, I’m committed to keep doing what I’m doing with my mental health recovery process. That’s all I know how to do, for now.