wellness

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

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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.

Ramble on

A lot’s happened over the past two days and even more is happening today.

On Monday, I attended the orientation session for the Health Careers NW study. It’s a federal research study to determine if providing vocational training in healthcare fields and employment support for low-income people receiving public assistance can help them attain a greater degree of financial self-sufficiency…uhmmm yeah!

In order to move forward with that process and when I, eventually, obtain a job, I’m going to need to show my Social Security Card. I don’t have it. Rather, it’s (hopefully) lost and buried somewhere in the depths of a very large box full of boxes and bags of papers…and by very large, I mean a moving box sized to carry several oversized pillows and lightweight items.

Trust me when I say there isn’t enough time or physical space for me to go through it and continue doing the job readiness, mental health recovery, and physical health activities I’m doing.

So, the Employment Specialist who has been working with me through the Social Security Administration’s Supported Employment Demonstration (a different federal research study to determine if people who have been denied Social Security Benefits for disabling conditions can successfully be transitioned back to employment with Employment Supports, Mental Health Case Management, and Physical Healthcare Supports…uhmmm yeah, again!) has been helping me get to and from some of these employment readiness activities I’ve been doing. She went to the orientation with me.

We decided to try to get to a Social Security Office afterward. However, she was on a tight schedule and had already agreed to take me to a store where I could exchange my empty 5 gallon water bottles – it’s too hot to go without decent water. The first place we went was out of water. So, we had to go to a different store.

While walking into that store, I tripped on a curb and went down on my left knee, then rolled onto my back. I managed to avoid going down too hard, thankfully.

By the time the water got replaced, it was too late to go to the Social Security Office. So, we agreed to go Tuesday…fully expecting at least an hour wait. Lo and behold, we got there and I had less than a 20 minute wait! 😮

I had tried to sign up for the NCRC, which I talked about here. However, I couldn’t just sign myself up. So, I called and spoke to the gal who’d led the Health Careers NW orientation on Monday. Now, I have four hours of testing to do today.

Not looking forward to it.

I tried to do math prep yesterday. I realized that geometry will kill my math score…which will kill my overall rating, since the lowest score determines the final rating.

The perfectionist in me is quite unhappy with that thought. However, the realist in me knows what’s what and that, ultimately, geometry is not a part of my career path and that my other abilities will speak for themselves when the time comes.

So, I decided not to make myself crazier with the math prep.

Later, I had a Volunteer Orientation at NAMI. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a nationwide, peer driven organization offering support, education, and community engagement for those experiencing mental illnesses and their families. Since I want to get into peer work, this is my next logical step.

There are several opportunities for me here: teaching classes, as long as I’ve already taken them myself; Community engagement – speaking at schools, organizations, and businesses about my lived experiences as both a person living with mental illness and a parent/family member of others who have experienced mental illness; operations support, which will have me exercise my office and writing skills.

I start next week. My first volunteer project will be working on updating the local resource guide. The current one is two years old and things change.

I’m really excited about this next phase.

On my way home, I experienced another knee injury. I’m afraid this one was a bit more severe than the first. I’m really hoping that the pain subsides without me having to make another medical appointment.

What happened?

A slightly out of it man got on the bus, chose not to sit down, and neglected to hold himself steady. So, when the bus started to move, he came toppling down onto my lap like a felled tree, his shoulder gouging into the top, inside of my knee, above and to the side of my kneecap.

That’s the leg with the nerve entrapment in my foot and the same knee I’d fallen on the day before. So, now I have some radiating pain going down into my foot. Yay.

Since I’m hurting, sleep is elusive. Which means, I’ll be going into my tests sleep deprived and in pain.

Wish me luck.

What if…?

Yesterday’s guest speaker spoke about sabbath, rest. She and I had talked earlier in the week about the subject, since I was the one leading last night’s discussion. Our conversation has been on my mind ever since.

After our conversation, I went to my R.E.S.T. group therapy class. I don’t actually know what that acronym stands for. I just know it’s a class about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I find it coincidentally interesting that immediately after a discussion of “rest” as part of faith practice I would attend a class titled “REST.”

In class we talked about seeking happiness inducing experiences as part of managing our mental health issues. I think the two go hand in hand: rest and pleasure.

Rest means different things to different people and things which bring pleasure to one person are not the same as what brings pleasure to another.

What we, as Christians do know is that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath, at least according to Mark 2:27.

Another name for The Most High, The Almighty, The Lord, God is Abba or Father.

Now, if you’ve experienced the trauma of religious abuse or an abusive or neglectful relationship with your own father, this will be difficult, painful, or impossible to relate to, which is totally understandable and reasonable. I’m not trying to force feed my beliefs or faith on anyone. I’m simply saying what it means to me. You have free will and get to decide for yourself. No judgment. All are welcome here.

I never had a relationship with my own father. Nor has my life ever afforded me much of a sense of safety, an ability to rest, or experiences of delight. I didn’t grow up attending church, and I have had religion used against me and to manipulate me. It’s taken me a long time and a LOT of mental health healing to get here.

So, I find myself contemplating what it means to be a child of God, resting in his arms, and taking delight in him.

What if our hearts’ true desires are to be known completely and loved unconditionally? What if being fully known and wholly loved is our refuge and our shelter? What if what allows us to rest and let go of the tension, worry, and fear is a sense of safety? What if being rested opens our senses to be able to experience delight? What if this is what it means to become “as a little child?”

What if we could believe that God lives in us? What if we believed God is love? What if we believed God encompasses time and eternity?

Would all of this mean that we have constant access to God, who can fill us with love, offer safety, shelter, and rest, who can enable us to experience delight in the eternity of each moment in time…even in the midst of all the trials and pain?

What if…?

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.

Q & A: Preparing for The Interview

Here’s the deal: I need an income sooner rather than later. IF I get into the training, it doesn’t start until September. The first session is about 11 weeks, the second session is about 10 weeks, with a week or two in between, maybe. So, maybe I’ll have earned my Peer Wellness Support Specialist by mid-late February. Then, I may or may not have a job to go into right away. That’s at least six months away. I can’t wait that long before I am earning an income.

I need to update my resume, which is slightly intimidating. Then I need to flesh out my LinkedIn . . . I’m quite intimidated, not gonna lie. These things are time consuming and brain straining activities. But, I have no doubt that I can and will get through them. However, my heart and mind are terror stricken at the thought of interviewing.

Tell me about yourself . . .

Uhmmm . . . I can’t talk about my age, my family status, or my mental health issues. It’s best not to focus on the fact I’ve been out of the job market for 7 years. So, what DO I say?

Why did you leave your last job?

Ahhhhh . . . I left because I was on the verge of another nervous breakdown, in a conflicted and dying relationship, and parenting a behaviorally challenging toddler who had yet to be identified as being on the Spectrum. But, I’m much better, now.

What is your greatest accomplishment or achievement?

Well, you see, I had such a broken relationship with my adult son that he disowned me. It was basically due to my behaviors and lack of emotional stability from incorrectly diagnosed and untreated mental illness. I’ve spent the last five and a half years in the recovery process. During which time, I’ve been able to work toward the healing and restoration of my relationship with my son. He’s calling me “mom” again.

Yeah. No. That won’t fly.

Tell me about a time when . . .

*scratches head* Ehhh, I’m thinking . . .

Hard to remember anything through a dissociated state. Which is how I’ve lived most of my life. I know things happened, I just don’t remember them, at least not the details of them.

Have you ever had conflict with a co-worker/employer? How did you handle it?

Yes. I had a panic attack, shut down, and avoided them as often as possible.

I just crashed and burned like the Hindenburg.

I could continue, but, you get the idea. My life has been so severely consumed and affected by mental health issues and parenting a child with special needs, that I don’t have any other reference points.

In Thursday’s Interview Workshop my biggest fears about this job search process were realized.

Why can’t getting a job interview be like walking into McDonald’s and using the touch screen kiosk:

Job Search Combos

Resume: Chronological or Functional?

Application: In Person with paper & pen or online with Resume & Cover Letter Attachment?

Interview type:

  • Group
  • 1:1
  • Panel
  • Working

I’ll take a Functional Resume, with an Online Application, and a Working Interview, please.

Showing Up

How are you showing up?

My faith community had our Picnic in the Park, this past Sunday. It was a mellow and low-key time. Several people came and there was conversation, laughter, play, and worship. It was a good time. At first, not even a handful of us were present, which was fine. The point is, we showed up. We shared stories and perspectives from our lives. Then, once we had as many as we thought were going to be there, we started singing.

While we were singing, I noticed a man with his daughter, who had come and sat nearby. He seemed to be trying to sing along. So, I took a lyric sheet over to him. He gladly took it. After worship, he stuck around and we got to know each other a little bit. Turned out he’d missed his regular church attendance and worship that morning and had decided to bring his little girl to the park he hardly ever even thought to come to.

The thing is, I had been tempted not to show up. I’ve been taking on some heavy duty new things, and I was feeling kind of low and really tired. But, I knew I needed to be there for reasons beyond commitments I’d taken on. I showed up physically. There are times when I’ve been physically present, but not actually present and aware of what’s going on around me. But, this time, I stayed present and aware. As a result, I was available for an appointment made by God.

It was a good reminder that showing up in our lives matters, wherever we are at.

It’s that reminder that has kept me going this week during the times I just wanted to stay home and in my bed or not open a blank page to write a post I had no idea what to write about (like this one).

Tuesday night, an acquaintance of mine took me to a Primerica recruitment meeting because she’d read a post I’d made on Facebook about what I’m up to these days. Of course, I didn’t know what it was when she first invited me. It was interesting and intriguing, but absolutely not for me.

However, because I “showed up” and went with her, a friendship is blooming and we’re talking about doing some collaboration involving my writing. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I am engaging in deeper relationship with a dynamic, sharp, thoughtful, and caring human being.

I showed up at my mental health Socialization Group on Tuesday, where I’m not really comfortable and feel out of place at. I met a new participant who told me about the Peer Support Specialist Training put on by the community mental health organization we access our healthcare through.

So, I called the woman in charge of the training and left a voicemail. She called me back on Wednesday with the training information: it starts in September and I have until the 15th of this month to submit my application. Today’s the 11th. Less than a week to get a letter of recommendation and complete the application! I told her she would have my application by Monday. She replied, “I hope so.”

There are actually two trainings, Peer Support Specialist I and Peer Support Specialist II.

Oh, yeah, one of the best parts? The actual cost for the training is $750 for each of the two courses. $1,500!!! No, that’s not the best part. The best part is that because I’m a client of the agency, they absorb the tuition cost!

That means I can take a college level program (if I was an enrolled student at our local university, I could earn college credit), qualify for a high demand position in the career field I want to work in, and probably be employed before the ink dries on the certificate ten months from now.

All because I showed up.

G.I. Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.”

I say showing up is half the battle.