perception

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.

img_7296-1

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

Blocked

I feel like my brain went on vacation and forgot to take me with it. There’s just a hodgepodge of feelings, thoughts, and experiences from the past several weeks, swirling in my psyche. I didn’t really know what or how to write about it. So, I started where I was and followed where it led.


When my mind is blank
and my vision dim;
my heart is heavy
and my soul is grim.

When my words are lost
and my mouth silent;
my lungs are empty
and feelings are violent.

Avoid and evade
the sorrow and pain.
Numb the body
Disconnect the brain.

This half life
I do not want.
Yet, in this moment
my will is daunt.

The tank is empty.
The drive is gone.
It’s time to rest
and wait the dawn.

Open the heart
and clear the mind;
heal the soul
and mend the blind.

Love lives in me,
a spiritual well
I forget to drink,
my thirst to quell.

Reach deep within
Touch the eternal
Connect with love
Fraternal

Grasp the vine
In him abide
Mind, heart, soul
Full life betide.

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…?

Priming the pump with prompts

I have a resume workshop this morning and a PowerPoint class this afternoon. Yesterday was a church picnic in the park. Very few people showed – which was expected. Still, it was an enjoyable experience after the stress and activity of Saturday. Long story with little purpose. Short version? I helped my ex shop for a mattress for our daughter to have at his place, then helped him to assemble the loft bed he’d ordered for her off of Amazon. Fun times.

Anyway, I’m short on ideas and there wasn’t anything of import to report about Sunday. Also, for some reason, I don’t receive the prompt emails sent out to the participants of The Ultimate Blog Challenge, despite having gone through the website to sign up more than once. So, I turned to the social writing app I’ve gotten prompts from before and saw this “Finish the Story” prompt. Don’t know where I’m going with it. Join me?


I’m afraid you might not like me, when you meet me, she texted him. Three dots appeared on her screen, indicating he was typing. But, then they suddenly disappeared.

“Well, that’s that, I guess.”

She sighed fatalistically and reflected, I’m not any good at this whole dating game thing. It’s been so long since I’ve been on the market. Gah! “On the market.” What a horrible idiom. I’m not for sale . . . except maybe I am marketing myself as “damaged goods” when I tell men what I told him. WHY did I say that to him?

“Well. I don’t want to be accused of false advertising . . .”

There it was again, this language of sales, as if I’m a consumable commodity. Where on earth was this idea that women, even if they weren’t in the sex industry, were for sale?

Even as she asked herself that question, she knew the answer. It’s from the old patriarchal roots when women were considered possessions to be sold or traded in marriage for a bride price paid by the man who became her new owner, her husband.

“Well. I’m no one’s possession. I’m not for sale. I’m not a consumable commodity,” she declared to herself.”

Wow! I use “well” a lot! She chuckled to herself. Just then her phone buzzed.

What do you mean?
Sorry, I got a phone call.

Oh . . . he texted me back.

My selfies don’t really show all of me
and I’m much bigger than they make me look.

That doesn’t matter to me.
Skinny chicks don’t do it for me.

Ugh! Do I REALLY want to go any further with a guy who thinks like that,
“Skinny chicks don’t do it for me.” Seriously?!?!?

Listen. I’m sorry. I just realized, I’m not really ready for this whole dating thing.

What do you mean?
Whatever. You’re too much.

Bye.

Pretty sure I dodged a bullet there. Obviously I have some more work to do with my therapist.

She walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, knowing the answers she sought weren’t going to be found there.


Ah the joys of middle aged dating. It’s not like I’m writing from life experience or anything. 😉

Seriously, though. I’ve been dabbling in the online dating thing off and on for over a year. It’s kind of a nightmare. Especially for a woman of a certain age with low self-esteem and mental illnesses, including Binge Eating Disorder. I have more work to do before I want to deal with taking on the search for a new relationship.

But first, a job. I mean, some of the insecurities I have around dating, aren’t just about dating and trying to be in that kind of relationship with a man.

I’m not comfortable in my own skin and only part of it is the sizist/fatphobic discrimination that’s both insidious and overt in our society. I mean, it is a significant part, this internalized sense of being “less than” because I’m physically “more than.” There’s actual physical discomfort and difficulty with me being as overweight as I am. And still I overeat, choosing the foods that perpetuate the problem. BED is a bitch.

I’m working on it. I’m doing the difficult things of being seen in clothes that are physically comfortable, though not necessarily society approved for someone my size. I’m putting myself “out there” in ways that are uncomfortable because they call attention to me on a larger scale than one on one or in a smaller group . . . or at least I’m willing myself to do that. That’s part of the reasoning behind volunteering to speak and share my story in schools and in the community.

I am not my body. My body is only part of me. I am not the excess fat stored in the body I live in. Just like I am not my diagnoses. I have a bipolar brain that has been structurally altered by trauma and chronic stress. Genetics and hormones play a part in both my brain structure, as well as how my body reacts and is affected by environment, circumstances, and food choices. There is so much more to me than these things.

Factually, I know these things and I’m trying to live and make choices based on these facts, despite how scary it feels and the internal voices leftover from voices from childhood and beyond:

🎶Watch that wiggle, see that jiggle.🎶 Thank you Jell-O for that advertising jingle, twisted by middle school classmates.

“Fatty, fatty 2×4! Can’t fit through the bathroom door.” called out in singsong by kids on the playground. “Whale on the beach!” by the boys at the public pool. Lovely expressions of contempt by my elementary school peers.

“Fat ass!” A verbal gift from a former neighbor in denial about some legitimately serious mental health issues of her own.

That childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” just ain’t true. Words have the power to hurt or heal. Even with the healing, the underlying hurt doesn’t go away, it just isn’t allowed to dictate and define anymore.

Becoming Me

I’ve spent so much time being broken
I’ve believed the lies unspoken
My faith barely a token

With pain, my life’s been fraught
Begetting the misery I’ve wrought
Yet, others see what I cannot

Within me they see a light
Which keeps me in the fight
Making hope shine bright

In me is seen an appeal
This I do not see or feel
But, it’s not any less real

To borrow words, not my own
Beauty from ashes is shown
When love is known

Light through the wound
Radiates when I’m attuned
No longer cocooned

Not wrapped in guilt and shame
Letting go of self-blame
I and my life are not the same

My psyche is healing
Fighting the panicked feeling
I’m coping, I’m dealing

There’s more than just surviving
More than frustrated striving
I want to be thriving

Lord, heal my eyes to see
Teach me how to be
Guide me to . . . me

Happiness is as Happiness does: Musings from a Bipolar Brain

Happy is a feeling and feelings are fleeting. Happiness is a state of being and takes work.

The experience of Happiness is more challenging for some more than others and may seem impossible to achieve.

That’s because Happiness isn’t a goal or destination, but a byproduct, a side effect of the combination of our genetics, circumstances, beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

For many of us coming from lives filled with trauma and/or mental illness it will look different than it does for neurotypical people. We have to work through the trauma and confront ourselves to heal and grow. These are our prerequisites to Happiness.

There is no set formula for experiencing it. However, common and necessary elements include self-care (nutrition, activity, personal hygiene, etc.), engagement in healthy community, gratitude, service, and passionate purpose.

Pain, loss, grief, and other feelings and experiences, often considered “negative,” may suppress Happiness and cause us to lose it. But, what is lost can be found again. The negative doesn’t necessarily negate the ability to experience Happiness.

Of course, I could be way off and this is hypomania talking…but, I don’t think so.

What say you?

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C’mon Get Happy

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This week’s WW topic is “Happiness.”

Today was the first of seven of these workshops I’ll be attending this week on my “90 meetings in 90 Days” journey. (I owe you a post to explain that. Tomorrow. Maybe.) Today’s discussion was interesting. I’m looking forward to see how it gets addressed in the other workshops.

The weekly handout suggested that being happy makes the healthy activities we do in our lives more possible and increases the experience of those things. It also acknowledged that partaking of those activities increases happiness.

The workshop’s Coach listed a formula that determines one’s happiness level:

50% Genetics
+10% Life Circumstances
+40% Attitude, Thoughts, & Actions

My immediate reaction was to scoff at the Life Circumstances percentage. I mean, although it hasn’t been as painful and difficult as other people’s, it’s been generously peppered with a lot of trauma. Consequently, I have PTSD. Plus, I experience Depression, Bipolar 2 Disorder, fibromyalgia, and am parenting a child with regularly tells me things like she wishes I would kill myself or that I had been born dead.

Yeah. Happiness is HARD. That’s a LOT of genetics and life circumstances.

I spend a lot of time fighting tears, dealing with bureaucracy, and managing conflict. I’m skeptical that Happiness is a state of being that’s more than occasionally possible for me.

I think Acceptance and Contentedness are much more doable. I think there can be moments of happiness. I think we have to be emotionally and mentally healthy and functional to be able to experience even those moments of happiness. I simply don’t believe that Happiness is achievable as a permanent state.

All that being said, I have my own formula:

Psych meds
+Therapy
+A supportive community
+Activity
+Self-Care
+Choosing to be in positive environments


The ability to experience happiness.

What say you?

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The journey of self-care

“For to see the end from the beginning is a sign that it’s already finished. It’s just a matter of walking it out to completion.“
Dorothy E. Young

I read this on another Tiny Pepper’s NanoPoblano 2018 blog the other day.

It struck me with its profundity. It seemed quite biblical.

  • I can’t see the end of this journey I’m on. I see the transformation pictures of other women who started out my weight and judgy, cynical, self-defeating thoughts start popping in my brain like popcorn. Thoughts like:
    • How skinny is skinny enough?!?
      I could never get THAT small.
      That’s just too thin.

    The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what their size is and it’s not mandated that I get that small and have my body look like theirs. Their journey is different than mine. Their whys are probably different than mine. They are different from me. We are all unique and special in our own way. So are our journeys.

    We do have something in common, though, other than our need/desire to lose weight.

    Learning how to care for ourselves well is key to making it through to the end of this stage of our life’s journey AND not having to go through this stage again.

    Ultimately, many self-care habits and routines are going to vary as much as those of us on this journey do. However, the basics are all the same:

    • Nutrition
    • Activity
    • Rest
    • Relaxation
    • Passionate purpose

    There are some internal prerequisites to achieve those basics. The first of which is deciding that you have value, that your life matters, and your needs are as important as anyone else’s needs.

    That belief in one’s own value leads to the second prerequisite: boundaries. What are those?

    • The ability to say, “No,” to unreasonable demands and requests, is a key boundary.
    • The ability to decide how to deal with and whether to take the criticisms, snide & snarky remarks, manipulation, and verbal abusiveness, all of which are so prevalent in our lives.
    • The ability to stand up for one’s self and assert the right to exist, breathe, and occupy the space you’re in, unapologetically.

    These are the foundation of this journey of healing, recovery, and growth we’re all on. Once those things are in place, as much is possible, then, self-care is possible. Once caring for and about oneself is primary, then, belief in our own abilities comes next and we become unstoppable…even if we can’t see the end from the beginning, at first.

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    Writing Prompt: lettrs – Dear Self

    Dear Self,
    Being bipolar, depressed, and anxious, means feeling insane, sometimes acting the same. The thing is, you’re not crazy or lazy, you’re amazing!

    You are neurodiverse, your brain is structured differently. You think differently, experience the world differently, and process those experiences differently. Your capacities, abilities, skills, and talents are different than those with neurotypical brains, not affected by chronic trauma.

    That doesn’t make you bad or wrong and it doesn’t mean you have to change the things which make you, you, in order to conform.

    Yes, medication may be useful, but, it isn’t a cure, because a cure isn’t needed. Think of it as the difference between “breaking” a horse and developing a relationship of trust while training the horse.

    Stop fighting to conform and force your brain to be something it’s not, not allowing it to do what it’s built for, and hobbling it’s ability to move and flow.

    Think of the medication as the tack – the bridle and reigns to direct, the saddle to stabilize, and the stirrups for holding more balance and control. When you lose your grip, slip, and fall, it may take a little bit of work and time, but keep getting back in the saddle and, each time, you’ll stay on and ride, going further and lasting longer.

    The world needs you to be you, not a copy or imitation of anyone else. Otherwise, God would have created you to be them and not you.

    Remember, you’re the only one capable of being you and you’re pretty special.

    Crazy

    You’re not crazy. You’re pain is not a pathology. Your pain makes sense…You’re a human being with unmet needs.
    Now This Op-Ed video about depression

    Crazy.

    “She’s just crazy. I’m done.”

    “That’s just crazy talk.”

    “How crazy is that?”

    “What are you, crazy?”

    Crazy.

    How often do we throw that word around? We use it as a throwaway label for people and situations we don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to try and understand. It’s mostly a word which people who consider themselves as “normal” use to explain away and dismiss the abnormal.

    Guess what? It’s ableism.

    What is Ableism? According to The Urban Dictionary, “Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against people who have disabilities. Ableism can take the form of ideas and assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices, physical barriers in the environment, or larger scale oppression. It is oftentimes unintentional and most people are completely unaware of the impact of their words or actions.”

    This definition isn’t only about physical disabilities, it also counts for those experiencing mental health issues due to atypical brain structure and neurochemistry.

    Bipolar Disorder
    Borderline Personality Disorder
    PTSD
    Anxiety disorders
    Addiction
    Compulsive Behavior disorders
    ADHD
    Asperger’s
    Autism Spectrum Disorder (high functioning)

    These are but a few examples of things which people with non-neurotypical brains and brain chemistry experience.

    Crazy

    It is a word which holds a strong stigma. The thought of being “crazy” often causes people not to seek help for symptoms and behaviors which make them feel mentally and emotionally out of control. They don’t want to be labeled as “crazy.” WE don’t want to be labeled and dismissed as being “crazy.” We don’t want to be treated as defective or dismissed because having atypical brains makes us “less than.”

    I say “WE” because I have a Bipolar brain which has been affected by ongoing and varied trauma experiences. Four and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type 2, and PTSD. Around the same time, my youngest child was educationally identified as having “High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Recently she received the official diagnosis of Autism AND ADHD.

    These things cause us to think, react, and act differently than those who have neurotypical brains. We aren’t “crazy,” we aren’t disabled. We are neurodiverse and differently abled.

    The thing about the word, “crazy” is that it’s such an inherent part of our American vernacular that even those of us who have been affected and marginalized by the term frequently use it ourselves.

    I’m not going to “go off the deep end” (another phrase often used instead of “crazy”) and call out everyone, every time I hear the word used. However, I will start with myself and maybe those closest to me. I haven’t figured out what to say instead, but, I’m working on it. I’ll keep you posted.

    Maybe you’ll think about it the next time you hear or use the word.

    In case you’re wondering, the August Scrawls Day 3 word is “atypical.”