self-care

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

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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.

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.

Advancing ahead

I made it to and through my Advanced Word class on Friday and didn’t nod off once! Yay, me! I was kind of shocked considering the fact that, between fireworks, physical discomfort, and my brain, I didn’t sleep much or well.

I think a major difference is that I wasn’t already familiar with much of the material. So, I was actually learning and not just rehashing what I already knew.

Interestingly, it was my lowest assessment score of all seven MS Office classes I’ve taken so far. I’m kind of an intellectual perfectionist (trying to let that go). So, less than 100% causes an internal twinge and tic. Which is absolutely ridiculous because my score was over 90%.

Enough about that.

I’ve got two more computer classes to take, then I’ll be done with what Goodwill has to offer. Power Point is scheduled for Monday. Google got moved to the 24th when I went to the doctor about the sleep issues, which I discussed here.

I’m feeling antsy, like I’m kind of spinning my wheels. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I really want to work as a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist…which requires certification through the state. Certification classes usually cost money…of which I have none.

I had applied to the local NAMI affiliate, which offers a free certification class. Unfortunately, there were only 20 spots and 80 applicants. Preference is given to those already volunteering or employed in peer support work. So, I was part of the unfortunate majority.

Fortunately, I had already signed up for their Peer to Peer class, designed as an educational and practical class for those experiencing mental illness, led by those experiencing mental illness. I was already familiar with a significant amount we went over yesterday. However, it’s only the second class and I missed the first one – which I’d arranged when I signed up.

Towards the end of class, one of the leaders made a plea for volunteers to speak and share their stories at schools, businesses, and out in the community. There are also opportunities for training to become class leaders. They need leaders for the Peer to Peer class, which I’m in. They also need leaders for two other classes I plan on taking: the Family to Family class for those who have loved ones who experience mental illness and the Basics class for parents actively parenting children with mental health issues. Since both of my adult children experience their own mental heath issues, as does my 10 year old, who experiences life through the Autism Spectrum, I feel these classes will be helpful to me on a personal level and, potentially, on a professional one.

So, after class, I had a brief conversation with the leader who is in charge of speaker recruitment and got the Volunteer Interest Form. I explained to him what my employment goal is and he enthusiastically asked if I was taking their certification program. When I explained I’d applied but not gotten in, he looked slightly surprised – as if he felt I should have been accepted. I explained why and he seemed to have an objection to my exclusion, but said that I was in his class now, which supports my goal. I agreed.

I completed the Volunteer form and pretty much checked off all the things – including the office/admin support roles. So, we’ll see where things go from here.

Wish me luck!

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!

Health Matters

On Monday, I spent pretty much the entire day in computer classes. As I explained, here, the severity of my sleep deprivation became inescapable. Yesterday was supposed to be a Google (for business application) class. However, when I went to schedule an appointment, expecting a 2-3 week wait, I was offered an appointment during the scheduled class time. I opted to see my doctor.

Where to start?

There’s a laundry list of physical and mental health conditions I experience.

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes, type 2
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sleep Apnea
  • PTSD/Anxiety
  • Bipolar II Disorder
  • Depression
  • Binge Eating Disorder

There are also symptoms of other things happening as well. Pretty much all of these things contribute to the sleep disturbances or the fatigue or both…perimenopause probably being chief among them.

And then there’s the chicken or the egg matter of an almost 40 lb weight gain since the beginning of the year. Having the nurse tell me 275 wasn’t a shock, just an unpleasant reality check. The really disheartening thing is that I worked hard, made healthy choices, and lost nearly 30 lbs last fall.

Depression & trauma triggers activated the BED, which I know contributed a lot to the weight gain. However, it’s a scientific fact that sleep deprivation, stress, and hormonal changes all affect metabolism and contribute to weight gain.

At this point, I have to say how profoundly grateful I am for access to healthcare through the ACA, which I know has had a negative impact for many. If I hadn’t had access to diagnosis and treatment for my mental health issues five years ago, there’s a high probability I wouldn’t be here today.

After five years of primarily focusing on my mental health, I made a decision at the end of 2018 to do better in taking care of my physical health. Fortunately, the community mental health agency I’m working with now, has been making changes to integrate mental and physical healthcare in their services. So, my new primary care physician is at the same location as my therapist.

Today, she informed me they are now providing (or will be soon) acupuncture, as well as chiropractic care. Both of these things can help with the fibromyalgia and potentially help improve sleep.

We talked at length about all the things and she ordered a comprehensive series of bloodwork to check the various thyroid hormone levels, as well as the other hormone levels to determine where I may be in the premenopausal transition.

I was dehydrated and my veins went into hiding. The first stick went all the way through the vein when it moved. The second stick got 4/7 of the vials needed before it collapsed. The third stick had the vein move on it. The fourth stick finally got the job done.

Note: the nurse had a “two stick policy.” I pushed him to do the last two…I didn’t want to either come back another day or go to the hospital for the draw. The nurse is more than competent. My veins are just hard af to get blood from.

I now have an assessment scheduled with a Psychiatric Nurse to evaluate my psych meds, an initial chiropractic appointment, an appointment with my therapist, and a follow up with my doctor all scheduled for July. I start a 13 week Diabetes group starting on the 10th. I attend a weekly group Dialectical Behavior Therapy class and am taking a Peer to Peer Mental Health class on Saturdays.

This is all as much a part of job readiness as the computer classes, job related workshops, and meetings with the employment specialists.

A Day in the Lab…

Computer lab, that is.

Ultimately my employment goal is to not work as an office drone. However, that’s what a majority of my work experience consists of: customer service/billing/collections for a utility company, data-entry, more customer service to monthly parking customers, sales support/data entry/receptionist, and assistant manager for low-income housing. Since I really haven’t had much cause to use my office skills or access to the MS Office suite for seven years, I have a toolbox of rusty office skills.

So, I’m on a mission to knock of the rust, refresh and polish the skills, and collect a bushel of papers proving I know my stuff…on a zero income budget!

Fortunately (?), this isn’t my first go round on the job search carousel and I already knew of a major resource – Worksource Oregon.

It’s a state operated employment resource center for job seekers and employers. Their centers have a crap ton of public access computers, along with printers, phones, and fax machines for job seeker use. They also host job readiness classes and workshops from Resume Workshops to Interpersonal Skills to MS Word & Excel.

As you can see from the above images, Worksource has A LOT to aid those looking to obtain employment or even those already employed who want to increase basic skills or potentially change jobs or careers.

A couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend a couple of spreadsheet management classes using Excel – Introduction & Intermediate. It turned out that the Excel and Word classes are actually taught through a community partnership with Goodwill Industries.

Were you aware that Goodwill has a Job Connection program that serves all job seekers?

I knew they aid disabled and difficult to place workers in obtaining employment. I’ve had people tell me I should go to them, in the past. But, to be perfectly honest, pride, vanity, and prejudice kept me from seeking them out. These days though, pride and vanity are beaten down and tarnished. I have “invisible” disabilities and, as I explained in yesterday’s post, I am a difficult to place worker.

Anyway. The point is, Goodwill is another great resource for the job seeker looking to develop office computer skills! Every week they offer three levels of Excel & Word, as well as classes on Google, Outlook, and Power Point – all for the business setting.

Last week I took their Advanced Excel class. I had also signed up for the rest of their classes…three of which happened today: Introduction to Word, Intermediate Word, and Outlook.

The first class started at 9 A.M. The last class ended at 4:30 P.M. three 5-10 minute breaks and a 25 minute break for lunch. It was like being at a job!

I did very well, scoring from 98%-100% on my assessments.

That being said, it showed me, in no uncertain terms, that I’m not anywhere near job ready…I kept nodding off throughout the ENTIRE day.

Chronic insomnia, anxiety, depression, sleep apnea, and fibromyalgia prevent me from sleeping consistently or well. I’ve been severely sleep deprived for 30 years and if I’m sitting in one place, in front of a screen for any length of time, my chin is almost guaranteed to meet my chest while my eyelids turn to lead.

At the end of the day, when the instructor was printing out my achievement certificate for Outlook, he joked about how well I learned through osmosis.

Google class is Wednesday, Advanced Word is Friday, and Power Point is Monday.

Wish me luck.