self-help

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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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.

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

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.

30 Day Writing Challenge-Day 2: I Am Enough

Today’s prompt: What are you ready to give up or get rid of?

I Am Enough

These words and voices in my head
These critical, self-shaming thoughts
Haunting my days, disturbing my nights
Telling me I’m too weak and not tough

I’ve been told and it’s been said
To stop “shoulding” myself with “oughts”
Quit beating myself up in one-sided fights
Letting go of these things is rough

Let go I must, that I may move ahead
Move forward knowing I’m not ersatz
Release these burdens, soar to eagles’ heights
‘Til the fear and shame fall away as slough

Past time for the old me to be shed
Untangle the twists and knots
Put new dreams and hopes in my sights
I can do this, If I believe I’m enough

©️ 2019 lem

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

My WW Story

WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers. “Wellness that works.” What finally drove me to sign up for a weight loss program after decades of self-sufficient obesity?

Pain.

Not just any pain. A very particular kind of nerve pain. Specifically in my left foot. More accurately, the top of my foot…with periodic zaps of electricity pricking the sole of my foot from the inside out,

The top of my foot is so hypersensitized right now that the hem of my pant leg feels like a jagged, splintered shard of glass scraping across it.

Fun stuff.

According to the doctor it’s a rare condition called Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. Like Carpal Tunnel, but, in the foot.

Yay me! I have a knack for the unusual when it comes to pain and injury. A few years ago, I fell and gave myself a spiral sprain. That’s usually something athletes get, not the general population. But, that’s another story for another time.

The doctor laid out my options:

Gabapentin – an anticonvulsant sometimes used to treat a wide array of mood disorders with some extreme (but rare) side effects like agitation, increased libido, and mania…Sounds like it could trigger a manic episode and I’m already taking four different psych meds to manage the bipolar, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. No. Thank. You.

Surgery – I’m a single mom, struggling to parent my High Functioning Autistic child who also experiences ADHD. I also live upstairs. I can’t afford an extended recovery period from surgical intervention.

Weight Loss – the universal answer to whatever ails you if you carry excess fat on your body, Don’t EVEN get me started! However, it was the most viable of my three options.

Initially, I doubted I could effectively transition from a life so sedentary that my spirit animal could be mistaken as a sloth. After all, WALKING HURT! So, I decided nutrition was the key.

I have lost weight before, using activity and nutrition. As a matter of fact, I lost 20 lbs at the beginning of this year with walking and changing to a healthier diet. Then, I transitioned from my manic state to a bad depressive state, stopped moving, and switched to a fast food diet. The 20 came back and brought a few friends. Five to be exact.

So, here I was – a 49 year old, medically obese woman of 265 lbs with hypothyroidism, Type II Diabetes, high cholesterol, Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, fibromyalgia, and, now, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

I also have the child I’m parenting, a 25 year old daughter, who is also parenting three littles, who (whom?) has me as her primary emotional support person and occasional baby sitter, and a son turning 32 in three days.

I have a lot of healing to do and a lot to live for. Also, I’m finally reaching the point in life where I believe I’m worth taking care of, too.

I needed help.

So, I searched Weight Watchers. They still had their Labor Day Special going on. It was barely something I could financially afford.

I’m destitute. Between my youngest daughter’s issues and mine, I am not currently able to sustain employment. Her dad pays for electricity, internet, this miniature hand-held computer I use to blog aka cell phone, and pays for all she needs. I live in public housing, survive on $352/mo of SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps), and a $72/mo stipend.

I committed close to half my stipend to the first six months of my Weight Watchers lifestyle.

Since I also experience a hitherto undiagnosed Binge Eating Disorder, I decided to approach this like a recovery program and committed myself to attend 90 meetings in 90 days.

Today, November 6, 2018 is my 53rd day and I will be attending my 55th meeting.

If you’re curious about or interested in how this part of my journey has gone, you can find it on my Instagram, humaninrecovery. Start here.

Addendum: I’ve lost about 20 lbs and I have walked daily for the past several weeks and can now walk two miles at a time…sometimes in under 20 min/mile. Yes, the nerve pain is still there.

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