Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Happy Fat Tuesday!


Oh, what’s Fat Tuesday, you ask?  It’s traditionally the Tuesday right before the beginning of the Christian Lenten season, Ash Wednesday, built as a last indulgence before the fasting and self-denial of Lent kicks in.  Back in the day, it was a time when you ate lots of food before the last part of the winter fast (likely because food stores were getting low around this time).  It’s Mardi Gras.  It’s Shrove Tuesday.  It’s Paczki Day, if you live around some good Polish stock.  It’s the tops.

I was raised Lutheran, and although I am no longer religious, the traditions I grew up with still stick.  We always started the day with paczki (pączek the singular), which if you’ve never had one…probably go eat one, you’ll understand.  It’s like a delightful, fat, stuffed doughnut, usually filled with fruit fillings, custard, or creams.

This morning I picked up two dozen paczki for my office and classes, and for the first time, didn’t have an urge to eat one, just because they were in the car.


Can you blame me?!


Lots of times, especially on holidays, it’s an expectation to eat or drink specific foods, merely because of the day or because they are part of the celebration (think turkey on Thanksgiving, egg nog at Christmas, green beer on St. Patrick’s Day), whether or not the food is something you enjoy, or feel you want.

Fundamental principles behind Inuitive Eating (my bible, how’s that for blasphemy) are to eat foods that are appealing, mostly eat foods with nutritional value, and to pay attention to internal cues of hunger and satiety.  Basic for those without disordered eating patterns, but like learning to live in an alien world for ED folks working toward recovery.

The greatest thing about intuitive eating, though, is their recognition that it is normal to not always pay attention to these cues.  Our environment, culture, and social world all interact with our patterns of eating, and these cues might differ from what our body’s trying to tell us.  Think about accepting a slice of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner, even though you’re stuffed, because your mom made it, and it’s expected to eat pie after dinner.

To eat intentionally means being aware of both sets of cues, both internal and external, then making a mindful decision about what you will put in your body.  It means not eating something just because it’s a certain day, but checking in with your body, and with your mind, determining your priorities and what’s important, then making your choice.

I don’t even like paczki very much, but eat one every year, because it’s tradition.  I’m sure you have times in your life when you’re pressured (or even just feel awkward saying no).

Also traditional is to “give up” something for Lent.  In Christian tradition, this mirrors Jesus’s trials in the desert for 40 days, ending on Easter Sunday.  Often, the first thing we think to give up is food we like.  Just like eating for non-mindful reasons, depriving ourselves of food/drink we enjoy can lead to disordered thinking/eating patterns later down the road.*

Simple denial (restriction, in ED terms) can make food loom large in our minds – it’s one of the reasons dieting is notoriously unsuccessful.  When we say we can’t eat something, it can lead to increased desire to eat that food, simply because it is forbidden.  It creates a huge cloud of feelings around it, and even shame if when we eventually do eat it…which, for those astute readers, is basically an eating disorder.  Food does not have moral value, and the food we choose does not reflect on our personhood or our moral value as people.

Enjoy your Fat Tuesday, if you celebrate it.  I hope you choose to enjoy it in mindful ways that honor your personhood and value.  Eat with intention.

And if you want a paczek, eat one intentionally!


*Please refer to “The Underpants Rule” – you can do anything you want with your own body, including prioritizing weight loss, or health, or not!  This is not a list of what everyone should and should not do, just information and thoughts.

Prison Bars

Short one today, because Flint’s crisis has exhausted every last bit of my brainpower.

In general, prison should have five goals, as described by criminologist Bob Cameron: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, restoration, and rehabilitation.

We look at prison as punishment here.  We treat this as revenge.

We just sentenced rapist Daniel Holtzclaw to 263 years in prison.  My first thought is “TAKE THAT, STUPID RAPIST.”

Who lives for 200 years?

Revenge is not an appropriate way to run a country.  Revenge is why we have more of our population incarcerated than any other nation.  Revenge is why we perpetuate racist, classist systems and wonder why we have a racist, classist society.  Revenge is why children become adults behind bars.  Revenge is why sexual assault is so prevalent in prison that it is treated as a joke and becomes part of the punishment.

Revenge is why people come out of prison traumatized; more trauma = less ability to cope with negative life events = recidivism.

And we wonder why our country is so messed up.  We’re destroying our mental health and our society in the process.

There’s got to be another way.


The issues closest to our hearts are often the most difficult to discuss with our loved ones.  We don’t want to get up on the soapbox, or make people feel attacked.

I was thinking about dieting as I re-read a favorite article of mine from Dances With Fat, a great body-positive/fat-activism blog, about how to deal with family and friends who decide to act as the food police.

After I read the piece, I immediately thought of my aunt, someone I love dearly and who has been present at all big turning points in my life.  I don’t know if she had ever been on a diet before the beginning of November.  I heard about her diet at a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, where she proudly discussed her 500 calorie a day diet “and if I get hungry, I just drink water!”

I was disturbed…worried, concerned.  500 calories is not enough for a grown woman (or man).  That’s less than many anorexic folks take in.

She was thrilled – she had lost 20 pounds in 28 days.

Again…I was legitimately concerned.  Most doctors agree a safe rate of weight loss is about 1-3 pounds a week (though most doctors don’t have enough training in nutrition or a good enough understanding of health at every size to talk diets with patients).

I was so proud, at the end of the night, when my mom talked about how she had ruined her metabolism by constant dieting since her teens, and how much space and energy dieting had taken up in her life.

But neither my mother or myself said anything to my aunt, and it wasn’t because we didn’t have the information; I’ve been looking at HAES literature for years and am in recovery from an eating disorder, so by default, my entire family is well versed in the harmful effects of dieting and image focus.



It’s that time again, the time that we’re bombarded with people talking about making new years’ resolutions, by those beautiful, misguided, semi-well-intentioned people, who think a simple date is going to be enough to effect behavioral change.

I love goals and lists, and resolutions are no exception.  Each year, I read article after article about how to keep your resolution, or better resolutions, or better things to focus on.  A few kick ass body positive feminists made a point of changing “resolutions” to “revolutions,” which was very appealing, but I don’t know if it fully captures the spirit and means to make these goals stick.

In yoga practice, the concept of intention is fairly central; the idea that instead of a goal, you set an intention, which allows you to be present in the moment of practice.  Goals are great, but they’re finite, and set you up for always being dissatisfied; you’re not enjoying the present, because you’re waiting to feel good at some point in the future, or kicking yourself for messing up in the past.


It seems every blog, newspaper, magazine and morning TV time waster is very concerned about the holiday blues, the magical time of year when people get depressed when surrounded by lights, bells, Christmas carols, family, friends, and food.


How Depressing!


Christmas is less a religious holiday than a cultural holiday in the states.  Although we’re a country founded on freedom of religion, our government offices close for this holiday.  We hear Christmas carols, but not Seder songs or the call to prayer during Ramadan.  I know many folks, like myself, who are not practicing (or believing) Christians who celebrate Christmas regardless.  And much of our celebration has a non-religious focus; Santa Claus, presents, reindeer?  Not mentioned in any Christian texts I’m familiar with.


Luke 50:10: And so he arm wrestled the Claus for gift wrap greatness.


Depression is a loaded word, one frequently misunderstood.  Feeling “depressed” and suffering from clinical depression are basically third cousins – they talk sometimes, but don’t remember each other’s middle names.  When folks talk about the holiday blues, they are likely NOT talking about clinical depression, but rather dysthymia, feeling slightly down, slightly less energy, but still able to function.



America is a place where your job determines your worth.  It is shorthand for your personality, your motivation, your education, your skills.  What you do equals your values, your interests, and your plans.  In America, you are what you do.

We are one of the only places on earth where “what do you do” comes up in the first 30 seconds of almost any conversation.

Part of my passion is rehabilitation of people with disabilities.  Jobs are an extraordinarily helpful part of recovery from mental health concerns.  Working decreases hospital stays, increases medication compliance, increases community inclusion, and increases self-esteem while reducing acute mental health symptoms.

Working saves all of us money – it’s less people on disability, welfare and food stamps.  It’s less people in the emergency room.  It’s fewer police calls to deal with suicidal behavior.  It’s fewer beds in the psych ward because people didn’t take their medication.  Working is the key.

Working is super important.  If you’re not working, you don’t have a purpose, don’t have a strong self-concept.  You’re not contributing anything, you have little to do on a daily basis.  Is it any wonder that retirees maintain their mental and physical health better if they’re doing some sort of work, even volunteer work?  It is fundamental to our functioning as human beings.

People with disabilities have it especially tough, for three major reasons that all go together.  We’ll list them, then discuss how they interact.



I’ve talked at length about shame and its impact on behavioral change; namely, that when we’re feeling shame, we’re about as far from changing our own behavior as we can be.  When we’re feeling shame, the self is so threatened our only reaction is defensive, and defense is not a great place to begin looking at our own behavior and where we need to improve.

Lately, it’s getting more and more important for people in positions of privilege to acknowledge their own shortcomings.*  I read this as an enormously positive indicator that traditionally oppressed groups are beginning to make their voices heard and push for social change.  However, that means (of course) that people who aren’t so used to actively confronting contentious issues are being asked to react in thoughtful, nuanced ways, and are woefully unprepared to do so.

*We need to understand “privilege” as not necessarily individual, but rather being part of a traditionally valued part of our social system.  You as an individual might not be doing better than any other individual, but as a part of a general group, you have historically benefitted from some aspect of your identity.


Mindfulness is one of the hottest catchphrases I’ve heard in a while; it’s been around forever, and is the cornerstone in multiple therapeutic modalities, but now it’s truly coming into fashion.

Yoga enthusiasts will be familiar with mindfulness; for those new to the idea, it’s being present in the moment, observing without judgement.  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) rests on an assumption of mindful practice.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) encourages participants to observe their thought patterns and how thoughts impact judgement, emotions and behavior; one must be mindful to be able to identify thoughts.  Mindfulness is helpful for cancer patients, people with chronic pain, people with severe mental health concerns, sports stars, businessmen and politicians.

Mindfulness practice is just that – it takes practice, a LOT of practice.  Trying different techniques is not only encouraged, it’s necessary to create a strong mindful practice.

(if you want suggestions for how to try mindfulness, look here, here and here for examples)

During the yoga class I attend each Thursday, we practice mindfulness meditation at the beginning and end of the class; our cool-down meditation includes our instructor speaking softly, guiding relaxation through our bodies and different chakras, along with the energies these bodily areas control.  The stomach digests change, the liver is where we hold resentments.  Our instructor encourages us to release all old hurts and angers, so we don’t hurt ourselves or others with them; she reminds us we don’t have to re-experience these old events to let them go, and that this anger does not define us.  She says we don’t want to be right, we want to be happy.

Every Thursday, parts of this speech bother me.  The world is unjust and unfair; each day, people are being oppressed, tortured, discriminated against.  And I think it’s right to be angry and stay angry about these things.

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting; it doesn’t mean going along as if we agree.  Acceptance does not mean agreement.

Acceptance is taking reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.  It’s accepting this is the world we live in, and understanding what we can and cannot control.  Anger is a helpful tool.  Anger is a useful, appropriate emotion; it can spur us to further action and encouragement of others to make change.  But we can’t internalize it, or it will kill us.

Many women and men have written about this, much more eloquently than I can hope to do.

Is it possible to be right and happy?

Until then, we need a definition of mindfulness acknowledging anger as reasonable, understandable, and something that defines people all over the world.  Mindfulness; to be angry, hopeful and understanding; to have compassion for yourself and others; to accept reality, while disagreeing with how the world exists.

Let’s just get this out of the way.  The mass shooting in Charleston, SC was horrific, tragic, and totally unnecessary.  It was an act of terrorism, done to inspire fear, born of hatred and disrespect and entitlement.

But Dylann Roof is not mentally ill.

Anyone who looks at this event and blames one person’s [nonexistent] pathology is desperately trying to avoid addressing the systemic issues that cause these shootings.

The United States has more mass shootings than any other developed nation.  What is it about living in the United States that leads [white] people to kill those [blacks and browns] they hate?

Our personalities and our actions are products of our environments, the barrel of vinegar we’re soaking in from birth.  We live in a poisonous barrel, full of slavery’s legacy, white supremacy, stigma, loss, anger, but also fights for freedom, respect, civil rights, forward motion.

We live in a place where black lives are routinely and historically devalued.  We live in a place where guns are ridiculously easy to get (and can be made at home or printed out).

Mental illness has nothing to do with this.

People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.  The vast majority of folks struggling with mental illness struggle with anxiety and depression.  Mental illness doesn’t make a murderer, any more than running shoes make a track star.

Looking at Roof as a mentally ill lone gunman entirely misses the point.  It’s lazy, factually incorrect, and perpetuates stigma that costs thousands of people struggling with mental illness their lives each year.

It’s not the person, it’s the person as they function within the system in which they live.

Dylann Roof learned that violence is an acceptable answer to dislike, misunderstanding, imagined wrongs and hatred.  He learned that black people won’t be as much of a loss as white people, that they are naturally inferior to his white skin, that they are inherently violent, that they are inherently them and not us.  It was this learning that led to this shooting – he learned it would be fairly okay, that this was somehow acceptable loss.

A caller to On Point this morning talked about living in the south; he said there were people there who would probably not see these shootings as tragic or horrifying, rather something to glorify.  This is a cultural issue as well as a personal issue – this was the barrel Dylann Roof was soaking in.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m aware it’s “not all white men” and “not all Southerners” and “not all young men” et. al.  But the combination of this personality and this toxic environment led to tragedy, and now nine people are dead.

Stop blaming these massacres on mental illness.  Blame them on our toxic culture that allows hatred to flourish, then kill.


I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately, both because of the upcoming presidential election, and because of some bad luck I had recently with property crime. Detroit Today had a segment yesterday about criminal justice; host Steven Henderson pointed out this might be one of those rare issues on which things actually get done, as liberals’ and conservatives’ views align.  It’s like seeing a unicorn.

The BIG ISSUE with criminal justice is the purpose and the results.  Or at least, that’s what I take from the endless debates about costs and treatments and outcomes and recidivism.  We need to know what we’re putting people away TO ACHIEVE, and if we’re actually achieving our goals.