Loving what is…

It has been an interesting journey to where I am now and I definitely think that my life is richer now and my experiences more meaningful than they were when I was an ambitious and successful 20-something. When I interact with friends who are still on the success treadmill, I do so with a mix of admiration for them and their efforts, and a complex gratitude, both that they are making a mark on the world, and that that life is no longer for me.

A matter of perspective is what it is. When I was first getting off the success treadmill, I was desperately sad and anxious and worried that I was losing all the accolades I had earned. And I had worked hard and genuinely earned them. But as I came to understand who I am and how I was to live now, and as I came to embrace that and to welcome when I was feeling good and accept when I was doing poorly with hopes it wouldn’t last long, I found that the times when I was doing poorly were less frequent. Largely because I was no longer assessing them as times when I was doing poorly. But also because my self-hatred had greatly diminished.

When I was taking mindfulness classes, I realized how much I was judging myself. How much I was striving. One of the core principles of mindfulness is that of non-striving. In reflecting on how important this has been, I have wondered if it hadn’t also taken the wind out of my sails. That I was working on non-striving so much that I wouldn’t make any kind of impact. But gradually I am making a difference.

Jealousy

Jealousy doesn’t happen often for me anymore. I’ve made my neuroatypical life so unique that it is really unusual for me to hear about someone and to then be jealous of them. But it finally happened. I discovered a bio online of a professor around my age, who has the same research interests as me, and who has published a ton on these topics so close to my heart. I felt a sting I had forgotten about.

I think that it is definitely an artform, to live with a disability and not to feel jealousy at people who do not struggle. I have apparently not yet mastered this artform, but I remain hopeful that one day, probably 5 years from now, I will not feel jealous of people with their accolades when their accolades are close to my former, wellness-infused ambitions of my late twenties.

For my Christmas card this past year I wrote that I was doing well and said that I was praying for people who had not yet found stability. I think I wrote something like this: “prayers for all those who still suffer.” One person I happen to know who still suffers daily, and who is unemployed and pretty isolated, was deeply offended by this letter. She said that I was rubbing it in her face that I had a good life now.

I finally see how this went wrong when I thought I had done so much right. It was definitely meant to be affirming and grateful, but really, I just extended pity to people who are still suffering. This could have been humiliating to them.

I guess I’ll just have to double down on the neuroatypical uniqueness that is me since I can’t go and get a PhD and publish tons of articles anymore. That ship has sailed. But I am grateful in a way that this moment of jealousy happened. I returned to the website again today and looked at it and let the feeling of jealousy wash over me until it disappeared. I remembered that the man is still a human after all, and much like me since he publishes on what I’m passionate about.

I think I will buy his books and see if they are any good.

Doing Well at Work

There is something very satisfying in being able to do well at work, and I think I have stumbled upon a way to do this. When I am locked into a job for the whole school year, I start feeling trapped and unhappy, but short and long term substitute teaching is a joy, and I get to coach teachers on the side, which is my training. I have been an educator for over 10 years now.

When getting back into a work environment after a year off due to COVID, or perhaps other hardships, it’s important to be gradual about it. In the book Cognitive Therapy of Schizophrenia, by David G. Kingdon and Douglas Turkington, they talk about how people sometimes try to do too much too quickly, and it just leads to disappointment and the inability to fulfil one’s objectives due to being overwhelmed. I think this applies to all people really: if we try to bite off more than we can chew and we are not patient with ourselves, we can start to drown.

If you’re highly intelligent and still struggling with executive functioning, try to figure out what kind of work you can do. When I look at professional workspaces for people with struggles I see that a lot of people work as consultants. This could be a good gig, because people with mental health issues are often very sensitive to the energy of an organization and the atmosphere of organizational structures. See if you can get training that will help you to excel professionally, but make sure it’s something that you can see yourself actually doing when you’re done. A lot of the time people get trained only to realize that they really don’t have a passion for what they were trained to do. Or they get a PhD and realize that they’re too specialized and practically unemployable. Look before you invest so much time and try not to spend too much money as you get trained, especially if you don’t have a job lined up.

Remember, finally, that every situation is unique and that I’m not a mental health professional, but remember that people are there for you who are trained. They’re just a phone call away.

The Rabbit Hole

If you can at all avoid it, please consider avoiding the rabbit hole and staying on the surface of things. Depth doesn’t always yield accuracy; in fact, it often yields projection.

Allow me to explain. Mental health issues, especially schizophrenia, have to do with a system of thoughts that become interlocked and in which a person with schizophrenia becomes trapped. The thoughts are enticing, a sort of waking dream. There is a lot of research into this type of thing, with different major theorists, psychologists, psychiatrists and scholars such as myself, having our own theories about what psychosis is and whether you can avoid it. My take is that some people can avoid it and some people cannot. It depends on if a person is deeply embedded in the meanings and the symbols or not.

For me, with medicine and therapy (when I can respond well to therapy), I am able to stay on the surface of things quite well. Playing piano helps even more, because then I can be expressive without getting bogged down in the rabbit hole of words. Researching my mental health condition also helps provide structure and purpose so that I have language, a sort of handle to grasp, when I’m not doing well.

I’m reading the book The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann right now, and I am pretty sure that the protagonist of the story has schizophrenia. It is a sad, compassionate, and yet sensationalized story, and I don’t recommend it. Because it assumes the worst of people with mental illness. But one thing I’m realizing is that it has to do with the Enlightenment/Romanticism split of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and that that seems to be where the nexus of schizophreniform disorders emerged (the illness itself was first “discovered” or diagnosed around that time, as well). Hoffman says that the protagonist is “inner-divided.”

It gets down to the split between faith and reason, which was dramatized through a deeply Christian and moral lens by Dostoevsky in the famous novel Crime and Punishment. The main character is named Raskol’nikov. Raskol’ means schism or split, in Russian. Raskol’nikov goes down the “is everything permitted” rabbit hole of the day.

You don’t need to read these books, which may themselves generate a rabbit hole, but they teach an important lesson. Namely, that there is a rabbit hole, and that, should you be able to, you should avoid it. In Hoffmann’s book, the main character kills himself, and in Dostoevsky’s book, the main character kills someone else. It all starts with lack of purity and morals and a lack of self-accountability to stay on the right path. A novella called “Fair Eckbert” by Ludwig Tieck also talks about how once you start down off the pure path, it is all downhill from there.

Moral of the story: don’t overthink it, choose the good, avoid evil, don’t repay harm with harm, and take your medicine if you think you’ll go down the rabbit hole without it.

Abuse and Community

When I was a girl, I was hit on by a coach. I recently learned that what happened to me is really common. The coach said he had been fantasizing about me while with his “girlfriend” who was my age (14) and then he paused to see my reaction. This is what child predators do. They see their potential victims and want to test their tolerance for inappropriate behavior. Luckily, I told someone. Luckily, my older friends told me to get off the team. I personally had been flattered by his interest. I thought I was special. This is what makes abusers tick.

Abuse in the community is usually committed by highly gregarious, very likable people, who form relationships with others who have sway in the community so that their “network” goes to bat for them if allegations come up. Kids need to be protected, and so it is important to create a relationship with them in a way that makes them feel safe if they need to bring up abuse. Adults should never be alone in a locked room with a child, and also, I would say, should always have the door ajar. This also protects the adult from ambiguous situations and potential accusations. Furthermore, it can be a training exercise for children, to model what appropriate adult behavior looks like: respectful, clear, transparent, and taking place in the full light of day.

Some men and women are just uncomfortable around kids and are not able to really relate well to them, and so they seem awkward around them. Just because that is the case, doesn’t mean that they are abusers. Some people are just really nice and gregarious people and aren’t abusers.

Some people tend to special needs populations for the profession and therefore do handle ambiguous situations as a part of their job. It is their responsibility, and the adults who work with them, to be very transparent about ambiguous moments (toileting, for example) and to work together as a team for the flourishing of the special needs child.

As adults, we have a responsibility to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the needs of our children. They need independence and to grow in self-reliance, but they also need our help, and to be given the benefit of the doubt if they speak up against a respected community member. Also, holding trainings about abuse culture helps create an atmosphere of safety and proactivity that can minimize abuse of children in organizations.

Observing Distress Rather than Becoming Distressed

I can still remember my late twenties. I began having a hard time. I started going to a therapist, who told me that I should tell him my worries and then, crucially, he taught me how to observe my problems as though they were a leaf on a stream. I was supposed to watch the thought from the shores rather than identify with it. In other words, I was being taught the important lesson that we are not our thoughts. Therapists call the process of overidentifying with your thoughts fusion. And so their job is to help us defuse from our thoughts, and then, if we’re lucky to have a good therapist, they train us how to defuse our thoughts ourselves. If you have schizophrenia, this is very difficult and perhaps you will also continue to require a therapist in order to keep perspective on how you are not your thinking. I’m not a professional, but that’s what happened with me.

It was an important lesson when I first learned to watch my thinking rather than experiencing my thoughts as facts. I remember feeling so relaxed after it for several days. I realized it was my interpretation that was causing the distress. I had attached values to events, and these values weren’t universal. Eventually I needed to go on medicine to remind myself that I was not my thinking. My thinking became more persuasive to myself even as it became more detached from logic. And it became so strong that I created the situations I feared were happening in my interpretive world as I alienated myself from friends and family and coworkers.

Now, safely on my medicine and avoiding things and situations that are triggering when I can – choosing my battles, if you will – I can indeed stay on the bank and watch the leaves of my thinking pass by the stream of life. I am not my thoughts. We are not our thoughts. What type of therapy is this called? It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mixed with mindfulness and positive psychology. I learned about how to talk about it from the book Treating Psychosis: A Clinician’s Guide to Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion-Focused Therapy and Mindfulness Approaches within the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tradition. There are, as I said, 8 authors to the book. The main author is Nicola P. Wright, PhD, CPsych.

If you struggle with mental health issues, remember I am not a professional and am just writing as a lay person with lived experience. Perhaps my book will help you find meaning, however. It is about how I found meaning in my struggle with schizoaffective disorder and how you can start to think positive about managing your care. It’s free:

A Holy Week Blessing from Dr. Jay Akkerman

A director and professor at Northwest Nazarene University sent along this message today and I thought I would share it (with his permission) with my readers. Have a great weekend!


Nearly 51 years ago, the crew of Apollo 13 successfully lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A. Veteran astronaut Jim Lovell commanded the mission, but for his colleagues Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, this would be their first flight in space.

NASA’s third Moon-landing mission suffered some early setbacks. Swigert, who was originally on Apollo 13’s backup crew, replaced his counterpart Ken Mattingly just three days prior to launch because Mattingly had been exposed to rubella the week prior. A second glitch came in the fifth minute of Apollo 13’s flight when the center engine on the Saturn V’s second stage began oscillating, shutting down one J-2 rocket engine.

But at 55 hours and 53 minutes into their mission, the Apollo 13 crew experienced a setback no one ever anticipated, ultimately aborting their lunar mission. During a routine cryo-stir by Swigert of the oxygen tanks on their Odyssey service module, wires inside one tank sparked, causing a catastrophic explosion that vented both tanks into the void of space, depriving the crew of the vital oxygen needed both for breathing and generating electricity, as shown above. Lovell, Swigert, and Haise found themselves roughly 200,000 miles from Earth in a crippled spacecraft flailing toward the Moon.

Three men, so far from home, while the whole world watched helplessly.

This Holy Week leads us again to the most significant day in Christian history: Easter Sunday. But before we can get to Sunday, we must trace Jesus’ journey through Good Friday as found in the New Testament Gospel of John, chapters 18-19.

In our text, Jesus is dragged through a series of kangaroo courts where he answers his interrogators with divine perception. Pilate surprisingly finds no fault in Jesus but bends to the religious leaders and the crowds by handing Jesus over for crucifixion.

Jesus’ passion and death itself occupies only thirteen verses in John 18-19. Stripped and whipped, those executed by crucifixion are starved of oxygen as they hang in agony. Crucified for hours between two common felons, the parched Jesus finally receives some sour wine, utters just three words, “It is finished,” then bows his head and gives up his spirit.

Three men dying helplessly at the hands of Roman executioners in an obscure corner of the world, virtually ignored by everyone at the time.

In preparation for the upcoming Sabbath dawning just a few hours away at dusk, the religious leaders convince Pilate to have the condemned men’s legs broken to hasten their deaths. Since Jesus hangs dead already, a Roman soldier runs a spear through his side instead.

Then a little-known gospel character named Joseph of Arimathea approaches Pilate in the night. Nicodemus joins him, also known for his night visit to Jesus back in John 3. Together, these two men make Jesus’ burial possible.

Good Friday ends precisely at this point. Jesus. Is. Dead. Wrapped in simple linens in keeping with Jewish custom and walled up in a fresh tomb, Jesus lies dead as a doornail. For Peter, Mary, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, John 19.42 marks the deepest moment of failure in both their lives and their faith. Their hopes and dreams obliterated, the unfathomable becomes reality. Jesus. Is. Dead.

Every Good Friday, it’s precisely at this moment that we have to resist our urge to fast-forward the story to Easter morning. Hard as it is to receive, despite our eagerness for a happy ending, Holy Week reminds us that we need to learn to watch for God at work, especially in life’s darkest moments.

When the crew of Apollo 13 experienced the mission-critical incidents that put their very lives at risk, no one knew for certain how their story would end. Despite thousands of dedicated support personnel working night and day, the jury was out if they could bring the astronauts back from their wider-than-planned orbit around the backside of the Moon, a journey that took them farther from home than anyone in human history.

Following their nearly impossible week-long slingshot voyage that took the crew around the Moon and safely back, administrators ultimately labeled the mission of Apollo 13 a “successful failure,” NASA’s greatest hour. While they failed to achieve their well-outlined mission objectives, Lovell, Swigert and Haise—and everyone who supported them from the Earth, worked together to overcome their nearly impossible lunar odyssey.

This Holy Week, this Good Friday, and every day we live between “now” and “not yet” when missions fail and hopes are sometimes dashed, I hope you will reach for the God who is not finished with you, who alone can make “successful failures” out of the unforeseen challenges that mark our paths through heartache and death to resurrection and life.

Blessings on you this Holy Week.

Religious Men in Power

I was reading in Christianity Today about a man named Ravi Zacharias, who wrote and preached extensively on why Christianity matters and why it’s real. He was a Christian apologist. But he also sexually exploited many women as he went about the world spreading the “Good News.” I was impressed by Christianity Today because it covered the story at all. So I clicked on the link. Turns out they covered it in detail. This is what needs to happen more often. People have even stopped selling his books. His organization is taking his name off of it.

Then I thought about it in more detail and I thought, why is Yoder, who sexually exploited his graduate students, still being published and talked about even though he did something similar? I bought his book and then learned about his sexual exploits and sexual relationships with graduate students he seduced or coerced, and I thought, wow, I guess liberal Christianity (Yoder is very progressive), is more forgiving of this behavior than I thought. Or see this article (link) about how Bill Clinton is speaking at the 2021 women’s conference with Kamala Harris. Liberals let men slide way more often than they would like to know. I can’t believe Cuomo is still in office after the accusations about him, either.

I have been through this personally, about how liberal organizations protect liberal men for their indiscretions or violence against women. It is so harmful. If you’ve been through this your not alone. And you’re not imagining the disconnect. Zacharias’s legacy has been wiped clean. Yoder gets a slap on the wrist. Apparently his theorizing about non-violence while sexually exploiting women while in power doesn’t seem as hypocritical as Ravi, a Christian apologist, travelling the globe spreading the Good News while sexually coercing women in massage parlors, and other indignities.

I’m still a Christian, and as I gain more influence through this blog and also through my book circulating about my life with mental illness after my own #metoo extravaganza, I have felt the pull to study Christianity and write about it more. But I think this would be a mistake. The more serious one’s evangelizing, the more likely it is that worldly success and corruption will follow. There are so few truly ethical Christian moral leaders. And I get it. The atheist who was denouncing Ravi on his blog was more Christian than Ravi and I think Christ would have stood by his witness more than Ravi’s.

Christ is bigger than Christianity. He must be. While I am Christian and hope others will follow Christ if it makes sense to them, there should be no compromise. The church has compromised on racism and sexual indiscretion. This is human nature. But it doesn’t make it any more excusable. Which is why I published my book for free and decided to run a free platform, so I don’t become one of the many corrupt spreaders of the faith.

My book is free and about my life overcoming schizoaffective disorder. Share it with people you think might need it:

Resilience: Forest Bathing Amidst Grief

The news has been very depressing lately with recent acts of incredible violence here in the United States. For those of us with mental health conditions, this can be a moment that heightens stigma and deepens pain, as we watch people try to explain horrible events by saying they were caused by a mental health condition.

There is no greater evidence that we are bigger than our mental health conditions than when horrible things happen. We can commit to non-violence no matter what people expect from us and go out and take a walk around the block. I happened to be on Lopez Island the past few days and we walked out to Iceberg Point and the tramped around in the forest. While not everyone has the privilege to go out to nature, especially now that covid-19 has gotten rid of safe transportation options for those without cars, I still think even looking at pictures of forests bring healing. The forest is not judging us, and we can rest and trust that we are good people and that we will make good choices, no matter how we feel. I grieve for those killed in the violence against Asian Americans and also those killed in Colorado. Don’t read about these things. Go outside, and trust in your goodness. Nurture it. Say a prayer for the victims and move on. Don’t go down the rabbit hole. And if you have a mental health condition, vow never to be in a room with a weapon. Even if it means we might come to harm or be harmed, at least we will leave a legacy of non-violence.

In the forest at Lopez Island, Washington.
(Can you see our dog Addie in the shadow? :))

Values and Goals Based Living

I have been reading books on mental health written for professional practitioners. NOT for psychiatrists, but for therapists. They are therapeutic. Ones for psychiatrists are very very depressing and I don’t recommend it. I’ll be sharing details from ones that are helpful.

I bought these books a little while back in an urge to commit myself to health and wellness for the long haul. I see this as an improvement in itself, because people with schizoaffective disorder often lack the will to self-care and are either overly self-protective or completely reckless about their wellbeing and future. I speak from my own experience when I say that that has definitely been the case with me. I had to be the person to buy the book – don’t buy books for people with mental illness. It needs to be intrinsically motivated when we research our condition(s).

One book I have been reading is called Treating Psychosis: A Clinician’s Guide to Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion-Focused Therapy & Mindfulness Approaches within the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tradition, by a whole lot of people (there are 8 authors, the first one listed is Nicola P. Wright, PhD, CPsych). It is written for clinicians and so perhaps wouldn’t be useful for a lay person. I have a master’s in literature and my coursework emphasized aspects of psychology and psychological frameworks. This book was so good that I told my psychiatrist/therapist to please buy the book and we’re working through it. I am therapy resistant, but with this framework I am making progress. I lead our discussions and send him my filled out worksheets when I feel safe doing so.

One of the most useful things the book has said is that we need to identify our values in life and also set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Limited).

For examples of values I’ll share mine: Artistic, Forgiving, Health oriented, Leader, Learner, and Visionary. Goals are more personal, so I won’t share mine.

The great thing about aligning values with goals is that if we have symptoms and can’t meet our goals on any given day, then we can still live by our values. This provides meaning and motivation for me to stay in the game of life and to feel fulfilled doing so.

We can always choose compassionate action. That’s a value for a lot of people with stigmatizing health conditions and it’s important.

I can always do art. Being artistic is one of my values. Even when I was hospitalized, we had art days where we drew mandalas. This seems childish, but given where I was developmentally at that point, it was actually a very therapeutic exercise. You don’t have to be a good artist. Just play with colors and pastels or something. This is just one example.

Don’t forget I’m not a therapist and that this isn’t medical advice and that every situation is different. I’m just sharing my own experience. But the book is comprehensive and its whole approach is like floaties they put on kids to learn to swim. These 8 authors have thought of everything. They know what they’re talking about.

If you want to learn about my journey to faith and balance in the face of two hospitalizations with schizoaffective disorder, and how I find meaning and live with joy, consider reading my book. It’s free and maybe it will be one of many lenses that help you get back on your feet:

https://erinmichaelgrimm.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/emergentgracefinal9.26.2020.pdf