Acceptance and Serenity

Living well with mental health challenges

Contraception Does Not a Slut Make March 12, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — kareninmentalhealthrecovery @ 4:36 am

Over the past weeks, we have all heard the brouhaha around Rush Limbaugh’s “slut comment” and around Sandra Fluke’s comments on contraception. People on the right, left, and in the center have all weighed in, and dialogued intelligently about issues of women’s health, the need for responsibility on the part of both men and women in the area of sexuality, and the complexity in balancing issues of religious freedom with the desire to make comprehensive health care affordable for all women.

These are all worthy points for debate and dialogue, and I welcome the opportunity to continue to dialogue with all of you whether you are a Democrat, Republican or independent. What I am not comfortable with is the continued defense of Rush Limbaugh’s calling Sandra Fluke a slut.

Let’s say for the case of argument that my more conservative friends are correct about all women being able to meet their birth control needs through a combination of $9 generic birth control pills and men stepping up and getting free condoms from their local Planned Parenthood. For a moment, let’s put aside all of the women with health conditions such as PMDD and painful menstruation who may need more than generic birth control pills to address their situation and assume for a moment that Sandra is indeed having promiscuous sex 24/7 365 days a year. It is still not moral for us as people of any faith or of no faith to defending anyone calling anybody a slut.

Saying that it is okay for Rush Limbaugh to call Sandra a slut because she was engaged in promiscuous behavior according to your assumptions is pretty much the moral equivalent of saying that it is okay for a woman to be sexually harassed in the workplace if she wears a mini-skirt and fishnet stockings. If this happens in any modern-day workplace the perpetrator of such harassment faces severe discipline from their supervisors including termination of their employment.

That is exactly what the petition to ClearChannel regarding Rush Limbaugh’s radio show proposes to do: provide clear consequences for Rush’s sexual harassment in the form of terminating his show. It says that there is a difference between freedom of speech and freedom to harass and discriminate. For signing this petition I have had people contact me concerned that I was “sliding into fascism”. Well, you certainly have a right to your opinions. After all this is still the United States of America. But I also have the right to enforce my own boundaries. And one of my boundaries is that sexual harassment and the defense of the word “slut” is unacceptable, regardless of whether you are a right-winger, left-winger, hippie, atheist, vegan or Christian. One of my rights as an American citizen is to boycott and protest, and I will continue to do so until Rush and others like him face the consequences of their sexual harassment of women.


Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Enough Homes for Everyone, Even the Homeless March 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — kareninmentalhealthrecovery @ 11:54 pm

 Recently, I posted on my Facebook page the sobering stat that here in the United States….



Yes, Virginia there not only really is a Santa Claus; there really are 24 empty houses available for each homeless American. But I do understand your skepticism regarding this statistic. After all one of my own Facebook friends questioned this stat as well, stating that:

“I find this stat really hard to believe. Where are all these empty houses? Not in California. Maybe in Detroit where corrupt policies have driven home owners out of the city.”

We don’t want to think that we live in such an unequal world. After all Virginia, we grew up in elementary school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and being taught that America was the land of “liberty and justice for all”.  And we do try to live up to that ideal. Much progress has been made. But when it comes to people who experience homelessness, we do have a long way to go. Even in California, the Golden State, we have corrupt policies, cuts in housing resources for the poor and needy, and a lack of awareness of the real problems faced by the people who sleep on the streets every night even in nice places like Pasadena.

But Virginia, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start at the beginning. You wanted to know about California. And when it comes to the housing market, it is still pretty bad here. I refer you to the July 20th Los Angeles Times article below:

I am also posting two of the most intriguing quotes from that article in case it’s getting too close to your bedtime to read the whole thing:

“A total of 42,465 homes were repossessed during those three months, a 10.9% decline from a year earlier and a 1.4% drop from the first quarter. On average, California homes took 10 months to wind their way through foreclosure, up from 9.1 months in the previous quarter and the year-earlier period.”

“It’s way too early to pop the champagne corks,” he said. “Dropping back to 2007 levels is a positive trend, but foreclosures in 2007 were quite high by historical standards — more than double the rate in preceding years. There are many reasons to doubt whether the housing market has really turned the corner, and the need for serious foreclosure relief and principal reduction has absolutely not gone away.”

So how many people are homeless in California, Virginia? Well, according to HUD:

“On a single night last January, 636,017 people were homeless in the United States, a 2.1 percent decline from the year before.  That’s the key finding of a new count on homelessness announced today by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.  Donovan made the announcement at a meeting of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness where he was joined by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.   

HUD’s annual “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons and families is based on data reported by more than 3,000 cities and counties. While number of homeless persons vary locally, these communities are reporting modest declines in homelessness in every category or subpopulation including individuals, families, veterans and those experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness.

Wow. That’s a lot of people.  21 percent of 636,017 people is around 133,563 people in our so-called Golden State. Hmmm, let’s see 133,563 people divided by 42,465 repossessed homes…. That means that for every one homeless person in California there are around 3 homes that they could using if it weren’t for the bank having repossessed it.



And keep in mind this doesn’t account for homes that are in-between rentals or homes that are abandoned because they need repairs. These are just the homes that are repossessed.

And also, you may not know it, but HUD’s definition of what a homeless person is, well, it’s pretty narrow. Check it out:


In other words, if you are “couch-surfing” at your friends’ houses, HUD doesn’t consider you to be homeless.  If you are not out on the streets or living in your car, van, or an abandoned garage you are not homeless according to HUD.  Even the garage thing gets tricky. I have participated in a few homeless counts for the purposes of reporting to HUD for the City of Pasadena and I can tell you that we did not look for converted or abandoned garages.  But I know someone who lives in one and she did not get counted.  And in case you were wondering, no ,she doesn’t live in urban Los Angeles.  She lives right here in Pasadena.

The 3 homes number that I came up with also doesn’t account for the practice of “doubling up” among many immigrants and poor people in which you can have, in some cases up to 10 people sharing a living space.

Let’s bring this closer to home. Maybe you are reading this note, Virginia—and friends— and thinking “Well, yeah, I suppose that Karen is good at knowing people in need, but do we really have the same disparity here in the Pasadena area?” Good question. Actually we do. Last year the City of Pasadena did a Homeless Count.

We counted 1,216 people who were homeless in Pasadena. That, according to the report represents a 7% increase from the previous year.

Foreclosure Radar, a site specializing in tracking all distressed home owners and REOs, reports that as of 1/16/12 there are 481 Pasadena home owners that are in some stage of foreclosure.  That number is more than the actual home listings for sale now in Pasadena (as of today 416 homes, condos and townhomes available for sale in Pasadena.)

So I did the math again. Drum roll…. In nice Pasadena, we have 2.5 homes (at least) for every homeless person.

And that’s why Virginia, I continue to advocate for people who experience homelessness. Because Christmas (and Santa Claus, and peace on earth, good will toward men) needs to be an everyday experience that we take to the streets. Not just a holiday with too much eggnog, fruit bread and tinsel.

Because, as you can see, something is seriously wrong with our priorities. And I follow Jesus, who was homeless when He walked this earth, so I know that I have to continue to work for the rights of people who are experiencing homeless, one day at a time, one person at a time




Murder by Police February 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — kareninmentalhealthrecovery @ 3:53 am

I am grieving deeply today. I am deeply mourning the death of one of our own. She has a name, but it was stolen from her in her death. Even in her death she became truly invisible by reason of her mental health diagnosis.

I met Jackie at a recovery meeting about 2 years ago. I remember her comments about delusion being the same as confusion. As I recall, she spoke it  as a 12 step slogan about the nature of addiction. Addiction fools you. Addiction deludes you. Addiction causes you to confuse truth with lies, reality with figments of your imagination. But after the events of January 4th, 2012, I started to see her comments in a different light. Because  Jackie struggled with mental illness in her life, and was up-ended by mental illness in her death.

Perhaps, it told her that she didn’t need to take her meds as much anymore. Or that she didn’t need to share the insane twisted thoughts going on in her head with people. Or that someone was after her, and that she needed to carry a  small ball-peen hammer with her to protect herself. Mental illness does that to you. It makes thoughts of death seem inviting, and thoughts that you would otherwise dismissed as demented fantasy seem true.

Whatever “Jackie”, known on her birth certificate as Jazmyne Ha Eng, was experiencing that day, what we do know for sure is that Jackie was sitting in the lobby of the Asian Pacific Family Center, a site of Pacific Clinics, one of the largest mental health treatment agencies in the Los Angeles Area. And that, according to several different witnesses, Jackie was sitting calmly in the waiting area with a small ball-peen hammer in her lap. Someone in the lobby- we don’t know who- became scared at the prospect of a 4 foot 11, 95 pound Asian woman becoming violent, and decided to call 911. 911 contacted the Temple City sheriffs, and three of them came in uniform and with guns blazing. At that moment, Jackie lost it. She stood up and held up the small ball speen hammer and started to scream and advance towards the sheriffs.

For those of you who don’t know, a ball peen hammer is pretty small. It is not a dangerous weapon. The consultant that the Temple City deputies hired to defend them alleges that police are not trained to do hand to hand combat, but to fire when a weapon is involved. Because of this he believes that the incident, while sad, was justified. To which I say, bullshit! The deputies could have brought rubber bullets or beanbag guns with them. They were informed by 911 that they were dealing with a client of a mental health facility. They knew that the ballpeen hammer wasn’t going to hurt them that bad. They could have even used a t-shirt to throw over her head. Hey, they could have even opted to not come in uniform and talk to her like a human being instead of a mentally ill crazy that they were all afraid of.

But they didn’t. They didn’t take the time to get to know the Jackie that I knew. The Jackie who always came to meetings no matter how hard things got for her. The Jackie who lived with her mother in a car and considered her recovery family her real family, and the rooms of recovery her true home. The Jackie who despite her mental health challenges, despite her desire to go back out and use drugs and alcohol again, came to meetings and taught me profound lessons in her shares about how she was learning to live life on life’s terms.

Instead they tazed her once, and when that didn’t work, they unloaded 2 rounds of bullets into her small 4 foot 11, 95 pound body, killing her instantly.

Jackie, I’m sorry that this happened to you. I’m sorry for the family, both biological and recovery, that you leave behind. For your children who will grow up without a mom. I will miss you. I know that you are right now up there in that Great Meeting with your God and your recovery family that has gone on before in a sacred space that will never end.

I will continue to work my own program, because I know that that is the best way to remember you. I will do the footwork, I will accept myself, I will let go and let God. And I will also speak up for others like you and make sure that law enforcement and others know just how beautiful those of us with a mental health disorder are. Just how worthy we are to take up space in this world. And just how important it is for law enforcement to see us, not as potentially violent criminals, but as people who when we are in crisis, just need someone to listen more than talk, love more than judge, and give us a chance to live so that we can find recovery.

Rest in peace, Jackie. One of these days I will see you again… but hopefully not too soon. I love you, Your fellow trudger in the program of recovery, Karen


A Little Mental Health Humor July 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kareninmentalhealthrecovery @ 1:34 am

There are some people who actually think that seeing  your therapist or psychiatrist is always like this. Thankfully, this is not always the case. If you do suddenly wake up tomorrow with a fear of 12 and a 1/2 and a desire to use “Merlin’s magic spoon” on someone, please get help!


Dealing with the Early Warning Signs July 14, 2010

In doing my own research for this segment of this series, I found an excellent article by Ron Unger, a licensed clinical social worker, who also deals with hearing voices, that relates very well to my personal philosophy of dealing with early warning signs of mental health difficulties.  In this article, Ron Unger discusses five strategies for dealing with “intrusions” which he describes as feelings, thoughts, memories, “voices”, which seem to “intrude” upon our consciousness without warning.  The five strategies are :fight, flight or distraction, submission, mindfulness, and selective integration. In his opinion(and mine), there are situations in which all of the above are appropriate responses.

To fight a symptom is helpful many times when I am dealing with a mental health crisis. For example in fighting suicidal thoughts, I may(and have) called a hotline for people considering suicide. I remember a time in the not-so-distant past when my anxiety spiked to the point of preventing me from being able to eat comfortably, and I fought the symptom by calling a select group of friends every day. It was also a form of distraction for me. When I was on the phone, I was distracted from my anxiety and obsessive thinking by the humor and mundane daily life experiences of my friends, and I found that I could arrest the downward spiral of anxiety, if only for that day. This leads into the strategy of Flight or Distraction – other forms of this include watching TV or  a movie, eating chocolate, etc. Submission is the most controversial strategy. In submission, you briefly allow your symptoms to take over. This probably sounds scary to most of my non-mentally ill friends, particularly when thinking about people who have delusions or hear voices. However there are situations in which a voice that is experienced as something/someone outside of you may actually represent an aspect of yourself that needs attention, or is giving you harmless orders like “go eat some chocolate”. In those situations, it may be better to merely submit to the voice you hear. I experience this with my depression. Some days, it is more helpful for me to designate a day a depression day and do what I need to take care of myself. Most often this is a time for me to sleep and forget about my responsibilities for that day.  I find that I intuitively know at this stage of the game when to do this, and when I do, I can face the next day feeling much better.

A strategy that can also work very well is mindfulness. In mindfulness, you are essentially meditating. You are watching the weird thoughts and feelings that pass through your mind, and you are not judging or analyzing them. In doing this, often a symptom will come and go, and a person can move on with their day. This can work very well, particularly as a short term coping strategy. Long-term, there is a fifth and final strategy called selective integration, which can help you make sense of your symptoms within the larger story of your life. To quote Ron Unger :”There is a willingness to explore the intrusion and a curiosity about what might be going on underneath the intrusion, and information from this discovery process is allowed to affect decision making, though in a nuanced way, unlike in ‘submission.’ ”  So, for example, if I am triggered into depression by the abusive actions of another person, it may be that I need to listen to my depression, and in response find a way out of the abusive situation.

These kinds of strategies are typically used by me in dealing with early warning signs of my illnesses. Mary Ellen Copeland suggests incorporating these and other strategies into a Daily Maintenance Plan. You begin by writing down exactly how you are when you are well, and then you compile a list of things you need to do every day to stay as well as possible, along with a list of strategies for dealing with early warning signs, as well as a list of what your warning signs are.

These strategies for maintaining wellness can be as simple as eating three healthy meals a day, doing yoga, or talking to a friend. But when I am experiencing early warning signs of my illness, having a list in front of me of coping strategies can be an important lifeline.

Stay tuned for next when I will discuss ways to determine your early warning signs as well as some examples of coping strategies not covered in this post. Until then, stay well!



Wellness and Recovery Action Plan- Developing a Wellness Toolbox July 5, 2010

Filed under: Art,Coping,Mary Ellen Copeland,Recovery,Therapy,Uncategorized,Wellness Recovery Action Plan — kareninmentalhealthrecovery @ 4:39 pm

Since this is a blog about mental health recovery, I thought it would be helpful to have a discussion started here about what we as people with mental health disorders do to enhance our wellness. One tool that I am finding helpful in my own recovery is WRAP which is an acronym for Wellness and Recovery Action Plan. The WRAP was started by Mary Ellen Copeland,a woman in recovery from bipolar disorder. When she was diagnosed, she had the added perspective of growing up around her mother who also dealt with bipolar disorder. Having watched her mother go through multiple hospitalizations, Mary Ellen Copeland wanted to live well with her bipolar illness, and avoid the negative consequences that her mother had experienced. However, when Mary Ellen Copeland asked her psychiatrist for help with coping strategies used by other with mental illness, all she got was a blank look from her psychiatrist and suggestions for medications. Being the stubborn and vivacious woman that she was, Mary Ellen decided to begin to research people with mental illness who had been successful in maintaining their wellness. She asked people to give her strategies for how they had recovered from their illnesses. Out of these interviews, Mary Ellen put together the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan.  The WRAP has given me a helpful structure to think about myself as being in charge of my recovery from anxiety and depression.

The first step that is suggested in developing your own WRAP is to assemble a Wellness Toolbox. The Wellness Toolbox ” is a comprehensive list of all the things a person does to stay well and to feel better when they are not feeling well. It can include things the person is doing now and things they have learned of that they want to try. New tools can be added to the Wellness Toolbox as the person discovers new options. Tools that are not working well can be removed. For many people, developing the Wellness Toolbox is their first introduction to personal responsibility and empowerment.”(Mary Ellen Copeland’s website on WRAP) One suggestion given in Copeland’s workbook is to actually make a literal box with visual reminders of things that are necessary for wellness.  I have taken this suggestion to heart and constructed a wellness box with pictures of good friends, old therapists and mentors,and  peer support people;  a soothing painting of nature,and Anglican rosary prayer beads. I used a very nondescript UPS box and covered the outsides with stained glass art pages which I am painting with acrylic paints. I plan to add a stress ball to squeeze, along with Play-Doh and crayons. To many of you who do not have mental health challenges, much of these wellness tools may sound like common sense.  I mean,who wouldn’t want to have reminders of the people in their lives, along with fun tools to de-stress? However, for those of us with a mental disorder, we often are in more need of reminders of support, along with the tools needed to move us into a place of serenity. One of the main features of my anxiety disorder is a pattern of obsessive analyzing and worrying over problems beyond my control. It has all the features of an addiction, along with a sense of powerlessness and unmanageability. Having a coloring book or other concrete sensory activity readily available often can help me to distract myself from the thoughts that are swirling through my head. Another helpful feature of a wellness tool box is a unique one-two punch of structure and creativity.  I am unlikely to think of even the most obvious solution during a time of severe depression of anxiety. At such times the obvious eludes me. However, if I have a creative-looking wellness toolbox at my fingertips, I am triggered in a positive way to think more creatively about my situation, and I also have a ready-made structure of solutions there for me, if I need more helps.

The most important thing that has come out of my experience with developing a toolbox is a sense of empowerment. Before engaging this process, I often felt that I was shadowboxing rather ineffectively with an  invisible but all too real enemy. I would sometimes be able to catch the progression soon enough to remember some of the tools in my box, but sometime a stressful event would happen suddenly and I would be plunged into depression or anxiety before I could even come up with a tool to use. Six years ago, while I was in therapy, and actively trying to beat this illness, I had to seek hospitalization in order to find help for a particular virulent suicidal depression that I was going through. Today, with all the tools at my disposal, and a creative structure to assist me, I feel more and more confident in my ability to not only avoid hospitalization, but also to arrest my symptoms before they get out of control. That, to me, is an encouraging sign of recovery that could have only come through a structured and creative plan such as WRAP.

My next article will be on the Daily Maintenance and on Identifying Early Warning Signs. Until then, I hope that all of you continue on a path to wellness.


Hello, world! June 20, 2010

Filed under: Compassion,Medication,mental health,Recovery,Stigma,Uncategorized,wellness — kareninmentalhealthrecovery @ 8:48 pm

Hello, my name is Karen and I have been in mental health recovery for seven years. I live with depression and anxiety, but I also lives a life full of richness and joy,despite and even because of the challenges of mental illness.  I attribute the life I have today to a wonderful support network of family, friends, support groups, spiritual support, peer support at my wellness center, good medication management, and of course the support I receive from my fiancee, who also happens to live with bipolar disorder. I loves art, poetry, Arts and Crafts bungalows, folk music, good mental health humor, researching resources for others, combatting the stigma surrounding mental illness and generally being silly and enjoying life.

There’s a reason that I have included my hobbies and interests in my introduction. While this is a mental health themed blog, and I will be addressing some serious issues on here, I do want to keep the focus on what recovery means for me and others who live with a mental illness. I think that it is safe to say that for most of us, recovery is about recovering the joy and playfulness that we lost while in the grip of our mental illness, and about rebuilding(or building for the first time) the skills that we need to not only cope but thrive as people with mental health disorders. Recovery, for many of us, is also about self-advocacy, which is really just another fancy word for standing up for yourself. Folks with mental illness have to do this a lot unfortunately, because of the fears and misconceptions that the general public have about what it means to live with a mental illness. Fighting this stigma with grace and dignity will also be a part of this blog.

The grace and dignity to live one day at a time with acceptance and serenity is the core of what recovery means to me. Acceptance of others, despite the ignorance and discrimination still out there, yes… but also practicing self-acceptance, because without it, we will continue live out the identities and stigmas put on us by society : “patient” “consumer” “victim” “crazy” “freak” “different”.  When I learn to focus on myself and how I can accept myself in the midst of my imperfections, then I am able to find renewed hope for my own recovery from depression and anxiety. This acceptance and the serenity that comes with it is a gift from God for me. It has not always been a regular part of my life. But I am finding that the more I travel this journey,  I have started to spend more of my time living in acceptance and less of my time living in stigma and shame.