My Mental Side to Wellness

Philosophy
Wellness corner of my desk - three glass vases of different sizes, one with dried eucalyptus in it, a wooden box that says "Potions and Spells", and a tag saying "Nightshade potion For graduated Witches and Goblins Only" with a picture of a bird on it.

            I’ve had wellness on the brain. When I put it like that, it sounds like a medical condition, but my sister’s project, Otherworldly Women Press, has gotten me thinking about it.

            Since I was young, I’ve struggled with “feminine” things. Dresses, pastels, and makeup sparked discomfort in me. I crave a touch of the dark to feel at home. Sometimes, I wonder why that is.

            Other times, I just run with it. Pastels and princesses have their place, but so do deep colors and adventurers. My comfort zone doesn’t mesh with a lot of what the wellness industry sells, either.

            Wellness is all about health. I love crystals, candles, and essential oils. They soothe me, and they have places in my belief systems. However, it’s less that lavender is supposed to be soothing, green is supposed to be healing, or rose quartz is supposed to draw love, and more that they make me feel grounded.

            For me, it is all about how I think about things. It’s about how I cope with the anxiety of the future, regrets of the past, and challenge of the present. Wellness is about flowing with the tide of my thoughts and changing the channel to steer them in a better direction.

            Things we buy are tools to do something similar. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Some people love baths, but baths make me feel like I’m marinating in my own juices. That’s okay. Those folks might not find relief from the world in a horror novel the same way I do. Their bath and my horror both provide our minds with the opportunity to break harmful thoughts.

            Wellness is personal. We can read as much as we want and buy as much as we can afford, but ultimately, we must discover what it means for us.

Charity Feature: Doctors Without Borders

Charities
A person holding a small grey and white globe.
Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

            For February’s charity of the month, I decided on Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This organization is comprised of medical professionals dedicated to bringing care to vulnerable populations around the world. They work in war zones to treat civilians unable to escape, poverty-stricken areas, and wherever there’s a humanitarian crisis.

            Although I have no first-hand experience with being in those zones, I have worked with many people who were refugees, and I have strong familial ties to people who were refugees themselves. Being forced out of your home and the place you’ve known for perhaps your whole life is traumatic, but not having access to care when you’re hurt or get sick adds another level to that terror. Although they help refugee populations, they also work with people who live in impoverished areas with disease outbreaks, disasters, and war zones.

            Because MSF dedicated to their patients, they work with whoever currently rules the area so they can reach people in need as quickly as possible and continually assess the good versus harm their presence may be doing. That said, they don’t ally with one party over the other, nor do they rely on donations from governments or large foundations. Most of their funding comes from individual donations. That means they have the funds available to give treatment when the need arises, rather than waiting for funds to be released or media coverage to help generate operational costs. They are also transparent about where that funding goes, the majority of which is to the people in need.

            I could go on and on about them – how they bear witness to atrocities and speak out publicly about the need to address them, their self-enforced standard of care, and so many other things, but the MSF website says it much better than I ever could. If you have anything to spare, please consider donating to this organization. They save lives every day and work hard to make our world a better place for everyone to live.

An Anxiety Story

disability theory
Anxiety - A grayscale picture of a hand eraching out of water towards a cloudy sky
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Something that struck me when I was being tested how common anxiety is with ADHD. For me, that manifested in tests. I want to change answers because I’m so afraid of being wrong. I’ve gotten better, but it has continued into my post-undergrad life. If I make a mistake, it’s hard to resist the urge to beat myself up. Over the years I’ve developed tools to manage anxiety, but it still plays a role in my life.

Anxiety is a fear response. Fear isn’t bad. It keeps us safe. Standing over an active volcano, for instance, you realize that laying down and making lava-angels would be bad. The fear of being burned alive would hopefully prevent you from doing that.

Anxiety comes in during prolonged threatening or stressful situations. For me, that started in elementary school. Because my processing speed is slow, I had a hard time finishing tests. I had a few teachers focus exclusively on my low scores. I felt stupid, and some teachers reinforced that.

As an adult, if I make a small mistake socially or in work, I’ll obsess over it for days. It’s hard to get past that until I apologize, sometimes to excess.

What can we do to help minimize this? Individually, that can mean medication or therapy. Maybe both. On a supportive level, understanding is key.

Kids need patience and compassion, but so do adults. Nontraditional students return to school to better their lives. One of the most toxic aspects of our society is how it views landmarks as being strictly chronological. Anything less than early success is still seen as failure.

Mistakes are an opportunity for growth, and that’s worth keeping in mind as we interact. If we tackle anxiety on a socially, perhaps it won’t be as prevalent or difficult individually.

On Advocacy: A Message to Parents From a Dyslexic Adult

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When I graduated high school, I was terrified. I should have felt happy and proud of my Regents diploma. It was a huge accomplishment, especially for someone who went from failing to honors. My family was proud, but all I could feel was anxiety. I knew I was broken somehow but didn’t feel like I could talk about it. I had no idea how to advocate for myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate everything my parents have done for me. There were always extra stresses, and they didn’t have nearly as many resources as there are today. They did a fantastic job with what they had. I will always be proud to be their daughter, but I now have the luxury of time to see some of what I needed.

I’ve found most information about learning disabilities for parents circulated through social media only addresses current struggles. While I understand the need to get through the moment, kids need to learn early on how to effectively speak up for themselves.

This can take shape in many ways. Here are a couple ideas:

  • For older kids, fully involve them with post-high school plans. Do they want to go to college? Research with them. Is college not for them? Point them at resources about work programs or internships. Then look at disability accommodations together.
  • Listen if they’re having trouble at school with teachers or bullying. Discuss possible courses of action with them (taking into account, of course, age and development), then carry through as partners.

Understood.org and other similar websites have excellent resources that could help with this issue.

I’m not speaking as a parent, but as a child with disabilities who has grown up. Learning self-advocacy early on will make adult years easier and may prevent some heartache.

Invisible Strength

disability theory
Yellow and purple flowers growing out of rocks

            I’ll admit it. I have a hard time with motivation sometimes. It’s just a part of being human, and it’s often compounded by that nasty little critical voice living in our heads. One of the big issues with my voice is the way my neurodivergence has reinforced what it says.

            Part of that has to do with anxiety, which I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. I had written an article about my coping mechanisms here, but as I was stumbling through last week, I got to thinking about invisible strength.

            Invisible strength is the overlooked power to get through those mental blocks. Getting up and going can take huge effort, but it’s not obvious by looking at us. My lens is through that of invisible disability. People don’t see the years of mental training needed to get to my current functional level. They don’t see the ongoing fight to maintain health and an environment I can efficiently work in.

            It’s hard, but that’s life.

            You don’t have to fit into any specific demographic to struggle. We all have our own fights, regardless of how good our lives may look. That’s something we need to learn how to honor. At the same time, we also need to at least notice the struggles of other and remain compassionate about whatever they’re going through. Your difficulty is never an excuse to abuse others.

            We’re all strong in our own ways. Our brains may be hardwired to notice the negatives, but that’s all the more reason to make the effort to see the positive and to build upon that. That starts with seeing our invisible strengths. It continues with building upon them.

Charity Feature: Animal Humane Society

Charities

A couple weeks before graduation, we noticed a cat had somehow gotten into our garage. I wasn’t entirely sure if it could get out, so I started feeding it and leaving it some water while I found a live trap. When my husband found out, he tried scaring it off before I could get one and thought he’d succeeded.

When I graduated, we discovered the cat was still there, much to my dismay. I borrowed a trap from a very generous friend. When we finally caught him, a sweet black cat, we knew we couldn’t care for him. We already have three cats, and the holidays are wild. Thankfully, we knew we could take him to one of the most trustworthy organizations I know of, the Animal Humane Society. Since then, he has been adopted.

Adopted Kitties

A black cat with green eyes lying on his side on a red blanket with sunbeams shining down on him.

We have a history with the local Humane Society. Two of our current kitties were adopted from them. They do amazing work with animals in their care, whether they’re surrendered, brought in as strays as our rescue cat was, or rescued from hazardous situations. Both our families have adopted dogs from them in the past as well.

Both the kitties we’d adopted were from unwanted litters. Our big black cuddle-bug of a kitty was healthy, but around six months old, when we adopted him. Our tuxedo kitty had some medical problems, though. We’d adopted him as a tiny kitten, and he had already been treated for ear mites and a respiratory infection. He is one of the smartest, sweetest cats I’ve ever known. Without the hard work of the Humane Society, I don’t want to think what would have happened to either of them.

A tuxedo cat curled up with a white blanket.

Rescue Readers
I could go on about all the amazing things they do, but I’ll close with one of their programs that is close to my heart, Rescue Readers (https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/education/rescue-readers). Literacy is one of the most important issues out there for me. When students I tutored asked me how they could improve their English skills, I replied that they need to read and write as much as possible. It’s a learned skill, and they’ll only improve with practice. This is a great way to do that.

I had originally thought this was only for children, but I now see it’s for readers of all ages. If you love animals and want to try improving your reading skills, check this out. I might sign up this year. We may not be able to adopt another animal, but I love hanging out with animals of all kinds. Hey, it could be a fun way to proofread my work out loud. I doubt they’d judge my mistakes too harshly.

The work they do is why I decided to feature them for January’s charity. If you can support them, please donate, but if not? Read up on what they do and spread the idea of adopting animals instead of shopping for them.

A tabby lying on a box draped with a tiger-stripe towel on the left. A tuxedo cat on his back on the floor by her, and a black cat on a box draped with a green blanket. They're all by a sunlit window.
I couldn’t resist sharing one last picture of all three. Our tabby was given to us as a kitten from neighbors who were going to surrender her to the city shelter.

This entry is part of a monthly series of charity features. I have no affiliation with any of these organizations outside of donating and supporting their work.

Doctor Who and Disability

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Infographic: 
Dyspraxia Facts
Also known as Developmental Coordination
Affects children and adults
Symptoms include difficulty with: Fine (small) motor skills
Gross (large) motor skills
Motor planning
Coordination
Often happens with other diagnoses
Changes daily
Also might influence speech and executive function
Estimated 1 in 10 people have it
Sources: Understood.org
Dyspraxia Foundation UK
Dyspraxia USA
@AlternativeWiring

            I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for a while now. The characters, story, and setting are what drew me in initially, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they consistently got disability right.

            One of the current companions, Ryan, has dyspraxia. I don’t have dyspraxia, so I can’t know what it’s like without a huge amount of research, but I will say the writing accurately portrayed much of the experience of living with learning disabilities. It reflected much of my experience, at least.

            It’s also impressive that they chose to give a young adult dyspraxia. Like dyslexia, a child with dyspraxia will grow into an adult with dyspraxia. It never goes away, but people get better at handling it. His race is also important, too, as he is black, and most LD representation is of white people.

            That said, his disability isn’t the focus of his character or story line. It’s a large part of it, as it should be, and it’s brought up from time to time in things he struggles with, but again, it’s not constant. Ryan is flawed, funny, brilliant, and makes mistakes. He’s human.

            Doctor Who also has a history of casting people with disabilities. There was one scientist who had dwarfism. I don’t recall her size or body-type as being relevant to the story, though it influenced how she interacted with the world around her. Last season, one character had blindness, Hana, and a blind actress was cast in the role, Ellie Wallwork. Her blindness played a large role in her character, but that wasn’t all she was. Hana was a smart, sassy teenage girl who knocked Ryan out with a door at one point.

What? I have a soft spot for slapstick.

            Disability is hard to get right in any fictional medium, but Doctor Who does it well.

On Disability Erasure

disability theory
A pad of paper with the last few letters of "Disability" erased. A yellow mechanical pencil lies on the paper.

            Disability is a dirty word. It shouldn’t be, especially considering as of 2012, the US Census estimated there were around 56.7 million folks living with disability. As the population increases and ages, that number has no doubt gone up. The fact people are reluctant to use the word is the root to erasure of this diverse group.

            I’ve carried it for as long as I can remember in the form of dyslexia. As I learned how to leverage my unique neurology, I also had a hard time identifying as disabled. The mainstream picture of disability is that of visible helplessness. That picture erased a huge part of my identity. My body has always been healthy, barring minor chronic issues. The only time I struggled with mobility was when I repeatedly sprained the same ankle one year.

            So, why does it matter?

            On a practical level, it matters because we need accommodations to function in the world. Take dyslexia for example. Dyslexic children face extra barriers to their education. Some school districts refuse to use the word “dyslexia”. Many schools resist testing students or providing IEPs (Individualized Education Plans).

However, dyslexia is often not identified until adulthood. Testing for learning disabilities is expensive and time consuming. Because these disabilities aren’t classified as medical, health insurance won’t cover testing. When someone is already struggling with money, diagnosis becomes another barrier to a better life. When I returned to college, I needed to be reassessed. My doctor gave me a discount, but I still spent over a year paying down the debt.

            Regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race, income-level, or any other demographic, disability is a part of the story. Disability must be honored. Our struggle is worth talking about and our achievements are worth celebrating. We are here, and we are here to stay.

New Year New Me? Not So Much.

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Closeup view of January 2020 page of a planner

I believe that the New Year is not only a chance to look towards the future, but also an opportunity to let go of what’s bothering us. In my case, that was old paperwork. Years ago, I’d gone through our filing cabinet and bagged outdated documents to sort through later. Those bags became breeding-grounds for dust mites.

Abusive low-paying jobs, a new marriage that was already suffering due to mental health problems, toxic “friends”, substance abuse relating to said “friends”, family issues, physical illness, housing problems, and financial troubles made my earlier years difficult. That paperwork was all from that time. As I went through everything, old feelings of hopelessness came back. Even one year of financial strife can echo for years. Our troubles lasted much longer.

That stress had physical effects. I was rarely home when we were renting, but the mold in the apartment still resulted in lung damage. The highest paying of my awful jobs had a wellness fair at one point, which included blood pressure screenings. When the nurse took my blood pressure, her eyes got wide and she asked if I felt ok. My blood pressure was up near heart-attack levels.

I am better now, and more rational, but I am still spiritual. That spirituality doesn’t manifest in religion, but in a belief that everything holds power. The paperwork had become a symbol of what holds me back. As I hauled bags to the recycling bin, I let go of what they represented. As I shredded the paperwork containing sensitive information, I envisioned those terrible things evaporating.

Does that make me a new person for 2020? No. What has changed in me is the ability to handle problems. The present is fleeting. Why not enjoy the pleasures of the moment while dealing with the troubles of the day?

Accomplishment, Competition, and Mourning

accomplishments

            December 14th was a big day. I finally walked in commencement to receive my bachelor’s degree. On the floors below us, hundreds of children competed in the state gymnastics championships. Across the street, two murdered little boys and their mother were laid to rest.

A red gratitude sash, blue and gold honors cord, blue and white 2019 tassel on a black graduation goan
My regalia from the graduation. TRIO is a federally funded program dedicated to helping at risk college students succeed in graduating.

            Graduation is a big accomplishment, especially for adult students. Many of us returned to school after years in the workforce or as stay at home parents. It is still a challenge for younger students fresh out of high school, especially those who are first in their families to go to college, but those of us who have established responsibilities – work, home, marriage, parenthood – bear extra burdens of stress. Those of us with disabilities carry lifetimes of stigma and psychological damage done by ongoing societal trauma. We are still largely erased or used as inspiration, which only serves to worsen our struggle. The hurt part of me still thinks there was a clerical error somewhere along the way, but the rational part knows I earned this degree and the honors that came with it. Ten years ago, I would have said I couldn’t return to school. I wasn’t smart enough, determined enough, disciplined enough. I’ve proven to myself how wrong I was. Now, I face the next steps of getting a job, seeking more publication, and eventually attending grad school. Others in my cohort won’t seek further schooling, and that’s ok, too. We reached this accomplishment together, but our paths now diverge. Despite the joyful tears my friends and I shed, despite the sense of accomplishment, the other events in such a small area highlighted just how large the world is.

As we were receiving our academic awards, nearly 300 kids from across the state met in the lower levels of the convention center to compete in the Level 3-5 Minnesota State Championships. These young people worked hard to get to their spots in this competition. They followed their passions; their parents invested time, money, and energy into supporting their children, just as our families had invested in us. Like the graduates walking across the stage above them, they all embarked on exciting beginnings after extensive hard work. Like us, they faced a sort of ending. All competitions come to an end, and the results often dictate the competitors’ next steps. The winners move up in whatever structure they have in place, everyone else either continues the athletic path or move on to other interests. They are all at the beginning of their lives and they have much exploring ahead of them.

            The funeral that took place in the church across the street was for two little boys and their mother who were murdered by the mother’s ex-husband. He then shot himself. From what I’ve read, Kjersten, William, and Nelson Schladetzky were very special folks. Though I never met them, I send my condolences to their family and friends. Their lives had ended entirely too early, and on a day of such excitement for over 800 college graduates and over 200 child athletes, many others mourned. Yet, according to their obituary, the family would like memorials to them to focus on the future in the form of donations to Whittier International Elementary and Protect Minnesota. In the face of such terrible loss, hope continues to shine brightly.

            This was a lesson in the simultaneous enormity of a moment and how tiny we each are in the greater world. We work hard to achieve our goals, and in the face of our successes, there will always be failure. We earn our accomplishments, and we deserve to revel in them, but at the same time, there will always be loss and failure. Be it birth or death, winning or losing, passing or failing, we are all in this world together. Even if it’s only in passing, we affect each other in some shape or form. We will each experience our wins, our losses, and, more than likely, suffer the ongoing grief of losing people we love. In our celebrations, remember compassion and gratitude for everyone who has supported us along the way.