Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2018-01-26

Year of Ask Vol 2: Why and How I Started My Year of Ask Project

I set the date for my 39th birthday party months in advance, at the totally subtle nudge of my partner. It surprised me that I was procrastinating sending out my invites. Like all things I need to do and instead procrastinate, it was in heavy rotation in the back of my mind. For some reason I felt resistant to asking people to celebrate with me.

This picture series is basically all sorts of folks who showed up to celebrate my birthday and helped make it happen in some way. By not asking folks to my birthday party I would have cut myself off from receiving all this love! All pics by my friend McKay.

As others who have December birthdays know, birthday gatherings are met with quite a bit of scheduling competition and to ensure you have robust attendance you have to invite early and remind repetitively. Usually I don’t do either of those things and let whatever happens happen, or I put my birthday party off until January.

I went to a retreat for my new coaching program the first weekend in December, having still not sent out invites to my birthday party. During the retreat I kept working on uncovering my blocks to money. The realization came when I was heading home, noticing the strong resistance to sending out invites with fresh self awareness.

I have been saying for years that asking for help is a sign of strength. But, as with all personal growth, there is always new work to be done in areas I thought I had handled. Having that time at the retreat to really examine myself and how I might be limiting my greatness introduced me to this new growth edge—I needed to open up to asking.

Sometimes, when I have an area of personal growth, I just need to practice. Get in there, feel awkward, cheer for myself and do it anyway. With practice, awkward things feel less awkward. Eventually difficult things become muscle memory and the resistance doesn’t come up as much.

I decided to embark on a Year of Ask. Like Shonda Rhimes and her Year of Yes, I would devote myself to a year of asking. Literally anything that comes up, big or small, that involves asking, I will just do the ask. I love the saying “If you’re not hearing no you’re not asking enough.”

So I started with my birthday party. My ideas for what I wanted to accomplish with my party were mighty. A holiday special for my Facebook Live, a brunch the next day, a Dolly holiday raffle. I knew if I wanted to go hard for my birthday it would require a lot of help since I couldn’t afford a caterer and I needed production help. My heart was telling me “Yes, yes, go hard Bevin!!” but something in me was blocking the execution.

My annual pic with the Zarou family!

The Year of Ask was the permission I needed to push through that block. And a birthday party is a great occasion to practice shameless asking.

Behind the scenes of my Facebook Live Holiday Special, which yes, included a BBQ as a stand-in tripod. My friend Leo provided SO MUCH HELP making this happen because I asked for her help!

I made all the big plans, I wrote up an epic Google RSVP form with about fifteen check boxes of ways folks could help. And it happened, we had enough chairs (thanks Kate and Jennifer!) and the food was fabulous and plentiful. And the pictures are beautiful. Way more people RSVPed than I thought would happen and it turned out Dara had been secretly pre-planning my birthday as a surprise proposal which explained why so many people were available and ready to help.

Keep up with our queer wedding planning on our Wedding Vlog!

So here I am, officially 39, having had probably the best birthday party I’ve ever had, running a pre sale for my first ever workout video for Fat Kid Dance Party, and asking away. Will you support my mission to make the world safe for people to love themselves in any amount? Link to support right here!

I’m excited to share with you how the progress in my Year of Ask is going and would love to hear from you. How have you opened yourself up to asking? What process do you use to feel the fear and do it anyway?

2017-04-14

FAT SEX WEEK XXL: Interview with Cinnamon Maxxine

Welcome one and all (who are knowingly entering into this adult-themed conversation)! This is Fat Sex Week XXL, the second edition of QueerFatFemme.com Fat Sex Week where I explore many facets of fat sex. Named for Magic Mike XXL, which was even better than the first Magic Mike, I’m hoping this edition is louder and fatter than ever before! Check this tag for all of the posts!

When I say stripper if you bring to mind a White, cisgender, feminine presenting and seemingly straight thin woman, there’s so much more to the world available for you. Just like people, excellent strippers come in all shapes, sizes and presentations. If you are a regular consumer of stripping entertainment and you assume most of the people performing in the club are straight and they are cisgender, you haven’t read my blog long enough. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with your perception of a person’s presentation. It is a personal choice that requires an ask. (And a whole lot of queer folks are strippers.)

It’s the White Capitalist Heteropatriarchy that is keeping strip clubs so homogenous. And sadly, the Unionized strip club in San Francisco, The Lusty Lady, is no longer. But there are still lots of strippers of all different shapes and sizes out there, performing their hearts out for the audiences lucky enough to see them, even if they don’t perform in clubs. (And if you know about clubs that have size diverse strippers please leave a comment!)

I saw Cinnamon Maxxine perform last summer at the Desiree Alliance conference and they were magnificent. Seriously, one of the best strip performances I had ever seen and I’ve produced a lot of shows. There’s a magic and charisma a person has on stage when they are really enjoying it and know how to engage their audiences. I wanted to interview Cinnamon for Fat Sex Week to find out more about their stripping performance, and self care.

Photo of Cinnamon from my friend Amanda Arkansassy‘s project Femme Space. Read Cinnamon’s statement to go along with this piece at the Femme Space website.

The basics: What’s your pronoun?

They/Them

What was the conversation about sex like in your family and community growing up? How do you think it’s helped or harmed you becoming your authentic self?

We didn’t talk about sex growing up. My mom didn’t really offer up those conversations readily. When it came time for sex ed in school, my mom wouldn’t sign the forms. So the next time sex ed came around, I went to my dad and it took a little convincing, but he signed it.
I feel like the lack of openness around sex only led to me feeling really shy, scared, and self conscious in my own private sex life. Yes, I’ve done porn, yes I’ve done sex work, but that’s all performative and it’s very different than what sex is like in one personal life.

How did you get started stripping, porn performing and doing sex work? How has it evolved for you?

I started stripping because I needed a job. I also figured it would be fun. I figured I would be able to perform a little bit and that was appealing to me. I got hired at the Lusty Lady and loved it. From there I met other sex workers and got involved in other types of work. Once you’re in, it’s easy to find ways into other types of sex work.

I started doing other sex work in 2008 and porn in 2009. When I started escorting, I kind of just jumped in and went for it. Then from there I started doing private parties and events. That turned out to be my jam. I love private parties and events. I have the most fun doing that type of work and I’m not terrible at it and I also make money. It’s a win win win.

I’ve continued to do events and private parties, however, I haven’t really done any escorting for a few years because I was really burned out and my mental health couldn’t take it anymore. I always figured I would get back to it eventually, but right now, I’m taking a break for as long as I need.

In your bio for the Desiree Alliance conference after party show you said that stripping is the thing you love to do most. What is it about stripping that brings so much joy for you?

I think I love the performance aspect for sure. I also enjoy having a crowd to perform for. Performing while fat and black is really empowering for me as well. I’m also incredibly shy normally, but being the center of attention for anywhere from 5 mins to a few hrs is really amazing.

What are some numbers you have in your repertoire in case anyone out there books shows or special events?

The acts I get most requested is the one that’s a little more performance artsy where I hand out love notes to the audience and the act where I pull pearls out of my pussy.

Cinnamon you once told me your ritual before you perform in a stripping competition, would you share it with my readers?

LOL, I don’t get to do this much anymore because I’m far more broke and I kind of miss it.
But it went like this:
I’d wake up and spend an hr or so planning my day and figuring out everything I needed for the competition or work event. Usually my first stop was the wig shop, followed by picking up an outfit. Sometimes if I had a little extra money, I’d go to Foxy Lady on Mission st, otherwise I’d hit up this random clubwear store, I think it was near 18th and Mission. If I couldn’t find anything there, I’d stop by Fabric Outlet and get material to make my own outfit. After Fabric Outlet, I’d treat myself to lunch, then get my nails done, then pick up some jewelry, then head home. This literally took most of the day. These things are all pretty time consuming and I was also taking public transit.

What has the process of coming out as gender non-conforming has been like for you?

I think I’ve always just been where I’m at in any given moment about my gender. And those around me, excluding my bio family, kind of always just accepted me where I was at. I don’t think that any formal coming out was necessary. I also didn’t have any words for what I was feeling gender wise. When I started working at the Lusty, I was meeting new people and through that I was able to find some words for what I was experiencing.

But the biggest hurdle wasn’t necessarily coming out, but finding words to even do that.

Can you share the affirmation you do every morning?

I’ve had a lot of those! Right now, I’m telling myself Something my grandmother always used to say, “ Everyone is just doing the best they can.” Which I don’t always believe, but it helps sometimes.

A sign from the Desiree Alliance protest, an annual part of the conference where folks attending march in protest with signs. The attendees are current and former sex workers, businesses that work with sex workers, direct service organizations, sex worker’s rights organizations, policy makers and creators, and academics who study sex work make up the diverse conference. The next conference is in 2018.

What is your self care practice?

I love video games, hamburgers, bacon, mac n cheese, and making art stuff. I’m also learning how to speak up for myself. I’ve had a really hard time doing that in the past and it’s really taken a toll on my mental health. It’s not a fun part of self care, it’s been really hard, but it’s really made a difference in my life and how much I respect myself.

You are a person who is really great at asking for the help you need. Are there any tips you can give to folks about how to feel more confident asking for help?

I don’t feel confident! I’m always really scared about asking for help. However, I know it’s really hard, but just do it. It’s so much easier said than done to literally just ask for help, but you have to. Talk about it with some close friends or family first if you feel like that might help. You can sort some thoughts and figure out what kind of help is going to be most, well, helpful, and then put that out there to the universe. I often use Facebook, but you don’t have to.

What are some of your fat sex tips? Favorite sex toy?
I love sex with other fat people. I really enjoy grabbing other people’s fat.
My favorite sex toy was my Hitachi, but it was stolen some years ago and I haven’t been able to replace it.

Links to current projects and links to how to paypal/venmo to support you.

I use Venmo and that’s the best way to throw me money just for existing.
Cinnamon Maxxine / @CinnaMaxx on venmo

I also have a Patreon that, however, I don’t post that often, but I do still appreciate patrons and followers.

I’ve also been raising money to save toward an RV because I’ve been homeless off and on so much in the last several years. I feel like an RV is my best bet in my current situation for some sort of housing stability. I’ll be putting up the link to that fundraiser on my Facebook. You can follow me on Facebook.

Thanks so much for contributing to Fat Sex Week, Cinnamon!

2015-12-29

See You Laters instead of Goodbyes: My Last Moments as a New Yorker and First Stop on the Road

On December 18th the moving truck came and took all of the belongings we decided were important enough to ship to California. For me, this involved my beloved high heeled shoe chairs and four wardrobe boxes of hanging clothes. For Dara, her karaoke machine, keyboard and guitar. Thank the Goddess for the incredible help of Victoria in that process.

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Pro-tip: if you know someone going through an intense cross-country move, text them “How can I help?” Pro-tip: if you are going through a cross-country move and someone asks how they can help, take them up on it. I have had to work through some intense “I’m an independent babe, I need to appear perfect” in order to be in a place to receive help. I’m so glad I have done that work because we really needed that help. If I had said, “No, we’re okay!” I would have lost out on hanging out with Victoria AND likely devolved into sobbing and fighting with Dara. I did neither of those things in our last few days in NYC. (The closest to a fight we got into was snipping for a few minutes and I thought that was a giant victory.)

I feel like Dara and I said “We’re almost done!” way too prematurely but there was no way to actually know what we had left to do in the packing process, it was all whack a mole dealing with the next right thing. So with the help of Victoria disassembling my desk, unscrewing things in the wall, taping up boxes, showing up on moving day with coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we managed to get through the final firestorm of stress and get ready for our road trip.

highheelshoemovingI worked hard to have the moving process be as low stress as I could manage but just seeing the photo of the high heel shoe chair wrapped for the moving truck only a week and couple of days later I can feel my stress hormones ramping back up again! Probably a good occasion to employ tapping.

So here’s the thing, typically you plan a road trip across the country and it is your primary activity for a period of time before you hit the road (I did this in 2011). Or at least if you are a Capricorn like me, you do it that way. This time, packing for the road trip was the first thing I did after the moving truck left.

Somehow, (I have no idea how this happened…) when planning my wardrobe for this trip I kind of overdid it. As I packed up the clothes in my dresser and vanity (two pieces of furniture I could hold onto until I left that weren’t going with the movers) I just kind of shoved what I thought was going to fit into my two suitcases. Clothing that would have to work for multiple climates (from below freezing to 90 degrees, potentially), professional meetings, possible dressing up, casual hangouts and comfy clothes that can handle being in the car for 12 hours. This is the type of sartorial challenge I excel at, yet still required more edits than I allotted before the movers took the last box. So, we had to pack a bonus box to ship ahead of us. Victoria was great at editing this with me while Dara ran our last minute leaving town errands like returning the Optimum online modem and router–why the return place has to be in the far reaches of Brooklyn is beyond me–picking up prescriptions, etc…

hollyaliceMe and Holly and her pup Alice B Tokeface. Holly just moved to NYC from the Bay a few months ago and was full of great advice for me. So sad we won’t be living in the same city anymore!

The last night in town my friend Topher hosted a really cute mixer right near my apartment. If you’re in NYC and want to meet people, Select All is the party to go to. I walked in and there were tons of people I knew and literally all of them were quality awesome people you would want to meet. It was a great last chance to hug people I love. DJ Average Jo was spinning and played me a 20 minute block of Hall and Oates for old times sake. (During the Yes Ma’am parties we always had a couple of Hall and Oates songs for dance floor nostalgia.)

joandbevinMe and Jo!

My good friend Miss Mary Wanna came up from Philly for the last night to hang out and help with the transition to the new Femme roommate in the Haus of Femmespiration–MMW is a Virgo cusp Femme professional organizer, office manager and apropos to this, mega house cleaner. Paying halfsies for a deep clean was an act of self love my roommate and I did to ease the transition. No question about whose mess was whose or me having to clean after I got everything out of the apartment. Also bonus–keep money in the queer economy. Double bonus–she’s a friend who won’t judge our lifestyle, who we can trust to leave the house while she’s working.

After we got back from Select All, Miss Mary Wanna and I sat up in my living room hanging hard. We don’t get to see each other often and our slumber parties are some of my favorite memories. We met in 2009 when I threw a Zombie Queer Cabaret and she came up from North Carolina to perform. I booked her a bunch after she moved to Philly and we became friends. We were up reminiscing about my favorite memories in the apartment and I was loving talking to MMW and kind of procrastinating going to bed on my last night as a New Yorker. Though I was ready to leave I was also kind of sad.

bevinmissmarywannaLove this babe so hard.

I had all the feels. Excited. Sad. Nervous. Overwhelmed. Relieved that the packing and moving part was pretty much over. Nostalgic. Ready. Exhausted.

Victoria and I had packed our car for the road trip and it seemed liked Dara and I had plenty of room for all the stuff we had left in the house (our “go” bags, overnight stuff, Macy’s cooler with her frozen homemade food in it and my reiki tea making supplies). We parked it overnight in a garage and when we took stuff downstairs on Saturday morning for our departure it was a cluster fuck trying to get everything in there. There were some last minute items ditched and we did the best we could to make it work.

reikiteaArt works well with a deadline, so having decided I was going to give samples of many of my reiki infused tea blends to friends as hostess gifts while we travel cross country gave me a deadline… So naturally I was blending tea the last night in Brooklyn. I’m pretty stoked about how they all came out, though, and can’t wait to get feedback from my friends as they sample the tea. The Feelings blend supports going through Feelings and has a tart flavor as an acknowledgement that even things that are a bit uncomfortable can ultimately be delicious.

Jacqueline made a joke about wanting to be at my last-minute waving goodbye party and it ended up manifesting even though she didn’t come. Like, I couldn’t leave town without saying a real goodbye to my BFF Brian even though we had just had dinner during the live broadcast of Dolly Parton’s TV movie Coat of Many Colors on NBC. (My girl got the highest ratings of any TV movie since 2011!) But every time we saw each other we said we’d see each other one more time, so it was super sweet that Brian and his huzz Arnolfo came by to wave.

wavingparty

None of this is really goodbye, I will see everyone again, just in different permutations and more intentionally as we become out of town visitors or as I convince people to move to LA, too. (So far mostly just Miss Mary Wanna, Sequinette and Victoria.) I am trying really hard to just say, “See you later.”

All of the see you laters has been kind of overwhelming in a good way. Moving really gets people saying how much you mean to them in a way that I didn’t expect. I am still really moved (pun intended) by some of the incredible things people said about how knowing me has touched their lives. Impacting so many people I respect, admire and love is incredibly humbling.

We drove for what seemed like forever that first day. We hit a bunch of traffic in DC and Richmond, VA, on our way to my friends’ Farmlet in North Carolina. Fae and E have this amazing homestead I’d heard so much about over the past couple of years. Fae’s blog Species Confusion is awesome, I’ve read the whole thing.

The blog is great recipes and stories of homesteading. The amount of knowledge that goes into farming for one’s family is the equivalent of a graduate degree. Both in research and what is learned in trial and error. I love to learn new things and we spent the whole morning on their Farmlet feeding the critters and learning about the mechanics of the Farmlet.

In fact, Fae posted that pigs love pumpkin and I never carved my pumpkin from Halloween so instead of getting rid of it in the last swirls of moving I decided to save it to bring to their pigs, Tofu and Tempeh.

farmletI saw my three year old niece Joey the night I wore these pants and she said, “Aunt Bevin you’re wearing pants.” I’m not much for pants but was trying something for this tee shirt.

They have rabbits and chickens, too, as well as Hamster whose farm product is love. He’s a tiny yorkie Fae rescued years ago who I had only seen in photos on Facebook and was happy to introduce to Macy. They got along well, Macy even tried to play with Hamster, and I seriously regret not getting photos.

Dara and I are working on an adventure video blog and I’m very stoked to have some of Fae and E’s Farmlet tour on the first video! Our 40 day trip West will hopefully have some stops that will allow Dara time to edit the videos.

Right now we’re paused in Normal, IL, waiting out an ice storm at Dara’s brother’s house. More soon!

hopestatueOn our last week in town we stopped at the HOPE statue in Midtown. I thought it was an appropriate bon voyage NYC photo!

2015-05-20

On Activism, Capacity and Seeing Yourself as “Enough”

I’ve been thinking a lot about capacity, self care and activism lately.

This morning I got one of my daily spiritual emails* that talked about directing our energies without regard to the need to be successful in an outward way. It told a story about Mother Teresa, who was asked why she devoted herself to such a massive problem as alleviating the suffering of the poor, when obviously she wasn’t going to solve poverty. Where did she get her dedication, “knowing that all the poverty and sickness would still be there long after she had died? Didn’t she realize she couldn’t win?”

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“Her explanation was simple: Of course she knew the task was immense, but “finishing” wasn’t her purpose.” Since Mother Teresa was a person of faith, she was willing to do what she believed was the right action for her, regardless of the outcome. She was focused on the task itself, not the completion of it.

This resonated with me today, as I’ve been focusing on learning my capacity for work, developing systems of self care, and thinking about activist burn out. I think the tendency as one is socialized in systems of oppression, is to give and give of oneself until there is nothing left. This is a value often taught to women, the idea that you have to put everyone else’s needs before your own.

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Activist movements, as in almost all things, can suck you dry—there is always more to be done, more people to reach out to, more actions to plan, more art to make, more reaching out. But at a certain point you have to be able to say, this is my limit. But we’re not socialized in a way to know what our limits are, to think thoughtfully about our capacity, and how to use self care in order to build our capacity. We’re not socialized to be able to say, “Enough, I can’t do this any longer.” I’ve seen it wear down on people until disease forces them to make big life changes.

I had to learn how to start saying no to things, how to learn how to ask folks for time to respond to them (I usually take at least 24 hours to say yes or no to volunteer work), and how to assess whether I wanted to continue working on things that were pulling a lot of my energy. I have flares of my chronic digestive disorder whenever I start getting really stressed out emotionally or with work.

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Today I went for a walk on Venice Beach. My partner is in LA for a work conference and I got to stay with her at the conference hotel. I’m so grateful for a super flexible day job where I can work remotely from a hotel! I took an hour and a half off for lunch and a drive to the beach. I was very charmed by the beach but so troubled by the amount of trash that was washing ashore. I grew up as a Girl Scout in Northern California and we were always doing eco events, picking up trash in wetlands and things like that. It’s a great way to have intimacy with nature and be of service.

Whenever I’m in nature I can’t help it, I just start picking up trash. I get so troubled by seeing it, imagining plastic wrappers wrapping around the necks of birds and things like that. I am 36 years old, I’ve been hearing about environmental conservationism my entire life. It feels so sad that beach clean-up and litter in the ocean is still an ongoing issue. And don’t get me started about the Pacific Trash Vortex. I can’t even.

17721574790_ee6a1b7bc8_zSome kind of corporate stress ball that looked like it could have been a jellyfish from afar. The weirdest trash I found today was an empty bottle of Patron Silver.

My brain is wired in this way where I just start to go there, I think about how big the problem is, how futile it feels for me to walk on the beach and pick up trash without a trash bag. Just gathering things in a found Starbucks cup or precariously clutching them in my paws. I had to think about what I was doing with my time. Was I going to spend my entire walk on the beach picking up litter? Or would I take the relaxing walk I had originally intended?

I decided to asses my capacity and go from there. So I focused with the intensity of a Capricorn for two ten minute bursts, and spend the rest of my thirty or so minutes on the beach in contemplation of birds in the surf and walking along. It felt like a great way to put into practice just doing something I felt called or compelled to do, without regards to the fact that my twenty minutes of litter removal was not even a drop in the bucket compared to trash island. I needed to see it as good enough and let go of the outcome.

17906139372_6e7f32ce97_zI’m obsessed with this bird. Did it ever find the fish it was looking for today? It didn’t the whole time I watched it but I hope it found something delicious later on.

I want to be the kind of person in the world who is of service, and also a person who enjoys life. I think that enjoying life and being person who is receptive to good in the world makes me better able to dismantle systems of oppression that say that fat people, queer people, and women, folks raised working class should not be free to enjoy their bodies. That by being a living example of a fat, embodied, sexually liberated person enjoying life is a form of activism. And that enjoying life is a way of increasing my capacity to do good.

I also know that I can use my privilege as a White person, a person with higher education, a cisgender person, temporarily able bodied, some level of “pretty privilege**,” and a person who has access to media privilege to help causes that are important to me. I never believed that by posting a blog post about Lyme Disease that I was going to somehow cure it. But I did know that by raising awareness of it, encouraging even one of my followers to watch that documentary about Lyme might make someone more sensitive to it and make the experience of Lyme for someone they know easier because someone “gets it.” That’s something. Or maybe just one of my readers has $50 to throw at my friend Jessica’s Lyme fund.

17288704433_242a2f15b2_zWhen I’m a rich lesbian I will have lots of money to give to all sorts of great organizations doing good in the world, and will create a foundation dedicated to funding projects that mainstream funders avoid–like fat stuff, radical queer stuff, sex worker organizing–and building capacity in those movements to make them more effective and support their self care matrixes. Also I will have a baller house on the beach and all those windows will have a giant mural that says “All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.”

It can feel so daunting to be an activist and want to work to make the world better. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you don’t feel effective. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you’re depressed, anxious, need to focus on making money or just survival and feeling so helpless. Getting used to seeing what you are doing as enough, learning that because you are human you are worthy of love and it’s not about what you “do” that matters it’s more about who you are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the matrix of success lately, as I struggle through yet another round of letting go of my need to “accomplish” and “prove my worth.” I spent an entire session in therapy trying to talk about how I can get more done and my therapist arguing with me about how I am way too hard on myself. I have had to go through this so many times in my life and it usually ends up the same. I learn to let go of how much I accomplish, learn to feel worthy in spite of my ideas of success, and release blocks that enable me to find deep bursts of energy, creativity and the ability to work more effectively.

That airplane idea about putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others? I want to help create movements with folks where that is the norm and we help each other learn what our oxygen is.

17722918699_c035db8ea3_zLearning about my self care and what is effective self care has been really important for my journey to building my capacity and refilling my tank. Being at the beach really helps me. Such cleansing energy, with the wind (air), earth (sand), water (obvs) all that is missing is fire for a full four element cleanse.

*The one I am referring to is Today’s Gift from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which supports my work in a twelve step program for families and friends of alcoholics. I also get a daily email Note from the Universe which is super cute and whimsical.

**It feels really weird to say that you have pretty privilege when you are talking about yourself. I have so much to talk about in a subsequent post about that, but there’s definitely an element of being someone who has some level of conventional attractiveness that affects your privilege in the world, even as a fatty.

2015-04-20

We Need to Be Talking About Lyme Disease in the Queer Community

I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about Lyme Disease and how it affects the queer community. I grew up a woodsy outdoorswoman going to Girl Scout Camp in Northern California with signs that warn of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease. I saw the signs that told us to do tick checks, as a camp counselor I’ve coordinated big groups of young people in looking for ticks and being aware of them. I know to seek medical attention if you see a bullseye rash, especially if you get a fever or aches following exposure to a tick bite. (The CDC has a guide to symptoms of tickborne illness, if you’re lucky enough to know you got bitten.)

I’ve heard that only 20% of folks with Lyme Disease had a tick bite that was identifiable. It’s a disease that sneaks up on you, is vastly underreported and very difficult to test for. (It’s estimated that the cases of Lyme Disease are actually 10 times higher than what is reported.) Because of these factors it is really difficult to get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Insurance companies and the US Government are both very unwilling to concede to the actual appropriate treatments for Lyme Disease, doctors lose their license for treating it effectively, paying out of pocket for treatments is wildly expensive… This is a very scary, very real and very deadly thing that is happening to more and more people.

Over the years I’ve known a few queers with Lyme Disease. I’ve connected with some about treatment as they’ve used a similar anti-inflammatory food plan as I have, or who have battled candida overgrowth like I did because of the mammoth amount of anti-biotics used to treat Lyme.

small_selfportrait_sunX400Photo of Leslie Feinberg from Advocate.com. Have you read Stone Butch Blues yet? You should.

Ever since Leslie Feinberg died from Lyme Disease, I’ve known we need to talk more about Lyme Disease in the queer community. I didn’t know how to have that conversation, so I just started to bone up and educate myself.

I watched the documentary Under Our Skin, free streaming on You Tube, which according to folks I know with Lyme, it is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to seek treatment for Lyme Disease and it is shitty. It’s the kind of helpless I feel when I see really big world problems that need solutions. But I know what I do have control over and that’s learning more about it, asking questions and opening conversations.

Here’s the trailer for Under Our Skin:

Under Our Skin – Trailer from Open Eye Pictures on Vimeo.

Here’s a link to the whole documentary on you tube.

I also watched the Punk Singer, the Kathleen Hanna documentary by Sini Anderson. Kathleen opens up about her Lyme Disease and how it affects her life. It’s a really powerful double feature. The Punk Singer is available on Netflix and to buy on iTunes. (It’s great in addition to the Lyme content to hear about the Riot Grrrl movement, see great interviews with queer heroes like Lynnee Breedlove.)

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Here’s the trailer:

I may not know what to say about Lyme except, I’m here and I’m listening and reading about the disease and experiences of those with the disease. And I want more people to listen to folks with Lyme and hear them. And see them, and help them be part of the queer community even if they physically can’t be there.

4116744_1428627138.8138Photo from Jessica’s Lyme Treatment Fund.

My friend Jessica Scarlett and her wife Nik are fundraising $9,000 for her Lyme treatment. Maybe you have a few extra bucks for a stranger or maybe you know them from somewhere on the internet, like both of their really awesome art and etsy stores. NikScarlett.com
Jessica’s vintage collections and sales are the coolest.

I met Jess when I was a baaaaby gay in Sacramento, CA in the late nineties and Nik when I moved to Philly. They are a really cool couple and battling a really shitty disease.

I’ve also followed Fran Varian’s battle with late-stage Lyme Disease for years, as she is an incredible writer and femme so many folks I know have adored for a long time. The thank you letter up on her Help Heal Fran website is a poignant article about living as a queer with a chronic, expensive illness.

franindiPhoto of Fran Varian from HelpHealFran.org

The below passage from that piece really hit me. I think a lot of Femmes participate in queer community from a place of giving–but it is so hard to be Femme and in a place of needing help sometimes. We have this notion about ourselves as Femme that we have to be resilient warriors doing it on our own.

Before I knew that I was sick I was proud to be an activist. I worked for social justice in the health care industry and I donated my time to teach kids about poetry. I read and I performed at fund raiser after fund raiser. I wrote and spoke extensively with the earnest hope of making a difference in someone else’s life. Before I became sick I held a deeply-rooted belief that it is noble to give of one’s self and shameful to require gifting, though I never would have said that out loud.

Now I think differently. And because my body does not frequently cooperate and allow me to physically accomplish all of the things I want to I have a lot more time to think. Before late stage Lyme became my daily reality I allowed the pride I felt in being helpful and in giving to define me. I thought it said something about me. Unlearning that vanity has been almost as difficult as learning how to live each day with a daunting, progressive illness.

Avril Lavigne was on the cover of People Magazine last week coming out about her retreat from the spotlight while she underwent extensive Lyme Disease treatment. It’s awesome when celebrities bring awareness to it. Wealthy folks obviously have a different experience with treatment because they have access to funds for treatment insurance doesn’t cover. But still, the more awareness people have about it and the more we talk about it the more we can turn the tide of these awful insurance companies and maybe move closer to single payer healthcare/government run medical coverage for everyone.

Do you have an awesome Lyme resource to share? An article you read and resonated? A documentary, video, blog? Leave the link in the comments!

(I had some cool ones on my facebook fan page, but I’m still locked out of Facebook pending giving them a government id to their satisfaction).

2014-10-15

I Lost a Bunch of Weight and Feel Really Complicated About it

Last year I lost a bunch of weight without intending to lose weight.

I’ve debated writing about it for a long time. What do you say when you’re a body liberation activist, who is fat and totally okay with it, when your body shifts in an unintended way? My silence around the how and why of my weight loss has partially been political—my body is nobody’s business except my own—and partially been because I needed to make my own peace with the shifts happening on a very intimate corporeal level.

IMG_20140906_045612Me, backstage at Dollypalooza with MILK from RuPaul’s Drag Race and Camille Atkinson.

During this process I’ve learned a lot about making peace with a changing body. I have been fat my entire life, since I was maybe 5 and it was identifiable to me that fat was a thing you could be and that’s what I was. I’ve been the fattest in most of my friend groups, among the fattest people almost everywhere I go, and generally at the higher end of plus size so that not all plus size stores carry clothing that fit me. My experience of fat came with some privilege—I have not had a Super Fat experience, for example—but I definitely was decidedly fat.

And I loved my body. I still love my body. I had gone from hating my body and being completely checked out of it to being an embodied, yoga attending, dancing full body in spandex outfits on the dance floor, person who could tell you exactly how her body was feeling at any moment. I did so much work to get to that place and to love every inch of myself.

Chronic disease.

Starting in about 2006 I was dealing with chronic digestive issues. It would flare up differently and at different times. Stress, anxiety and I was extremely reactive to fiberous foods—like broccoli and raw salads. My digestion was so bad at times I couldn’t leave the house, or I was often late getting places because I would need to spend time having diarrhea or cramping. I went to see gastroenteologists about my condition twice over the span of a few years. Both came up with different diagnoses, both had me go in for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. The first diagnosis was colitis, but that was later ruled incorrect. The ultimate diagnosis was IBS—Irritable Bowel Syndrome—which my last doctor explained as, “We know something is wrong with your digestion we just don’t know what it is.” I have tried several different prescription medications for it and nothing resolved it.

I knew from paying attention to my body that coffee was something that made my digestion way worse, so I dropped that habit a couple of years ago. It helped. Replacing coffee with tea in my life is what inspired me to start the Lesbian Tea Basket.

I knew from paying attention to my body that alcohol, especially bourbon, caused a revolution in my intestines. When I gave up drinking at the beginning of 2013 it was partially because of wanting to address these ongoing digestion issues.

IMG_20140419_170005I could never have gone through this process without a fat positive health coach who I could call from the grocery store. “Hey Vic, is spelt the same as wheat?” “It’s better than gluten but still in the starchy carb category.”

Along came the candida overgrowth. It started for me as the presence of yeast during sex. Just a kind of weird, what is that white stuff presence. Then it happened more and more. Because it wasn’t itchy or causing any other symptoms of a yeast infection I didn’t think it was the “chronic yeast infections” a few folks I knew who had gone on the Candida Diet. But my friend and health coach Vic, of Heart Beets Holistic Health, said she was pretty positive my yeast presence was a Candida overgrowth. Vic suggested I read the book The Candida Cure and consider going on what she called the Candida Starvation and Murder Plan.

A lot of people call it the Candida Diet and I hate the term because “diet” is so loaded with baggage. In the media and in common parlance, it is used often as a violent word to attack bodies like mine. So often people don’t understand why fat folks “don’t just diet” when weight loss is much more complicated than that.

Number one, fat might be just the way someone is built. Number two, the systemic oppression of fat people actually makes it really difficult to take any lasting measures towards health. Number three, my body is nobody’s business but my own. Number four, plenty of fat people are healthy. Number five, it’s also okay if someone just wants to eat how they want to eat, they should not experience oppression because the genetic lottery means that will show up as a larger body. No one’s value is based on their choices—all humans are worthy of love and respect.

I could probably rant longer about how much I hate diet culture but that’ll do.

The Candida Cure.

Setting aside my issues with “diet” language, I read the Candida Cure, taking what I liked and leaving the rest. The author of the book was diagnosed with MS and uses the Candida Starvation Plan as a way to live symptom free. Since the whole point of the eating plan is to starve the candida, which feed off of sugar, I began referring to the eating plan laid out in the book as the Candida Starvation Plan, playing off of Vic’s jovial ways of making complex nutritional issues extremely accessible.

I learned a lot about what causes a candida overgrowth—big factors are any period of stress in your life (stress spikes your blood sugar which feeds the candida), going on antibiotics, eating a lot of sugars over a period of time. The book said that up to a third of people probably have a candida overgrowth and Western medicine really doesn’t talk about it. (Which is true—I saw Dr. Oz a few weeks ago and a guest was talking about how antibiotics are causing digestive issues but totally danced around ever using the word “candida.”)

I learned that candida was living in my intestines, eroding the lining and likely causing my years of chronic digestive disease and inflammation.

The Candida Starvation Plan is brutal, when compared to the typical American Diet. No sugar, not even fruit sugars, no caffeine, no gluten/wheat, no corn, no soy, no grains or carbs of any kind besides brown rice in limited quantities. No nightshade veggies like mushrooms or peppers. No sugary veggies. The Candida Cure even says no pork because the antibiotics given to pigs might feed the candida.

IMG_20140901_133725Ribs, when prepared with no sugar, are debatable on the Candida Starvation Plan. My body needed the pork, though.

After I read the book, having gone on her Spring cleanse and determining by the direct cause and effect (“Hey, when I eat a banana I get a yeast infection”) that I did have a candida overgrowth, Vic stepped in to help me design a Candida Murder Plan. The Starvation Plan works a lot better if you’re actively killing off the Candida, too.

Vic gave me a cycle of four herbs to take, since candida can get used to one herb and then not be affected. She also prescribed this “dirt drink” that takes an oil that kills the candida, mixes it with psyllium husks and powder to take it to different parts of the intestines and delivers it with food grade diatamaceous earth and bentonyte clay. Once I was using the dirt drink every morning I could tell that I was healing.

The whole Candida Starvation Plan was about 7 months, with a couple of times where I got off the plan because of life circumstances—travel with limited food options. If I could have avoided the life circumstances it might have worked in about 3-4 months.

My IBS symptoms cleared up about 60% within a month, and were almost entirely gone within 2-3 months. I now only get flares when I eat trigger foods or am very emotionally stressed out.

Losing weight affected me in complex ways, and most of them were difficult.

First of all, it startled me. Having tried to lose weight a lot of different methods over the years and rarely seeing a shift above or below a certain 60 pound range (I called it my pendulum, where as an adult I never went above my pendulum or below it) I really thought I’d just plateau around my normal “low” weight and stay there. I rapidly sunk below that low and kept going. I genuinely didn’t think my body was going to have that in store for me.

Second of all, since the weight loss was unexpected, I felt kind of resentful of it. If you’re one of the billion typical people who are seeking weight loss, the kind of hassle that comes along with it is bearable and perhaps even embraced. But if you aren’t expecting or seeking a weight reduction having to buy new clothing and replace really simple stuff like bras is annoying and a cost that is hard to absorb. Also, when the weight loss was coming on I was also at a period of really intense brokeness and couldn’t afford to replace my wardrobe.

IMG_20140713_125708This dress was a handmedown from a dear friend. I had two friends do closet purges and invite me to dig through their leftovers–goddesssends in a time of brokeness when I needed some staple dresses to wear and many of my favorites were too big.

Third of all, I was impressed with my friends and family. Sure, there have been lots of folks who have given me the nonpliment of “you look great.” There is one friend who I’ve distanced myself from, in part because she just never heard me when I said, “I need you to stop calling me skinny and telling me how good I look. It makes me uncomfortable when you talk about my body.”

The majority of my personal community and family has been really neutral about my weight loss, waiting for me to bring it up if I do bring it up and not showering me with praise. This has been really awesome, because I know I’m doing a great job surrounding myself with body positive allies, and educating folks about how to be an ally to fat folks who appear to have lost weight.

Fourth, I made a decision once I realized I was losing weight to be extremely neutral about it with myself. I even made it a spiritual challenge, to see myself as just a soul having a human experience, that my body is going to change no matter what I do (hello, aging) and that this was just another change. I don’t want to feel bad or glad if I do end up increasing weight in the future. I want to accept it as another phase my body is going through.

I also wanted to really live the phrase Health at Every Size. I’m willing to do the work of knowing what my body needs to feel healthy and do the work to love myself at every size I’m at. If I am going to advance the belief that all bodies are good bodies I am going to treat my body that way as well.

Fifth, I was surprised that sex was different when I lost weight–and not how I would expect. Weight loss rhetoric would have you believe that sex gets so great when you lose weight, but actually it was super weird for me. I have lost sensation in many parts of my body and I can no longer get fisted. I don’t get it. I’ve had sex with two people before and after the weight reduction and both noticed the difference. Vic thinks it might have to do with less adipose tissue, which means less estrogen and less sensation. Who knows, but I’d love to get fisted again. I mean, I’ll continue to have great sex no matter what, but it would be nice to not have to learn a whole new language about how my body wants to be touched sexually.

Sixth, I actually felt weird when asked to pose nude for an international magazine (look for Diva Magazine out on October 18th) that I had lost so much weight. I ate a bunch of dairy before the shoot so I would look plumper.

So what did I eat?

I had to learn a whole new way of eating for my body. I tried the Candida Starvation Plan for a month with no pork, at Vic’s suggestion. That part really sucked and after a month of no pork I went back to bacon—antibiotic free, hormone free, organic heritage humane pork is my preference anyway so I became very strict about that aspect of the pork.

IMG_20140420_182121Vic suggested when I was hungry to make sure I was eating enough fat. Fat fills you up. Deviled eggs are full of fat, but it’s rough finding a no sugar added mayo. I went to Whole Foods.

I got really good at slow cooking meats. I would make a pork shoulder in the crock pot which would feed me for 3 weeks. I ate a lot of bone broth (Vic’s recipe is great).

Breakfast was a challenge. I would have eggs, bacon and greens on some days. Some days I’d make kale, bone broth and pulled pork. Other days I’d have this weird grain cereal called Quia, being sure it was the type of Quia that didn’t have dried fruit in it. I’ve since found this amazing paleo baking queen named Brittany Angell who sells a $10 premium membership that comes with a breakfast recipe ebook.

I had big salads, veggie stir fries, tons of thai food cooked without sugar, and meat. I was doing a lot of cooking and thus doing dishes, but I though I was starving the candida, I was never starving!

I would get a little carb crazy sometimes, and then I would do some baking. Almond flour biscuits were a saving grace, as were brown rice tortillas from trader joe’s.

The Candida Cure allows half a grapefruit, or a handful of blueberries, or a small green apple per day, as all are relatively low sugar fruits. Also sweet potatoes a few times a week, so I got some fries every now and again. I was very strict on the candida starvation (I wanted to be one and done with the Candida Starvation Plan) except for caffeine which I had in iced tea probably once or twice a day because I drink a lot of iced tea. It’s decaf at home but I grab it at Dunkin Donuts often.

It was remarkable, actually, how different food began to taste when I took sweet out of the equation. Regular stuff, like veggies, get sweeter when you aren’t having sugar regularly.

I had tried to diet a many times before I decided to love my body as it was. I always failed. I hated my body. But this time, I was totally embodied and paying attention to how food was affecting me. I love my body and I like paying attention to it and doing things that make it feel good.

Being able to feel the difference in my chronic digestive disease so quickly was really helpful. I knew what I was doing wasn’t some amorphous “maybe it’ll help the candida;” I really knew it was working.

Since I weaned myself off the diet, I try to eat a generally anti-inflammatory food plan. I focus on no gluten/wheat, no soy (this is the most reactive food to me), no dairy during allergy season and limited dairy otherwise, sometimes no corn, low sugar, low starchy carbs. I focus on eating veggies, fruit, meat and protein. It’s really similar to my partner Dara’s anti-cancer diet, so that is helpful.

IMG_20140510_161609I’m really delighted to be back together with honey.

I can tell when I’m eating inflammatory foods because my stomach gets really hard. It’s much squishier when things are moving well. I kind of err on the side of Paleo because that’s a pretty big food movement that is most similar to my food guidelines. Thanks cross fit folks for making a food plan that helps me find recipes easily.

So, that’s the elephant in the room. Longtime readers of my blog probably noticed that I reduced my weight and were curious. I’m annoyed that so much of how I lost weight had to do with not eating cupcakes and donuts and things that I freaking love. Food celebration is a big part of my body liberation performance and activism.

But I also really fucking love my body and don’t want to be all cramped up unless it’s worth it. (By the way, my friend Maggie and Karen’s epic, decadent, weekend wedding extravaganza last weekend? Worth the whole week of yucky digestion.)

I would never have been able to love my body the way I needed to in order to do what I needed to do to resolve my chronic digestive issues before I loved my body.

A long time ago I made peace with my body and began to love it. I’m really glad I can love my body no matter where it is on the weight pendulum. And even though I lost a bunch of weight, I’m still fat.

2014-09-16

Post Cancer Treatment Life in a Nutshell

It’s been awhile since I posted substantively and when I get to this point I get into these quagmires, “But there’s no context for me on my blog anymore!” I like this space to be an ongoing narrative of who I am and what I’m doing at the intersections of these identities of queer, fat and femme. So to kick off more posts about what I’m excited about, here’s a newsy update.

IMG_20140816_203125Dara and I had a great “progressive dinner” date where we went to three different restaurants for different courses. This was for the vegan ice cream course at Van Leeuwan in Brooklyn.

Post Cancer Treatment

Dara is doing well post-cancer treatment. She is really loving life, she has a zest that is similar to her love of life pre-treatment, except her zest is more gentle and self-loving now. She has a way of really being present and relaxing into the idea that a day doing nothing is the perfect way to keep from working too much.

IMG_20140822_220118Me and Dara at a rooftop party a couple of weeks ago. I love when you get to tower over a sea of blingie skyscrapers.

We have so much fun together. We had fun during cancer, she often tells me I “made cancer fun.” My opinion throughout was why should cancer treatment not be a series of tumblr post worthy, good photo opportunity adventures? So that’s what it kind of was. But even as we made the best of things, it was still with a bit of a pall covering everything. Without most of that damper we’re having even more fun now. Everything feels a bit more joyful, with the gratitude of not being in cancer treatment.

We’re doing tons of new stuff. We went to a park neither of us had been to at the foot of the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson River to take a tennis lesson. I haven’t played tennis as an adult and I never took to it in high school; I don’t mean to brag but I lettered in badminton. I was all set on racket sports and didn’t need that clunky tennis racket to cloud my badminton focus!

IMG_20140821_204956

But tennis as an adult! It’s pretty fun and quite a workout. I’m sold! Dara and I went to another tennis lesson in a different park and it wasn’t nearly as fun, so now we’re on the hunt for the perfect city tennis situation.

She has her zest back but not quite her endurance… she injured her knee and two other body parts within a week. She has insomnia from the Tamoxifin, a hormone blocker that she has to take forever. Or like 10 years. So that’s another ding for energy.

We are hoping to go apple picking and camping this month! And next month we’ll reprise our trip to Southern California we were supposed to take in June when her father passed away suddenly. It feels healing to schedule out the adventures we want to take and folks we want to visit. I feel really lucky we’re able to do that.

Lucky is a great way to describe how we feel post treatment—we saw the movie the Fault in Our Stars, about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. It really hit home how temporary love can be. And even though the length of love is sometimes short, it can still have important, life changing intensity.

I feel like Dara’s cancer treatment was a life changing intensity time for me… as it was for Dara. We’re excited to see what our relationship is like after cancer treatment. I think we’ll both be different after treatment. (This was also why I declined to move in with her after cancer treatment—I want us to just have fun together for awhile instead of adding another pile of stress to the end of what has been a really difficult year for me.)

Macy’s Recovery

20140821_175210Family selfie.

My beloved dog Macy had surgery for a ruptured disc in July and her recovery is ongoing. Her intense separation anxiety post-hospital has finally waned. Perhaps it was taking her to that first tennis lesson with all that noise and flying balls that convinced her that insisting on being with her people 24/7 wasn’t necessary, but she is finally able to be left at home alone again. For awhile I couldn’t even leave her in my bedroom for two minutes without her wailing. It was very intense.

Macy has to begin pricey physical therapy for her hind leg. She is walking on all of her legs, which is huge progress from the surgery, but she’s limping really hard, her body is shaped kind of like a comma when she walks, curved to the right. She can’t jump onto furniture and she can’t push open the doors in the house anymore like she used to, and she’s bearing 80% of her weight on the front legs which can lead to more problems down the road.

I hope that the physical therapy involves hydro therapy because it is very cute to watch in you tube videos. It’s also very successful at strengthening weakened legs so I’m hopeful for a full recovery.

IMG_20140816_214812The third stop on our progressive dinner date, short ribs poutine from Mile End. Macy in her “accessibility backpack” that enabled us to take her all over the place this summer when she couldn’t be left alone. She even went to an outdoor YoYo Ma concert with Dara in the Berkshires! I picked up the backpack on Amazon for $44 and think it’s a great value.

Macy’s only ten years old and she’s otherwise perfectly healthy. Her veterinary neurologist expects that she’ll live out her days (Shih Tzus live to be about 16). So here’s a pro-tip, if your friend’s dog has had major surgery, don’t say anything like “She’s had a great life!” It’s really different to have a pet diagnosed with a chronic illness or an injury than to get a terminal diagnosis! She has had a great life (she was photographed in Time Out New York and Curve Magazine before I ever was!) but she has a lot more life to live!

I am still visioning for Macy to make it into People Magazine and Southern Living Magazine, two of my favorites. Maybe even Oprah Mag. But mostly, I’m still visioning lots of fun adventures for my charming and magical Shih Tzu!

Plus Size Party Girl

Instead of producing monthly parties, I’m now focusing my energy on less frequent bigger productions. Though, in lieu of all of that, I took a hiatus while Dara was going through treatment.

I just finished producing Dollypalooza, an Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton on 9/5 (get it?). It was the biggest production I’ve ever taken on single-handedly. (Way to come back to party planning with a bang!)

bevingroupsingdollypaloozabyJenaCumboDrae Campbell, Miss Mary Wanna, Me, World Famous *BOB* and MILK from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice.

It reminded me of the intensity of Picnic Day when I was in college. That was the UC Davis open house—all departments, student organizations, sports teams, etc… put on some kind of exhibit or event. There was a parade, six stages of entertainment, a student activities fair. Legendary events during my tenure on the Picnic Day Board were the dachshund races in the basketball stadium, cockroach races in the Entemology Department and the fistulated cow demonstration by the College of Agriculture. The fistulated cow was a cow who had a hole cut into her stomach so people could put on a glove and reach their hand into the cow’s stomach to retrieve partially digested grass–cows digest the same food several times. It was rightfully shut down by animal rights protestors in the late 90s.

Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of event, involving a board of 20 and 500+ volunteers. There was a frenzy that overtook me and the entire board of organizers of Picnic Day the week before the event. I remember super late nights in the Picnic Day office laminating photographs into security passes. Dollypalooza was the closest I’ve ever come as an adult to that feeling. I love planning and executing major events, especially unusual ones that bring people joy. The lights in folks’ eyes when I fliered for Dollypalooza let me know I was on to something.

IMG_20140906_153536Me and my hero World Famous *BOB*–as her performance she told an amazing story about meeting Dolly Parton and had everyone from the show on stage at the end to group sing Hard Candy Christmas.

We made almost $700 for the Imagination Library in the raffle, Dolly’s literacy charity that sends books every month to kids in need, and it was an unforgettable show. I am brimming with ideas for next year. But I definitely know I can’t take on anything like that single-handedly again. I’m super grateful for Dara’s help—she did some amazing PR work that got a videographer from ABC News to come by, and some interest from People Magazine. My friend Jess, who brought me to Dollywood for the first time, took over the raffle and made that part so easy for me. We also figured out how to do a contest to send the performer who brought the most people in the door to Dollywood and got a raffle donation from Dollywood Cabins! At the end of the show, I felt like Oprah telling people “You go to Dollywood! And YOU go to Dollywood!”

IMG_6337The gorgeous view from the Dollywood Cabin I stayed in last May.

Mental and Emotional Health

Seeing a counselor with the Lesbian Cancer Initiative was the best choice I made as a caregiver during treatment. She pointed out to me going into post-treatment that I would have an adjustment period, and so would Dara. It is a significant energy shift.

IMG_20140829_162150This isn’t for the LCI but it’s from Callen Lorde, my physical health provider.

I’m in the weird process of looking for a therapist for the first time in my adult life. I’ve got about 50 possibilities from friends and am whittling it down. I am intentionally being really public about this process because my mental and emotional health are really high priorities for me and I want to encourage folks to feel empowered about seeking help. While things feel like the “calm after the storm” right now, I also think that the amount of life traumas I’ve faced in the past 12 months is unusual and I’d like to sort through them with a professional. Last night I had a dream about a friend of mine who passed last November and I’m about to go to Atlanta for the first time since her funeral. Crisis mode means you just scoot from one trauma to the next without digesting time, and I want to make sure I can go back in and digest things. Kind of like a metaphorical fistulated cow demonstration.

So that’s me in a nutshell (I really wish I had a picture of me in a nutshell).

Oh, and the first stop on our progressive dinner date (all in outdoor venues that allowed us to have our special needs Shih Tzu) was crispy kale salad in the backyard of Battersby… It was a great date!

2014-07-16

Macy’s Surgery and the Power of Showing Up Imperfectly

The first time I visited my beloved Shih Tzu, Macy, after her ruptured disc surgery, I freaked out. I didn’t even realizing visiting in a vet hospital was a thing but once I found out I could do it I knew I’d be there every day. Macy’s there for me through thick and thin, I knew I needed to be there for her.

I couldn’t visit until the day after her surgery. When I went in, they put me in the same exam room we had seen the veterinary neurologist for her initial consultation, watching Macy painfully hobble around the room. Now I was in the room alone, waiting for Macy, who wasn’t even 18 hours post-op.

The vet tech brought her into the room cradled in a towel and set her in my lap. He left and I was staring at Macy. I didn’t expect her to look so crappy. There was the obvious stuff that I had never thought about, like the rectangle shaved over her spine with the frankenstein stitches woven across. But then there was the stuff I didn’t expect; the pleading, confused look in her eyes and the sour smell of a dog that has gone through it and bathing isn’t in the cards just yet.

IMG_20140708_161532Our first visit post-op.

I felt panic and shock as I held her. I began calculating in my mind how quickly I could leave. They said I could visit not that I had to. Would she even notice if I was gone? Did my being there matter?

This panic lasted for about a minute and I started to talk some sense into myself. I am the kind of person who believes we are more than just our bodies—our spirits matter. If I was in a coma I think I could still sense that people were in the room with me and that my loved ones would matter to me. I know that Macy’s consciousness isn’t developed in the same way as mine, but I also know that me showing up for her would matter in some way I couldn’t explain.

So I stayed. I sat with her, in a way we don’t usually do in our day to day lives. Quietly, lap sitting, togetherness. No TV, no work, no distractions. I cried a bunch, I told her it was going to be okay, and while doing so was half telling myself. I showed up for Macy.

20140713_190929I really appreciated everytime the hospital brought Macy in with a flamboyant blanket or towel because I felt like they really saw my gender.

I’m never really positive how Macy feels about me. She’s not a lap sitting dog, with the exception of butch laps. With me she prefers to be four feet away at all times—when I work she sits in her bed four feet to my right. When I cook she sits in the kitchen four feet away and watches me. When I’m in the living room she’s on the couch just out of arm’s reach. Sometimes I get a complex about how little she wants to snuggle me and how much she wants to snuggle Dara.

In the week after her surgery I visited Macy every single day. Some days we just sat together, some days we worked on physical therapy exercises her neurologist showed us. I got daily calls after her neurological exam. She stopped making physical progress for a few days (the vets expected this) but when I visited I could tell things shifted for her. One day she was much more “herself” again. Later she seemed to almost get excited about things, especially when I started bringing in high value snacks like chicken and sausage. I was glad I was visiting because I could tell from her spirit progress that was different than the surgeons.

20140709_143004 (1)This is Macy’s little walking tool–it’s a harness for her back legs to keep her moving and give her practice using her back legs as she acclimates to mobility.

It’s been really difficult during this time because my girlfriend is going through radiation therapy for breast cancer on the Upper East Side. If you don’t know NYC geography, she’s basically an hour away via train. She got an apartment around the corner from her radiation hospital so she wouldn’t have to endure a daily commute for her daily hour long radiation appointments. It’s sucked so much to not be able to be supporting her as I thought I would be doing this month, and to not have her support during Macy’s recovery. We did squeeze in a visit one night (benefits of the hospital being open 24 hours) and another visit the next day where we did some good walk therapy. Macy loves her Dad and will always come when Dara calls.

20140711_170632Dara’s mom was in town and came to visit Macy, too.

My initial discomfort with seeing Macy in the hospital really got me thinking about the power of showing up for people in their time of need. Showing up sloppily, imperfectly, but with a big heart and good intentions. It matters.

The shock of seeing Macy in that condition reminded me of how folks must have felt the first time they saw Dara with a bald head after the chemo hair loss began. How hard it must be to see how tired and out of it she gets. It’s easier for me because I’ve watched this happen gradually, but it is difficult for folks to witness it when they haven’t seen her for a few months.

Sitting in your own discomfort with shock and change, having faith that you’ll get through it is an incredibly powerful gift you can give to the folks in your life who are suffering.

I’ve seen how important it has been to Dara’s spirits during recovery from surgery, chemo and now raidation for her friends to show up for her. Sometimes all she can do is sit and watch TV with people but it means a great deal and definitely puts her in a better mood.

IMG_20140714_113430The hospital was really amazing and sent me photos of Macy in her crate.

People have been showing up for me in the past nine months in amazing ways. Little texts of, “Thinking about you, sending woo/prayers/love,” make me smile. I think that positive energy has so much power and being thought of is really nice. Folks have brought meals. Folks who keep inviting me out even though I haven’t been able to go out as much and often have to decline—it’s nice to be remembered. The people who relentlessly play phone tag with me in order to have a catch-up. It all matters.

Dara convinced me to take a few friends up on their offer to pitch in for Macy’s astounding medical costs, the whole thing is in excess of $7,000. When I first heard the price tag of what it might cost (we had to pay for a $1500 MRI to find out if she even needed surgery), I couldn’t even fathom how I was going to pay for it. I was lucky enough to know I could borrow the money. However complicated I felt about asking for help with pet medical expenses, I knew I had to open myself to whatever help we could get. We raised $500 in the first 24 hours, and it’s already up to nearly $2,000 a week later.

MacyEstimateThis is the initial estimate of her prognosis–the low end was if we only got the MRI, the high end was if we got surgery. It didn’t include the vet visits and blood work leading up to surgery.

And the thing about crowd fundraisers? It’s about opening the channels to letting people support you. I feel like sometimes we pass around the same $20 to each other when we need it. I think it’s amazing. Katie from Empowering Astrology blew my mind when she told me that money is just energy in 3D form. She’s totally right—we’re passing energy to each other. The person who donated $2 and said they wished they could pay for the whole surgery—that meant so much to me.

My BFF Spunky told me when I thanked her for donating to Macy’s fundraiser, “It’s literally the least I can do.” Because our friends, especially our far away friends, often want to show up for us in tangible ways that they can’t do. But money is energy. And for me, going through this, knowing that a great deal of the financial burden is taken care of? That blows my mind. It has enabled me to take some of the stress off the shelf and focus on caring for my beloved Macy.

It can be so hard to think that what you are able to do is not enough for your friend or loved one. I had no idea whether visiting Macy in the puppy hospital mattered to her or not, especially in those moments when I had to give her back to the vet techs. Saying goodbye was awful. It wasn’t perfect that I could only be there for an hour, or a half an hour, or whatever, but it was something. I had to trust it was going to help her get better and not feel so lonely.

IMG_20140714_145911Me with Macy on Monday when I got to take her home after a week in the hospital!

Since Macy was discharged on Monday I can’t leave my bedroom (where she stays in a playpen on bed rest for at least the next week) for five minutes without her barking her scared, “Please don’t leave me alone” bark. The vet said it’s normal for dogs who were in the hospital for a long time to feel really anxious and have a difficult transition home. What I’m realizing is that Macy missed being four feet away from me at all times just as much as I missed her being close to me. And I realize it mattered that I showed up for her.

2014-06-20

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

I read a lot of blogs, especially design and mommy blogs, where it kind of seems like the blogger has this magical, perfect life full of sunshine and roses. I know that’s an easy thing to think about someone who publicly shares about their life that things are easy all the time. But it’s part of my artistic intentions that I talk about the way shit is hard sometimes, too. This piece is about how it is okay to not be okay sometimes.

On Father’s Day every year for the past four years my magical, powerful, wonderful roommate Damien Luxe produces an event called Fuck You Dad: A Cabaret to End Patriarchy. It is a way for her to reclaim Father’s Day, which always falls near her birthday. It’s such an empowering event and I’ve really loved getting together with other artists to perform in a cute backyard and DIY empowerment we maybe (probably) didn’t get from our dads.

14428960215_f66d930428_oFrom a previous year’s Fuck You Dad offerings, as published on the Heels on Wheels instagram.

As an only child raised by a single mom in off and on working class/poverty, with a family legacy of alcoholism, I’ve got lots of dad issues. I work through them in a few venues, most helpfully in a twelve step program for families and friends of alcoholics. Much of the time, maybe even 95% of the time, I’m really fine. I have lots of compassion, detachment with love, etc… But this year it took me by surprise.

My girlfriend, who has been going through treatment for breast cancer, just lost her beloved father. He was a wonderful man, he radiated love and support and everything a Good Dad can be. (And I’d like to point out here that the patriarchy makes it really hard even for Good Dads to be Good Dads.) I am so grateful I got the chance to meet him.

The day after Dara’s last chemo treatment her dad went to the ER with chest pains and a little over a week later he passed away. It is really shitty to want to be celebrating a cancer treatment milestone and instead be packing up to go to a funeral. We were supposed to be getting together for a family vacation where I was going to meet her brothers and their families for the first time and her folks were going to meet my mom and Grandmother, my two closest biological relatives. It was weird how all of our travel had changed and it was a grief tornado.

As far as I could tell for myself everything was fine, considering. I was holding it together and feeling really helpful with the family. Dara’s family rules, they are really sweet and awesome. I really appreciated being able to be helpful—managing food as it came to the house, cleaning up, grocery shopping, making sure Dara was eating. All the kinds of things I’d learned to do as a cancer caretaker in a more concentrated form.

14445164014_98c990f573_oDamien emceeing and Heather and Daniel Rosza preparing for their Fancy piece.

We flew home from staying with her mom for the week after the funeral and the next morning was Father’s Day. I was working on my piece for Fuck You Dad and it wasn’t gelling. I was feeling really distracted and moody. Dara and I got into a really dumb fight and I didn’t know why.

Until I got to Jacqueline’s house to workshop our pieces and I kind of lost it during her rehearsal. And then when I got to the cabaret and started crying as soon as I hugged my friend Heather, I just realized, I’M NOT OKAY.

This was both a surprise to me and also kind of sucked. When I perform I want to have more control over myself and not feel like I might cry when I get up to the mic.

What I’ve realized about resilience is that it’s there when I most need it. During a crisis, I’m a rock. I am a logistics mistress, I will get everything taken care of. I generally am not feeling my feelings when I’m going through something hard. I’m just getting through. Given all the dad grief going on so acutely for the previous three weeks, given all the caretaking energy I’d been putting out for the past six months, I just didn’t have all my resilience I usually do on Father’s Day.

The dad stuff that’s usually on the shelf and very tidy for me was a total mess. But because I was performing in this space, with these people around me all at once, all these amazing Femmes who have been my rocks (some of them for years), I could afford to lose it a little and have time to collect myself before I went on stage. And it was okay.

Being a Feelings Squirrel kind of person, where a squirrel saves her nuts to eat during the long winter, I kind of unconsciously save my feelings for later when I have space. I recognize that this is a survival mechanism that I learned out of necessity in a not great childhood. This is something I’m only recently learning about myself so I am still working on how to constructively let out my feelings when it’s time instead of having them come out in not so great ways later.

I’m experimenting with ways for me to have some space to feel feelings. Like when we were in Vegas I took a friend’s recommendation for a Korean day spa, one of those places where you pay $20 and get to go lounge in a sauna or hot tubs for as long as you want. I went there because I knew I needed a place to feel feelings.

14435415852_70ef34c5bb_oJacqueline spray painting Fuck You Dad on a comforter. Photo courtesy @mxjackdawson on Instagram–the modern day Getty Images.

But it wasn’t enough. I totally got to the point on Father’s Day where my feelings were coming out of me like I was an overfilled sandwich cracker and the peanut butter was squishing out the sides.

When I found out that my performance at Fuck You Dad was the last in the line-up I knew what I needed to performed. I scrapped what I had prepared and I decided to do a healing exercise with the audience.

As my introduction I had the emcee call on three people that new me to solicit compliments. This is a totally hard thing to do, solicit compliments, but is a really quick and easy way to access strength and resilience when you need it.

When I ask my friends for compliments, I’m not doing it from an insecure place. When I’m feeling not okay, having my friends remind me why I am a babe or a bad ass or competent or whatever really helps me get out of the negative thought patterns that love to rush in when my vulnerabilities are high. Try it next time you need a boost—call on folks you consider body positive allies when you need a boost about body self confidence, or call on folks who you trust to support you when you need general confidence reminders.

They were perfect compliments, too. One was about being a good dog mom, one was about my blog and the other was about how I have a spirituality that is very big but I don’t push it on other people. It was helpful to have that framework for what I did next with the crowd.

14430104821_d0d57e77f4_oI didn’t even get it together enough to dress how I wanted to for Fuck You Dad and Jacqueline loaned me this babely leopard dress. I’m pictured with this totally nice person who looks like my bestie Leo who has been on the West Coast for months.

I told the audience I was not okay and that it was okay that I was not okay. I testified a one minute version of this post about my dad stuff. I thought that probably, like me, hearing 11 acts, many of which really went there with exorcising Bad Dad stuff, brought things up for people and they might need some centering, healing and cleansing.

I lead a breathing and prayer exercise. Breathing in healing and breathing out fear. Breathing in love and breathing out anger. I offered a Reiki healing to everyone for their childhoods—at my present level of Reiki training I can heal through time and space. I had them picture a time in their childhood that needed healing and I beamed the healing out to them.

Then I did a centering exercise based in gratitude, where I had the audience turn to someone next to them and thank them for being with them in this moment. I find it really helpful to make human connections in times when I’m not okay.

So that was my offering at Fuck You Dad. I wanted to share it with folks out there in my blog audience. Kind of like how even the most ardent fat activist still has “bad fat days” even folks who have done lots of work on different areas of their lives have hard times and it’s okay to not be okay. It’s taken me a lot of work to release the shame that comes up for me when shit I thought was long settled gets stirred up for me again.

And Father’s Day is almost a week over and I’m working on doing the things I know that work to take excellent care of myself. And I know I’ll be okay, even though I also know it’s okay to not be okay.

2014-05-07

May Astrology Self Development Worksheet with Empowering Astrology

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I was just thinking to myself that since it’s May 7th and Mercury moved into Gemini that I needed to schedule an informational interview to take advantage of this astrological energy as per my worksheet with Katie from Empowering Astrology… And then I remembered I finished it as I was off to Dollywood and haven’t posted it to the blog yet! Sorry about that folks! I got distracted by the celestial magic that happened when I was among Dolly super fans… and oh yeah, Dolly Parton herself not one but four times this weekend! WHAT!?! Such a great weekend, more to come.

14107969796_4fdc1ff0cc_bMe and my amazing friend Jess at the Dollywood sign.

13919217139_192e24c75d_bDolly Parton atop her float in her Homecoming Parade through Downtown Pigeon Forge.

In the meantime, May is a great month to move ahead and make some inroads into all the things your curiosity is leading you to! This month’s exercises are all about paying attention to those secret things your heart is longing for and taking some steps to make them happen.

You can download the free guide here!

2014-03-07

Self Care Recalibration with a Chronic Illness and a Baby

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

When I was thinking about folks whose self care priorities I admired greatly, my friend G immediately came to mind. G left me a comment that changed my life a couple of years ago. Researching for my Love for EveryBODY workshop, I wrote a Facebook post asking friends with gender non-conforming bodies and/or chronic illnesses how they worked to love their bodies. G said “Stress is a toxin.” I quote that all the time and it has helped me reconceive how I think about self care. I have known her for over a decade, since we were both baby queers in nearby metro areas, and was curious how self care changed during and after the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and now that G is a parent in her early thirties how it has changed, too.

photoMy friend G and adorable baby L!

1. When you were diagnosed with MS (at what age?), what was your process around assessing the kind of self care you needed as a person with a chronic illness? What kind of self care did you need to engage in?

I was diagnosed at 26. It was what seemed to me at the time a long time to figure out what kind of self care I needed. A diagnosis like that is SO overwhelming. I really think it was probably two years till all the major pieces of self-care are realized, and it’s an ongoing process of identifying how certain parts of my life need to change in order to enact the self care needs, including ending relationships with people or organizations that used to work for me but I might come to realize induce more stress than joy, for example. Those realizations are difficult and ongoing.

I think the “process” involved a lot of trial and error, and a LOT of re-evaluation of the truths/stories I had in my head about the kind of person I was and what I did with my life. For example, at the time I prided myself for being super scrappy and always landing on my feet, getting by with very little financial resources, always believing things would get better in the future and building a lot of financial and social/emotional debt in the present. I had to accept that I needed to read and buy into “west coast” woo-woo talk of mindfulness and do yoga and eat like a hippie. I needed massage and to drink tea and to calm down.

I came to realize these things out of desperation at first–I was so sick restorative yoga was about the only kind of movement exercise I could do, and I had always ran and ridden my bike everywhere. I could tell that gossiping or ranting about something till I was blue in the face only made me feel extra exhausted and didn’t help things.

When something happens like you get really sick, you end up with piles of bureaucratic BS, with a works that seems unfair and unable to accommodate your sick self, and when I fumed for days about the unfairness of the insurance company or a workplace policy, I would feel sicker, and saw that nothing productive got done anyway. So the calculations look different now. I could spend 4 hours on hold and arguing with Time Warner [an American cable and internet service provider] in order to maybe have them correct the $15 error, or I could think “Would I pay $15 not to feel like this?” and call it a loss and move on. Is that awesome? No. Does it hold that evil company accountable? No. Does it save my health? Yes. I had to really focus and choose my political battles, and I really think my targets have gotten clearer and the related actions more efficient. The same is true socially. My world of what and who I cared about got smaller, and that’s ok, (even though it’s sometimes lonely) because the quality of those fewer connections are better.

Also I came to figure our that, as a person who always took pride in my paid-work ethic, that in order to stay alive I had to treat my self-care like a job. I put “exercise” on my work calendar and held myself to it as if I was going to teach a class. Even if I only ended up walking when I had hoped to run. Even if I couldn’t do it as long as I wanted. Required. As was sleep time, as was not drinking alcohol. Things got very clear and firm.

2. What surprised you during that process?

I think what surprised me at first was the way in which some deep themes, like scarcity, or putting others’ needs first until I blew my lid, we’re not isolated to say, finances or romantic relationships. They were deep and everywhere. I had to show up for myself in a new and major way. And it was scary.

I was also surprised that eventually, I was happier. Again that was some “west coast woo” stuff that I was sure my Protestant Midwest working class cultural pride had no time for-that happiness linked to healthiness. But it was and is true. The happier I am the way healthier I am. Not that I don’t get sick anymore or don’t have MS. I do. But I thrive and shine much brighter in the times between flare ups.

3. How did your self care needs change when you had a baby? What was anticipated and what was something you had to adjust to?

Hahaha. Well. I have to say I still haven’t mastered this one. I draw from lessons when I was a non-parent with MS, but it requires a whole new mantra. Because if I had a TON of extra cash for daycare when I was not working (I work on my phd work 2 days during the week and stay home with our infant 3 days a week) I could maintain my self-care bar. I could schedule yoga 1 or 2 times a week, go on a run a couple times a week. But that’s not happened. Massage and acupuncture has been greatly reduced. One income and a baby is real tight. So I’ve had to modulate what gets me through (aside from the added joy of the miracle of my baby and the stellar support of my partner) is telling myself “It will not always be like this. It will end eventually.” And it does. The days of sitting in how position for hours and hours has passed. The days of not being able to do anything like pee without the baby in my sight has ended.

And also self care right now looks like “good enough.” The day has ended and the dirty dishes cover every inch of my kitchen? I did good enough. Sit down in the couch with your wife for one hour of no-responsibility chill time. I can’t get a vigorous run or yoga session in? I make the baby’s nap time a sleep in the Ergo [a baby carrier that straps to a big human] while I take a 4 mile walk. It’s a lot of approximation and survival. And it has to be good enough for now.

Really it’s an extension of the major learning curve when I was first diagnosed, which is self-forgiveness. I was do disappointed in myself for having the disease, for being able to do less. I still have to practice self-forgiveness for not doing “enough” self care, or for not getting “enough” of my work done or not being a present enough parent the day I felt like crap. And I found that this practice allowed me to have a lot more compassion and generosity towards others.

4. How to you manage self care priorities as a parent with a chronic illness?

See above I think re: good enough and self forgiveness. Also, my wife is really amazing and if she hears me have a tired MS cough she sends me to bed or calls one of her besties over to our house to watch the baby so I can rest when I wouldn’t have done so myself.

5. How do you deal with “missing days” and let yourself off the hook for them?

See self-forgiveness. Also–scaled expectations. I have very long term goals. They are not made or broken in one bad day. I have had to accept that if they are, with the exception of having to push through one big presentation or deadline or something, they are not environments I want to be in. Like, if I am unable to think one day I had planned on reading a ton, then I do something mindless like delete emails, then rest. If my whole career as an academic crumbles because I strategically read the introduction of each book the day before class, it’s not a sustainable career. Also I’ve had to let go of the over-achiever image of myself I’ve had since I was little. I am not going to win 1,000 awards in grad school for service, teaching, and research. I have prioritized my health, stability in my family life, long-term involvement with political movements, and research. My work in the world is not to win awards. It’s to, as I think of that Alice Walker quote all the time, find my work in the world and do it. I will raise supported, loving, engaged children. I will have a robust and happy life-long loving relationship with my sweetie. I will produce research that changes the tides of the homelessness-industrial-complex. I will be a part if meaningful political change. I am doing it, and it us bigger than one day.

6. You told me once you treat stress like a toxin and nix it in the bud right away. How did you realize stress was a toxin and what are your body/mind/emotional warning signs that you’re feeling stressed? What do you do to nix it in the bud?

I can be a super intense person and I tend to recognize stress if something becomes invasive thinking that I can’t stop looping back to, can’t seem to let go of, or if something is taking a lot of my time when it shouldn’t be. Those are the “quantitative” things if you will (the things I can count, recognize, and reason).

Physically/emotionally I notice that I feel anxious and spent. Both exhausted and amped up. I tend to shut down, then suddenly come out of the shut down place very angry and upset. These kinds of things.

Some things, like when my daughter was in the ER last week, are necessarily stressful and they can only be mitigated–ask our friends to bring us dinner in the ER, be kind to and find the joy in my wife and baby even though it’s stressful and my body is tanked by it, cancel our weekend plans so we can just rest.

Other things, like people who are drama, involve not engaging, or being real clear like “our interactions do nothing but stress me out so I am not doing this anymore. I wish you well.” Some things, like undue stress when teaching, involve setting up really clear boundaries from the get go–I don’t check email between 5pm and 10am. Don’t expect me to. I don’t haggle about grades. Period.

Actually, I find email in general, or really any communication devices that are “input” a no-go after 5 or 6. I can’t have stress if I don’t know about it, and I tend to be most tired and ineffective after 5, and stress interferes with sleep, and 8 hrs of sleep is a requirement. So even though I am not working for wages right now I tend to avoid email or lots of texting or going places in the evening. It is time to take care of my and my fam’s bodily needs and go to bed. It sounds so boring on paper, but it’s really great. I love routine, I love slow, quality interactions with friends coming over for dinner. Getting MS is stressful and has been terrible, but it’s given me the impetus to have so much discipline and perspective in making my life center around what’s important, and at a fairly young age for our culture. Thank the Goddess. I am blessed.

Thank you so much G for this interview, this was amazing and gave me so much to think about. We don’t often learn how to distill our core priorities in life and then how to align our time spent with those priorities.

2014-03-04

Seven Strategies to Curb Anxiety

Towards the end of January I had a little bit of a break-down. I just felt completely overwhelmed and anxious. I wasn’t sure why. I had spent most of the weekend doing self care activities and was walking home from the gym on the phone with Jacqueline saying, “I just don’t know why out of nowhere I feel so anxious and it won’t go away!” And Jacqueline wisely told me that sometimes when she does self care like yoga or something very relaxing she ends up with more anxiety. That resonated with me. It feels like when I don’t acknowledge my feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, it’s like a cork that releases all this pent up stuff I haven’t been looking at and poof! I can’t get away from it.

As a result of this little mini-breakdown, I am obsessed with self care right now. I’m talking to people about their self care regimens, being more methodical about what I need from myself in order to be the person I want to be in the world. I now acknowledge that when it comes to taking care of others, the more I have the more I can give. My well has to be 100% full in order for me to give water to anyone else, and I’m in the role of primary caregiver to my girlfriend (yeah, we went there) who is going through chemo treatment for breast cancer right now.

12417512173_a30b444fb5_zI went away for a birthday retreat with my friends in February and it was all about finding a place with a hot tub. I love to meditate in a hot tub when it’s cold outside.

I am going to do a mini-blog series about self care and in this first post I detail what I do to handle anxiety when it comes. There are lots of ways to deal with anxiety, of course, but this is what has worked for me and what works for some of my pals. Obviously, there are varying degrees of anxiety and some folks should consider seeing a mental health professional, but for those who have kind of spotty occurring anxiety like me, hopefully these tips will help.

1. Pay attention and course correct.

I treat feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as warning signs. They’re my own personal “check engine light,” some kind of acknowledgement my body, mind and/or spirit needs attention. If I’m having anxiety come up more often than usual than I know something is wrong and I need to do the work to assess what’s going on in my life and where the imbalance is. If I were on Car Talk and talking about running a diagnostic, I would do the things I know to do when I need to diagnose what’s going on with me. Journal, phone a trusted friend, stop and look at what’s going on in my life. In the January example, I knew what was going on–I had three friends and one of my cats pass away in a three week span in December on top of being primary caregiver for someone with cancer. Any one of those things is a lot! I needed to be gentle with myself and take care of myself and the check engine light came on!

When I’m feeling anxiety, it’s hard to know in the moment that I need to do something differently, in the moment all I can do is think “Fuck, how can I make this stop?” Then I turn to more immediate solutions.

2. Drink stress relieving tea.

Over my Christmas trip to visit my mom and grandmother I woke up feeling intense anxiety one morning. (I think this was another moment where I was relaxing and the cork popped out and all the grief and anxiety I was feeling came out.) I didn’t have anything that could cut the anxiety in the moment, so I went rummaging through Grandmother’s tea cabinet to see if she had any chamomile. Lo and behold, she still had the tea sampler I created as a hostess gift for my cross country road trip two years ago. Fully intact, it held in it four kinds of loose tea including “Stressed Out Tea.” It was like a gift to myself from the past. I drank that tea like I was chain smoking, one cup after another and within a couple of hours it started to work.

I bought the Stressed Out Tea from PS Coffee and Tea in Park Slope, but here are the ingredients if you want to create it yourself. Stressed Out Tea (blend of lots of herbs to calm down including rosemary, peppermint, chamomile, lady slipper, catnip, violet, feverfew, wood bettany herb, blessed thistle herb, white willow bark, stevia herb, raspberry leaf and flavored with peppermint oil).

841322_156802627802561_896072570_oPhoto by Katrina Del Mar.

3. Treat self care like a job.

Self care is a really important aspect of my anti-anxiety routine. The best thing I can do for my anxiety is to prevent it from happening. I like to say self care is a full time job, which it kind of can be, especially in the Winter when we have all the Winter Feelings and seasonal depression.

The other day I was staying with friends and they told me, “We go to bed at 9:30.” Which is an amazing example of prioritizing getting the sleep they need and having a mellow, unrushed morning. I have so much admiration for people who prioritize their self care.

Since my breakdown in January I have been very strict about doing all the core self care things I do every single day. I knew I hadn’t been doing the things I usually do every day, I was skipping some. I was in love jail, snuggled up with my sweetie in Winter and mistaking those temporary good feelings with the things I need to do for my own sanity in the long run.

4. Cut the caffeine.

Eliminating caffeine from my diet has been great for keeping my anxiety at bay. Some days I have none, some days I have a little, but I keep it in check as much as possible. I started the Lesbian Tea Basket web series when I gave up coffee for digestive reasons. Replacing my passion for coffee with tea wasn’t exactly a substitute (I still dearly, desperately, love coffee) but I do now feel very passionately for tea in a way I didn’t expect. I think the herbal aspects of tea are medicinally great but I also think the ritual of brewing and consuming a hot beverage is very soothing.

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5. Exercise.

It’s such a hassle sometimes, but exercise is so crucial to my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It soothes everything for me. If I can keep it up at least twice a week it’s great to keep me from getting depressed or anxious.

6. Medicate.

There are a lot of people I know who medicate for anxiety. I’ve never gotten a prescription for anything mental health related, but haven’t ruled out the possibility. There’s so much stigma associated with mental health prescriptions but honestly, I think stigmas around what people need to do for their mental health are bullshit. If you have a headache you take an advil, if you have anxiety and a pill will help, maybe take the pill? I’m definitely a follower of the Kate Bornstein philosophy of living:

Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Anything at all. It can be illegal, immoral, unethical, self-destructive… anything at all if it makes your life more worth living. There’s only one rule to follow to make that kind of blanket permission work: Don’t be mean.

I just got some Rescue Remedy to see if an herb tincture (they also have pastilles/candy and gum) could help me in those moments where in emergency I need to break glass. So far it seems to work though I’ve only done it a couple of times when I was mildly stressed and haven’t had a major anxiety bout since I got the tincture.

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I have some friends who medicate with klonipin (one of them just nibbles a little on a pill to take the edge off an anxiety episode), ativan, and xanax. Obviously you’ll go see a mental health professional or general practitioner who can advise about prescription meds.

Other friends I know with chronic anxiety use medical marijuana. For those who don’t know there are like a billion kinds of marijuana and there are lots of different ways to use it. Depending on your body chemistry there are kinds that just take the edge off the anxiety and you can still function (“cleaning the kitchen” weed) or others that make you want to sit on the couch. I am into watching documentaries about the medical marijuana dispensaries on Netflix and what it can do for folks. Again, this is totally something to go talk to a professional about if you’re in a jurisdiction that has the medical marijuana.

7. Meditation.

I am a shitty, inconsistent meditator. However, if I can take a minute to stare at some birds and ponder what they are up to, look up at the sky for thirty seconds, or close my eyes and just notice what sounds I hear, that will do me as much good as sitting in a chair with my eyes closed trying really hard to think about nothing. It’s really not much more for me than a way to ground myself in the present and remind myself that I am safe. When I’m feeling anxious I am not feeling safe.

12919812773_f0c6e5949d_zThis bird feeder was right next to the hot tub at the house we stayed at!

I hope this not comprehensive list helps out when folks are feeling frustrated by bouts of anxiety. Leave your tips in the comments!

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