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

2018-05-11

Three Methods I Use to Have an Easier Experience with Life

One of the best things I have ever done for my mental health is to adopt the world view of Pronoia. This is the assumption that everything in the Universe is aligning to my benefit. It’s described as the opposite of paranoia. (The term was coined by Rob Brezny, spelled out in this great and giant book.)

Last weekend when Dara and I were looking at wedding venues near Dollywood in the Smoky Mountains, we realized we have different ways of dealing with potential homophobia. We were originally going to talk on the phone to potential venues about whether they were friendly to host a Queer Wedding. I decided instead to utilize my gut instincts. I find, in general, if I assume people are going to be loving and kind to me, most folks rise to that occasion.

Dara, however, was definitely steeling herself for some potential discrimination.

This is a great example of the dichotomy between paranoia (Dara being afraid we would experience homophobia) and Pronoia (me assuming that people will be kind and loving).

I’m not giving you a blanket idea of how to deal with oppression in general, I’m just offering what works for me as a Queer Fat Femme in a heterosexually centered fatphobic society. I still loudly remark at the end of a movie when heterosexuality is reinforced, I still notice overt oppression against me as a queer fat woman with an exaggerated gender presentation. I see and experience all the ways in which this world is not built for human size diversity.

However, in general, I find when I assume strangers are intending to be loving and kind it makes my experience of living in an oppressive world a lot easier for me.

I acknowledge my White privilege in this. I grew up poor but I learned how to class pass early on and that does affect how I experience the world and overt or covert oppression. People of Color, Black folks, trans and gender non conforming folks, disabled folks, poor folks, older folks and other oppressed people have different experiences than I do.

Pronoia helps me keep my brain decluttered from other people’s judgments. I could spend a lot of time micro analyzing how strangers look at me or if I hear an audible sigh from someone seated next to me on a plane. Most of the time I assume their looks and sounds don’t have anything to do with me or my size. Maybe that’s not true, but probably it is true the majority of the time.

What I’ve noticed is that most people are so concerned with themselves they aren’t thinking about me. And when they are thinking about me or overtly judging or oppressing me, what I think about is how hard it must be in their own head. Because most folks who are pointing a finger have three pointed back at them, and generally those folks have a really nasty, self hating and judgmental internal dialogue.

It doesn’t mean that I’m bulletproof. I still have that coding in my brain that makes me feel conspicuous when I’m standing up in the aisle of an airplane waiting for the flight attendant to move because I can’t really squish around her. I’m reminded sometimes that I’m fat in public when I’m eating, but I’ve long lost the shame around being fat. I don’t think a lot of thin people have the same coding. Some do and if they feel shame around eating in public or standing in the aisle of an airplane worrying about their perceived size—that shame is from Fatphobia. Fatphobia affects everyone, no matter their size, but the oppression lands on the fat people not the thin ones.

We are really excited to have a destination wedding in the Smoky Mountains! We get to share a favorite place of ours with all of our friends and family!

I find it helpful to think of oppression as systemic and not something everyone is intending to promote in their unconscious actions. The wedding coordinators at the venues we were looking at, if they had any hesitation about us as a queer couple or didn’t know how to be “cool” around us about our Gay Wedding, that was a result of systemic oppression. Systemic oppression doesn’t excuse bad behavior or overt oppression but it does help me assume best intentions from people on the ground doing the best they can with what they have.

Engaging in Pronoia helps my mental health. When I assume the world is ultimately a kind place, when I don’t assume people are judging me (or thinking of me at all), when I don’t get caught up in shame and defensiveness, I’m just happier.

This is the type of thinking I hope to impart on all of the small children in my life through my example because they really learn mostly by example. We could use a generation that is exposed to kinder methods of self talk and compassion for self and others.

Here are some things I do that help support my Pronoia:

1. I treat it like a practice.
I lived in NYC for a long time and it taught me how to walk through the world and pay very little attention to how people are reacting to me. I also generally work to stay in a self loving and compassionate place which helps me feel more loving and compassionate towards others and assume they are reflecting that back to me. Pronoia in action.

2. I assume best intentions.
Impact is more important than intent. But in general, the impact of oppression on me is lessened when I can get to the compassion place. It also helps me not notice oppression against me and sometimes that’s just easier for me to exist within. Pronoia is about me living my best and most peaceful life and not about what someone’s intentions actually are.

3. I pray for it.
A very successful real estate agent I met at a conference a couple months ago taught me a practice she does every morning. She visualizes everyone on her path that day working in her favor, even folks she doesn’t know. She then holds gratitude for that. I haven’t started doing it every day but I do it every time I go to the airport because flying while fat is difficult and I can always use people (and spirit guides) working behind the scenes on my behalf.

Oppression leaves a lot of scars, especially when you’ve experienced repeated oppression, hurt and judgment. It can be really hard to move into Pronoia! If it appeals to you, I suggest taking one tiny baby step towards it by using only one of my tips above at a time and slowly incorporating it into your life. Like a couple minutes a day of intentional practice to start, It took me many years to get to where I am now!

The wedding coordinators we met with were a mixed bag. The first one was great, enthusiastic about our wedding but at one point late in the visit, when we asked about having the restrooms be gender neutral, made the effort to reassure us that she believes all people in love who want to make a life commitment should get to. The second place we visited was immediately off my list because it was sold to us differently over the phone than what they deliver for services. But I still didn’t get a real friendly vibe off the proprietor. But maybe he was having indigestion and not about us being homos, I don’t know.

The wedding venue we ultimately selected had both the coordinator and her assistant at our site visit. They never blinked about our queerness, the gender neutral restrooms were an easy yes for them and they are already thinking about beautiful signage. And they were both overtly excited about our wedding plans—we’re really excited to work with them.

This is where we’re going to get hitched!

2016-05-04

Six Reasons Why I Love Aqua Jog

Hey there! I’m doing a pre sale for my Reiki Infused Tea Line now through May 10th. I have some important financial goals for the sale that also affect this website–I really need to move my blog to a new host and install a new theme because of these ongoing back end buggy issues that are not yet fully resolved. I also need to begin the build out for the website for my tea line, so this is all very tied together. The whole project will cost thousands of bucks, but I’m tackling it one thing at a time. The tea is delicious and supports me living my dream to support my art and activism through healing work. Please consider buying a tin for you or a gift, or sharing about the sale on social media!

sixreasonsiloveaquajog

I approach all exercise from a Health at Every Size approach. Since this term has been co-opted by so many folks, I’ll tell you what it means to me. It means that all people, no matter what their size, should be able to have access to good, nutritious food and should have access to move in ways that make them feel good in and about their body. Health at Every Size to me includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. The way I feed and move my body affects all of those things for me.

Given that I am in a state of transition, having moved to the West Coast recently, it was super important that I find ways to move my body. There was a while where working on the house was all about the body–the renovations on my attic were so corporeal. In my last update on the transition post I talked about how I started swimming in the local pools. I am okay to swim laps but I find it a little boring. Really using a HAES approach means I want to be excited about the exercise I’m doing.

Since the local community pools have lap swimming and recreational swimming together and very few rules about what you have to be doing in the lanes, you can totally do aqua jogging instead of just swimming laps. Once I realized that I went for it.

I started aqua jogging at a class at my former gym the Bed Stuy YMCA. It’s taught by a community volunteer every morning at 9AM who has a spinal issue that really benefits from her exercising a lot but does not allow her to exercise on dry land. Aqua jogging takes water aerobics to a new level. Other than aqua boot camp (also at the Bed Stuy Y) I have not felt such a complete workout from water aerobics.

Here are all the reasons I love to aqua jog:

1. Working out in water is great low impact high resistance activity.
For folks who are recovering from injuries or who have tender bodies for a variety of reasons, the pool is awesome for movement. As an efficiency loving Capricorn, I also appreciate that I can work out in a pool and get more results than from the same period of time on land. Also, if you are the kind of athlete who is often nursing injuries that keep you from staying in shape, aqua jog is a great tool in your repertoire to help!

grandmotherspool

2. The movements are really easy and help you diversify your workout so you don’t get bored.
Here’s a basic primer on aqua jogging. It includes instructions on how to do it if you don’t have any equipment.
This is not the workout I do but it is one to consider using the shallow end for part of it.

I learned to aqua jog from my instructor in Brooklyn so I do different movements based on what I learned from her, including backwards jogging, cycling, and different arm movement intervals with water weights. There are SO many videos on you tube to learn techniques for aqua jogging. I work hard not to link any videos or web content that have a weight loss focus because that is not the tone for my blog. (No shade to anyone who has weight loss goals–you do you!) If you can “take what you like and leave the rest,” there’s a lot out there to sift through in aqua exercises. I couldn’t find any videos that did what Dinette does but if I ever do find them I’ll come back and edit this post to include them.

3. You can listen to music.
When I was aqua jogging at my Grandmother’s pool it was amazing because I just threw on a Spotify playlist of songs I could sing along to and would enjoy working out to. Since she doesn’t have a clock outside I timed my workout based on how many songs it took to get to 35 minutes or more. (My personal workout timing goal is 35 minutes or more. On days I don’t feel like going past it I don’t, on days I have more energy I just keep going.)

waterdumbellWhen I finally got my dumbbells to add to my aqua jog workouts it felt so nice to get back to them! I didn’t realize how much I missed having my dumbbells after I moved away from the Bed Stuy Y!

4. It helps save your hair!
Swimming is great but I have high maintenance, tender, color-treated hair. (I’m not naturally Ginger Spice haired–my pals Garnier Nutrisse and 20 vol + bleach help me look this fabulous.) It is really difficult to keep hair dry even in a swim cap. “It is a fact that no swim cap can keep your hair 100% dry every time” says Swimcapsguide.com. The best you can do is a harm reduction approach to keep it kinda dry.

Mine is a cutie pie vintage rubber hat. When I’m swimming I manage to get about 50% of my hair wet which is better than no protection. I also have a classic Speedo cap (they come in so many colors) I got when my vintage swim cap was on a moving truck going from Coast to coast. The same exact results from swimming–about 50% hair wet.

Thus I prefer to work out with my head above water 100% of the time and aqua jogging helps me do that. I still wear the cap in the community pool because of splashing children and sloppy swimmers in adjacent lanes. My hair stays 100% dry that way. At Grandmother’s when I was just using a top knot to keep my hair out of the water it got damp around the hairline by my neck.

5. It’s easy to mix in ab and core work to an aqua jog routine.
I find it way easier to do sit-ups and crunches in the water than on dry land. This helps me strengthen my core and helps to alleviate back pain and lots of other barriers to dry land exercise. I do a version of this without the barbell under my knees.

aquajogequipment

6. The equipment is pretty inexpensive and not a barrier to activity.
I did aqua jogging with no equipment for the first three workouts in our local pool and that proved to me I was serious about moving forward. I get paid a gift card every few months thanks to thoughtful blog readers (THANK YOU!!!) who buy their Amazon products through my affiliate links. Even if you don’t buy what I link, if you buy anything at all I get a tiny percentage commission and then that comes in the form of a gift card. I keep a link on the sidebar in case you’re ever interested. I usually use the money for something I want to try for my blog, so this time I bought aqua jog equipment.

I totally love what I got. In my Brooklyn aqua jog class we used water weights and floatation belts, so I got a six piece aqua fitness pack that included those plus some resistance gloves for only $29. I was nervous about the floatation belt being too small (some of the ones they had at the YMCA were not made for a plus size waist), but this one had plenty of room to spare on me and my waist is about a size 22/24.

The kit even comes with a routine! I’ve incorporated some of those moves into my workout and enjoy it!

I’ve used the weights and the gloves to jog and prefer what I can do with weights but the gloves are a good alternative for certain exercises.

aquaglovesThese are the gloves that came with it–kind of like having duck feet for your hands.

Another alternative piece of equipment I found in my aqua jog class that some of the folks brought in addition to what the YMCA supplied was Aqua Runners which provides more leg resistance for a harder workout. I look forward to stepping up my game (pun intended) at a later date with these $25 babies. They come in lavender!

It can be a little bit hard to be the fatty at the pool swimming laps and it can be even a little bit harder being the fatty at the pool doing weird water exercise with weird equipment. However, I try to mitigate my intimidation by not concerning myself with what people think, recognizing that every young person that sees a hot fat girl with tattoos and a pin-up girl bathing suit and vintage swim cap doing her thing and working out is possibly empowered. And also, because my self care is waaaaaay more important to me than what people’s judgments are.

As Prince said, “I don’t really care so much what people say about me because it usually is a reflection of who they are.”

PurpleReignVery excited about my Prince memorial teas (one caffeinated tea and one herbal tisane) and the wisdom they will include is going to be a prototype of how I will do the wisdom component for my teas in the future.

2015-01-09

Five Ways I Shake Off Body Oppressive Rhetoric During the New Year’s Resolution Bandwagon

Having spent the last three weeks traveling, between a road trip for a meeting at Dollywood and a family trip to Seattle, I’ve been really off my game. I find it so challenging to travel and meet my self-care needs.

I manage a chronic digestive disorder (Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the Western diagnosis, but I know it’s more complicated than that) with food restrictions and I can feel when my digestion isn’t working. I can get away with not eating in alignment with my body for a little while but eventually it adds up and I’ll pay a price with intense flares and body pain. It’s hard to not want to eat all the amazing food you’re exposed to when traveling. Moderation works for me until it doesn’t.

I also manage my mental and emotional health with exercise. I am still not sure what alchemy I need to carve out time for more than walking the dog when I travel, but more often than not if I pack my gym clothes and shoes I won’t use them. I’ll end up cranky and spiraling by the end of a trip from not getting my angst out on the elliptical. I know that setting better boundaries and time management when I travel is a growth area for me.

15889385960_a7632fe2fa_zWe already had the Seattle trip booked when we got a meeting with the Dollywood Foundation to partner with them for silent auction prizes for Dollypalooza in September… We decided to just go for it and took a road trip, and fulfilled my bucket list dream to see Dollywood at Christmastime. It did not disappoint.

As I was preparing to leave Seattle I found myself really excited to go to the gym and drink green juice, smoothies and detox from sugar. And as I heard the same kind of “drink all the green juice!!!” and “get a new gym membership!!!” trumpets from the anti-fat mainstream media and billion dollar weight loss industry in conjunction with the new year’s resolution influx of people working to lose weight for the umpteenth time, I felt gross about it. Like, here I was wanting to participate in something that is also being used as weapons against bodies like mine.

I thought a lot about what was going on in my head about this stuff and how it was that I have herstorically dealt with the new year’s uptick in relentless weight loss commercials, before and after I began eating in alignment with my body and going to the gym. I came up with some ways that I’ve used to make sense of the complex and seemingly contradictory relationship I have with loving my fat body, hating the sizeist media and making choices that help my body feel its best. I share them below.

1. Run your own race

I like to remember that everyone has their own life and their own life challenges. It’s really difficult to live in a society that literally has a war on body types like yours. In my case, the war on obesity hits home, but other bodies are under attack–people of color, disabled folks, transfolks, aging people. It’s also true that oppression of any body affects all, so the fear of becoming fat, or old, or disabled affects the narrative and creates a society where no body is safe.

So that said, people who need to focus on diet and exercise to lose weight, I just let them do their own stuff. That’s their life path, not mine. I am very self aware and know that my choice to go to the gym doesn’t mean I think my fat body is bad. I also don’t expect some kind of wild body transformation. I do expect that as I keep going back I’m going to feel calmer and more at peace with my surroundings and the onset of Winter and the Winter Blah Blah Blahs (aka Seasonal Depression). (P.S. I’m writing this blog post while sitting under my NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy LampUV Happy Light.)

16085137075_a651db95c4_zSpeaking of lights, that’s a hologram of Dolly Parton playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Dollywood production of A Christmas Carol.

2. You are worthy of love exactly as you are.

All of the “NEW YEAR NEW YOU” rhetoric (actual graphic I saw on the itunes store app center thingy this morning) is basically shorthand for you’re not good enough. Remember there are multiple billion dollar industries that require you to feel insecure in order to sell you products. It is not in their best interest that you feel good about yourself.

But here’s the thing. Today, right now, you sitting right there. You are actually good enough because you are human and you are worthy. That’s something you can choose to believe.

There’s a myth that losing weight and modifying yourself is going to make you feel worthy, but self-acceptance is actually the surest way to make yourself feel that way. I know a lot of people who have lost weight in a myriad of ways, and the thing that seems the most common among them is that people who started out hating their bodies had a lot of self hate left once the weight was gone. Wild insecurities pop up when you lose weight and haven’t lost the hate for your body.

It’s not like we don’t all have ways we want to grow and change, change is the only constant in life. I’m a lifelong learner and self-developer. But I know even as I have “areas for growth” (I’m always working on improving my language to be more gentle with myself) I’m worthy right now. It’s just choosing to shift your perspective to believe that you’re worthy and accept yourself as you are. Maybe that’s a change you can work on for the NEW YEAR NEW YOU.

15897718658_474ccf4ff1_zThis kettle corn that I watched get made in front of me was very inflammatory and very delicious. Moderation in all things, including moderation, said Maya Angelou.

2. Be critical of the media you consume

When I was first getting involved in size acceptance I went on a complete media diet. I focused only on size positive or size neutral things. I obsessively collected pictures of cute fat people and put them around my house so I could see them. I trained myself to see fat as positive.

Now I’m able to employ lots of techniques for consuming mass media (that’s probably a whole other blog post). I work to be very critical of what I consume.

I was in the airport and saw the new Self magazine with a big headline of “Love Your Body.” I didn’t have the chance to read it because I was too busy being paranoid because I was accidentally high, but I went onto the website to find out if they were really joining the bandwagon of loving your body as it is. And I saw that the Love Your Body headline right where every other month has weight loss tips, and I looked through their website and saw all of their weight loss articles, so I realized they were just co-opting language to sell weight loss! Real classy Self magazine!

This time of year especially, I work my hardest to remind myself that mass media is not the boss of me and try not to get defensive or mad every time I see something that advertises quick weight loss or uses headless fatties to scare folks about fat. Getting defensive or mad is totally a valid response, though, and my rage does flow through, but rolling my eyes is better for my stress level. I remind myself that lots of fat people are really healthy. Health at Every Size is all about people at all sizes having access to activities that are good for your health. And that is an inconvenient truth for magazines that rely on fear of weight gain in order to sell copies.

I know that choosing to go to the gym is all about me loving my body and not about me losing weight in order to love my body, a complexity that seems contradictory but is actually not at all to me. I worked really hard to make peace with that.

I also know that people who are fat and don’t choose to go to the gym or restrict their eating are totally worthy of love, too! There is no “good” or “bad” way to have a body, it’s just a body!

16076930595_5d2229e69f_zMe and my fat friend Santa just hanging out on a porch in front of the Christmas buffet. I actually found the buffet meals to be full of food options for lots of dietary restrictions. In addition to a mac and cheese station.

4. Replace should with could

This is a wonderful strategy for treating yourself with kindness. I used to be the kind of person whose resting thoughts were always on the ways in which I needed to improve myself. “I should learn Spanish. I should eat better. I should be working on my book. I should get back into working on neurolinguistic programming.” That’s an actual transcript of my inner self abuser that I just tapped into. I can go DEEP into self-shaming with shoulds.

Because I’m still a work in progress and I believe language is so powerful, I have been working for about a year on replacing my shoulds with coulds. “I could learn Spanish. I could be working on my book…” It’s so much gentler. This constant New Year’s chatter of all the ways you should change keeps reminding me of the ways I want to change. But instead of hearing “You should go to the gym” I am hearing, “I could go to the gym.” I am hearing, “I could organize my room.”

5. Every BODY is different

Dr. Phil is full of complexities and I don’t love all of his messages, but he said one thing that really hit home for me when I was early in my fat activist days. I was in a place of “I’ll eat a cupcake whenever I want” as a way to express fat rage. (That’s still a totally valid place to be, of course, but I like to be strategic about my fuck yous and eating a cupcake more than once in awhile will cause me a lot of pain so I don’t.)

Dr. Phil said something on his show specifically about sweet tea that I haven’t ever forgotten. It’s that, basically, all bodies are different and he drinks a glass of sweet tea and gains weight and lots of folks drink a glass of sweet tea and stay thin.

His point was that he had no control over the type of body he has and he had to accept it. And that’s just kind of how things are. Like, it feels really shitty that I got this amazing huge gift basket from a professional colleague for the holidays and pretty much everything in it, wine, crackers, pretzels, caramel corn, hot cocoa, is all food that will make me sick. That fucking sucks. But I’m at a place where I am choosing to accept and love myself for who I am and that means cherishing the complex body I was given.

And I would love to eat a fuck you mass media cupcake, and I probably will eventually. But in the meantime I’m going to accept my body and do the work it needs to do to feel good, so that I can do the work I want to be doing in the world to change it. To create media that helps people feel good in the bodies they have and become the people they want to become by cheering them on instead of shaming them.

15890219499_633f4fb47f_zHow about a fuck you 25 pound apple pie from Dollywood?

Do you have additional ways you choose to shake off the body oppressive media this time of year and/or manage to strike a balance with your own personal wellness goals?

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!

2014-03-04

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!

2013-11-28

Free Download of Kate Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World Lite

It’s Thanksgiving here in the US and folks are either gathering with family of origin or choice and maybe having feelings about that, or NOT gathering with those folks and maybe having feelings. Sometimes there’s no winning! The feelings just come no matter what you do!

As part of the THX4SUPPORT hash tag project happening today on Twitter, I wanted to point readers to a resource I think is totally invaluable! Kate Bornstein, gender warrior and auntie to so many of us, provides this free pdf of the “Lite” version of her book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.

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Me and Kate and Carmelita Tropicana at a reading for the Feminist Press in 2010.

Head to this link for the free pdf download.

I just want to say about suicide that I’ve been there. I’ve thought that life wasn’t worth living anymore and gone to great lengths before to end it all. And I’m so grateful that each time I even started down that road that there was something by the grace of the goddess that got me to reconsider, or at least procrastinate about it long enough to decide not to. I’m so grateful.

If there’s anything that you can do (and hopefully Kate’s book can help you come up with things to help procrastinate) to stop yourself, even just for a few minutes, do it. Reach out for help if there’s someone out there you might be able to talk to. Reaching out for help doesn’t work for me in the moment, though. I haven’t ever been good about asking for help when I’m that dire because the shame of that shit getting so dire, the gremlin thought of, “I should know better how to manage my depression that I shouldn’t want to kill myself,” is a pretty deep and hard gremlin.

BUT, there are a lot of things you can do and Kate’s book does a great job of outlining a lot of them (101, in fact). Go for a walk, write down 10 of the most awesome things you can think of, write a mini vision statement “If I were supreme ruler of the universe…” Look your dog square in the eye and promise her you’re going to fulfill your life commitment to her.

And on a personal note, I want to say that you are valuable, wonderful and your body is exactly right the way it is because all bodies are good bodies and the culture that tells us otherwise is just trying to make money off of us. We need you here, because the more freaks, outlaws and body warriors we have the better and more fabulous this world is for all of us.

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I’m pretty stoked to have stayed alive to see this little munchkin grow-up! Joey’s almost two now and I’m spending Thanksgiving with her.

Follow hash tag #stayalive on Twitter any old time for lots of good reasons to stay alive. Thank you, Auntie Kate, for everything that you do.

2013-11-12

Ways I’m Embracing My Imperfect Meditation Practice

People are always going on and on about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits of a meditation practice. I’ve been working on becoming a gold star meditator in fits and starts for years. If my meditation practice had a star it would probably be glitter, shiny and a little distracting.

First of all, I’m a shitty, inconsistent meditator with a lot going on in my head. But I have noticed that since I’ve been attempting to meditate for three years, I am a lot calmer and better at it than I used to be. The trying is the important part. I don’t do it every day though I wish I did. I’ve assembled a few of my meditation tips to encourage other people to seek their inner peace even if they, too, are shitty, inconsistent meditators.

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Calling the corners at Rebel Cupcake. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

I set up a place when I moved into my new apartment that made sense for meditation. At my old place I would sit at the foot of my bed right in front of my altar to meditate. I was never completely comfortable and discovered I liked meditating a lot better from a chair. So I bought a really cute armchair for $30 from a thrift store and set it right next to my fire escape window, where I have a few pots of flowers and herbs. I call it my “Feelings Chair” and every morning I write my morning pages in it and when I meditate I usually do it there. It’s pretty close to my altar (though it doesn’t face my altar) that I feel like I can get the energy from my little sacred spot in the corner where I do my meditating. It’s not perfect, but it works and that’s what’s important.

I really like Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness, it’s like $10 and comes with a guided meditation CD. Very very good intro to many kinds of meditation. It helped me lighten up on myself about meditating. I used to get so frustrated that I couldn’t perfectly clear my head of all thoughts. She says, “The sky is not the clouds,” with regards to thoughts that saunter in during meditation.

Sometimes my meditation practice is just me staring at a squirrel I’m noticing who has a really beautiful fluffy tail, or some birds playing, or how flamey trees are when I’m walking Macy. I try to walk 20 minutes every single day in the Winter as a form of fighting Seasonal Depression, but I don’t always make it a meditation walk. (When I do a meditation walk, I do a version of the Sharon Salzberg prescription in the book I recommended, but mostly I just try to clear my head and focus on being on the walk.) Sometimes it’s a gratitude walk where I literally list things I’m grateful for during the entire twenty minutes (things get repeated).

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Backstage prayer circle with Ivan Coyote, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Felice Shays and Cal Truman (not pictured). Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

I also really love guided meditation journies streaming online. I started with the Oprah Winfrey/Deepak Chopra free meditation situation earlier this year and I’ve done a couple of others, but the Oprah/Deepak one two combo is pretty great. There is a new one that started yesterday. Once you sign up for one you end up getting notices for follow-up ones and now I’m subscribed to a few different online meditation sites for their free streaming meditations.

I’m trying out a video meditation series, which I’ve never done before, and might help folks get started. It really combines the peace I get looking at nature with guided meditation audio. I’m not totally wild about the content partners (not particularly meaty lectures) but the videos are gorgeous.

Lynnee Breedlove had a great quote on his FB the other day about what he thinks about meditation. He’s been a guru to me for quite some time, and he taught me a lot about the value of paying attention.

Meditating, it occurred to me. if god is love and the greatest way to love someone is to put your attention on them, and attention is awareness, which is consciousness, then all you have to do to experience god is pay attention (hard for ADD people, so we try to lengthen moments of attention with substances or brain chemical inducing behaviours, but such addictions cloud the attempt.) therefore consciousness/paying attention is experiencing/being god/godlike. So “all you have to do” to meet god/transcend is look at some one/thing, listen, and breathe. the more moments you can do this, the closer you are to god or the higher you transcend. simple, right?–Lynnee Breedlove

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Invoking the Goddess Lilith at the TRL Lilith Fair tribute show. Candle holder is Ashleigh Nicole Smith as Lilith and a helpful audience member who “Had a light for the Goddess,” as I requested. Photo by The Think Theater Queer Photography.

I like the idea that prayer is asking the Goddess questions and meditation is where you receive the answers. I had a lover who meditated differently–she treated it as a discussion with the universe and did a kind of question and answer. So when we meditated together I’d be keeping my mind blank and she’d be talking to the universe. But it was actually still really helpful to share energy in that way, and mutually pretty calming. Lots of my friends swear by group meditation or pair meditation.

I hope that some of these suggestions help encourage folks to do some meditating. Kelli Jean Drinkwater told me “Self care stretches time,” and I’m hoping that this Winter I can meet the demands of some impending emotional difficulties with an arsenal of self care and peaceful, meditative times.

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