Stories of survival and recovery from a wide spectrum of contributors teach you ways to taking care of your body and mind when the government and corporate healthcare systems are doing their best to make you sick, broke, and crazy.
Thirty-seven personal essays directed at helping the reader learn and cope with their own issues, cover topics from abortion to ablation, depression to drinking and drug use, abusive relationships to veganism, coming out as gay to body image and eating disorders, marathon running to recovering from a sprained ankle. Alive With Vigor! has a special focus on queer, youth, and transgendered people and recognizing different medical, cultural, and emotional needs.
About the Author
Robert Earl Sutter is a cartoonist and the author of Awesome Future, Shut Up and Love the Rain, The Strange Voyage of the Leona Joyce, and Unsinkable. He lives in Minneapolis.
Read an Excerpt
DEALING WITH EMOTIONS
Will Meek PhD
When I was a younger dude, there were only two emotions I could deal with, joy and anger. Any other feelings I had about myself, my relationships, or the world around me either became those two, or left me a confused and miserable mess. Any type of emotional pain was overwhelming, and by the time I was 17, I made a deal with myself to eliminate all emotions from my life. By focusing on logic and reason at all times, I could avoid the rollercoaster of emotions that I was prone to.
After a few months I actually got pretty good at this. I could carefully analyze any situation that generated the slightest bit of feeling, and maintained a reasonable equilibrium most of the time. Unfortunately, there was a dark side. I started to become detached from the most important people in my life, and generally started to lose motivation for things I previously loved.
What I did was find a way to circumvent something that makes us all human. Emotions are signals about what is happening in our lives, and they also help us form healthy attachments, stay motivated, plan for the future, show that we are hurting, and avoid danger. Eliminating that stuff made my life feel flat and meaningless.
A few years later I made some radical changes to embrace my feelings, and figure out how to ride their occasionally terrifying waves, and corral their power when I needed to stay in control. I also became a psychologist that focuses on emotions, and have been working to help other people manage their feelings better than I did.
If you are someone who has some issues dealing with your feelings, whether they be anger, anxiety, depression, grief, excitement, lust, or anything else, there are a few things you should know. These five steps are based on brain research and backed up by real life experience, and they were key for me learning to deal with my feelings too. To make the most of this, next time you are having a strong emotion, go through each step in order, which should help you have a deeper understanding of what is happening, and what to do next.
1. Sensing The building blocks of emotions are in the physical sensations and automatic impulses we experience. So the first step in dealing with your emotions is to scan your body and specifically identify the types of sensations and motivations you are having. Is your stomach turning? Is your jaw clenched? Is there a lump in your throat? Is your face flush? Do you want to throw something through a wall? One mistake people make is skipping over this step entirely, which leaves us out of tune with our body. Another is when we deny that the sensations exist, or assume them to be something other than part of an emotional experience, like saying "I'm just tired".
Once you have the feelings down, it is important to accurately name the emotion. The mistakes people make here are mislabeling it, or using generic words that do not get it exactly right. For example, using words like "weird," "upset," or "bothered" all have a variety of meanings. There is more power and ability to work with the emotion when using words like "anxious," "sad," or "angry" instead. Additionally, we often have blends of several emotions at a time, or conflicting emotions, which makes this part even more difficult. Having a good emotional vocabulary is an important part of this, so look below for a list of emotion words.
After you have the right emotion, it is key to accurately determine what caused it. Sometimes this is obvious, whereas other times emotions seem to "come out of nowhere" or "for no reason." Emotions are almost always triggered by something, but the triggers may be unknown to us. A common explanation for emotions coming "out of nowhere" is that the emotion was present, but was only consciously experienced when there was space for it, like when doing a mindless task, or laying down at night to sleep. A mistake people make in this step is attributing the emotion exclusively to one thing. For example, say a person that just had an argument, and then became enraged in traffic. In this step, we'd say that the anger was immediately provoked by the traffic, but the strength of the emotion is likely due to the earlier argument.
In this step we ask ourselves how we feel about having the emotion. We all have different answers to this based on our identity, culture, and comfort with certain emotions. For example, someone may feel perfectly comfortable being angry, but feel very uncomfortable feeling sad. I often hear people say things like "I'm angry that I'm angry." Unfortunately, this extra feeling means that the intensity of the emotional experience will increase because discomfort, shame, or something else has been added to sadness.
Things can get complicated here if we do not accept or value the emotions that we are experiencing. I generally promote the idea that all of our emotions are valid and have value, even if it is just a signal that something is happening within us, or in the world. Judgment can be reserved for our actions related to our emotions (step 5), but spare the emotions themselves, and instead work to accept that they are there and have a purpose.
After this is complete, we are left with choices about how to proceed. Sometimes when we have a flash of a very strong emotion, the action will just happen. But for emotions that linger or come and go in lower doses, we get to decide whether and how we will express it, and how to cope with it. The key here is that if we think ahead about what kind of action to take, we can avoid making mistakes in our lives based on sparked emotion. So developing a set of coping strategies and communication skills is also important for this step, and you can find some options elsewhere in this book.
List of Emotions
This is not an exhaustive list, but may be able to help you expand your emotion vocabulary.
Fear: anxious, avoidant, cautious, concerned, frozen, insecure, intimidated, guarded, overwhelmed, panicked, stressed, tense, terrified, trapped, vulnerable, worried.
Anger: aggressive, bitter, cold, competitive, defensive, disgusted, disrespected, enraged, frustrated, hostile, irritated, jealous, mad, outraged, resentful, revolted.
Sadness: apathetic, depressed, disheartened, disappointed, disillusioned, embarrassed, grief-stricken, guilty, hurt, lonely, needy, regretful, rejected, shameful, stuck, tired, weak.
Joy: blissful, brave, confident, connected, ecstatic, energized, excited, friendly, happy, hopeful, loved, loving, proud, powerful, rebellious, relieved, relaxed, spiritual, strong, thankful, touched, tough, warm Self-Conscious Emotions: guilt, shame, embarrassment, and pride.CHAPTER 2
GROWING INTO SELF-CARE
When I moved to Minneapolis I had some loose ideas about self-care and health. I had gone to a small liberal arts college and got exposed to a lot of people and projects that had a health focus, including the Icarus Project, and I was heading down a path of using less psych meds, using herbal medicine, "dealing with my shit," and eating differently than how I was raised. I thought I was pretty on top of things; I ate beets regularly, I tried out a yoga class, I came out as transgender and as a survivor of sexual abuse, I felt happier when I didn't have jobs, and I was forming an identity based in anarchy. I had a whole new skill set, right? I had a new vocabulary to work into my everyday framework: Accountability, community, white privilege, sex-positivity, anti-capitalism, antioppression. I was reading Crimethinc books and feeling like my life was changing and new things were possible.
Meanwhile, I was still using drugs and alcohol, still struggling with an eating disorder and other kinds of self-harm, and was barely starting to piece together the Big, Hard, Fucked Up things in my life. I could see the faintest image of how my experiences with manic depression, sexual abuse, self-harm, and anorexia were entwined in understanding my body, my gender, my sexuality, and my identity as queer. The totality of it all felt crushing, and drugs and alcohol were an acceptable way of coping in the scene I was a part of.
Before impulsively moving to Minneapolis, I had been living at home temporarily, working at a gas station where I ate my way through pop rocks-donuts-hot dogs-nachos-energy drinks all day long. In my first few days in Minneapolis, I polished off two or three jars of off-brand Jiffy peanut butter and several bags of apples. Without much money or a job or a place to live, I was mainly eating whatever anyone had dumpstered from Aldi. I got sick, and was throwing up pretty hard for a day or so.
I think of this as a turning point, an important moment in learning about self-care. The cause and effect of my food and environment had never been so clear to me before, as I had only ever eaten what was easily available around me. I experienced issues with internal bleeding and for the first time I was thoughtful and intentional about what I put into my body. Being so sick and miserable, I felt a strong desire to be somewhere quiet and safe, to sleep and heal and take care of myself — not the crowded, dirty house I was staying at. All of this led me to find more stable housing and think about the consequences of what I put into my body. A stable, quiet place allowed the loud, scary background noise from the trauma inside me to have somewhere to rest.
Since that moment, I've gotten connected to resources that have helped me deal with my past and taught me what self-care could look like. I found a new house to stay in, and was living with other queer people for the first time. I saw a whole new range of expression and identities claimed, different ways of forming relationships, exciting political and personal projects, and a space in my heart big enough to hold all of the complexity that used to feel so crushing.
I became interested in integrative medicine practices through friends, and the woo-ey environment I discovered in South Minneapolis. This felt like another turning point for me, to discover kinds of medicine that could deal with intangible issues like mental health and madness, trauma, and the disconnect I was feeling from my body. Through queer and trans youth organizations, I was connected with health practitioners and was encouraged to apply for state health insurance. Within a few months, I was receiving mental health counseling, found groups and orgs advocating for survivors of sexual abuse, and began receiving nutrition counseling, chiropractic care, cranial sacral massage, and acupuncture — all for cheap or free, just based on networking and finding people in my community. My therapist wrote me a letter to receive hormones. I was shocked at how quickly I could draw these resources together, and share them with my friends, co-workers, lovers, and roommates.
The more I get into self-care and healing, the more I find that other people in my life have similar struggles and a similar desire to figure it out. Many of my friends and lovers have dealt with what I am dealing with. Sometimes this feels hard, but other times it feels special to hold all of that together and support each other's needs. It seems like everyone has some good tip for how they deal with winter blues, migraines, insomnia, loneliness, hard times with family, and so on. It helps me to feel ess alone, and I learn a lot from seeing how other people deal and cope as well as sharing what I know.
When I do my best self-care, it looks like this: I keep lots of good food at my house, and try not to eat gluten or soy because they are my migraine triggers, hurt my tummy, and make me even more spacey and weird than I usually am. I ride my bike, go on nice walks, run around with the kids I nanny for, and try to get exercise in a way that feels fun without being competitive or obsessive. It can be annoying when people say, "you should get some exercise," but it does help with my mental health. The problem is, when you are deeply depressed, how are you supposed to find the energy to go out and exercise? It works better when I can trick myself into doing active things instead of hyping myself up on a workout routine. When I can, I go to yoga, because it's a challenge to try and relax and be mindful of my body in that way. Supplements and herbs help my mental stability — especially 5-HTP, a natural serotonin booster! It's made a big difference for me. I try to keep little lists to remember what can help when I'm anxious, manic, having flashbacks, low self-esteem, stuck in my head, etc. Reaching out isn't always possible, and I'm working to find less harmful ways of dealing with what's in my head.
I learned some of the best skills through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which teaches funny acronym tips to learn emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindful awareness. For example, one of my favorite acronyms is F.A.S.T., which stands for (be) Fair, (no) Apologies, Stick to your values, (be) Truthful. One of my favorite things about DBT is how far-fetched some of the acronyms are, but they really are effective. This is an interpersonal effectiveness skill, and has some strong associations with the non-violent communication model. Both promote being aware of your needs and advocating for them while being honest with yourself and others.
My most important skill is to keep up some psychic barriers between myself and my environment. What I've learned about energy/the intangible/collective experiences is that there are ways to be open and vulnerable without being defenseless, and it's easy to get swept away in someone else's feelings and struggles, getting deep without losing yourself.
I learned this trick, called the Emotional Freedom Technique. It's a series of tapping on meridians in your body while saying these affirmations to yourself — and it's easy to find instructions online! You cando it practically anywhere, and it's helpful when I feel extra vulnerable. I also like "The Daily Energy Routine" from InnerSource. We hung it in our bathroom and my roommates and I would do it together as much as we could. It feels energizing and calming.
I'm trying to get real with those around me and build friendships that can support healing, growth, and being better friends — taking on less stuff and taking care of ourselves more. I'm sick of feeling loaded down, without the time to connect with the people I'm close to. Maybe this is where I'm going — figuring out how self-care makes me more capable of caring for others. I want more good walks and time together sober, wilding out without checking out or getting dangerous. I want to be extravagant to excess in the fancy food I can get for myself and my friends, and let our indulgence mean loving each other harder and treating ourselves to an even better quality of life; finding small magic in others and myself.CHAPTER 3
"Everyone gets anxious sometimes," is something I hear a lot. If living with generalized anxiety disorder for the past decade has taught me anything, it's that being open about your mental illness makes you a lint roller for unsolicited advice. Friends and medical professionals alike will tell you to resolve your crippling feelings of panic with activities out of a Pier 1 catalog e.g. rearrange the furniture in your room, make a collage from old magazines, light some candles. I was once administered lavender drops during a panic attack at an overnight school trip. I thought I was dying, but my breath smelled nice. In middle school, when my anxiety was at its peak, I was told to take a bubble bath on a weekly basis. So I could be anxious and wet, I guess.
I think one of the reasons people rarely understand the second half of the term "mental illness" is that like depression, the word anxiety is also used to describe healthy human reactions to difficult situations. To some people, mental illness is just another word for weakness or immaturity. The truth is that some brains just amplify feelings of stress and discomfort. Anxiety hurts and when you are hurting, no one ever has a right to negate or question your experiences.
I've been dealing with anxiety since the 5th grade. I'd spend hours worrying about what my body and face looked like, why my teachers didn't seem to like me as much as other students, whether or not my door-dashing dog would get hit by a speeding car, and the state of my parents marriage — basically, my thoughts were fixated on anything and everything that was out of my control. I'd worry until my stomach cramped up and my shoulders tensed up to my ears. Most nights, I'd sleep for an hour or two before waking up from heart palpitations. The worst thing about the physical affects of anxiety is that they feed the anxiety that caused them in the first place. When you can't sleep or eat, you become less and less mentally sound. Most people don't realize that mental illness can manifest itself physically.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Alive with Vigor"
Copyright © 2014 Robert Earl Sutter III.
Excerpted by permission of Microcosm Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction Robert Earl Sutter III,
Dealing with Emotions Will Meek,
Growing Into Self-Care James DeWitt,
Anxiety Maddy Court,
Marathon Running is Punk Andre Hewitt O'Donnell,
Being a Happy, Healthy Fat Person Ashley Rowe,
Dating Natalye Childress,
Ankle Sprain Greg,
Double Body Image Melanie Clothilde Double,
Change Buck Angel,
Addiction D avid Chops,
Depression Alisha Yuen,
Bicycle Commuting Robert Earl Sutter III,
After Drug Abuse Tiffany Roberts,
Brain Damage Synthia Nicole,
Lyme Disease Tasha Van Zandt,
Nervous Breakdown Sandra Fragola,
A Day in My Wheels Jans Diaz,
Breast Cancer Rachel Morgan,
Dr Internet and the Collective Consciousness Robert Earl Sutter III,
Paralysis of Fear Nathan Lee Thomas,
Headgear Anna Ricklin,
Divorce Kirsten Rudberg,
Ablation Salvation Lauren Hage,
Digestion Shit Wendy RM,
Service Dog Joe Biel,
Veganism and Diet Natalie Taber,
Let Me Talk About Feelings Xena Goldman,
Who Can You Trust? Robert Earl Sutter III,
Coming Out Transgendered Allison Ryder,
Dental Basics Dr. Elizabeth Meyer, D.D.S.,
Quitting Smoking Robert Earl Sutter III,
Abusive Relationships Dominick Brooks,
Building the World We Want To See Buck Angel,
An Inadvertently Compelling Argument for National Health Care in,
Five Mutually Incriminating Scenes Ayun Halliday,
Making It Home to Yourself Juniper Tree,