List Making for Wellness

Before I get into list making, I wanted to highlight my new site name, “Stigma Free Susan” and the new focus of my blog. Here I will explore how to live a stigma free life (rejecting false assumptions others make about you) and raise awareness for invisible illnesses, both physical and mental. I will be writing about my experiences and share some of what I go through so others know there is hope and that they are not alone. For a full description, check out the new About page at the top.

Now, onto lists….

There are a lot of strategies I use to try and stay well and relieve symptoms, physically and emotionally, in my daily life. I try to eat well, get exercise, spend time in nature, grow my relationship with God, budget my income, journal, connect with family and friends, etc. I first learned about having a wellness toolbox in the WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) class I took at my local NAMI chapter. I made a list of all the things I have done or could do to stay well and things I could do when I’m not feeling well, to feel better.

I now consider list making itself as one of my wellness tools. I have always liked making to-do lists but in the last few months I have found that I enjoy making lists for all areas of my life. It helps me stay on track, feel organized, get motivated, remember things, and look to the future. It helps with other items in my wellness toolbox, too. Between the side effects of the medications I’m on and the brain fog from my conditions, I have a really hard time remembering and focusing on things, so lists are a life saver.

To help keep my eating on track, I make a meal plan for the week and grocery list, complete with estimated cost of each item so I can stay within my budget and so I’m not shocked when I’m at the register. I have a growing list of easy, healthy, budget meals for those times when I’m drawing a blank on what to eat. I also have a list of healthy snacks to refer to. These lists help set me up for success during the week and it’s one less thing I need to stress about.

20180530_143344One of my wellness tools is to create art. However, that is very broad. I found myself forgetting about some of the things I could do. I even forgot about supplies that I had. So I ended up making a list of creative activities I can do do that explores the areas I’m interested in and the supplies I currently have. I even put it in a sheet protector. I keep adding to it as I remember what supplies I have or as I get into something new. Referring to this list eliminates the time I spend wondering what I should do. I’m much more likely to pursue a creative activity if I can easily look at my options.

I also make lists for my spiritual life. In my prayer binder I have different sections. In the ‘daily prayers’ section I write what I’m praying for in a list form and then say the prayer out loud. There are many examples of how to structure your prayer and I use a variation of the ACTS method (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). This helps me stay on track each day and not forget something important. I also have a running list of answered prayers. And I recently added a list of times I have heard the voice of God in some form or another. I really like this area of my life organized and it makes me feel whole.

I have a list of goals and priorities, something everyone should have in their life. It is wide-ranging. And I don’t always attach a time frame to the items. I list things I want to learn about and areas of my life I want to improve or strengthen.

I encourage you to explore list making and see if it helps you in your daily life. I feel it can really help alleviate anxiety and combat symptoms of depression. It gets all that swirling stuff out of your head. I think it makes life more manageable. Go beyond the usual to-do list and apply lists to other areas of your life. There are many list making apps you can download if you think that may help you. I haven’t explored that because I really like writing it down with pen and paper and keeping it in a sheet protector. Use whatever method works for you! There are also many articles online about the psychology of list making, if that is something that interests you.

For more information on WRAP and how to develop a wellness toolbox, check out the WRAP site here.  Some common wellness tools are already listed for you, too. I would love to hear your thoughts on list making. Are you a list maker? Do you think it could help you?



Please Reach Out

This past week has been a tough one for high profile suicides, so I wanted to take a moment and remind people of some resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a great resource for anyone who is suicidal or knows someone who is or is a suicide loss survivor. You can call 1-800-273-8255 anytime, 24/7 and someone will talk with you. If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these warning signs, please reach out and seek help.

The Crisis Text Line can also be reached by texting HOME to 741741 anytime, 24/7 if you prefer to text with someone instead of talking over the phone.

NoStigmas Ally Program is a great resource for non-crisis support and something I am a part of.

Those resources are always available on my Links page.

Having been suicidal, I get it. I know how unbearable pain can be. I know the grips depression can have on you. I didn’t get proper help for years later, but I’m so glad I did. It’s never too late. Opening up and talking to a therapist on a regular basis was key to my recovery and still is. Find someone you can talk to whether it’s a close friend or family member, or someone at a crisis line. Let someone know what you are going through. Reaching out and speaking up is the first step in lifting that weight off of you. Make the choice to live. There are people who care about you. Lots of people. Life is hard and messy but you don’t have to go through it alone. Please reach out. And lets end the stigma that keeps so many people from seeking help.

One final note: family and friends…please reach out to your loved ones. Give them a call. Invite them to lunch. Be there to listen. Let them know you care.






Projects for the Home and Heart

Watercolor bird painting for above the couch.

I hope everyone’s holidays went well and that you have recovered nicely. I’m happy to say I survived, even with the ongoing migraines and on and off flu-like symptoms which is a mystery yet to be solved. I stayed home from a couple gatherings, went to one, but also had some company and one-on-one visits throughout the month of December so that was very nice.

I have been getting into little projects around my apartment. In December I wanted to make over my living room. I made a painting for above my couch, figured out a slip cover for my couch, and got new pillows. I also decoupaged my old, damaged coffee table with old book pages. It took a lot of work and I ran a lot of errands, but I’m very pleased with how it all turned out. I did all of it on a pretty small budget, too. I am in my apartment so much that I want it to be nice and comfortable and have pleasant things on the wall to look at. It’s all good for my mind and mood!

In late December I started thinking about everything my kitchen needs so that was the next project and it is ongoing. I really needed to replace some pots and pans and get new knives. But I also got some new utensils and measuring cups and spoons. I even made a dinnerware change. The new towels complete the look and now I have an aqua/turquoise themed kitchen. I do a lot of cooking so this room is quite important to me. It has also helped me kick off some healthy eating habits in this new year, too.

My next project is in the bedroom where I hope to reorganize some things. I also want to go through packets of photos and put the ones I want to keep in albums and get rid of the rest. I think I can even free up some space in that room.

I have always liked the start of a new year and resolutions. And I’ve always liked organizing. It’s nice to do little upgrades as you have the time and money.  I am careful though to not become attached to “things”. As quick as they come, they can go away in an instant.

This new year, I want to keep up with some projects for my heart, too. I want to continue to “upgrade” my spiritual life as I grow my relationship with God. The prayer binder I put together last year has been very helpful and I want to keep up with it, along with daily Bible reading (I have found using an app or website to track reading is very helpful) and attending church as often as I’m able to. I have quite a few books by Christian authors to read as well. This will help keep everything in perspective for me and will remind me who, not what, to put first in my life. I will keep on going with my little projects and upgrades at home but know and realize that it’s God who is most important in my life and in my heart. “Stuff” may seem really important now but things come and go. I will come and go. But my journey with the Father is forever.

Psalm 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Do you have any home projects planned this year? What do you need to get organized? What does your heart need this year…more time with God, volunteerism, or more random acts of kindness toward others? I would love to hear your goals! Happy New Year!

New Pages Added

I have been busy with updates to this blog. I have added a Links page and an Art page in the top menu. I have added links to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, NAMI, NoStigmas, and others. I will keep adding to this list as well.  Suggestions are welcome; please contact me using the form above.

On the Art page I have included two galleries to start with: one of art therapy related paintings and drawings I have created and another of feathered creatures I have drawn and painted. I will add to these galleries and perhaps create more as time goes on and I make more work. I seem to make art in “waves”. The urge comes and goes but I seem to always have art on my mind, whether it be new supplies I want to try out, a new color to experiment with at some point, or a new painting to begin when I’m feeling better. I have recently started working on projects in an art therapy for traumatic stress book and hope to add those creations to a gallery as well. I look forward to seeing what I create this winter as I spend more time inside. I would love to start a “faith journal” and create some interesting, mixed media pages with journaling, prayers, Bible verses, song lyrics, etc. That is next on my list!

I hope you find the new pages useful and enjoyable.

Caution: Holidays Ahead

Only a couple weeks left of my fall table. 

Soon people will be gathering for Thanksgiving and then everyone is thrust into the holiday season. This time of year seems to get harder for me each year. I’m very apprehensive about this year because of my chronic migraines and fatigue that have been worse. Right now I feel like I need a lot of rest. The anxiety has been hard to get under control lately. And now that the time has changed, I have a more difficult time with my depression and sleep schedule. I have been experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder for years, along with everything else. I just don’t know if I can handle “gatherings” right now. I had a very rough time last year and I vowed that I would “never do that again”. I just overdid it and my body and mind paid for it. I committed to too many gatherings (yes, only a few can be too many). And I was in a bad season of panic attacks and had many doctor appointments. I still had to do essential things like grocery shopping and staying on top of paperwork. And I just didn’t feel good in general. It was not a good time for socializing and going places.

So this year I have decided to just wait and see how I feel much, much closer to the time. I’m not committing to anything. If I can go, great! I will likely still limit my time there. If I can’t, I’ll still make plans to see people at some point…later, when I’m feeling better. Maybe I can meet one-on-one with some people. So far, everyone has been understanding. I don’t feel bad for being what some people might say is “selfish” because I have learned that self-care is not selfish. I have neglected to put myself first in too many situations. Now that I have learned how much stress affects my pain level, anxiety, migraines, etc. I just have to put myself first and manage this season correctly. And I simply must stick to my usual routine and sleep schedule. I have seen what happens when I don’t and it’s not pretty.

I still plan to get in the holiday spirit. I have already begun planning some gifts and I’d like to make a charitable donation before the end of the year. I love putting up my little tree and setting out my angels and trying to keep my cat away from everything. I just picked up two angels to add to my collection today. I like baking, as long as I have the energy for it. I like the music. I like to invite people over for tea if I’m feeling well.  And the Christmas story, of course! I have held onto the tradition I started when I was little of reading about the birth of our Savior in one of my Bible’s, late in the night on Christmas Eve.

I know many people in the chronic pain and illness and mental health communities will be making modifications to their holiday plans too, even if it means staying home or scaling back who they spend time with or how long they stay at gatherings. I know I’m not alone. Are you doing anything to prepare yourself for the holidays? Are you making any changes this year? Have you found that your friends and family are understanding of your needs?

I hope you all have a blessed holiday season and remember: self-care is not selfish.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

The Story Behind the Painting

Make it Stop! by Susan Montgomery, 2013

I have been thinking a lot about this painting recently. First, I have been feeling like this lately due to several factors (pain, moods, etc.). Second, I have been thinking about it as I get back into doing some art therapy. It has brought back a lot of memories.

I painted this in 2013, what I commonly refer to as “my year of hell”. It’s when everything fell apart due to all my medical issues peaking at the same time. I had been having a lot of ear issues and could suddenly hear the sounds of my eyes moving in their sockets. I was extremely sensitive to sounds and pressure changes. I had been having terrible headaches. I was anxious and depressed. I was so frustrated! And when you combine all those physical symptoms with what I had to go through to survive, it was just all so much to deal with.

One night I was just beyond overwhelmed with everything going on. Something drew me to my art supplies and my camera. I took a few snapshots of myself in intensely frustrated poses, covering my ears like I so often had to, pressing my hands against my head really hard like I would when I got really angry. I printed a couple photos out and dug out some drawing paper. This was the first time I had really created any art of my own since graduating from college. I had been so busy planning and teaching art to children. And I surely hadn’t thought about creating any art lately during this turbulent time. I was instantly drawn to my bottle of India Ink. It was dark and black and moody. It seemed perfect for this. I sketched out the drawing and just painted on some India ink. I remember it being a fairly quick process. I didn’t stress out about details or mistakes like I had in the past. (Perhaps because I knew I had more important things to be stressed about.) I just used small amounts of water to wash on the various grey tones and a couple different brushes to make the sketchy black marks.

Once it was completed I felt such a sense of accomplishment. I had never done anything like this. I had painted self-portraits but only in oils and that was in college. And I had never NOT stressed about mistakes or details in my own work. This time I just went with the flow, just like I used to teach kids. I embraced what I created. I was finally practicing what I had preached. And I felt like the painting really did show how I was feeling. It looked raw.

I ended up making copies of this painting and putting it in the clear cover of my medical binder that I took with me to appointments. I would sometimes show doctors this (if they hadn’t seen it already) when they would ask me about certain symptoms and how they made me feel. I would start describing the symptoms and then finally show them this painting if I couldn’t quite articulate things. Then they would get it! I remember one of my ear specialists having quite a strong reaction to it. She loved it.

As I think back to that year, I realize that painting this was just one of many things I accomplished. I pushed and pushed through all the challenges. It was me who made endless calls to doctors and insurance companies and various agencies. It was me who figured out ways to get to all these places for tests and treatment. It was me who endured the exhausting travel. It was me who survived months of homelessness. It was me who figured out how to find a place to live. It was me who got into mental health treatment. It was me who did never-ending paperwork. I never gave up. But I was tired, exhausted, depressed, anxious, suffered through panic attacks, and was just generally completely overwhelmed. But I never gave up. And I couldn’t have survived without help along the way. Friends became like family and I even met new people through my newly diagnosed conditions. And I will never forget the kindness I was shown by so many people during that time. And God was surely with me. He was giving me strength, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. He already knew what was ahead for me. He was guiding my steps. And he still is.

Now I look at that painting and it’s a symbol of many achievements. I could pick up my supplies and create art, even during an extremely tough time. I could try something new. I could get beyond my perfectionist ways and learn to go with the flow, embracing any mistakes and messiness. I could convey how I was feeling through art. I could push through all the challenges that came my way. I could fight through all the symptoms and still survive. I could make countless calls and fill out never-ending paperwork and see that it achieved a purpose in the end. I could make a new beginning for myself. I could keep going! Even now when I feel like how I look in this painting, I know I can keep going!

Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. And when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

My Spiritual Breakthrough


One night I changed how I approached my prayer binder. Instead of writing a journal entry for the day and writing my prayer to God, I made a list of items to pray out loud about. Praying out loud is something that is still completely new for me and I thought this might help me get more comfortable with it. So I just started talking to God, in my own spoken words. It was a very powerful experience for me and I wasn’t expecting to feel so moved by it. I heard the authority in my voice! Among other things, I prayed for healing, both physical and emotional. I loved the spontaneity of speaking my prayer out loud to Him. I told him exactly what was coming to me, as it was coming. Afterwards, I vowed to keep praying like this each night, making my list and bringing it all to him out loud and not forgetting to thank and praise Him.

Later that night I had a huge breakthrough. I was suddenly able to bring into focus issues that had been buried in years of deep denial. Repressed memories were suddenly brought out. Feelings were identified. Experiences were named. I couldn’t believe what was happening! I had to get all these thoughts out on paper and as I began a long night of journaling, I flipped back to the previous night. I saw that I wrote about being ready to let God help me make sense of my past, that some of it was difficult to remember, and that I needed help with that. I wrote about all that I’m ready to let God do in my life. I wrote about what I’m ready to hand over to Him. This must be it! My prayer was being answered! This is the emotional healing I have been searching for.

Then it was beginning to all come together for me. There were people and experiences that touched my life recently, each in a different way, that encouraged me to search myself bit by bit, piece by piece. I had found a church, I started connecting with people, I journaled, I went to Celebrate Recovery meetings (a Christ-centered 12-step program), I read articles, I read the Word, I prayed, I talked and listened to mature believers. I was starting to think more about the past, as hard as it was. I was building a relationship with God. There was so much buried pain. I have been on my mental illness recovery journey for a long time and can now fill in some missing blanks. The picture is suddenly much clearer.

God led me to this point. I was told once that there are three answers to prayer: yes, no, and not yet. Well, God must have said, “It is time”. It is time to begin the healing. It is time to break through this wall of denial. It is time to remove all the feelings of guilt and shame. God must think I’m ready to do this and that I am strong now. I will keep seeking him faithfully in prayer as I continue on this journey of recovery. I have never experienced such a powerful answer from God and am looking forward to all that he continues to do in my life!

Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.