I talk honestly and openly about my experiences with mental illness, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome through the lens of feminism, fat acceptance and process theology. I also do recipe and book reviews. My mission is to spread the message that hope is always real for a better life, despite living in a world that is often very harsh.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

DBT Week Four - Opposite Action

What is the word of God for us underneath the words of Paul? It is that each of us, no matter how dark our shadows, or how condemned we are made to feel, are nonetheless the objects of the infinite and graceful love of God.  Each of us is called to live in the wholeness of that love as one who has ben embraced by the giver of infinite value.  Accepting that divine valuation, we are to find the courage to be the self God has created us to be, the self we are inside the graceful gift of the righteousness of Christ. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism)

When we're feeling an emotion we don't like and it does not fit the facts, then one of the best tools we can use is "opposite action" to get us to the emotion that we do want.  For instance, if I am depressed and I want to feel better, I need to do the opposite of depression, which is to become engaged in community.  Opposite Action is one of the most popular DBT skills because it's fairly easy to understand and is super helpful.  The more we do opposite action, the more we rewire our brain to actually start wanting to do those things that help us instead of wanting to lay in bed all day.  I think it's interesting that the opposite of shame is vulnerability, which I know from direct experience.  The more I talk about my "shameful" mental illness, the more I feel comfortable with myself.  We imagine that vulnerability will be awful, but in my experience it usually leads to more acceptance not just with myself but with other people.  People are drawn towards authenticity and I think it is one of my gifts.

We were tasked with the assignment to write down the opposite action for our disorders.  I have so many, that I was able to fill a whole page and I thought you all might enjoy seeing my interpretation.

Anxiety: 
  1. do what I fear
  2. cope ahead
  3. be productive
Anxiety tells me to fear the world and my immediate urge is to avoid.  The thing is, the more I avoid, the more avoiding seems like the only option.  Doing the action becomes scarier and scarier and my world gets smaller and smaller. I have to do what scares me in order to rewire my brain to not be so afraid.  In order to convince myself to do what I fear, I have to plan ahead and cope ahead.  When I can imagine my feared scenario going well, then I will feel more confident that it actually can go well and in fact, it usually does work out close to the way I planned.  I do this especially before having to have a big talk with someone.  I plan out what I should say and the job is then so much easier and it never is nearly as big a deal as I thought it would be.  Lastly, anxiety tells us that we are so imperfect that we should not try at all, but of course, we're not perfect, so I do as well as I can and then try to not worry about the rest!

Depression:
  1. be productive
  2. stay out of bed
  3. be active
  4. cheerlead myself 
  5. be with people
  6. be grateful
  7. think before talking
  8. don't research ways to kill myself
Depression overlaps with anxiety in a lot of ways.  It's harder right now with the quarantine because some of the things that are helpful for depression, we can't do, like being around other people.  I make do with zoom and texting and social media, but it is definitely not the same.  Right now, we are all experiencing trauma together, so we need to cut ourselves some slack.  I don't like being depressed and anxious, so I will do my best to be productive, but if I sleep away a day or so, I need to not beat myself up-these are not normal times and normalcy is just not to be fully expected. I get really angry when I depressed and will say mean things to people, so I have had to learn how to catch myself.  If I notice I am getting angry about really small things, then that's a clue the I am probably in depression-land.  The last makes me sort of laugh to see-when I am depressed, I am really depressed and researching ways to die really used to be like a hobby of mine.  According to my therapist, that kind of research qualifies as "acting out."  I haven't done this in a while but it's another warning-if I notice myself thinking about how easy it would to check out, then I am probably deep deep in depression-land.  I'm so glad that I am hardly in that deep anymore.  In the beginning of this quarantine, I struggled with some more depression urges than usual, which is why I got myself into DBT so fast-I knew enforced isolation would need some more in depth emotional coaching.

Eating Disorder:
  1. no weighing
  2. no counting calories
  3. no restricting
  4. no all or nothing thinking (think dialectically)
  5. sit with uncomfortable feelings and sensations
I started having a lot of anxiety surrounding possible weight gain.  On one hand, it seems awfully petty to be concerned about weight gain during a pandemic, but I need to not judge my worries and just accept them instead.  Once I accept them, then I can disregard them a lot easier.  Feeling full sometimes is a stressful sensation for me, but one that I need to sit with instead of stressing out over it.  There is no "good" or "bad" foods when in eating disorder recovery-nothing is off limits as long as I stay in moderation and balance.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
  1. stay away from the mirror
  2. don't take forever to plan an outfit
When I'm anxious, my OCD comes out in face picking and perfect outfits.  I get a lot of pleasure and compliments from my sense of fashion but there's a balance between wanting to look good and being obsessive.  When I try on clothes for over an hour just to see my therapist, then I am deep in anxiety OCD-land.

Schizoaffective Disorder:
  1. take meds
  2. cuddle with Scully
It's funny-schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type) is one of the diagnosis that freaks people out-due to stigma, expectations for functioning are held at an offensively low level but this is the disorder that I struggle with the least.  As long as I take my medication, then I'm pretty good.  The only symptom I really struggle with is a little bit of paranoia at night, but cuddling with my cat helps a lot, so really, no big deal.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):
  1. use DBT Skills
  2. set boundaries
  3. validate and self soothe myself
  4. force myself to move out of my comfort zone
This is the other diagnosis that really scares people, but at this point, I have taken DBT so many times, that I do not struggle with this one neither as much as I used to.  I will always need to use my skills but I barely count as still living with this disorder.  The quarantine has brought it out of remission but barely.  It feels good to write that. Urges that I have to fight are fears of abandonment, self judgment, and high expectations.  I combat these with setting boundaries with myself, telling myself good things and by forcing myself to try new things without super intense expectations.

I will be so glad when all of this is over, but in the meantime, I have my opposite actions and my cat. Cat cuddles is my favorite coping tool.

             

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Week 2 of DBT Skills: Overcoming Exhaustion

The smallness you feel comes from within you. 
God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes. 
~ The Message Bible 

We started the DBT session with a mindfulness tapping exercise called EFT.  I had never tried "EFT tapping" before but after practicing the "overcoming exhaustion" exercise, I have actually found it to be pretty useful.  The practice is so easy, it seems like magic, but I know it's just another way of validating my emotions, the first step in healing.  Try it yourself.  

We're still in the emotional regulation section of DBT.  Tomorrow is Easter and we talked about how we might ease our stress on this holiday.  The first is by honoring our traditions, for traditions often bring comfort.  I plan to make coffee cake this afternoon, wake up early tomorrow, get dressed up, eat coffee cake for breakfast, and attend church with the people I love. Yes, the church service will be on my computer and technically, I could watch it in my pjs.  However, there is something rejuvenating about honoring a tradition with others, no matter if there is social distancing involved.  I can feel the loving energy of my friends if I let myself breathe deeply for a while.  We also talked about finding comfort by making meaning out of our current reality.  Now, I don't believe that COVID-19 was sent here as a moral lesson to teach us anything, but I do believe that we can choose to find some meaning in it and if we do, then we will feel better.  So.... I am using this time to work on being nonjudgmental and mindful towards myself, to take more walks and enjoy nature more.  I am even using this time to publish a book and open an Etsy store and facilitate more groups at my job.  When I think about wanting to be with people, I feel sad, but when I think of the strengths that I am gaining, I feel energized.  Dialectically, I have to both validate my sadness and validate my joy at the same time.  (That's what dialectic means-accepting two opposing concepts at the same time!)

Our emotions and our thoughts are interwoven together after an event; our thoughts influence our emotions and our emotions influence our thoughts.  If we don't like our emotion, we can try to check the facts and see if the emotion fits the facts.  Usually they do not.  

When we tell ourselves that the outcome is a total catastrophe, we are minimizing our ability to cope. The truth is that we are all extremely resilient people and we are all much more capable then we oftentimes give ourselves credit.  How do we convince ourselves of how much good we can do?  By coping ahead of time.  Imagine handling whatever it is you need to handle well.  Face the threat to see that the threat is not actually as big as you think it is.  Don't get stuck in your "emotion mind," because your emotions will balloon up big and won't fit the facts.  Instead, be in "beginner's mind," and think of the problem as if for the first time, reviewing the facts and coming up with at least five different interpretations.  The more interpretations you come up with, the more you will see that life is not as stuck as you think it is.

I also found this reframing of exhaustion very helpful.  My body's energy often drops throughout the day.  The therapist suggested that I may have started dropping my energy, "checking out," as a coping skill to survive trauma.  If I just go to sleep or disassociate, then I do not have to face whatever I feel is threatening me.  The more I think about the failure, the problem, the conflict, the threat...the more I will feel drained, which will then make me be more vulnerable to act and feel in other ways I do not ideally want.  However, if I validate my emotion and cope ahead, then my energy will rise and I will feel better.  I found this way of thinking very helpful-my low energy isn't bad, it's just an old coping skill that no longer works for me.  I don't want to spend the rest of my life emotionally drained-I want to take charge and live a meaningful life!