Hi, everyone. Here is a video post on the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Distress Tolerance skill of “Distracting.”
Racing thoughts. Obsessive compulsive behaviors, such as cleaning, organizing, exercising. Increased negative coping behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, and drinking. Physical pains, such as upset stomach, migraines, muscle aches and fatigue. Early morning waking. Increased irritability. Forgetfulness. Tightening chest. Racing heart rate – literally hearing my heart pounding in my ears. Shallow, rapid breaths. Dissociation or feelings of having an “out-of-body” experience.
These are common occurrences for those of us with anxiety disorders. This week, I experienced all of them (except for the drinking.) Only after forcing myself to sit down long enough to do some journaling was I able to identify the source of my anxiety…
There is always a cause for anxiety. Did you know that? It just doesn’t come because “we are crazy.” There is always a root cause, and it serves me well to sit down and face the fear of finding out what it is, because once I realize what is causing it, I can deal with it, and the symptoms will subside.
Sometimes finding the cause isn’t as simple as it can be with straight-forward Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, which are caused by specific events such as accidents and natural disasters. Sometimes the events are actually an accumulation of events occurring over a period of months or years, where the person is subject to long-term, repeated trauma as in the case of child abuse. In such cases, the term “Complex PTSD” is often used even though it is not officially a diagnosis included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
This week my three-day anxiety attack which culminated into a full-blown panic attack was triggered by a few things. First of all, I posted my BPD story last weekend, which set my anxiety level higher than normal, but in and of itself didn’t cause me too much stress. However, add that to the fact that on two different occasions last week I unexpectedly ran into different individuals with whom I went to high school, and then the kicker was an unplanned evening of looking through my high school yearbooks (at my daughter’s request.) She wanted to see what her dad and I were like back in the day, and I didn’t think twice about taking a trip down memory lane. Next time I will.
High school was a very traumatic time for me. My parents’ alcoholism was at its peak; dysfunction and emotional abuse and neglect were at an all time high in our home. Memories of those years are clouded with my own drunken states filled with self-harm behaviors and untreated bipolar and borderline personality disorder symptoms, which I talk about in great detail in this video post.
Before going to bed that evening, I made a passing comment to my husband about feeling a little anxious after looking through those yearbook, and then I thought nothing more of it.
Three days later, I had my first panic attack in many, many months.
After quickly figuring out the cause of my anxiety (due only to writing about my feelings, which is why “Write into the Light” is my mantra) I began to ask myself many questions:
- Is knowing the cause of my anxiety enough to make it go away?
- Do I need to worry that these memories triggered me the way they did?
- Is this a sign that I need to work out some more stuff in therapy with my counselor, who I haven’t needed to see in six months now?
- Does this mean I am not healed all the way like I thought I was?
Healthy Coping Skills
I was a mess at this point. But, here are the skills I used to cope with my state of mind at the time. My hope in sharing these is that it will give you some ideas to try when you find yourself experiencing extreme anxiety.
First, I left messages for two friends who I knew would understand, and I also left a message for my therapist.
Next, I tried sitting with and observing my feelings, thoughts, and body sensations without judgment; trying not to push anything away nor hang onto anything. Just noticing and observing as if I was an outsider looking in.
I tried soothing myself by rubbing scented lotion on my arms and hands, which didn’t help much.
Then I decided to call my doctor to get an emergency refill of my PRN anti-anxiety medication. Luckily, the pharmacy filled it in ten minutes and also luckily, my husband was due home for his lunch break and was able to pick it up on his way.
While waiting, I wrapped myself in a warm blanket and sat in a fetal position on the couch in a quiet room. This helped calm me immensely.
I also said some simple prayers.
I took my medication at the same time my therapist called back. After telling her what happened, she said that I might need to try some “exposure therapy” meaning that I look at the yearbooks when I am in a good place emotionally and mentally, and even then only for a short time, and maybe not with my young daughters.
I made the comment to her that I thought I had gotten past this part of my life, that my negative feelings about it were gone. She said they are always going to be there; that the goal is not to get rid of the bad memories, which is impossible, but to instead integrate them. Integration is the goal. (Integration: The organization of the psychological traits and tendencies of a personality into a harmonious whole.)
She also said that I should try to dig up a few good memories from that time. She said they are probably there, but are just overshadowed by the bad ones. At first I didn’t think she was right, but then I made a conscious effort to get out of my black and white/all or nothing thinking, and started thinking dialectically – where good and bad memories can co-exist. And guess what? She was right!
When you’re anxious do you dig deep to find out what the root cause is? It may be something more than what it appears to be on the surface.
What physical symptoms do you have when you are feeling anxious? Do you take the time to sit and notice your body’s sensations and your mind’s thoughts during these times? Why or why not?
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Until next time…
Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder is Possible – One Woman’s Journey
If video doesn’t play, please view it on Youtube at the following link – http://youtu.be/O3EoBcZbSmQ
“Sometimes we just can’t, and that’s ok. Sometimes we kind of can, but the energy trade-off just isn’t worth it. Society demands that we keep overcoming, overcoming, overcoming. But we don’t have to. Nowhere is it written that to be a really real human you have to brute force your way through your limits. Nowhere is it written that not doing so makes you less worthy.” ~ Author, unknown
It is Easter Sunday and I am experiencing guilt for not being able to take my kids to church (and not getting myself there as well.) The crowds, parking, and stress of it all is more than I can bear, I know from experience. Plus, my husband is working which makes it all the more difficult to handle since I am on my own.
On top of that, we will be with family later on this afternoon…loud, excited kids, my siblings and their kids, my parents, all cramped into a tiny house for the evening…need I say more?!
Here’s another kicker – a mess up with my medication refill leaves me with no anti-anxiety pills this weekend. Kind of a WTF? moment…
Thinking about it all makes me want to shut down OR fall into a panic attack. I feel like my body doesn’t know which one to choose.
What I am choosing however, is to try and sit back and observe all of these thoughts and feelings as I would if I was watching another person go through them.
Acknowledging them, not fighting them, but also not making them who I really am…separating my thoughts and my feelings from my true self (who is simply a consciousness/higher self comprised solely of peace and love) seems to really help.
Maybe some would call this a form of detachment, and in a real sense I suppose that is what it is. Reminds me of that saying “Go to your happy place” – the place in your mind where no one or nothing can hurt you. Only this place isn’t in my mind. It is outside of my mind.
I picture it floating directly above my mind. Although, it is not a place but more of a presence, an aura so to speak.
And in this entity I am not escaping from reality but rather engaging in it as an observer…not a fighter or a victim or any kind of participant, but simply as an observer that knows – believes – deep down that all is ok, that I am ok no matter what thoughts and feelings are happening inside my mind.
It truly is a peaceful phenomenon on this joyous Easter morn. I do hope you are having positive thoughts and feelings today. And if not, I pray you can access your higher self – that space outside of your mind but still within you that can sit back and observe and know that it is safe, it is happy, and it is pure love.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts today. I would love to hear yours. Feel free to leave a comment if you are so compelled. Until next time…
Guess what? My life is awesome! I have a great husband, supportive family, sweet although moody pre-teens, cute little dogs, financial security, spirituality, good health, friends, great doctors, good medical care, and outside of the normal stresses of motherhood, nothing to complain about.
So what’s the problem you ask? I am going crazy in mind and body! Panic attacks in the form of heart palpitations have played guerilla warfare on me all day.
For the past five weeks my moods having been swinging back and forth, progressively reaching further toward each extreme.
For the past three weeks I’ve been crying, sad, irritable, losing my temper, and anxious.
Over the past two weeks, my mind’s eye has jumped from one self-harm thought to another with increasing frequency and severity. These are not thoughts I consciously think of nor do I dwell on them when they occur. They pop up out of the blue, usually during extreme stress-states.
I say “stress-states” instead of “stressful times” because my external surroundings are not extremely stressful, but my internal states are. Short of kicking everyone out of the house so that I can be alone in complete silence, these are the symptoms I am currently having to cope with.
The suicidal thoughts concern me. I become especially scared when they start to feel as if they control me rather than the other way around. So, I told my husband about them – all of them – in detail. I feel relieved. They have less power over me now. I will be calling my doctor and therapist on Monday as well.
It is important for us and others to know that mental illness is a disease, like cancer and diabetes. Yes, there are external factors that influence the disease state – smoking habits, diet, exercise, stress, etc. – but, sometimes cancer comes back, and blood-sugar levels fall despite our best efforts.
And sometimes, even though life is going good, people get depressed. And it is not their fault. It is no one’s fault. It just is. And that is ok, if it is dealt with in healthy ways.
Talk to someone. Call your doctor. Be completely honest. Go easy on yourself. It is not your fault.
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A single conversation with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books. ~ Chinese Proverb
Today, we may keep our thoughts and worries to ourselves. We may search for explanations within the craziness of our minds. We may consult books and the internet to find answers for why we feel anxious, depressed, and hopeless, and how to fix it. We may suffer alone in the madness, telling ourselves that no one understands how we feel, that we are unique in the torture we suffer.
Or we can be open-minded to the possibility that like us there are others who experience the pains of mental illness. We can seek out those who have been where we are; ask them about their experiences and how they cope. We can lean on others for strength.
Sometimes the problem is not that we don’t have the answers but that we aren’t willing to discuss the questions with another human being. We often and unknowingly perpetuate our symptoms by searching for peace on our own.
It is in reaching out, asking for assistance, and making ourselves vulnerable, if only by talking to an understanding and trustworthy person about our thoughts and feelings, that we find peace. If I surround myself with others who understand and support me, I will survive. Afterall, we certainly won’t be crazy at the same time! I will lean on others when I need to and they will lean on me in turn.
Today, I will talk to someone about what is going on inside of my head instead of isolating, and I will know peace.
Need someone to talk to? Need someone to listen who understands? I get it. Leave a comment and let’s share about it.
I am experiencing extreme anxiety right now. It started yesterday in anticipation of my first DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) group session, and now, I am reeling from the after-effects of the stress of being in this new situation. I also had to drive a good distance to get there last night, in the dark, both of which increased my anxiety.
I learned all the DBT skills on a one-to-one basis with my therapist over the past year and a half, but felt that I needed to start going to the group to stay focused on continued use of the skills.
The DBT skills, developed by Marsha Linehan, are categorized into four topics:
2. Emotional Regulation
3. Distress Tolerance
4. Interpersonal Effectiveness
Right now I am having a hard time regulating my anxiety, so I got out my DBT notebook and took the following actions:
Spent about 10 minutes in quiet mindfulness, focusing on my heart in a meditative kind of way in order to get out the racing thoughts in my head; paid attention to the physical sensations of my body to identify the emotion I am experiencing. Sensations I noticed included tense muscles, racing heart, shallow, rapid breathing, and nervous tics such as tapping my foot or finger.
I also took note of my urges which included, to run away, to numb with drugs or alcohol, to sleep as an escape, to stuff or ignore my feelings by compulsively cleaning the house – all things that I know from experience only make matters worse, so I refrained from doing any of them, and instead started writing this blog post – started “writing into the light.”
I am now looking at a DBT handout on how to stay out of “emotion mind” which suggests six ways to reduce vulnerability to negative emotions:
1. Treat physical illness: I did take an anti-anxiety pill before I started writing this and that is helping. I will pick up a prescription I need from the pharmacy even though I don’t want to leave the house.
2. Balance eating: I binged last night on Fritos. Today, I will try to eat healthier and drink lots of water.
3. Avoid mood altering drugs: Haven’t had any of those in over eight years.
4. Balance Sleep: Sleep was rough last night because when I am anxious I have strong, disturbing dreams, and I awake in the morning feeling unrested with tense muscles and a headache. Some things are just out of my control.
5. Get exercise: I will take a walk.
6. Build mastery: I will work on a creative project.
I will also call my husband and a trusted friend to talk about my struggles today. And maybe I’ll take a hot bath to relax my muscles.
When was the last time you experienced anxiety? What do you think caused it? How did you handle it? What positive coping skills did you use or could have used?
photo by gravel
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama
In my last post, I wrote about the DBT term “radical acceptance.” Just to recap, radical acceptance means, “These are the facts…. This is who I am right now and it is possible that these are the reasons I am the way I am….” Radical acceptance is the realization that due to the events of my childhood, I could not have developed in any other way. Therefore, I need not be so hard on myself.
After my first radical acceptance experience everything changed for me. (I say first because it isn’t something you do one time and you’re cured. You have to radically accept things over and over again in order to change your thinking patterns.)
By radically accepting myself just as I am, I started seeing myself differently. I was no longer a sick, abused, damaged, beyond-help child-victim but rather a strong, smart, creative survivor-child who made it to adulthood doing the best I could with little to no support from those who were responsible for me. I feel compassion for the little girl me rather than self-pity for the adult me.
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. ~ Dalai Lama
How amazing are we to not only have gone through what we did but to also to have come out on the other side of it, to have survived it! We don’t give ourselves enough credit. We are survivors!
Great but now what? How can this knowledge lead us to peace of mind and to a joyful existence? How can it help us improve our quality of life and our relationships with ourselves and others?
In realizing who I am (a ten-year-old stuck in an adult body), why I am (childhood post-traumatic stress), and what I am (a survivor still operating in survival mode) I began to discover options that I didn’t have as a child.
• as a child, I had no say in what I would or would not tolerate. I depended on my parents for food, clothing and shelter and therefore, had to tolerate their dysfunction in order to survive.
• as a child, I had one source teaching me how to cope in the world – my parents. Unfortunately, they could only teach me unhealthy coping skills because that is all they were taught by their parents who were taught the same things by their parents and so on.
Today, as an adult, I can remove myself from intolerable situations. I can seek out resources, learn new and healthy ways to cope and choose to use them or not. Most importantly, I can nurture my children’s emotional development at the appropriate ages and stages of their lives which will help break the cycle of dysfunction – Yippeeee!
I am no longer that ten-year-old little girl stuck in a nightmare. I am a thirty eight year old woman who has choices – choices like whether or not to walk away from the nightmare and create new a dream for myself and ultimately, for my kids. I am humbled by this entire process and so grateful to God for the knowledge He has revealed to me and for the gifts of radical acceptance, self-compassion, and choices that I now have.
What choices do you have now that you didn’t have as a child? Do you choose to make healthy choices or are you stuck in the survival mode of your child-self?