Practicing Acceptance

For the past two weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about Radical Acceptance during our group sessions. I felt as though my mind was fighting against this idea. It wasn’t until Friday morning that it grabbed a firm, positive, foothold in my mind. Since then, I’ve been working through the concept, trying to understand it better and just basically thinking about it from every angle.

One of my biggest challenges is in accepting myself. I’m my own worst enemy. Aren’t we all? No matter how many compliments I get, what kind words come my way, I struggle to believe them. How can I believe that which I don’t feel is true? I’m still trying to get to that place of being able to accept compliments without feeling embarrassed and like I don’t deserve them. Or that people are just saying these things without actually meaning them. I have become better at this over the past year, but still have a long way to go. I also struggle with the concept of being accepting of myself, the way I am, while also working on changing that which needs to be changed.

Then there’s acceptance of others. It’s easier for me to be accepting of others, than of myself. But of course, I said “easier” not “easy”. One of my biggest irritations is having people cancel plans with me, too close to the time. The reason I feel so strongly about it, is because keeping commitments is very important to me. I stick to my commitments, unless of course, there’s a very valid reason for cancelling. No matter how depressed or tired I may be, or how much I want to cancel, I will keep that coffee date with a friend, for example. But I need to accept that not everyone is like this. We all have our own values, and what’s important to one person, might not be important to someone else.

In Thursday’s support group, near the end, I awkwardly shared a tiny bit of where I am in life. Living in an environment in which my boundaries aren’t respected, but unable to get out due to a lack of financial resources. One thing that stuck in my mind since then is when they said that I’m doing the best I can. But I can’t get the inner critic to stop telling me that I could do more. I feel this constant pressure to do better, be better, and I get so angry and frustrated with myself because I can’t think of how to do that. This constant striving and fighting is exhausting. Adding fuel to the fire is the feeling of excessive guilt. That maybe I’m doing something wrong, did something wrong, or just not trying hard enough.

I need to accept that I’m doing the best I can with what I have. The circumstances in which I find myself. But I still need to be aware, and open to anything that comes my way (including ideas or solutions that cross my mind) that will allow me to change these circumstances. I just don’t need to fight so hard anymore, which hasn’t accomplished anything worthwhile anyway, and just keeps me in a constant state of high anxiety.

Something else that came up during Thursday’s support group, is how much I tend to compare myself to others. Everyone there had such positive things to share, and seemed so mentally stable. While I was struggling, and in a very dark space in my mind. On Friday I realized that I need to accept that I might not be as far in my healing journey as some others are. Just like there are those who are not as far along as I am. We’re all dealing with different problems. Our lives don’t look the same. Besides, just because someone is having a good day (or seems to be), doesn’t mean that they’re not still struggling. Healing and growth looks different for all of us. There’s no mould for this.

As the writer of a good article I came across yesterday, says:

“Radical acceptance takes lots of practice. And understandably, it might feel strange and hard. But remember that radical acceptance is about acknowledging reality – not liking it or contesting it.”

You can read the article here.

It’s The Connection

For the past two weeks, I’ve been so fixated on the thought of not being able to afford to have therapy sessions, that I failed to see what’s been right in front of me this entire time. I was reading through some of my posts on being afraid of losing connection with my therapist, and that’s when it hit me.

I think I finally get what my therapist told me. That she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy. I get defensive when she says that and tell her that I’m not dependent on therapy. She counters that by telling me that she didn’t say I am. I realized it’s not the therapy I’m dependent on. It’s the connection with my therapist. The attachment. I’ve never felt a connection like this with anyone. Not even with my grandmother, who was my favourite person in the world. At this point in my life, and for the sake of healing, I need this stable relationship. Especially for those younger parts. They’ve had a hard week without her. I think one of the ways of healing those childhood wounds, and working on integrating the parts, is through a healthy, secure attachment.

The way I see it, is that there’s still plenty of time to focus on the work in therapy. But the relationship needs to be there. And going more than a week without some form of communication is the thing that’s hard for me. I’m not ready to go a full week without hearing from her. It feels like I lose that connection, and it’s agony. I still need to be able to keep that connection with my therapist alive.

I have my weekly group and DBT sessions with my OT, which is part of my journey toward healing. It will help me improve my functioning, and provides me with the tools I need to better navigate this world and my life.

I can have therapy once a month and I’ll be fine. If that’s the way it has to be until I get a job, then there’s nothing I can do about it. All I want is to be able to speak to Therapist and hear her voice once a week or every two weeks, with texts or emails the weeks I can’t call her. A 5-10 minute conversation is all I need. When I think of the situation this way, I feel a sense of relief. We’ll obviously need to talk about this in our next session, and work something out.

The Inner Child & Teen

I had a DBT session tonight. My OT says I’m making good progress, which was nice to hear. But I feel like I’m not doing well enough. I can just hear my therapist telling me that I’m too hard on myself.

We spoke about a few things, and then started getting into the core emotions. She then focused on one them. Fear. She chose that one for a reason, which I won’t get into here. My memory is a little hazy, so I’m not sure about the order of things, or everything that we spoke about. But at some point, I regressed back to my 14 year old self for a few seconds (I think it was seconds).

This is a fairly new inner part I discovered back in December. This part holds a lot of secrets (that I don’t have access to- but I know they’re there), pain, confusion, fear and shame. The instant I felt her come up, I just shut down. I didn’t want to go there. I just couldn’t. I have no idea what will happen if I allow that part to express herself when someone else is present. In December when I first discovered her, it knocked the breath right out of me. I was back in the place she had been in, and it was excruciatingly painful. I cried for hours, experiencing the physical (I could actually feel it in my body) and emotional pain that she had felt. I wrote her a letter that day which I’ll post here at some point. I first want my therapist to read it, once I feel ready to get into that topic with her again. But since that day in December, I don’t want to explore that part. I don’t think I’m ready yet.

When I was in that disassociated place during this session, OT asked whether it was too much (the territory we were in). I appreciated that she asked me that, and didn’t push me to continue. She helped me through a grounding exercise. It seems and sounds easy, but doing it during those moments isn’t easy at all. I’m still struggling with it, so I’m grateful that she’s there to help me. I’m glad that I get to have these sessions. I’m learning a lot from her. I especially like the consistency. Weekly sessions at the same time, same place. It gives me a sense of stability.

When I got back home, I started feeling really young. I felt like the 5 year old was emerging. I’ve been learning how to work better with this part, how to soothe her, thanks to my therapist’s help.

In a therapy session last year, I had to write a letter to this younger self, and reply to that letter from the adult me. I still find this concept strange and confusing. I know these “parts” are all me, yet they feel so separate. It’s easier to work with if I refer to them as “she” and not “me”. Otherwise it just becomes overwhelmingly complex. My brain overheats. I know that the goal of this work is to eventually integrate these inner parts, so I can be a fully functional adult. Because as it stands, I don’t even know who the adult me really is, and if “she” even exists. I don’t have a stable identity at the moment. I’m all over the place.

The Little One (as my therapist calls her), the 5 year old, wrote a letter to Therapist one day, and she replied with her own letter to that little part. It felt very soothing and comforting to that younger child. I’ll explain how I came to “discover” this youngest inner child in a separate post.

Tonight, every now and then I feel the inner child taking over, and I revert back to my comfort objects (I didn’t have comfort objects as a child). My therapy jacket, and a little blanket. It’s the softest blanket I’ve ever felt. When I’m in this mode, I just want to curl up in bed with these items and cry. There’s a lot of confusion, sadness and fear inside.

I’ve been missing my therapist so much today, and there’s a bit of panic going on too, from the little one. I’m scared of losing the connection with Therapist. I wish I could just phone her and hear her voice. But I know I can’t. So instead, I’ll read the letters she wrote me.

Kindness & Gratitude #2

I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past week, but other things kept coming up. I need to hold onto the good right now, so it’s time.

It was about 3 weeks ago. I had gone to DBT group, and was happy when I saw that my favourite OT (Occupational Therapist) was leading the group that night. I know her from my time at the clinic. She was the first person to come in and sit with me that day, as she had to do some intake interview. She was so gentle with me, which made me feel less alone and overwhelmed. I was very emotional that day, as you already know from a previous post. After that day, every time I’d see her around, I’d remember how much her presence had meant to me that first day. She even gave me a hug the day I left the clinic.

I don’t like receiving and giving hugs to random people that I don’t know well, or trust. Touch is my heart’s way of communication and connection. It soothes me. But touch can also send me into a panic when it suddenly comes out of nowhere, especially in a crowded place, or from behind. PTSD symptoms become activated. Being as hyper vigilant as I am though, that rarely happens. My friends know me well enough to know not to sneak up on me. I long for touch, more than anything else. But at the same time, it terrifies me. Growing up, touch mostly hurt. It definitely wasn’t the caring and soothing type. And maybe that’s why I’ve always craved it so much.

During group that night, we were talking about the emotional waves. It was an interesting topic. Knowing that it’s okay to not fight against our emotions. Which is what I’ve always done, and still do. It’s draining. Sometime during group, I had to get up and leave for a while, as I felt a panic attack coming on. When I had come back, I apologized to the OT, and she was really nice about it. Going back I had been worried that she’d be angry with me for just standing up and walking out. But she wasn’t. Relief. During the break, she told me that she notices that I don’t breathe properly, which is true. I tend to hold my breath when I’m anxious or nervous, or take shallow breaths. I’m sure a lot of us do this. She told me that when I breathe, to imagine a balloon in my stomach, inflating with each in breath, and deflating with each out breath. I know about the whole “breathing properly” thing, but I struggle with that. But when she told me about the balloon, it finally clicked into place, and now I find it so much easier to do and maintain. I need that type of imagery. She makes the concepts easy to understand. It’s like she speaks my language.

After group, we spoke for a little while. She seems so genuine and caring. She’s very gentle with me too, which is what I need. Therapist is more like “mommy”, firm and “tough love” sometimes. It’s rare, but it happens. It scares me a little during those moments, but I understand where it’s coming from. Her intentions are pure. My OT knows that I see my therapist over Skype, and said that she wants me to have someone I can see in person as well. So she offered to work with me, and for me to see her every week. That I don’t have to worry about payment. At first I felt guilty, undeserving of such kindness. Then I heard my therapists voice tell me that when people offer something, it’s because they can, and want to. So I didn’t feel that bad about it anymore. Although I still feel like I don’t really deserve it. It means so much to me that she wants to help. She does DBT with me, which is something I need individual help with. Sometimes the skills I’m meant to learn in group can be a little too advanced for me, and I struggle.

And yes, I’m attached. She knows this. When I told her that I’m already attached to her, she told me that she knows. I don’t know how she knew that, but she did. From what I’ve seen and heard so far, she’s very perceptive.

The last time I had an attachment with someone before my therapist, was when I was in high school. I think I mentioned her here before… One of my teachers.

I would go to her house and help her with her arts and crafts. I loved every second of it. She’d even take me out for coffee. I loved spending time with her. Then back at school, in the classroom, she was “teacher” again. I found it easy to separate her into the two different roles. In class she wouldn’t treat me any differently to the rest of the students. I’d still sometimes fail to do my homework, and she wouldn’t let me get away with it. I preferred it that way. Even though I wrote her a letter before she left (she moved away) thanking her for everything, she’ll never know just how much she meant to me. How she ‘saved’ me when I’d get to a really dark place even years after she had left. I’d just have to think of her, and the memories would give me strength to keep going. Unfortunately, that connection that I had held onto, and that had helped me so much, has dissipated over the years. She’ll always hold a special place in my heart though. I was heartbroken when she left. My safe person was gone. I’ll forever be grateful for all she did for me. All her kindness and love. It’s the tiny bits of love that have saved me throughout my life.

I’m so grateful that people like my OT, therapist, and teacher exist. The world needs more of these souls.

Never Thought I’d Be Here – Part Two

My experience at the clinic was a positive one, excluding the Friday of course. Once I settled in, I started feeling better. Friday evening I slept straight through, as well as every night I was there. Which isn’t normal for me. Usually my first night sleeping out I barely sleep at all. What made it different this time? Maybe it’s because I felt taken care of and safe. That could be it.

The first night I got room service, since I had a lot of social anxiety, and didn’t want to be around so many strangers in the dining hall. The food there was better than I thought it would be. I lost a lot of weight last year, and from a healthy weight, I’m now underweight again. I’ve always been small built and skinny, and I hated it. I’d get mocked about it in school. While others were worried about gaining weight, I was desperately trying to pick up weight for most of my life. Four years ago, I finally achieved a perfect weight. But last year, I lost it all, and more. For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to go back to that weight. I’ve started eating 4 meals a day (including a protein shake). So the 3 big meals a day and 2 snack times (and hot chocolate in the evenings) at the clinic have made a difference.

I had two awesome roommates. One of them was a lot like me … The two introverts. We’re still in contact, and she refers to me as Psychologist, which I secretly love. The other one (Roommate #2) is a complete extrovert (I’m still in contact with her too), and would drive me and Roommate #1 crazy (but she knew that and was proud of it). Being in that environment, no one judges, and no matter how ‘weird’ you are, they accept you. After all we’re in the same place together, and there for somewhat similar reasons. I liked most of the people there. So many different characters. It felt like a big family. I miss the environment and the people there. Even the nurses were great.

Then there were the groups. The groups are focused exclusively on DBT, so I went to a few of those. We also had art therapy. I miss the routine there, so I’ve been trying to stick to it at home now. Lot’s of self care, eating better, having a mug of hot chocolate before bed (strangely enough, it helps me sleep), and a host of other things. It’s bound to become habit as long as I keep sticking to it.

If I could, I would have stayed for the entire three week program. At least I know that when I really need it, I can go back again.

Here’s what I learned from my time at the clinic:

It’s okay to reach out for help, and accept it when offered. It’s not a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength.

Just because I feel ashamed of doing something I never thought I’d do, like going into the clinic, doesn’t mean that I have to give in to that shame.

Support groups are valuable.

A non judgemental environment, where I’m accepted, is so important. I want to surround myself with such people, and spend more time with those who make me feel like I matter, that I’m accepted and loved just the way I am. I need to find those types of people too.

I need to keep my heart open. Because the most unlikely person, might just become someone really important. Go out and meet more people. You never know who might be going through similar challenges.

Routine is valuable and important to me.

I can’t just help and support others all the time, I must also allow others to help and support me. I can’t be responsible for everyone to the detriment of myself (thanks for this revelation Therapist).

Some people are just draining. Spending more time with those who lift me up and make me feel good, is so healing. Limit my time with people who deplete my energy. I say “limit” because I don’t want to not spend any time with them, as there’s a difference between those who drain my energy due to a difference in personality (introvert vs. extrovert), and those who are a negative force in my life.

And most important of all…
The clinic isn’t as scary as I thought it would be, hence my avoidance of them my entire life. Making assumptions and judgements about things, from other people’s accounts, or from what I see in the media, is a recipe for disaster. Everyone’s experiences are different, so why fear those things that might end up not being scary at all.

Making Progress Even When You Can’t See It

A few sessions ago, I told my therapist that I finally felt like I was making progress. That therapy is finally helping me. She jokingly asked me if I was saying that therapy hasn’t helped me before that? I told her that the seeds had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been aware of the growth until now.

Often, we don’t see the progress we have made. Hell, we may even feel like we’re just moving backward. And sometimes that’s the truth. We take a step forward, only to move two steps back. But that’s okay. That’s the thing with mental illness. There are no quick fixes. The road to recovery isn’t straight and easy. It takes a lot of work, and there will be relapses and set backs. It’s completely normal, even though it can be extremely frustrating.

When I do something different to how I would have done it in the past, Therapist will point it out and tell me to look at the growth I’ve made, and how far I’ve come. Most of the time I don’t even see what’s right in front of me, due to the negative way I tend to see myself. Other times when she points these things out to me, it fills me with a sense of pride. Because at that moment, I can see it. All the little things I do differently. All the ways in which I have improved. They’re there. I just need to open up my eyes.

If you feel like you’re not making any progress, take a look back, and you might be surprised to find that you have indeed made progress. Small steps in the right direction. When I’m in crisis, and I feel I’m getting worse or therapy isn’t working, and I just want to give up, I like using the DBT skills from the Distress Tolerance (Crisis Survival Skills) module. The Distract Skill, which is broken down into ACCEPTS as follows:

Activities – Find an activity you can get lost in.
Contribute – Help someone else. Contribute in any way you can, such as smiling at a stranger.
Compare – Compare your past self with your present self.
Emotions – Try to find a way to switch into a different emotion. Through music for example.
Pushing Away – If you can’t solve a problem right then and there, pick that problem up and imagine putting it into a box. Place it on a shelf until you’re in a better space to deal with it.
Thoughts – Name things around you. Or breathe in a word, and choose another word for the out breath.
Sensations – An ice cold shower, or lying on cold tiles seems to do the trick for me. Or if it’s raining, I stand in the rain until I’m shivering. Eat or drink something bitter or sweet. Anything that engages one or more of your senses is helpful.

I use the ‘Compare’ part quite often now. Looking at my past self, and comparing that to how I am now. It’s a very good way to see the little bits of progress I have made. It helps get me out of that crisis state, and into what Marsha Linehan (the creator of DBT) calls Wise Mind. Writing down all the improvements. It’s not easy in those moments of intensity, in the midst of the emotional storm, but once started, and written down, I usually find that storm start to slowly die down a little. Because then my mind is engaged in the current task. A positive task. Something that isn’t harming me.

Just as a side note. Using these skills in the heat of an emotional storm is difficult. Mostly because you won’t always remember them. At least that’s the case with me. So it’s important to write these skills down, along with a list of what you feel would help you in each of those ‘catagories’ during these difficult moments.

Right now, I’m treating myself to a delicious, creamy mug of hot chocolate to celebrate the ways in which I have grown over these past few months. It’s my special treat for a job well done. And even though I still have a long way to go, that doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate the little steps I have already made.

So go on and treat yourself to something you enjoy, or that warms your heart. You deserve it.

The Therapeutic Relationship

Most of last weeks session with my psychologist was spent discussing our relationship. I had started the session by telling her that I didn’t want to be there. She wanted to talk more about that. I got angry at her after a while, and felt a lot of agitation and impatience. I wanted to tell her to just stop. I felt there were other things I wanted to talk about instead. Things I thought were more important.

She told me that this relationship is important, so if I feel a disconnection with her, it’s really important for us to discuss it. That if I ever feel that something she did or said hurt me, I must tell her. She doesn’t want things to be left unsaid. I told her I would, but told her that I want her to do the same thing. Because one of my biggest fears is that she feels negatively about our relationship, but keeps it to herself.

I care about what she thinks of me and how the connection feels to her. I really do. Perhaps a little too much.

Since that session I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of this. I came to the conclusion that she’s right. It is important to discuss the relationship. A month ago, I would have loved to have spent an entire session talking about our connection. But I’ve become uncomfortable discussing it lately. Uncomfortable feeling this attachment. More and more I’m feeling this need to pull away from her. To keep her at a distance. To withdraw.

Because now it feels very real. Before, I loved the connection we shared. But lately, while I still love it, and need it, it’s become more solid. More real to me. And that scares me. I’ve never had this level of connection with anyone before. I’m terrified. The potential for getting hurt is huge. I know she’ll still unintentionally hurt me. She’s only human after all. But it’s not just that. It also comes down to my own shame. I feel embarrassed for wanting her, for needing her. At feeling this bond. There’s a lot of shame attached to it, and I don’t fully understand it yet. I long to reach out sometimes, but it also stirs up those feelings of shame. Reaching out feels wrong. A pattern from my childhood, where reaching out was met with negativity. Now it feels like a boundary violation, not just a boundary crossing. I feel like I don’t deserve the attention. That I’m not deserving of her time. That I’m not worthy.

I always thought I allowed certain people relatively close to me. But looking back this past week, I was sad to discover that that wasn’t the case. I kept everyone at some distance. Never allowing them too close. And now it’s coming out in my therapeutic relationship. Even the most important relationship in my life, that with my grandmother, reveals that pattern. I just wanted to spend time with her, be with her. But never talking about my deeper feelings or fears. Never connecting on a deeper level.

On Tuesday I sent my therapist an email with a one of the rare pictures I have of me when I was a little girl, the only one I have of me and my mom together. I also attached a ‘personality’ profile I have taken when I was 19 and in college. Feeling the need to push her away, I decided to use a DBT skill instead, that of opposite action. So I sent her that email to pull her close again. It was important for me to reach out.

I’m grateful now that she pushed me to talk about it. There are a few things I want to discuss with her in our session on Monday. And I don’t care if we spend the entire session working through these things. It has to be done. It is important.

But I’m scared.