Obsessions As A Coping Tool?

Throughout my life I’ve had various obsessions. Things I latched onto and that became the centre of my world for a while. It would be all I could/would want to think or talk about.

As a kid it would be a movie or an animated character, and the family dog Cindy. As a teen, it was a celebrity (won’t say who, it’s embarrassing). I’ve had an obsession with Jennifer Lawrence (which drives my friends crazy) for the past couple years, “replacing” my previous one. I’m the Wikipedia of knowledge when it comes to her. It’s actually quite sad. ūüėČ

My current obsession revolves around dogs. It never really went away. Psychology (and Neuroscience) is also an obsession, but the world of dogs is now front and centre again.

Unlike the Jennifer Lawrence one, the Psychology is something that fascinates my friends and they don’t mind me talking about it endlessly. They’ll even ask me questions, which puts me on cloud nine.

I want to study Psychology. I want my own dog. As long as I can remember I’ve wanted these things. So it’s not just new stuff that comes up and become obsessions. I just go through these stages where I’m so psyched thinking about doing and getting those things that once again it’s all I can think about, and I want it now.

But when I sat down and thought about it, I realized I’m not going to get any of those things in the near future unless something changes in my life. When I thought about that, I felt defeated and hopeless again. But yet my mind won’t stop or let it go. It’s like a compulsion. I have to read more, watch more, learn more, talk about it as often as I can to anyone who will listen, etc.

Why do I do this to myself? I’ve asked this question quite a lot, but I don’t have any concrete answers, other than that maybe it’s a coping tool? Because my mind is so filled up with these things that I don’t have time to deal with all the other shit. It makes me feel alive. It fills me with excitement. So I don’t see it as a bad thing. Sure, it can be annoying sometimes (and not just for others). But for the most part, it’s so worth it.

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Not Going To Happen This Year Either

This was going to be the year where I finally start my Psychology degree.

For the past couple of years, from the beginning, I kept coming up against roadblocks. Even so, every semester, and each year, I’ve tried to make it work.

Last Saturday I was able to finally start the registration process. I really thought this was it. I was so excited. After hitting “submit”, I got a message telling me that my registration couldn’t be processed due to outstanding documents.

I know what documents they were talking about. Only, here’s the thing. I had already sent those documents through in early December, and had a generic confirmation of my email having been received. In early January I had sent through another email to confirm that the documents were in order, but haven’t received a reply as yet. I tried calling a few times too, but, as I’ve learned (both from personal experience and talking with others about this specific university), they never answer their phones.

Their admin is crap. I’ve also heard of other unacceptable issues by people who have studied there, or are busy studying, but wanting to continue at another institution.

Do I really want to study with such an institution? One that’s in any case on its way down? They’ve apparently already lost some accreditation for certain subjects. Their fees are very low for a university, so I guess you get what you pay for. I’ve been looking into other universities, and found one that I have my heart set on now. It’s more expensive, but everything looks good. I’ll just have to save up more and wait longer. But it will be worth it.

I know I’m doing the right thing. But it still sucks, and is highly disappointing. The situation sucks, and it doesn’t feel good. But it’s not as discouraging as it would have been in the past. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Or even a few months ago. I find I can handle situations in a more mature way.

Maybe the time wasn’t right. Maybe this wasn’t where I was supposed to study. So I’m willing to wait and continue doing what I can to make my dream come true.

Sometimes we have to let go of one thing, to make way for something even better.

It’s not the end.

Dependence On Therapy

Since we’ve started working together, my therapist has mentioned quite a few times, that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy. Whenever she’d say that, I’d feel uncomfortable and get defensive. Even though she would tell me that she didn’t say I¬†was¬†dependent on it, I still took it as an attack. And I think I have figured out why it bothers me so much. Deciding to see a psychologist (or any mental health professional) is terrifying. I was terrified when I first reached out to my therapist. Deep down inside, on an unconscious level, I felt ashamed.

Even up to today, that shame is still there. It’s died down a lot, but a few fragments of it still exist. The man who calls himself my dad contributed to that most of all. He’s told me so many times how some people need therapy, while others have strong minds, so they can deal on their own. How do I take it? I take it as him telling me, and thinking, that I’m weak because I’m getting help, when I should just suck it up and get on with life the way he does. So here my therapist is telling me that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy, and in my mind it sounds like an affirmation that therapy is “bad, so you shouldn’t get used to it”. I know that’s not what’s being said, but that’s the way my overly sensitive, reactive mind takes it.

I see now why regular therapy sessions are so important. It’s not about being dependent on it. How do you become dependent on the process of therapy? It’s damn hard sometimes, and even if I’m okay during a session, it hits me afterward and sometimes I just want to crawl under the covers and shut the world away for the rest of the day. There were many times that I didn’t¬†want to have a session. Where I wanted to cancel. But I knew that those were probably the times when I should¬†have one. So I didn’t cancel, no matter how much I wanted to.

I read a lot of your blogs, and from what I’ve read, the majority of you have weekly sessions, some of you twice weekly, and you’ve also expressed a hesitation and even downright resistance to attending a session from time to time. So I know I’m not alone in this.

As my therapist mentioned during our short phone call on Monday (which was strangely helpful, which I didn’t expect it to be- mostly because I didn’t know what to expect in the first place), I need structure. I thrive on it. I feel unstable, and everything feels chaotic without it. My nervous system feels under threat. When things are structured, I feel calmer.

When I had 3 therapy sessions a month, I felt more secure. It felt more structured than it does now. Now it’s just all over the place.

Sometimes we open up a topic, but there’s not enough time in a single session to really delve¬†into it. Then having to wait two or three weeks, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to talk about something painful, difficult and shameful, and have two or three weeks go by before we can pick up on where we were. It feels like something is lost, and it gets disrupted.¬†I know that the nature of therapy is that just because it seems something has been worked through, it might come up in future sessions again. Sometimes we think the work may be complete, only to discover that it actually isn’t.

Even when I write down things to discuss in the next session, it’s not quite the same. Those emotions that I felt, that were so extreme, die down, and it feels pointless to talk about it. If I do¬†talk about it in our next session, those emotions are a distant memory, and I talk about the situation, or whatever it was, without really connecting with my inner world.

I think it’s important to have that safe, consistent space every week. I don’t show up just to see my therapist. I show up because I want to do the work. If you’ve got a physical illness that requires you to see your doctor every week for a checkup, does that mean you’re dependent and happy to go for those checkups every week? No. You do it because you know it’s important.

In keeping an open mind, if a person can¬†become dependent on therapy, is that necessarily a bad thing? We’re dependent on work for an income. Which enables us to live, to pay rent, have food to eat, etc. So why would it be any different with therapy? The purpose of therapy is to help you heal and to craft the life you want to live. To help us grow, giving us valuable tools in order to function optimally in life. We’re still doing the work during and between sessions. But knowing that the next session is only a few days away helps, as you can more easily bring up any observations, experiences, etc in the next session, as it will still be fresh in your mind. Which, brings that sense of continuity.

Of course, right now I can’t afford to have regular therapy sessions. But when I’m able to, I’m definitely going to invest in it. The point of this post is just to share my view on how I don’t believe that one can truly get “dependent” on therapy, and why I think regular sessions are so important. I’m grateful for my therapist, who really tries to bridge that gap between sessions, and keep the therapeutic relationship safe and secure, which has been so helpful.

A while ago, I heard someone say that attending therapy is a form of self-care. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I like hearing different opinions and view points, so please let me know what you think about this topic.

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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 РHelp someone else. Contribute in any way you can, such as smiling at a stranger.
Compare РCompare 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.

Being My Own Friend

During my therapy session yesterday, I was highly annoyed with myself. I told my therapist that I feel I should be better by now. That I should just get over everything and move on. She told me that I’m very harsh on myself, and set very high expectations. That’s very true. I’m my own worst enemy. My harshest critic.

Then I got to thinking. I’ve read articles before on treating yourself as you would treat a friend. Back then it didn’t make much of an impact on me. But now I get it.

If a friend tells me that she’s a terrible person because of something she’s done, what would I tell her? I’ll tell her something along these lines:

“I can understand that you feel like a terrible person. But you’re human. We all make mistakes. The good thing is that we can fix these things. And those things we can’t mend, we learn from them. Simply by you admitting to what you did and how terrible you feel about it, you’re actually showing me the opposite. If you were truly terrible, you wouldn’t have been feeling this bad about it. That tells me that you have a good heart.”

Now what does it sound like when it’s me that’s done something I’m not proud of? It goes like this:

“You stupid idiot. Once again you fucked up like you always do. You’re the worst person in the world. Can’t you ever do anything right? You deserve to feel terrible about yourself. You shouldn’t even be allowed to live.” Yes, that’s really how I talk to myself. Black and White thinking in full swing. I would never talk to a friend like that, so why shouldn’t I show myself the same courtesy?

I learned a valuable skill from my therapist yesterday, which works great in the context of this post as well. I was going through one of my insecure phases and wondering whether I really can trust her completely. “I don’t want to be here today”. “What if you don’t really want to work with me and you’re only staying because it would be unethical for you to drop me?” Those kinds of things. After 6 months with her, I had hoped those insecurities would be non-existent, but that’s not the case. Just when I feel closer to her than ever before, and am enjoying that wonderful connection, it’s not long until I find myself pulling away and falling into the insecure, negative place again.

Yesterday, instead of reassuring me the way she sometimes does, she made me work this time. I suppose there has to be a balance. She can’t just always¬†reassure me without showing me how to change my own thought patterns and reach conclusions for myself. That being said, she still managed to sneak in reassurances, and didn’t leave me completely alone trying to work through this.

She asked me these kinds of questions for each of the negative thoughts I was having (she encouraged me to look at the facts):

What is the evidence that she’s trustworthy?
What evidence is there that she’s not trustworthy?

What evidence is there that she doesn’t like¬†working with me?
What evidence is there that she does like  working with me?

This ‘little’ exercise took a while. She really makes me work hard, and sometimes it feels like my brain just wants to explode. Not to mention my rage at having to spend so much time on something that seems so trivial at the time. Afterward though, I see just how valuable it really is, and I’m grateful for it. I have so many cognitive distortions, and negative patterns and habits that I’ve developed over the years, so of course it’s going to be hard to train my mind to think differently. I need to be kinder to myself. I need to be my own friend.

I can use this skill to be a better friend to myself. When I start feeling like a failure, a waste of space, or whatever my mind comes up with, I can practice this technique.

“I’m a failure.”

What evidence is there to suggest that I’m a failure?
What’s the evidence that I’m not¬†a failure.

This stuff can be used for anything. Thank you psychology. Thank you therapist.

I’m going to practice being kinder and more gentle with myself, and talk to myself the same way I would to my friends, and other people in my life. If I find myself being harsh, I will re-frame it and ask myself what would I tell someone else if they feeling the same way.

We deserve to be our own best friend.

A Wasted Life. Begin Again.

I’ve always said that I don’t regret anything, because I learned from everything. But lately, I’ve been feeling a little bit differently towards that. For the first time in my life, I feel angry about some of the things that happened to me. But mostly, I feel angry at myself for some of the choices I made.

I’ve been so triggered lately by people who are busy studying Psychology, or just started their new jobs as therapists. I always love hearing their stories, their progress, and experiences. But lately I just haven’t been able to¬†deal with it. I keep thinking “that could have been me as well”. But it’s not. They’re all so young, and I’m already in my early 30’s, so I’ve already wasted so much time. It’s going to take me longer to complete my studies, because I’ll have to do it via distance learning, so I can still have a full time job to afford it. So what would have taken me 3 years to complete (Degree), will now take me 5-6 years.

Those who have followed my blog from the beginning, and have read some of my previous posts, will know that I’ve always wanted to become a psychologist. That’s always been my dream. My¬†dream, not something I ‘borrowed’ from someone else, like so many other things.

I went for an interview last week, and was told today that I got the job and that I start on the 1st of September. The best news I’ve had all year. I’m so happy and grateful. Granted, it’s not a job that I want to do for the rest of my life, but it’s a means to an end. Until I can qualify as a psychologist. I’ll have to do my Honours and get into a Masters program before I can practice as a Clinical Psychologist, so it’s still going to take much more than 5-6 years. But I’m going to do it. It’s never too late, right?

For a while now I didn’t feel like I have a future. I still feel like that, but I’m forcing myself to just focus on my goal. I have a dream. And that should keep me going. Even if I die before I get to reach the end goal, the journey would have been worth it.

One thought keeps playing over and over in my head like a broken record. Stuck on repeat.

I’ve wasted my life.

Everything turned out so wrong.

I can’t go back in time. I can’t change things. I’m an expert at saying to others, and to myself “at least we learn from our mistakes and all the bad things that happen to, and around us, and can use it to do good things”, but for the past couple of years, those words just made me angry. “Shut the fuck up. You’re such a fuck up.”

Who can I blame? Can I blame my ‘dad’ and certain other people who are no longer a part of my life and family? Oh yes, I can. But also, not really. Because the truth is, I only have myself to blame. I could have left, instead of staying. But no, I had to play the damn protector and worry about his well-being, even though it isn’t my responsibility. I had two opportunities to walk away, to start my own life, but I blew it. I chose to stay. I had a responsibility towards myself, but I allowed myself to think that he¬†was my responsibility.

No more. I’m done playing parent to a grown man. I don’t have to do that anymore. He can take care of his own shit.

My biggest mistake was moving back in with him and the new stepmom and step siblings, but at the time (a few months ago), it was my only option. I got out of a toxic relationship, moved to a new city, was broke and had no job. But I can also see it as a good thing. It led me to today. I got a good job, and I can move out next year. Hopefully before the middle of the year. I just need to get through the 3 month probation period, but I’m going to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. I want to¬†make sure that I’ll keep this job. I’m scared and nervous, but I’m also excited.

I had a really great therapy session today (hard and painful at times), and discussed all the things that had bothered me in our previous session (as I wrote about in a previous post). I love how honest I can be with my therapist about things she may have said or done that bothered or hurt me and we get to clear it up. She apologized, even though she didn’t really need to, and told me that she never means to hurt me, or make me feel like she’s judging me. I believe that with all my heart. I told her about how I don’t need tough love, I need a gentle touch, and she even thanked me for telling her that. Now she knows. I wasn’t expecting that response (even though I should know her better by now). I thought she would argue with me, or tell me that I’m wrong. But she totally took in on board, and I felt really heard.

So it’s been a really good day. And heaven knows I needed a good day after all the shitty ones I’ve been having. I’m so grateful.

So I might have wasted the earliest part of my¬†life, but now is my opportunity for a fresh start, and I’m going to take it. I don’t want to regret anything ever again.

 

The Many Faces Of Emptiness

One of the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder according to the DSM-IV is:

“chronic feelings of emptiness”

“Yes, I get that. But how does it feel?” A friend asked me the other day.

Good question. How does¬†it feel? Can it even be¬†felt? Doesn’t the very definition suggest “blankness”?

Yet, it can most certainly be “felt” in a sense.

Most people will experience a feeling of emptiness during their lives. But for those of us who experience it almost daily, it’s difficult to explain. It comes in many forms. It’s like asking someone who has had a heart attack how it felt. Sure, they can describe it and we “get it”, but in a limited way, and only as far as our imaginations allow. As we all know, imagination isn’t the most accurate of things.

I’ve always loved this Egyptian proverb, which I believe can also be used in this instance:

What reveals itself to me ceases to be mysterious for me alone: if I unveil it to anyone else, he hears mere words which betray the living sense: Profanation, but never revelation.

The Mirriam Webster dictionary defines “empty” and “emptiness” as follows:

“Containing nothing”, “empty space”
“Having no real purpose or value”
“The quality or state of being empty”

A few synonyms: black hole, blankness, vacancy, void, hollowness, nothingness, depletion, desolateness.

Dictionary definitions aside, here is how I personally experience this emptiness:

I can sense all the emotions inside myself, but am unable to reach them. To fully connect with them. To experience and “feel” them. As though there’s a layer of glass between the feeling and my conscious awareness (if I can call it that – my vocabulary is somewhat limited) , as this photo suggests:

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It can also feel as though I have nothing inside of me. Just a large black hole. Nothing to give. Nothing¬†can enter either. Like a glass of water that got knocked over, spilling the liquid¬†everywhere, then picked up and placed back on the counter, devoid of it’s contents.

Possibly the best way I have ever been able to describe it, is through a bit of writing I did a few years back while experiencing this emptiness:

Shadow

I see her in my dreams…

She is but a lifeless form, a shadow, wandering aimlessly through this world.

No longer do her eyes behold the wonders of the world, the beauty of a sunrise. No longer does the cool breeze tickle her skin, nor the raindrops sting her face. The sounds filling the air are no longer music to her ears.

Never seeing, never tasting, never feeling…

Never having existed at all.

Not everyone experiences things the exact same way. How do you experience the state of emptiness?