Therapy, Uncategorized

Making therapy sessions better

Sometimes I leave therapy feeling worse than how I felt before it. But sometimes, therapy is really helpful, and I leave feeling heard, validated, hopeful, and knowing what to do when things get bad again.

So, I’ve been trying to think of what makes some therapy sessions better than others.

I think a big part of it is making sure I actually say the things I want to in session. If I don’t, I leave feeling disappointed in myself, frustrated with my therapist, and invalidated. This can spiral and I can start to feel hopeless and think “no one can help me,” “no one likes me,” “I’ll never get better.” Those are all-or-nothing thoughts and aren’t true.

I’m not entirely sure what the solution to this is, because sometimes I don’t know that I really wanted to say something until after I’ve left and realized I haven’t said it. It sometimes just takes me a while to get my thoughts in order.

It also takes me a while to remember stuff. My therapist will ask what was going on on x day before y, and I have no clue. I think this is partially because I dissociate, which interferes with memory somehow (I don’t know the specifics), and partially because I avoid thinking about bad stuff because it upsets me. Dissociation is essentially avoidance, so these are kind of the same thing at their core.

I guess a solution to this could be for both me and my therapist to be patient with myself during session and wait for my thoughts to come and for me to be able to say them.

I could also spend time before session thinking about what I want to talk about. Sometimes I write things I want to talk about on sticky notes and bring them to therapy. That is helpful, but I have to make sure that I do actually say the things I have written down. To do that, I have to overcome any shame or embarrassment and not feel too afraid of saying them (if they’re about upsetting things or trauma reminders).

Sometimes it’s helpful when I say, “I wanted to say something, but now I don’t,” and my therapist helps me through what’s getting in the way of me saying it, whether those emotions are justified or not, whether I need to do some grounding before talking about something hard, etc. So I guess in general it’s good to be open in therapy as much as you can.

It’s also good when I journal before going to therapy because then I know what’s actually going on and have already given it some thought. Writing things down generally helps me. Plus, if I’m avoiding saying something, I could just hand it to my therapist to read instead of trying and failing to say it out loud, or I could email it.

I’m working on it. 🙂

Advertisements
Therapy, Uncategorized

My relationship with death

(In case it isn’t obvious already, this is about death, and it’s dark.)

We’re in a close relationship, death and I, but it’s a rocky one.

I saw you, death, for the first time when I was in 5th grade. I had heard about you before. I had heard what you had done to my grandpa, to my friend’s dog, to many others. But I hadn’t been present to see you in the same room.

In 5th grade, I saw you come and take my grandmother away. I saw her heart rate fall, fall, fall, until it got to levels at which she was surely unconscious, and we took the monitor off her finger.

I understood that it was her time. I loved her, but it was a peaceful way to go.

Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, you noticed me. Before, we were just strangers in the same room. Now you introduced yourself to me. You showed me my life. I saw it flash before my eyes. It was a good life, one I was proud of. You told me it was enough. You told me to come with you. You showed me peace and beauty, the calm in the eye of the storm. You took my breath away. I said okay. I didn’t have a choice, but I said okay anyway.

But you decided not to take me then. I don’t know why. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was God, if he exists, thinking I deserved to live longer, that there was some plan for me. Maybe it was physics, just the way things moved in that moment, and my luck of being where I was. Maybe it was that I was wearing a seatbelt. Maybe it was that I wasn’t too tall. I’ll never know why.

You turned away from me and looked at my dad. He was too tall for the car. The physics did not work in his favor. I saw and heard horrible things. For maybe five minutes, I thought you had taken him. I imagined the rest of my life without him. I regretted not loving him more. I hated you, death. You caused pain, misery, and sadness.

And yet you didn’t take him away from me, either. It was an amazing gift, one that I struggle to be thankful for today, but it really was.

Time passed. You stayed in my mind. The image of peace stayed in my mind. The horrors stayed in my mind. For better or worse, you and I were linked together.

Later, when things were too much to bear, you knocked on my door. I invited you in. At some point, we must have started dating. I thought about you often. I fantasized about you, “Death + Me” written in a heart. I wanted to be with you, but at the same time you repulsed me. I hadn’t forgotten the accident. I hadn’t forgiven you for that. But the peace was so tempting.

I kept our relationship hidden. I didn’t tell friends, family, teachers, even my therapist, what you meant to me.

We’d break up. I’d swear we were never getting back together. I’d write lists of why I wanted to stay living. I’d plan things to look forward to. I’d make checklists to follow during the times when you tempted me, so that I wouldn’t give in.

I’d go without seeing you for a while. I would try to forget. But somehow you still called to me, especially in my dark moments, especially in flashbacks, especially when I was alone.

At some point I started becoming more open about our relationship. I wrote about it in my journal. I alluded to it with my friends. I confessed to my therapist when she asked me point blank. A few months later, my therapist and I told my parents about my relationship with you. They didn’t really understand. But they loved me and wanted to support me. They wanted to help me move beyond you. At the time, I wanted to be done with you, too.

You were my guilty pleasure, death, a secret kept hidden, but also a monster haunting me. You keep proposing. You keep wanting to run away together and get married. I keep saying no. But I’ve gotten so close to saying yes.

You always ask in my weakest moments. When I’m feeling better, I hate how close I came to giving in to you.

Death, I know you will take me eventually. Subconsciously, I expect that it will be soon, but I think that’s just because the horrors you left me with make me expect to die. You’ve never left me completely. You still feel close.

In the times I’m feeling well, I don’t want to be with you. You offer peace, but it’s mixed with pain for others. You offer peace, but it’s too soon. I have plans. I have dreams. I have relationships besides the one with you. I can find peace in ways other than what you offer.

I wish I could break up with you permanently. I wish that when you finally do come, it will be many, many years from now, after a full, satisfying, joyful, loving life. I hope when you do come, I’ll be sad to leave.

For now, I am working on healing from my relationship with you.

Coping Skills, Uncategorized

Alternatives to “Everyone hates me!”

Instead of jumping to the conclusion that everyone hates me, here are some more realistic and positive explanations.

When someone hasn’t texted me back:

  • They saw it when they were in the middle of something and forgot to respond.
  • They saw it when they were busy and want to take the time to write a thoughtful response.
  • The message didn’t deliver because either I or they lost cell service or wifi.
  • They forgot about it.
  • They are waiting to confirm something else first before replying.
  • They forgot about it, remembered, and now feel so guilty for not replying sooner that they’re anxious about the whole thing and aren’t replying at all.
  • They’re going through a really busy time and have a lot on their plate.
  • They’re going through a really stressful time and have a lot on their mind.
  • They’re not checking their phone.
  • They’re on a camping trip in a place without cell service.
  • They got a new phone.
  • They’re out of the country and not receiving texts.

When someone didn’t smile back at me:

  • They’re caught up in their own thoughts.
  • They’re worried about what they’re going to say next.
  • They didn’t see me.
  • They thought I was looking at someone else.
  • They’re tired.

The vast majority of the time, people don’t hate me. There are many good reasons why someone would not reply to a text or smile back at me that have nothing to do with what they think of me.

Do you have any to add? Or any other situations where you might jump to a conclusion and there’s a more reasonable explanation?

Coping Skills, Positives

There are still good things even when you don’t see them

I’m on the train going to my family’s home for Thanksgiving and am noticing all the good things.

We rode past beautiful bays and beaches, over rivers emptying into the ocean, through forests of bare branches with sun streaming through.

A little girl, maybe 2 or 3, in a cute dress and white sweater walked down the aisle of the train while looking at a phone, like an adult, and bumped into someone. It was so cute. It made me smile, and the person across the aisle from me (the one the little girl bumped into) saw me smiling and smiled, too.

I texted a bunch of friends I haven’t spoken to in a while. Scrolling through my recent text messages, I can see people from middle school, high school, college, my summer program, and my family. All these nice friends! I’m so glad I have all these great people in my life, even if I don’t see them that often.

The guy sitting next to me apologized after being on the phone for a while (which didn’t bother me at all) and asked if I’d mind if he ate lunch. It was very nice to be treated so politely and considerately.

I’ve been thinking more about gratitude lately since it’s Thanksgiving time. This year I have been making a real effort to pay attention to the good things.

At the beginning of the new year, I saw a BuzzFeed post that mentioned keeping a calendar of good things, or something like that. I liked the idea, and I’ve been actually following through on it, for the most part. I have a calendar with nice pictures hanging on my wall, and each day I write down one good thing that happened in gold sharpie (or green sharpie more recently because my gold ran out).

I don’t put pressure on myself to decide on the best thing that happened that day; just one good thing is enough. Sometimes it’s a good dance class, or someone saying something nice about me, or a yummy dessert I ate, or laughing at something. Some days, or weeks, I forget to fill it out, but that’s okay.

I’ve also been keeping a gratitude journal, which I write in as part of my morning routine. I write in it somewhat infrequently, but when I do do it, it really starts my day off well.

I say all this because noticing, remembering, and focusing on these good things has actually been really helping me. I notice such a difference in myself when I do these things regularly. I’m more tuned in to all the good things going on throughout the day. I’m happier, more appreciative, more loving, and more relaxed.

Sometimes when I’m feeling hopeless and depressed, I challenge myself to think of five good things, right now. In that state of mind, it’s hard to think of good things. I tell myself that anything good is fine; it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Oh, look, that cloud is really nice. That leaf that just fell in front of me has pretty colors. I’m walking and able to use all four limbs. I have a therapist. My jacket is warm. That’s five right there.

I have a friend who sometimes talks very negatively about the world. I wish she knew that when everything looks awful, it’s the depression talking and not the way the world really is. There are good things in the world. I have been in that place where it looks like there aren’t. But that’s just because my emotions are clouding my vision.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t bad things, too. There are, and those are very real and very valid. But it’s not all bad.

There are so many good things in the world, in my life, in my present. Even when I don’t see them, they’re still there. I think that’s important to remember.

Therapy, Uncategorized

Memories of being in the hospital

This morning in bed I read through a blog about being in a mental hospital. It reminded me somewhat of being in the day treatment program at the mental hospital this summer, but it actually reminded me more of a traumatic time in a hospital, being treated for physical reasons…

I am aware that writing about this could trigger me and give me flashbacks or dissociation, and I’m also aware that I haven’t been this open on this blog before, or in person, for that matter… I normally avoid talking about trauma things, even in therapy. Although that will hopefully change soon. But I think these thoughts all the time, and I want to put them in the world, and I’m finally feeling like maybe I’m able to do that without getting super triggered…

(And also, be aware of yourself while reading this and mindful of if it’s the best thing for you at the moment. It’s not very graphic, but it is about injuries, hospitals, being away from home, doctors, a dangerous city, etc.)

Okay, so I’m going to try to write this, and I will do it mindfully and stop and take a break when I notice myself getting worse, and I will do grounding skills. 🙂

Okay, here goes!!

So, it reminded me of being in the hospital and getting kicked out before I was ready to leave. I was in a bad state… with a broken bone knocked two inches out of place (i.e. no chance of it healing properly on its own), with a concussion that doctors refused to acknowledge or treat, barely able to walk…

In a country where I didn’t speak the language, in a part of town where you could get shot if you walked around right outside the hospital – my family members were staying at a bed and breakfast two blocks away from the hospital, and people advised us to take a taxi there because it was too dangerous to walk.

As I write this, I notice that I am getting a bit of a headache, feeling nauseous, and my thinking is getting a bit foggy. I’m gonna take a quick break…

I’m back! I ran up and down the hall and jumped around. I also got some more water to drink. It is TWENTY EIGHTEEN, I am at home, I am in college, I am on fall break, I am studying engineering, I have new friends, my watch is blue, I am thinking about a distressing memory, but it is not happening now. Memories are painful but not the present reality. It is safe to write about. Whew. Deep breath. Okay.

Yeah. So I did not feel ready to leave the hospital. I also didn’t have my belongings. I was in a foreign country. I was a bajillion miles from home. For a good amount of time, I didn’t have shoes, and had to walk around the hospital barefoot until I pleaded enough that someone gave me giant navy crocs.

One day, they had me move to a new bed in a different wing of the hospital because someone needed the bed I was in. This happened suddenly, in the middle of the day. My family was not around, and I had no way of contacting them. I owned a cell phone at the time, but it was at home across the ocean. I hadn’t brought it on the trip because I didn’t use it much at the time (I was kinda young), and I knew it wouldn’t work anyway because I didn’t have an international data plan. But anyway, I had no way of telling my family where I was. I thought they would just show up to my old room, looking for me, and not know where I had gone or have any way of knowing. I ended up telling a relative of someone I shared the room with exactly where I was going. I think that helped. I don’t actually remember how it turned out, but my mom definitely found me eventually.

I know that this is kinda disjointed. Apparently that is how trauma memories are: not in order, random snippets. These aren’t even the super traumatic parts. Sighhhhh

There’s a lot more I could write about being in the hospital, but I think this is enough for now, so I’ll say one more thing to end on a good note.

In the room I was in, there was an older woman being treated for some sort of heart problem. Her family was with her. Her granddaughter was in her 20s and studying to be a doctor, I think. The granddaughter was really sweet. When I was super nauseous, she went to the drugstore in the hospital and bought me cinnamon gum to chew. Apparently chewing gum and experiencing strong smells or tastes helps with nausea. I didn’t actually chew the gum at the time, but I have chewed gum more recently to help with nausea.

One time, she took me on a walk. She let me lean on her arm for support (because I wasn’t walking well and was also very dizzy and nauseous). We walked through this peaceful spiritual garden thing in the hospital. It was only about 20 minutes, but it was my first time walking since I’d gotten to the hospital, and my first time away from my bed in a while. It was so nice. I felt so taken care of. She was so kind to me.

Therapy, Uncategorized

Wanting to be my friends’ therapist

Recently I’ve been struggling with an urge to act like a therapist towards my friends who are emotionally unwell. I am not a therapist.

And I am certainly not their therapist. But, I can relate to many of the issues they struggle with. I know (some of) the issues well and know ways that I have overcome them or ways that other friends have overcome them. I am also a friend. I enjoy spending time with, appreciate, care about, and want the best for my friends. So I want to help them, and feel like I am able to help them, but…

A therapy relationship is different from a friendship. People aren’t always ready to be pushed or analyzed—they’re just saying random things, and even if the things they say are concerning, people just want to go about their day and not be bothered, corrected, or dragged into painful memories. I wouldn’t want to push that on someone, and I don’t want to act like I’m superior to anyone.

I also don’t want to constantly push advice on people, even if I think it could really help them and it comes from a place of good intent. I very rarely say, “you should…” because I know from personal experience and from hearing many people’s experiences that “should”s can be annoying and unhelpful and make people feel worse. But I do say things like, “When I’m feeling x, I find that y really helps me z” and “What if you did x?” I don’t think saying these things is harmful if I don’t say them that frequently (I think they’re probably helpful and appreciated), but if I’m saying them a lot, I wonder if it starts to get annoying.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I guess one of the main ways I interfere is to try to change my friends’ negative beliefs. I have one friend that consistently says things about how she’s lazy, she has no friends, she’s a bad influence on other people, people don’t want her around, she’s failing, etc. I feel really sad when I hear her say these things because I firmly believe they’re not true and that that’s just her depression talking. It makes me really sad that she truly sees herself this way.  I sometimes try to argue back and say that I disagree, and we can agree to disagree, or I try to remind her that I am her friend, x is her friend, and she was really worried about that last test but ended up doing well so maybe this one won’t be as bad as she expects, and Halloween is coming up so that’s something to look forward to, etc. I don’t know if I’m actually being helpful though. I suppose I could ask… asking would be a good thing to do but would require courage and finding the right time and wording it correctly.

I just want to fix all my friends’ problems.

Another part of my problem is that I’m not entirely sure how to have a close friendship without it being a therapeutic relationship. My relationship with my therapist that I’ve had for a few years was my first real place I shared a lot of things I had kept inside me for years. I feel like when I make close friendships now, they’re modeled on that relationship – I ask questions and listen similarly to how my therapist would. (Not the same way, though; I’m my own person) And the people I feel closest to are the people I talk about my mental health with.

Most of my closest friends also have mental health issues.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with writing this. I’m also not sure what to do about this in general. I’m not even sure if it’s a problem or not.

I guess the part that’s a problem for me is that I feel more distant from my friends when I’m acting more therapist-y because I feel like I’m less “on their level,” even though I am.

I also want to be friends in a way that doesn’t have to do with mental health. I guess I do this sometimes when we watch movies or go to events or cook together or talk about what makes soup soup (it was a hilarious discussion).

It’s also a problem for me because I stress about my friends not doing well, and I worry about whether I’m acting wrong and what I can do better.

And, this could also be a problem for my friends if I’m making them feel worse.

So… something to think more about later 🙂

Therapy, Uncategorized

Packing for trips

I made a joke in a group chat with my friends recently…

Me when I’m packing: I should bring at least three books in case I’m not in the mood to read the other two, might as well bring this flashlight, nail polish is always good to have

Me when I arrive: looks like I forgot underwear, socks, pajamas, and my toothbrush

😂 this is literally what happened ughhh

It’s funny, and I was laughing, but it also annoys me how I’m like this. I have such a strong urge to bring everything I could possibly need with me. I think it’s part of my PTSD/OCD.

PTSD because it’s part of the trauma belief that traveling is dangerous, and I could get into a serious accident, and you never know what will happen so you have to be as prepared as possible at all times because who knows when you’re going to need everything you could possibly need.

OCD because I have the obsession (intrusive thought, worry, fear) that I will be in danger on this trip and maybe not come back home, and I appease that obsession with the compulsion of bringing lots and lots of stuff with me. At least, this is OCD as I understand it. I haven’t been “officially” diagnosed with OCD, but a therapist once implied that I probably had it but that she didn’t want to bother to separate out what is PTSD and what is OCD because the treatment for both is the same: exposure.

Anyway. I do feel like I have OCD, and I feel like I have all these rules I have to follow, just in case. It’s less scary and more frustrating at this point because I have to put up with myself. I have to appease my emotion mind within, or else I won’t feel safe. This happens with germs, too. I’m not particularly afraid of getting sick, but I just have rules, like anything that falls on the ground is dirty and must be sanitized or washed with soap and water before I touch it, and anything that touches anything dirty is now dirty.

I think I’ve gotten better at not always following these rules though, through, you guessed it, more exposures. The rules aren’t as strict anymore. But it’s just annoying. It’s like something extra I’m carrying around and paying attention to, an extra monster inside of me I have to care for and appease. I should maybe bring this up in therapy, but I feel like we’re addressing the more important issues (suicidal and self harm urges, trauma) now, and this is a lower priority. Plus, my old therapist was right: if I do the trauma work, these OCD-like thoughts and behaviors will probably diminish.

For now, I suppose I can radically accept (DBT skill) that this is the way I am now. I bring lots of stuff with me on trips. That is the way it is at this time. AND (there’s that DBT dialectic), it doesn’t mean it can’t change in the future. I can do more exposures. I can take small steps. I can be patient and slowly make progress.

Anyone else have issues like this?

(This was an interesting article about the link between PTSD and OCD.)