Coping Skills, Uncategorized

How to be non-judgmental (towards yourself)

I’ve been trying to be more non-judgmental towards myself.

I wasn’t sure how to go about this at first, and google searches didn’t really help and were more aimed at being non-judgmental of others. (“Start by being non-judgmental towards yourself!” yes, but how?!) I’ve been thinking about this and working on it, and now that I’ve made some progress, I can share (what I think is) how to actually be non-judgmental.

  1. Notice judgments. (Observe) How will you know how you’re being non-judgemental if you don’t know how you’re being judgmental?
    • What is a judgment? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing,” or “an opinion or estimate so formed.” A judgment is an opinion. It is subjective, not factual.
    • People make judgments all the time. Most of them are harmless or even helpful. “Pink is the best color” is a judgment. “She’s smart” is a judgment. “I’m an awful person” is a more problematic judgment.
    • Notice judgments in what you say out loud. 
      • I preface a lot of things with, “This is weird, but…” “This is silly, but…” “This isn’t a big deal, but…”
      • I say “Sorry for being annoying” and “sorry for being weird.”
    • Notice judgments in what others say.
      • When you’re talking to someone one-on-one and can really listen to what they’re saying, be on the lookout for judgments. At my DBT day program one day at lunch, I was talking to someone new, trying to get to know him. Someone else asked him to tell us something about himself, and he said, “I’m a failure.” I said, “That’s a judgment” (this was a therapy program, after all). It was helpful for me to notice what judgments others had in order to be more aware of what judgments were in general. And it can help other people have a more balanced perspective if you point it out.
    • Notice judgments in what you think.
      • I think, “Aah! They hate me!” “I should shut up” “I’m so weird” “Why am I doing this, this is weird” “I’m so annoying” etc.
    • Notice judgments in what you write. If you have a journal, notice judgments you have in it.
      • I’m generally less judgmental in my writing, but I do say things like, “I need to…” “I f***ed this up” “I can’t do this” “This is awful”
  2. Label them as judgments. (Describe)
    • Say, “I notice that I’m having the judgment that I am annoying.”
    • “I notice the thought that I am weird.”
    • “I am having the thought that I am pathetic.”
  3. Stop yourself from saying them. Freeze your muscles, pause, stop in the middle of the sentence or word.
  4. Replace judgments with facts and self-validation. Be as specific as possible. (I’m not good at this still working on this part, so these examples below aren’t that good could probably be improved on!)
    • Replace “I can’t do this” with “I’m having a hard time doing this.” (self validation and more true)
    • Replace “I’m so weird” with “I walked into the room when everyone was silent. I did not know that they were going to be silent when I opened the door.” (the facts)
    • Replace “This is silly” with “It makes sense that someone I know going on vacation makes me anxious because I was in a bad car accident while on vacation.” (self validation)
    • Replace “Sorry for being annoying” with “I hope I wasn’t bothering you by texting you twice in one day” (being more specific)

It’s probably hardest to be non-judgemental in your thoughts.

  1. To start, try writing your thoughts in a journal in a stream of consciousness way.
  2. Read it over and highlight or underline the judgments. I notice that I am much more aware of my thoughts when I’m writing in my journal.
  3. Then, practice noticing, describing, and replacing your judgements while meditating. Set a timer and pay attention to everything. I like to use the Calm app.
  4. Finally, catch yourself while thinking.

Yay! Being non-judgmental towards myself helps me feel much better about myself. 🙂

After writing this, I realized that my initial google searches weren’t actually very thorough, and I was able to find some websites that were useful:

What judgments do you have about yourself?

Advertisements
Positives, Uncategorized

The beach

Warm sand that sinks with each step

Squinting in the sun

Smiling in the sun

Wind blowing my hair over my shoulders

Stray hairs across my face

Walking forward against the force of the wind

Sand gradually feels cooler, wetter, denser

A surprise wave laps my toes

Cool clear water

Step forward, cool up to my calves

Little butterfly shells

In purple and orange pastels

Disappear and reappear

As the wave ebbs and flows

White foam comes and disappears

Woosh in, wishh out

Stretching out

To the horizon

We’re here on the edge

Of an immense ocean

And I get to feel the water

And the wind

IMG_7135 2

Uncategorized

Cheating on tests & safety behaviors

I had an interesting dream last night that made me realize some things.

In the dream, my little sister was caught cheating on a test. Before taking the test, she had to fill out a form with her name, education level, employment, etc. (remember this was a dream, so it was a little weird). She made up a person, Avery Perkins, MD–an older, more educated woman–in order to seem smarter and get a better grade.

She took the test under this persona and got a B+. She had been hoping for an A+, but it was still better than the B- she got last time.

Now, her teacher had looked up this Dr. Avery Perkins my sister claimed to be and found that no doctor existed with that name. She knew that my sister had made up a fake person.

The teacher (who reminded me of my therapist) came over to my sister and told her that Dr. Avery Perkins doesn’t exist. She told my sister she was cheating. She looked at my sister with a serious, sad expression, and asked, “Do you understand why we don’t want you doing this?”

My sister said no, and the teacher continued, “If you cheat on a test or impersonate someone else and get a good grade, you assume that the good grade came because you cheated. You think that in order to get a good grade, you must pretend you are someone else. Getting a good grade when you cheat positively reinforces cheating. So you cheat more.

“The problem with this is that you never learn what happens when you don’t cheat. You don’t learn that you would have gotten the same grade if you had written your own name on the test. You don’t learn that you can take a test and be successful without anyone’s help. You don’t learn that you can do it.

“Cheating is a safety behavior. You use it as a crutch to get through the test. You rely on it. What are you avoiding? What are you afraid of?”

My sister said she didn’t know.

The teacher offered, “Are you afraid of failing? Are you afraid of disappointing your parents? Are you afraid of not being as good as you thought you were?”

My sister again said she didn’t know.

The teacher said, in a manner much like my therapist, “Well, I don’t have all day. I have other students to take care of. I want you to think about this and what cheating is doing for you.

“You’ll only learn that you can do it without cheating when you try it and see what happens. Maybe some things you thought would happen aren’t very likely to happen, or, when other things do happen, they’re not as bad as you thought.”

And she walked away and left me with my sister.

I like this dream because, as good dreams do, my subconscious uses metaphors to explain things to my consciousness. If I only try to face scary situations as Dr. Avery Perkins, using my safety behaviors, how will I ever know that I can face them?

My therapist has been talking to me a lot about exposure to the things I am afraid of and avoid. I’ve been noticing what my safety behaviors are when I do things that scare me.

A safety behavior is something that distances you from something you think would be too scary to face without it. Safety behaviors include avoiding something entirely (e.g. not going to a party out of fear of judgement), escaping from it when you’re confronted with it (e.g. leaving a party early), and avoiding in subtler ways (e.g. attending the party but not talking to anyone because you’re on your phone all the time).

I have a lot of safety behaviors. I carry around survival gear with me. I use google maps even when I know where I’m going. When I’m in the car, I physically brace myself for impact. I announce, “bump,” out loud before we drive over a bump. (I was in a bad car accident.) These are just a few. More obvious behaviors are that I never learned to drive on the highway, and I avoid going on trips with my family (I try to say no or get out of them).

I’ve been trying out mini exposures recently. I wiped up some blood (which was a big deal for me!), but I noticed that when I did it, I was sure to have lots of napkin in between me and the blood, and I washed my hands right away. So, to continue the exposure, next time I would try to do it without those safety behaviors.

I also told a couple friends that I was in a bad car accident, something I definitely avoid talking about. My safety behavior in that situation was that I laughed through the whole thing. I couldn’t keep a straight face, even though I was talking about something serious. I wasn’t fully experiencing the emotions that talking about it brought up. I was also very jumpy and tried to end the conversation as soon as I started it. I’m not sure how much control I have over the laughter, but maybe next time I’ll be more serious.

I’ve also been doing exposures to vulnerability with my parents. I try to share something vulnerable that I would normally avoid, like how I’m really doing. My biggest safety behavior there is avoiding eye contact at all costs. I also avoid eye contact when I’m telling my therapist something I’m uncomfortable with, and she has to remind me, “I’m over here, look over here at me,” and “If you don’t see my face, you won’t know that I’m not judging you or thinking you’re weird.”

My dream made me realize more deeply what I already knew logically, that I have to try the things I’m scared of without my safety behaviors, just as I am and no one else, in order to learn that they are safe and I can do it on my own.

Coping Skills, Uncategorized

Nightmare Plan (and ice dives)

I have a lot of nightmares and have a hard time getting out of the fear and/or dissociation when I wake up. It is hard to either fall back asleep or to get up and get on with my day. So, this is the plan I came up with after some suggestions from my therapist.

IMG_7059
Nightmare Plan: Ice dive, Drink water, Play catch, STUN wave (Sensations, Thoughts, Urges, Name the emotion), Listen to music, Paced breathing (in-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4), Go for a walk (go to the bathroom, go outside, pace in room, stretch/yoga/ballet), Self-validation, Ground in present (5-4-3-2-1 senses, colors of the rainbow). Self-validation: “All emotions are valid.” “It makes sense that I am feeling this way, given my life experiences.” “It’s okay to feel strong emotions.” “Something scary happened to me, and it makes sense that being reminded of that would be scary, too.” “I am feeling ___.” (scared, sad, angry, happy, loving, shameful, guilty, envious, jealous, disgusted) “I had a nightmare.” “It was intense and very scary.” “And, in this moment, I am safe.”

My plan has suggestions of things to try that will probably actually help me. It also has pictures of me doing them, so that it’s easier to figure out how to do them when my brain is slow.

I tried this last night, and the ice dive followed by paced breathing and listening to music or calming sounds seemed to help. Identifying that I was feeling fear also helped.

An ice dive, if you haven’t heard of it, is a way of getting your heart rate to slow down (and therefore making your anxiety to come down a bit) pretty quickly by making your face very cold. It’s a way of hacking your evolutionary reflexes. Your body thinks you just fell into an icy river, so it brings down your heart rate.

You can simulate diving into an icy river by sticking your face in a bowl of ice water for 10-20 seconds a few times. Making a bowl of ice water is too much effort and thinking for me when I’m coming out of a nightmare, so I do the ice dive differently.

I keep instant ice packs near my bed and just crack one and hold it over my eyes while lying in bed. It calms me down fairly quickly. A slowed heart rate also helps me to fall asleep! I also keep ice packs with me during the day and try to use them when I am having a flashback, anxiety attack, or am just feeling intense fear and having a hard time calming down.

Ice dives are a part of the “Temperature” component of the TIPP DBT skill. TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced breathing, and Progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a Distress Tolerance skill and is intended to change your body chemistry when you are super overwhelmed. I think it’s really cool how well it works. 🙂

More info about ice dives! description of ice divesdescription of TIPP skills, including ice dives

This Nightmare Plan is taped to my wall near my pillow so that I can see it while lying in bed.

Yay for things that work!

Uncategorized

Things I’ve learned about myself

I’ve done three weeks of my treatment program now. I have at least one more week in the program, maybe more, depending on what I decide to do. I have learned a lot of new skills and ways of behaving, but I have also learned a lot about myself!

IMG_7056

I have learned:

  • Dissociation: I dissociate a lot. I know I am beginning to dissociate when I lose track of what is going on, ask “what?”, feel like my legs are disappearing, feel confused, have trouble moving, and have trouble focusing my eyes on things.
  • Minimizing: I minimize my problems a lot. I say, “Eh, I’m just having a bad day, but it’s okay,” when really I am experiencing intense fear, shame, sadness, and anger and have very strong urges to engage in my target behaviors (self harm, suicidal ideation, etc.). This interferes with asking for help because I think my problems are “not bad enough” to deserve help. But they are.
  • Self-validation: It is hard for me to validate myself. I tell myself that I “shouldn’t” be feeling emotions, and I try to block them out. It is hard to be understanding and kind to myself and to acknowledge that there are very valid reasons I feel the way I do. I may be overreacting to a situation, but I am overreacting for reasons that make sense, given my life.
    • Before my therapist left for her vacation, I told her to be safe on her trip and that I was scared that she was going to die. It was hard to say that, and especially hard to say it without prefacing it with, “This is weird, but…” After some talking, I was eventually able to validate myself by saying, “It makes sense that I am scared of this because it has happened before.” My family and I nearly died on a trip once. That doesn’t at all mean that my therapist is going to die when she goes on this trip, but it is valid for me to feel that way.
    • All emotions are valid! The specific emotion, intensity, and duration may not fit the situation, but it is still valid to feel that way.
    • Maybe I look to therapists, friends, and the internet for validation so often because it is hard for me to give myself validation, yet I still need it.
    • Purposefully reminding myself of my trauma (looking at my scars, going through old papers, finding triggering things), even though it upsets me, also serves the function of validating that something bad did happen to me and that it was real.
  • Judgements: I judge my feelings and thoughts a lot. Now that I think about it, this could be the reason I minimize and invalidate myself. I say out loud or in my head, “This is stupid,” “This is weird,” “I’m so weird,” “Shut up,” “It doesn’t matter,” “It’s nothing,” “It’s weird; don’t say it,” etc. I am working on being more nonjudgemental and only stating the facts, not my judgements of them. For example, “I notice that I am feeling scared. I notice that I am having an urge to run away. I notice that I feel my heart pounding.”
  • Abnormal behavior: I am learning what is normal and not normal behavior for a teenager.
    • Making plans to run away from home is not normal.
    • Staying up to 1 am and sleeping in to 9, or 11 or 12, is normal for a teenager.
    • Staying in bed or in my room for five hours after a nightmare is not normal.
    • Being afraid of going to sleep and as a result doing everything I can to put off going to sleep for hours is not normal.
    • Having feelings of wanting to die every day is not normal.
    • Having panic attacks every day is not normal.
  • Avoidance: I avoid a lot of reminders of my trauma, and I have many methods of avoiding them. I have a list of triggers with over 50 items. I avoid looking at said list. I refuse to share it with my current therapist. I don’t look at pictures we have in our house that remind me of the trauma. I tune out of conversations that only indirectly remind me of it. I limit the places I go. I barely watch movies or read books because I’ve been upset so many times by them. I limit the classes I take in school to avoid topics where memories might be brought up. I clamp down on thoughts of the trauma, when I have them, and I very, very rarely talk about what actually happened (even just the basics).
    • I also avoid thinking about how I am feeling. In DBT, I have to fill out a “diary card” every day with my symptoms, emotions, target behaviors, etc. When I show it to my therapist, I flip it over, push it to the side, and try not to talk about it. It is hard for me to think back and explain what was happening when x on my diary card occurred because I bury it so deep.
    • This isn’t something I’ve learned about myself but something I’ve learned in general. Avoidance is okay in the short term but a problem in the long term. Avoidance is okay when it prevents me from engaging in target behaviors. In exposure, I will gradually stop avoiding, but it will be done in safe ways. 
  • Relationships: I am scared of pushing people away and losing relationships. I genuinely don’t understand why certain people don’t hate me by now.
    • I had several close friendships end abruptly in my childhood. This could be why I feel like this.
  • Self-hatred: I have feelings of self-hatred and worthlessness, and think I don’t deserve kindness, compliments, or good friends.
  • Wanting to be a therapist: It is common for people who struggle with mental health issues to want to study psychology and become therapists. I am not weird for secretly wanting to be a therapist or to take psychology courses, even though I’m currently studying a totally different field. It’s okay for my interests to change.
  • Diagnoses: I don’t actually know what diagnoses I have, and I’m not sure if I want to ask. I know for sure that I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and that I have had (but maybe don’t at the moment? not sure) Major Depressive Disorder. Other illnesses I think I have or have had at some point (but I could very well be wrong because I am definitely not qualified to diagnose myself) are Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Hypochondria (health anxiety), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Pre-Mentrual Dysphoric Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Panic Disorder.

I am learning so much! It makes me sad to realize how badly I’m actually doing, but I think that that’s necessary in order to actually address my problems and recover.

What is something you know about yourself?

Uncategorized

Exposure Therapy!

Today I made the decision to do exposure therapy for my PTSD!

Prolonged Exposure (PE) is offered as an optional part of the DBT treatment program I’m doing (so it’s DBT-PE if you want to be technical). My prior-to-DBT therapist and my DBT therapist have both been talking to me about doing exposure or processing through my trauma in some way for a while. I’ve been very hesitant to try it because it sounds so scary to expose myself to the things I fear most.

There’s a part of me that really wants to do the exposure therapy so that I can finally get over the trauma and leave it behind me. This part of me, my wise mind, knows it will be good to process it through. It knows that the symptoms are taking a toll on my life.

There’s another part of me, my emotion mind, that has an intense gut reaction of “NO!” to the idea of exposure. Exposure sounds terrifying. It sounds dangerous.

IMG_7051
Wise mind — a DBT concept 

My wise mind argues back that a memory isn’t dangerous. I will not be put in any objectively dangerous situations as part of the exposure. And my reluctance to do the exposure is another form of avoidance, part of what exposure is trying to solve (so meta!).

Still, my emotion mind is strong. I have a lot of fear.

My DBT therapist had me do a pros and cons of continuing to avoid the trauma versus doing the exposure for it. Even after doing the pros and cons and seeing how much of my life I could get back by doing this, I wasn’t sure.

After showing my completed pros and cons chart, discussing it, and getting some more info about DBT-PE, I left therapy feeling kind of sad and hopeless. A lot of hope had been riding on this treatment program and especially the PTSD treatment (the prolonged exposure). I was really hoping this would “cure” me, if not fully, then at least a good amount. I started feeling more depressed than I had been before. I didn’t want to do anything. I saw no future for myself.

I kept thinking about it, and a few hours later, I sat down and wrote my decision below my pros and cons list.

Decision: Do exposure stuff.

Because…

  • I’m sick of this!
  • It’s been too long
  • I could feel better
  • It’s worked for other people
  • I could be more of myself
  • If I don’t, I’ll probably keep being like this, and that makes me sad.
  • I can use skills, so it won’t be THAT that bad.
  • My therapist can help me. I won’t be doing this alone.
  • Wise mind me wants to do this!
  • I am doing this because it is safe to do, and I want to feel better, not because I’m being forced into it by anyone. This is my decision.
  • Memories aren’t actually dangerous!
  • I can always decide not to do something later. I am in control of the exposures and the pace, and I can always say no.

Exposure therapy sounds like the obvious choice when I write it out like this. But I’m writing this from wise mind. It was really hard to think about this and to even consider exposure when I was in emotion mind. And I kept getting drawn into emotion mind every time I tried to think about this.

I don’t know exactly what made me switch into wise mind and finally be able to consider this rationally. Maybe the organized pros and cons list helped. Maybe all the handouts and diagrams and evidence helped make it more empirical. Maybe I needed enough time to think about it. Maybe seeing how sad I felt when I thought about deciding to not do it showed me how essential this treatment is for me right now.

This was a really hard decision, but I feel so much more hopeful now that I’ve made it.

(More info on DBT-PE: https://dbtpe.org/treatment-overview/)

What do you think of choosing to avoid something vs. expose yourself to it?