Coping Skills

Examples of DEARMANs: Asking for what you need

When I was learning the dearman skill (a DBT skill) for the first time, I looked online for examples and found approximately… one. So, now that I know the skill fairly well, I am putting some more examples out there into the searchable world. 🙂 I find it easiest to understand how to do something when I’ve seen it done several times, so I’m sharing some examples of real dearmans I’ve used in my life!


Here is a quick summary of the skill if you don’t know it (feel free to skip). DEARMAN is an interpersonal effectiveness skill from DBT. It’s useful when you want to ask for something or say no to something (set a boundary). Each letter stands for something. The “DEAR” part is what to say, and the “MAN” part is how to say it.

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D – Describe (the facts; set the stage with something they can’t argue with)

E – Express (your emotions, feelings, opinion, or wants)

A – Assert (ask clearly and specifically for what you want)

R – Reinforce (say how this will benefit the other person)

M – Mindfully (be aware of how the other person might feel and react; be aware of your own emotions; stay focused on your goals)

A – Appear confident (be sure of yourself so that they’ll take you seriously)

N – Negotiate (be prepared to compromise if necessary)


And here are some examples of real dearmans that I have used in my life! (or that people I know have used) I’m going to highlight the parts that correspond to the different parts of the dearman — D – “Describe” is in orangeE – “Express” is in greenA – “Assert” is in blue, and R – “Reinforce” is in purple. (I think the colors don’t appear in wordpress reader; try going to the website?)


Situation: I saw a nurse practitioner at my student health service. She gave me a referral to a rheumatologist for joint pain and wrote on the referral that I had a history of depression and disordered eating. I didn’t want those words to be included on the referral, so this is an email to her.

DEARMAN: “…Also, on the referral you gave me, it said that I have a history of depression and disordered eating. I don’t think that this information is relevant to my care as someone seeking help for my joints. (I also think that the disordered eating part is inaccurate.) I also think that writing those things on the referral would probably bias whoever read it, and it’s important to me to have an unbiased opinion from a new doctor. Could you please remove “with pmhx depression, disordered eating” from the comments section of the referral? I’d really appreciate it, and I think it would help me get more thorough care.

Result: “Good Afternoon <my name>, I have updated your referral on your portal with the updated provider and no previous medical history. Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. Best, <her name>”

Comments: I was really trying to make this a good dearman because the outcome was really important to me, so I stuck to the order of dearman. I like that I included the “express” part by saying “it’s important to me.”


Situation: One of my classes is a lab that meets on either Mondays or Wednesdays. I received this email saying, “You will be randomly assigned to one of the 12 groups. A group are either in the lab on Mondays or Wednesdays. If you are prevented to work on either weekday, please let me know by replying to this email by Friday. Note, requests without justification will be disregarded.”

DEARMAN: “I don’t have a strict conflict with one of the days, but I would greatly prefer to be in one of the lab groups on Wednesdays instead of Mondays. If I had lab on Mondays, I would not have a chance to eat a meal from 11:40 until 6:15 due to classes and other commitments on Mondays. I have health issues that are very affected by how often I eat, so having a chance to eat more frequently by not having lab on Mondays would help me a lot (and likely make me healthier and better able to learn!).”

Result: He approved my request. 🙂 

Comments: The “express” part wasn’t very expressive, but I think that’s okay and appropriate for a professional-ish email. I was proud of how I snuck the “reinforce” in there. 😉 If people care about your wellbeing, then they will generally support things that will improve your wellbeing if they can see how the two are connected. That’s why it’s “reinforce” even though it’s more directly benefiting me instead of him. But as a teacher, he probably wants his students to learn!


Situation: This was an email to my professor asking for some items back.

DEARMAN: “Hi Professor <name>! I hope you had a good break! It was nice to see you at the <school event>! I was wondering if I could get my lab notebook from last semester back at some point? It has a lot of blank pages, and I’d like to use itAlso, do you have my equation sheet from the final exam? I was hoping I could get that back at some point, too. I took the exam with <my school’s disability services>, so they might have it, but I don’t know where it ended upThank you! <my name>”

Result: “Hi <my name>, Stop on by and I can find your lab notebook.  I’m around today for a couple more hours, otherwise I should be around at 12pm tomorrow.  I don’t have your formula sheet unfortunately, they didn’t include it in the packet that <my school’s disability services> sent to me.  Best, <my professor’s name>”

Comments: Since this was a simple request that I thought he was likely to agree to, I didn’t try using reinforcement or stronger language for expression. That might have been overkill and come off and too strong. Also, I tried to keep a lighthearted attitude and use the “GIVE” skill (another interpersonal effectiveness skill) because I like this professor and want to maintain a good relationship with him.


Situation: Someone that I used to be good friends with in high school stopped texting me suddenly on the day we were supposed to hang out. I sent her a couple of texts over the course of two months, thinking maybe she was just busy or had something going on, which she has not replied to to this day. This was a text I sent her over winter break.

DEARMAN: “Hey <her name>! Are you doing alright? I haven’t heard from you in a while, and I’m not sure if you’re kinda ghosting me or if there’s something else going on! But anyway I’m going back to school in about a week, so if you want to hang out before then, let me know! I’d love to see you. 🙂 ”

Result: She continued to not reply 😦

Comments: I wasn’t trying to make this a full dearman, but I did want to be skillful when I texted her, so I turned to DBT for help! That made me think to include the describe parts (in orange). I didn’t really express my negative emotions here (I was feeling pretty hurt, sad, and angry for a while), and I’m not sure if that was the right choice. Maybe if she saw how I was hurting, she would have wanted to respond? But I don’t know, and at this point I can’t change that. Also, it’s important to remember that it’s possible for someone to be skillful and still not get the result they want! That happens sometimes and is kinda out of my control. 😦


Situation: I had a crush on a guy, but I wasn’t sure if he liked me back. My friends said it looked like he liked me and was flirting with me, but I wasn’t sure. I texted him this.

DEARMAN: “Also can I ask you something? I know we’ve been spending a good amount of time together, and we’re good friends… I am sometimes bad at interpreting social things and I also just want things to be clear… so, I think I kind of “like” like you…like in a romantic way… 😬☺️🙈 and I’m wondering if you feel the same way about me? ? If you don’t then that’s fine because I like you as a friend too, but I want to know either way… thanks… :/ “

Result: He replied very sweetly and told me all the things he liked about me but that he wasn’t sure about romantically. I took that as a “no,” and we continued being friends. (We’re more distant now, but that’s for other reasons.) My goal was to get an answer, and I did.

Comments: I wasn’t really thinking of this as a dearman exactly, but starting off with the facts was helpful.


Situation: Last February, I was really struggling, and my physical health collapsed (or at least that’s my impression) under the weight of all my distress. I went to health services at my school when things were particularly bad. I went as a walk-in, so I didn’t have an appointment, and I waited over two hours to be seen. Finally, someone took my vitals and then asked me to go home and come back the next day (!) because they were closing soon. I felt angry and protested a bit, so the nurse went to get the doctor to talk to me about coming back the next day, and while she was gone, I frantically wrote the following dearman in the notes app on my phone.

DEARMAN: Describe – I’m already here and I’ve been here since 4:30. Express – Everything hurts, and I wasn’t able to go to my classes today, and I don’t feel like I’m getting better. Assert – I would like to be seen now and to get a note saying that I am sick and was here today because I couldn’t go to classes today and ended up missing quizzes. Reinforce – This way, it’s more convenient because I’m already here. 

Result: I said roughly what I had written down (not while looking at my phone though; I thought that would be weird). I had to explain my thoughts and symptoms more thoroughly and be insistent, but I did eventually get an appointment that day.

Comments: It was a helpful format to organize my thoughts in.


Situation: I was running an unofficial DBT skills group for my family at the kitchen table. We agreed that we would spend a 30 minutes on it. We ended up talking for much longer, I don’t remember how long. My sister, who was young and not participating in our group, said the following.

DEARMAN: It’s 10:00 [pm], you said it would only be 30 minutes, I’m tired, and I want to go to sleep!

Result: We all realized that we had broken our agreement, stopped soon after, and went upstairs so my sister could get ready for bed and go to sleep.

Comments: I remember this clearly because I was trying to teach my family the dearman skill that night, and then, without having been taught the skill, my sister used it very effectively! She’s somehow naturally good at this sort of thing. The dearman is very simple but clear and effective for the situation!


Situation: I had to do something important at a specific time that happened to be during class. I sent this email to my professor the day before.

DEARMAN: Dear Professor <name>, My housing selection time is at 1:50 pm tomorrow, during class. It’s when the other person in my housing group and I choose our rooms for next year, and ideally I’d like to choose it as close to that time as possible so that we can get rooms that we want. Would it be okay if I leave class for a few minutes tomorrow to do that? Thanks, <my name>

Result: Hi <my name>, No problem, of course you can go and take care of this. Thanks for checking, sorry for the delayed reply. Best, <name>

Comments: Using a dearman can make you sound mature and polite! 🙂 (and using a dearman is a mature and polite thing to do!)


Situation: I emailed the director of a camp where I had been a CIT (counselor in training) asking about a job.

DEARMAN: Hi <name>! This is <my camp name> (<my real name>)! I hope you’ve been well! It’s been a couple years! I saw the <position> on the <website>, and I’m wondering if you are still looking for someone for that? If so, please let me know, and I will apply! I really enjoyed CITing. 🙂 Best, <my name>

Result: Hi <my camp name>, Good to hear from you. Hope all has been going well. I am still looking for staff for <position>! I would love for you to apply. See attachments and note below about the process.

Comments: Using dearmans really helped me when applying to jobs and reaching out to people.


Situation: An email I sent to my professor.

DEARMAN: “Hi Professor <name>, After class on Wednesday, you hadn’t received my <name of class> midterm yet, and I’m just wondering if you’ve gotten it now and graded it yet? <My school’s disability services> says it was delivered to your mailbox. I’m worried about how I’m doing in this class and would like to have a sense of how I did on the midterm. Thanks, <my name>”

Result: “Hi, I received your midterm yesterday. I will grade it during the weekend and give it back to you on Monday. Best <his name>”

Comments: I included the part about how I was worried because I was trying to make it more of a dearman.


Situation: I was depressed, dissociated, and not doing well, and hadn’t been able to do my homework, so I asked my professor for an extension.

DEARMAN: “Dear Professor <name>, I have not been feeling well recently and therefore, despite spending time this weekend and over the last few days working on it, I haven’t finished homework 4. Would it be possible, in light of this, for me to have a one day extension on the homework? Thank you for your consideration and support. Best, <my name>

Result: “Hi, sure, you can get an extension. Best <name>”

Comments: My friend helped me write this email. 🙂 I generally say “not feeling well” or something like that when I haven’t been doing well due to mental health issues. It was true that I hadn’t been feeling well, and he didn’t need to know the specifics.


Situation: This is a dearman that I wrote out on paper and planned to say to my mom during family therapy. The issue was something that had been a problem in our relationship for a while.

DEARMAN: You sometimes ask me lots of specific questions. For example, when I told you I was tracking nightmares on my diary card, you wanted to know exactly how often they were happening. I understand that you want to know what’s going on because you care about me, AND I feel overwhelmed when you ask so much. I feel scared that you will go into urgent problem-solving mode and go over the top to fix everything immediately. I also feel scared that you will tell other people what I have told you, and ashamed and exposed when you do tell them. I also feel scared that you will use whatever I tell you against me in the future. I don’t want to tell you much because I feel like if I give you an inch, you’ll take a mile. I would like it if you would ask less specific questions and just ask one at a time. The specifics don’t matter, and they’re pretty fuzzy, so it’s hard to pin down. I would also like it if you didn’t tell other people tings I’ve asked you not to say or personal things. This will make me feel more comfortable telling you things, so I will probably talk to you more. 

Result: It went well. She became aware of her problem-solving tendencies and tried to correct them. I pointed them it to her when she was doing it until she got the hang of it. A year and a half later, she still catches herself sometimes.

Comments: My therapist suggested I use a “DVEARMAN” instead of a “DEARMAN” — with a “V” for “Validate” after the describe.


In conclusion,

I hope something here helps someone.

I think one of the key things (for me at least) is to include the describe, express, and assert parts. The order can be changed around depending on the situation and the seriousness, and reinforcement can be added if necessary, but the most important parts are describe, express, assert.

Life, Positives

Recent progress and good things

Hello! Some things are going well in my life right now, and I’m in a (perhaps temporarily) good mood, so I’m going to jot them down quickly while I’m excited!

  • I got my first ever paycheck yesterday!! 🙂 As I mentioned before, this is the first real job I’ve ever had, which I was ashamed about before but am mostly not ashamed of now (it’s fine, I’ve done other stuff, I was emotionally unwell for a long time, I was focusing on school and health, there are other people like me, etc.). Anyway, I have earned money by my own hard work in a formal, official, way (vs. babysitting which wasn’t very official and volunteering things that have been official but not paying). It’s going into my bank account, and I have freedom and options — I could spend it on random things I want! :O I could spend it on things I need anyway but that I would otherwise have to use my parents’ money for, so I get to feel less ashamed of that. I can save it for grad school :O ! I can save it for an emergency and feel more prepared! I can spend it on visiting friends! I can do all of the above! YAY!!! 🙂
  • I’ve been running a DBT group for my family to teach them some interpersonal effectiveness skills, and it’s been going really well! There are fewer arguments in my family now, which was my main goal in doing this. My dad said that he loves each of us and that his top priority right now is having good relationships with each of us. He said that my mom is the most important person in the world to him, and that us kids are a super small half inch behind. I didn’t really think he loved us. I thought and was kind of hoping that him and my mom would get a divorce. I was thinking about cutting him out of my life altogether. But now he’s shown that he does care. It’s amazing, and I’m very happy and grateful that he does feel this way, and that he’s able to express it now. I feel like we’re all on the same page now because we’ve established that we love each other. So now we can address communication issues from a common understanding that we love each other. I’m hopeful about the future of my family.
  • I’ve been to my local library a few times so far this summer and am really enjoying it. I hadn’t been in a looong time. I’ve been reading some books (!), which I haven’t done much of in recent years due to a concussion, being triggered by much of the contents due to ptsd, and lack of concentration due to depression. But I found some books that I liked and really wanted to read, instead of trying to force myself to read books that I felt like I should read. I used to love reading as a child and am so glad that I can do it again. 🙂 (For anyone interested, I really enjoyed “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman (funny and sciencey stories) and Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle (rom-com). John Green is one of my favorite authors and creators, and I realized that I somehow hadn’t read all of his books! :O So now I’m doing that. 🙂
  • I’ve been having some digestive issues since January, and I am finally taking a medicine that is actually helping! :O Phew! 🙂
  • I’ve been driving into the city about 45 min. from my house. I was in a car accident before I got my license, so I was terrified of driving before I even knew how to drive. I’ve been improving and challenging myself slowly over the past few years, and I am super proud of finally being able to drive into the city. It’s a challenge because it involves merging onto busy roads, navigating intersections, dealing with other cars, driving for sometimes over an hour, and parallel parking once I get to my destination. It was really scary at first, but it’s getting better with time and exposure. Being able to drive to the city is really helpful in a practical way because my current therapist’s office is there, and most of my doctor appointments are there, too. This means that I don’t have to ask for rides from my parents, and I have more freedom. Yay! I am literally expanding my comfort zone. There’s a certain distance/time away from my house that I’m comfortable driving, and it used to be about half an hour max. Now my comfort zone includes the city. 😀

Ta da! 😀 There are also some things that aren’t going great, but I want to focus on the good for now, and I will do what I can to deal with them when I’m done writing this.

Does anyone have any good fiction recommendations?

Also, I haven’t posted in a while — What happened is that I got into a perfectionism spiral over writing/posting, thinking that what I wrote had to be good and that if I was going to write about something, I had to have fully formed ideas and that I had to write everything I would ever possibly think about it. As time went on and I didn’t post, I got more stressed out about it and avoided it more. When I tried writing, it didn’t seem “good,” and I gave up again. This pattern happens to me a lot in school, too: generate too high expectations/perfection –> procrastinate/avoid –> increase expectations because now that I’m late, whatever I do has to be better because I’ve had more time to work on it –> avoid more. I suppose some solutions could be to not procrastinate in the first place (i.e. get in a routine of just doing things right away), lower my expectations, be more compassionate and forgiving towards myself… things like that. I’ll think more about it I guess.

Coping Skills, Life, Uncategorized

Judgments and shame about applying to jobs

I’ve been struggling lately with a lot of judgments about myself. It seems that whatever I do, there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me what’s wrong with it.

I have a lot of judgments about where I think I “should” be in life, about things I think I “should” have done already, about the school I go to, about my mental health and its effects on my life… so many.

I feel afraid to put myself out in the world for fear of people gossiping about me, thinking negative things about me, and then ostracizing me.

I’m trying to apply to internships and jobs for the summer. I feel ashamed that I haven’t had a job before. When I think about applying to certain jobs, I immediately discount them because I immediately think of the negative things my family could say. I go to a “good” college, and people seem to expect more from me as a result. If I got a “typical” summer job, I can imagine that my mom would not approve. I can imagine her stare down at me and her sigh of disappointment, and then the twenty minute speech. I think she would either tell me to “just relax,” or to get a better internship and then give me a list of names or websites and tell me to email people… (“just relaxing” and staying cooped up in the house all day has made me really depressed in the past; emailing even one person is really intimidating for me and takes a lot of work; plus, I’ve already emailed people)

My purpose in getting a job this summer is to 1) make money and to 2) get out of the house.

Making money helps my long-term goals by making me less financially dependent on my parents, as I am now. I could also start saving for life expenses after college or maybe for grad school, if I decide I want to try to go there at some point. (Right now, my parents are paying for college, which I definitely appreciate, but I would likely be paying for grad school on my own.) I could also have “spare cash” to spend on eating out with friends and birthday gifts, and I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty every time I used my parents’ money.

Getting out of the house would help me get away from my family, be productive, have something to occupy my mind with, and possibly help me to socialize with people beyond my family. I suppose a theme in this is that I want to be more independent from my family!

So, I have good reasons for wanting a job (or internship). I’m sure that this is what I want. It’s valid to want a job.

I’m still in school, so of course I don’t have lots of experience. I’m still qualified in other ways. I’ve done things in the past. I’ve had a lot of schooling! I’m an okay person. I have some good qualities.

Some of my shame around not having experience comes from the fact that I spent most of last summer doing a partial hospital program for my mental health while my friends had jobs or internships, or both. But I can’t tell that to an employer, even though I was working hard and being quite productive, even though I wasn’t just hanging out at home as I normally tell people.

Sighhh

I think I just have to do my best with what I have now, knowing that the work I did last summer on my mental health was very valuable, even if I can’t tell everyone that.

Another thing I feel shame about is general formal interactions with people. I don’t know the proper etiquette. No one’s ever taught me! So I feel shame when I think I may have done something wrong, or when I’m not sure how to act, when to send an email, what to write, etc.

Shame signals that you have broken a group’s value and could be excluded, so when I’m applying for jobs and I could be rejected, yes, shame is justified! Shame is justified, but the intensity that I feel it is probably not effective. It’s probably more effective to send an imperfectly worded email than it is to send no email at all. The intense shame would prevent me from sending any email, but a little shame could make the email better.

Agh, it’s hard! And getting rejected is hard, too! I will keep trying… maybe not forever, because this is exhausting, but for a little more…

So, skills that will help:

  • checking the facts and doing what’s effective
  • self validation
  • FAST (especially Stick to your values)
  • fake it ’til you make it / opposite action
  • being nonjudgmental towards myself, noticing judgments and saying “a thought is just a thought,” not necessarily believing judgments

I was writing (most of) this at the time that I was struggling with this issue, in more of the way I write things in my journal than how I write them on this blog. So, if this seems a little unclear, like it’s jumping from one idea to another, or like some loose ends weren’t tied up, that’s why. I did try to go back and clarify things so that it can make some sense to people-who-aren’t-me.

And, a couple of weeks after I started writing this post, I am very happy to say that I did finally get a job!!! 🙂 It is not an internship, and it’s not full-time, but it will get me out of the house and earn me money, and I think it’ll be fun, too! I’m looking forward to it. 🙂 And if I find some unpaid, part-time internship, I could potentially do both things and still accomplish my goals of earning money and getting out of the house. Wooh! It actually worked out! 🙂

Life, Therapy

Challenges and benefits of getting better

(Note: brief, vague mentions of self harm, eating struggles, deaths, and violence) 

I am happy and proud to say that I have been feeling much better recently!

My PTSD has almost disappeared! I have nightmares less than once week now, and their content is much less violent and traumatic. I can’t remember the last time I had a flashback! I’ve had many fewer intrusive thoughts, too.

I think the main reason for these improvements in my PTSD is that I’ve been doing Prolonged Exposure and directly confronting traumatic memories. I’m proud of this because I’ve put in the work and done things that scared me and were hard to do. I may write about this more later, but it really is remarkable to me how much it has helped.

I have so much more free time in my day now. Being upset took up so much of my days! I have more time available for going to class, doing homework, and hanging out with my friends, and sometimes I even have free time left over after that!

I got grades that I am proud of this semester; I took on a leadership position in a club I’m part of; I even tried flirting with someone I had a crush on!

Getting better is a change, and change can be scary

However, there are still struggles in getting better. It’s new and very different from how the past few years of my life have been. Change of any type is hard and scary for me, even when it’s positive change. There are new things to get used to.

Experimenting with the possibility of dating someone was a very stressful experience for me, even though I’m glad I tried and have grown from it and made a new good friend (I told him I liked him; he said he didn’t like me back, but we’re still good friends). There are a lot of situations I’m not used to being in. Applying for jobs? Having interviews that aren’t for therapy programs?!

It’s scary, but I’m growing. 🙂

Higher expectations for myself

As my mental health improved, my expectations for myself shot up. Before, I called a day a success if I went to all my classes and ate some meals, and I’d be proud of that and pat myself on the back because I knew it had been hard to do. When those things got easier and more routine, I felt that I needed to do more. I thought that since I was doing better, I had to take school more seriously and actually get better grades (in part to make up for the lower ones I’d gotten when I was struggling more). My mental health had been holding me back before, and it wasn’t now, so I felt that there was no excuse to not do well, to not do everything, to not be like my peers.

I didn’t see it at the time, but those were unrealistic expectations. There is a lot of room in-between managing to make it to most classes and getting straight A’s; it’s not strictly one or the other. I expected myself to be perfect all of a sudden. I wanted to be able to make up for all the things I’d missed out on over the years all at once.

Wanting these things did make me more motivated, and I plan to achieve many of the things that I realized I wanted — someday. I have to radically accept that I can’t do everything all at once, and I can’t do everything so fast. I need to be patient with myself. While it’s great that I am getting better and seeing improvements, I’m not fully better. It’s a slow process and something that I need to keep working on.

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Not everything gets better

Another thing to radically accept is that there are some things in my life that don’t get better as my mental health gets better. I came home from college recently, and it was a bit of a rude awakening to see my parents arguing just as much as they had been when I left. My improvement hadn’t affected them — of course it wouldn’t, but somehow I just assumed that everything in my life would get better as my mental health improved. That’s not the case.

Therapy also can’t make up for the fact that I have two family members missing in my life. Opposite action can’t bring them back from the dead. I think that I am dealing with the losses better than I was a few months ago (I’m not incapacitated by sadness; I don’t spend most of my days lying on my bedroom floor crying; eating isn’t as much of a struggle), but they are still gone. I am still sad. The grief resurfaces every now and then.

Worries about things worsening

Another challenge is that I worry about my mental health worsening again. Now that I’ve experienced how good things can be, I feel a deeper loss when I’m temporarily feeling worse again. I know all the things I’m missing out on and feel sorry for myself.

When something goes wrong, I also worry that it’s the beginning of the end. Will I go back to being depressed and tormented by nightmares? Good things can’t last forever, right? Is this a temporary blip in my life, or a more lasting change?

If I check the facts on these fears, I can see that the gradual changes I’ve made over the past year have lasted so far. I can see that I have been doing the treatment recommended to me by multiple therapists who believed that it would improve my life, and they agree that I have made lots of progress.

Yes, more bad things are bound to happen in my life, but I do have better skills to deal with them now. I haven’t self-harmed in maybe four months? I “graduated” from DBT group, and I use the healthier coping skills that I learned there every day. I can get through things.

Same friends, new relationships?

When I became friends with the people I’m friends with now, I was struggling, and I was looking (consciously or unconsciously) for certain things in friends — sensitive, a good listener, etc. In addition, many of my friends have their own struggles with mental illness. I’ve also stayed in touch with some people I knew from group therapies.

As a result of these things, many of my interactions with my friends were centered around me venting/asking for support, or me providing emotional support to my friends. I was happy and grateful for that, and it enabled me to have deep, intimate friendships, but I’m not struggling as much anymore. What do we talk about now?? What if we can’t relate as much because we’re not in the same dark place anymore? What if my friend liked me because she felt like she was helping me, and now there’s nothing left to be helped? The dynamics have shifted.

I don’t think that any friendships will end over this, but I may end up more distant from certain people, and that makes me sad. I suppose it’s also possible for friendships to evolve as people evolve, and I hope that mine will, because I really do like my friends.

On the other hand, I am also making new friends. Now humor and playfulness are more attractive qualities to me. I want to laugh for a while with a friend more than I want to express to them how badly I’ve been feeling. There is a time and place for both, but I find myself wanting more fun now than I did before. This is another change that is scary for me at times!

My friends enabled my avoidance

Some of my friends also enabled some bad habits that I want to stop doing now. They let me and even encouraged me to avoid things. Part of my exposure therapy is not avoiding things that aren’t objectively dangerous. I don’t want to avoid things anymore, but the message hasn’t sunk in for my friends yet.

Several people know that I hate blood, decapitation, violence, and related things. When there are scenes in movies with those things, they say, “[My Name], don’t look!” They say, “I don’t think you’ll like this movie, it’s not for you.” When I ask, “What are you laughing at on your phone?” they say, “You don’t want to know, you won’t like it, it’s bad, trust me.”

I very much appreciated these warnings at times when I felt like I needed them, but now I feel like I can handle things. I know that avoidance makes my fears stronger. I don’t want to avoid! I am ready to face scary things!

It’s just frustrating that my old habits were so deeply engrained that they spread to my friends, and now I have to change my friends’ habits, too, not just my own.

Overall

Overall, I’m doing so much better now than I was a few months ago. A couple of weeks before final exams, someone asked me how I was doing, and I said “good”! She said, “haha, like the dog in the fire meme?”

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“This is fine” meme — image from https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1401347-this-is-fine

Meaning, was I saying that things were fine when I was really super stressed out about finals? I wasn’t! I was serious that I was doing well! As I thought back on the conversation afterwards, I realized that I wasn’t just doing well, I was doing the best I had been in the past two years. That seems quite amazing to me.

I wrote this post because I think I had an idea in my head of “getting better” that was all perfect sunshine and butterflies, and I wanted to express the ways in which getting better is still hard. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. 🙂

Life, Therapy

Finally talking about my trauma in detail

I experienced a traumatic event four years and nine months ago. I decided to do DBT PE (Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Prolonged Exposure) to treat my PTSD eight months ago. And today, I finally talked about the trauma in detail in therapy.

I’ve been building up to this for so long. I’ve gone over the traumatic event in my head so many times in varying levels of flashback-y-ness but always fairly anxious states. This has been a part of my life for so long.

But I had never said it out loud to another human being. I had never said it in order from start to finish. (well, the finish of one part, at least)

This feels like a watershed moment. Something small but fundamental has shifted inside of me, a change that will grow more pronounced as I continue this treatment.

I am still going about my same daily activities and interacting with the same people, but I feel a little different, as if I’m experiencing everything with freer eyes. It feels a little like what getting baptized felt like, or what traveling to another continent for the first time felt like. I knew logically what to expect, but now I’m experiencing it emotionally.

Of course, it was also really hard, and this is also only the beginning. But I finally said it!!!

Affirmations, Coping Skills, Positives

An affirmation — Resilience

I’ve been writing things on sticky notes or scraps of paper and posting them around my room for a while now. Sometimes when I pull myself out of a bad place, there’s some nugget — thought, belief, or quote — that helped me out of the darkness, and I jot it down so that I’ll remember it in the future. I’ve amassed a nice collection and would like to share them.

Here is one (fyi, with a swear word):

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“I am so fucking RESILIENT.”

This has been inspiring me and giving me hope and confidence recently. I have been met with lots of challenges, but I have survived all of them.

I like It’s Okay Not to Be Okay‘s daily motivation quotes and would like to do something similar, so I will schedule these to be posted once a day for the next two weeks. Yay 🙂 I’m trying something new here in my blogging!

DBT connection: This is like the E in the “IMPROVE the moment” skill: Encouragement.

Coping Skills, Life

What to do when things aren’t working

I’ve heard other people on blogs and in person express the sentiment that they’re trying everything they know how to do, and it’s not working. What do you do when nothing seems to work?

I’ve been struggling with feeling like nothing’s working recently and then feeling even more hopeless as a result. I’ve been having a tough time since my uncle and and grandmother passed away. I’m grieving and being reminded of past trauma and the recent trauma of their deaths in intrusive and unpleasant ways, all the while being apart from my family (away at college) and trying to literally survive and not fail my classes.

So what do you do??? I wish I had more answers than what I have, but I’ll share what’s getting me through so far, and if anyone has any other ideas, please let me know.

Validate yourself. If you’re trying everything you know and using all the skills you have, you’re probably trying really hard and dealing with some pretty hard stuff! Give yourself some credit and acknowledge that you are struggling.

Think about what you mean when you say “things aren’t working.” Sometimes the skills I use do work; they just don’t solve all my problems. For example, the goal of distress tolerance skills in DBT is to get you through the moment without worsening the situation. They’re not supposed to make you feel happy or to get rid of whatever was causing the strong emotion. If I hold ice up to my face (the TIPP skill) in place of acting on crisis urges, then the skill worked. Even if I am still really upset and the crisis urges come back soon, the skill got me through that moment. I expect that skills will help more than they are able to. Having more realistic expectations here would help, I think.

Make sure you’re doing the things that have helped in the past. Personally, I know that I have to eat enough and sleep enough and get exercise and see my friends and have time to myself regularly in order to maximize my okay-ness. Sometimes I get frustrated thinking, “But I slept so much! I ate three meals! I did so much good work and tried so hard! Whyyy am I not feeling better?” and maybe it’s because I’m avoiding my friends and haven’t had a real conversation with anyone in a week. Not doing one essential thing, even when you’re doing all the others, could be the missing piece.

Ask for and accept help from other people. You don’t have to do everything alone! Friends, family, strangers, online friends, old friends, therapists, doctors, etc. can all help! For example, my mom visited me at college this past weekend. She has offered to do this in the past, but this was the first time that I accepted her offer. She was willing to help, and I knew it probably would make me feel better and was desperate. Her visit ended up going great, and I felt much better afterwards deep down.

Still on the topic of asking for help, I sometimes know that I need help but don’t know what I need. When people ask, “What can I do?” or “How can I help?” I don’t know how to answer. I’m still working on learning what I need, but here are some things that I have asked for: a hug (many times), for my friend to let me vent, for my therapist to reply to my email, for an extension on an assignment, for someone to eat a meal with me, for a friend to send me something in the mail, to schedule an appointment with a doctor, to set up a time to facetime a friend. These are things I can ask for! People can always choose to say no, but asking doesn’t hurt and often helps a lot!

Maybe consider bigger changes in your life. I know that if I keep on feeling this badly, taking a semester or a year off of school is an option. Dropping some classes is an option. Going to an inpatient, residential, or day treatment center is an option. Changing my therapist is an option. Transferring schools or switching my major are options. There are lots of options!

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Radically accept that 1) you are having a tough time right now, and that 2) there are things you can’t change and have no control over. This can allow you to see a situation more realistically and therefore make better decisions about the things you can control. I can’t change the fact that my uncle and grandmother died, but I can celebrate their lives, think of fond memories, and strive to embody the qualities I admired in them.

Have patience. I know that this can be really hard to do. But giving things time and just pushing forward can work. Hold on. Time may not heal everything, but it can help with a lot. I have a saying that I like: “There are good days and bad days. Keep going, and you’ll find both.”