Coping Skills

Validation is MUSIC to my ears (how to validate!)

I came up with an acronym that helps me remember how to validate, and has helped me to teach my parents how to validate me.

The acronym is “MUSIC”:

  • M – Makes sense
  • U – Understand
  • S – Sounds like
  • I – Imagine
  • C – Can see

“It makes sense that you’re feeling that way, based on what has happened to you in the past.” “It makes sense that you’re angry because they were rude to you.”

“I understand that you are hurt.” “I understand that this has been a difficult time for you.” “I understand that you want some alone time.”

“It sounds like this experience really impacted you.” “It sounds like you’re feeling sad — is that right?”

“I can imagine that you might be overwhelmed.” “I imagine that this might bring up painful memories.”

“I can see that you are struggling.” “I can see how much you care.” “I can see how hard you’re trying.”

If you want to validate someone but don’t know how, just think: “Validation is MUSIC to my ears!” M-makes sense; U-understand; S-sounds like; I-imagine; C-can see.

Validation can feel quite, well, validating, which is often a good feeling of being understood, heard, and acknowledged. It can also make people feel more connected and close to each other. Hence the phrase, “Validation is music to my ears,” because it often feels very good to hear.

Validation also helps with emotion regulation. It helps people make sense of what they are experiencing, which can be calming. Putting a label (like, “fear”) on an emotion has been shown to decrease the intensity of the emotion. So, validation can help to regulate emotions. You don’t need someone else to validate you (though it is very nice and can help a lot). You can validate yourself, too. “I am feeling sad. It makes sense that I am feeling sad because I am missing out on things.” I try to do this, and when I do, it helps.


Other posts on DBT:

And other coping skills:

Coping Skills

Coping with justified sadness

Note: this post talks about death and mentions brain injuries, a car accident, and bodily functions. Note 2: this post was written and edited over a couple years, so some examples from my life were written at different times. 

My DBT skills book gives suggestions of what to do when an emotion is justified (i.e. it fits the facts of a situation). However, I don’t really like what it suggests for sadness and would like to add on to it.

Sadness is justified when something important is lost or missing. When sadness is more intense, it is often a signal that the thing lost was very important. For example, sadness is justified when a loved one dies, when your life is not what you expected it would be, when you realize a parent has not really been a parent, and in many more situations.

The DBT book (DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan) suggests the following (on p. 243):

  1. Grieve; have a memorial service; visit the cemetery (but don’t build a house at the cemetery).
  2. Retrieve/replace what is lost.
  3. Plan how to rebuild a life worth living without the beloved or expected outcomes in your life.
  4. Accumulate positives.
  5. Build mastery: Do things that make you feel competent and self-confident.
  6. Communicate need for help.
  7. Accept help offered.
  8. Put on rose-colored glasses.

I would like to add on some other things:

1. Radically accept that this is the way it is now.

Change starts with accepting the reality of now so that you can identify what is wrong.

Example 1

For example, my uncle and grandmother passed away in January 2019. I cannot change the fact that they are gone. I am still sad, and my family feels very small all of a sudden.

Example 2

Another sad thing that I’m working on radically accepting is that my dad had a brain injury after our car accident. He is more easily angered now than he was before the accident. He is forgetful and often repeats himself without realizing it. He forgot to pick me up from school (back when I was in high school). He forgets important personal information that I have told him about my life, like what classes I’m taking (despite the fact that I FaceTimed my family every day when I was at college and talked about my classes all the time), what I’m majoring in, and that I have dietary restrictions.

In family therapy, I had long conversations with him and my mom about what information they were allowed to disclose to their friends about my mental health and treatment. My dad broke our agreements several times, telling several almost-strangers that I was in a partial hospital program and that I was depressed. Despite reminders and more discussions after these incidents, he has continued to breach our agreement. He seemed to be genuinely confused and thought that he was following the agreement. Regardless of the reason for all this, I’ve decided I can’t trust him with personal information anymore. This is sad to me because I’d like to have more of a relationship with him, and due to his brain injury and other pre-existing problems, that relationship is missing.

Example 3

On perhaps a smaller scale, another thing I’m radically accepting is that this summer [note: I wrote this part in summer 2019, but some of it applies to summer 2020, too] hasn’t been what I wanted it to be. I didn’t get an internship. I’m living at home when I’d rather be living with my friends near my school. I haven’t seen many friends this summer — they’re all off in different places. Despite working so hard on my ptsd, I’m still depressed. This is the way it is right now.

2. Mourn and grieve by expressing through art

People have told me that it’s okay to grieve, but I haven’t heard many examples of how to actually do this. The DBT book isn’t very specific with this, either, apart from the suggestions of holding a memorial service and visiting the cemetery. I sometimes find myself full of valid, justified sadness and I don’t know what to do with the emotion. 

One thing I’ve found that I can do is to express myself: express what I’m feeling, what has happened, where I’m at. And one way to do that, for me, is through drawing or art. It helps me see things visually/spatially and make sense of them a bit. 

Example 1

I drew this when I was feeling sad in the weeks after my uncle and grandmother died. 

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My drawing of people walking around and being sucked into a black, spiraling hole, with this quote around the edges: “Where you used to be there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night.” -Edna St. Vincent Millay

Example 2

Due to digestive issues, I can’t eat many of my favorite foods. I drew the foods I miss most on gravestones. Seeing them like this makes me laugh a bit and also reminds me that I am grieving the loss of my favorite foods. It is a loss. Even though it doesn’t affect me as much as the deaths in my family, it makes me sad. I really do miss these foods. 

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My drawing of chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, pasta with tomato sauce, and brownies on gravestones

Example 3

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was struggling with all the death. The news kept talking about so many people dying. And someone died close to where I live in a violent way that got in the news. Then my mom’s friend’s father died of Covid. To try to process these deaths, I made a little house/box thing. I wanted to do something using my hands. I made steps going up to it. Inside, I made chairs and wrote “House of Mourning.” I cut out people and wrote the appropriate names on them, and I sat them down on the chairs inside the house.

Now they have a place to go, even if it’s only their name on a paper version of them in a paper house. It makes me feel better. It’s a way of acknowledging their deaths. I acknowledge that they have transitioned from living to dead by physically placing them in the house. There are chairs there; it’s a nice place to be. Since I’m not religious right now (and haven’t been for the past couple of years), it’s kind-of a non-religious alternative to the comforting belief that the deceased are happy up in heaven with the other people who have died. It’s a way of making sense of it and processing it. 

I’ve also placed some other things (not people) in my House of Mourning. I just wrote them on pieces of paper and put them in the house. They are: my dad not acting how I want him to as a dad; loss of certainty; and summer 2020 in the place I wanted to live this summer with my friends. When I write them out and put them in the house, I acknowledge that I am mourning them. 

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The paper house of mourning I made with people and things inside

3. Identify smaller qualities or aspects of the big thing that is lost or missing, and then problem-solve to see how you could put them back in your life.

When something important is lost or missing, there is usually some sort of underlying need that is no longer being filled. I know that you can’t replace a person, and it makes me feel a little disgusted to think of trying to do that. That’s not what this is, though. It’s just making sure that you’re still getting the things that you need and finding ways you can still live a life worth living without the important thing in it.

Example 1

For example, I’ve had to stop eating a lot of foods that I really like due to acid reflux. I can’t eat chocolate or dairy, so that eliminates most desserts. It was especially bad in the summer [2019] when I really craved ice cream and everyone around me was eating it. I can’t eat tomatoes, which eliminates a lot of pasta options and tomato soup. There are so many foods I can’t eat, but I don’t feel like listing them all. This may seem like not as big a deal as some other things, but it really does make me sad that I can’t eat my favorite foods anymore, and I’ve decided I’m grieving this, and I’m going to let myself actually be sad instead of invalidating my sadness. (note: bodily functions) I have tried to eat these foods again and have had diarrhea for two days afterwards each time. Thats no fun! 

So, I’ve been trying to think of what, exactly, is missing and how I can replace it. I think what’s really missing are good, sweet foods for a special treat or occasion. It’s taken me some time to come up with good replacements, but I’ve found that sugar cookies are delicious and edible to me. Peanut butter cookies are also good. My mom made me a carrot cake (with sugar icing, not cream icing) for my birthday. I can eat lollipops, smarties, lifesavers, and butterscotch instead of chocolate when I want candy.

Another thing that’s missing is the social connection from eating foods together [pre-pandemic]. I have to say no to offers of many foods, and it makes me sad to not be able to connect with my friends over liking good food. I haven’t come up with a solution to this one yet. I guess we can still enjoy other things together. 

Example 2

With my grandmother and uncle gone, and no grandparents left at all, one of the things I’m missing is some older person who will check in with me every now and then about casual things / general life stuff and be kind-of protective and warm. One of my aunts (the one that didn’t lose her husband (my uncle)) has kind of stepped into this role on her own. She called me last January [2019] after the deaths and left me a very kind voice mail message when I really needed it, and even said I didn’t need to call her back. She visited me at school and made sure we took pictures. She sent me an article she thought I would like. She’s more of a part of my life now than she was before all the deaths. I think that that awful time has brought my remaining family closer.

Another issue is that my family feels very small now. It doesn’t feel like there are enough people in it. One way I can make it bigger is by getting married. This is a long-term goal. I’ve never even dated someone. But it’s nice to know that there is a way that families naturally grow. People die, and families shrink. People get married or are in long-term relationships, and the partner and partner’s family are added to the family. Babies are born or kids/babies are adopted, and families grow. I’m not ready to get married right now, but it’s nice to know that I can someday and bring more people into my family’s network. 

4. Allow for time for sadness AND time for other things

Sometimes sadness and grief can be overwhelming. It can easily consume my whole evening, if not my whole day, or week. Sometimes that is not helpful. I say sometimes because sadness serves an important function, too. Sadness makes people ruminate, which can be helpful because people can process things and realize what they are missing. Sadness can also encourage people to try to get the things they are missing. Studies have shown that sadness can improve memory, judgement, motivation to get the missing things, and social attentiveness (source). Other studies have shown that depression can make people more analytical and allow people to gain insight to their problems (source).

But, it’s generally not good for me to be sad, grieving, or depressed all day. There are generally still things I need to do, like eating, cleaning, talking to people, going to appointments, or going to school. 

Example 1: 20 minutes of sadness a day

A therapist I used to have suggested I do “20 minutes of sadness a day.” I was supposed to set a time, like 4 pm, when I planned on being sad. And then when that time came, I tried to not push away the sadness and let myself be sad. I tried to “ride the wave.” Sometimes I cried. It was useful to take the time to acknowledge the sadness. It’s similar to having a “worry time” where you dedicate time to worrying so that you don’t have to worry during the rest of the day. It is more contained. 

The hardest part about this for me was stopping being sad and moving on when the time was up and my alarm went off. I was supposed to use opposite action (because sadness is valid and justified but not effective in this moment), but I normally had a hard time getting out of bed and would just keep lying there for an hour. I think it would have been better if I had tried having 20 minutes of sadness while sitting up, instead of lying down, and for less time, so that I didn’t get overwhelmed by the sadness. 

The general idea behind 20 minutes of sadness can be altered a lot. It could be any amount of time, even a few seconds to just acknowledge the sadness that is there. I prefer just doing “STUN waves,” noticing my sadness come and go, acknowledging it, and validating it. It could also be in any form. People could write in a journal, talk or write to a missing person, pray, make art, meditate, do any of the ideas above, etc.

It’s important for me to allow for time for sadness and then also acknowledge that other things may need to be done. I can temporarily move on from the sadness, knowing that I will come back to it later and am not ignoring or forgetting about it. 

In contrast to feeling the sadness, I try to identify positive things. Oftentimes, things are not all bad. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by sadness and forget everything else. Trying to make an effort to notice good things, like sunsets or flowers, can be helpful. I also try to add enjoyable things into my days using DBT’s “Accumulating Positives” skill. I make plans to do things like hang out with friends, watch a good movie, and take some time to do art. These things can also help with opposite action when I am trying to come away from the sadness and back into the rest of my life. It helps to have plans to hang out with friends, do other fun things, or just to notice the positives after having my sad time.

Sometimes happy things make me sad. Maybe someone I miss isn’t here to enjoy this with me, or I used to be able to do x fun thing but now I can’t because of illness. If they make me sad, that’s okay, too. I acknowledge that and let my joyful memories turn blue with sadness. 

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Sadness turning joyful, yellow memories blue. (screenshot from Isaac Carlson’s video “Why Does Sadness Turn Memories Blue? | Pixar Theory: Discovering Inside Out,” originally from Pixar’s movie Inside Out.)

Example 2: Grieving periods

Some religions have set grieving periods. In Judaism, during the first week after a funeral, the shiva, people mourning are allowed to withdraw from life, and their needs are met by the community (people bring them food, etc.). In the next phase of mourning, sheloshim, people gradually return back to “normal life.” I have a couple friends that are Jewish and have followed this process of mourning after a death, and it seems to have been a good way for them to take time to process their grief. I think that taking some time off work/school, or even just giving yourself a break to allow yourself to grieve (any loss, not just death) can be helpful, too. Gradually returning to activities is an important part of it, too. It is “moving forward,” not “moving on.” 


So, these are my strategies for how to cope with justified sadness. 1) Radically accept that this is the way it is now. 2) Mourn and grieve, maybe by expressing things through art. 3) Identify smaller qualities or aspects of the big thing that is lost or missing, and then problem-solve to see how you could put them back in your life. 4) Set aside time to feel sad, and time to focus on other things. They seem to be helping me.

How do you deal with sadness?

Life, Positives

Trauma is in the past and I feel great and am making good decisions!

Note: there is some mention of cults and bodily functions

I am strangely doing really well overall. I feel emotionally healthy. I am making really good, wise-mind decisions.

I actually applied to a job and had two rounds of interviews and was offered the job!! It is very exciting! But there are also some things that didn’t feel quite right to me. And then when I got the formal job offer letter, it was a long contract, which I wasn’t expecting. I had been planning on going to a training for the job this weekend and starting, like, now (part-time, I’m still in school).

BUT I listened to my gut. I realized that saying yes to the job right away is really tempting because having a job and making my own money will make me feel really secure, especially since I am graduating soon, and I want to be more independent from my family (rely on their money less), and this job would guarantee that I would have something to do with my time and (what seems like) a good group of people to spend time with. So, I was tempted, and I was able to figure out and acknowledge why.

I also did a little google searching and was reminded that it’s okay to not say yes to a job offer right away and to take time to think about things. And to take time to figure out if the job is something I actually want to do. I was thinking that if I hate it, I can just leave, but one video said that if you leave a job after not being there long, it can have a “black mark” on your resume. I hadn’t thought of that. And some parts of the contract “survive” even after “termination,” apparently, so I could still be affected by things in the contract even if I left.

Anyway I was feeling some peer pressure and time pressure to start now, and there are some things I don’t like in the contract about not saying bad things about the company, and non-disclosure agreements and non-compete agreements. I was also getting some pyramid scheme vibes, like they were trying to recruit me right now to meet some quota. I once accidentally joined an intense Christian group that bordered on a cult, and this was reminding me of that whole experience.

I made the really good decision to just email and ask my questions, and to postpone doing the training instead of doing it literally tomorrow. I will have time to talk to my family and friends and maybe other people and get their opinions before officially committing to this.

I feel like this is a really reasonable thing to do. I didn’t let myself get peer pressured into joining too soon, and I’m also not ditching the whole thing and ghosting my interviewer without an explanation. I’m cautiously, maturely, wise-mindedly investigating more so that I can make an informed decision. I am listening to my emotions and checking the facts on them. This feels really good!! 🙂

And I also feel like, it will probably all turn out okay. Non-disclosure agreements are probably standard. I’m just new to them. And so it’s okay for me to ask questions and get more information and make sure I’m okay with stuff. And if I’m not okay with stuff, I can just decline the job offer. People won’t harass or pressure or keep calling me if I decide not to join. They are professional people in a real, reputable company and not sketchy bordering-on-a-cult members. Either way I am safe and can make a good decision and be okay.

It feels really good!

Elsa dramatically throwing away her crown and singing, “The past is in the past!” (Screenshot from this Disney UK Let It Go Frozen Sing-along video)

Other stuff in my life is going well, too. I made some other good decisions. 🙂 Last semester, classes on zoom were kinda awful, and I was not in a good place. But, there were two classes that I did enjoy and did do well in. They were both project-based classes, they both had group projects, and they both had me do stuff with my hands, instead of staring at a computer screen.

So, this semester, I made the really good decision to take entirely project-based classes. And I am loving it! I am thriving! I am so sick of zoom and cannot stand zoom lectures anymore. And I don’t have to! This semester I don’t have any problem sets or exams! It’s all project assignments, presentations, small quizzes, and reports.

Projects seem much more meaningful than normal school. I understand that I have to do the steps along the way in order to end up at the final product of the project. Like, I’m building a robot (!!), and it makes perfect sense to me that I have to design the parts, figure out what hardware I will need, test things out, etc in order to build the final robot. So, I’m motivated to do these things. I don’t procrastinate them. I’m even excited to do them. I’ll do them in my free time, or at 3 am, because I want to. And having group members that I am accountable to helps a lot, too. And it gives me built-in social time. Less loneliness for me! And regular, scheduled times to see people!

Yayyyy! I am feeling pretty good about myself, lol. I am proud. Of course I have to acknowledge that a lot of this is luck, too. If this wasn’t my senior spring, I probably wouldn’t have much, or any, say in what classes I got to take. And there was some luck in how I found this job, and privilege that I was able to go to a career fair to find this company.

I got an unpleasant reminder recently that my wellbeing is largely based on luck and not the hard work I do. I had been feeling better, physically, for a couple months. I was eating dairy-free probiotic yogurt every day, and my diarrhea had disappeared. But then my yogurt was too close to the back of the fridge, and the temperature was too low, and it all froze. I don’t really know what happened to the yogurt chemically/biologically, but the consistency changed, and it made me gag, and the bits I did eat didn’t seem to help my stomach like they used to (maybe the good bacteria died). My diarrhea came back. All that “hard work” went down the drain. It was sad, but it was a good reminder that there are things out of my control. The probiotics were what was helping me, not that I was going on walks or just magically making myself less stressed or healthy or something.

So, conversely, when things are going well, I want to be careful to not be proud of “how well I’m doing.” I can be happy that I’m doing well, and I can celebrate it. I can be proud of actions I took or decisions I made. But it’s not healthy for me to be proud of things that are out of my control. Because then when they go wrong, it feels like it’s my fault, when it’s not. It’s still out of my control.

So right now, when lots of things seem to be going well: I am proud of how I handled this job offer, and I am happy that I was offered the job in the first place. I am proud of the healthy habits I am keeping up with (like the action of eating my yogurt!), and I am happy that not many things are going wrong right now and that I am doing well overall.

Life, Positives

I called 911 in my nightmare! :) Improvement and “Success nightmares”

So, as a result of PTSD, I generally have a lot of nightmares. I have had a lot fewer nightmares since I did DBT-PE (dialectical behavior therapy with prolonged exposure) almost two years ago (yay!! success!!), but I still have them sometimes. However, the content is generally better!

A main theme in my trauma was feeling helpless, and this was also a theme in my pre-PE nightmares. It is still a theme in some of my nightmares, but, sometimes I also take action in my dreams and solve the problems in ways I wasn’t able to do during the actual trauma!

This is really exciting for me because it feels like I am finally “over it,” or at least over some parts of it. And my unconscious, which is active at night, is over it, too. It’s not just conscious-me.

Please note: this post contains descriptions of both nightmares and trauma. This includes descriptions of helplessness, calling 911, brain injuries, trees falling, fire, and mask-less people during covid. There are mentions of Christmas, injuries, a car accident, potential death, unconsciousness, broken bones, and surgery.

The first time I had a “success nightmare” like this was about a few months after I finished PE. In the nightmare, I was at home, and there were various things going wrong. I don’t remember all the details at this point, but one of the things going wrong was that there were all these fires. Several patches of trees had caught fire. So, in my dream, I literally flew around putting out fires. I went to each problem and dealt with it. I was able to do it. I left the trees wet and hissing with steam. It was so good. Being able to deal with it took a lot of the fear out of it.

I had another “success nightmare” like this last night, and I wanted to share it. 🙂 I actually first had a different nightmare earlier in the night. In the first nightmare, someone came into my room, my personal, clean-air breathing space, and wasn’t wearing a mask. I was really scared of getting covid and asked them, very politely and maturely (I think I even used a DEARMAN in my sleep, lol!!), to please put a mask on and leave. (it was something along the lines of “I noticed you are not wearing a mask, I am really worried that I will get sick, could you please put a mask on”).

In my dream he did not put a mask on and proceeded to ridicule me for having the gall to ask him to put on his mask! And then, I left my room and went out and about, and everyone that I knew, including my close friends, intentionally took off their masks when they saw me to make fun of me for making a big deal out of nothing and being too sensitive and worried. Ugh. It was awful. It makes me so angry to think about it. But I also felt so helpless because these people were not wearing masks and were just openly breathing on me, and there was nothing I could do to get away from them.


Anyway then I went back to sleep and had this other nightmare that ended on a better note. I think it started out as a good/okay dream (I don’t really remember that part), and then became a nightmare. I was at my home (which, interestingly, is where almost all my nightmares take place, even though a lot of my actual trauma was far from home) and was standing on our long driveway in the forest. Then all the trees started falling down. (and now I am dissociating trying to write this…) They were these big pine trees with two-foot-wide trunks, and the forest was pretty thick, so there were a lot of them, crashing down. Some trees fell into others and caused a domino effect throughout the forest. My sister and I were standing in the forest and couldn’t get away from them. We wouldn’t have been able to run far enough to get out from underneath the path they were falling in because there were trees coming down in all directions.


This fear of a tree falling on me does come from real life (not trauma though). In the past six months, two trees have nearly fallen on me. One was a huge tree in our backyard that just suddenly cracked and tumbled from rot on a blue-sky, wind-free afternoon. Luckily I was far enough away from it, but when I first heard the cracking noise and couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, it was really scary.

The other was our Christmas tree, which was a large tree we cut and brought inside. It was partially decorated, including lights and some glass ornaments. The base wasn’t super secure, and the tree was probably too big for the base, and the whole thing just toppled. If there hadn’t been a ladder in the way to break its fall, it would have fallen on me. Anyway. This fear doesn’t come out of thin air. I think it’s interesting to see how things from my life end up in my dreams.

The fear of people coming into my room without wearing a mask comes from real life, too. I’m living back at college this semester, and apparently someone has to come tomorrow to inspect my fire extinguisher. They have to come into my room, and I don’t know if they’ll be wearing a mask. I have seen so many people not wearing masks, even inside my building. If this person isn’t wearing a mask, or it’s only covering their mouth and not nose, or they’re wearing a mask but it’s not well-sealed, or I don’t have time to put on my own mask before they open the door, what will I do? Will all the air in my room just be potentially infected? (this is real life!) I guess I can leave the windows open for a few hours. But it’s really cold outside. I guess I can deal with that though.


Anywayyy in the tree falling nightmare, my sister and I, and my mom and some other people who were now just magically there, like they are sometimes in dreams, did get hurt by these falling trees. They were falling and rolling and crushing us. People had broken bones, and everyone had a brain injury and was slurring words together and having a hard time thinking and doing things. When the trees had all fallen and things were settled down, I knew that I had to call 911 to take us to a hospital and get help. (and I’m dissociating again..) This part is directly related to trauma. (I am trying to write this (opposite action!) but it’s hard.)

In the dream I knew I needed to call 911, but I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t figure out how to call. I was asking each person individually to please call 911. But they all had brain injuries, too, and couldn’t do it. My mom said she didn’t have 911 in her contacts and didn’t know the number for it. I told her that it’s in the name, it’s literally 9-1-1, but she still didn’t get it. Some people had broken phones. No one could call 911. I eventually realized I had my phone in my back pocket. It somehow wasn’t broken by the chaos. I got it out. I had a really hard time unlocking my phone and using it, due to the brain injury. But I eventually managed to get to the phone app and to type in 9-1-1. An ambulance eventually showed up.

This may not sound like a successful or resolved nightmare because we still got hurt really badly, but to me it was successful because I was able to call for help. In the actual trauma, a severe car accident, we were in the middle of nowhere, and the two phones we had were smashed to tiny bits in the accident. We had no way of calling for help. We were trapped, stuck, helpless, in the middle of nowhere. We, and especially my dad, could have died if we did not get help.

I also have had other nightmares, pre-PE, where my family and I got hurt and we were unable to call 911. For example, one memorable nightmare ended with me and my family sitting and lying on the floor of our house, all hurt in various ways. In the dream I could see the phone, but I couldn’t reach it. I was in too much pain / too broken to move any closer to it, and my arm wasn’t long enough to reach it from where I was sitting. I asked someone else in my family to get it (maybe my mom? I don’t remember), but they said, “<my name>, I can’t.” They were too broken to move, too. We were all so helpless.

So, in contrast to the actual trauma and to past nightmares, this one really was different. It was a success. I was finally able to call 911! It feels so good. Such a relief.


Also, side note, there is a difference between a nightmare and a bad dream. I’ve been using these two terms to mean different things, and apparently my friends and family didn’t know they were different. A bad dream is a normal dream that is unpleasant / has negative emotions in it. A nightmare is a bad dream that wakes you up (source). There are also some other differences between them. For example, trauma nightmares can occur during non-REM sleep (source). I often have nightmares during naps after being asleep for only 5-10 minutes. That wouldn’t happen with a bad dream.

I personally normally wake up from nightmares into panic attacks or flashbacks, which often quickly change into dissociation. It can sometimes take me all day to fully come back to reality. I was talking about bad dreams vs. nightmares with my brother, and apparently his bad dreams never wake him up?! So he has never had a nightmare?! What?! When my PTSD was at its worst, I was having like three nightmares per night! It’s also interesting to note that he was in the same car accident with me and the rest of my family that started most of my trauma. When it comes to emotions, my brother and I are very different people.

Here’s an interesting thing, since I’m talking about this now. There’s a statistic that 20% of people who experience a traumatic event get PTSD (source). In my family, there are 5 people, and only one, me, got PTSD from the car accident that we were all in. That’s 20%! I am that literal one in five! Of course, the accident has affected all of us a lot, but only I actually have ptsd. My mom had a lot of the symptoms of ptsd in the first couple years after, but they were more infrequent than mine and didn’t affect her life the way mine did. It was still very valid distress, just not ptsd.

It’s also important for me to remember that although we were all in the same accident, we didn’t experience the same events, and we didn’t experience them in the same way. My dad, who was hurt the most, was unconscious for several weeks. So, he just doesn’t conveniently have any memories of the whole thing! Also, I broke a bone and had to have surgery, but my brother, mom, and sister didn’t. We were also separated, and I had some experiences the others didn’t have. We also came into the accident with different life experiences. I was already more anxious of a person and had probably had diagnosable social anxiety for years. I was also already a little anxious about health because of other experiences I had had. So, the accident wasn’t the same for all of us. I have to remind myself of all this when I start to feel guilt or shame for being the only one in my family with PTSD. But I didn’t have any say in whether I ended up with ptsd, lol, so since it wasn’t a choice, guilt and shame aren’t justified.


There were so many tangents in this post! 😬


Have you ever had a nightmare or bad dream that you turned around or “solved”?

Affirmations, Coping Skills

Affirmation #27 — DBT Magic

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I have a DBT magic inside of me.


Sometimes I get out of my healthy habits and stop using skills. But I can always go back to them. There is knowledge and muscle memory in my body, and I have diary cards and lists in my folder. I am capable of using skills again. I can use the DBT magic within me to make my life better. 

My DBT magic makes me powerful and capable. With it, I can confront difficult situations. 

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 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 suggested to my friend. She is a leader in our club, and she was annoyed that the person who was supposed to send out the emails every week either wasn’t doing it, was doing it too late, or would only do it when she asked him to (not on his own). It sounded to me like maybe he wasn’t totally clear on what she expected from him, so I recommended the classic dearman. 🙂

DEARMAN: “There wasn’t an email sent out this week, and last week’s email was sent out the same day as the meeting. I worry that when there isn’t an email sent out in advance, people aren’t reminded of our meeting in time. Could you please send out the emails farther in advance in the future, like on Friday? If you have too much on your plate and don’t think you can do this, do you think that having more help, like an assistant Communications person, would be useful? I just want to make sure that people who want to be informed about <our club> are getting informed. 🙂

Result: My friend said “Thank you, I’ll use this!” I don’t know if she actually ended up using it or what the result was.

Comments: I think this is a pretty straightforward dearman. Dearmans can be useful in setting or clarifying boundaries without coming across as confrontational. 


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.


Other posts on DBT:

And other coping skills:

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!!!