Positives

Major accomplishments of 2018

I have actually made a lot of progress in 2018.

Mental Health

I’ve gotten more serious about making actual progress in therapy instead of using it as more of a temporary fix to my immediate problems and worries. In the winter/spring, I made a bunch of new lists to follow in different situations. Over the summer, I started DBT, which has really helped me. I learned more about emotions. I was a little clueless before. I can now generally identify what I’m feeling — sadness, anger, shame, fear, love, etc. — and understand where that emotion came from and whether or not it fits the facts of the situation. I didn’t really know that shame was an emotion before this year, and I feel shame a lot!

I also learned what dissociation is, what it feels like for me when it’s happening, and what I can do to stop it. Another thing I didn’t know that was happening to me a lot!

I made the decision to start prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD. I’ve been doing behavioral exposures on my own to things I avoid and things that scare me for the past few months, and already I can see a significant improvement in my PTSD symptoms. There are some reminders that I can fully tolerate now, like pictures of brains, and some reminders that don’t give me as bad flashbacks, like car chase or car crash scenes in movies. I am also doing exposure stuff in therapy and plan to do more.

Relationships

I’ve developed some very close friendships. I have one friend in particular that I’m very close with. I think it may be the most intimate (emotionally intimate) relationship I’ve ever had. I tell her so much. She tells me a lot, too. I love her and am so glad we’re friends.

I’m also much closer with my parents, mainly thanks to the DBT program I did this summer and the family therapy that came with it. They now understand the nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, and suicidal thoughts I struggle with. Although we still don’t always get along, it’s nice to not have to carry around those secrets anymore. I can also get emotional support from them sometimes, especially my mom. She has made an effort to learn how to validate my feelings, and it makes such a difference. Talking to her does actually make me feel better sometimes. It also feels like they’re on my team now. For example, my dad got me “stress relief essential oils” for Christmas, which I probably won’t use because essential oils have upset me before, but it was a sweet gesture that shows he cares and wants to help.

Because I did the program this summer, many more of my friends know that I have mental health issues and am in therapy. Everyone was asking what I was doing over the summer. I could have lied, but I chose to be vulnerable and tell them the truth. I’ve done a lot of vulnerability exposures in the past few months. They are hard but generally bring me closer to people. I recently also told my friends at college that I am in therapy. I kind of let it slip in front of a fairly large group of people at a Secret Snowflake gift exchange. This was a big deal for me because I’m not close with most of those people. But it was fine, and I feel so much better.

Adulting

I can now file an insurance claim! I can call my insurance company, I can set up my own doctor’s appointments, I can choose to take over-the-counter medicines and buy them on my own, I bought my own razor for the first time. A lot of these accomplishments have to do with me being away from home and being able to do things without my mom’s permission.

I set up some certificates of deposit, which mean I’ll be making some money, or at least not losing any to inflation. Planning for the future!

The place where I live at college has a kitchen (unlike last year), and I also had a portion of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable share this fall. As a result, I can now cook or prepare various vegetables for myself. I can make eggs (scrambled or in an omelette) fairly quickly. I can clean a kitchen and feel okay/confident about its cleanliness. I learned to use a gas stove (my family has an electric stove). I plan on doing more cooking next semester.

School

Well, I’m two semesters closer to getting a degree!

I declared my major, but that may change…

I think I’ve gotten better with procrastinating. I haven’t turned anything in past the deadline this semester!! 🙂 One skill that particularly helps me with this is setting a timer for 20 minutes and saying that I’ll only work on it for that amount of time. It helps me to get started on things and not be overwhelmed by all I have to do.

I’ve learned more about engineering and realized how much I like it. 🙂 Although I’m still not entirely sure about what to major in within engineering, and I sometimes think about becoming a psychologist, writer, dancer, or artist instead, I know that I really do like engineering, too. 🙂

General Health

I’ve consistently been getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night. 7 hours is now low for me. There are weeks where I get less, but for the most part, I really have been getting more sleep. This makes me feel so much better emotionally!

I lost some weight unintentionally over the summer and became more underweight than I normally am, but I’ve been seeing a nutritionist at school, and I’ve gained some of it back! More importantly, I am building better habits of eating, like eating 3 meals a day, every day, and snacks in between. I’m keeping more snacks on hand. I’m eating more calorie-dense foods first. If I skip breakfast, I’ll have two dinners instead of simply having only 2 meals that day. I think these strategies will continue to serve me well.

I haven’t had too many headaches! 🙂

Other

I started this blog!!! 🙂 Having a blog is something I’ve dreamed of doing for years. I’m so glad I finally did it and that I am still at it several months after starting. It feels like it gives me more purpose. What I didn’t expect from blogging was getting to read so many other people’s blogs, which has been really nice.

In the spring, I was baptized into a church, and I later left it. It was a very stressful, confusing experience at the time, but I think it has helped me understand what I actually believe, which makes me more confident and causes me to have fewer existential crises. People in this church group also gave me a lot of hugs. I generally avoided physical touch before then, but now I willingly accept hugs, enjoy hugs, give good hugs back, and am comfortable asking friends for a hug when I feel like I need one.

It’s hard to believe that my first time in group therapy was just last year. I’ve made some good friends through group and learned just how not-alone I am. It’s also been eye-opening to be able to talk with people about mental illnesses and similar struggles. I feel like I understand people better.

Lastly, I’ve been dancing for years, and last spring, I finally learned how to do a pirouette! 🙂 One of my goals over winter break is to be able to spin around twice in a pirouette instead of once.

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Yay! This was uplifting to write. 🙂 I’ve liked reading people’s reflections on the year. Do you have an accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?

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Therapy, Uncategorized

Exposure Therapy!

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

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

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

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

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Wise mind — a DBT concept

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

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

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

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

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

Decision: Do exposure stuff.

Because…

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

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

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

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

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

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