Hello, I need to vent. You know how your life seems to be all okay for a bit, maybe it’s not great, but nothing too bad, and then suddenly it all just collapses around you?
My physical health is deteriorating.
(note: talking about weight) I was supposed to be gaining weight because I am fairly underweight, but instead I lost more weight. Gah! (I am not restricting / other ED behaviors, I just have trouble getting enough food in my body and cooking and stuff. It’s more of an “it’s too much effort” thing.)
I’ve had my period for 13 days now.
I went to the eye doctor for my annual eye exam and said that I’d been getting headaches above my eyes when I read or look at things up close for too long. He took my concerns seriously, which I really appreciate, but he also seemed to think something was really wrong and said “this will really affect your career” if it gets worse over time and I can’t read and stuff. I have to go back for a 2-3 hour appointment to see what happens when my eyes get fatigued.
My hip has been hurting off and on this summer, and yesterday it was hard to walk comfortably at times.
My armpit was hurting two times earlier in the summer, and now it’s hurting again. My primary care doctor thought it was just a pulled muscle or something, but now I’m worrying it’s something else since it has happened repeatedly. On the other hand, if it is a pulled muscle, why isn’t it healing? What am I doing wrong? I know that I’m physically pretty weak and don’t have strong muscles, but I don’t know how to get stronger if I don’t use them??
I’ve been home alone all week and it’s been lonely and hard. It also makes me worried for after college if I get an apartment on my own or something and have to live alone for much longer periods of time. I don’t think I could do it. I guess I could have roommates. Well, that’s a problem for future me.
Since I’m home alone, I have to take care of our family’s chickens. I’m supposed to put them away at night and feed them and let them out in the morning. I didn’t put them away last night because I was in an awful mood, and it was really late and I was scared of predators (coyotes, etc.). Luckily none of the chickens were eaten or killed during the night, but now this morning I have to feed them while they’re running around, not locked up in the coop. I’m scared of doing this because the roosters are big and want to attack me! And I have to move the coop too. And it looked like they were out of water. And then after all that I have to clean the house and pack in the next two hours because I’m going on vacation.
I’ve started disliking my friends and this freaks me out. Does this mean I just don’t like anyone? What is wrong with me? My friends are people that I’ve really liked and enjoyed spending time with in the past. What’s going on? I’m confused.
(note: talking about sex) I was talking to a friend yesterday about dating and stuff, and it just really upset me. But I figured out why it upset me at least! I really don’t want to have sex and am disgusted by it and afraid of it. I don’t know if this means I’m asexual or if it’s just one of the many things I’m afraid of or ashamed of. I kind of always thought that what makes a relationship different from a friendship is sex, but I kinda want a relationship, without the sex? I feel like no one else would want that though. Now I’m thinking maybe I am ace. Hmm. Gah. I’ll think about that later.
I’ve been wanting to quit therapy for a while for lots of reasons that I don’t feel like explaining, but now I’m realizing that I’m still struggling a lot and could use some therapy. I guess I’m sad that I still need it. And ashamed. And confused about what to do.
So those are the things I’m struggling with at the moment. Oh and also I did not get enough sleep last night. Okay. I’m going to try again to feed the chickens and move the coop… any support or encouragement is appreciated.
(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.
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, 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?”
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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! 🙂
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.
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?
(In case it isn’t obvious already, this is about death, and it’s dark.)
We’re in a close relationship, death and I, but it’s a rocky one.
I saw you, death, for the first time when I was in 5th grade. I had heard about you before. I had heard what you had done to my grandpa, to my friend’s dog, to many others. But I hadn’t been present to see you in the same room.
In 5th grade, I saw you come and take my grandmother away. I saw her heart rate fall, fall, fall, until it got to levels at which she was surely unconscious, and we took the monitor off her finger.
I understood that it was her time. I loved her, but it was a peaceful way to go.
Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, you noticed me. Before, we were just strangers in the same room. Now you introduced yourself to me. You showed me my life. I saw it flash before my eyes. It was a good life, one I was proud of. You told me it was enough. You told me to come with you. You showed me peace and beauty, the calm in the eye of the storm. You took my breath away. I said okay. I didn’t have a choice, but I said okay anyway.
But you decided not to take me then. I don’t know why. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was God, if he exists, thinking I deserved to live longer, that there was some plan for me. Maybe it was physics, just the way things moved in that moment, and my luck of being where I was. Maybe it was that I was wearing a seatbelt. Maybe it was that I wasn’t too tall. I’ll never know why.
You turned away from me and looked at my dad. He was too tall for the car. The physics did not work in his favor. I saw and heard horrible things. For maybe five minutes, I thought you had taken him. I imagined the rest of my life without him. I regretted not loving him more. I hated you, death. You caused pain, misery, and sadness.
And yet you didn’t take him away from me, either. It was an amazing gift, one that I struggle to be thankful for today, but it really was.
Time passed. You stayed in my mind. The image of peace stayed in my mind. The horrors stayed in my mind. For better or worse, you and I were linked together.
Later, when things were too much to bear, you knocked on my door. I invited you in. At some point, we must have started dating. I thought about you often. I fantasized about you, “Death + Me” written in a heart. I wanted to be with you, but at the same time you repulsed me. I hadn’t forgotten the accident. I hadn’t forgiven you for that. But the peace was so tempting.
I kept our relationship hidden. I didn’t tell friends, family, teachers, even my therapist, what you meant to me.
We’d break up. I’d swear we were never getting back together. I’d write lists of why I wanted to stay living. I’d plan things to look forward to. I’d make checklists to follow during the times when you tempted me, so that I wouldn’t give in.
I’d go without seeing you for a while. I would try to forget. But somehow you still called to me, especially in my dark moments, especially in flashbacks, especially when I was alone.
At some point I started becoming more open about our relationship. I wrote about it in my journal. I alluded to it with my friends. I confessed to my therapist when she asked me point blank. A few months later, my therapist and I told my parents about my relationship with you. They didn’t really understand. But they loved me and wanted to support me. They wanted to help me move beyond you. At the time, I wanted to be done with you, too.
You were my guilty pleasure, death, a secret kept hidden, but also a monster haunting me. You keep proposing. You keep wanting to run away together and get married. I keep saying no. But I’ve gotten so close to saying yes.
You always ask in my weakest moments. When I’m feeling better, I hate how close I came to giving in to you.
Death, I know you will take me eventually. Subconsciously, I expect that it will be soon, but I think that’s just because the horrors you left me with make me expect to die. You’ve never left me completely. You still feel close.
In the times I’m feeling well, I don’t want to be with you. You offer peace, but it’s mixed with pain for others. You offer peace, but it’s too soon. I have plans. I have dreams. I have relationships besides the one with you. I can find peace in ways other than what you offer.
I wish I could break up with you permanently. I wish that when you finally do come, it will be many, many years from now, after a full, satisfying, joyful, loving life. I hope when you do come, I’ll be sad to leave.
For now, I am working on healing from my relationship with you.
Recently I’ve been struggling with an urge to act like a therapist towards my friends who are emotionally unwell. I am not a therapist.
And I am certainly not their therapist. But, I can relate to many of the issues they struggle with. I know (some of) the issues well and know ways that I have overcome them or ways that other friends have overcome them. I am also a friend. I enjoy spending time with, appreciate, care about, and want the best for my friends. So I want to help them, and feel like I am able to help them, but…
A therapy relationship is different from a friendship. People aren’t always ready to be pushed or analyzed—they’re just saying random things, and even if the things they say are concerning, people just want to go about their day and not be bothered, corrected, or dragged into painful memories. I wouldn’t want to push that on someone, and I don’t want to act like I’m superior to anyone.
I also don’t want to constantly push advice on people, even if I think it could really help them and it comes from a place of good intent. I very rarely say, “you should…” because I know from personal experience and from hearing many people’s experiences that “should”s can be annoying and unhelpful and make people feel worse. But I do say things like, “When I’m feeling x, I find that y really helps me z” and “What if you did x?” I don’t think saying these things is harmful if I don’t say them that frequently (I think they’re probably helpful and appreciated), but if I’m saying them a lot, I wonder if it starts to get annoying.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I guess one of the main ways I interfere is to try to change my friends’ negative beliefs. I have one friend that consistently says things about how she’s lazy, she has no friends, she’s a bad influence on other people, people don’t want her around, she’s failing, etc. I feel really sad when I hear her say these things because I firmly believe they’re not true and that that’s just her depression talking. It makes me really sad that she truly sees herself this way. I sometimes try to argue back and say that I disagree, and we can agree to disagree, or I try to remind her that I am her friend, x is her friend, and she was really worried about that last test but ended up doing well so maybe this one won’t be as bad as she expects, and Halloween is coming up so that’s something to look forward to, etc. I don’t know if I’m actually being helpful though. I suppose I could ask… asking would be a good thing to do but would require courage and finding the right time and wording it correctly.
I just want to fix all my friends’ problems.
Another part of my problem is that I’m not entirely sure how to have a close friendship without it being a therapeutic relationship. My relationship with my therapist that I’ve had for a few years was my first real place I shared a lot of things I had kept inside me for years. I feel like when I make close friendships now, they’re modeled on that relationship – I ask questions and listen similarly to how my therapist would. (Not the same way, though; I’m my own person) And the people I feel closest to are the people I talk about my mental health with.
Most of my closest friends also have mental health issues.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with writing this. I’m also not sure what to do about this in general. I’m not even sure if it’s a problem or not.
I guess the part that’s a problem for me is that I feel more distant from my friends when I’m acting more therapist-y because I feel like I’m less “on their level,” even though I am.
I also want to be friends in a way that doesn’t have to do with mental health. I guess I do this sometimes when we watch movies or go to events or cook together or talk about what makes soup soup (it was a hilarious discussion).
It’s also a problem for me because I stress about my friends not doing well, and I worry about whether I’m acting wrong and what I can do better.
And, this could also be a problem for my friends if I’m making them feel worse.
For the first time in a while, I am feeling solidly okay.
Sirens aren’t a trigger for me anymore. I go to school in the city, and this was a huge problem for me last year. I would get caught in flashback-y/dissociative states for a few hours as a result of hearing the unremitting sirens just outside my window.
Brains aren’t a trigger for me anymore. We look at lots of pictures of brains in my psychology class, and I am not alarmed and do not associate them with traumatic memories anymore (at least not unless I consciously prompt myself to think of the connection, like now).
I’ve been having fewer nightmares. I haven’t had a really bad nightmare, one where I wake up in a panic attack, in a while. The few nightmares that I have had haven’t been that bad.
I don’t feel as dependent on my therapist(s); I don’t feel as much of a need for a therapist. I think this is because I have formed other close relationships in my life where I feel comfortable talking about things similar to those that I talk about in therapy. What I want most from therapy right now is to do the trauma work (which keeps getting put off, because I didn’t have enough time left at the program I did over the summer to do the trauma work then, and then when I got a new therapist I had to get used to her, and I was overwhelmed at the start of the school year and thought I couldn’t handle anything extra until school settled down). As kind, sensitive, caring, and wonderful as my friends are, I know they don’t have the knowledge or experience (or time) to help me work through my trauma. So I still need therapy for that.
I haven’t self harmed in a while… maybe a month? I think the past few times I have self harmed have each been about a month apart. I’d say that’s pretty good! I used to self harm a lot, maybe a few times a week, although I didn’t think of it as self harm at the time.
I’m getting better at asking for things!
I’m being more vulnerable with friends, gradually, slowly.
My college feels like a real home now. Last year, my home home (place where I grew up and my family still lives) felt like my real home, and I missed it a lot. It was a better place than college. In contrast, this year, my college home is better than my family’s home. My suite there is my home, and my suitemates are my family. When I go back to my family’s home, I miss my suitemates. My suite is a much more supportive environment than my family’s home, and I feel more comfortable being vulnerable and being myself there. And my friends are there. And we’re at similar places in our lives and studying similar things, so it’s much easier to relate and get along. If I squint, I almost feel like I’ve lived here my whole life. In my suite, we have a kitchen and lots of people who love to cook. Sometimes my suitemates make food and share it because they have extra, so I sometimes wake up and am offered freshly made crepes, or come home from a long day and someone says I can have the caramel apples in their fridge. It’s really lovely.
I declared my major! This has a lot of benefits. a) It enabled me to drop a hard, stressful class that I don’t need for this major. b) I can stop worrying about what to major in, which I had been worrying about a fair amount for at least half a year. c) I can plan out what classes to take in the rest of my time at college. d) I can see a future for myself that looks at least a little enjoyable. I am more hopeful. 🙂
I’m doing my homework regularly.
I ask questions more in class and am developing relationships with professors.
I’m getting better at knowing what I need. Sometimes I need to express myself, sometimes I need validation, sometimes I need someone to know something, sometimes I need a hug, sometimes I need distraction, sometimes I need help grounding or need help checking the facts, sometimes I need a broader perspective. I am still working on this but have gotten a lot better at identifying what would help in a situation and taking steps to get it.
I’ve done three weeks of my treatment program now. I have at least one more week in the program, maybe more, depending on what I decide to do. I have learned a lot of new skills and ways of behaving, but I have also learned a lot about myself!
I have learned:
Dissociation: I dissociate a lot. I know I am beginning to dissociate when I lose track of what is going on, ask “what?”, feel like my legs are disappearing, feel confused, have trouble moving, and have trouble focusing my eyes on things.
Minimizing: I minimize my problems a lot. I say, “Eh, I’m just having a bad day, but it’s okay,” when really I am experiencing intense fear, shame, sadness, and anger and have very strong urges to engage in my target behaviors (self harm, suicidal ideation, etc.). This interferes with asking for help because I think my problems are “not bad enough” to deserve help. But they are.
Self-validation: It is hard for me to validate myself. I tell myself that I “shouldn’t” be feeling emotions, and I try to block them out. It is hard to be understanding and kind to myself and to acknowledge that there are very valid reasons I feel the way I do. I may be overreacting to a situation, but I am overreacting for reasons that make sense, given my life.
Before my therapist left for her vacation, I told her to be safe on her trip and that I was scared that she was going to die. It was hard to say that, and especially hard to say it without prefacing it with, “This is weird, but…” After some talking, I was eventually able to validate myself by saying, “It makes sense that I am scared of this because it has happened before.” My family and I nearly died on a trip once. That doesn’t at all mean that my therapist is going to die when she goes on this trip, but it is valid for me to feel that way.
All emotions are valid! The specific emotion, intensity, and duration may not fit the situation, but it is still valid to feel that way.
Maybe I look to therapists, friends, and the internet for validation so often because it is hard for me to give myself validation, yet I still need it.
Purposefully reminding myself of my trauma (looking at my scars, going through old papers, finding triggering things), even though it upsets me, also serves the function of validating that something bad did happen to me and that it was real.
Judgements: I judge my feelings and thoughts a lot. Now that I think about it, this could be the reason I minimize and invalidate myself. I say out loud or in my head, “This is stupid,” “This is weird,” “I’m so weird,” “Shut up,” “It doesn’t matter,” “It’s nothing,” “It’s weird; don’t say it,” etc. I am working on being more nonjudgemental and only stating the facts, not my judgements of them. For example, “I notice that I am feeling scared. I notice that I am having an urge to run away. I notice that I feel my heart pounding.”
Abnormal behavior: I am learning what is normal and not normal behavior for a teenager.
Making plans to run away from home is not normal.
Staying up to 1 am and sleeping in to 9, or 11 or 12, is normal for a teenager.
Staying in bed or in my room for five hours after a nightmare is not normal.
Being afraid of going to sleep and as a result doing everything I can to put off going to sleep for hours is not normal.
Having feelings of wanting to die every day is not normal.
Having panic attacks every day is not normal.
Avoidance: I avoid a lot of reminders of my trauma, and I have many methods of avoiding them. I have a list of triggers with over 50 items. I avoid looking at said list. I refuse to share it with my current therapist. I don’t look at pictures we have in our house that remind me of the trauma. I tune out of conversations that only indirectly remind me of it. I limit the places I go. I barely watch movies or read books because I’ve been upset so many times by them. I limit the classes I take in school to avoid topics where memories might be brought up. I clamp down on thoughts of the trauma, when I have them, and I very, very rarely talk about what actually happened (even just the basics).
I also avoid thinking about how I am feeling. In DBT, I have to fill out a “diary card” every day with my symptoms, emotions, target behaviors, etc. When I show it to my therapist, I flip it over, push it to the side, and try not to talk about it. It is hard for me to think back and explain what was happening when x on my diary card occurred because I bury it so deep.
This isn’t something I’ve learned about myself but something I’ve learned in general. Avoidance is okay in the short term but a problem in the long term. Avoidance is okay when it prevents me from engaging in target behaviors. In exposure, I will gradually stop avoiding, but it will be done in safe ways.
Relationships: I am scared of pushing people away and losing relationships. I genuinely don’t understand why certain people don’t hate me by now.
I had several close friendships end abruptly in my childhood. This could be why I feel like this.
Self-hatred: I have feelings of self-hatred and worthlessness, and think I don’t deserve kindness, compliments, or good friends.
Wanting to be a therapist: It is common for people who struggle with mental health issues to want to study psychology and become therapists. I am not weird for secretly wanting to be a therapist or to take psychology courses, even though I’m currently studying a totally different field. It’s okay for my interests to change.
Diagnoses: I don’t actually know what diagnoses I have, and I’m not sure if I want to ask. I know for sure that I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and that I have had (but maybe don’t at the moment? not sure) Major Depressive Disorder. Other illnesses I think I have or have had at some point (but I could very well be wrong because I am definitely not qualified to diagnose myself) are Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Hypochondria (health anxiety), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Pre-Mentrual Dysphoric Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Panic Disorder.
I am learning so much! It makes me sad to realize how badly I’m actually doing, but I think that that’s necessary in order to actually address my problems and recover.