Affirmations

Affirmation #4 — Self-Validation

(note: mentions of death)

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It says:

 

Self-Validation

I have been through a rough time.

I am grieving.

It makes sense that I am sad because there are important people missing from my life.

It makes sense that I am angry because their deaths block my goals of spending more time with them and showing them my love.

It makes sense that I have thoughts like, “I don’t understand why I’m not dead yet,” because with all the people that have died, it has shaken my foundation and made me more likely to believe that anyone can die at any moment. AND, at the same time, the vast majority of people I know have not died, and there is no rational, causal reason that I would have died, either.

It makes sense that I have the thought, “I don’t understand why people are nice to me,” because I have received conflicting messages and amounts of help in the same situations.


I wrote this when I was struggling with the thoughts mentioned above. I was invalidating my feelings and feeling shame, guilt, and anger at myself for thinking these things and reacting this way. I was just making it worse. So, I wrote this rather intentionally to validate myself. Because what I’m feeling and thinking is valid and comes from somewhere, even if I don’t always know where that is.

Coping Skills, Life

What to do when things aren’t working

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therapy

Making therapy sessions better

Sometimes I leave therapy feeling worse than how I felt before it. But sometimes, therapy is really helpful, and I leave feeling heard, validated, hopeful, and knowing what to do when things get bad again.

So, I’ve been trying to think of what makes some therapy sessions better than others.

I think a big part of it is making sure I actually say the things I want to in session. If I don’t, I leave feeling disappointed in myself, frustrated with my therapist, and invalidated. This can spiral and I can start to feel hopeless and think “no one can help me,” “no one likes me,” “I’ll never get better.” Those are all-or-nothing thoughts and aren’t true.

I’m not entirely sure what the solution to this is, because sometimes I don’t know that I really wanted to say something until after I’ve left and realized I haven’t said it. It sometimes just takes me a while to get my thoughts in order.

It also takes me a while to remember stuff. My therapist will ask what was going on on x day before y, and I have no clue. I think this is partially because I dissociate, which interferes with memory somehow (I don’t know the specifics), and partially because I avoid thinking about bad stuff because it upsets me. Dissociation is essentially avoidance, so these are kind of the same thing at their core.

I guess a solution to this could be for both me and my therapist to be patient with myself during session and wait for my thoughts to come and for me to be able to say them.

I could also spend time before session thinking about what I want to talk about. Sometimes I write things I want to talk about on sticky notes and bring them to therapy. That is helpful, but I have to make sure that I do actually say the things I have written down. To do that, I have to overcome any shame or embarrassment and not feel too afraid of saying them (if they’re about upsetting things or trauma reminders).

Sometimes it’s helpful when I say, “I wanted to say something, but now I don’t,” and my therapist helps me through what’s getting in the way of me saying it, whether those emotions are justified or not, whether I need to do some grounding before talking about something hard, etc. So I guess in general it’s good to be open in therapy as much as you can.

It’s also good when I journal before going to therapy because then I know what’s actually going on and have already given it some thought. Writing things down generally helps me. Plus, if I’m avoiding saying something, I could just hand it to my therapist to read instead of trying and failing to say it out loud, or I could email it.

I’m working on it. 🙂

Coping Skills

Nightmare Plan (and ice dives)

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

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

It says:

Nightmare Plan:

  • Ice dive
  • Drink water
  • Play catch
  • STUN wave (Sensations, Thoughts, Urges, Name the emotion)
  • Listen to music
  • Paced breathing (in-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4)
  • Go for a walk (go to the bathroom, go outside, pace in room, stretch/yoga/ballet)
  • Self-validation
  • Ground in present (5-4-3-2-1 senses, colors of the rainbow)

Self-validation:

  • “All emotions are valid.”
  • “It makes sense that I am feeling this way, given my life experiences.”
  • “It’s okay to feel strong emotions.”
  • “Something scary happened to me, and it makes sense that being reminded of that would be scary, too.”
  • “I am feeling ___.” (scared, sad, angry, happy, loving, shameful, guilty, envious, jealous, disgusted)
  • “I had a nightmare.”
  • “It was intense and very scary.”
  • “And, in this moment, I am safe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yay for things that work!

Life, Therapy

Things I’ve learned about myself

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

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I have learned:

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

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

What is something you know about yourself?

(here is Things I’ve learned about myself, part 2)