I have a new therapist. So far I haven’t decided if I like her because we are total opposites in terms of our beliefs and methods. While this has been pretty helpful in terms of learning new things (like mindfulness techniques), it can also be entirely exasperating when it comes to explaining my point of view.
The first day we spoke she seemed confident that the practice of “mindfulness” would help solve a lot of my problems.
For those of you who haven’t come across this technique, mindfulness comes from a Buddhist practice involving keeping your focus on the present, including “regarding your emotions in a non-judgmental way” (that is a direct quote, I can’t say I totally understand).
The mindfulness meditation I took on takes about five minutes and involves taking deep breaths, focusing on relaxing my body, looking at my surroundings and finding 3 things that are pleasing to me (colors, textures, etc.) and then formulating an appropriate emotional response.
What I found was that after a week of using this technique (several times a day, sometimes 10 to 15 to 50 times as needed) my anxiety was somewhat responsive. I say somewhat because I often found a bit of relief after the exercise, but it wasn’t uncommon for the relief to last about five minutes and then I needed to do the exercise again. I could see how it would be easier to continue doing the exercise for someone who is seated much of the day, however when walking down the street or overwhelmed at the supermarket I was having a really hard time dropping everything to breathe and relax.
At the same time, I also was curious about using this technique to combat bipolar mood swing reactivity, but the results I experienced were somewhat catastrophic.
If you’ve ever seen the episode of Seinfeld (yes, I know, a common theme lately in this blog) George’s father begins using the mantra, “serenity now!” to help combat his rage. What we find out at the end of the episode however is that this practice was only bottling his rage up to a critical breaking point.
However comical, this is actually fairly similar to what happened to me when I was trying to use the mindfulness meditation to address (primarily) bipolar reactive rage. At first it seemed like it was working great and I felt quite pleased (less like breaking things or shouting or hurting myself), but within a span of four or five days the rage suddenly exploded out of me, and I leapt off the couch, threw the remote control in one direction and my glasses in the other and made a mad dash for the hallway where I very seriously expected to throttle whoever was on the other side of my door.
It wasn’t as if this was a situation that had gone on all day and I had been “stewing”, I felt perfectly fine one moment and then within two or three seconds (literally) I was ready to break someone over my knee like a piece of kindling. All I can say is thank goodness for my boyfriend, because if he hadn’t been home to divert me… well I am still shuddering at the notion of what might have happened. Instead I just stood in the bathtub and screamed and cried for a solid half hour.
I have a couple theories about why this happened.
The first involves George’s father from Seinfeld screaming “serenity now!” The thing about rage that I find makes it so difficult to deal with is the energy that comes with the feelings. For me, it has never felt like the emotion builds up if I don’t express my anger, frustrations, and rage, it is the energy. Since childhood my methods of expressing rage have all been physical because they allow me to address and release the energy that is overwhelming me. Unfortunately, they also have all been more or less unhealthy.
With this mindfulness technique I used, I was addressing the emotion I was experiencing, but not the energy that came with it. Once it built up it only took the tiniest moment to trigger it and… kaboom.
My second theory involves PTSD as I have encountered several situations where very minor things have seemingly flipped an invisible switch in me. Frankly I find this to be less likely in this situation because it did not involve any of my typical triggers (being in close proximity of a stranger, the bus, etc) but I can’t discount this as a possibility.
Finally, one could suppose the incident and meditation were not related. Frankly, I can’t say with absolute certainty that they are, but I am nervous to try again given how close I came to, well, certain incarceration.
At any rate, being able to try new “treatment options” that don’t involve pumping my body full of chemicals has definitely been a welcome change. And as frustrating as my new therapist can be, I think a little change can do me good.
At this point we are brainstorming ways to potentially address that rage-energy in conjunction with mindfulness meditations so stay tuned, I am sure there will be more to come on that topic!