Tag Archives: relationships

How DBT is Changing the Game

I have been celebrating all week because as of last Thursday I have officially completed all of the sections in the DBT workbook and group. Apart from high-fiving myself (alright, so that’s just a clap really) for seeing this through I’ve been reflecting on how DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) has been a game changer in a life largely structured around living with treatment resistant bipolar disorder.

Before I can offer up a delightful before and after like some kind of mental and behavioral makeover I have to say that I feel lucky just for getting into a DBT program here in Seattle. I am on Medicaid and the waitlist for people receiving public mental health services here in Seattle means it takes typically months and in some cases years to get into a group. In the time it took me to get in I tried all sorts of treatments and even went to two consultations for ECT (electro-convulsive therapy). Obviously it seemed like DBT was a popular option, but after having a hard time with other types of therapy (like CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, as an example) I couldn’t be more pleased with discovering why DBT has gained so much popularity and why I had to wait in the first place.

Me

Just so you know where I’m coming from on this I think it might be helpful to tell you a little bit about what I experience.

I have treatment resistant bipolar disorder which means there haven’t been any medications that have been able to help stabilize my ongoing mood swings or prevent new ones from happening. My mood swings range from several intense swings in a day (which can range all the way from euphoria to suicidal depression and back again in a matter of minutes) to long intense episodes that can last months at a time. I experience mania, depression, agitated and sometimes hostile mixed episodes, suicidality, homicidality, and psychosis.

Needless to say… that has been a bit of a handful both for me and for other people to deal with. I can be unpredictable around other people which means they don’t typically know if I will be excited or devastated or aggressive from one moment to the next and I’ve had too many issues with homicidality, suicidality, and psychosis at work to keep a job for the last several years to boot.

The things I have felt needed the most immediate addressing have been things like:

  • feeling strong urges of violence toward myself or others
  • feeling unable to communicate with my boyfriend or others during intense episodes
  • losing relationships and jobs because of my emotional reactivity
  • constantly relinquishing my own self-respect in attempts to make others happy and avoid confrontation or the potential triggering of more episodes
  • isolating myself due to constant fear and paranoia that someone might hurt me or I might hurt someone else
  • negative thoughts I could not seem to stop or make quieter

In addition I have experienced very intense anxiety since I was old enough to remember. This has typically caused problems like:

  • worrying to the point of causing physical illness
  • believing horrible, sometimes life-ending events are about to unfold at any minute
  • fear and panic overwhelming enough to keep me from having a driver’s license (at age 30)
  • attempts to control other people’s actions to keep their unpredictability from making me more anxious (I wouldn’t recommend it…)
  • constant obsessive thoughts that I felt powerless to stop that also often keep me from sleeping
  • Ongoing panic attacks

Sometimes I can pass as a typical stable adult to others because I am intelligent (might as well toot my own horn there but people often point that out as a reason I can be high-functioning at times) and periods of hypomania tend to dissolve the anxiety I feel when they are occurring. Unfortunately as I have gotten older my episodes have gotten progressively worse and those periods of “normalcy” have been few and far between.

Before DBT

The ways in which I have coped with these issues have definitely evolved over the last 15 years. I’ve gone through my fair share of harmful coping strategies (self-harm, alcohol, binge eating) but I have also gone through a long line of coping methods that may not have been directly harmful but weren’t exactly effective either.

Ineffective coping strategies are usually those I’ve come up with and then discarded after a period of trial and error. Without much direction (both from my doctors and therapists previous to DBT – with exception to CBT) I kind of just came up with ideas I thought would work and tried them… I’d like to chalk this up to the scientific method but it may have been equally spurred by a constant feeling of desperation. Sometimes the methods would work for a while and then I would begin to get exhausted because they took all of my focus and effort to maintain. Things like:

  • seeking approval from other people when I was depressed
  • reaching out to every person I knew in times of crisis instead of just people I could trust (resulting in sometimes landing myself in dangerous situations)
  • constantly fighting the obsessive or negative thoughts by arguing with them
  • keeping myself in a state of constant distraction so it wouldn’t get quiet enough for me to hear negative or obsessive thoughts
  • never being alone because then I would be alone with the obsessive or negative thoughts
  • changing jobs frequently in an attempt to find one that “made me happy”.

Obviously I found a few things that worked, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Writing, art, playing music, playing video games… all seemed to make things feel easier, just not enough for me to base all of my activity on them. After all, how was playing the piano going to help me maintain friendships? How could I work retail and be drawing at the same time?

When it came to CBT I could get behind the idea of doing activities like journaling but the idea there was that there was a thought that was ultimately prompting my emotion and behavior. I found many of the activities soothing for a time, but even after I managed to figure out what negative thoughts were prompting my emotions or behaviors I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me how to change those negative thoughts (or stop from obsessing) in a way I could understand and it frustrated me.

I was disheartened when therapists would simply say, “you just stop obsessing.” or “you just accept the situation,” and when I asked how one does those things (as I couldn’t seem to make them happen voluntarily) nobody could answer with anything more than a statement a golf caddy could have given me. It seemed to go against the whole idea of working toward having better mental health, after all… if I could stop obsessing or just suddenly accept a situation I wouldn’t need to ask how to do it.

Beyond that I often felt like I had mood swings that seemed to happen totally independently of what I was thinking or doing. I could be at Disneyland on a roller coaster and suddenly find myself depressed, but none of my therapists or any of my hospital workers were willing to consider or explain why that might be happening. Most of them told me I didn’t know what I was talking about which I could watch transform my curiosity into livid rage.

Needless to say, I started DBT feeling skeptical after my time with CBT but what I found was a language I could understand.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

I think it is import to point out that in my situation (one where every previous treatment option has failed) I have been desperate for any kind of help with my mental health for some time which means I found myself in the DBT group both ready and eager to learn as much as possible and practice the techniques. I needed relief from my symptoms and without anything that could provide that previously I was ready to throw my whole self into the class and take it very seriously. Being willing to dive in to the class helped me push through the frustrating or difficult parts I faced in the beginning.

I encountered the material in a structured weekly class with homework each week and I think in my case that structure really helped hold me accountable to practice the skills and do the reading. The previous week’s homework was reviewed each week so I needed to finish it. Being in a group also allowed us to compare ideas on what different ideas meant and discuss which coping strategies worked best for each of us.

The sections discussed were:

  • Mindfulness
    • basically how to live in the moment instead of being distracted by internal thoughts as well as how to enjoy each moment fully
  • Emotion Regulation
    • how emotions work, what goes in to working to keep them balanced, and how to change an emotion
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
    • maintaining relationships and how to have positive social interactions
  • Distress Tolerance
    • tools for crisis situations

The thing I found most effective about the material is that it suggests that the best strategy for living a balanced life is to operate using both emotion and reason. Each section goes on to describe strategies that work to help you create that balance by bringing in whatever is missing (usually for me it is the reason element) into the situation.

While there were some aspects of the workbook I had already figured out on my own through the trial and error I mentioned earlier this style of workbook offers many different kinds of strategies and basically you keep what you like and leave what’s left. I really respected that idea because I was able to tailor my own set of skills based on my needs and everyone else in the group was able to do the same. In that regard I can see where DBT’s popularity comes from because it is accessible to a wide audience.

After DBT

The important thing to understand about DBT is that I still have mood swings. I still feel suicidal urges, I still feel most of the things I felt before. The group wasn’t a magic cure for those feelings and urges, but it helped me understand how to negate or change them in healthy and manageable ways. More than that, I’ve been equipped with an arsenal of coping skills that work for me, and that is HUGE.

The mood swings may not be gone but being able to bring reason and logic to the table when they happen tends to mean less reactivity on my part. Less reactivity means it is easier to maintain relationships. Being friendlier to people means I feel less paranoid about potential reactions to my reactions. It all starts to trickle down through all these channels because everything is connected.

The only hard part here is that it only works as long as I use these skills. That might seem like a no-brainer, but mood swings can sweep me up sometimes and I find myself swirling around with no idea of how long I’ve been there. Anxiety can leave me worrying so much that I forget to let myself rest or use the skills that might provide some relief. Yes, it takes a lot of effort, but I’m doing my best to be as diligent as I can because even though this may require more energy than if I’d found a medication that worked straight away DBT has led me to the first glimpse of relative functioning in years.

Even though I only started this class six months ago I can see changes. Three or four situations happened just over this last weekend where I found myself thinking, “wow, this really would have ruined the whole weekend before, but I seem to be able to accept and to move past these situations much more quickly now.”

I had a neighbor who kept parking in our building’s guest parking spot in an attempt to dodge paying for a spot. It went on for months, and even though I had to remind myself every time I saw it that it would be better to accept the situation (and not leave rude or threatening letters on his windshield) and to be effective than to make enemies with my neighbors I did it. They moved away and I did a celebratory dance because I was able to keep myself from being a total A-hole.

I’ve also found it very useful to distance myself from my own thoughts and remind myself that just because I’ve thought it doesn’t make it true, it doesn’t mean I will act on them, or that they will happen. I’ve got several ways of weeding out bad ideas now before I find myself doing them, which means creating a sense of self-trust and self-respect where I didn’t have one before.

While DBT has made things easier (less effort for better results) the more stress I am experiencing the less reliable the system is for me. If I am too distracted or upset to complete the skills things simply operate… well, as normal. In some respect that means I’m working to weed out stress before it’ll swamp me now, trying to be proactive about avoiding avoiding things. There are some situations though, like Corey’s broken arm, that came with an intense whirlwind of stress I couldn’t dodge and as a result I quickly slipped right back into a state of crisis. I’m still working on climbing my way out of it but each day gets a little easier.

Finally, apart from being immediately useful to me, I really respect the DBT program because it provided content that wasn’t given to me in a condescending way but made sure to fully explain why each part was important. DBT fits my personal values, and makes room for those with values that are different from my own.

The obvious take away here is that there is some serious potential for more DBT groups in the Seattle area, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a trend across the country.

As for me, when seeking treatment for mental illness has often meant taking one step forward and two steps back I am really glad to have had a chance to work through this program because in many ways it is changing my life for the better. Having the opportunity to change my negative behaviors while learning how to take the reigns back from mental illness has given me the footing to be able to respond with, shove off, I’m queen of the mountain now!”

 

Supported as Supporter

The last two weeks has been a whirlwind as my boyfriend and I were faced with a family member who was in a near-death situation. I found myself sitting in one of the biggest role reversals our relationship has seen so far; stepping down as the supported and stepping up as the supporter.

I knew that this was a situation I would find myself in eventually, and it is something that has happened a few times on a much smaller scale before. Still, being in a position where my spotty depression brain this month was the more stable of the two of us (legit) made for a very stressful and confusing time.

While it has been many years since I stepped in the role of supporter for any prolonged period I have a lot of experience doing it. I grew up around a lot of instability which lent me to put most of my effort into being the rock for the people around me. I didn’t allow myself time or room to express my own emotions because I didn’t want to further upset the people I was trying to support.

Beyond that, my supporter resume remained equally as mentally and emotionally unhealthy when I found myself in a relationship with a guy whose instabilities often overshadowed my own in frequency. By the time this started taking place my bipolar symptoms were starting to make more and more of an appearance, eventually exploding through the seemingly supportive facade I had built up. As I expected as a child, my emotions + his emotions = a horror story.

I had forgotten most of this until two weeks ago when I put on my supporter hat, strapped on my supporter boots, and waited, poised, to be told how I could help in the situation. Before long I found myself settling into old patterns, completely overburdening myself with things, giving my self little leeway in terms of completing tasks when I thought they should be finished, and providing no outlet for my own emotional responses to the situation. Within days I could feel myself starting to crack under the pressure, my depression got seriously worse. I was having psychosis on and off. My DBT binder sat under a pile of clothes as I did my best to prepare meals and clean up and take care of our dog without sleeping.

I knew it wasn’t working. Within the first day I knew I couldn’t keep it up for very long. My emotions could not be contained under such a thin shroud of good intentions.

But… sometimes, when I am under a lot of stress or facing intense emotions (like mania or depression) all the framework for strategy falls away. An all-consuming fog makes it extremely difficult to know what to do next, or what I should do, or even what my options are. Even though I knew what I was doing wasn’t working, I was having the damndest time trying to figure out if there was something I could do different.

Luckily I have a scheduled weekly time I spend around a couple understanding friends. Pulling myself away from the apartment after 5 days of turmoil, they made me laugh just enough to help the fog lift.

Right. Taking care of Corey was helpful, but futile if I wasn’t able to also take care of myself. Frankly, at this point in my life I spend almost every waking moment working at taking care of myself, smoothing out the rough emotional corners  with routines, self-soothing or distracting myself when I need it, going to therapy and DBT group and seeing my friends each week to help take some of that ever-growing internal pressure off. I hadn’t been doing any of those things, and it wasn’t until I’d stumbled back into part of my routine that I realized how much I missed it.

At times I can be very single minded, if I start on a task it consumes me. Supporting Corey was no different, and while my therapist praised me for even noticing that I had fallen into that single minded place (from one of trying to take care of my own needs) I didn’t want to hear it. It didn’t feel like enough. It didn’t answer my question of how to be a supporter of both my boyfriend and myself at the same time.

This week things are finally starting to cool down. I got through things by grappling my way from one familiar point (like dinner with my friends) to another, despite how sparse those instances felt. I did my best to try to ask for help when I needed it (even though I have a hard time with it), and I cancelled several plans as well which was difficult (I hate feeling like a flake) but totally necessary in this situation.

Even though I don’t feel like I had any moments of clarity, any real understanding of how to position the elements in my life to enable me to be more fully a supporter and supported simultaneously I would like to think that down the road this situation will have taught me something, even if it is something I don’t fully recognize yet.

I’m sure it might sound greedy to yearn for immediate full understanding (yes please!) but as I get older I find I appreciate the sort of understanding that comes with time more and more. Since this situation didn’t lend itself to the former, I’m hoping for the latter.

 

Revenge

Over the weekend I went to see The Revenant, and though I am not typically interested in dramas or anything relatively violent I am interested in stories about mountain men and stories about revenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about revenge and why it is so interesting and even consuming, at times, to me. True that in a heightened state of emotion revenge can seem that much more gratifying, but most of these stories about revenge (or my experiences with revenge) well… they never quite end well.

The thing that interests me the most about revenge is how my own mental health has been able to completely warp this concept in different situations. For example, I started having my first full-on panic attacks in elementary school in P.E. when our teacher had us running around the track. He told us that we were not allowed to stop for any reason, not even to get a drink of water. When I asked him if I could stop to tie my shoe (which had become untied) he said no. I was supposed to keep running.

Now, this might seem totally mundane in terms of “personal threats”, but I have always been a somewhat awkward being who is able to trip on a line in the road. Having my shoe untied was a serious invitation to biff it on the track, and I was both pissed off and terrified. However, my fear quickly turned into something else as I found myself desperately wanting to trip on that shoelace, fall, and get hurt enough for some kind of punishment to befall my P.E. teacher.

It didn’t happen, but there have been many situations where my apparent inability to do anything about a perceived injustice has left me believing that the best form of revenge would be to take that revenge out on myself and subsequently whoever I meant to get revenge on would be forced to watch me withering away… potentially causing them inexplicable amounts of pain. At times I have thought that my younger self may have wandered into believing herself some kind of witch-doctor, capable of performing voo-doo. Of course, that almost never, ever worked out the way I expected it to, and while I admit the idea of hurting oneself to exact revenge on someone else seems totally ludacris there have been times where the act of revenge seems to completely outweigh the act of living. Watching any number of “revenge” themed movies will typically suggest the same.

I fought this notion a lot via the church. The act of forgiveness being the total opposite of revenge, I figured that might help me shy away from a lot of the odd, convoluted notions I had about punishing others or using myself to do so. Unfortunately, I found myself living in the opposite extreme, constantly in a state where the people around me were taking advantage of me and I would be ushering out forgiveness in a never ending revolving door of pain.

As it turns out, forgiveness without any sort of boundaries can be just as detrimental as revenge.

The road since then has been awash with many different theories and attempts to live a healthy life. I would say I have made significant progress on that front, but as a profoundly emotional individual it still swells up, from time to time, and revenge becomes something shiny and wisp-like begging me to chase after it. Even if I can withstand chasing it, it isn’t hard for my imagination to take the bait and for days, weeks, or even months I become trapped, seeking this thing out -if even only in my mind.

I am hoping that one day I will have replaced that inexplicable pull with something as simple, but as important, as acceptance. While it is something that seems distant to me now, I hope that little by little, inch by inch, it will become a more central part of my life and my future.

One day I will be able to sit with my life as it is as opposed to being haunted by the notion of what it should be.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

With the new year fast approaching I am excited to say that I will be starting 2016 with a new therapist and a new psychiatrist. I will also be continuing the DBT group I have been participating in for a couple months now which is great because so far I would say it has been helping me make a difference in my reactivity and emotional rumination.

Of course, it helps that Emotional Regulation was the first thing we covered because that is one of the more challenging things I have been facing. The funny thing is that now that I’ve got a few skills to help me see the big picture (instead of a pure emotional reaction) in situations it has been made clear that my other biggest challenge is communication and Interpersonal Relationships. That module of the group definitely can’t come soon enough!

That doesn’t mean I am miraculously cured, or that I am not continuing to lose my shit on a semi-regular basis. But… I may lose it for a shorter period of time, or only two or three times (instead of 12-16). Frankly I am willing to consider any and all progress progress.

Ultimately the way my perspective has been shifting around because of this class highlights an issue that I’ve known for a while but may not have given enough credit to. Stress makes a huge difference, in terms of the timing and magnitude of a lot of my emotional episodes. Stress is like… my death star. I might think it is a friendly moon at first but really it is a fully operational space station of mass destruction.

What does that mean, exactly? I am not sure, but I know I need to be addressing stress more aggressively (eh, not me being aggressive but more seriously) and not fail to recognize it or deal with it before all the firing sequences have been completed and it becomes a giant laser heading straight for me.

I can’t control the stress, but I am hoping that if I can recognize it early enough there will be time for me to react before the laser hits the fan.

Anyway, even with the intense illness and surgeries of 2015, spending summer in bed, and most of my plans being totally pulled out from under me this was somehow a better year than 2014. While 2014 was almost a year of being comical because of how many things could go wrong, 2015 was great because “at least it isn’t 2014.”

I don’t know if it was because I spent 2014 operating on a totally empty tank but this year it was like I could feel parts of my brain beginning to operate that hadn’t been used in ages. I can’t make a final word as to if I should be chalking that up to hypomania or simply 2014 acting as a hard-reset of my brain but it leaves me hopeful that in 2016 I might be able to dust off a few more parts and put them to good use again. We’ll see.

Ultimately, this year I learned that there is still a lot of improvement to be had in terms of the treatment of people with mental illness and mental health crisis. It bewildered me that so many people were willing to reach out and to respect my space when I was having surgery (for a physical problem), but the treatment I have received both just having a mental health problem or during a mental health crisis is wildly different. I am hoping that going forward I can learn and discern new or better ways to communicate this problem and what we can all do to help solve it.

In the mean time, however, I will wish you all a happy new year! Thanks for reading!

And an Epiphany in a Tree

I can say with some certainty that November and December have become my least favorite times of the year. For a long time I thought the stagnant months of February and March were worse (as they hold the record for the majority of my psychiatric hospitalizations) but it seems that every big blow-out started with a seed of intense stress in November and December.

Last week was really rough. Our dog Luna has been having seizures that our local vet has been having a hard time getting under control, and combined with the stresses and pressures of the holidays I started to crack very quickly. It started with really intense insomnia, and waking up psychotic around 4 or 5 am each morning for three days in a row. By the third day I had put on boots and a coat and walked to the grocery store outside in the dark in an attempt to outrun the vibrating energy in my body as I was filled with unprompted rage, and then the walk back tipped the scales in the other direction. Uncontrollable crying.

The swings were intense, on the brink of hospitalization-worthy. After having the ten-minutes-of-rage, ten-minutes-of-despair, ten-minutes of clarity, (wash, rinse, repeat) for a couple hours Corey and I decided it would be best to start the day with my emergency antipsychotic (Risperidone). 15 hours of sleep later I was a little more evened out, but it was a very serious sign to relax and take things more slowly. The last thing I wanted was to spend the holidays (and the new Star Wars premier) in the hospital.

One of the biggest difficulties I have at this time of year is that all of the progress my various family members have made regarding understanding my illness seems to evaporate (I am chalking it up to holiday stress, I don’t think they mean to do it) and things seem to reset to a time where I had little to no control over what I was doing or where I was spending my time.

It is often very hard for me to communicate my needs when it comes to managing bipolar disorder, but the problem always seems to grow exponentially around the holidays. It can feel really frustrating (to say the least) when my actions attempting to keep myself safe and sane start being ignored or demeaned when my needs start being categorized as selfish wants or irrelevant to the success of a holiday gathering.

I come from a long line of people who are much more quick to accommodate others than accommodate ourselves, and I think my Grandma said it best to me when she told me recently, “I always put my family’s needs before my own.” While this is something I have admired about us (lending itself to being giving and compassionate) one of the most difficult aspects of my life up to this point has been watching the people I love not taking care of themselves and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

At times it seems like my desire to take better care of myself is seen as an insult to my family when it has nothing to do with any of them. That is why I have had a whole series of Christmases where I made plans, and then always disrupted them at the last minute to do whatever whichever family member wants. These are people that really matter to me, and the shame and guilt I end of up feeling about not letting them control me is usually enough for me to give in. I don’t want to disappoint them, and I find myself traveling back to being a teenager or a kid who would rather just forgo helping myself and hide that I ever needed anything at all to keep from feeling vulnerable and like a disappointment.

Obviously that is a big part of what got me into this mess in the first place. Not taking care of myself when I really needed it has made my bipolar symptoms much bigger and stronger over time, and now that I am finally at that point where I am (making a good attempt at) managing my symptoms with a lot of help from my friends, things seem to be improving -albeit slowly.

Yesterday after a significant struggle through some knee deep inner turmoil I had a lightbulb go off. After the episode of this last week and all of the family conversations I had it was clear that taking care of myself has finally outweighed pleasing my family.

Like I said, I love them and I want them to be happy, but this doesn’t have to do with me being selfish, or my own happiness, or trying to punish them for not accommodating me, or just not wanting to be around them. This is about my health. My sanity.  My brain is a pretty integral part of my daily living, so it’d be better if I gave it a hand here, you know?

Putting my family first doesn’t keep me from having bipolar episodes. It doesn’t help me cope with stress. It doesn’t let me live the life that I want to live because I am not living through them, I am living through me. It took me many years to learn that I could not take care of them when they were failing to take care of themselves, but taking care of me is the one thing I can do.

My needs are important and they can’t be ignored any longer. I am thirty years old now, and it is crystal clear that nobody is going to take care of me but me. That means I need to step up and do it all the way, not just a little bit here and there.

This doesn’t mean I am becoming a hermit, it simply means that what I want is going to have to agree with what is appropriate for my health before I do it, and the execution will involve a firm “no” (gasp!!) from time to time.

I’ve spent ten years trying to execute this plan and failed every time before now, but I am finally able to see that the old way… well it isn’t working. While I recognize that this is always easier said than done I can feel that guilt and shame window closing. I am tired of being ruled by my emotions, because emotions can be manipulated. I want my life to be about the things that are important to me, and while my family is important I am finally recognizing just how important my health is to me too.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten regarding my mental health is to only take on as much as I feel capable of taking on.

Sometimes when I am depressed that might mean considering something as simple as taking a shower to be a triumph, which can be hard for me because my productivity can feel equal to my worth – which isn’t true.

Lately I have been practicing not biting off more than I can chew, but it has been a really difficult idea to master. It seems like I can frequently plan on taking a small bite and somehow wind up mowing down the whole damn chocolate bar.

More Than I Can Chew

There are a lot of elements that can add to this phenomenon, things like stress and external pressure from obligations can make it hard to scale back the things I am taking on. Experiencing episodes in the manic end of the bipolar mood spectrum often make me feel invincible and like taking on 25 extra tasks is not only worthwhile but easy (which isn’t always true).

I know I can also make the process hard for myself because I am someone who generally feels more comfortable processing and planning what I need to do before I do it (without the impulsivity of mania, anyway!). Unexpected changes in the plan I’ve set for myself can cause me to shut down just to try to process them.

Much like eating a slice of pizza may only take a few minutes (less if you’re really hungry), suddenly finding yourself tackling an entire pizza by yourself will not only take a different strategy, but also significantly more time.

A Slice is Nice!

It isn’t uncommon for people to say that I am not always great at adjusting quickly in situations where my plans have been derailed, and part of that is because many times my plans have budgeted for what I currently feel capable and able to accomplish. Entering into a situation, no matter how simple, after working myself into a position of calm and confidence…

SO on Top of It

…only to find myself having to eat through an entire pizza instead of a single slice generally means facing some big emotional upheaval and panic beyond the simple act of trying to rapidly digest more new information that I feel I can handle.

ERM...

Though I am working on learning ways to absorb and adapt to new information more quickly, there are times where I am so focused on trying to get that whole pizza down that I lose track of the conversation we’re having, or where I am going, or I forget to have fun. This can create an awkward environment for everyone involved, and what’s worse is I can tell when I am doing it so I also feel very self-conscious.

 The holidays are a difficult time to try to keep things simple, with plans constantly changing it can be really rough trying to be prepared emotionally and conscientious about how much I am taking on at any given time. Being in a situation where I find myself choosing between pleasing the people I love and taking care of my [mental and/or physical] health usually feels unfair, but is an unfortunate reality that I am faced with on a regular basis.

Luckily the process seems much less daunting when my friends and family remember maintaining our relationships work best when they involve:

  • Being patient
  • Not taking my absence in any situation personally
  • Allowing me to prepare for stressful events or situations in advance, when possible
  • Discussion so we can be on the same page
  • Respecting my boundaries and personal space
  • Being open and discussing your needs too!

Ultimately creating and maintaining relationships without retaining an unnecessary sense of guilt or shame when I am having a difficult time has been a learning process, but surrounding myself with people who are capable of being  understanding when the most I might be able to handle is a single bite (as opposed to the whole meal) has made a huge difference!

When In Doubt, Give Thanks

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, despite landing around (and sometimes on) my birthday. It isn’t the football that gets my gears going or the food (though I love turkey), but what the day often causes so many people to stop and do that they don’t do every day.

Consider the things we are thankful for.

In the circles I roll in I’ve heard a lot of backlash about Valentines day, simply because many of my friends believe that we should be telling the people we love that we love them whenever we have the chance… not just once a year.

However, I rarely hear this sentiment about Thanksgiving. Taking time out of a holiday to consider the things we are thankful for has always been one of those warm, fuzzy moments for me because it forces people to look at the world in an appreciative way… something I think we could all benefit a little more from every day.

When dealing with depression or difficult family/relationship situations or even just the general stress of the oncoming holiday season it can be genuinely difficult to shift gears into considering the things that we cherish as opposed to focusing on the things that are seriously stressing us out… but to me that is the magic of Thanksgiving. People across the country are practicing shifting their perspectives, often taking a brief moment to improve their moods and the moods of those around them without potentially even realizing what they’ve done.

And if people can do this once a year, who knows? Feeling thankful might be something that starts to spread amongst us once the rain has settled in Seattle for two months solid, or when the sun peaks out again, or when we’re having too much fun in the Summer to even remember the long winters.

For those reasons, this year one of the things I am most thankful for is Thanksgiving for reminding me,

when in doubt, give thanks.