Non-clinical ways to deal with emotions

Yesterday I mentioned some clinical ways that emotion regulation can be evaluated and handled. Today I was reminded, as my anger flared more than once, that there are a number of non-clinical ways that are really good at helping me deal with overwhelming emotions. The first is running away, obviously actually running away is a bad idea (not that I haven’t), but just escaping for a little while can be really helpful. Some of my favorite things options for running away are going to the park with my in-laws dog or walking around the zoo, going to stores like Anthropologie and planning craft projects, wandering craft stores, and shopping at thrift stores. The thrift stores where I live are crazy amazing and there are some really awesome local craft stores that are cheaper than the big chains as well. That actually brings me to the next way I handle overwhelming emotions, crafting. I love to knit, paint, take photographs and edit them, design and make jewelry, among other crafty things. I use Pinterest to come up with so many amazing ideas. Completing a project like that really helps me feel a sense of accomplishment, and when I love the way it looks it makes me really proud of myself. I also bake, clean, play with my cats…actually at the partial program I attended recently they gave us a list of 101 coping skills and those things were all on there. I don’t know that I would call them actual coping skills because they really seem like easy distractions to help remove the immediate issue that is overwhelming and give some distance. Distance will, in a perfect world, provide an opportunity to look at the situation in an unbiased way and find a real solution.

For me this almost never works. Distraction helps while I’m actually participating in the activity but my brain refuses to let go of the reason why I was worked up in the first place. This is actually the reason why I’m going to begin working through my DBT books again, really focusing on keeping up with the activities. The other thing I am going to embark on is the study of yoga. When I was in the partial program there was a specialist that came in 3 times a week to introduce breathing techniques and meditation. Most people scoffed at the practice and hated how sleepy it made them feel, but I have always enjoyed guided meditations. The whisper community on YouTube is a lifesaver for me, especially people like Maria, Esmerelda, Lilium and Ilse. I use their meditations to calm my anger, help my manic brain slow down when I go into overdrive, and I also use the videos to fall asleep when I’m not doing well. They have been a lifesaver during the end of this pregnancy for sleep, as well as during the horror that has been the last year and a half.

I’ve used those kinds of videos for the last several years for the express purpose of helping stay even emotionally. What I’m starting to realize is there is a much deeper connection with myself I’m missing out on by only using these videos. They are great as a distraction or an aide for providing distance, but when I was in the partial program I was able to use breath control techniques to distance myself from my emotions. I could then use that distance to evaluate the situation while I was within the meditation. The specialist also taught us a little about yoga, and it is so much more than I imagined. To me it was just some stretching, and maybe a little bit of meditation and granola. It turns out that the actual practice can contain so much more. I’m pretty sure the specialist was practicing Raja yoga. This is the type of behavior I’m looking to replicate, it’s a whole life experience and a real exercise in the practice of gratefulness. It seems to be something that will help me deflect emotions and live in a more even, healthy, happy way.

Traditional methods of emotion regulation

When I was first in therapy I was a cutter. This meant two things, first there was a specific reason I was sent to therapy, and second there were specific steps I needed to take to be healthy again. The therapist I worked with was trained in both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). From what I understand of them the difference is DBT incorporates more “end result” therapies than CBT. This means mindfulness techniques, yoga, meditation, things to do that don’t require medication to make you feel better. A lot of them can be used to identify emotions and feelings ahead of the inevitable feeling of being overwhelmed, and most can be used to shift your mood from the possible negative emotion to a positive one.

The basic premise of this therapy is simple. Identify and deal with the most damaging behavior first, this means suicidal behavior or self-harming behavior, followed by identifying and correcting over-reactions in emotions. I’ve been told that in order to use this technique clinically the doctor or therapist has to go through extensive training. I would imagine it’s because it was developed to help people that suffer from borderline personality disorder. When I was first diagnosed I was bipolar and borderline, the most important piece of advice I was told by my medical team was DO NOT TELL ANYONE ABOUT YOUR DIAGNOSES OF BORDERLINE BEFORE YOU ARE ACCEPTED AS A PATIENT. Honestly, I hope that advice isn’t needed any more, but when I was 18 no one wanted to treat anyone labeled borderline. The patients tend to be difficult to treat, very clingy, ridiculously reliant on others to validate their actions and behaviors, and impossible to help. Of course, if you are labeled borderline know that is not my opinion. It’s a horrifically difficult disorder to handle, and I’ve had friends that navigate life just fine while being properly diagnosed borderline because they have great treatment and maintenance plans.

I’m digressing again, eventually I’ll figure out how my writing style should sound. Today is clearly not that day. My point was that there are specific methods that have been used since the 1990’s to treat emotion regulation. While you do need a specially trained doctor to work with for this, you can do this on your own. It’s not easy, but nothing worth it ever is. There are all kinds of books available on Amazon, and places like Psych Central have overviews on the type of work that can be done. What the whole process really comes down to is having a support system that can help you stay on track with your goals. There are workbooks that are amazing, but they take consistency and usually someone that can help you identify how your mood transitioned throughout the day. My husband is really great at doing this for me, even when I’m not good at identifying my transitions for myself. I have yet to consistently use the workbooks I’ve purchased, but that is one of my goals over the next six weeks or so before baby Beastly arrives. I really want to be able to control my emotions better by the time my kid gets old enough to realize that sometimes their mom goes off the deep end.

Stuff for Baby Beastly

Yesterday I wrote about how horrifying confrontation can be for me and how awful it was for me when my husband and his dad fought a few weeks ago. What I may have failed to mention is my tendency to get angry really quickly. I generally keep that anger in until I’m alone, a skill I have learned over time, then it explodes. Sometimes it explodes in a fit of cleaning, occasionally things get thrown around, usually I get really curt with my words and it becomes really hurtful. This is part of the reason for the Beastly Council, it gives my child adults other than their father and grandparents to reassure them that the problem is me. Most of the time the problem is directed towards my husband, and it is never as bad as it was with my ex.

Lately what has been making me really angry is baby stuff. We had the baby shower on Saturday and didn’t get any of the bigger things we needed except the playpen. I’m not disappointed because we received some amazing handmade gifts, tons of books like we requested, and lots of really thoughtful lovely notes. Plus, a lot of the larger things we have received second hand from family members. The problem happened when I was researching car seats and strollers. I couldn’t find a stroller for an infant that didn’t require a car seat. The car seats that fit in those strollers are only good until 30 lbs or 22 inches and cost something like $150 and up. My kid is likely going to fit in that car seat for all of 2 months, if I’m lucky, based on my 5’11” stature and my husbands height of 6’6″. Then, until they hit 40 lbs you have to buy another car seat that costs anywhere from $80-$300, the kids have to be in a booster seat now until 8 years old or 4’9″. By the time they hit 5 or 6 kids don’t want to be in the other car seat so you have to buy a $30 booster seat or deal with an angry kid every time they have to get in the car. I remembered to put down the computer before I started throwing things, but it is so difficult for me to control those angry flare ups.

I think these flare ups make it more difficult for me to handle other people’s anger because when I get angry enough things get thrown and I have been known to throw punches. It’s been a really long time, and for a while I substituted cutting for throwing things at other people. It’s a ridiculous way to live and it won’t help my child at all. I need to find a better outlet and learn how to step away before it gets to the breaking point, both for Beastly’s safety and their ability to be a well adjusted adult. Especially since in the end it worked out just fine and we won’t end up spending any money on the stroller or car seats anyway. Our nurse practitioner has a stroller/infant car seat combo she is letting us use, and a family member is letting us use the interim car seat from her son. While the car seats are important it’s really not worth the anger. Not only are there a ton of resources for used things with all the babies we are around, there are mom to mom sales every weekend from now until the end of time. Plus the thrift stores around here are amazing.

My little baby is going to be well cared for, neither my parents or my husbands are going to allow them to be put in any sort of danger. In the meantime I’m still looking for resources on how to handle emotions better, and plan to have some to share later in the week.

Feeling like an outlaw at the inlaws

I have such a hard time deciding when people are angry, upset, frustrated, or even sometimes happy. I’ve read and watched all kinds of things that say this regularly happens in teens because their whole brain is reformatting. I’m not entirely sure how this works in mental illness, but I would assume that because my brain doesn’t function normally it wasn’t formatted properly. Likely in the same place that the teenage brain hasn’t completed formatting. By this argument nearly all teenagers could be considered mentally unstable, which is something I’ve read before about why teens are so tricky to diagnose. I had one friend on medication in high school because OCD ran in her family; the rest of us got nothing but therapy.

But I digress, my point today is my lack of emotional awareness in others. About a week ago my husband and his younger cousin became extremely angry with my father in law. I guess there was a lot of talking over, as always. My father in law has two speeds: he’s either really loud and sounds mean or he’s completely shut down and actually terrifying. My husband, for whatever reason, decided this was the night he couldn’t take it anymore and completely lost it. Which resulted in a shouting match and me cowering in the living room. I was rattled by that incident for three days. I can’t handle confrontation. My brain automatically tells me that it’s my fault, regardless of who’s involved. I automatically assume that I’ve done something to initiate that argument or type of behavior. Why? I guess that’s something I get to work out for myself and try to stop.

The result makes living with my in laws much more difficult for me than I could have ever imagined. As time continues I realize why my roommate experiences have been so shitty. My feelings of horror at any confrontation lead me to not discuss anything. I moved to Michigan in June. I still don’t know the cleaning schedules, where cleaning supplies are kept, how the kitchen is supposed to be organized, or anything that is expected of me. I don’t know if I’ve done that to myself by trying to constantly stay out of the way, or if it’s a nuance a person with a better functioning brain would have been able to pick up. I consistently feel I’m not helping enough, which makes me even more afraid when people are angry. This, in turn, makes me try to stay out of the way more, which then starts the whole nasty cycle all over again. Honestly, I’m told most of the time I feel this way people aren’t even angry.

This article was in my twitter feed this morning about diffusing anger, and it seems like it would be useful for people like my husband. He never backs down when it’s important. I’m going to keep looking this week for ways I can improve my skill set to better deal with my fears of anger and confrontation. My goal is to find a better way to communicate with myself about these emotions that will foster better communication with others. Maybe I’ll even be brave enough to put some sort of plan into action. Stranger things have happened, right?

Gratitude as a coping skill

Yesterday’s post was more than a little depressing. It ended on an ok note I guess, but not ok enough for me to write something equally heavy today. Today I want to talk about gratitude, because it seems like such a little thing but it can be so huge. There was a post in my April 2013 Babies group last night reminding everyone to thank their nurses. It was a repost of an article about how being a nurse can be thankless and difficult, so we should keep in mind how much they do for us as patients when we are elated as our newborns arrive. As always, some lady responds that they are “doing their job” and if they don’t like it they can find another line of work, no one needs to be thanked for that. Having worked customer service for many years I have experienced a ton of customers like that, and continue to laugh at the horrifying stories on websites like Not Always Right. People like that are angry, usually juvenile, have never worked a service job in their life, and desperately unhappy. Money and status over those that serve you is no way to become happy or better than someone else. Actually, I kind of wonder what makes them need to be better than someone else in the first place. Usually that comes from some sort of deficiency in their self-confidence.

The fact is that gratitude can go a really long way to boosting someone’s mood and self-confidence. I was going to quote scientific studies about this fact, but decided against it. The point of this blog is personal experience and inspiration. As a result, for those that want some pop culture sources I found this MedNet article on gratitude and help, this Christian Broadcast Network article on the same thing, and one more from Psychology Today. What I’m going to talk about this is how I learned to be thankful and express gratitude as an adult.

Going back probably 18 years ago or more, I can’t really remember, as a child I was really uncomfortable telling people thank you. I got red, stammered, became really embarrassed. My mom would have killed me if she realized how often I escaped cars after getting a ride from someone, or accepted gifts without a single word of thanks. I don’t know if I recognized as a kid that sometimes accepting help makes you seem weak, or if I seemed like an extrovert but was really an introvert, but I do know I have always been horribly awkward in social situations. I felt like a terrible person every time I did it. Frankly, that might be part of the reason I ended up cutting as a teen in the first place. I was so convinced that I didn’t deserve anything I had, my bed was too good for me, I didn’t deserve the roof over my head, I should be thrown on the streets and left to fend for myself. Feeling that way seems silly now, but it’s entirely possible that whole issue was one of gratitude. I was constantly telling myself I didn’t deserve things, and therefore felt strange thanking people for things I didn’t deserve.

When I got to college I decided I was not going to be the same person anymore. I was no longer going to be embarrassed by sexual innuendo and I was going to suck it up and participate in things that made me uncomfortable. It worked. I now not only am capable of making most people blush about sexual discussions before I even raise an eyebrow, but I also no longer stammer when I tell people thank you. I met some amazing people my first round of undergrad and I am still close to a handful (maybe more!) of them. I attribute this to slowly learning how to express gratitude and focus on something other than myself. It’s not perfect, but it works. I’m grateful for my friends, I respect them and I love them. I count their love as a huge blessing, not one that I deserve, but one that I receive. I can do nothing but thank them for that, there is no way for me to express to them how much it means to me. My attitude has completely changed from one of despair, knowing that I will never be able to repay them for their love and kindness, to one of pure joy that someone feels I am worth that sort of time and effort. It’s made a drastic change in my outlook on life. In fact, over the last few months I have done nothing but fret over the horror that is my baby shower. It doesn’t feel like my party. My mother-in-law is being super secretive about it, even to the point of not really sharing anything with my mom, I hate surprises. I hate opening gifts in front of people. I hate formal parties that are directed towards me. About a week ago I realized the shower is at capacity for the room she booked. There will be nearly as many people celebrating my new baby as my wedding. These people are not coming for the shower because let’s be honest, no one likes a formal baby shower, they are coming to celebrate with me and Terry. As much as I’m not excited about the rest of it, I am so grateful that people love us enough to celebrate this new life with us. There are a number of people that are supplying us with hand-me-downs, and shopping at local thrift stores for outfits. I guess a decent amount of books have shown up with notes to my child, which is what I asked people to send. I actually have found some peace in that sentiment, and that is creating some excitement for me.

So now, how does one go about making that change from desperately undeserving to grateful? I started with people I didn’t know. Restaurant servers, drive-thru workers, nurses, retail employees, all of these people deserve to be thanked when they treat you with kindness and respect. It was easier for me to begin with people I would never see again. If I turned red and stammered not only did they not care, I did’t have to explain myself to them ever. This developed a habit for me of saying thank you and being gracious and grateful for people’s kindness. Just like self-injury is a learned habit, gratitude as a coping skill is also learned. It shouldn’t be reserved for the holiday seasons, people deserve to be recognized and respected all the time. There are a lot of “30 day challenges” that can be used for making this type of coping skill a habit too. I just did a Google search and came up with this site, this Pinterest board, this list, and this blog. If you are struggling with your own happiness give gratitude a try. Every time I thank someone for something it makes me feel more deserving, even if they are “just doing their job”. I’ve found that my gratitude for others has also created a desire in me to do things for others, which is also a huge self-confidence booster. Helping others is still something I’m working on, I do really great at little things, and helping people I know. My husband is an amazing inspiration for helping others. He automatically does things like holding open doors, helping an old man carry his McDonald’s tray to a table, lifting a kid up so they can reach something. It really is the little things that matter the most.

Self-mutilation

There was a lot of tweets in my feed today about self injury and it’s consequences. I was going to write about the recent suicide that ripped apart the country music scene, but to me self injury is much more personal and much less talked about. My experience with this particular issue was a long journey, and occasionally continues to be difficult. The thing that most people don’t understand about self-mutilation is the distinct separation of this act and threats of suicide. Some people have this manifest as an eating disorder, there are people who burn themselves, people that cut themselves, even people that manipulate their appearance in a way that constitutes self injury.

To start this difficult topic the definition of self-mutilation seems to be a simple one: to inflict wounds on one’s own body. The problem happens with the interpretation of this definition. If a person slits their wrist, where is that mutilation and when does it become a suicide attempt? Where is the line between diet obsession and self-destruction? How do tattoos, piercings, or plastic surgery fit in this definition? What about drugs and alcohol, do they fit in this picture?

As someone who continues to struggle with urges to cut, my definition is a little more specific. Someone who does something that damages themselves physically or emotionally, knowingly or unknowingly, participates in self-mutilation. This includes drug and alcohol addicts, people who obsess over food to the point where they are malnourished, as well as any sort of damage to the skin, permanent or not. Plastic surgery, tattoos, and piercings all count in this definition under specific conditions. I’ve known people to replace cutting with the thrill of someone modifying their body with needles. The problem ends up being one of addiction. This is why self-mutilation can actually happen with no other mental illness. It’s become a fad, and once someone begins it turns into a coping mechanism. Before long you can no longer function in life without this coping mechanism, it takes over everything else in your coping arsenal.

I started cutting when I read a book called Crosses by Shelley Steohr. In the book the girls cut, they drink, they crush up Tylenol and overdose, and my 15 year old brain was desperate to latch on to anything that might feel good. I read the book probably 20 times through my teen years and all I can remember is how the girls did nothing but get in trouble. For some reason this resonated with me so I did the one thing in the book that I felt I wouldn’t get in trouble for, cutting. I started with sewing needles on my face. I would slide the needle across my forehead down the side of my face and across my chin. Looking back on the situation it was likely a desperate cry for someone to notice how much pain I was experiencing inside. At first it hurt, but before long that hurt was the only thing that made the inside hurt less. I move on from my face to my arm when people didn’t care. Even then my teachers at school would simply tell me that it looked infected, “perhaps you should clean that, Steph”. Eventually I asked for help, it took a really long time to recognize that my red scars weren’t attractive. Years, actually. I was hauled into the office of my college and treated like a lowlife. They insisted on therapy, and I signed a piece of paper stating they had access to all of my therapy records relating to my recovery. If I screwed up I would get kicked out of school. I know better now, and I would have fought them. The truth is that I did need help. The red marks were not sexy. They were an external vision of the pain I felt on the inside. Even now I fight the urge to cut on a fairly regular basis. I started cutting at 15, the last time I cut was a year ago, the last episode of cutting (falling off the wagon, if you will) was two years ago. I know people who have 20 or 30 tattoos because every time they feel sad the rush of a tattoo makes them feel better. There’s people that feel they don’t deserve better than to damage themselves, through words or actions. That makes me really sad, because there is better out there. The possibility for recovery exists, other coping mechanisms are not only healthier, but more effective. Honestly, I’m still working at getting to those coping mechanisms, but I do know that I will get there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a matter of finding the right support system.

It gets better. You just have to be willing to do the work.

The baby is almost here!

I’ve spent this whole pregnancy dealing with nothing but my own mental health problems. Now that I’ve decided to take medical leave I find out that I get to have two one-hour long appointments every week to make sure my baby is still healthy with the Seroquel I have been taking. This has been an interesting journey and now that I’m on medical leave to recover my own health it’s starting to sink in that in less than two months I will be a mom. I’ve been poked and prodded and evaluated to determine if I pose a risk to my unborn child, but none of it has felt real. This two appointments a week thing is starting to make this baby seem real.

I’ve been told by all kinds of people that I’m not allowed to buy anything for baby until after my shower, sometimes I wonder if that is part of what makes this feel so unreal. I have bought a few outfits, this week will begin my cleaning process to prepare for the things that will undoubtedly be entering my living space after this weekend. I have to fix my nails, prepare for maternity pictures, do laundry, take the cats to the vet, strip them & bathe them. It’s a little overwhelming to think that I’m preparing for a baby. How the hell did I think I would be able to maintain what little sanity I have left by ignoring all of this other stuff? It would have been a recipe for post-partum psychosis, which I am still seriously at risk for. My god have I been ridiculous.

What the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks am I doing?

I am officially taking medical leave from school for this semester. And possibly next. I still don’t know how I feel about that, but I do know that I really don’t want to close the door on my opportunity for grad school. Terry and I talked this past weekend after there was a massive blow-up exchange between him and his dad. He doesn’t want to feel stuck somewhere. Honestly, neither do I. Part of the agreement of my taking this semester off is I begin my book and keep up on this blog regularly. The goal is to use this blog as part of my personal memoir, part current events, and part activism for the mental ill community. Mostly because I hate believing that “people like me” have limits. I really honestly believed for a short time last week that I would under no circumstances be able to make it through a graduate program, simply because of my mental illness. That’s crap. All of my role models have done huge things, Kay Redfield Jameson has a doctorate, Elyn Saks is a lawyer, Ken Steele started a program to help people in need in New York. What I am really passionate about is helping the mentally ill community.

There is a teacher at school who has changed his opinion of those with mental illness and testing accommodations 180 degrees. I have been thanked for that by no less than three people. It was my ethical integrity, my desire to do things the right way, that caused him to change his opinion of people in my situation. That is how I want to make my mark on the world, changing people’s opinions of what mental illness looks like. I want to be a role model for others on a large scale. Terry reminded me that getting my PhD can open a lot of doors for how I become that role model. In the meantime I am starting a book, writing a blog, and studying basic chemistry to try and regain some control over my brain. I still have hope for my future, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. I won’t allow myself to get stuck again.

The best laid plans…

I honestly don’t remember what I wrote in my last post. At this point it’s moot. Three weeks ago I was hospitalized at an inpatient facility for four days. Then I spent five days immediately following that at an intensive outpatient program, here they’re called partial programs because you spend part of your day “in the hospital” and part of your day living as normal a life as you can. I’m struggling to keep my head above water, but the program has helped quite a bit. Also, I’ve been having trouble with school. Trouble catching up, trouble knowing what my options are, trouble talking to the right people. That seems to be on the upswing though. I’m slowly learning how to navigate the system, learning who my allies are, learning to lean on them as much as I can.

The psychiatrist I’ve been seeing not only increased my medication, but also wrote me a prescription. A little over 8 weeks left before Beastly gets here and I finally have found a doctor willing to stick his neck out for me. Not only that, but he’s also smart and doesn’t sugar coat anything. After Beastly arrives I will be scheduling CT scans and MRI scans to make sure there is nothing wrong with my neurological systems causing my hallucinations. It’s apparently really rare that hallucinations like the ones I experience happen in mental illness. Not unheard of according to my doctor, but not likely. It’s either neurological or something repressed that I need to work out in therapy. Who knows what that could be, probably something my asshat of an ex did considering they only started a few years ago when I was under extreme duress.

One of my goals is to update this blog more regularly. That’s always one of my goals, but I’m developing a system of when and how to do things that I hope will make this a higher priority. Writing about mental illness, different coping skills, the trouble I experience as a student, and soon as a parent, will hopefully keep my mind focused on recovery rather than desperation.

Thank god I have an amazing support system. I don’t know what I would do without them.