Monthly Archives: August 2013

Mastery, thoughts and Bakewell tarts

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I have found life this summer very tricky. Summer holidays have historically been challenging times for me and this year a couple of incidents have exacerbated this vulnerability. I have had to dig deep into both my skills and every bit of resilience I can muster. I have just returned from holiday and while away I planned to and did read my DBT material again and did lots of work around the skills.

I have found out that putting the skills into practice is sooooo much easier when you are not in crisis. Practicing them when you are feeling ok is a doddle, compared to when the heat is on. This week has been so difficult and I’ve made some good decisions and some not so good decisions. Yesterday, I froze in my distress. I did not move from my sofa (apart from one toilet visit) for 8 hours between 1pm and 9pm. It was pretty rough.

But Monday, I managed to make myself bake- engaging my senses and trying to build mastery. I attempted my most complex bake to date- a Bakewell tart. I was pretty chuffed with the final result (but I forgot to dust it with icing sugar!) the recipients of the cake were suitably encouraging.

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Today after the lack of skills used yesterday, I knew I had a choice. While away last week, I had been doing some work on my encouraging and affirming statements- one of them I wrote was ‘I can choose to think different thoughts.’ So simple but so powerful for me. I threw myself out of the house to go for a walk. In my mind I was rehearsing how terrible I was feeling. But I remembered my statement and chose to change my thoughts. It was difficult. I also used a DBT skill that I have not utilised much… It is a distraction technique that suggest doing things with your thoughts like sudoku or crosswords or whatever is your thing… As I walked I started to count in 7’s… The effect was remarkable. Instead of dwelling on my pain the simple act of counting in 7’s- I stopped at about 500- broke the moment long enough for me to then finish my walk mindfully.

This evening, I also made myself go to a jewellery class which really helped. It distracted me, engaged my senses, gave me a sense of purpose and it helped build some mastery into my day.
(Results at the bottom of the post)

One of the things I know I need to do is to construct my emergency coping plan. Because let me tell you- when you need to use it is not the time to be trying to write it! I think I will reach out to others for help and ask for their input into this as well.

I find myself still in the place where I need to ‘walk through’ as I described in a previous post. I don’t like it. I want to come through. All I do know is that days like yesterday when I freeze are much worse than days like today where I fight. For those who are needing to fight- keep going.

Thanks for listening.

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The Art of Comparisons

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One of the many DBT skills is that of ‘comparison’. Penelope introduced it to me over a year ago and it is one of those skills I have shyed away from… For a number of reasons.

1) I have spent 20 years of my life as a Christian trying not to compare myself to others! While an active member of my church one of my biggest struggles was not constantly comparing myself to people who were, in my mind, either more gifted or ‘holy’ or kind or loving than I. It used to drive me absolutely mad!!!! It was so exhausting. I would meditate on the words of Jesus to his disciple Peter when he basically told him to mind his own business when Peter asked him what was going on with John (another disciple)- but still I spent more time worried about other people than about God. (As an aside- this is one of the main reasons I am so relieved not to be going to church- it is so much easier).

2) as humans I think when we compare ourselves to others normally we come out worse than the object of comparison- and that isn’t usually very encouraging- so not something I necessarily want to do more of

3) on the whole I think comparisons with people less fortunate than yourself are futile. To compare my life with a 40 year old woman in Syria and then to tell myself to be grateful for my lot in life, is normally quite a pointless comparison. I don’t know why I was born into a situation where I don’t have to protect my children from bombs. I’m grateful than I don’t. But our situations just aren’t comparable. It doesn’t make me feel any better about my situation- only a little bit more guilty.

So when I was told that a skill to help with distress tolerance was actually comparison- I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic!

But a couple of weeks ago- I had the opportunity to practise it in a meaningful way.

I went to church. Not sure why- but I did. I ended up chatting with a friend by the entrance of the church. A man came in who had been on the psychiatric ward at the same time as me. I recognised him- he didn’t recognise me. My friend and I chatted with him. His tale of homelessness, self- harm and alcoholism was sadly familiar but no less poignant to witness.

For me it was a comparison that was a good one to make. I am so grateful that I have a home. I have food in my fridge, clothes in my wardrobe. I am not addicted to alcohol. I have teeth. I have friends who hopefully if I didn’t have any of the above would be willing to help me. Please hear me, not for one moment do I think I have done things better than this gentleman… I don’t know why I have those things and he doesn’t… I don’t deserve them any more than he does… All I know is that I am grateful that I do- and I genuinely saw in that moment that there for the grace of God go I.

This evening I was in London and saw homeless people begin to congregate in shop doorways. When I lived in south London I was part of a team that did weekly soup runs in the early hours of the morning. Let me tell you there is nothing that makes you feel more inadequate than having to leave people to sleep in the freezing cold- walking away from them used to break my heart. For years every night I have always got into bed and said thank you God that I have a duvet to sleep under tonight- and I meant it. As I drove home this evening I realised I hadn’t said that prayer for a while. For the last year and a bit I have a lovely duvet- a proper feather one… But I know that my old duvet with gratitude felt so much better than this lovely one without it.

I’m not fully convinced of the value of the skill of comparison…and in the DBT sense it is a bit more involved than my basic description. But for me, these experiences were helpful in bearing my own distress… And to be honest that’s what DBT is all about. Tonight, though I feel pretty rough- I have a duvet to sleep under. That makes me feel very blessed indeed.

Thanks for listening.

Walking through

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Sometimes making the right decision is hard. Extremely hard.
It has consequences that are sometimes painful- hopefully only in the short term but painful all the same.
Sometimes even when we know it is the right thing- we can still have that pang of regret at doing it.

This week I have tried to make some ‘right’ decisions. And at this point I am regretting them- but I still know they were right. I am regretting them because they’ve been emotionally and mentally painful. It’s a bit like the alcoholic choosing not to have a drink- and even though they know it is the right thing-it hurts like crazy.

Today I have been remembering Psalm 23 the oft quoted funeral psalm. The psalmist muses- ‘even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’

The challenge is the walking through. Often we want to escape the valley. Magically be lifted out. God to deliver us. A helicopter with James Bond in it land a few feet before us. But the psalmist knows the challenge is to walk through. For him the comfort was the presence of God in that journey. At this point in my life I’m not sure if God’s presence is a comfort or not to me… But that is another story.

In DBT today my therapist observed that maybe I had never gone as deep into my pain as I am currently. Possibly there is truth in that. All I know is that everything in me wants to avoid, escape and medicate this pain… But instead I choose to walk through. I choose to not avoid- not escape and not medicate inappropriately. Maybe if I come through the other end I might be able to decide whether God has indeed been ‘with me’.

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Thanks for listening.