The blog continues, for now. Thanks to those who weighed in and said there’s value in my learning to tolerate uncertainty.
Back in August, I finally graduated from DBT – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – after 16 months of weekly group therapy. It was really more like a class on coping skills designed for those of us who can
were forced to admit that we have problems handling emotions.
Somewhere along the line, I drank the Kool-Aid and got on board with DBT. It really started to pay off – but it took me about 9 months to get that far. Yes, I can be pretty resistant to changing my thinking about things… Once I gave the DBT skills a serious try, I found they worked. I also really wanted them to work, because I really needed things to improve. Apparently for therapy to work, you need to give it time and make a real effort. Lesson learned, yo.
Anyway, Mr. Chickadee asked for an update on what I got from DBT. DBT is divided into four modules: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation. Each of those areas is rich enough to merit its own post, so I’ll start my debrief with the core module, Mindfulness, which was repeated in between every other module.
Mindfulness Versus ADD
The more I practice mindfulness, the more I benefit from it. Yes, this is super-clichéd and you’ve seen it all over the evening news: mindfulness is extraordinarily beneficial in multiple ways. In group, every session opened and closed with a few minutes of mindfulness practice. We had homework assignments to further practice “one-mindfulness,” like making the coffee while paying full attention to every part of the process and experience with all our senses.
Such mindfulness practice, incorporated into daily living, makes me happier, calmer, and more content. Mindfulness in group sessions was often as simple as breathing exercises, or a slow, focused sensual experience like spending 3 minutes eating a Hershey’s kiss or everyone’s favorite: coloring. Seriously, coloring was one of the best activities for finding that mindful flow state.
At the start, in April 2012, three minutes of focusing on my breathing was terrifying and agonizing. I didn’t think I could do it, categorically, due to my ADD. I just about panicked over one of the first homework assignments, which was to do something one-mindfully. On a good day, I can barely sit still and my thoughts don’t move linearly. How could I possibly focus on just one thing? I was afraid to even try.
But I did it, in part because anything so terrifying has to be challenged. Initially, each second seemed to last a minute. A year later, I found that three minutes of focused breathing felt like 30 seconds, and I’d open my eyes feeling calm and centered.
I’d call it a miracle, but it’s not. It’s just what comes of mindfulness practice.
What I learned to do with mindfulness is to slow down enough to evaluate what is going on around and inside me. I now have more control over how I experience my life – mindfully and fully in the moment, or skimming the surface and lost in the crowded, noisy place that is my suboptimally configured brain.
So I practice living one-mindfully and non-judgmentally as often as I can because it really helps reduce the impacts of ADD and screwy mood episodes. I also think it’s making me a better person. Or at least, a person I like better.
Mindfulness for Moodiness
I went to DBT to learn how to deal with explosive mood swings, depression, and anxiety. At first, I didn’t see how mindfulness fit in. But it helped me slow down, which let me better understand my moods and emotions, and that allowed me to start to take more control.
Mindfulness also helped my anxiety – focused breathing is remarkably restorative. These days I rely more on a few deep breaths than on benzodiazepines (not about to give those up just yet, though.) Just learning to breathe, and do nothing more than that – a practice totally foreign to the ADD mind and body – has been beyond valuable for helping relieve symptoms of anxiety and inattention.
Repeatedly practicing non-judgmental stance was surprisingly valuable. We judge a lot, some of that is natural and useful in its own way. But most of us judge too much, feeding negative feelings and basically undermining our own wellness and ability to be compassionate. Judging is also presumptuous in many circumstances – I mean seriously, who do we think we are?
I usually judge myself, and harshly. I don’t know why I’ve chosen to hold myself to ridiculous expectations that I’d never put on anyone else, but I do know that no one should hold herself in such poor regard. In retrospect, I’m almost embarrassed to have been so mean. To myself. This is progress, my friends.
Telling myself, “I’m doing the best that I can under the circumstances” and working on slaying the dragons of perfectionism and imposter syndrome seems to help. Even my therapist, Hippie Dude, has commented recently that I don’t seem to be as anxious about everything as I used to be.
I can now admit that I can’t do everything. I don’t expect myself to do all the things, just right, all the time. I don’t even expect myself to do all the things anymore! I have learned to accept that my body and mind require care, which requires time, effort, and money. And it’s not only worth the investment, but the consequences of neglect are dire.
Mindfulness has been a key tool in unlocking the benefits of the rest of the DBT skills. It has also been good for me in itself, and I plan to keep at it.
Next topic in the series: Distress Tolerance