Overcoming One of My Biggest Regrets From When BPD Ruled My Life (Borderline Personality Disorder)

Trigger Warning (TW): This post contains content that may be triggering for some readers.

The scene: I'm riding in the passenger side of my boyfriend's Lexus.  The sun has gone down. He says it's time for him to go home.  Going home meant he would be leaving me and spending the night with his wife.  Although I believed his marriage was in shambles, as was mine, which was one of the motivating factors that caused us to seek refuge in each other's arms, I couldn't bear the thought of it and wanted him to spend the night with me.  Nothing I said could convince him.  That's when I pulled out the heavy duty stuff: In what was my typical "borderline fashion" at the time,  I threatened to kill myself.  I told him how I would do it.  As is common for many people with Borderline Personality Disorder, I frequently threatened to hurt myself. I didn't always really feel suicidal. I often just felt so desperate and out of control emotionally that it was the only way I'd learned how to reach out for help and get myself to a place where I felt safe and where people would have to take care of me: the hospital.

In our three month young relationship, he was no stranger to my emotional instability and frequent visits to the hospital for psychiatric treatment.  He insisted that we needed to go to the emergency room.  In the midst of my dysfunction and with a one-track mind, my only thought was: I just bought myself a few more hours with him.  

I had it all planned -- I knew what to say so that the hospital would release me within a few hours.  It would be late, and he'd spend the night with me after all.  I was manipulative and acted in desperate ways to get my needs met.  I didn't know any better, but I've been harboring resentment and anger at that part of me -- that twenty three year old girl who didn't have years of treatment and DBT Skills under her belt -- I hadn't yet been formally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder but had "Rule out BPD" on my discharge papers at a psych hospital a few years prior.  I never followed up.

So, there we were in the ER.  When the doctors pulled me aside to speak privately, I told them that I had expressed thoughts of harming myself but had no intentions to carry them out.  When I returned to the room with my boyfriend, him sitting up on a table, observing me and seeming concerned, what I didn't know is that the room was likely being monitored, and in that room, I sabotaged that relationship and behaved in ways that would haunt me for over a decade.

When he said he needed to get going and to call him in the morning from wherever they sent me, my desperation went into overdrive.  And that's when I began to tell him I was hearing voices. (It wasn't true.) I began speaking nonsensically. When hospital staff would enter the room, I'd return to acting normally.

I convinced my boyfriend that I was schizophrenic or somehow even more severely emotionally ill than what I really was.  His eyes misted up.  He looked at me and said, "I LOVED you." Yes, past tense.  Shortly after that, he broke up with me, conveying that he didn't have the strength or desire to continue on and that he couldn't handle my mental illness.  I knew I had pushed things too far.  In an attempt to secure his love and keep him by my side, I did the exact opposite and pushed him away so far that I lost him.

There was nothing I could do to convince him, even though I was released from the psych ward in less than 24 hours, having told the staff and psychiatrist the truth about what had happened.

I loved this man.  He rescued me from a depressing, abusive marriage with a substance abuser, and I rescued him from his marital problems.  We expressed that we believed we were soul mates. We could see forever in each other's eyes we would say.  I felt alive, beautiful, and wanted in his company.  During our relationship, I wrote three pop folk songs on my guitar and haven't written any songs since. When I received the ultimate rejection from him, the pain was so great to bear.  I ended up going back to my husband one more time before finally leaving him.

Time Marched On...

A lot has happened in the years since the last time I saw my boyfriend.  As I mentioned, I was twenty three years old at the time, and he was thirty seven.  We worked together. So, when we broke up, I also left my job. And, I bad mouthed him badly before I did.  I was immature, emotional, unstable, and desperately wished that things were not dissolving with him.  But he made a choice, and I could not convince him otherwise. I tried to use anger to cope with the pain. I was smoking about two packs of cigarettes a day, and my diet was also suffering.

Over the years, the pain dissipated.  I met other people.  I had jobs. I went to school.  I moved on.  Then, recently, due to some changes in my life, memories and feelings resurfaced for this person.  Being that we live in the internet age, finding ways to contact him were quite easy.  I became disheartened and my heart re-broken as he stood fast in resisting, completely, replying to me.  Rather than listen to my Wise Mind 100% of the time, I continued to try to reach him, feeling the rejection and sadness each time I realized that this person does not want to re-connect with me. I essentially re-opened the wounds of trauma from that time in my life.

Resurfacing of Emotions and An Opportunity to Heal

I was losing self-respect while also working my DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills around the clock: Turning the Mind (toward Radical Acceptance), distracting, self-soothing, contributing.  But I kept finding myself back at the computer or looking at my phone to see if I had a response or if he had viewed my messages. 

I began judging myself harshly, knowing that while there is cause for everything, I needed to make a shift, get to the core of the reason why I was so fixated on re-connecting  -- I wanted redemption.  I wanted the opportunity to look into his eyes and to try to convince him of what happened in that hospital room that night...and that I'd changed. I wanted him to know how sorry I was for sabotaging our relationship and how far I had come since then. But this was not an option, and accepting this caused me incredible pain and left me feeling quite emotionally dysregulated.

Because hypnosis has been highly effective in helping me making positive shifts when I have felt stuck or as if I were having a mental "block," I turned to my hypnotherapist to do some work around this issue.  During our session, one of the things she proposed intrigued me, and I was nervous but excited to try it.  She suggested that, while in trance, I would go back to that scene at the hospital that has haunted me for years.  The scene would be on "freeze frame," and my adult self now would visit with the 23 year old me and my boyfriend of the time in that room.  I would tell my younger self what was about to happen -- warn and prepare her.  I would tell her that I couldn't prevent what was about to happen, but I could let her know what kind of amazing things she had ahead of her (overcoming a mental illness to the point of no longer meeting the criteria, writing 2 successful books, being in a documentary about BPD, co-facilitating DBT classes with a therapist -- I'd even be able to help other twenty-somethings by mentoring them after I was to heal from this experience with this man).

Re-Visiting My Past From a Place of Power

So, I did it.  In trance, I vividly re-experienced the scene in the emergency room that night. (When I came out of trance, my eyes were nearly glued shut from all of the crying and my mascara.)  I had the opportunity to go back and be there for that scared girl who didn't know any better. My heart grew in compassion, and my judgments were melting.  I told her she didn't know any better because she didn't have the skills to cope any more effectively and that she was doing the best she could.  I also encouraged her to release the man in the room, because she was worth so much more than what she had settled for, and some day she would have it.  I also looked at my ex-boyfriend from my current age, seeing him with compassion -- knowing he was a man with his own story, fears, and hopes.  I judged him a bit for being with a twenty three year old girl, and then I let that go, too.  I told my younger self everything she had to look forward to.  It helped substantially.

There was another scene my hypnotherapist suggested we do as well, which was a meeting with my ex where I got to express everything I have been so wishing that he would allow me to say to his face.  She likened my sadness around not having this opportunity to what many addicts in AA and NA experience when they attempt to perform the step where they "make amends" with someone from the past. Not everyone is willing. Sometimes people are unwilling or for whatever reason, unavailable.  The person in AA/NA must do the work to accept this and move on, no matter how badly it hurts.  After I did this part of the exercise, I felt a real release -- as if an imaginary umbilical cord of some sort had finally been severed between me, this man, the past, my delusions about the past, my fond memories of it, and any hopes and wishes about how I wish things had turned out differently.

It was a powerful experience.

Getting Back Into (and staying in) The Present

While I work with people of all ages all around the world in the capacity of encouraging them through posts here, my books, and now in the online DBT classes that I co-facilitate at DBT Path, my heart is especially drawn to young women in their early twenties who are struggling with the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder -- especially the intense and chaotic relationships, fears of abandonment, and identity issues.  I needed to come to a place of healing, love, and forgiveness with my younger self so that I could truly heal and be available to help young women who are where I was -- to encourage them and hopefully help them reduce their suffering through the wisdom that my older self has gained.

Part of this is sharing vulnerable experiences so that you know you are NOT alone, and that you, too, can overcome.  I will also be sticking with my skills and using other modalities, such as hypnotherapy, to support me in my ongoing recovery and personal growth.

This was a long one.  It's been a powerful day.

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

In kindness,

The author of this letter has since RECOVERED from Borderline Personality Disorder and no longer meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis. There is HOPE for you. Recovery happened through a commitment to DBT. Debbie now teaches the DBT skills that helped change her life over at DBT Path (http://www.emotionallysensitive.com) where you can take online Dialectical Behavior Therapy Classes from anywhere in the world. You *can* overcome this disorder! Visit DBT Path to learn more.

5 Symptoms That Are Often Confused With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) | Guest Post by Marcela De Vivo

Please welcome guest blogger Marcela De Vivo and her post, "Symptoms That Are Often Confused With BPD." TW: This post contains content that may be triggering for some readers.

Mental illness can be difficult enough for friends and loved ones to detect at all, but distinguishing among similar conditions is even more of a challenge. In particular, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be easily mistaken for other conditions, most often Bipolar Disorder.

It goes without saying that an accurate diagnosis is crucial: not only will the wrong treatments and medications fail to relieve suffering, they threaten to make things worse (and in some cases can induce bouts of psychosis).

Unlike fully somatic diseases— such as cancer or lupus, for example—BPD and other mental illnesses can’t be diagnosed through a blood test or MRI, therefore, accurate analysis depends on the observation of behavior over time. Due to the fact that BPD tends to distort its victims’ self-image, the insights of friends and family can be essential in accurately assessing BPD and detecting it in its early stages. So, let’s take a look at what BPD is—and what it is not.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

While BPD and Bipolar Disorder both tend to affect one's ability to have harmonious relationships with others, BPD’s overall symptoms have different hallmarks that can be spotted under careful scrutiny.  Please note that not all people with BPD experience the same symptoms or express the same behaviors. This is a general overview of some of those symptoms and behaviors experienced by some people who have BPD. Only a qualified, licensed psychiatric professional can accurately diagnose any condition. If you think you have Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or any other health issues, contact a qualified provider for evaluation.

· BPD issues often center on personal self-image and relationships with others. In combination with other criteria, unstable relationships, such as bouncing from one high-drama romance to the next is a classic indicator of BPD, as are poor self-esteem and/or self-loathing. An all-or-nothing desire to be validated by a partner and an intense dislike of being alone can often be observed among BPD sufferers. In addition, maladaptive "manipulative" behaviors, often developed as survival behaviors in childhood, may still surface in adulthood in order to secure emotional attention or avoid feeling abandoned. These, along with other maladaptive behaviors, can be unlearned through treatments like DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), as Debbie Corso has experienced.

· Self-destructive, impulsive behavior. Going hand-in-hand with problems of self-worth, BPD sufferers sometimes act out on the intensely negative feelings they harbor towards themselves through impulsive behavior. They may demonstrate patterns of self-harm (cutting, inflicting cigarette burns) or even suicidal ideations. Similarly, sharp bouts of addictive behavior may be a manifestation of a BPD sufferer’s negative feelings, which may manifest in a number of ways, such as over-spending, binge eating, drug and alcohol, and gambling.

· Intense, rapid cycles. Perhaps the most reliable indicators of BPD revolve around rapid, intense cycles of emotion and behavior. For example, if a minor change in plans or an unguarded comment from a boyfriend or girlfriend sends someone into a tailspin of anger or depression—a fit of emotion that ends just as abruptly as it begins—there is a strong possibility of BPD. Likewise, BPD can provoke grandiose, sudden changes in goals. For example, if an individual makes out-of-nowhere announcements about career changes, only to renounce them the next day, he or she may be contending with BPD.

Bipolar Disorder

· A more even cycling between extremes. Although both BPD and Bipolar sufferers exhibit intense states of emotion, bipolarity (or manic depression, as it used to be called), is an oscillation between high-highs and low-lows. In the manic/”high” stage, a Bipolar individual may show excessive energy, irritability and difficulty sleeping. When the depressed pole manifests, look for social withdrawal and possible suicidal expressions.

Again, while on the surface these mood swings in BPD and bipolarity can look the same, BPD fluctuations may only last a few hours, while bipolar swings can last weeks.

· Less dependency on external triggers. Because BPD often hinges on an unhealthy equation between oneself and others, outbursts are often produced by outer stimuli. On the other hand, bipolar disorder tends to go up and down according to an internal track. Looking for trigger-patterns in problem behavior can be one of the keys a professionals often look to when differentiating between the two.

Again, since any one of these symptoms alone is not ample proof of any disorder, be sure to turn to a qualified clinician who can look for clusters of these indicators, make an accurate diagnosis, and suggest appropriate treatment options.

Irritability and impulsive behavior, both hallmarks of BPD and bipolar, are also signs of ADHD and Asperger’s. Furthermore, it’s not unheard of that people suffer from more than one disorder at the same time, making a clear diagnosis even trickier. In any case, if you witness at least a few of these indicators, gently, but assertively, take steps to encourage get your friend or relative the professional help they need.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance health & wellness writer from California. She specializes in a number of topics, from alternative medicine to pharmaceuticals, fitness, and special needs issues.

Upcoming Documentary on BPD (and Why I Agreed To Be In It)

I always had a feeling I'd end up on the silver screen, having loved classic movies all of my life and dreaming of being a starlet. What I didn't expect was what my first "starring role" would be: a raw, up-close and personal portrait-style interview in a documentary on Borderline Personality Disorder.  Yes, upon the eventual release of this film, I'll be able to declare, "I'm not just a woman who suffered from BPD. I also played one in a movie."

This is not the first documentary on the subject that I've been invited to participate in, but it is the first one I truly felt ready for, and I felt a connection with producer and psychologist Tami Sattler's mission to shine the light of awareness on this disorder, spread hope about the possibility of recovery, and her hope to potentially save lives through this film.

As the weeks have gotten closer, I've had my share of anxiety, doubts, and questions:  

Should I do this? 

I had so many questions for the producer, particularly around what angle this movie will take and whether the overall tone would be positive and encouraging or, similar to some other movies I've seen on the topic, highly dramatic and depressing. If it were the latter, I wanted nothing to do with the project.  I was relieved and excited to find out Tami's intentions around the film and how at ease she wants me and the other cast members/subjects to feel about how BPD is portrayed.  Don't get me wrong.  There is a lot of pain and suffering that comes with having BPD, but this is well-known. What is lesser known are the personal stories of everyday people who have this diagnosis and how many are emerging from meeting the criteria and going, what I like to call "beyond the borderline."

Am I ready for this type of exposure? Granted I've been very open globally about my condition and recovery, but this is a movie, after all, with the potential to reach a massive audience. But yes, I feel ready.

I'll be posting "behind the scenes" photos from the set on Facebook and Twitter later this week, so keep a look out for those.

I'm so excited to be a part of this project and look forward to sharing updates with you along the way.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

MBT: The "Missing Link" of DBT? (Mentalization Based Treatment / Dialectical Behavior Therapy)

Many of you know that after many years of hard work, I recently graduated from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).  I had lots of questions within me, including "What comes next on the path of recovery?"

Shortly after I graduated, I received an intriguing email from Amanda Smith, creator of the psychoeducational daily email My Dialectical Life, to which I subscribe.  She's starting a new endeavor, called "30 Days of Mentalizating."  I immediately signed up to be a part of the pilot group that starts in June, as did many of my readers when I shared the information on my Facebook page.

I asked Amanda to share a bit more about why she is doing this program and what we can expect to gain from it.  Here is her guest post.  I look forward to connecting with others who sign up for this program to discuss how it's going and what we are learning.

Talk soon!

-- Debbie

What comes after DBT?
Guest post by Amanda Smith of Hope For BPD

You've been working hard every day at a being skillful and are dedicated to a mindfulness practice but there's still work to be done. What's next? What about trauma work or expressive therapies? Do you take a year or two off? Is now the time to train for that half-marathon or complete your degree? 

It can be challenging to know what to do after DBT, and I know that I'm not the only one who wants to continue to grow so that I really can keep moving forward in recovery. I'm ready for new challenges, and I bet that so are you!

While DBT really is the gold standard in treatment for emotion regulation disorders, Mentalization-Based Treatment (or MBT) isn't far behind. In fact, TARA's Valerie Porr has called it the "missing piece" of DBT, and I agree. 

MBT is therapy that can help us to close the gap in helping us to understand ourselves and others. It's about keeping the "mind in mind" and may help us to create more meaningful and sustaining relationships. For me, that's definitely a part of a life worth living.

30 Days of Mentalizing is a way to introduce mentalization into our lives in a manner that is easy to understand and implement.

Also, one of the coolest things about MBT is that it incorporates art so there will be several
activities each week that will use things like painting, music, photography, and video to help us connect with our emotions and thoughts in a new way.  

I'd love for you to learn more about 30 
Days of Mentalizing. 

Participants will receive their very first program email on June 1 at 12:00 pm Central, and the investment is just $15. I'd love for you to be a part of something I hope will be both beneficial to our recovery and fun at the same time.

Please e-mail if you have any questions, please email me here.

Thank you!

Click HERE to sign up for the program!

Couponing to Contribute: A DBT Distress Tolerance Skill Application In Real Life

As emotionally sensitive people, we often think that when we do something, we must do it big…fantastically…brilliantly, and with all of our effort, every single time.  The fact is, this is not always the case, and it’s a lot of pressure to put on oneself if you’re feeling down and distressed. Sometimes, when feeling like this, just doing the minimum in terms of self-care and our responsibilities is all that is realistic.

Beyond this, when feel we have nothing to give, if we put forth the tiniest effort to do so anyway, we can be reap the rewards of this distress tolerance skill while helping others. This, as I’ve mentioned before, truly is a win-win DBT Skill.

Last night, feeling bored and restless, I decided to do something constructive with my time and do meal planning for the week. As part of this, I used the app for one of the grocery store chains that we have here in California.  With it, I tend to find ways to save money with coupons and specials.

As I was scrolling through, I noticed a few items that the store was offering me completely free of charge, so I added the offers to my store card.  This meant I could go to the store, add these items to my cart during my regular shopping, at check-out they would be deducted from the total cost, and I’d receive them for free.

These are the items that came up:

Screenshot_2013-05-19-10-13-09   Screenshot_2013-05-19-10-13-17

Although these are products I wouldn’t personally choose to shop for, the idea occurred to me that these items could come as a blessing to a family in need.  So, my plan began to form: I’d add these items to my groceries the next day then leave them in a place where the community often leaves things such as food, clothes, books, magazines, and other useful items that others may need or want. 

In the midst of my irritability, boredom, and restlessness, I felt a little smile come on. It felt good inside.  I imagined little children yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, look! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! And look, it comes with a prize inside!”  I knew this was one little way I could contribute – and it didn’t cost me a dime or very much of my time – and it felt GOOD.

Today, I picked up the items, as planned…


…and I dropped them off.

As I drove away, it felt so good to re-imagine a family in need claiming these items.   I will be doing this again the next time such offers come up on that app, and I’ll also clip those occasional free item coupons that come in the various grocery store flyers.  This will be my little way of contributing on those days when I want to get outside of myself and my own problems and concerns and brighten someone else’s day.

I looked around on the net to see how other people were using this opportunity to help others and came across this heartwarming video of a Mom who clips coupons with twenty other local moms, on a large scale, to help a local shelter.  You don't have to take it to this level to make a difference, of course. I just found her commitment and everything she's doing encouraging.  If you have a lot of time on your hands and are looking to fill it with Contributing, it might be something to consider.

I could have watched this video and thought that what I did "wasn't enough," but if it makes just one person smile, and helps them out, I beg to differ. And, I've practiced the skill. Remember that any little thing you do to make a positive difference counts.

Might you try this as a way to contribute?  Do you have any other ideas for how to practice this skill?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Learn Your DBT's with a Marsha Linehan Video Marathon

Dr. Marsha Linehan of Behavioral Tech, LLC. is responsible for developing what is now known as DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  Originally developed to help those with Borderline Personality Disorder, it is now used to treat a wide range of emotion dysregulation disorders and issues.

If you don't know Marsha's story, [Dr. Marsha Linehan comes out as having Borderline Personality Disorder] she was institutionalized as a young woman and considered to be a psychiatric lost cause.  Boy, did she prove the world wrong and pave the way for a hopeful existence for all those who suffer from BPD.

DBT has been a huge part of my recovery.  I was so excited to come across these videos of Marsha talking about DBT.  Enjoy them!  (Thank you very much to the FACES organization for making these available!)

Click here for information on signing up for the online DBT Class that I co-facilitate with therapist Alicia Paz.

Thanks for reading and watching.
More Soon.

Challenging BPD-Related Distorted Thinking to Reduce Your Suffering

In  my early twenties, there were some very specific behaviors that I engaged in related to the BPD symptoms of paranoid ideation and an intense fear of being abandoned.  In this video, my goal is to reach out to those of you with whom these behaviors may ring a bell.

If today is when you have your "a-ha" moment about these destructive, debilitating behaviors so that you can reduce unnecessary suffering for years to come, then how powerful is the potential of that?

I suffered for many years, deep in the thick of these behaviors, unperceptive for the most part to the possibility that I could have been engaging and acting from a place of distorted thinking. There is so much power in awareness. When we become aware of our behaviors, as I eventually did, we can finally make changes.

I look forward to hearing whether you can relate and about your "a-ha" moments along the path.

Thank you for reading and watching.
More Soon.

Skills for a Psychiatric Pickle* (*dilemma) - Rapping about DBT

In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), we learn that if you can solve a problem that is distressing you, then problem solving is a great place to start.  But what happens when you find yourself extremely stressed out by a situation over which you have no immediate control or way of resolving?

We encounter situations like this all of the time, and they often involve waiting for results, waiting on another person to act, or something major that has happened that is completely beyond our control.

The DBT Distress Tolerance skills can come to the rescue when you're in what I call a "Psychiatric Pickle*" (*dilemma).  These skill are also known as "Crisis Survival Skills" are are designed to be used when:

  • Your goal is to keep from making things worse for yourself (i.e. to avoid sabotaging)
  • You cannot change the situation at this time and need to somehow tolerate the distress that this is causing
In her video series, From Chaos to Freedom, Dr. Marsha Linehan teaches that these skills are highly effective in helping us to feel better and make better decisions when we are highly stressed and need to get through the moment.

One set of Distress Tolerance Skills is Distraction.  You can remember these skills by the acronym ACCEPTS:

A - Activities (reading, exercise, hobbies, cleaning, go to an event, get together with friends)
- Contributing (volunteer, do something nice or surprising - doesn't have to be big)
-Comparisons (compare current situation to one that is worse than you're in now)
- Emotions (distract from one emotion by creating another, i.e. through music, reading, movies)
P - Pushing Away (imagine temporarily putting the situation in a box on the shelf)
T- Thoughts (distract your thoughts by focusing on counting objects or something else that takes your focus)
S - Sensations (hold an ice cube, taste a lemon, take a hot shower)

Somebody out there created this rather awesome rap about this skill set.  What do you think of it?

The important thing to remember when you are practicing the Distract skills is that you must allow yourself to become completely immersed in the skill that you choose. For example, if you choose the activity of reading, pick something that will really pull you in and keep your attention -- the goal is to get the focus OFF of your problem temporarily -- after all, what is the point of causing yourself more suffering by ruminating when you can't do anything about the issue in that moment?

The next time you find yourself in this pickle, show yourself some compassion by reducing your suffering through these Distract skills.

Take a look at the list of ideas and jot some down when you are NOT in a crisis, as it's much more difficult to come up with ideas when you are emotionally triggered or activated.  Do you naturally turn to some of these things, like your hobbies, exercise, cleaning, or putting on mood changing music to help when you're feeling distressed?  What else helps?

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

My Graduation From DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) Today

So, what happens when you complete a program designed to help you overcome sabotaging behaviors and to build a life worth living? What happens when it's time to graduate from that program and move on?

I had this bittersweet experience today.  For several years, I have been enrolled in a DBT group/class, and during this time, I went from having nearly all of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder to having only 3 or 4 and to eventually no longer meeting the criteria for a BPD diagnosis.  

DBT has been a huge force for positive change in my life, but it hasn't been without incredible persistence, determination, and effort.  There were times when I nearly gave up because the effort it took to see results sometimes felt daunting, and I wasn't sure it was worth it.  A part of me knew that it was, so I fortunately kept pressing on.  I can't tell you how grateful I am that I listened to that still small voice among all of the negative thoughts I had about how I'd probably never overcome my suffering and always be "sick."

Don't get me wrong. As a human being, I still experience suffering. I am emotionally sensitive, become dysregulated from time to time,  and I suffer from the symptoms of other disorders as well (including Anxiety), but as a result to a commitment to treatment, I went from near constant suffering and self-sabotage to learning how to manage my emotions and better choose my behaviors when in distress.  The outcome has been that I have grown more than I imagined was ever possible and stand before you today as a new DBT graduate.

Initially, I was skeptical that learning and practicing the skills could really work for me.  At times I thought that I was too badly damaged to be helped significantly from the program, and at other times, I thought that I was probably "not bad enough" to need the help that it offered. It depended on what thoughts and judgments came up as I compared myself with others when they shared their stories in group.

A few years ago, having just come out of an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) newly diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and finally having a name to connect with the many symptoms I'd been suffering from, I was beyond excited to learn that there was a clinically proven treatment designed originally for people with BPD (but is now being used to help people with a variety of emotion regulation disorders), and I wanted to sign up right away.

Throughout the pages of this blog and in my two books, you learn about how I've integrated DBT into my life and the process by which it has helped me achieve significant healing.  The group I've been attending has been a huge part of that process, including the people in it.  I've grown so close to my classmates, some of whom have come and gone and returned, others who have been with me for years (our DBT program allows you to repeat the modules until you and your clinical team feel that you are ready to graduate), and, of course, my DBT Therapist, who is very dear to me.  

She, in a loving, respectful, and non-judgmental way, helped me to see the many ways that I was getting in my own way in terms of recovery, was willing to call me out on my crap when I would go into unhealthy behaviors, and she believed in my ability to find healing. She was never patronizing and always compassionate.  I am forever grateful. 

Despite all of the wonderful aspects of attending group, I recently made the decision that it was time for me to graduate. I knew the course materials pretty much  by heart, and I would find myself sometimes getting bored in group.  I kept going for the sense of community, to practice learning the skills from a "beginner's mind" perspective, and to be a support to others. But, since about last winter, I knew that a change was coming, and I was getting ready to set sail.  DBT had eventually become my security blanket -- my safe place.  

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I began to worry that if I didn't keep going to group despite feeling and doing better, than I'd no longer be seen as "sick" and would lose all of my resources. Then I realized I actually didn't want to be sick - not in reality or in anyone else's perception.  I also caught the black or white thinking: "If I graduate from this group I'll lose all of my resources." I knew it didn't work that way.

So, after meeting with my treatment team last week, we all decided, at my suggestion, that it was time for me to graduate.  Today was my last session.  It was bittersweet.  I cried. I had very intense anxiety and panic attacks. I was so flooded with emotions. It was quite the day today (and yesterday in anticipation).  

I was given the floor before we started group and said a little speech about my experience, my decision to graduate, what everyone meant to me and how I'd miss them, and some words of encouragement for those continuing on.  I cried and got lots of hugs.  

Cupcakes I picked up at Whole Foods for my DBT Graduation

I will be attending my DBT therapist's Distress Tolerance stand-alone module that is offered on a drop-in, as-needed basis whenever I feel the need to do so, and I am grateful for this resource. 

Bittersweet, indeed, but a milestone indeed as well. So what's coming up next? Stay tuned. There will be some exiting announcements at this blog later in the month.  Until then, I'll have some helpful posts on coping as an emotionally sensitive person and other related topics.

I am so honored to share my story and this accomplishment with you, my dear readers.

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

Online DBT Group Announcement/Update

Since we launched our initial pilot group (we are now in Week 12), we have been receiving a substantial amount of emails from those of you wanting to get on-board for the next round.

We have a big announcement to make about the new and improved group series that we'll be bringing to you.

We are very excited to continue to bring DBT informed courses to people who otherwise would not be able to access them (due to geographic location, finances, etc.)

Here's where we're at:

  • Waitlist is at 60 people, and since about a dozen are international, we'll accommodate a class for the international time zones.
  • Info on the new platform we're using and why it will benefit you
  • When the new groups start (hint -- it's less than a month a way!) and how to sign up or get on the wait list if you're not already
  • Which courses are offered, how long they run, and the tuition fees
This is just the tip of the iceberg of information that you'll find upon clicking through.

Thank you for reading, and
See you in class!

More Soon.

UPDATE: You can learn more about this course by visiting DBT Path.

BPD and Identity Issues Around Your Name

For most of my life, I've felt a lack of a sense of connection with my name.  While this can be true for many people who don't have BPD, I have connected with many people over the years who have Borderline Personality Disorder and have also had this experience.

A conversation today got me thinking about this issue on a personal level, and I'm wondering about your experience of having a connection with your name and how this ties in with your identity.

Check out this video, and I look forward to hearing about your experience.

Thanks for reading and watching.
More Soon.

DBT Skills for Anxiety and Fear That Convince Your Mind To Calm Down

Even when we get to where we feel quite proficient in working the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills to cope with upsetting and distressing emotions, such emotions will continue to show up in our lives.  Life happens. The good, the bad, the ugly. The happy and upbeat, and then the less desirable, distressing emotions, like anxiety -- they all continue to show up.  How we handle them when they arise determines whether we'll suffer additionally and unnecessarily, or if we'll trek along on the road of recovery.

This morning, I woke up with an upset stomach.  As a result, I became quite anxious. I worried about all of the possible reasons why I felt the way I did, and initially, I was unconscious of how I was making  my physical sensations worse. 

As a result of regularly practicing noticing what's happening in my body and mind and my goal of shifting to a more rational or wise state of mind when I become emotionally dysregulated, I realized that in order to begin to feel better, I needed to notice what was happening in my body.

In doing so, I noticed that I was holding an incredible amount of tension in my abdominal area (tightening it out of a fear response), tensing my shoulders, and breathing in a shallow way. (It is AMAZING what you will notice that you had no awareness of before when you deliberately set out to do this. Try it next time you're feeling upset.)

The amazing thing about the inter-connectedness between mind and body is that simply beginning to notice our physical experience, (although it may initially have the opposite effect) can begin to calm us down.  As we become aware of how we may be contributing to our body sending distress signals to the mind that "something is wrong" through holding unnecessary tension or breathing rapidly, we can adjust  these issues to send new messages to the brain.

We can reassure our brain and nervous system that we are not in any real danger.   We can release the tension in our bodies either by simply becoming aware of them and letting go or by doing something a little bit more in-depth, like a guided meditation. Muscle tension and release exercises work wonderfully for this, too. Here are some that I recommend.

The easiest and one of the most effective go-to tools that I've found is adjusting the breath.  Become mindful of your breathing pattern, then deliberately, kindly, and gently begin to slow it down.  As you hyperventilate less, messages get sent to the brain that say that it's okay to calm down.

I also recommend self-soothing through self-talk. Reminding myself that "No mood or feeling is permanent" and that "this too shall pass" significantly helped reduce my feelings of anxiety.

I effectively used these skills this morning. How do I know? I'm feeling quite better and did not make matters worse by acting in any way that I would later regret.  I took care of myself and began to identify what might be at the root of the episode this morning. As Dr. Marsha Linehan says, everything is caused.

I am going through a lot of change right now with the transition of this blog, finals at school, a new book in progress, and issues in my personal life. I woke up this morning feeling some guilt and shame over some feelings and thoughts I've recently had - very human thoughts, but because I experienced the fear and shame, I believe this had a profound impact on how my stomach felt this morning. I am also graduating after THREE years from DBT group tomorrow.  I am excited about the accomplishment and feel that it is the right time, but I still have some sadness, especially around leaving a group of women with whom I have grown quite connected in connection with learning and practicing the skills over the years.

So, which came first - the chicken or the egg?  Did I have a little stomach bug or upset and then get anxious, or was I anxious first and then had gastrointestinal symptoms as a result of the anxiety? It's hard to say what caused what, and at this point, (and even in the throw of the intensity of the symptoms) it doesn't matter.

What matters is empowering ourselves by taking the control that is available to us through skillful response.

Can you relate to the experience of anxiety?  What skills do you practice to help you cope effectively and not make matters worse?  What are the challenges?

As always, your comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

PS  If you want to learn more about the science of the mind body connection when it comes to anxiety and how we can intervene in the process, check out this post:


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