Coping With Distressing, Stress-Induced "Scary" Thoughts



Okay. I'm going through a particularly difficult time. A rough patch.  The Queen of emotion management and the poster child for recovery has been suffering and in need of extra support. I was waiting it out a bit in hopes that it would be very fleeting and I had hopes that I would "snap out of it," something that usually isn't very realistic when we are suffering deeply, and something I would never suggest to anyone else. 

Sometimes it's difficult and challenging for me as a mental health advocate, writer, and teacher to write when I myself have a setback or am feeling anything but top notch. I recently did this video on managing a setback for all of you... the truth is, in many ways, I needed it too. In revealing my own struggles at this point,  I worry that I will let others down or discourage people that have witnessed my recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder that being in recovery isn't all unicorns and rainbows, but the truth is, we all know it isn't, and it's unfair to others and to myself to pretend it is. I've acknowledged in the past that this would be a disservice.

That's why I won't hide in shame and am convincing myself there is nothing to be ashamed of when going through a hard time.  I am still in recovery from BPD.  I don't meet enough of the criteria for a diagnosis, and I would say that most all of the symptoms are at bay.  I would also say that my vulnerability of being an emotionally sensitive person is what is showing up right now.

For those of you who do not know, last month, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  Everyone around me, myself included was taken aback by the ease with which I was applying Radical Acceptance to the fact that I'd been told I have this disorder.  I was taking it in stride, focusing on one moment a time, and keeping in mind my neurologist's warning that stress and anxiety would amplify my neurological symptoms exponentially. So, I think there was a part of me that resisted and even repressed opportunities to cry, grieve, freak out, or panic over things so upsetting such as not being able to feel one of my feet or legs for hours a time... tingles in my limbs that progress to intense vibrations just walking from the car to a storefront, and more recently, feeling like my legs are weighted down by cement blocks, causing me to tire just from standing in line at the post office for more than a few minutes.  This past week, I also followed through on getting a handicap placard for my car for those days when I need to conserve energy while getting on with my life.

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I finally broke down on Monday. A friend and close source of support mentioned wanting to move back to Europe but felt unable to do so because of what I am going through.  I lost it.  Immediately, my thoughts went to: "I'm a burden.  This person feels trapped."  A train was running by at the moment, blaring it's horn, and, with tears now streaming down my face, I blurted out, "I should just jump in front of that train and end it all!"  I became so anxious that, number one, I'd even have such a thought, and secondly that I would say it aloud and worry someone who loves me.  The thought felt very intrusive and scary.  In my heart of hearts, I know I want to go one living and living a life worth living. I know that I would not follow through on harming myself.  I also know that I felt incredibly overwhelmed, desperate, and unresolved inside (in terms of my fears and concerns about living with MS).  The thought felt/feels very intrusive and OCD-like.  Also, a pattern I have seen in my professional and personal experience over the years is that when a person talks about something like this, it is usually a desperate cry for help more than a true desire to die.  Sometimes we feel so trapped and can't see anything but our fears and pain, and it gets us into a dark place.  We need to ask for help. This thought about the train bothered me and kept coming into my head -- not so much wanting to actually do it but the fear around feeling so desperately that such thoughts would even enter my mind.  I mentioned it to my physical therapist yesterday when I broke down during our appointment, grieving the inability to run or to even walk normally right now.  This set off, of course, a string of events that eventually got me talking to my doctor and then to a crisis support worker in psychiatry, and then to my psychiatrist this morning. I'm glad it did. I don't need to go at this alone or in private.

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I am okay and am going to be okay, but what a scare! I'm still shaken up and am concerned, but I'm taking steps to get back to feeling and staying well. This incident has really illuminated the fact that I do not need to be a super woman. It is human for anyone, with a background in mental health issues or not, to have a reaction, an upset, a freak out, over being diagnosed with a serious illness.  In my psychiatrist's words, it's "normal." In fact, she and my treatment team are RELIEVED that I am acknowledging and allowing myself to go through the experience of feeling my feelings. It was a bit concerning for them that I hadn't!  Here's what I'm doing right now to take care of myself:

  1. I reached out to Physical Therapist, talked to doctor, crisis worker, and psychiatrist. Psychiatrist has discontinued my weaning off of Ativan and has put me back on it at the time being. I agreed that I do not need this additional variable potentially affecting my chemistry and causing psychiatric and physical withdrawal symptoms.  I am also being connected with an individual appointment with the DBT doctor who facilitated the DBT groups I attended for nearly two years. I'm looking forward to this and see it as a "tune up" to help me address where I can strengthen my use of skills and stay on track -- while also allowing myself to have the full range of normal emotions given my situation.
  2. I'm changing my thoughts.
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    Some of the upsetting thoughts I was having that were causing intense emotional distress were: "I am/will become a burden to others. Others feel/will feel trapped needing to take care of me."  It helped to be reminded today (since I still suffer from BPD Black or White thinking and have difficulty seeing shades of grey) that these are JUST THOUGHTS, and furthermore, anyone who CHOOSES to be by my side and help me is responsible for that choice.  If they choose to be by my side and help me, they are doing it out of love and choice.  I am not responsible for that and need to let these thoughts go.  This brought a lot of relief. It's true.  We're all adults here. If someone really didn't want to cope or help with my situation, they are, in reality, free to go. I'm not forcing anyone to do anything.  I honestly think I'll need to keep reinforcing my Wise Mind when these thoughts reappear. They are quite triggering -- but I've coped effectively with other triggering thoughts over the years. Even though this is more challenging, I can do it with support, which I am seeking and receiving.
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  3. I checked in with my business partner for reassurance.  The main reason I did not want to run DBT classes on my own is because I know that I am a peer, not a doctor or therapist. I know that there are times when my own mental health issues need to be dealt with.  I am so fortunate to have Alicia in my life and to be running my business with her. She is a compassionate, understanding business partner and friend, and she has my back on this. She reassured me, which helped bring my anxiety down substantially.  My plan is to return to work this afternoon. My psychiatrist agrees that it's a good idea. Getting my mind off of these issues and helping others is therapeutic and helpful, and I am blessed to have such work.  I am very responsible with what and how I share during groups.  Students know that I am a peer and often thank me for my transparency around my own struggles, current or past, and what I am doing or have done to get through them.  Knowing that not hiding in shame encourages others helps me, too!
  4. I'm self-soothing my nervous system today.  I have acoustic guitar playing on Calm Radio.  I have my yoga mat and blankets on the floor to practice guided meditations throughout the day, including on work breaks.  I will take my anti-anxiety medication as prescribed later today.  I am sipping on beverages and eating as my appetite slowly resurfaces from the stress and anxiety, and I am going to follow through with my upcoming appointments. I may even get back into a weekly group for a while until I feel I don't need that anymore. I am going to yoga and volunteering with the homeless kitties in the next few days, too.   I'll keep you all posted on the progress and what's working.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share in this way. It's been a while since I've had something of this magnitude that has affected me the way this has.  I want to be clear that I am not looking to elicit or receive ANY pity or anyone to feel bad for me in any way.   I am a strong woman, and even in strength, we need to lean on others sometimes.  I will get through this. It's just huge, and I am sensitive, so I need to take extra good care of myself and allow others to help and support me as I adjust.

Stay encouraged, as will I.  We are never alone.


Thank you for reading.

More soon.

In kindness,
Debbie

4 comments:

  1. I can relate to this post so much even though my exact experience and situations are very different. These include the feeling of being a burden, the feelings of unjustified - but valid - guilt over not being, as we might see it, a "good enough" role model, the mix of physical challenges exacerbating emotional ones. These are incredibly powerful emotions and situations that can take our thoughts for a wild ride.

    Your solutions in changing your thoughts are so on, in my opinion. Simply reminding ourselves that these are *just thoughts* and they may not be real, can bring us back to reality so much of the time. I think your efforts to stay in Wise Mind are and will be paying off.

    I honor and respect you so much for sharing yourself with such vulnerability, always reorienting back to effectiveness. That is mindfulness in action. Continue to be like the willow... flexible enough not to be broken by the storms, sturdy enough not to falter. So much warmth sent your way... <3

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    1. Dear Aeshe,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I know you really "get it." Thank you for the support, encouragement, and your eloquent use of language, which moves me.

      ♥ Willow (Debbie) :)

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  2. Beautifully written, big hugs and remember; emotions are never ever permanent.

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    1. Thank you so much, dear Andy. Very kind of you... and we ALL need this reminder from time to time. :) ♥ Debbie

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