I experienced these types of episodes (literally) about every 6 months for as long as I can remember. Usually, I would end up in the emergency room. Years ago, I would go in and tell the nurse that I was having thoughts about harming myself. Almost always, they hospitalized me (in-patient) for anywhere from 3-14 days. As time went on, I admitted myself to psychiatry less and less. I desperately wanted to have a “normal” life like, seemingly, everyone around me. I wanted to hold down a job, have friends, and be self-sufficient. Although my intentions were good and admirable, I unfortunately lacked the skills to take the actions needed to reach these goals. Also, I was working hard to stay out of the hospital for my new boyfriend at the time, who told me that I “didn’t “need to be in those places” and that he would leave me if I went in again. The terror of losing him/him abandoning me was far more scary than not receiving the attention, comfort, and safety that I felt when I was cared for by the staff in the psychiatry department.
While I stopped admitting myself to the hospital for overtly psychiatric reasons and complaints, I continued to have an episode about every 6 months, and I’d find myself in the emergency room. Wait. That sounds passive. I chose to go to the emergency room.
I’d become dehydrated from getting myself so worked up, combined with a lack of appetite, vomiting, and, you know what else comes along with all of that when you are really stressed and nervous. I couldn’t see it then, but I can see it now: I manifested PTSD in physical symptoms. This way, I could still go to the hospital and feel loved and taken care of, but my boyfriend wouldn’t leave — surely physical sickness couldn’t be my fault. My nervous system would go into overdrive because of some trigger. Sometimes I would know what had caused my distress, and other times I wouldn’t (these episodes would be even more terrifying, because I would worry that something actually were physically wrong with me and that I might die), but up until I started DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), I really didn’t know what triggers were or how to cope when they arose. So, instead, I fell apart. I would beg others in desperation to save me from myself – to help me. I felt very dependent.
|Image Courtesy of University of Florida|
I also had no idea, no consciousness, no mindfulness that this was, in fact what I was doing. I didn’t really begin to “get it” and to subsequently learn how to handle such episodes until I really embraced and dived into DBT. At first, I was so desperate for anything that would make me feel better, that I threw myself into the classwork and homework. I participated actively in the group therapy, even though I remained pretty skeptical that any of this was really going to help me. I figured I was worse than most of the people they had been used to dealing with.
And, at first, I really didn’t notice anything. I thought it was a bunch of psycho babble that really wasn’t impacting my life. Still desperate for some glimmer of hope that this could be the program that helped me figure out who I was, how to take care of myself, and how to stop hurting myself and sabotaging my life, I didn’t give up. This was unusual for me. I’ve given up on almost everything that had been difficult for too long. I wanted this badly.
I can now tell you that, while I still have very difficult days (even just this past week!), I am doing a lot better. I continue to attend weekly DBT meetings. I do the homework. I participate in the group therapy. I practice the DBT Skills on pretty much a daily basis.
I’ve noticed that, while I still have immense room for improvement in many areas (especially relationships/making and keeping friendships), I have improved when it comes to emotion regulation. No longer do my feelings dictate my life. There have been times when I wanted to quit my job due to intense, difficult emotions, but I didn’t. Now there is space between the impulse and the reaction. This is something we learn in the mindfulness module of the course.
There have been so many instances where I could have made an impulsive decision that may have relieved my anxiety or despair in that moment but would ultimately sabotage my life in the long term, but I didn’t. I used my DBT skills instead.
I’m very grateful that Dr. Marsha Linehan founded this program. It is really changing my life for the better…and if you want it bad enough, and you’re willing to do the work, it can change yours, too.
Thank you for reading.