Mental Health

My Experience in Support Groups So Far

I have been to many support groups so far. Some I liked, some I didn’t like, and some that just did not happen. These stories are based on my experience and should not be solely used to persuade or dissuade finding a support group.

My first attempt at a support group falls into the “Just Did Not Happen” category. In 2017, I wanted to go to a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group for people with mental illness (there is a support group for family members of mentally ill people too). This was because I had given up on therapy back then and wanted to learn tools and techniques. However, the advertisement on a local newspaper printed the wrong date so there was no meeting that day. The support group was usually on Wednesdays and Wednesdays are kickboxing days.

Years later (in September 2020), I decided to join an online support group for autistic people who were either professionally diagnosed or suspect that they’re autistic. This is where I found AANE. My second attempt at a support group also fell into the “Just Did Not Happen” category, but this was due to the facilitator being unable to log into Zoom. I have returned to that group and have had fun ever since. More on that later.

I really wanted to go to a support group this past September, so I went to another support group (also with AANE). I didn’t have as much fun because I had a headache and introductions took up most of the time. It also wasn’t at my desired time, so I switched back to the aforementioned group time.

October 2020 was the first time I experienced a support group in which I enjoyed. I thought that the group facilitator forgot to show up in September, but I found out that the facilitator had technology issues. There were not as many people in that group that month as is typical, so I had a lot of fun talking with the facilitator and other group members. This month, I had even more fun! With this group, it isn’t as structured regarding topics. We introduce ourselves and we talk about things based on what someone said. I learned from someone that I may find comfort in logic because I am a musician for fun and music can be logic-based. Well, that explains why I wanted a music theory book.

Going slightly off subject, I will talk about AANE support groups. This is not an endorsement for AANE and I am neither an employee nor facilitator of their support groups. With AANE support groups being virtual now, it gives people living outside of the New England area of the United States a place for support. Heck, there have been people living outside of the US attending the meetings! Many of the facilitators either have a family member who is autistic or the facilitator is autistic. Not only are there support groups for autistic people, but there are also support groups for non-autistic people who have an autistic partner (this support group is not free), parents with autistic kids, grandparents with autistic kids, women, etc. Events are listed in a calendar format here. These groups require registration ahead of time since you will need to register to get the Zoom link. This also means that your name on Zoom needs to be the name you used to register because the facilitators’ Zoom is set with a waiting room and they check your name against the name in their registration list before you get in. Due to this, I will not tell you which support group I attend. I will also not disclose myself in the support group if you happen to show up to the same one I attend and say that you found out about the support group because of blogger DiaryOfSelf. You would know my real name if I did that and I prefer to go by “Dia” or “Cara” in certain online spaces. I hope there can still be virtual meetings once in-person meetings are safe again because there is only one support group in my state.

I decided to try a women’s group as well! However, I came out of it feeling hopeless because they made me realize even more that an autism diagnosis will cause issues with medical support (they mentioned the problem with doctors and female patients as well as doctors and the problems with neurodivergent patients) and disclosing a diagnosis will mean that any REASONABLE accommodations I would need will likely not be given to me. However, my doctor takes me seriously and the way that my job works, I can declare a disability online without my supervisor knowing. I would probably talk about any accommodations needed with my role’s lead (not my supervisor). I may go again in December to see how I feel, but I think I am going to stick with the group that causes me to have a lot of fun!

It took some time for me to find a group that I liked, and this may be the case for you too. Figure out your expectations for support groups and find support groups that meet your expectations.

Mental Health

Mindfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Note: I am new to this type of therapy so I am not endorsing this type of therapy. Unlike many forms of mental health treatment, you can do this on your own with self-help books if you cannot find a therapist who is trained in this.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a modified form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) started by Marsha Linehan as a way to treat people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). However, DBT has also been used to treat people with mood disorders, substance abuse disorders, PTSD, and other mental illnesses. One DBT center said it treats therapy-resistant anxiety and my therapist said DBT has also been helpful in the neurodiverse population. DBT can be conducted in weekly group therapy and individual therapy. My therapy center has a DBT group, but I can’t make either group time, so I get individual DBT from my therapist.

There are four modules of DBT: mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. For the purpose of this blog, I will only focus on mindfulness because I have only been working on the mindfulness module. Group therapists will cover the modules in one of two ways: 1. For a 20-week session (session weeks vary), you will spend five weeks on each module; or 2. There will not be a separate module for mindfulness, but mindfulness will be covered for two or three weeks before fully starting with the other three modules. Mindfulness will be taught first in either situation because mindfulness skills are a basis of the other skills you will be learning. My therapist tailors her individual sessions to each client so sometimes she may teach mindfulness first for many weeks, or she’ll integrate it in other skills. For me, she is teaching me mindfulness first.

So what is this mindfulness mumbo jumbo that some people know I hate? Despite people treating it as a cure for mental illnesses, mindfulness is just being aware of the present moment and not making judgments. For example, I can use mindfulness to notice when I’m starting to feel anxiety and not judge myself for getting more anxious over things than other people. You can also use mindfulness when you’re touching an object with a specific texture (only do this with textures that don’t trigger any sensory sensitivities unless you are being asked to desensitize yourself to that texture). Mindfulness is Step 1 of many steps to take when under distress. You have to notice your distress before you can do anything about it. While mindfulness started in the context of Eastern religions like Buddhism, mindfulness in a DBT setting does not have a religious context.

So why am I doing DBT now? I thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder, so I asked for a DBT self help book and a self-help book specifically tailored to DBT for anxiety. I never did much in those books. CBT also failed to treat my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (the therapy considered most helpful in treating GAD) and not many people at my old therapy center had many therapists trained in DBT. I found this therapy center since they treated people with more severe mental illnesses. My previous therapy center only seemed to focus on anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities.

Some things you can do to enhance your practice:

  • Exploring things with a “beginner’s mind”: This means observing something as if you are seeing it for the very first time. One of the things I have seen as a way to practice this is to use a raisin (or other tiny snack) to take notice of the raisin and how it tastes
  • Meditation: This is a commonly-suggested form of mindfulness practice. Months and years of practice will help you be a bit calmer so you can more effectively take notice of what’s going on with your body and mind
  • Breathing Exercises: This is something I’m working on right now with my therapist. I often stop breathing or breathe too fast under anxiety, so the breathing exercises will help me to actually breathe and to help calm my mind a little bit before I proceed taking any actions
  • Listening: This could be a part of meditation if you like meditating with music, but you can pay attention to the sounds you hear. This could help you pay attention to someone speaking if you tend to hear someone without fully listening to them. I have the problem where I listen to someone so I can find something to reply to and it causes me to interrupt people.

Mindfulness has become trendy, which I hate. I never heard of it until it became trendy, but people try to portray it as a one-size-fits-all cure (which it’s not). It wasn’t until this year that seeing the word “mindfulness” made me feel incredible anger. With a prior therapist, I was just doing mindfulness stuff to humor her. With this therapist, I learn and practice with her first before I practice on my own and it feels like less of a chore.

Mindfulness skills I learned with this therapist so far:

  • Breathe out longer than you breathe in: This ties in with the breathing exercises mentioned earlier. For this, you exhale for twice as long as you inhaled. We tried three different rhythms twice: Breathe in for two counts, breathe out for four counts; breathe in for three counts, breathe out for six counts; breathe in for four counts, breathe out for eight counts. I found that the four-eight rhythm works best and I have practiced this with my husband who was undergoing workplace stress due to his boss who luckily quit his job there.
  • Body scan: Pretend there is a big hula hoop that is acting as a scanner. Start that hula hoop above the top of your head. Mentally lower that hula hoop and notice any tension or tightness in the area that is being “scanned”. Relax the tense body part. The hula hoop will end at your feet.

I may talk about the other modules of DBT at a later date once I learn them.

LGBTQ · Rant

Rant: Stop Using Cishet as a Slur!

I know, I know. I’m a very busy grad student, but have been posting on this blog very often lately. I have been scheduling blogs to be sent in time gaps so you don’t get multiple posts on the same week. However, this blog has been posted as soon as it was written.

This is a rant to the LGBTQ community from a person who is a part of that community.

The LGBTQ community is not as nice as people think it is. It seriously isn’t. Not only do non-monosexual people (bisexuals, pansexuals, polysexuals, omnisexuals, or anyone else who experiences attraction to more than one gender) get a lot of hate by gay people, but they also experience erasure and are not seen as valid unless their significant other is of their same gender. However, there is a bigger problem I’m having with the LGBTQ community right now that is making me no longer want to be a part of the community:

The use of “cis” and “cishet” in negative ways.

For my readers who are unfamiliar with those terms, let me be your dictionary. Cis is short for cisgender. Cisgender means that you are not transgender. Cishet means cisgender and heterosexual.

Some of you may be familiar with Tumblr having a negative reputation for having “social justice warriors” (it was really bad between 2012 and 2016) and it was on Tumblr where I first witnessed oppressed people hating people belonging in privileged groups. The LGBTQ community hated straight allies. People were so anti-white that my friend at the time felt bad for being white. “Die cis scum”.

However, a lot of the anti-cis and anti-cishet people are escaping Tumblr and have found their way to Discord. I left an LGBTQ server because someone said cis people are so backwards. It was in relation to a shortage on estrogen pills, but there are cisgender women who take estrogen as well. I’m cisgender, so I took great offense to it. I know the LGBTQ server became mostly a trans server, but hate has no place. On a server that I might leave as well*, people have been using the term cishet ONLY when they have negative things to say about cisgender and heterosexual people. However, this morning, someone said that cishet people are so awful. This made me extremely angry because my husband is not a part of the LGBTQ community. For awhile, I stopped talking about my husband on there due to possible anti-cishet hate and despite me not being the only person on that server in a different-gender relationship, I felt like I’d be hated for marrying a cisgender man. There is a channel on that server where you rant about stuff, so I ranted about it, muted the server for 24 hours, and closed off DMs from people on that server.

Not all cisgender people are transphobic. Not all heterosexuals hate people who aren’t heterosexual. Not all cisgender heterosexual people hate people who are a part of the LGBTQ community. The fact that I have to tell oppressed people to not hate all privileged people is dumb. (Also, I saw someone today saying neurotypical people are stupid on the “cishets are so awful” server. Maybe I should leave*. However, I am too old for most LGBTQ servers and there’s nowhere else that can give me LGBTQ support because most are only for people 19 and under) Hate can’t be solved by hate.

LGBTQ people have left the community due to toxicity like this and I may be the next person to abandon the LGBTQ community.

Dear LGBTQ community. Do better. This is why you are losing allies and not gaining new ones. This is why people in your community hate you.

*Feb. 2021 Update: As of January 2021, I am no longer a part of the server. I have nowhere to go for LGBT support and may abandon the LGBT community because I hate how the community has turned.

Self-Discovery · Self-Reflection

(Re)Discovering Me (Part 2: Discovering and Rediscovering my Interests)

While this isn’t necessarily meant to be a neurodiversity-related blog, I should mention that autistic people have special interests and I am trying to figure out if I had any interests that went so deep as to count as a special interest. See Part 1 here.

Now that I no longer live with my parents, I feel more free to discover and rediscover myself, my interests, and passions since I am free from possible judgment. Now that I’m learning more about myself, I can look at things with a different lens. Welcome to another self-reflection, by the girl who calls herself Dia or Cara on here (story of why I picked fake names for this blog here).

When I was younger, my primary interests were music and medical stuff. My current interest deals with social justice.

Music interest: I first started playing instruments when I was in 4th grade when I played the clarinet in band. I switched over to bass clarinet in the middle of seventh grade. I originally wanted to switch to the bassoon, but after a trial period during new instrument try-it-out time, I couldn’t play the bassoon because my fingers were too skinny to cover the holes. I took beginning piano during junior year to fill a class period spot in my schedule. I wanted to do music theory, but I felt like I’d have a hard time during ear training when you have to identify notes without seeing what is being played. During grades 11 and 12, I was in pit orchestra which meant I had to play the clarinet again. I started losing interest in music during my senior year of high school when I didn’t make the all-county band (I swear it was because someone pointed me to the wrong direction of my audition room which caused me to be late) and I couldn’t hear when instruments are out of tune in comparison to other people. I was planning to take digital photography as my fine art credit during university, but it would have caused my schedule to be weird with two days where I’m taking 4 classes and two days where I’d only be taking digital photography. Therefore, I decided to do Intro to Music in History (I shorten it to Music History) as my fine art credit. I returned to music at my unitarian universalist church by singing in the choir. However, last year, our choir director stepped down and we never found a new choir director before Covid shut down churches. While I was waiting for a director, I wanted to continue doing music, so I became a percussionist in the house band. I only got to perform twice before… yep. Covid shut things down. Music is still happening virtually, via us playing along to music that will be edited together, but this semester is a busy semester. I got a music theory book for my birthday so I can continue reigniting my interest in music, and finding the right music theory book was a tough journey. Looking through Amazon (I was forced to create an account to access an eBook for training, so I just use it for wish lists), many of the books were very basic music theory stuff, like learning musical notes and time signatures. Stuff I first learned in elementary school.

Medical interest: It’s weird that I have an interest in medical stuff since seeing a doctor always caused great anxiety for me. I wanted to be a doctor because I woke up in the middle of the night, watched Children’s Hospital (no, not the Adult Swim show. It was filmed in the UK and aired on the now-defunct Discovery Health channel), and enjoyed the show. Looking back, it’s a good thing I’m not a doctor due to the misogyny women doctors face and the fact that American society is becoming disturbingly anti-doctors and anti-medicine. I would read the medical encyclopedia mom got (I got rid of it before 2009 since the encyclopedia was made in 1989 and information was out of date) and even helped my dad when he needed to go to urgent care for stitches back when I was 9 (be careful with knives). I majored in nursing during my first year of university, but due to still-undiagnosed neurodiverse condition(s) and the fact that having a differently-wired brain makes university so much harder, my GPA wasn’t high enough to continue unless I either retake a class or stay for an extra year. I still like to watch medical stuff and I still struggle to find good surgery videos, but I don’t have nearly the same level of interest that I once had. However, I am a very strong believer in medicine, despite people now thinking that people who take prescription medicine are stupid for listening to their doctors.

Social Justice interest: I have no choice but to have an interest in fighting for social justice. I’m black. I’m a woman. I’m bisexual. I’m mentally ill. I have an undiagnosed neuropsychological disability. I need to fight for my right to live. However, people have tried to silence me in more ways than one. People only use the term “liberal” in a negative way. Social Justice Warrior once had a positive connotation, but now has a negative connotation. I could go on and on. I am finally free to fight for social justice more often. While I go to a Unitarian Universalist church, it seems like Unitarian Universalism cares more about environmental justice. When nationwide protests started happening earlier this year, my church finally started caring about black rights (it’s a mostly-white church). However, the vigil was led by white people, I left the social justice committee because the members were speaking on my behalf and were being white saviors, and an anti-racist white caucus group was started. This is a problem that many oppressed people face. Our allies are speaking on our behalf instead of standing with us and helping to amplify our voices. I could write a Master’s thesis on people speaking on others’ behalf (this is a big problem in autistic communities and LGBT communities as well). Please don’t take this as a sign that we don’t need your help. Just be mindful of how to help and to sit down and shut up when we are present. We have a voice. We can use it. I have to have an interest in social justice until the day I die, even though I have many factors that will give me a much shorter life span than everyone else.

I hope in the time I have left, I can learn and have the time to dive deeper into my interests.