Mental Health

The Helpfulness of Neurodivergent Therapists for Neurodivergent People

While it helps to have a therapist who understands neurodivergence, there’s a special feeling in having a therapist who happens to also be neurodivergent.

This post is inspired by my therapist. On January 31st of this year, my therapist disclosed that she’s neurodivergent (specifically ADHD). I suspected her to be neurodivergent, but only because I felt like she knew WAY too much about neurodivergence to be neurotypical. She was able to notice during our first appointment that I’m neurodivergent.

To me, it is VERY important to have a therapist who has a proper understanding of neurodivergence and does not try to change the client to act normal. Therapy also never worked for me because I did not receive an autism diagnosis until almost a year ago. A lack of a proper diagnosis has done more harm to me and others than good when it comes to therapy treatments. I talk more about how therapists have contributed to issues with people who have autistic traits here. Yes, you can go on Psychology Today’s find a therapist site and find a therapist who works with autistic clients, clients with an intellectual disability, clients with ADHD, or clients with learning disabilities, but how many of those therapists have a proper understanding and aren’t simply trying to fix the client to make them normal? How many of those therapists can help a neurodivergent person navigate the world when their normal is different from society’s normal?

The advantages of having a therapist who is neurodivergent are that they have the lived experience of being neurodivergent and they can more easily detect clients who are neurodivergent whether they have a diagnosis or not. However, there is no database I’m aware of that will help you find therapists who are neurodivergent themselves. Then again, that’s not surprising when people are told not to disclose their neurodivergence in the workplace.

Therapists, how can you help stop the shame and internalized ableism in your clients?

Mental Health · Self-Reflection

Done With DBT Program: My Final Thoughts

Hello everyone, I have completed all 24 weeks of the DBT Skills Group program at my therapy center. In this program, everyone who completed all 4 modules “graduate” from the program. Just like in my Halfway Done blog post, I will be discussing things under an autistic lens. Please read that blog post for some background information on how the program is formatted and why I was in the DBT program.

In the first two modules discussed in the aforementioned blog post, we focused on “middle path” skills and interpersonal effectiveness. After that blog post, we focused on the modules that I felt were the most important to me: distress tolerance and emotion regulation.

For distress tolerance, we learned to do Pros and Cons, TIPP, ACCEPTS, IMPROVE, Radical Acceptance, and Willingness. I have a hard time with ACCEPTS and IMPROVE because those are long acronyms. TIPP has become my go-to skill and Pros and Cons helps me with decision-making as I have a hard time with making decisions.

For emotion regulation, we learned to identify emotions, identify myths about emotions and how to challenge the myths, checking the facts, opposite action, and problem solving. Identifying emotions is very difficult for me due to alexithymia (I talk about it here), so I liked that we got an emotion wheel to help out with identifying emotions on a deeper level than mad, sad, and glad (or in my case, anger and anxiety). Figuring out how to challenge myths was hard to the point of nearly impossible, mainly because the homework already included examples of how to challenge myths so I wasn’t able to come up with my own challenges.

Let’s go back to a question I asked myself: Is DBT autism-friendly? I feel like the emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills were a bit more autism-friendly, but DBT as a whole needs more work to be autism-friendly. Actually, therapy as a whole needs to be autism-friendly. Maybe I’ll write a post about it. So one thing about emotion regulation that I liked that fits my autism profile is the emotion wheel. I have trouble identifying my emotions, but I also find visual cues helpful. The emotion wheel helps me visually identify my emotions. I like the colors too. Smiley face. I also like the acronyms for distress tolerance skills as I can see the words to figure out what to do. Side note: I found this one poster at my autism evaluation center and bought a travel-sized version of it. Here’s the Generation Mindful product I bought. Again, I love the visual representation that I can easily refer to.

So what do I think about the program as a whole? I have seen progress in using these skills and I finally found skills that work! Before DBT, NO therapy skills worked! I would still do them to humor the therapist even though I knew there would be no results. I had therapy-resistant anxiety. While DBT was originally made for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, I feel like this type of therapy also works for people with therapy-resistant mental illnesses. Did nothing work in the past? Try DBT. DBT skills groups also teach skills by learning the skills and practicing the skills via homework or group activities. However, my DBT group also had diary cards you had to do each week, which I don’t know if all groups require it. This forces you to do the work to “get better” and to maybe put in more effort than you usually did in therapy.

There are many worksheets in the DBT book I used that weren’t assigned for homework. As my therapist is a part of a group of DBT therapists at my therapy center, she plans to give me occasional homework out of that book to continue my DBT practice.

Mental Health · Self-Reflection

Halfway Done DBT Skills Group. How is it So Far?

Hello everyone! I have finished 2 of 4 DBT skills group modules and I wanted to discuss and evaluate DBT and my skills group as a whole. Unlike some other DBT discussions, I will be discussing things under an autistic lens as well.

For a bit of background, I have been diagnosed with autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder. DBT was originally created for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, but it has been shown to be helpful for the treatment of other mental illnesses.

The format of my DBT skills group: My DBT skills group consists of 4 modules running for 6 weeks each for a total of 24 weeks. New people can only join at the start of the modules and people “graduate” at the end of their 24 weeks. Graduates are welcome to redo the skills group and some people felt like they were able to grasp the concepts better the second time they did it. We have to fill out and turn in diary cards each week and we also have homework every week which we go over each session after our mindfulness activity. Homework helps us practice our skills. While some DBT groups have a module for mindfulness, we have a mindfulness activity at the start of each week and we teach mindfulness for an entire session at the start of each module. This is our sequence of events during each 2-hour session:

  1. Mindfulness exercise
  2. Homework review
  3. 10-minute break
  4. Skill learning and homework is assigned

Each DBT program may vary from therapy center to therapy center. You may also be required to be in individual therapy in conjunction with DBT group.

Why I am in DBT: I am in DBT because my anxiety has not been responsive to typical therapies. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is supposedly best treated with CBT, but it failed with me. My Panic Disorder diagnosis is very new. These are comorbid with my autism. My goal in DBT is to learn distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills. If DBT fails, then I must be put on medication. I really hope it doesn’t fail, as this is the only therapy option I have left.

Is DBT autism-friendly? Eh… So far, I don’t know if it’s the program facilitators or DBT as a whole, but it doesn’t seem very autism-friendly. One of the things in the emotional regulation/middle path module deals with changing behavior with rewards and consequences. I told my individual therapist that it didn’t sit right with me because it felt like ABA, which autistic people consider an abusive therapy. I’m also struggling really hard with some aspects of interpersonal effectiveness. Due to autistic people having “theory of mind” issues, I can’t determine how I want someone to feel and think about me since I can’t see things from other people’s perspectives. I also don’t socialize due to the innate inability to socialize and the trauma that has occurred from it. The only thing I applaud is that when it came to a part where the workbook mentioned eye contact, the facilitator pointed out that some neurodivergent people don’t make eye contact. We’ll see how it goes for the rest of the time in it.

My thoughts: I’m kind of disappointed with the program so far. Before, it didn’t really feel like it’s helping much except for the fact that I didn’t have ideations due to having a humiliating public panic attack, but I’m starting to remember skills to use which I consider progress. I came in on the emotional regulation/middle path module (my facilitator calls “middle path” “emotional regulation, part 2”) and have completed that and the interpersonal effectiveness module. I was hoping to like interpersonal effectiveness, but it just doesn’t feel fitting to me. I feel like there’s more to interpersonal effectiveness than DEAR MAN, but it seems like we were mainly doing that. My next module is distress tolerance and then I have emotional regulation. A prior therapist felt like learning emotional regulation will help me be more successful in treating my GAD, but I feel like I need to learn distress tolerance so I don’t get to a dysregulated state. My goal is to reduce the severity of my anxiety so I only experience anxiety in the way someone without an anxiety disorder does. I want to experience no anxiety, but my parents’ failure to get me help makes that unrealistic without mind-numbing medication (though I’d rather experience no emotions than constant anxiety).

Last week when I was writing this, I felt that I have low expectations for DBT working. After today’s homework review, I have slightly higher expectations, but I don’t want to raise my hopes too high in fear that it doesn’t work.

Mental Health

If Therapy Fails, It’s Not Your Fault

Many years ago, I felt beyond help because therapy wasn’t working. After three therapists, dad wanted me on medication because it wasn’t normal for therapy to fail after three therapists. I gave up on therapy. I tried again near the end of 2019. Didn’t seem like it was working either. Some psychology articles about therapy not working blame the client for not putting in the effort. (You’re not trying. Does that sentence sound familiar, neurodivergent people?) However, I’m learning that it wasn’t my fault. Yes, I started being more honest in therapy with therapist #4, but we’re going to talk about why therapy may fail even after “therapist shopping”, which is when you go from therapist to therapist to find the right one for you, or putting in the effort.

I was talking to my therapist about this and she told me two reasons why therapy truly doesn’t work for people: the therapist failed you (yes, happened to me) or the type of therapy isn’t right for you (I’ll be exploring a new therapy modality in May). In this blog, I will later propose a third reason.

Let’s talk about the first reason: the therapist failed you. As I learned from personal experience, not every therapist has up-to-date knowledge of mental health treatments. This is especially true of older or more experienced therapists. They will solely use talk therapy or older treatment modalities. They likely will not understand neurodivergent conditions, which is also the case for some newer therapists, or may treat it the way it was treated many many years ago (ADHD? Take some pills and you should be fine. Autistic? Make them fit in by teaching them not to stim). I should not have to learn about modern mental health treatments from my ex-boyfriend. Some therapists are just crappy, like my third therapist who didn’t think therapy would work for me if it didn’t work the first two times. Then again, having a rare mental health insurance separate from regular health insurance when I was on my parents’ health insurance limited who I could see when workplace bullying caused more mental health problems. Whether your therapist thinks that treatment is one size fits all or they have outdated knowledge, you’re not going to make much progress.

Second reason: the type of therapy isn’t right for you. Talk therapy is just that. Talking. You don’t get homework assignments to do or skills to practice. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is popular, but doesn’t always work. I don’t think I need to always talk about my negative views on mindfulness. Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) work for every person with Borderline Personality Disorder? Generalized Anxiety Disorder is supposed to be best treated with CBT, but CBT failed to work for me after having many therapists use it. When I switched to a new therapy center, I chose a place that has many therapists who use DBT and also has a DBT skills group that I will start in mid-May. I felt that if CBT and talk therapy failed, I should try DBT. Then again, I thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and some of their therapists actually treat BPD patients, but my therapist has ruled out BPD. I have also seen that DBT can be utilized for people with various diagnoses, even therapy-resistant Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Not only does my therapist utilize DBT with her patients, but she runs the DBT skills group. We will try DBT to see if I have better long-term success.

However, there is a possible third reason that therapy could not work for you: you may either have an incorrect diagnosis or another underlying diagnosis that is causing or includes another diagnosis.

My previous therapy center only has therapists who treat patients with anxiety, depression, and/or learning disabilities. However, if you have a more serious mental illness, they didn’t treat it. Very few therapists worked with clients with ADHD. I chose my current therapy center because they treated more serious illnesses and actually treated BPD, which was what I used to think I had. BPD bloggers have talked about how stigmatized BPD is in mental health communities and some therapists refuse to treat BPD patients. This therapy center also has many therapists who work with autistic clients, which is very important because both my therapist and I feel like I’m on the autism spectrum. Not many therapists have knowledge of autism other than basic discussion taught in one lesson in one course, and they might not be taught accurate information as professors don’t utilize sources written by autistic people.

Autistic people, especially autistic women, are not always given the right diagnosis. Some autistic women are diagnosed with BPD before getting the correct autism diagnosis. On a monthly basis, I talk to an autistic man who was given the incorrect diagnosis of schizophrenia before getting his proper autism diagnosis. Some people diagnosed with ADHD are actually on the autism spectrum, whether the person has been misdiagnosed with ADHD or the autistic person also has ADHD. A wrong diagnosis means a delay in proper treatment. People talk about how early intervention is the key to successful treatment, but getting treated for the wrong thing can be either ineffective or harmful.

Some autistic people think Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a misdiagnosis, but that anxiety disorder is a comorbid diagnosis caused by autistic people having to fit into a neurotypical world or are naturally predisposed to be more sensitive to anxiety triggers. This also leads us to anxiety and depression being comorbidities or even symptoms of another mental illness or a neurodivergent condition. Anxiety and depression are common comorbidities for ADHD, autism, and other mental illnesses. Symptoms may overlap. Not only do ADHD and autism have many of the same symptoms, so does Bipolar 2 and BPD.

Going so long without having a therapist suspect me to be on the autism spectrum means that I lost many years of critical coping and social skills work, especially since social skills and social appropriateness are the aspects of autism that I struggle with the most. Now that I did a screening questionnaire with my therapist, she now knows what things to work on. While I’m not sure if my anxiety can be treated in a way that I would no longer qualify for a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, I can learn about how my “differently-wired brain” impacts my life and how to better cope with living in a world that was not made for people who are not neurotypical.

Mental Health

Seeing Your Therapist in Public

I don’t know how often this happens, but I wanted to write about it anyway. While it hasn’t happened to me before, it may happen in the future.

My therapist and I got our Bachelor’s degree from the same university in the same year. I didn’t have any classes with her since we majored in completely unrelated fields and we were never roommates. I have heard of her (via her maiden name), but that’s about it.

When I was searching for therapists nearly two years ago, I read the rules that one therapist at a different therapy practice had posted. The therapist said that if a client saw her in public (for example, at a grocery store), she will not acknowledge the client unless the client says hi first. The therapist will then make up a lie about how they know each other, because of privacy laws.

Due to plans for my grad school to allow in-person classes and events again, I decided to ask my therapist about the rules for if we saw each other at an alumni event. She has a similar rule of not acknowledging the client unless the client acknowledges her. However, she won’t lie about how we know each other. We actually did evening yoga together one semester, so we can use that excuse if we see each other at an alumni event. I live nowhere near the therapy practice I go to, so I likely would not see her outside of an alumni event.

Honestly, I’m a very shy person in social situations so I’ll either be a wallflower or look for my friend who came out as a guy in 2012 to see how he’s doing. I haven’t talked to him since graduation day and shortly before he got rid of all social media, he had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I hope he’s doing okay and was able to start testosterone after graduation as planned.

If you think you may see your therapist outside of therapy, it would be a good idea to ask what to do.

Rant

If He/She/They Can Do It, Can You Do It Too?

February 2022 Update: Wow, I sounded so whiny in the original post! This post has been edited to reduce how whiny I sound. I was also diagnosed with autism and an additional anxiety disorder almost 6 months after I posted this, so edits will include those factors too.

Hey everyone. I have been really busy with school lately, so my constant posting had temporarily stopped. The semester is over, so I am back. This is kind of a rant, but doesn’t have the same raw anger that exists in my other rants. Heck, this rant isn’t even as angry as I usually get.

I’m going to be blunt. I will never be the neurotypical definition of “successful” due to being autistic and having two anxiety disorders. These factors caused me to not be able (or allowed) to make my own decisions as well. You might be thinking “Dia! You’re just making excuses! You’re not trying hard enough to be successful!” How many times have neurodivergent people been told they aren’t trying? Countless people, including myself, have been told that we’re not trying. However, to be realistic, not everyone is able to be successful.

We’re bombarded via various forms of media about “the disabled” overcoming their challenges to become successful. People think “If they can do it, so can I!” But the truth is, you might not be able to do something they did, and that’s okay. One person is not and should not be the representation of EVERY person. If you think about it, some of what you see is called “inspiration porn”. Inspiration porn is media that portrays a person with disabilities (or disabled person, depending on if you like person-first or identity-first language) as inspirational, mainly due to their disability.

For every one disabled person who became what society deems as successful, there are at least one hundred disabled people who struggle a lot with basic self-care skills like self-feeding, getting dressed, or wiping themselves after using the bathroom. For every one person who overcame their struggles with trauma, there are hundreds who still can’t rebuild their lives. For every one person who became successful despite where they came from, there are thousands who became products of their environment. For every Dr. Temple Grandin, there are many autistic people who require 24-hour care who can’t live independently (like my uncle who died years ago). For every Toshia Shaw, there are hundreds or thousands of women who can’t recover from the PTSD of being trafficking victims.

While I cannot properly define what success means to me, we need to realize that not everyone can be successful like the people we see in the media. Just because they can do it, doesn’t mean you can. No two people with the same disability are alike in their challenges. For example, my cousin struggles with hyperactivity and my ex-boyfriend struggles with focus. They both have AD(H)D, but don’t have the same challenges. A churchgoer struggles with language that isn’t literal while I struggle with social cues and social appropriateness. We’d both fit on the autism spectrum (he has a diagnosis of Aspergers while I was diagnosed as autistic in June 2021, though getting a diagnosis years ago would have probably put me in the Aspergers category as well).

Take this time to recognize your (or your child’s limits). Unfortunately, “inspiration porn” can create unrealistic expectations for a disabled child. Just like how no two people with the same disability have the same challenges, no two people with the same disability have the same strengths. I’m an autistic kickboxer who is one of the higher-ranking students in the class. However, another autistic person might get sensory overload from the loud music, loud bell timer, and the coach shouting instructions during warm-ups. One of my strengths is that I can often drive to places without a GPS just by studying the directions on Google Maps before I leave my house. Aleksander Vinter, an autistic DJ who goes by the stage name “Savant”, feels like his autism gave him the gift of having exceptional musical abilities.

This blog post was actually inspired by a post a military wife wrote about her son who was diagnosed with ADHD, and then later received an autism diagnosis as well. She said she told her son “You will go to college.” First of all, college isn’t for everyone, and this is true regardless of whether the person is neurotypical or neurodivergent. Second of all, is the college environment going to be a good fit for that child? I have heard that some colleges and universities are not very good at meeting the requests for accommodations, especially since accommodations in a post-secondary setting are based on what is reasonable and what the student is eligible to receive.

We do so much harm by forcing people to meet unrealistic expectations.

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.

Uncategorized

Life Adjustments (a.k.a. More Life Updates)

Hey everyone! Life’s been kind of busy and I’ve been neglecting this blog, so this is what has been going on lately.

Life Update #1: Marriage

Yep, I got married. Same day as planned (June 13, 2020), but with changes. We still have a low gathering limit in my state and my venue is still closed, so Franklin and I got married in the gardens behind our Unitarian Universalist church. Our minister was our officiant and the wedding was attended by my parents, grandparents (mom’s side. Both of dad’s parents died), my brother, my sister-in-law, and niece. Masks were worn by guests.

We will have a vow renewal (though some people don’t know we already got married) on June 19, 2021. Our venue wasn’t available on Loving Day (June 12th), but it looks like we’ll be celebrating on Juneteenth.

Life Update #2: I have finally moved out of my parents’ house

Well, that was a given. However, I was not able to move out right away since I didn’t get all of my stuff moved into my current house in time. I moved out on the evening of June 18, 2020. It was emotional leaving that house to move in with my husband, but I’m adjusting well. I feel like my mental health is improving because I firmly believe my Generalized Anxiety Disorder was caused by my upbringing. I no longer am living with my borderline-narcissist mom and my critical dad. Even my husband is noticing an improvement in my mental health. I still have issues with anxiety and emotional regulation, but mental illness never goes away.

Life Update #3: New Therapist

Yep, I’m on therapist #5 and I feel crummy about it because I’m probably about to get slapped with the “treatment-resistant” label, even though my brain is treatment-resistant. My previous therapist quit the practice due to an increased workload in her day job as a pediatric social worker at a hospital.

I like her so far, mainly because in my first session, she picked up something that none of my other therapists picked up on: my social skills issues. I want to explore my issues with social communication more to see if I have an additional diagnosis. I’m hesitant to completely like her since I can easily dislike someone if they do something I don’t like. It happened with my previous therapist who was unsympathetic to my mental health crisis relating to the fate of my wedding. I instantly disliked Franklin’s dad’s cousin when she told me to try to be positive. I CAN’T BE POSITIVE. I JUST FUCKING CAN’T!

I hope I can get the diagnoses that I feel like I should have. I was very close to going to a therapy center where therapists are aware of treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder. I 100% feel like I have it, but the disorder is so stigmatized by therapist and my therapy center seems to not have therapist that treat the more severe mental illnesses. I almost switched to the center that treats BPD because after my previous therapist quit, I never heard from the practice manager of my current center about who I will get next. I had to email them because I got an appointment confirmation text in error for the therapist who left. Let’s hope I don’t need therapist #6 or else I will switch to the other therapy center.

Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Month: Why I Care

Trigger Warning! This post will mention self harm, suicide, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts. If this is your trigger, go away and sing the song of sixpence.

Short answer: Because I and people I know have some form of mental illness.

It’s another Mental Health Awareness post! Why? Why not? I was asked at my church to do a reflection on current events affecting people of color, and knowing the extra mental health challenges and treatment challenges people of color face, I thought to have a big focus on people of color’s mental health. Now I’m on a mental health awareness kick and am working to help people understand why we should care about mental health. Let’s start with my story.

I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, with my first public anxiety attacks being at ages 4 and 9. I’m not going to talk about the 4-year-old experience since one of my readers has emetophobia, but the first time someone said I was having an anxiety attack was during private swimming lessons when I was 9. I couldn’t articulate what my trigger was (still can’t), but I knew I didn’t want to do this one swim drill that I never liked. Swimming lessons were only 5 minutes because of the anxiety attack and I had to do a makeup lesson. It’s called the Superman. This video is the best I can show to describe it. While the video text is in Japanese, knowledge of Japanese kana is irrelevant for the demonstration. Also, the video has the swimmer pushing off from the floor of the pool. My swim teacher had me pushing from the inner wall of the pool.

I’ve had suicidal thoughts since I was 13 and my threats weren’t taken seriously until I was nearing 22. I self harmed for a couple of years, but I used methods that don’t leave scars. Yes, I learned that self harm was an option thanks to that Degrassi episode “Whisper to a Scream”. I almost attempted suicide after a breakup. There were a couple of times where I went a year without the thoughts. I’ve been to 4 different therapists and nothing is helping. I explain more of my story in this recent post.

My current diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder with emotional regulation issues, but I feel like I have other yet-to-be diagnosed issues like Borderline Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and/or autism. Of course, I’m not going to claim those diagnoses until I get formally diagnosed. It’s why I’m seriously considering going inpatient through this minimum 3-week program.

I’m not the only person I know who has struggled with mental health issues.

I first learned about Generalized Anxiety Disorder because a friend from middle school inherited it from her mom. My friend’s anxiety trigger (or the only one her mom mentioned) is not being the first person to receive their assignment back. I also had a friend with depression. Some friends even self harmed.

One of my friends attempted suicide during our third year of university. She still struggled with coping with a breakup that happened a year and a half prior to her attempt. I didn’t find out about the attempt until she came to see me on-campus (she was a commuter) on a Friday after she finished her inpatient hospitalization at a well-known mental health institution in my state. It took her another year to get over her breakup, but she only got over him because he had a nervous breakdown and quit school before his final year.

Another friend had a friend (didn’t know her) who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. While I didn’t know her, I knew of that story so I didn’t want to exclude it.

The night before my university graduation, my brother stopped someone from committing suicide. Of course, my dad not caring about my mental health issues and struggles with suicidal thoughts at the time, said that the guy didn’t really want to kill himself because he wouldn’t have hesitated.

I think we heard about my friend enough, but he’s the big reason why I’m pushing to destigmatize mental illness in communities of color. I’m just trying not to cross the thin line between telling his story and using his story to further my cause. There’s a woman at my church who I feel only talks about her daughter in regards to her daughter’s recovery from opioid addiction. While these blog posts will help you gain an understanding, I will tell more of my friend now and piece some things together. This is the full story.

My friend is very smart. Last semester (talking about Fall 2019), his quiz and exam scores were better than mine. He makes me laugh and he shares memes with me. However, he lacks self-confidence (as do I) and according to another friend, is possibly under pressure to do well in school due to him being Asian. He has ADHD, anxiety issues that are likely tied into his ADHD, and depression. Neither of us did well in our midterm exam for one of our classes. I figured the exam was hard because he was hitting his head against the wall during the exam. I thought “I feel you, I feel you. This is hard.” However, he was more than disappointed. He was shaking. He seemed angry. I felt his emotions encapsulate my soul. I was afraid of him because I have never seen him like this before. When he slammed his laptop lid closed and said “I’m dropping this class” (or something like that), I almost burst into tears. I don’t like change and he was the only reason why I looked forward to that class. He started putting his things in his backpack and I didn’t dare try to stop him from leaving the classroom. He didn’t leave the classroom at that point. With 15 minutes of class left (we spent an hour reviewing our answers and asking questions about our exam scores), my professor started to give his lecture. I thought “How dare he! We don’t need to spend 15 minutes on something that no one is going to pay attention to. My friend is clearly in mental anguish!”

I tried so hard to convince him not to drop the class and even had some people he knew try to talk to him about it. I even wrote in a blog post that I’d slap him if he dropped the Monday/Wednesday class. No seriously. I wanted to slap him. I felt like I’d have a void in my heart if I only say him on Tuesdays instead of Monday through Wednesday. However, as I will mention later, I will regret wanting to slap him and realized that I shouldn’t be so selfish.

The day before Halloween, my friend told me that his mental health wasn’t very good that month, but he doesn’t like talking about his mental health issues. I knew he was upset over his exam grade and he felt like his presentation in a class I wasn’t in didn’t go very well, but I didn’t know anything else that could have happened. Again, foreshadowing. I was going to text him to tell him that he can talk to me about his mental health issues since I also have my mental health struggles. I wasn’t sure if he was worried about judgment or just doesn’t like to talk about his mental health issues in general. Turns out it was the latter.

Fast forward to November 4th, the last day to drop a class without it counting as a failed class. While he was talking to the professor about whether or not he should drop the class, I went to find our friend so he could do one final convincing. I found another person who could help convince, but then I said that I wasn’t sure if it would seem like we were ganging up on him. It was nearly 7 PM when we were about to leave and I thought my friend had left without me. Turns out he didn’t. We had caught him right before he ran to the adjoining parking garage after my professor… even though I said the professor left a few minutes prior. My other friend had to calm me down because I was so frazzled due to absorbing my friend’s emotion that I was probably close to hyperventilating. To make things easier, I will refer to that friend as my empath friend since we’re both empaths. My friend came back looking defeated. My empath friend was talking to him and that was when my friend revealed that he felt like if he crashed, he could crash and burn. My empath friend asked what he meant. My friend said that if he crashed and burned, it’s game over. That’s it. My empath friend asked for clarity. My friend said “If I tell you, you won’t be able to unhear it.” That’s when I knew that he was having suicidal thoughts. My empath friend was honestly being pushy at this point. My friend looked at me, and I was feeling like I should leave. I was about to ask if I shouldn’t be here to hear this, but I felt rooted by the way my friend looked at me, like his eyes and face showed every ounce of pain he’s been going through. Then I learned that I was right, but I didn’t know the extent. I heard the words that I will not soon forget.

I was suicidal, [insert name of empath friend here]!

He continued to say that things were so stressful with school that he was looking online at shotguns so he could buy one at the nearby gun store and end his life during the week of midterms. I was really shocked that things were that bad that he had a plan in place. Many of us are taught the signs of someone planning to commit suicide, but I can safely say that due to him not liking to talk about his mental health issues, he never showed any of the signs. He masked everything. I felt myself close to tears and despite my efforts, a tear fell from my left eye first. Then the right eye. Then the tears wouldn’t stop. Then my breathing did that thing that happens sometimes when people cry. Don’t know what you call it. Google said it’s what happens when sobbing. I didn’t react like this when I found out another friend attempted suicide years ago. I told him that I’d rather he drop the class and I’d only see him once a week than never seeing him again, then I walked off to the bathroom to get toilet paper to use as a tissue. I felt horrible crying in front of him, because I was scared he’d feel so horrible for making me cry that he’d hurt himself. When he went home, I hugged him for so long. I was scared to let go. He apologized to me, and then apologized again the next day. He felt bad for telling us about his mental health issues. I stayed to talk with my empath friend because I knew driving in a highly-emotional state is not a good idea. He helped me realize why I had such a strong emotional reaction. Why the song “Under Your Scars” by Godsmack has a much stronger meaning to me. Why the song “Song for a Friend” by Jason Mraz was recommended to me months before this blog post was written. Why I got angry the next day when some young co-workers told me to stop talking to him.

I love him.