Radical Honesty in Recovery 

***TW: This post addresses suicide***

“Recovery is a process, not an event.”

I first heard this sentence in January while I was in the hospital. I’ve spoken it and typed it out both on the pages of this blog, and in encouraging messages to friends who are struggling. It resonated with me as profound. In truth, recovery is all about self reflection and self awareness. It’s about looking at yourself with radical honesty and openness and willingness to do the painful work of becoming aware of your own mental health diagnosis(es), your own symptoms, and your own way of relating to those symptoms in a healthy way.

You may not know this about me, but I pretty much only do things that make me feel at least remotely competent and capable. I’ll never be Steinbeck, but I can passably fumble with word choice until I’ve got a decent sentence; I’ll never be David Gilmour, but I know my way around a strum pattern on my acoustic guitar; I’ll never be Dorothea Lange, but I have a cursory understanding of what angles and edits make a photograph powerful.

As you may have noticed, my hobbies all revolve around expression. Which, I suppose, is a bit ironic. It’s just part of the dichotomy of my life, I guess. Because, were I making a list of areas in which I have absolutely no competence in my personal life, expression would top it. When I’m having a really hard time with something, I am spectacularly bad at reaching out. Conversely, were I making a list of things at which I am too good, over-thinking would be the crown jewel. I can analyze anything to death. You’ve heard of beating a dead horse? I beat the glue and jell-o that dead horse became. (Metaphorically. No animals were harmed in the making of this blogpost.)


This combination of not reaching out and turning inward and falling into my thoughts, it turns out, is quite dangerous.


If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that Tuesdays are the day I “Tell All.” I pour my life into a sieve and dig through the pebbles of my experience to find those gems, those moments which are deeply personal, but also relatable. The ones that demand display; the ones I hope will make an impact.

And holy shit, have I found a lot of gems hiding in the sediment in the past three weeks. Possibly pyrite, possibly gold. But demanding display either way. This is a story which I feel, with every fiber of my being, must be told. 


But, I’ve hesitated to write it.


I’ve given pause to the idea of putting this out there for many reasons. Fear of the response it may receive. Self-doubt about even having the right to tell this story in a public forum. Anxiety for needing to tell it. Guilt for my actions. Deep shame and the idea of not being worthy, not just for this blog post, or even the blog in general, but of life in general. The past three weeks have been very sobering, very healing, very reflective. But I still feel that sense of dread in putting this “out there.” I feel that, somehow, my actions may invalidate my message. 


Some of you reading this may know the events leading up to today, and, ultimately, this post; some of you may not.


For those of you who do not know what’s been going on, but know me personally, I apologize that this is the means through which you are learning those specifics. But that same shame has prevented me from reaching out to all of my beloved family and friends and explaining it over and over again. For you, I certainly hope that this post is not viewed as dismissive of your feelings or offensive. I simply do not have it in me to explain everything repeatedly. That said, I am around and happy to talk with you on a more personal basis after you’ve read this if you would like.


Remember how I said I simultaneously struggle with expressing myself and thinking way too much? I also am pretty horrendously bad at reaching out for help in times of crisis. I think myself into a corner, sometimes obsessively. The problem with being an over-analytical person is that you can gain a false sense of security in your thinking. You can fool yourself into honestly believing that you have considered every angle in depth and that you have, for lack of a better term, “the whole picture” on the table before you. This is problematic for everyone, but it is particularly difficult for those of us living with mental health diagnoses and battling the constant onslaught of distorted thoughts. That’s where my downward spiral began.


I began to slip into a depressive episode. I recognized it. I reached out to reschedule my appointment with my psychiatrist to a sooner date. I spoke with friends and my therapist about it. I did all those things we’re “supposed to do” when things are getting rough. And I am fantastic at doing those things if I’m at a four or five out of ten. They become more difficult when I’m at a six or seven. Once I top seven, they become impossible.


My bipolar depression was getting me all dressed up. The demented black fabric of a veil that distorts my vision but seems not only normal, but necessary, given the occasion, was draped flawlessly over my head. Then came my PTSD. Toddling alongside me for a little while throwing the little explosive bits of memories at my feet, a sadistic flower girl; then, transforming into a malicious father, holding my arm tight and leading me to the altar of the unholy union of screwed up brain chemicals and trauma.


Depression and PTSD are wed, and have always been wed. A truly unbreakable vow. Depression and Bipolar are also wed. I guess I’m stuck in the middle of a polyamorous, abusive relationship, of sorts, from which I can never fully escape. 


Depression feeds off distorted thoughts, and PTSD likes to stuff depression’s face by the shovel load. About six weeks ago, now, I began experiencing a truly incessant attack of memories. Flashes. One or two seconds max for each. But each memory would trigger another. Each memory carried with it a sense of self-loathing. Each fragment coupled with thoughts like, “I’m such a fucking idiot.” “How could I let that happen to me?” “I didn’t do enough.” “I’m a coward.” 


These thoughts and memories increased in frequency until they were a constant companion. The days were flashes; the nights were horrific nightmares. This went on for three weeks.  


In a previous post, I used Jaws as a metaphor for PTSD. In the final week of July, if we were following the movie timeline, I was frantically trying to shut down the beach after several attacks. But my attempts were unsuccessful. I convinced myself that my support system was indifferent or ill-equipped to handle such a beast. So, I went off-script. I didn’t need the shark expert; I didn’t need the dedicated but inexperienced sheriff. So, the next week, I was out in the water with all the hubris of Quint, pushing full speed ahead into the ocean of my symptoms, believing that I had not only the knowledge and ability to kill the beast, but also that I was the only one who could. I didn’t need a crew. I didn’t need backup. On August 11th, I was in the decimated, broken boat being torn apart by the shark.


Feeling as though I had alienated or shut out everyone who may be able to help me, and realizing in a moment of complete shock that I was, in fact, wrong in my assumed knowledge and experience in handling the situation, I resigned myself to my fate and let the shark take me.


Because on August 11th, I attempted suicide.


The “sheriffs” in my life are, thankfully, persistent and tenacious. And despite my best efforts, one of them chartered a dingy and followed me out to sea without my knowledge. Then she dove into the treacherous waters, beat the shark back, and pulled me to safety.

I won’t talk about the specific reasons why, on this day in particular, I was resolute, because reading the specifics of other people’s reasons online was a big contributing factor that day. I won’t go into the specifics of the means of my attempt, because research shows that that is not only ineffective at suicide prevention, but actually harmful to prevention efforts. 


What I will say is this: Had it not been for my friend, I would not be writing this post. Had it not been for a fast response EMS team, I would not be writing this post. Had it not been for diligent doctors working all night to save a life that, honestly, didn’t want to be saved, I would not be writing this post. I very nearly succeeded in my attempt to end my life.


But that’s not the point I want to make. The point is this: I am so thankful that I am here and able to write this post.


I talk so often about transparency on this blog. I truly believe that it is important to look at ourselves, look at our supports, look back on moments of success and moments of crisis to evaluate them and learn from them. And man, have I been doing some serious looking at myself the past three weeks. With the help of professionals, I’ve been able to use my analytical skills in a healthy way, to better identify the moments in which I truly need to reach out for help.


I spent five days in a voluntary crisis stabilization house which utilized a Trauma Informed approach. I learned a lot while there, about myself, about my strengths and weaknesses, and about coping with that damned shark. With the help of my psychiatrist, my medications have been adjusted to be more effective. With the help of my therapist, I walked through the entire timeline of my attempt, in a safe, non-triggering way, to understand exactly what factors “pushed me over the edge” and the moments in which I could have (and should have) called someone. With the help of a few close friends, I’ve learned that the people in my life who say they care about me kinda, actually, you know… mean it. With the help of family members, I’ve made and implemented a safety plan. All of these strides took some serious, guided self analysis and some massive humbling on my part. 


Because despite hitting what I hope will be the lowest point of my life, I still struggle with the idea that I can’t “go it alone.” Despite my amazing friends and the family members and professionals who’ve been with me these past 11 months (and longer) through the hospital and my recovery up to this point, when things get really tough, I still feel the need to grit my teeth and push through without help. And it takes an awful lot of humility on my part to finally admit to myself that that approach ain’t workin’. It’s never really worked, but now, especially, it’s not going to do it. As I move out of trauma, as I move into awareness of the implications of living with Bipolar, as I move toward recovery, I can’t move alone. We all need help and support sometimes. And there’s no weakness in accepting this.


And I feel the most hopeful I’ve felt about the prospect of recovery in a long time. Honestly, since all of this started back in November, and probably before that. It’s been a long year. And the stress of all of it culminated on that late Friday afternoon three weeks ago, and the weight nearly crushed me. But now, a large portion of that weight has been lifted.


I am, honestly and with every single bit of my soul, happy to be alive. I’m still in a bit of a depressive episode, but I’m on the tailend. I write that to say that moments pass. They always pass. Even the really long moments that stop time and make you feel like you’re trapped in the event horizon of a black a hole, those moments that make you feel as though time has stopped and there’s no progress or escape to be had, pass. I assume many of my readers have had many dark moments in their lives. I know some of you are also suicide attempt survivors.


I know that the darkness comes in waves. My depression is still with me. I will live with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD for my entire life, but I am so thankful to get the chance to live with them. To be able to get to know them better, to learn to coexist in a manner which puts the power of my recovery in my hands and doesn’t pass it along as chum for the circling sharks.


I’ve learned that true strength is not found in white-knuckling it through the worst moments of our lives, but in finding someone (or a group of someones) willing to come along for the drive and take over when you get too tired. There is strength in vulnerability. Immense strength. Those are muscles I’m going to have to build. They’ve atrophied a bit. And ripping them apart to allow them to heal bigger and better than before is going to be hard work, and it’s going to hurt, but I’m going to do it. I will get that strength.


If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know that I’ve lived with them in various stages of passive and active since I was thirteen years old. I’m now twenty-nine. I know how draining it is. I know how many tricks our stupid brains can play on us. I know how easy it is to convince yourself that you don’t matter, that you are a burden, and that everyone and the entire world would be better off without you. I also know that these thoughts are lies. You have worth. You have dignity. You matter. I matter. It’s not easy. It’s exausting and it’s painful and it’s hard. But, three weeks out from my attempt, I can already assure you that it’s worth it. I am already so thankful that my attempt was unsuccessful. 


I’m still doing the hard work. I’m still looking at myself. I’m still battling with those memories. I’m still dealing with anxious thoughts. I’m still dealing with depression and a tendency to obsess. I’m still living with Bipolar and PTSD. But, for the first time in my life, I honestly feel like I can live with those things. That I can make peace with the fact that these are things I will always live with, to one degree or another, but that I have the power and capability to navigate them. (With help.)


I also want to take a moment to recognize that living in Vermont affords me access to levels of care that not everyone has. Vermont truly does lead the nation in areas of Trauma Informed Care and in treatment with dignity from a strengths based perspective. I don’t want to minimize the struggles to accessing quality care that others face. But, I also don’t want to make it sound as though you can’t move toward recovery without access to the various treatment options. If you live an area with limited access to care, please message me, and I will try to help you find something that can help. (I’ll put that almost-social work degree to good use!)


I will say, though, that I am currently using Medicaid as my insurance, and all of the services I’ve received are through the state designated mental health agency in my county. I’m not a “medical high roller.” I don’t have a choice in my psychiatrist. I have limited choice in my therapist. My primary care doctor was assigned to me by the state. And I believe that access some level of support and care can be found anywhere, even if it’s a support group in your area, or a state funded mental health agency. Something is better than nothing, and once I realized that my recovery was in my hands, my PCP, Therapist, and Psychiatrist options suddenly mattered a little less.


And, if you’re really struggling and truly cannot figure out what to do, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is always available. They have a phone and texting service, as well as an internet chat service, if you’re uncomfortable with making the phone call. Please utilize them. 


As always, thanks for reading. Hit me up on social media or drop a comment! Let me know what you think! We’re all stronger together. You matter. 

Quick Update 

I am dealing with a mental health crisis right now and I need to get myself well before I can resume regular posting. I am not sure when I’ll be back, but I anticipate a couple of weeks at the least. Thank you all for your support, patience, and understanding in this matter. Remember to reach out if you need help. There is no shame in seeking higher levels of care when necessary. Stay safe. You are loved. 

Interpersonal Effectiveness… What is that?!

Welcome to the newest edition of Recovery Thursday! Are you ready for some more DBT skills? ‘Cause I am! Before we get into some Interpersonal Effectiveness, I want to bring you attention to the first ever guest post hosted on Parallel Dichotomy, which is part one of a personal narrative about Medication Induced Psychosis. If you haven’t read it yet, please do and send Lori some love in the comment section! Also, if you missed it, I was recently published by The Mighty again, and I’m really passionate about the topic of my article. It’s all about the immense, sometimes deadly, stigma around psychiatric hospitalization.  You can read it here and I would really appreciate it if you could give it some love and share it directly from The Mighty Site!

Alright, per the new schedule (which, if I may say, is working really well so far! Thank you all for your patience with me through the past 8 months as I struggled to find consistency!), today is a recovery based post.

Today, I’d like to go over the basics of Interpersonal Effectiveness, a pillar of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. We’ve hit on some serious DBT skills on Parallel Dichotomy before, with the four part emotion regulation series, but today, we’re going to be working in an entirely different area of DBT.

When you read the title of this post, what was your immediate reaction? When I was introduced to interpersonal effective, it was described as “how to get what you want in relationships.” With my somewhat off-base view of the definition of “getting what you want”, my visceral reaction was, “I’m not looking to manipulate others and have power over them!” and I was shocked that such a concept would be addressed in a group therapy session!

See, my view of a “good” relationship involved consistent self-sacrifice. This, it turns out, is not healthy. (Which was one of many reasons I found myself in a group therapy session to begin with!)

Interpersonal Effectiveness is actually just about how to be assertive and set boundaries in healthy relationships. Which are necessary skills to maintain the wellness of yourself and those with whom you find yourself in relation. As I mentioned, it is a pillar of DBT, so there are many facets to it. Overall, though, in its simplest form, interpersonal effectiveness is about knowing when and how to ask for something for yourself and when and how to say “no” to a request made of you.

As is common in the DBT curriculum, acronyms abound! You may have heard some of them if you’re familiar with group or hospital-based therapy. D.E.A.R.M.A.N., G.I.V.E., and F.A.S.T. are my personal favorites.

But before you can use any of the skills linked to those creative letter strands, you have to be aware of what kinds of relationships you have. We all know (at least in theory) that there are many different relationships with varying degrees of closeness and intimacy. Your relationship with your coworkers is likely very different from your relationship with your parents. You relationship with the clerk at your regular gas station is much different than a friendship. People that you barely know don’t need your whole life story, but you should be able to open up about those details to people that you know very well.

In all of these circumstances, relationships fall under three general categories:

POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, AND NEUTRAL.

Positive relationships will feature give and take on the part of both parties involved and will be balanced overall.

Negative relationships will infringe on the Personal Bill of Rights (featured in the post Self-Love is NOT a Bad Thing), it will not feature a respect of boundaries, and it will be one-sided but not agreed upon.

Neutral relationships are strictly task related. Interacting with the guys at the gas station, your server when you’re out to dinner, customer service representatives, cashiers, etc.

It is important, in learning when and how to properly communicate our feelings, wants, and needs, to recognize the type of relationship and whether or not our desires are appropriate. Oftentimes, I know, I struggle to express my feelings with the “correct” degree of emotion. Something seemingly small may happen and I may completely fly off the handle; conversely, something may happen that really makes me angry or uncomfortable and I will minimize it, put caveats and modifiers on it, and try to pretend that it is not a big deal at all.

Building healthy, effective relationship skills is, at the end of the day, about getting your emotions and expression of emotions to match and being able to clearly communicate what you want and need. It’s about learning the balance between when to compromise and when to hold firm.

In order to do this, we all need to understand clearly what our objectives are in an relationship. Clarifying priorities is really important. To get started in doing this, ask yourself:

  • How important is it that I get what I want or succeed in attaining my goal?
  • How important is it that I maintain the relationship?
  • How important is it that I maintain my self-respect?

Once priorities are clearly defined, it then becomes easier to figure out the best course of action to meet those priorities.

As an introduction to the topic of Interpersonal Effectiveness, and to allow you to begin to measure your own communication strengths and the areas which could use some T.L.C. and improvement, I’d invite you to reflect briefly on the following statements. Which are true for you, which do you wish were true, and which (if any) do you think are ridiculous?

  • I’m skilled at asking for what I want.
  • I have people in my life who I can ask for help.
  • I’m a “yes-person.”
  • I don’t know how to ask for help.
  • When people say “no”, it means they dislike me.
  • I have trouble saying “no” to requests.
  • I say “yes” so much that I don’t have time or energy to do anything for myself.
  • Other people really aren’t that interested in helping me.
  • I rarely do favors for friends or family.
  • When someone tells me “no” once, it means they will never say “yes”.
  • When I want to say “no”, I make up excuses to avoid having to say it.
  • I can tolerate and accept when others say “no” to me.
  • I am deeply hurt and upset when others say “no” to me.
  • I get upset thinking about asking for help from others.

Learning interpersonal effectiveness requires a level of reflection and radical honesty with yourself. Are you in healthy relationships, or are your connections unhealthy? Are you someone who tends to feel “overly attached” to strangers or acquaintances? Do you tend toward being passive and sacrificing your core values to keep others happy?

These are the kinds of questions I’d like to invite you to consider today. I’ve spent countless hours mulling them over myself. And I still struggle with them frequently, to be honest.

Sometimes I really need to remind myself that I’m only 8 months out from my hospitalization and, while I have done a lot of work, there is much more to do. I remind myself of DBT skills daily. Interpersonal Effectiveness is one of those skills that I’d like to share with you over the next few weeks, so that maybe we can all get a little more comfortable with boundaries and autonomy together.

_____

As always, I’d love to hear what you think! Lemme know in the comment section below, or on twitter! (Tweet me @paradichotomy)

Thanks for reading! I hope you all have a wonderful day! Check in tomorrow for the return of Friday Finds!

Lies Depression Tells Me

I think, oftentimes, people seem to regard depression and anxiety as “lesser” mental health diagnoses. They’re the “common ones.” The most relatable. The “Oh, well, that’s not too serious. Everyone gets it from time to time” of mental health.

That’s a pretty stigma heavy line of thought.

A depressive episode is brutal. Chronic depression is the underlying, “gentle” version that says “you will never be able to be fully happy.” I live with this kind of baseline chronic depression, mixed with episodes of Bipolar depression thrown in. Even my “manic” is depressed. Depression is my unwanted tag-a-long on this journey in life. It’s my shadow. I can’t get rid of it, no matter how I try.

Depression lies. Constantly. It tells me “your friends and family are sick of you,” “you’ve tapped everyone out,” “no one wants to hear that you’re struggling again,” “stay in bed, there’s nothing out there for you anyway,” “why would you clean your house? You don’t deserve a clean space,” “just cancel those plans with your friends, they really don’t want anything to do with you,” “you’re worthless,” “you’re a piece of shit,” “you’re weak for letting me win,” “you’re pathetic for trying to fight me,” “this will never get better,” “people will be better off if you’re gone.”

Those are my depression thoughts. Yours may be different, or they may be similar. If you have not lived with depression, you may be wondering how one’s mind could be so brutal.

This stream of garbage is constantly flowing in my brain. Sometimes, it’s quieter; sometimes,  it’s louder; sometimes, it’s deafening. But it’s always there in one way or another. Even with meds. Even with therapy.

My job is to cope with it. To keep tabs on it. To be honest about it.

The last thing depression wants me to do is open up to someone about how bad it is. It wants me to isolate and sabotage relationships and sit alone in my apartment at 4 AM thinking about every single crappy thing that has happened to me and how it’s all my fault. That it was all deserved. That I am not worthy of friends, family, love, support, laughter, fun, or happiness.

So, I battle. Sometimes, my battle is simply making myself get out of bed and clean up a bit around the house. Sometimes, it’s making plans even though I feel like locking myself away from everyone. Sometimes, it’s having the strength to be vulnerable and reach out to someone even though everything in me is screaming that no one cares, that I’m an annoyance, that I’m a burden.

Sometimes, I win those battles. I use the coping skills I’ve learned, I recognize that sometimes “action precedes motivation” and I’ve got to get up and do shit in order to want to be up and doing shit. Sometimes I can beat back the incessant lies and insults my depression flings at me. Sometimes, I can turn the volume of that constant stream down to a 1 or 2.

Other times, though, I lose. I sit. I isolate. My brain says “Self Destruct: Check Yes or No” and I hover over the options, tempted to go with Yes. To drink. To call out of work. To give all my friends the silent treatment. To just allow myself to spiral.

This kind of behavior landed me in the hospital, though, so I know I have to be careful with that. The truth is, I’ve gotten better most times at reaching out to at least one person I trust and love when things are feeling super hopeless. But that has taken immense practice. In my recovery,  I’ve learned the phrase “act the opposite”. Depression tells you no, you say yes.

It is very difficult to do that. Especially at first. It feels impossible when you’re depressed to do anything, let alone spend your whole day fighting every instinct you’ve got just to get through a “normal” day, doing “normal” things, without being in bed. That is completely exhausting.

But, it’s also possible.

Especially after practice. I think of it like a muscle I need to to strengthen.

There are days I slip up. Days (sometimes multiple days on end) that I really can’t summon the energy to use those coping skills. Those days are about damage control. “OK, I don’t have it in me today. I’m going to stay in bed, but I’m not going to get alcohol.” Being in bed all day is not ideal, bit it’s the lesser of two evils for me, in that moment.

This way, I am still doing something. I am not at the mercy of depression. Never fully. I have agency, and I have power to resist it.

The fact is, depression is terrible. It’s uncomfortable. It’s miserable. It’s not easy. Nothing about mental health recovery is easy. But learning coping skills and tools and actually using them when things are really bad is worth it.

 

Unintended Side Effects: Medication Induced Psychosis (Guest Blog)

I am pleased to host the very first guest entry to ParallelDichotomy! This piece is the first segment of a personal narrative on  medication induced psychosis. Written by my friend Lori, this is a first hand account of what she experienced when she began taking a prescribed medication as her doctor ordered. Medication induced psychosis is very rare. If you have concerns about a medication you take, talk to your doctor. Do not stop taking a prescribed medicine without first discussing that decision with your primary care doctor and psychiatrist.

If you have lived through a psychotic episode or episodes, reading this may be uncomfortable. It is a personal account of how Lori’s psychosis manifested.

This is “Part One” and more of Lori’s story (including recovery) will be available at a later date.

With all that said, let’s get on with Lori’s story!

_______

PART 1

This is so exciting – I’m waiting outside with my family for my new Jaguar to be delivered. Always been my dream sports car, since I saw a beautiful silver E-type, 12 cylinders, in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I assumed the reason that everyone was outside with me was so that they could also listen expectantly for the sound of my approaching car. I kept hearing large trucks and sirens in the distance, yet they never arrived. I remember excitedly telling my daughter about lots of big plans that I had.

You know how well you know your kids; their moods, unique personalities? Something about my middle daughter’s expression led me to realize that she didn’t believe what I was saying, but she was being uncharacteristically diplomatic. I was cognizant enough at that moment to get that, but reality kept slipping away from me.

What I didn’t know then was that they were all gathered around to support me; I couldn’t be left alone, and they set up amongst themselves quite an impressive team to help deal with this new situation.

I’m not aware of the exact moment that this whole saga started horribly unfolding. There are still many gaps that I cannot remember, which I’m assuming, is a good thing. Only my family and their wonderful significant others can fill in the timeline and details that I don’t possess.

What was apparent was that I wasn’t communicating very much, but there was
certainly multiple layers of psychosis happening. Hallucinations morphed and evolved in my brain.

I’ve never done drugs, never even smoked a cigarette; I’m just a social drinker. I’ve always shied away from accepting any strong prescription pain killers. But I am on regular medicine for a chronic health condition. The addition of a supplemental medicine for a week caused things to go scarily downhill, very quickly.

About a month earlier I had started a new medicine to add to my daily regimen, which seemed to be working well for me. I followed doctors orders, and the side effects were minimal.

The next week or so was a blur of internal chaos, blips of lucidity, music, talking to deceased friends and relatives, a conversation with Steve Jobs, and some paranoia.

PART 2

We don’t have music playing in our office, but I can clearly hear songs that were popular
back in the 1970’s. It wasn’t just snippets of songs, however. It was complete with every note and lyric, exactly as I used to hear on the radio. I look around to see who might be listening to music on a cell phone, but I see no music lovers. This keeps up, I think for a few days. I keep furtively eyeing my co-workers for a plausible answer, but nothing external seems out of the ordinary.

Sometimes a disc jockey’s voice filters in. It all sounds so authentic. Looking back now, a year later, I don’t know why I didn’t immediately start freaking out. But I didn’t. For some reason I just accepted this bizarre development.

I do remember feeling embarrassed. What do I say when my co-workers tell me they hear music emanating from me?

I know that this is not good, but I am primed as always to keep my head down and keep
plugging away.

Later that night, one of the most horrific aspects of my ordeal occurs. I’m in bed, reading.
The internal music is still there, playing over and over in a continuous loop. I haven’t yet
mentioned it to my husband. I’m guessing I was simply hoping that it would go away as
inexplicably as it started.

I am hearing a conversation, word for word, between a female and male. At first I try not to tune in and keep trying to return to my book, but this proves impossible.

“No, this can’t be. Is this what I think it is?” I am silently protesting.

To this day I don’t have much understanding of what was occurring in my brain, but it becomes obvious that I am clearly hearing a verbatim “transcript” of a bad break-up I had with a boyfriend over 34 years ago.

Every word we said was replayed, back and forth. It felt like it would never stop. It was beyond strange and disconcerting to hear my younger voice, and his, and have to unwillingly experience the drama and emotions I believed I had left behind eons ago.

I think of myself as pretty well adjusted. I don’t tend to live in the past. Until this point, I felt that I had successfully moved on many years ago from a difficult, trying childhood and young adulthood. However, I’ve now learned that the brain retains exact memories, as if they were taped and stored away. This still spooks me to this day.

At some point that night, things went from bad to unbearable. The conversation/old tape
changed to a replay of a very bad session with my father. We were arguing about
something, as was typical, and he kept getting more and more hot and crazed. Cue the
physical abuse. The blows kept coming, over and over. Every time I thought it was stopping, it started back up again.

I tried desperately to not hear this terrible scene. I put headphones on and listened to music. I tried my favorite shows on Netflix.

I realized this was beyond my ability to deal with; I finally told my husband what was going on and off we drove to the local hospital.

They gave me some pills to calm things down. I’m back at home, once more trying
to lose myself in a book.

If this was a deranged play that I was writing, at this point the stage directions would cue in the cast of dead family and friends.

I’m really off and running now, into a realm I didn’t know existed.

____

Thanks for reading! As always, lemme know what you thought! Drop a comment or find me on social media!

If you missed it, I have a new article on The Mighty about the dangerous stigma around mental health hospitalization. Please give it a read!

Be sure to check in on Tuesday for the next new post! To hear from me before Tuesday, find me on Facebook TwitterTumblr, and Instagram! Also, please swing by ParallelDichotomy’s new Sarahah page to say whatever you’ve got to say! Suggest topics, ask question, leave constructive criticism, lemme know about your day – really, anything!

And, if you enjoy the work that’s happening on this blog, please consider becoming a Patron on Patreon!

I hope you have an awesome weekend!

We Need to Stop Believing This About Mental Health Hospitalization (The Mighty Article) 

My second contribution to The Mighty is live! Fighting stigma around Mental Health Hospitalization! 

Read it Here! 
As always, I’d love your thoughts and feedback! If you like the article, I’d also appreciate it if you’d give it a “heart” on The Mighty and share it directly from the source! 

Thanks guys! Later tonight will be the first ever guest post to MY blog! Keep your eyes out! 

Grounding Techniques

Per the new posting schedule, every Thursday is a Resource and Recovery themed post. In this series, you’ll find coping skills, tips, and tricks for coping with a mental health struggle, whether crisis or day-to-day management. The Thursday posts won’t necessarily relate to the more personal Tell-All Tuesday posts every week, but when I can tie them in, I will! My Tuesday post this week was on what it’s like to be triggered and some thoughts on the “Trigger Warning” debate. For this Recovery Thursday post, I’d like to share some grounding techniques I find helpful when I am triggered.

I explained my personal favorite grounding technique in my post Top 5 Ways to Get Through a Bad Situation (Without Making It Worse) earlier this year. Click that link to read all about the 5-5-5 grounding tool. But in mental health recovery, what works well for one person may not be as effective for another. And, honestly, sometimes success in grounding is situational. So, I wanted to make this post about multiple ways to ground yourself when triggered, so that hopefully you can find one that works best for you or one to guide a loved one through a flashback or a panic attack.

What is grounding? Grounding is getting your mind to stay in the here and now even if you are panicking or having a flashback. Often times, this is best accomplished by using something physical and tangible to “bring yourself back.”

I find physical grounding to be the most effective for me. In addition to the 5-5-5 technique, there are several other approaches you can take to physically anchor yourself to the present. Most of us do things to get “back in our bodies” already, but some of those coping skills are maladaptive and unhealthy. I’m thinking specifically of self injury: cutting, burning, punching walls, etc. Yes, these actions can keep you “here,” but “here” isn’t so great when you’re hurting yourself.

IMG_20170803_183119_744

If your go-to coping skill is self harm, I’d like to give you some alternatives that may work as well and be better for your wellness in the long run.

ICE CUBES: I like to use ice cubes over everything else. I hold the ice cube in my palm and squeeze it. When that hand is numb, I switch it to the other hand and do the same thing. Sometimes, I put the ice cube on my arm or on my neck. The cold is usually a very helpful grounding technique. You may have heard of the ice cube trick before, but just because it’s floating around out there doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve tried it. You may have heard of the next one as well.

RUBBER BANDS: Keep a rubber band around your wrist and snap it against your skin when you need to ground. It will sting a little bit, but will not have the lasting impact of more drastic forms of self harm. The rubber band trick is only suggested to those actively struggling with self harm impulses. If you don’t currently engage in self harm, it’s not recommended as it could actually build the habit of hurting yourself when you’re overwhelmed, and that’s not a habit you want to start if you don’t have it already.

FROZEN ORANGES: This one is going to sound a little weird, probably. It definitely did when I first heard it. But, I keep a frozen orange in my freezer at all times. If I really need to ground, I take it out and put it against the back of my neck. Then, I start to peel it. Fun fact, it’s really hard to peel a frozen orange. And, if you’re focusing on that task, the combination of attention and fine motor skills needed to peel it and the strong citrus smell keeps you really grounded and often the panic or dissociation will pass before you are finished with the task. And being able to “dig” into the skin of the orange can help negate the need to hurt your own skin.

Now, let’s look at grounding techniques that are not necessarily substitutes for self harm. What can you do when you are starting to have a flashback?

Again, the answer is mostly physical. If you can prove to your body that you are here and not in the past, the flashback will pass much quicker.

GET ON YOUR FEET. Taking the term “grounding” quite literally, try to stand up, Feel your feet against the floor or the ground. Walk a little. Feel your legs moving. Stomp a few times. Ask yourself “where are my feet?” and answer “On the ground.” This may seem silly, but this is something I have used both in my personal and professional life to help keep myself or my clients grounded. And it tends to work very well.

FEEL YOUR ARMS. For me, when a flashback is happening or is about to happen, my arms are usually numb. Lifting them above my head (or having a friend raise them for me), wrapping myself in a heavy blanket and feeling where my body ends, or rubbing my arms to warm them helps immensely in grounding.

MINDFULNESS. Pick something up and really focus on what it feels like, walk around and focus on your feet and the floor, if you’re sitting, focus on where the floor or chair connects with your body.

OPEN YOUR EYES. If you’re eyes are closed, it’s usually game, set, match for the flashback. It’s got you. It’s really hard to stay present if you can’t see the present. Keep your eyes open and try to look around you mindfully. Focus on every small detail you can find. (the pattern of the floor, wood grain on cabinets, decorations on walls, leaves of grass, etc.) This really helps me stay “here” or, at the very least, get back faster than I otherwise would.

OK, so those are the “external things” you can do. What about internal? What can you say to yourself to help stay grounded?

IMG_20170803_191913_138

ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS. “Where am I? What year is it? What was I just doing? What time is it? How old am I? Where am I right now?” By thinking about and answering these questions, you will bring yourself back to the present.

HAVE A SCRIPT. “I’m having a panic attack right now. I am safe. I am not in any danger.” “I’m having a flashback right now. The worst is over. This happened in the past and is not happening now. I will come out the other side of this.”

THINK ABOUT DIFFERENT THINGS. Set your mind to a weird task. Count in 7’s, name ten different countries, think of your 5 favorite books and try to name the authors, name all of the characters in your favorite TV show, try to name 5 animals that start with the letter “M”, etc. If you can get your brain away from focusing on the trigger, you can show yourself that you are safe.

Remember that you are not powerless and at the mercy of your diagnosis. These are tangible coping skills you can implement immediately. Practice them, see which ones work best for you, and keep them fresh in your mind so that you can access them easily when you’re struggling.

___

There you have it! I hope you find at least one of these coping skills helpful! As always, I’d love to hear what you think of the post! Drop a comment, Tweet me, and check out my FacebookTumblr, and Instagram! Also, be sure to check out the perks available to YOU on Patreon for becoming a Patron of this blog! (You’ll love ’em, I promise!)

And finally, ParallelDichotomy now has a Sarahah account! Drop in to leave comments, suggestions, questions, constructive criticism, etc!

Be sure to check in tomorrow for ParallelDichotomy’s first ever guest post! It’s part one of a first hand account of medication induced psychosis in someone who does not live with a mental health diagnosis. I feel it’s important to honor all mental health struggles, and through the guest post series, I hope to host the voices of people living a different experience than I am. If you’d like to be a contributor to this series, please get in touch via social media or email me at Paralleldichotomyblog@gmail.com.

Being Triggered and Trigger Warnings

What’s it like to be triggered, really? We hear the terms “triggered” and “trigger warning” thrown around a lot, even used as a joke. Because people hurl the phrase so thoughtlessly, others have come to mock it, even hate it. If you’ve been anywhere near the discussion around trigger warnings in the past year, I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard someone spit out the phrases, words dripping with indignation and contempt.

Per the new blog schedule, today is “Tell All Tuesday.” (One day, I’ll have a more intriguing name, but, while I love to write, creative naming is a bit of a struggle for me.) What’s the idea behind this Tuesday series? It’s more personal. It’s not about resources and recovery as much as it’s about sharing my experiences in what I hope will be a meaningful way to help further discussions on mental health and combat stigma. In that spirit, I would like to spend the inaugural post in this series talking a little bit about what it’s like, for me, to be triggered, and what it’s like to hear these debates around trigger warnings as someone who lives with the potential of being set off by external events.

I live with complex post traumatic stress disorder. Complex trauma occurs when a person is living in a dangerous situation from which there is no obvious form of escape. For me, those traumatic experiences involve growing up in a home with abuse and domestic violence, and then living in a marriage with domestic violence myself. I am very new to “the PTSD thing.” I only became really symptomatic after my husband left in November of last year. But, I’ve learned quite a lot about being triggered.

First, and very importantly, a trigger can be anything. The word “Trigger” means different things to different people. For the purpose of this post, I am talking about triggers that relate to trauma and a traumatic reaction. They can be large and “obvious”, or subtle, sometimes seemingly coming out of no where. “Obvious” triggers would be graphic depictions of a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, war, a car wreck, a hostage situation, etc. Depending on your particular trauma, any realistic reenactments of  something similar will probably get you revved up and incredibly uncomfortable. “Subtle” triggers can literally be anything related to your specific trauma. To give you an idea of how something “mundane” can really trigger someone, I cannot listen to Journey. My stepfather used to listen to it when he was drinking, and if I hear the opening notes of “Faithfully” or someone singing “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world,” I become seriously on edge. Honestly, even thinking about those songs to type that sentence has upped my anxiety a little bit. I hear Journey and my physical, subconscious reaction is “danger is likely coming, and I need to be prepared for it.” Living with PTSD is living with your particular triggers, the known and the unknown, the avoidable and the inevitable. Hearing Journey is pretty inevitable. Talk about overplayed! It’s something I’m still working on as far as being able to ground myself and prevent a flashback or panic attack. I think of triggers like a lurking monster, always ready to jump scare you, horror movie style, when you least expect it. Much like horror movies, even when you know it’s coming, it can still make you jump.

I’m a huge fan of the movie Jaws. It’s one of my all time favorites. I watch it every fourth of July. I think of my PTSD like Jaws. Sometimes, it’s in my face, trying to rip me apart. Sometimes, it’s lurking just under the surface as feelings of suspense and concern rise. Sometimes, it’s not really on the radar, but I know in the back of my mind that the threat is always there. I no longer have the ability to enjoy a nice, relaxing swim in the ocean in this metaphor, because I know what is hiding under the waves. I have a very hard time “just chilling” and “fully relaxing.” I’m just too hyper-vigilant for it.

Being triggered, for me, is a complicated spectrum of responses. It’s not just one reaction, or one behavior. Sometimes, it’s simply heightened anxiety and being on edge. Sometimes, it’s a full blown panic attack. Sometimes, it’s a dissociation; no panic, no reaction, just shutting down for a bit. Then, there are flashbacks.

Flashbacks are brutal. They are Jaws leaping from the water and ripping flesh from my body. There’s a lot of misconception around flashbacks thanks to the media. They are not all word for word reenactments of trauma, or hallucinations that the trauma is happening again. (Though, sometimes these types of flashbacks do happen.) Occasionally, with very direct and strong triggers, I have had full blown flashbacks. I don’t usually remember much from them (even the “mild” ones) but I usually remember what brought them on. When I was in the waiting room at the hospital, a lady in the next room was screaming. She believed that the doctors were going to kill her. But the words she was screaming were “No! Stop! Please!” etc. This triggered me deeply, as it sounded very much like my mother during violent situations with my stepfather. My friend tried to keep my attention in the present, but I could not. The room faded and I was not there anymore. I don’t know what happened, but when I came out of it, I was across the room against the wall with my friend in front of me looking very concerned. That was a “full blown” flashback. But mine, at least, are nearly always what I call “half flashbacks. These experiences are not typically that dramatic. I dissociate. I can feel it coming on sometimes. I start to “drift.” First, my body gets tingly. My hands and feet get cold, but my core feels hot. My heart rate increases. I start to “zone out”. I’m half “here” and half “there.” I’ve had a few of these types of flashbacks around friends. Obviously, being friends, they tend to attempt to help me through it and find my tether back to the here and now. I can hear my friends speaking to me, but responding is very difficult. Sometimes, I do lose touch with “here” and it usually takes me a little bit to “get back.” But I don’t do a whole lot physically. I don’t really speak. I pretty much comply with whatever someone tells me to do. I’ve heard that my leg tends to shake a lot and that my muscles tense up, but that’s really it. Not nearly as “exciting” as the flashbacks you see in movies, I know.

Remember how I said that triggers can be anything? I meant it. I’ve been triggered into a flashback before simply because I felt tense and panicky. Sometimes there is no trigger beyond the fact that I feel similar to the way I felt during a moment of trauma. That is how subtle a trigger can be.

So, with all that said, the question we see posed a lot is “are trigger warnings necessary or are they just ‘coddling’ those pesky, oversensitive Millennials?”

First of all, the “trigger warning debate” is typically centered around classroom settings. In an educational situation, trigger warnings are not just a good idea, I would argue that they are essential. In these instances, I’m talking about the “obvious” triggers. 1 out of every 3 girls and 1 out of every 5 boys will be sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18. 700,000 children in the United States experience child abuse annually. 5 million children witness domestic violence each year in the United States. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience domestic abuse of some form in their lives. And these numbers only speak to four forms of trauma one may endure. Statistically speaking, if you’re teaching a lecture class on a college campus, a decent portion of your student body has experienced some form of trauma. Being fully triggered is an all-encompassing feeling. When  trigger blindsides you, and you have no time to prepare, the effect is often much stronger than if there is warning. There are grounding techniques and coping skills one may use to stay present and engage in their education. Without a warning, those students who have experienced trauma will not be learning anything. They will be battling with their memories, intrusive thoughts, and panic trying not to make a scene.

In college, I studied social work. Thankfully, even prior to trigger warnings becoming “mainstream,” my social work classes were full of them. Teachers would say, “Today, we’re going to be talking about working with sexual assault survivors. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself if this is a sensitive topic for you.” After an intense class, each of my teachers would always make themselves available to talk and process with students who may have reacted strongly to the topic covered in class that day. In the small sized social work classes, it was very rare for someone to leave class during such a class. There was a carefully fostered sense of trust and openness in our classrooms that allowed for very intimate conversations. When talking about trauma, it was perfectly acceptable (and honestly encouraged) to share personal connections. One teacher would always say, “What about the people in this case study and the situation presented hits a tender spot in your heart?” This would allow for engaging and supportive conversations around our own experiences, how those experiences would shape our clinical practice, and what we could each do to take care of ourselves and each other as friends and colleagues.

I recognize that most classes are not designed to facilitate such self-exploration. But having trigger warnings in place can help someone prepare for the trigger, and utilize coping skills to stay present. Anyone who has a problem with an English Lit. professor saying “The reading today contains a rape scene. Please take care of yourself.” at the beginning of a class does not properly understand the reason for trigger warnings. There seems to be a misconception that “trigger warnings” somehow means that the material is not taught. This is not the case in any college class in which I have participated.

In America, the sad fact (as demonstrated by the statistics listed above) is that a substantial amount of our population has survived some form of trauma. While it is true that not all trauma survivors develop PTSD, I don’t believe that there is any shame in shifting our standards, especially in learning environments, to something a little more trauma-informed.

It’s true that no one can predict every potential trigger. (Even don’t know all my triggers, and I sure as hell don’t expect you to know them.) Generalized trigger warnings harm no one and may substantially help a trauma survivor. As someone who has been through the hell of flashbacks and panic attacks set off by a trigger, I fully support the use of trigger warnings.

The overuse, and superfluous use of the term “triggered” is a very frustrating issue to me. When people use it as slang for “upset” or even “mildly inconvenienced”, I get very angry. It’s right up there as saying “So and so is so bipolar!” It’s stigma. It’s ignorance. Saying “I’m so triggered” flippantly is a large part of what creates this “debate” around “trigger warnings.” It shapes the conversation toward “Those kids are just too oversensitive. They need to grow up and face the real world. There are no trigger warnings there.” And that is a true statement. Life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. But to diminish the experience of being triggered, to suggest that using trigger warnings in classrooms is unnecessary, and that the people asking for them are childish and spoiled, is incredibly invalidating and demeaning to trauma survivors. It can be deadly. The shame around PTSD and being triggered is already immense. (Believe me, when you’re just doing life and all of the sudden you “come to” with a friend in front of you looking worried because you just went catatonic for ten minutes, you feel pretty damn stupid. “Why can’t I control this?” “I need to be stronger so I can make this stop.” “Oh, great. I’m crazy and now my friend knows it.” These are all thoughts I, personally, have had after being triggered.) When I say I support trigger warnings, and someone says, “You’re just being oversensitive.” my traumatized brain, which already tried to minimize my feelings and my memories and the things I’ve experienced, latches to the sentiment that I’m overreacting and that it can’t really be that bad. And that starts a vicious cycle of depression, shame, and self-loathing. I can’t wait for the day when we no longer minimize people’s lived experiences and recovery process by flippantly throwing around psychological terms like they’re nothing. Until then, I’ll keep raising my voice in opposition and speaking my truth.

____

***PTSD is a lot more common than you may think. 1 out of 10 women and 1 out of 20 men will develop some form of PTSD in their lives.***

If you’re interesting in the “other side” of this debate, I’d like to aim you in the direction of my friend Elizabeth’s blog Betty’s Battle Ground for her post on why she doesn’t use trigger warnings. It’s a good read, and I respect her opinions!

Thanks for reading! As always, I love hearing your thoughts! Drop a comment or find me on FacebookTwitterTumblr, and Instagram! Also, a friendly reminder that I now have a Patreon account with some pretty cool perks! If you like my work here on ParallelDichotomy, I would love to have your support! Come back in two days for the second installment of Recover Thursday! Pop in for tips, tricks, resources, support, and understanding in mental health recovery! 

How To Set Healthy Boundaries (Without Guilt)

When you hear the words “healthy boundaries,” what’s your initial reaction? Do you feel like you have them in place? Do you feel like you need or want to have them in place? Maybe, you think that you don’t need them at all.

I used to be the third option. But I would never have worded it like that. I would have said, “I care about other people over myself.” “I just want to help and support people.” “I have a lot of empathy.” And these statements were true. In many ways, they still are. I love people. Truly. I want to help out and support and be there and talk and understand why people do, say, and feel the ways that they do. That’s not a bad thing, though, right? Isn’t that selfless and noble?

You could call it that. But when it’s slowly eroding your soul and sense of self, that’s a problem.

What am I talking about when I say “healthy boundaries”? Simply, it’s having a knowledge of what is your responsibility, what is not your responsibility, and when to say “No.” It’s being aware of where “you” end and another person “begins.” 

So, what’s that look like? It’s a lot to dig through. Let’s start at the beginning. Every one of us has “core values”: the beliefs and principles by which we try to live our lives. You may or may not be clear on which values, exactly, are most important to you, but I’d be willing to bet that you tend to have certain ones that you follow without even thinking about it. You could really value having a clean and tidy living space, being in good physical health, your faith, being compassionate, being a “free spirit”, creating art, living as waste free as possible, being politically active… really, your values could be anything. But they are yours. And when you have awareness of your personal values, you’ll be well on your way to being able to set and hold healthy boundaries. (If you’d like to reflect a bit more on what your values are, here’s a fantastic list of over 200 core values to read and consider. Some will jump out and resonate with you immediately.)

Once you have your values defined, consider how those values impact relationships. We’re not just talking romantic here, but every relationship. Coworkers, friends, family members, and lovers. If those relationships are healthy, and have good boundaries, you will feel able to hold firm to your values regardless of disagreement. You will not need to compromise something very important to you for the sake of keeping another person happy. You and the person with whom you are in that relationship will be two independent people, with individual values, and you will each respect those differences instead of trying to change them in the other person or feeling pressured to change your own.

Being able to live by your core values is at the heart of boundary setting. Living by our convictions and values gives us an immense sense of purpose and self-worth. I we are living our lives in a way that necessitates that we compromise our wants and needs in favor of others’ wants and needs, we will not feel valuable or fulfilled. Because personal values are so important in this process, self awareness is key in the journey to healthy boundaries. We each need ask ourselves which values are non-negotiable and which are open to compromise? How do we handle each situation with flexibility to balance our priorities (i.e. rigidly sticking to our values vs building or maintaining a relationship with someone).

Your most precious values should never be conceded in the interest of a relationship. If they are being compromised, or you feel unable to hold true to them all together, that is a massive red flag that you are in a situation in which your boundaries have been violated.

If you find yourself in a situation like that, it is important to take a step back and consider what you need to do to regain personal agency. If you’ve lost core values, or your personal space (either physically or emotionally) has been violated, you have the right to reestablish your boundaries and require that they are respected. If they are not, you have the right to end the relationship. Setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them is never selfish. It’s never not OK to protect yourself and your space. You have a right to decide who gets a seat at the table in your life.

Of course, this concept would be Chapter One in the book “Easier Said Than Done”. I don’t want to make light of the struggle of setting boundaries, especially if you’ve never really learned what healthy boundaries look like, or if you’ve been in a prolonged situation of feeling unable to have boundaries.

In my own life, I still struggle with the concept of boundaries. Professionally, I had it in the bag. Working at the group home, holding boundaries with my clients was pretty easy. I think because I went into the situation knowing that it was required and expected of me, and that it was the only way to truly support my clients in a manner which would help them grow. But there were plenty of areas of my life with zero boundaries. My marriage, family interactions, and even with work. (I spent four years saying “yes” to every single request for me to cover a shift because I didn’t feel comfortable saying “no”. I thought that declining a shift would make me a bad employee. One time, I worked a 108 hour week, which included a shift of 36 hours straight. This is a great example of a lack of healthy boundaries.)

Like many people (and, probably many of you reading this), boundaries in my childhood home were rather blurred. Growing up with alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and the constant threat of danger in the home will pretty solidly eradicate the idea of boundaries; the choices you make and the roles you assume are largely rooted in the need for survival. You don’t have the ability or luxury of worrying about “healthy boundaries” in situations like that. I fell into a caretaker role very early on in my life and maintained it well into my 20’s in one relationship or another. Breaking deep reaching, very established patterns in boundary setting like that takes an awful lot of time and energy. I still struggle with boundaries, to be honest. But I am actively working on that.

So, if you, like me, struggle with boundary setting, let’s look at what we can do about it! Once we’ve reflected a bit on what our core values are and where those values and our sense of self are being violated, how do we establish boundaries without feeling selfish or guilty? I’m glad you asked! 

HERE ARE TEN STEPS TO TAKE AS YOU BEGIN SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES:

GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION: You can’t set boundaries if you don’t believe you have the right to do so. You have the right to say no, to protect your values, to be true to yourself, and to protect your space and your well-being. Believe that. Allow yourself to do it.

START SMALL: If you’ve never had boundaries in place, or if it’s been a really long time since you have had them, making huge, sweeping changes to the ways in which you interact with people will be difficult and discouraging. It could be so overwhelming that you give up on setting boundaries all together. This, obviously, is not the idea. Practice setting “safe” boundaries to get used to the idea. If a friend asks you to go out one night and you’re tired, practice saying, “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m really tired, so I’m going to pass.” If your boss asks you to cover a shift, practice saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to do that.” Your friend will very likely not hate you forever to passing on one evening out; you will not be fired for refusing one shift. These are great “baby steps” to take as you get used to setting boundaries again.

CONTINUALLY WORK ON SELF AWARENESS: If you are feeling resentful, uncomfortable, or belittled, it’s very likely that a boundary has been violated. Especially at first, it can take some serious self reflection to determine exactly which boundary that is and how to protect that boundary in the future. Self reflection and radical honesty are really important in recovery in general, and the same is true in boundary setting.

THINK ABOUT THE WAYS IN WHICH YOUR PAST INFLUENCES YOUR PRESENT: Going along with that self awareness, it’s important to start to recognize patterns of behavior. Our pasts strongly influence our present. If you grew up with abuse or alcoholism or neglect, you did not learn how to set boundaries. Our past tends to haunt us until we understand the ways in which we fall into those same patterns over and over again. Only then can we start to break free of them. If you find yourself feeling the need to take care of everyone else at your own expense, and you grew up in a home where you were the caretaker, you can see how those two things are not just related, they are one in the same. Once you recognize these patterns, you can start to break them. (Just remember, “start small!”)

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU’RE FEELING: If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may remember post about naming your emotions. (If you’re new, or you want a refresher, you can find it right here.) The skill of naming emotions is very important. When we can identify what we’re feeling, we can also identify the red flags that a boundary has been violated.

PRIORITIZE SELF CARE: Let’s be real, even if you want to be supporting other people (remember, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s not at the expense of yourself or your values), you’re going to be a lot better at it if you’re taking care of yourself. You’ve got honor what you mind, body, and spirit needs to be at your best, and you need to honor your feelings if you want to be able to have healthy relationships with others. So, don’t feel guilty for taking care of you first. I’d give the old “airplane oxygen mask” analogy, but I think you get it.

NAME LIMITS: You can’t hold firm boundaries unless you are clear about them. Know your limits, and make sure other people know them as well. This will make it a lot easier to hold the line when necessary, because you can say, “I told you that this is not OK, so I need you to respect that or else this conversation is done.”

BE DIRECT: Be clear about what you expect. If you send mixed messages, you’ve already got blurred boundaries because it’s very like that the person with whom you are interacting is incredibly confused and unsure of what you want and need. Don’t expect others to be able to read your mind. Remind yourself that you have the right to say exactly what you need, and then to hold strong to it.

BE ASSERTIVE: “Assertive” is a pretty heavy word for me. I’m never quite sure how to do it without feeling like a jerk. Can you relate? Sometimes I struggle with what “being assertive” even means, as I tend to think of it as synonymous with “aggressive”. Realistically, though, “assertiveness” is the balance between “submissiveness” and “aggressiveness”. If you are non-assertive, or submissive, your go to method of interacting with someone is to put their wants and needs above your own and being overly invested in being “nice” or “pleasing”. You will also likely feel guilty, or as if you are imposing on someone, when you do try to ask for what you want or need. People with an aggressive manner of interacting with people communicate in a demanding, abrasive, and even hostile manner, completely disregarding other’s rights and feelings in order to get what they want. This style of interaction is often abusive, with people attempting to gain what they want through coercion, intimidation, and sheer force. Assertiveness, on the other hand, is simply asking for what you want, or saying “no” to something that you don’t want, in a direct, clear manner that does not manipulate, negate, or attack the other person. There is no need for guilt when you are assertive. It is not wrong of you to be direct and clear.

HAVE SUPPORT: Don’t be afraid to tell some of the people in your life that you are working on your assertiveness and your ability to set boundaries and express your wants and needs. If you have some unhealthy relationships, part of “starting small” may mean talking to a friend, family member, or therapist who is supportive of your journey to healthier boundaries. Talk about what you would like to be different in those unhealthy relationships, and maybe even ask them if you can “practice” setting some of those boundaries and having those difficult conversations before you actually engage with the specific person (or people) in those problematic relationships.

There you have it! Remember, as with so many other aspects of mental health recovery or increased mental wellness in general, setting boundaries is a process, not an event. It will take time. It will take practice. It will take work. But it will be worth it. I promise.

____

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop a comment below, hit me up on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and feel free to check out my Instagram! If you liked what you read, please consider subscribing and sharing!

Also, a HUGE shout out to Paige Warren and Sierra Roby, my first two Patrons! If you’d like to support this blog, please consider becoming a Patron as well! Lots of cool perks available! Here’s the Patreon page!

Have a great day, all!

Changes Are A-Here!

Hey everyone!

I’m super excited to be officially launching my PATREON site!

With this comes the “un-official” relaunch of my blog, too!

I’m back in full swing, and I’ve got posts already written and qued up! (I know… who the hell have I become?!)

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW/ CAN EXPECT: 

  • NEW POSTS will be live every Tuesday and Thursday starting this Thursday! We’ll have Tell All Tuesdays (the more personal posts you all seem to enjoy, like the return of the “Scrawling Toward Sanity Series”, “old school” posts like when this blog first started, Q&A responses, etc.) and Recovery Thursdays (posts focusing on resources, coping skills, self care, and so on)
  • FRIDAYS are a big ol’ jumbled box of coolness. I will host a guest post on the first Friday of every month (I’ve already got a really interesting one on deck for you guys!) and on the last Friday of every month, it’s an “anything” post. Could be reflection, could be a poem, could be a song that I’m really digging that relates to mental health struggles/recovery and a brief write up of why I’m digging it… really, anything at all (I’ve got to acknowledge that I’m a free spirit and reserve the right to express that somewhere in this space!) The other two Fridays will be Friday Finds! 
  • I’m wicked excited about the PATREON launch! I have tiers for readers and fellow advocates, and offer everything from shout-outs/ promos of your respective pages on all of ParallelDichotomy’s social media sites to Virtual Hang Outs! And I’m really excited to connect with you all in a deeper way!
  • I’ve got a newly stoked passion for truly breaking down stigma and educating about mental health and trauma, and advocating for quality mental health care and recovery. And I’m going to chase after it with everything I’ve got. I hope you’ll come with me!

Catch me on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr. And be sure to hop over to my Patreon and take a look around!