My winter lifeI disagree with T.S. Eliot; January is the cruellest month. Taking down the holiday decorations is itself depressing. Add in 31 short days and long, dark nights, ice and gray, and for me it’s a recipe for disaster. I find it difficult to get outside in nature during January, whether due to the weather (I live in the Northeast) or my own lack of motivation (I experience seasonal affective disorder). With no vacation days usually taken in January because I’m still catching up on days of missed work in December, there isn’t much to look forward to. Well, besides February, with its 28 days and promise of the approaching end of winter, not to mention Valentine’s Day chocolates. February is brutal but short. I can handle February because it turns into March.

In March, I start to come back to life. Little things like a bud on a tree give me hope and remind me nothing is permanent, not even the cold and darkness of winter, which feels so permanent in January.

But that effing month of January nearly destroys me most years.

BUT! During last night’s therapy session, I realized this January may be different, and I feel hopeful now. I’ve made goals, not quite resolutions. And one thing I learned during my postpartum depression is that goals can reignite your passion, and that changes your life for the better. Always.

So what am I up to in January?

The Building Balance Skills Group

I signed up for a 12-week mindfulness group (class?), hosted by my therapist. The group setting makes me feel a little vulnerable. But I’m convinced that a little vulnerability will be good for me. The group is called “The Building Balance Skills Group” and it’s described in this way:

A 12 Week Group for Women Designed to Help Restore and Maintain the Balance in Your Life

Balance. Who couldn’t use more of that? The group will also cover distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness–all skills I’ve learned in therapy already, but skills I need to keep in the front of my brain for regular use because of how much they’ve helped me already.

Warrior Mom Leadership Team

In early January, you’ll find me at Postpartum Progress as part of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team. Katherine Stone has described us as:

a group of survivors and bloggers who have been dedicated over the years to raising awareness of postpartum depression and all other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

So flattering. So scary! Again with the vulnerability! I’m sensing a theme for my January, possibly for my 2014. I’ve been writing notes for about a month now in preparation for my week of blogging at Postpartum Progress. I plan to write about my experience as a full-time working mother with postpartum anxiety. The implications of publicly discussing how I handled my career while struggling with a mood disorder scare the hell out of me, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Yoga

And the third experience I’m opening myself up to in January is another attempt at yoga. It’s been several years since I tried it (and hated it). Yoga has been this thing I’ve always wanted to love but never could, despite trying it again every few years. I could probably write a list of 100 reasons why I need yoga in my life. And then I could write 50 reasons why I don’t like it. Maybe I will do that in a future post! But a yoga place opened up a block from my house right after I was reconsidering yoga, and then I got an email about a Living Social deal that I think is the Universe’s way of screaming at me, “Jaime, just take the freaking yoga classes!”

So I’m going to commit to the 5 classes (for $27!!) and see what happens. If I hate it again, I’m letting myself off the hook. But I think this time I’m going to really give it my all and try to allow myself to be vulnerable (physically and emotionally) in order to become stronger.

It’s going to be a very busy January. But I don’t mind busy. And this is a new kind of busy for me–all three of these things fall within the realm of self-care. After the fall and winter I’ve had so far, I could use a month or two of what is for me “extreme self-care.” No guilt. :)

What’s in store for you in the new year?

 

 

photo by: Lida Rose

Months ago, or maybe even sometime last year, my therapist gave me a handout that I skimmed and filed, never giving it too much thought again until now. Across the top, it says “Distress Tolerance Handout 5 (cont.)” and at the bottom, the source line indicates it’s from a book by Marsha Linehan, the “mother” of dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT.

I’ve written about DBT several times before; it has helped me figure out the coping skills that work for me when I’m stressed–coping skills I’m having a hard time remembering at this time, when I seem to really need them. Which is why I busted out the handouts again for a refresher.

This morning, I spent 15 minutes in front of my light therapy box (my “SAD lamp” as I call it, which I’m sure confuses some people–how can a lamp be sad?) and pulled out this particular handout, staring at it without reading it for a minute until I remembered all I’d learned about one-mindfulness (another DBT term, meaning to do one thing at a time, letting go of distractions, focusing on the moment).

I focused, one-mindfully, on the first box: Willingness. “Willingness is DOING JUST WHAT IS NEEDED in each situation, in an unpretentious way. It is focusing on effectiveness.” Apropos for a Monday morning, don’t you agree?

My to do list just for today, not even for the whole week, felt overwhelming. Like it always does every morning. So instead of caving in to the voice in my head that was scolding me for taking such an early break from the work (There is so much of it to do! Get doing it!), I continued to read:

“Willingness is listening very carefully to your WISE MIND, acting from your inner self.”

And then:

“Willingness is ALLOWING into awareness your connection to the universe–to the earth, to the floor you are standing on, to the chair you are sitting on, to the person you are talking to.”

Yes, I thought, this makes sense to me today. What was my “Wise Mind” (still another DBT term, meaning the place where your Reasonable Mind and your Emotional Mind meet) telling me? That I always pull off the save at the end of the day–I always manage to check off most of what’s on my to do list. I’m a wonderful employee, and my bosses clearly seem to trust that I’ll do the job well. And if I don’t? There’s another day to try again. And if something gets past me or is late? It has never resulted in dire consequences; I think at this point we all know I’m only human. In other words, it’s going to be ok, even though the list seems insurmountable, impossible. I will find a way to get it done. And because I’ve been in therapy and because I keep these handouts nearby, I’ll find a way to get it done without sacrificing my quality of life.

The handout then described the opposite of willingness: willfulness.

“Willfulness is SITTING ON YOUR HANDS when action is needed, refusing to make changes that are needed.” Oh, denial? Check.

“Willfulness is GIVING UP.” Double check.

Things were striking a chord. With my workload increasing from 1,080 pages per year (I managed 2 health care journals for a publishing company) to 1800+ pages per year (I am now managing 3 journals, with only a minimal increase in help), it would be fair to say that yes, I do feel like giving up. I feel like searching for a new job altogether. I feel like shutting down. I feel like giving up who I am and what I love just to check everything off my long to do list at work. I’ve done a whole lot of ignoring this isn’t happening at work. I’ve also stomped a lot and raged and cried at home. Neither of those things is working. I’ve instead had migraines from crying and being stressed. I’ve let go of anything enjoyable to me–now, when I obviously (even to me) need those things most! I’ve tried to “FIX every situation” (which is also willfulness, according to this handout).

I’m not, and I never have been, good at rolling with the punches. But I think it’s time this old dog learned how to be willing and not willful, before I burn out. I see it happening already, and so quickly. And it’s terrifying.

Wish me luck as I trim the fat from my life and focus, one-mindfully, on only what’s really important, both at home and at work. Wish me luck as I try to practice what I just preached above!

 

DBT and distractionDistraction is my go-to device when it comes to tolerating distress. When I am sad especially, historically I’ve relied on watching television to distract me from the thoughts making me feel worse. But television isn’t the most convenient device, even with all the apps I’ve loaded onto my phone. For example, if I’m in the office (where I spend most of my waking hours per week), I can’t exactly discreetly open up my Netflix app, as much as I’d love to do that! When I’m driving, I can’t safely check out what’s on HBOGo.

Given that anxiety can pop up at any inconvenient moment, regardless of my location, I’ve had to rely on other forms of distraction.

In dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive and behavioral therapies are combined with a dash of mindfulness. In my experience with it (as a client), the terms “emotional mind,” “reasonable mind,” and “wise mind” have come up often to refer to the states of mind, and my goal has been to tap into wise mind as often as possible. (For a description of each, check out this website.)

I admit I dwell in emotional mind more than I should. And I sometimes experience anxiety as a result.

Enter crisis survival strategies like distraction, which is only one of the crisis survival strategies I’ve learned in therapy. “Crisis” sounds intense, doesn’t it? Let’s tone that down a bit to mean any level of anxiety experienced, or even negative thinking. These strategies help guide me out of emotional mind and into reasonable or, even better, wise mind.

I have a handout from the Skills Training Manual… by Marsha Linehan, who is the founder of DBT. The top of the handout says:

A useful way to remember these skills is the phrase Wise Mind ACCEPTS.

ACCEPTS is an acronym for Activities, Contributing, Comparisons, opposite Emotions, Pushing away, other Thoughts, and intense other Sensations.

My favorite example of a way to distract with activities is cleaning–typically my bathroom–which is a great way to distract yourself from anger (at least for me it is)! More examples include taking a walk, soaking in a bubble bath, making a cup of tea, journaling (such as in a Positivity Notebook), having a photo shoot with your kids, or playing a game. Sometimes I do these things on autopilot, without noticing I’m distracting myself.

Distracting with contributing includes volunteer work or performing a random act of kindness. Focusing on others can help get us out of our own heads.

Distracting with comparisons can mean reading a news item about a disaster and comparing yourself with those suffering more than you. It can be helpful to realize there’s always someone worse off than you. Even more helpful might be to compare your present self with yourself a few years ago–are you doing better now than you were then?

Distracting with opposite emotions means doing something that creates a different emotion than what you’re feeling. For instance, watching a scary movie (or other emotional movie) or enjoying a stand-up comedy performance can change your mood.

Distracting with pushing away means leaving the situation mentally for a while, putting a wall between it and yourself. A technique that has helped me is to schedule worry time for later in the day. Sometimes I find that I’ve missed my window for worrying (and that I don’t care, at that point)!

Distracting with other thoughts is actually kind of fun. It can mean counting to 10 or 100 (or any other number that intrigues you), reading something engrossing, or–my favorite–watching TV.

Distracting with intense other sensations sounds pretty cool. It means using physical stimulation like holding ice in your palm, squeezing a stress ball, listening to music very loudly, taking a cold (or hot) shower, or snapping a rubber band on your wrist.

I love the handout because it is full of ideas, which I’ve summarized above, for distracting yourself right out of a bad mood, anxiety, or pretty much anything else. Distraction isn’t always bad!

Do you ever use distraction to change your mood?

 

photo by: broo_am

I can hear my therapist’s voice in my head, saying “Opposite action!” That’s a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skill she taught me a few months ago, and apparently one I use often without realizing I’m using it. What is the opposite action DBT skill? Marsha Linehan, who is the founder of DBT, said, “Every emotion has an action.” She also said that “You can actually change the emotion by changing the action.”

Here is an example: You’re depressed. All your depression wants you to do is lay in bed and watch mindless television shows all day long in your pajamas. That’s what feels good to depression. Instead, you do the opposite and get in the shower, get dressed, and go out. Presto, you feel better–even if just an iota better–than you’d feel if you had stayed in bed.

Linehan said:

One of the ways that you can change your emotion is to just reverse the circle. We just start with action that is opposite and that circle starts going in the other way. And the emotion starts going down.

That’s opposite action in a nutshell. It’s like removing some of the power from the negative emotion, don’t you think?

And it’s also like a big “eff you” to your depression (or other emotion you’re trying to shake).

I do not like running, but I’m doing it anyway–because reaching a goal feels good. I’m continuing this weekly blog hop even though I don’t feel much like patting myself on the back these days–because it is good for me to treat myself with kindness, especially when I’m feeling low (which I am, thanks to this awful, cold, gray, rainy/icy stretch of weather we’ve been having). Those are the first two things that come to mind when I ask myself what I’m doing right this week.

So, for now, the blog hop must go on…because I don’t feel like doing it. But your comments and links are like…dare I say itsunshine on a cloudy day!




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