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The Day I Knew Therapy Was 'Working'

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Most people probably don’t find life as hard as I and many others living with mental illness do. Getting a bus to a new place, eating, getting dressed, taking a shower, going outside, knowing what you feel and acting (safely) on it are just a tiny number of the many everyday things I struggle with. I can sometimes manage them and sometimes not. Not to mention the big things, like meeting new people, attending events, working.

And it’s not a case of not wanting to do these things. I really want to. I just often find I can’t. It’s very, very difficult to be kind to yourself on days when you can’t do things. It’s much easier to judge, criticize, feel ashamed and engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms.

But today, I did really well. I felt sad because yesterday was hard. I had to go to a new therapy group, and it was too much for me and I ran away — literally. But to be honest, what happened is irrelevant. What I am really pleased about is my response to today’s emotional repercussions.

I did not engage in any harmful activities. Instead, I automatically turned to the skills I have learned in my 18 months of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): mindfulness of emotion, self-compassion, self-care, self-soothe and distract. And it worked. I felt better. I felt my emotions, but I was able to cope. This is a very new thing for me.

Here’s what I’m proud of managing:

1. I knew I was sad.

2. I knew why I was sad.

3. I chose not to wallow in it or avoid it.

4. I communicated with relevant people to update them on where I am, that I am safe and explained my behavior instead of avoiding all contact due to fear and shame.

5. I immediately decided a day of self-care was necessary. I set up my coziest bed nest, and found something to watch that would distract me and make me feel better.

6. I asked for help and comfort from those who can give it to me (small things, like my partner bringing me foods I know I will eat because it’s hard to eat when I feel this way).

7. I felt minimal guilt about taking this day. And every time the guilty feeling pops up, I remind myself I had a long, busy, emotional week last week, and yesterday in particular was very difficult. And I say to myself, “I deserve this, it’s OK to indulge myself, I deserve this.”

This is important, because a year ago, I wouldn’t have done these things. I would have gotten stuck on the first one (I never used to know what I was feeling, and I made every effort to block out all emotions, especially negative ones).

So even while feeling sad, I can reflect on my progress and be proud of myself. Because everyone gets sad when sad things happen, and it’s OK to feel sadness and to give myself comfort and ask for support from others. Self-care is hard, and it takes many forms. Doing it can be hard, especially when guilt gets in the way. But I am doing it, and I am feeling better by the second.

So to anyone out there struggling and wondering if therapy might help, I say, yes! Go for it. I had no idea I could change, but I have and I couldn’t have done it without DBT and an incredibly committed individual therapist. Therapy changed my life and I get better every day.

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Thinkstock photo via Mistake Ann.

Originally published: July 19, 2017
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