Mindfulness …


One of the most important parts of DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy), is learning to practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness is sort of buzz word these days. and I’ve discovered different people can mean different things when they say they practice mindfulness, so I’m just going to explain what I mean by mindfulness which I think is pretty close to what DBT means by it, although it’s always possible to misread things when you have so many ideas bombarding you from the media and various self-help outlets.

Since DBT’s main purpose is to help people regulate their emotions, mindfulness plays a key part. in that process.  It allows a person to stay grounded in the moment, to stay in touch with each moment’s reality, and by staying in touch with the here and now, helping us take time to breathe and gain control of emotional reactions.

Goals of Mindfulness (in DBT)

  • reduce suffering (we can’t reduce life events, but we can reduce our responses to life events which can alleviate some of our suffering)
  • reduce anxiety, tension, stress
  • increase control of your mind by decreasing worrying, overthinking, ruminating

At this point you may be asking, “What is mindfulness?”

My short definition is that mindfulness is intentional awareness of the present moment.  It shouldn’t be confused with mindlessness (or emptying the mind).  It’s a matter of focus to keep you grounded in the here and now.  Observation is the goal, not relaxation.

There are a lot of mindfulness practices that are taught and even apps to help lead people through the process of being mindful.  One of my favorite parts about practicing mindfulness, however, is that can be practice anywhere at any time.

  • washing dishes
  • listening to music
  • walking
  • housecleaning
  • painting
  • hobbies
  • bathing
  • weeding

I remember a popular book in the 70s called Be Here Now.  The title is basically the whole idea of mindfulness.  Be here.  In this moment.  Fully experience it.

Choose one of the items on the above list and next time you do it, take a couple of deep slow breaths. Then focus on your body’s sensations.  Are you washing dishes?  Feel the warmth of the water on your hands. Does it feel good? Is the water too hot?  Too cold?  Feel the sensation of bubbles on your lower arms. Does it tickle?  Do they feel soft?  Smell the scent of dishwashing liquid. What smell is it?  Lemon?  Orange? Listen to the sounds of the water running into the sink from the faucet.  Is it a soft trickle?

If you find yourself being distracted by thoughts or emotions, just acknowledge the thought/emotion, and focus on your breathing and other sensations again.  The goal isn’t to never have your mind wander or never to experience emotions or never have thoughts.  The goal is just be mindful of the present moment.  I’m washing dishes.  The water is warm.  I just had a thought that I need to pick up popcorn at the store.  I refocused my thoughts back to the dishes.

The purpose of practicing mindfulness throughout the day when you’re not under stress or feeling strong emotions is so that when you actually are in heightened emotional state, the skills will have become almost second-nature through your on-going practice of the skills.

Every week in our DBT classes, we practice at least two mindfulness activities together.  Last week we did a mindful eating activity.  A bowl of snack items was passed around, everyone chose one, and then we proceeded to mindfully eat our item.  Mine was a small wrapped chocolate candy bar.  We were to look at the food item as if we were an alien from outer space who’d never seen it before.  What did the wrapper look like?  Was it shiny?  Dull?  What colors?  Where there designs on it?  What did the wrapper feel like?  Smooth?  Ridged?  What was it like opening the wrapper?  What did it feel like?  Did it make a sound?  Did you smell anything?  Take the candy out of the wrapper.  What does it look like?  Smell like?  Examine it thoroughly like you did with the wrapper.  Take a tiny bite.  Don’t chew or swallow.  What does it feel like in your mouth?  Smooth?  Hard?  Rough?  Does it melt in your mouth?  Allow yourself to slowly move it around in your mouth, and when ready, chew and swallow, also noticing the processes of chewing and swallowing.

So that probably seems like a long even just to take a single bite of a candy bar.  It actually only took about two or three minutes.

When we did this in class last week, I’d arrived at class a couple of minutes late, I’d had a stressful morning, and I was even a bit out of breath from walking quickly into the building from my car.

After doing the mindful eating exercise, I realized I was calm and ready to be fully engaged in the class.  Mindful eating grounded me in the moment, and allowed me to focus on something so intently, that it gently pushed aside the stresses of the morning.  My breathing was calm, my mind felt focused, my felt grounded.

It was such a simple thing, but it worked wonders.  I knew about the idea of mindful eating, but I’d always thought of it as a trick for eating more slowly and thoughtfully to use as a dieting technique.  Now I see it can also be used as regular mindfulness technique to bring down heightened emotional and physical stress-related responses.

As I share things I’ve learned and experience through DBT classes, I’ll probably return to this idea of mindfulness frequently, sharing examples of various ways it’s proven helpful to me.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Have you had any experience with mindfulness practice?

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I found help that’s actually helpful …


When I was at my lowest low several years ago, I began seeing a personal counselor for moral support and to have someone to talk to who had expertise to deal with the difficulties I was facing.  Since the emotions I was feeling at the time were so strong, she recommended I attend a DBT class (ie: Dialectic Behavior Therapy) to gain some fresh skills for handling my overwhelming (and sometimes suicidal) emotional reactions to an on-going crisis in my life.

Since DBT was so helpful to me, I thought I’d take some time on this blog to share some of the insights and skills I developed through the program. A number of followers of this blog and my Facebook page have expressed interest in hearing more about my experiences with DBT.

DBT is a six month program taught through mental health clinics which can be taken twice.  I’m on my second time through.  Soon it will be a full two years of DBT classes.  Wow.  It feels like it’s gone by fast.  I’m gaining further insight this second round of classes, but I’m also seeing how much I’ve grown in my ability to implement and understand the skills I’ve learned.  The group I’m in meets once a week with a required weekly meeting with a personal counselor for follow-up in using the skills.

A quick overview of DBT:

It was developed in the 1980s by psychologist Marsha Linehan, originally to treat patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Since that time, DBT is being used for people with all sorts of emotional regulation issues.  Everything from suicidal ideation to depression to Bipolar mania.  It’s useful for anyone who reacts strongly to emotional stimuli in ways that negatively effect their lives.

In my case, I’d become so overwhelmed with sadness, that life felt unbearable and utterly hopeless.  I was surprised to discover that even an emotion like sadness could be regulated with the right skills.  Prior to DBT, I was frightened to start crying, because I thought if I started, I’d never stop.

The main topics covered in DBT are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Emotional Regulation

I’ve personally found the Mindfulness and Distress Tolerance sections to be the most helpful.  I’m sure it’s different for everyone since we all deal with different issues and emotionally triggering events in our lives.

My plan is to start going through my notebook from my DBT class and writing about various insights I’ve had through the program.  I can’t share the entirety of the class due to copyright issues, but I can share my personal reactions to the units and the teachings.

There are a variety of books, workbooks, and other resources on DBT and I’ll probably be recommending some of those as we go along.

If someone you know is struggling with overwhelming emotions, or difficulties working through strong feelings, feel free to let them know about this blog.  It won’t take me six months to get through my thoughts on the topic, so don’t worry.  I’ll probably share a post once or twice a week for about six weeks.  Maybe less.  Maybe more.  🙂

And here’s yesterday’s watercolor project.  Spring is coming!

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Personal Ponderings


DSCN4806.jpgI’ve gone through so many changes the past few years, when I look at the contents of my various blogs and websites, it just feels like it’s not representative of me anymore.No more kids at home. Can’t remember the last time I baked a pie. I cook for the freezer a little bit, but it’s not my go-to form of cooking anymore. Still living frugally, but not because I’m trying to find ways to feed and clothe five people on a single income. Just because I’m broke.  😉  Everything has changed or is up in the air.  In many ways, I feel like I’m rebuilding my life from the bottom up.

I feel like it’s time to make some changes in my online activities, writing projects, and websites/blogs. No definite plans yet, but just sort of thinking out loud here.  I know I’ve mentioned on here that changes are coming, and I’ve several times thought I would implement those changes.  But I just keep feeling torn about which direction to take.

I finished my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics three years ago, so I’m planning some projects inspired by things I learned in the MFA program. I did finish an experimental book of erasure poetry, Bad Things Happen, that was published two years ago, but readers seemed uninterested in reading it. Evidently my more esoteric creative projects need to be done for love, and not for readership. 

We’ve suffered some major relationship upheavals in our family, too. Long story very short, I’ve been estranged from my kids for three years (I will not share details, please don’t ask). It’s the most gut-wrenching, soul-crushing thing I’ve ever experienced. I was suicidal in the beginning, but have come a long way since then.  With the help of counselors and support groups, I’ve learned to cope with, and accept, the unacceptable and unimaginable.

This blog used to be called “Life: The Journey” and documented our family’s experience with my husband’s degenerative brain disorder. Many readers found it helpful and I was told it was inspiring to others going through difficult, senseless experiences.

Sometimes, I feel like I’d like to share the things I’ve learned over the past three years as I’ve traversed this latest journey. Grief, heartache, rejection, depression, suicidality, hopelessness, hopefulness, mental health issues, physical health, hospitalizations, etc.

Currently I’m going through a class on DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy). Each week, I find I learn at least one — often more than one — thing that I find so helpful. I’ve been wanting to share some of those ideas and practices with others. Simple ideas that can help people cope through difficult and challenging times. And even just the mildly annoying times we all face, even in the best of times.   I’m tossing around the idea of sharing each week something learned from the DBT class.  I asked folks on my Facebook page yesterday, and several people expressed interest in that topic.

Anyway, I thought I’d just think out loud here and see if any of this resonates with anyone.

Sincerely,

~Debi

Facing my fears …

“You faced something that frightened you, and you approached it with strength and the willingness to deal with it directly. This is pretty much the theme of what you’ve been working on over the past few months.”

This was spoken to me by my therapist as she walked me to the elevator this afternoon. Wow. I hadn’t even realized that I had a “theme” in therapy. I thought my theme was staying alive. Seriously.

“Your focus, at first, was survival, but you turned a corner a while back. You’ve been working on moving ahead with strength, courage, and purpose. You’ve been looking deeply at issues and traumas from your past, and you’ve been able to leave those things behind and move on into a different future.”

Wow. Sometimes it just takes someone else to reflect my life back at me to be able to see things clearly.

I knew I was making progress. I knew I was facing my fears. I knew I was tackling painful memories. I knew I was working on rebuilding purpose. I knew I was sensing renewed hope.

But just knowing those things in an abstract way wasn’t as real to me as it was hearing someone articulate the very same things to me. Someone who’s been walking with me through the current trials and traumas.

I had been listening in the car on my way to my appointment to a CD of a lecture. It was by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte. He’d been talking about the idea of things that scare us — that we refuse to look at — as being things we throw into a black bag that we carry around with us throughout our lives. When we’re children, the black bag is small enough, it can fit on our belt. As life goes along, we accumulate more and more things for our bag, and the black bag expands and grows larger until it’s so big, it drags along behind us and catches in elevator doors.

When my therapist noted that I’ve been dealing head on with things that frighten me, it fit in so well with David Whyte’s conversation about the black bag. I think it’s possible to stop and open my personal black bag, and begin dealing with those things that have been out of sight and dragging along behind me for far too long.  My bag is quite full and contains memories of past traumas, phobias, nightmares, people who’ve hurt me, gossiped about me, personal failures, mental health issues, abandonment, grief, rejection, bullying, lies, abuse, and plenty more.

So, I’m curious … what themes are you seeing your life? And what things have you put into your black bag?

~Debi

Anxiety attacks …

Yesterday I had a full blown anxiety/panic attack.

But I can happily say it’s been almost a year since I’d experienced one. None at all. And I’d been having them daily (or more). Life fell apart two years ago and I’ve pretty much spent the past two years trying to rebuild myself, my health, and my life.

Anyway, I was feeling good about how long I’d been panic attack free. And then, WHAM-O! Another anxiety attack hit in the same afternoon. So I planned a quiet evening at home watching something funny on TV. And lots of mindfulness.

And breathing. Breathing’s always good.

One reason I wanted to start posting on this blog again is that I’ve been learning a lot lately about caring for my health (mental, physical, emotional) and I thought perhaps some of the things I’m learning may be helpful to others.

For example, someone may not have anxiety attacks, but they might deal with social anxiety.  Or nervousness speaking in front of a classroom.  Or … ?  There are so many anxiety-riddled events in our lives.  I’m finding that things I learn for dealing with my more severe symptoms are also helpful in similar — but less severe — experiences, as well.

I may add something to the About Me page detailing a little bit about my journey the past two years so I don’t have to repeat myself.  Then I can just include a link in future posts for new readers.  Whatever I write about it, though, will probably be pretty vague.  I try to be careful about not sharing things online about other people that could cause readers to think poorly of them, and because the events deal with people who were close to me, I want to respect them and not share details about their lives that I know they wouldn’t want me to share.  There are always multiple sides to every story, and since this is my blog, I’ll share my story and avoid sharing others’.

Okay, onward and upward.  Have to go do dishes.  🙂

~Debi

PS:  I’m going to include a photo with each post, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the post.  This is a street in Tacoma, Washington.   The Grand Cinema is a little independent theater (to the left) that I go to fairly often, and the tables on the sidewalk are for a cute little coffeeshop where I usually go either before or after seeing a film.  So I’m well acquainted with this corner.