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?


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!


Ouch. Commenters can bite.

I have another blog that I keep anonymously which deals with some very sensitive subjects.  I haven’t used that blog for a couple of years because it just got too hard for me to handle.  Several people I know personally have told me they don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to share openly online about these important topics since my sharing would possibly be helpful to others in similar situations.  But these folks have zero experience with sharing sensitive topics online, and have no idea how mean the trolls can be.  I’m really not in a position to handle mean-spirited personal attacks, so I choose to be anonymous if share, but more often than not lately, choosing to not share at all.

Anyway, I’d decided to put my toe back into the water with that other blog.  I was sharing about a heart-breaking moment, and someone commented with a long-winded version of “you’re a Borderline Narcissistic Whack-job and I’m going to send all my friends to trash you and anything you write forever!”  I had a link to a book (written by someone else), and it appears the trolls left my blog and then went directly to this other person’s book and trashed it on its Amazon reviews.  😦

All that to say, the internet is a scary place to be open and honest, especially if you tend to be on the sensitive side.  I know they were just being mean and just acting like trolls, but I have trouble handling people yelling and calling me names, whether it’s a troll online or a person in my life.  It’s hard to just let these things roll off my back.  But I’m working on it.

In other news, February’s over.  Which hopefully means our random unseasonal snowstorms are over, as well.  To celebrate the passing of February, here’s a painting I did for my own birthday (Feb 12th) of February’s birthstone, Amethyst.  And in keeping with the purple theme, there’s also a painting of Violet the bunny.  🙂  I’m still working on learning to do watercolor, but now that the weather may be getting a bit nicer, I hope be out doing photography again soon.

What hobby do you practice just for the fun of it?



Painting my feelings …

As you may have noticed, I had a difficult time over the holidays. Emotional and physical stuff all mushed up together into a perfect storm of miserableness. It was hard to get out of bed (physically and emotionally) and difficult to do anything fun or uplifting. Even painting, which has been such a joy for me the past couple of months, was undoable.

A friend suggested that I try painting my emotions rather than painting things — even if it meant painting with my tears on the paper. So I did two abstract paintings and they were so dark and a little scary. I couldn’t stand to use any color but black. Plus, they just look messy and not at all what I would normally paint.

But there was something cathartic about painting my dangerous and depressing feelings.

This first one I painted right before Christmas It’s called Family. Not a cheery holiday painting by any means, but an emotional portrayal of loss, heartache, and rejection. Art can be therapeutic. A safer way to explore the unsafe parts of ourselves. And the second one is called Black Hole.



“Black Hole”



If you want to see today’s painting and see that I’m not still stuck in the dark days of the holidays, you can find it at this link.  It’s called “Rainbow Wishes” and is much more cheery, and will maybe balance out this somewhat Goth moment.  😉


Pickup Christmas

DSCN5039Update to Previous Post: I was able to keep my Christmas tree up, after all, but I needed to move it to a different location in the living room.  Turns out that I had an incredibly triggering memory associated with decorating a tree in that other spot.  As soon as I moved the tree, I felt fine and have been okay with the tree ever since.  Sometimes you don’t have to throw everything away.  Sometimes you just need to move the tree.

The holidays are an incredibly sad and lonely time for me now. I decided to try to reclaim my holidays this year. Rather than feeling the emptiness of previous traditions and people that are no longer in my life, I’ve been trying to start some new traditions. Even just tiny ones.

One of my new traditions is painting my own Christmas cards. I haven’t sent any Christmas cards for a number of years, but I decided not to let other people’s decisions that have messed with my holidays stand in the way of me enjoying a simple tradition that brings a smile in the midst of the sadness. Adding the idea of painting cards helps to make it a new tradition, just my own, rather than trying to restart a previous tradition that has memories that can make me sad.

Anyway, I’ve always been too intimidated to try painting. I can’t draw worth beans, so using paintbrushes always seemed way beyond my abilities. Plus, I’ve developed a slight tremor that makes straight lines and fine details nearly impossible. I’m so glad I had the brainstorm back in October that watercolors are a fairly forgiving medium and the soft lines and blended colors are part of the beauty. In other words, inexactness can be a benefit rather than something ruinous.

It’s been just about two months since I began trying my hand at watercolor. Not only is a fun learning project, it also functions as almost a mediation project. Sitting at the table, quietly focused on shapes and colors. Painting has now become my reward for finishing my daily chores. I have lots to do today, and I really want to paint, so I’ll get the chores done ASAP. I’m planning on painting either a cardinal or a snow scene today.

“Pickup Christmas” was done earlier in the week. This painting is my first try at the truck and tree. I’ve done more copies since then. Amazing how much I can learn in the course of one painting.

I hope we can all find ways to negotiate any sadness that may accompany the holidays.