This is a series in which I talk about my experience with DBT. I am not naming any names or institutions that the therapy is associated with. I am not a professional in this field, this is all purely based on my experience and impressions. If you are interested in DBT or other therapies, please talk about it to a medical professional.
Last week I told you guys all about my first session of DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I’ve had two more sessions since then. I have some… thoughts.
I have not felt this amount of anxiety in so long and I honestly don’t know if it’s happening just by chance or if I’m suddenly very aware of how I’m feeling 100% of the time because of DBT. The tools they give us are useful, to be sure. But I’m having moments where I question if it’s even worth it.
Here’s what happened in my second and third session of DBT.
When Common Sense Is Forgotten
Week 2 of DBT started a little differently. We went around the table and talked about our week, which was not something I was really ecstatic to do. This is something I hated about group therapy the first time around: sharing your inner life in front of ten other people.
But I indulged.
It did help that the session provided stress toys and distraction objects. I opted for a coloring sheet, shading in a bouquet of flowers as my fellow group members talked about the stresses of their week and how they used the DBT method we learned from last week to cope with it.
It came to my turn near the end. I put my pencil down and talked about my brother’s birthday. I was overly stressed about doing something fun, since he was turning 13 and I really wanted to make him special despite the fact that my grandfather was leaving back to Iran the day of, and my mum was coming back home form England the night before.
I had a bit of a domestic with people attending the party. No details, but when the day came, I found myself really wishing the issue could be resolved, because I knew my brother missed them. I also had an overwhelming urge to call and apologize for my part in the tiff, but I decided against it because I was advised by others that it’s not the best thing to do.
Then I started crying, and I couldn’t stop.
Everyone kind of looked away or nodded sympathetically, and one of the group leaders remarked how much I seemed to care about my brother. I sniffled a wet yes. She asked me what thoughts were running through my head in the moments I felt upset over the issue.
I answered honestly. I felt stupid, cruel, and irrational. I felt like a failure for not being able to give my brother the ultimate birthday party.
“What did you end up doing?”
“My boyfriend and I ended up taking him to Ripley’s Aquarium, then we went to a restaurant and then an arcade. We were out until like 11:00 pm.”
“Did he enjoy himself?” she ventured.
My answer was timid. “He did. He told me, and I could tell he was.”
“Then why are you judging yourself so harshly when in the end, you did deliver and he did enjoy himself?”
“I… I guess I’m just used to it.”
“Well, let’s break that habit.” She smiled at me, then added, “and happy birthday to your brother. I’m sure he’s a wonderful kid.”
I felt pretty good afterwards. My honesty had paid off, and I not only felt more secure and reassured, but a lot more willing to take a more active part in DBT.
After that we learned about different distraction methods – the usual, like exercise, cold water, dancing it out, repeating “Wise Mind” to yourself as you inhale and exhale. It was pretty basic, but I appreciated that I was learning these things again.
It seems dumb on paper, but I can’t tell you how hard it can be to forget these simple methods during moments of high emotional distress.
We left the group, and I went to work. I felt really really stressed out, because I still had those judgmental thoughts whirring around my head like residue.
I went to work anyway, which is surprising. Usually when I’m feeling as anxious as I did that day, I would call in sick or late to work. This time, I sucked it up and went, and it was super hard at first but my mood was exponential after the first couple hours. By the end of the night I was happily carrying out tasks and interacting with customers as if I had walked in with the best mood. My manager even remarked on it. It felt really good.
The week after that, as in this past Tuesday, I felt very differently.
Downhill From Here?
I came into the class feeling overly chipper. I was overcompensating for just spending over $40 in the bookshop that morning, which I knew was wrong. In fact, I had been doing this consistently for the past three weeks, right around the time I started DBT.
Is it related? If I’m honest, yes. I feel like I have this idea that after undergoing something a little difficult, like therapy, I should be able to treat myself. This is absolutely the wrong method of coping, one that DBT was trying to train me out of. I was acting out of impulse.
So I was in a bad mood. already felt like a failure (there’s the judgement again) and all I felt like doing was going back home and sleeping in before having to go to work afterwards.
We went around the table again. I talked about how I had become really social anxious in recent months, for reasons I don’t understand. I was unable to talk to my pastor at church on Sunday because I felt so physically ill. I lost my edge, and by the time I got home, I sank into the couch and took a total time out. On the way home from Peterborough, my boyfriend and I discussed why I might have felt so distressed.
I hypothesized that it may be because I don’t have as many friends as I used to, and I don’t have the energy to socialize with the few that I have left. I was kind of scarred from my behaviour from three years ago, which resulted in the loss of most of my friend group.
Basically, I don’t talk to too many people outside of my immediate family, my boyfriend, and customers at work.
As I discussed this with the group, I didn’t look up from coloring at all. I didn’t feel like being aware of all the eyes on me as I admitted my own inability to socialize and make new friends. I dreaded someone coming to me after the session and offering to be a friend. I felt pathetic.
The group leader told me something or other about how I was being judgmental again, and I gave her an uncommitted affirmative. She asked me about how I handled the distress, and I discussed how I exercised a little bit after the anxiety at church by putting heavy chairs away, and how when I felt like I was losing control during the conversation I had with my boyfriend, I used healthy physical distraction methods like tensing different muscles in my body and releasing. I also admitted how I use prayer to calm down, asking for the strength to keep fighting and staying in control of myself.
Can I just say? I hate the muscle tensing method. I have this weird thing: when I’m overly aware of my body, I start to freak out a little. I can’t even do a blood pressure test without getting super uncomfortable, because suddenly I can feel my blood pumping, the pressure of the arm band, and my chest tightens and I feel like hurling.
The body tensing thing makes me overly aware of all my muscles and the way they’re feeling and grinding against each other when I move and my breathing and my lungs and heart and blood and UGH I hate it.
But that’s just me.
We continued the rest of the session, which focused on radical acceptance. Basically, we have to make peace with what our reality is in a moment, which is kind of a gateway to wise mind. I’ll be honest, I don’t know too much about it because the rest of the session I kept my head down and focused on coloring. I wasn’t really in the mood to talk about radically accepting my reality. I just wanted to color, and get out of there.
This isn’t the way to do therapy. I know that. I should have been more present, but in that moment I knew that I was losing control of my anxiety. In fact, when I left, I called in late to work. I needed some time to wind down a bit, because I was sure that if I went to work and powered through the same way I had done the week before, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Is that totally true? I don’t know. All I know is that the moment I was told I could come in at 4:00 pm instead of 2:15 pm, I felt an immediate sense of relief and elation. This is not a good coping mechanism, but it works. It’s not healthy, but it works.
The DBT gods are disappointed in me right now. Or, perhaps, I just slipped up. It happens. Maybe I’ll talk about it next week. What I know for sure? I went into work later and felt the urge to buy a whole bunch of more stuff. I didn’t though, because I remembered how I felt my first week of DBT. So while I did call in late to work, which isn’t productive, I will claim some pride in that I didn’t act on impulse and buy a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t need.
Two steps forward, one step back. At least I’m still going forward.
Let me know how you guys are doing, and if you have any reaffirming thoughts about it. I’m curious to know if anyone else feels these conflicting feelings while undergoing therapy like this, because I admit it’s still all a little new to me.
Until next week ❤️