Discharged

To prep myself for discharge I set up my journal with check in sheets similar to those we did daily in outpatient but adjusted to best benefit me. It includes a scale of 1-7 rating of my depression, anxiety and suicidal idiation in both the morning and evening at the bottom and top of the page. It additionally has a space for 3 things I’m thankful for that day. Additionally there’s a space for goals for the day, for daily wins and accomplishments, a space that says “I used [skill] today to:” in which I can write things like “I used radical acceptance today to accept that I am anxious about going to the show tonight and seeing my friends I haven’t seen in 2 months since I left for outpatient. I accept that this is where I am right now and that is okay” or “I used opposite action to go to the show even though I was anxious”. Lastly there’s a spot for exercising my self worth that reads, “The thing I love about myself most today is:”. I feel like this will help keep me mentally structured and build upon everything I’ve worked on at outpatient.

I returned to work as well twice this past week and 6 days a week starting next week. I came back feeling excited, overstimulated and confident. I surely did miss my job. I’m scared the most that I’ll not practice my skills as well as I did while I was in outpatient, but there’s no reason for me not to be able to build upon what I’ve started and exercise the new neural pathways I’ve been creating for myself. I need to remember to look at my affirmations, my vision board, journal and track my wins. These are things I have set up in my favor for success. I feel that transitions are usually hard and this one in particular because of the uncertainty is stressful, but I think I’m sitting with the uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings pretty well and stopping my rumination as fast as I can.

Lastly for this post I wanted to share a letter I wrote to a future patient at the hospital outpatient program I just finished. It was my last assignment before I finished and it was optional.

“Dear Future Patient,

You are a wonderful person. Don’t believe me? I mean we don’t know each other, but I say this with confidence because despite the things you feel like you can’t do right now (which is okay by the way, work from where you are toward who you want to become and accept where you are as a first step to moving forward) and despite the things you may have done that you don’t feel so good about, you are worthwhile of a full life and of help.

Outpatient was my second place I went for help. I was leaving outpatient elsewhere a month before and walking in here I felt like an embarrassment to myself and becoming vulnerable was brutal. However, it was a necessary personal choice I made that helped me grow. It’s a safe environment to be challenged in and supported and the discomfort I felt here made changes in myself.

Because of the paradigm shifts I experienced each week I challenged myself to work a little harder. Your treatment team here will give you tools, teach you and be the tools for processing, guidance and growth. May you open your toolbox here and be willing to use what you’ve been given. There are no comparisons as our struggles are each uniquely our own but for me there has been no better place to be while facing the hard bits of life than at outpatient.

May you grow, even just a little, for little wins add up to benefit the future self you want to be, even if just in this moment you’re not 100% sure you know what that looks like. You will.

My very best wishes for you,

Former patient”

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Graduating Outpatient – Letter to my future self

The prompt: It may be difficult to remember all the things you have learned and are feeling right now as you complete the program especially when you find yourself feeling highly anxious/depressed again. Write a supportive note from your current self to your future self who may need a reminder.

What I wrote: Dear BipolarBarbieQ,
We wrote all our coping skills in the journal Jas gave us and you can look at them often. If we keep practicing our skills we’ll dig new neural pathways. I’ve already laid the ground works for you and planted all the seeds. In fact, you can look back and remember this was the day Ashley led Experiential Therapy we read the story of the butterfly and the caterpillar pillar then shredded our papers and made new paper with seeds in it.

Make sure you look at our affirmations often. Find new ones. Decorate everything. I did some but you can do more! We are the observer from the meditation that had us dig through our memories. Life is context but we, the observer remain a mystical force and a representation of a full person which we always will be no matter the circumstances. Though I have struggled with negative core beliefs about myself and unearthed all the roots attached to them I also started trying to catch and challenge these. Add to the living list of positive attributes of us and don’t be shy to read it to remind our-self that we are enough. Even if we are not where we want to be yet, that is okay. Remember to accept reality wholey as it is.

Opposite action and behavioral activation are our sword and shield against avoidance and isolation. Adjust your goals to where you’re at and don’t take on too much at once. It is okay to cry, healing is not linear. We have the power to make wise choices to change our future with the knowledge we’ve gained and that you will gain for me as my future self. We are enough. We are worthy of good things and have an ability not all have – the ability to ask for help if we need it. It may seem like just a tiny thing but think of how beneficial it has been for us.

We can not change the past nor will any good come of tripping over things that are behind you. Don’t live too far in the future either. Remember we are in the moment and want to be there. Wherever “there” is. Ajham Brahm helped us tie together all the mindfulness we took in every day in so many ways. I’m cheering you on to keep practicing everything we’ve learned.

It’s been a long journey without question but I’m proud of you just as you are proud of you at the moment this was written. Write your wins and remember who you are and who you want to be. Believe in yourself a little more and follow your own example. Taking risks takes practice and your future self will thank you for it.

Love you,

Bipolar BBQ

Mindfulness and How to Use It

Mindfulness is a DBT skill. In intensive outpatient therapy we’ve learned a LOT about DBT. Mindfulness is the first concept I want to cover not only so I can share my insights and knowledge but so I can say that I’m currently in the process of mastering it. Trust the process. As long as you put in the work, you can create new neural pathways exercising that part of the brain and allowing you to get better at it, and to feel better doing it.

Mindfulness is about paying attention non judgmentally to the present moment. This can go hand in hand with the concept of grounding, and being aware of the environment. In this state we accept what we’re feeling and allow it to come in rather than fighting it. Diffusing feelings and thoughts as they come into our minds and manifest in our bodies by thinking of thoughts as leaves flowing down a river or putting a thought in a mental box and sending it down a conveyor belt and letting it pass by. This allows us to give note to the emotion or thought but also to then let it go and come back to center yourself with your breath.

One thing I like about mindfulness is that there’s a sense of a physical point you can bring yourself back to. You can never be in the past and get a breath back and you can never get a breath from the future ahead of time. Therefore, when you breathe you are totally immersed in the present. There are other DBT skills such as “Radical Acceptance” which we’ll talk about another time and which has some play in mindfulness, but are harder to grasp a grounding point in which to refer back to if you’re having a rough time figuring out if you’re TRULY using the skill or not. However, there are other indicators.

Some people have certain breathing preferences while being mindful. Some people like guided meditations. Headspace is a great app, Calm is pretty good, but not all guided meditations work for everyone. There are tons of ways to be mindful however. To start with guided meditations (easily accessible and they tell you exactly what to do) they may either tell you to inhale a certain amount of seconds, hold and then exhale, they may if it’s an app have a visual for you to follow for inhaling and exhaling. If you’re meditating on your own and want to clear your mind what you want to do is focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply and be sure you’re getting air in your diaphragm. This is a true deep breath feeling your belly rise and fall. If your thoughts wander, don’t get mad or try to suppress them, just let them go and come back to your breath. You may want to start meditating for 3 minutes at a time and build your way up, some people may need to start with 1 or 2. The key really is to come back to the breath.

Another way to practice mindfulness, especially when anxious is to do the 5,4,3,2,1 method. I do this mostly when I feel my anxiety is starting to pick up and run with its energy. You stop yourself and (saying things aloud makes them more real by the way, so if you can, say this out loud) find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

This may look like:

“I see the door to my room, I see the gold door handle, I see my notebook, I see my weighted blanket (GREAT for anxiety btw), I see a mug.

I feel my weight of the clothes I’m wearing, I feel the hard bar under the table where my feet are resting, I feel my shirt is soft, I feel my dry skin.

I can hear a light buzzing in my ears, I can hear the heater, I can hear someone doing the dishes in the other room.

I can smell eggs cooking, I smell the staleness of the air around me.

I taste my gum.”

Another way is to create a labyrinth. If you glue pipe cleaners, beads, yarn or something physical to the pattern then you can close your eyes, think about the answer to a question non judgmentally or you can just focus solely moving your finger through the labyrinth and getting to the center and then out again. Keep one in your car or in your room or your bag and you can use it when you need something tangible to ground yourself with.

Other ways to practice mindfulness include knitting or crocheting (remember to focus on the task at hand, non judgmentally the way you would your breath, and even during this time you can focus on your breath! Let your thoughts be diffused and BE in the present moment.

There’s also watercolor painting, saying the alphabet backwards or counting backwards by 7’s from 100, spell a word backwards even (things that take your whole mind to do which will help you focus on that and not what thoughts you may be ruminating on etc.). You could go on a 5 minute walk, you could put a cold pack under your eyes and focus on the sensations, you can use affirmations (which it’s best to be able to visually see, flash cards are a great idea for this one), coloring, yoga, journaling and my personal favorite listen to instrumental music with a beat you can follow and breathe in and out with the beat.

I try to practice mindfulness at least 5 minutes a day. I’d like to ramp that up to a half hour a day. Doesn’t have to always be lumped together either, but practicing it has helped me challenge racing thoughts, anxiety and rumination. It feels really weird to just, “be”. But it’s a tremendously important skill to be able to accomplish.

Drop a comment if you’d like to hear more about mindfulness or any other DBT skills in particular! I want to share what I’m learning and experiencing in outpatient a bit at a time. Damn feels good to blog again. Thanks everybody.