What Recovery Means to Me

Yesterday, one of the daily word prompts here on WP was Recovery. I didn’t see it till it was already time for me to go to bed, so I’m writing about this word today. Today, I am sharing with you what recovery from my mental health conditions means to me.

First, there are a few things recovery doesn’t mean to me. Recovery isn’t the same as being happy all the time – that’d be an unrealistic goal. It also isn’t the same as independence. I don’t intend on ever living independently again and there are few things with respect to life skills I’d really still want to learn.

Recovery does mean no longer being scared when I’m able to do something independently. Currently, I constantly expect people to overestimate my abilities, so when I can do something independently, I think people will expect me to do it all the time.

Similarly, recovery means no longer being afraid of my feelings, both good and bad. Affect phobia is a thing, you know? I currently tend to dissociate from my feelings a lot. I also often counter joy or sadness with anger, because that’s the easiest emotion for me to express.

Recovery means having a relatively stable sense of self. I don’t necessarily want to integrate all alternate parts of my personality, although it’s okay if it happens spontaneously. We do want to achieve cooperation among ourselves. This also means being able to accept the seemingly opposite sides of me.

Recovery means, as a result of the above, no longer needing to rely on negative coping strategies such as self-harm, rage or impulsive behavior. I will no doubt still have times when I indulge into an unhealthy habit such as overeating or buying stuff I don’t need. That’s okay, since I don’t think total self-control is a realistic goal. I just don’t want to use these as coping skills when feeling overwhelmed, and I no longer want to engage in self-harm at all.

Lastly, recovery means no longer expecting people to abandon me if they know the real me. Currently, I have such a negative self-image that I believe any positive aspects of me are a façade and at the core I’m so wicked no-one should want to be associated with me. Overcoming this is probably the hardest thing to achieve, as expectation of abandonment is such an ingrained thought pattern. I really hope to someday stop seeing myself as one giant manipulator though.

In addition to the word prompt, I am linking up with #LifeThisWeek and #SeniSal.

Emotional Development

Last Tuesday, I discussed my care plan with my support coordinator. She needed to update it because the facility is going to apply for a higher care profile for me. Besides, it needed to be made current for my living in the facility rather than at home anyway.

My care plan is divided into several sections, including general health, diagnoses, intellectual, emotional and social functioning. The part about my intellectual functioning unfortunately still lists my IQ as measured 20 years ago. Since it according to the test dropped some 35 points between 1999 and 2017, I’ve wondered whether this is merely due to Flynn effect or something or I’m actually experiencing cognitive decline. Still, my IQ as measured in 2017 was above-average, so it doesn’t really matter for long-term care funding anyway.

In the part about my emotional functioning, I saw for the first time the results of the emotional development impression the consultant from the Center for Consultation and Expertise had written in 2018. This was a bit shocking to be honest. I knew I’m thought of as functioning at an emotional level equivalent of a toddler. It was difficult though reading that in several areas, i’m supposed to function at a level of less than 6 months. This wasn’t surprising though.

For instance, one area in which I function at a level of 0-6 months, is body awareness. The reason the consultant listed was my inability to make contact when overwhelmed. I would add to that my inability to distinguish different bodily sensations, such as hunger and pain. I tend to react to everything that’s physically overwhelming by acting in a self-stimulatory way. The consultant also listed my craving physical stimulation such as rocking as a reason for this.

I also apparently function at 0-6 months with respect to differentiation of emotions. In other words, I don’t do that. The consultant explained that I have a lot of distress and am hardly ever relaxed. While this is true, I’d like to add that I don’t generally distinguish between different strong emotions. Like, at all. Each strong emotion feels equally overwhelming to me, even strong “positive” emotions.

With respect to verbal communication, my level is 3-7 years. Because this scale was developed for people with intellectual disability, the highest level is 7-12 years and I in some ways expected to be qualified as functioning at that level. I do with respect to handling familiar tools, such as my computer. However, the consultant apparently recognized my less-than-great (understatement!) language comprehension.

It was rather interesting to read this assessment, even though of course the concept of mental age used here is a bit off to say the least.

Expressing Faith By Expressing Anger

Last week, for some reason, I felt called to listen to a church service. When I do, I usually listen to United Church of Christ services, though occasionally I check out Protestant Church in the Netherlands services locally too. The service I ended up listening to was delivered at Mayflower Congregational UCC in the Oklahoma City area. It was titled “disorientation”.

The topic was how many Christians think they’re not healthy or whole enough to attend church. Many Christians are taught to believe that we shouldn’t show our distress or be angry with God. Though I grew up in an atheist home, I too was taught not to complain or be angry. “Gets angry easily” was often written about me in psychological reports. This may have been so, but anger in itself isn’t bad.

Rev. Lori Walke, in her sermon from May 10, talks about the psalms, nearly half of which are psalms of lament. In one of the psalms she discusses, psalm 13, David cries out to God in anguish:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” (Psalm 13:1-4 NIV)

Rev. Walke goes on to recite the rest of the psalm:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6 NIV)

This expression of anguish shows, according to Walke, that David deep down still has faith. After all, if he didn’t believe his anger would do anything, what good would there be in expressing it? As such, those who hold their anger inside and keep silent, usually are more hopeless than those who cry out.

This is why Walke invites us all to take our troubles to church. We don’t need to put up a happy face all the time. Indeed, in our expression of anger, we also show an expresssion of faith.

This totally struck a chord with me. I was taught as a child not to express my anger. Like I said, it was said about me that I was angry too easily. When I landed in the mental hospital at age 21, I even for a while had the unofficial nurses’ “diagnosis” of “angry and dissatisfied”. While there definitely was some truth to this, stuffing my anger only fueled my hopelessness. It was in my expressing my despair that I also showed that deep down I still believed in a good outcome.

Joining in with Let’s Have Coffee.

Empathy

I’ve been thinking about empathy lately. A few weeks ago, I wrote that I have been looking at my personality from a highly sensitive person or empath theory perspective. Though this is still somewhat fitting, I indeed experience this strange mix between low empathy and hyperempathy.

I mean, I pick up on the general atmosphere in a room pretty easily. I also absorb others’ emotions. I feel when other people are sad or angry in distress. I cannot pick up on happiness as easily, but I’m learning.

Then again, when presented with a social situation, be it in theory or in real life, I show very little empathy according to neurotypical standards. I have absolutely no idea how to articulate how people are feeling.

I recently saw a post by Ashley on alexithymia. Ashley contrasted alexithymia with borderline personality disorder, in which people are overly emotionally sensitive. Well, I have both. Or maybe I just have the autistic women’s general mix between high and low empathy.

The interesting bit about alexithymia is, when being assessed for it in 2017 as part of my last autism assessment, one of the scales was on interest in talking about emotions and such. I scored normal if not high on that one. Similarly, when taking personality tests like those based on the MBTI, I usually score higher on feeling than thinking. That’s because I somehow want to see myself as a sensitive person. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I am though. Like I said before, my husband sees me as an obvious INTJ.

My community psychiatric nurse signed me up for a psycho-education course on autism this past week even though I know quite a bit about it already. Looking over all the criteria, I thought: “That must be so hard to deal with… Oh wait, that’s supposed to be me.” There was a bit about lack of empathy too and that made me feel awful. As much as I “wanted” an autism diagnosis when last assessed for it, I don’t want to be seen as having low empathy.

This post was inspired by today’s RagTag Daily Prompt.

Understanding and Dealing with Anger #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 21 and my letter U post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I’m going to write about dealing with anger.

First, before you can learn to deal with it, you have to figure out whether what you’re experiencing is truly anger. I mean, anger is often our first go-to emotion even when what we’re truly feeling is guilt, sadness, fear or hurt, for example. I for one tend to express all strong emotions, even “positive” ones, as anger. (I put that between quote marks because no emotion is truly positive or negative.)

Second, check whether you are hungry, thirsty or not feeling well physically. Particularly hunger can cause you to feel angry. Anna Borges explains in her book, The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care, that the same chemicals are released in the brain when your blood sugar is low that are released when you are angry. Usually when I’m hungry, I want to overeat and the thoughts I use to suppress that, cause me frustration and anger.

Also, pain can be a really frustrating feeling. When you’re not used to dealing with pain or physical discomfort, it can be that your go-to emotion is once again anger. It is for me.

When you have figured out that you are actually angry, there are several things you can do.

Firstly, leave the environment. Literally physically leave the room. Tell the people you’re with that you need a break to calm down.

Also, write an angry letter – but don’t send it. It may even be helpful to shred it at the end. Write out all your angry thoughts, whine if you want to, let it all out.

Another strategy is to self-soothe. Anna Borges explains that you can see anger as an inner baby who cries. Hold it by doing deep breathing and maybe talking calmly to it.

Lastly, Borges doesn’t mention this but I find it extremely helpful to exercise vigorously. This helps release chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. Also, tearing apart an old magazine or newspaper, stomping your feet, or otherwise expressing your frustration safely, can certainly help.

What do you feel helps you when you’re mad?

Recovery Time After a Crisis #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter R post in the #AtoZChallenge. There are a lot of R topics related to self-care. I want to write about recovering after you’ve been in a mentally hard space or crisis.

First, let me tell you that recovery time is important in preventing a crisis too. You just can’t go, go, go all the time. No-one can, whether you struggle with mental health issues or not. So take your down time. Whether that be a nap, a nice bath or shower, or listening to your favorite music, is up to you. Or something else entirely, of course. I often need to take a little time to unwind in the afternoon. I do this by lying on my bed with nature sounds or relaxing music playing on Spotify. When we still went to the day center, I’d go to the sensory room for about half an hour to an hour.

When you have just come out of a mental health crisis, it’s especially important to take your time to recover. Your recovery time, according to my DBT handout, may help you come to an insight as to how to prevent this crisis from happpening again. It often does for me. It may not, but then at least you’ll need time to come back to your usual self.

I have a crisis signaling plan here at the care facility. Its different phases normally range from -2 (asleep when you shouldn’t be) to +3 (emotional outburst or loss of control, ie. crisis). My staff put in another phase for me, which they call “recovery”. This is what happens after I calm down from a meltdown. I usually feel sadness and shame then. Staff are in this phase advised to stay near and help me process my thoughts and feelings. This is, for me, often the time when I can be most honest about my needs.

What do you do to recover when you’re climbing out of a mental pit?

ACCEPTS: Coping with Distress By Using DBT #AtoZChallenge

I haven’t decided on a theme for this year’s #AtoZChallenge, so I can basically write about whatever comes to mind. Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and we’ll most likely be by the end of April still. As such, today’s post is about self-care in times of distress.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a commonly-used approach to treating emotion regulation issues such as those found in borderline personality disorder, but its strategies can be useful for anyone having a hard time coping with crisis. DBT’s founder Marsha M. Linehan was probably fond of acronyms, as DBT has many. One such acronym, which is particularly useful for coping with difficult emotions during times of distress, is ACCEPTS. ACCEPTS stands for the following.

Activities: find a hobby or sport to do. Yes, playing video games or watching Netflix counts. For me, reading is my hobby of choice.

Contributing: do some form of volunteer work or help a friend. The book The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care by Anna Borges provides babysitting for a friend as an example. This is not likely possible in these times of lockdown, but helping out online probably also counts.

Comparison: look to a real or fictional situation that could be worse.

Emotions: try to channel the exact opposite of the emotion you’re trying to fight. For example, if you’re sad, watch funny YouTube videos. You can also train yourself to act opposite of the emotion. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to put on a smile when you’re sad, though that might help. It also means, for example, doing the opposite of your initial response to your emotion. For example, if you’re feeling like sleeping it off, try exercise.

Push away: visualize building a wall between you and the negative emotion or imagine that it is a mass you can push away.

Thoughts: do something that requires your full cognitive attention. The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care clarifies that you don’t need to do any sort of critical thinking. Borges instead provides the example of reading a book, focusing on each sentence intently. I prefer word games.

Sensation: provide yourself with a strong sensation to focus on. For example, hold some cubes of ice. I’ve seen some people even suggest smelling ammonia. That’s crazy to me (I initially thought ammonia was another acronym). Borges, however, says you can actually focus on pleasant sensations such as soft textures too. I love essential oils.

What are your favorite techniques of coping with distress?

What Emotions Drive Me to Bad Habits? #Write31Days

Welcome to day eight in #Write31Days. Today’s post, like last week Monday’s, is yet again focused on emotions. I took another prompt from The Self-Exploration Journal. It asks what emotions drive me to bad habits.

I have a few self-destructive habits, some of which I engage more regularly in than others. For example, I overeat on average at least once a week, but only self-injure by cutting occasionally. Then there are these little habits that I engage in so often that I barely even notice them anymore, such as nail-biting or most recently teeth-grinding. Just a few minutes ago, my husband asked me to stop grinding my teeth.

Basically, I can be pretty sure that the type of emotional state that drives me to engage in all of these bad habits is stress. Stress is usually thought of as a type of anxiety, but it is not necessarily fear that drives it.

I tend mostly to engage in the little bad habits, like nail-biting or teeth-grinding, when not feeling much of a clear emotion at all. Rather, I tend to be in a state of worry, thinking in circles.

When emotions do reach the point where I notice them, they are pretty close to boiling point already. When this happens I may engage in self-harm behaviors or overeat.

When I look closely at what emotion causes me to engage in these self-destructive behaviors, I see that it is usually a sense of loneliness. Loneliness is not an emotion or so I’m told. At least it isn’t a primary emotion. Sadness is and that’s often what’s underneath this sense of loneliness.

Anger can also drive me to engage in self-destructive habits. Usually though, I am angry at something too minor to matter. The emotion underlying this anger is once again sadness.

What emotions drive you to bad habits?

My Biggest Emotional Strength #Write31Days

Welcome to day one in my 31 Days of Writing for Growth. For this first post, I took a prompt from the Journaling with Lisa Shea series. Specifically, I chose the day 1 prompt in the book on journaling for self-esteem. In this prompt, Lisa asks us to reflect on our greatest emotional strength. It could be courage in the presence of spiders, being able to stay calm in a crisis, etc.

This is a really tough one. I don’t pride myself on my emotional strengths that much, after all. People also may not agree with what I’m going to say here. I think myself that my biggest emotinal strength is the ability to bounce back from adversity.

Many people would disagree with this. They’d say that I give up easily in the face of frustration. In a way, they would be right. I do not pride myself on my frustration tolerance. In fact, when even a tiny thing goes against the way I’d planned it, I can fall off my rocker easily.

What I said, however, is not that I push through when faced with adversity, but that I do fall and yet I get back up. Some people would disagree even here. After all, if I’d truly gotten back up after my crisis of 2007, wouldn’t I have gone back to university or found myself a job by now? I certainly wouldn’t have spent 9 1/2 years in a mental institution, right? And yet I did.

Maybe I need to reword myself. I don’t have that much of an ability to regroup after a crisis. But I do have quite an ability to pick up the pieces, even though what I create with those pieces of my life may not be what. my life was like before

For years, I did exactly what my parents and teachers had decidied for me that I should do. It took a crisis for me to step back from that state of codependency and to follow my own path. I didn’t give up – not completely. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to write this post. Instead, I used the opportunity to gain insight and inspiratioon to bounce back and move on with my life.