Lessons from DBT: Wise Mind and Mindfullness.

I’ve done two solid years of DBT, the acronym of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. And thanks to the groundbreaking work of Marsha M. Linehan, I’m here today. I can say, with utter truth, that DBT played a huge and integral part in my recovery, and has really shaped me into the person I am today. DBT took me from a place of impulsivity to one frequent peace with myself and my emotions. It wasn’t until after DBT that I began to apply a great deal of importance to inner peace. I want to share these things with people who may also benefit from them. With that said this is Lessons from DBT: Wise Mind and Mindfulness. 

Wise Mind is this beautiful intersection between Rational Mind and Emotional Mind. These two mind states can wreak havoc on your life in you exist too extremely in on or the other. For example, finding yourself only existing in Rational Mind, you might be cold, withdrawn, and lacking empathy. You could be slow to act and struggle to make decisions. While existing only in Emotional Mind you could find yourself acting emotionally impulsive. Jumping to conclusions and letting your emotions dictate your actions. You can see how an unbalanced life could quickly spiral out of control.

This is where Wise Mind comes in. Offering a way to draw from both mind states while not relying on one or the other too fiercely. When I started DBT I was trapped in Emotional Mind nearly all of the time. Acting on one impulsion and then another. Following my psychotic delusions to their end. And, ultimately, putting myself in danger.

I think Marsha Linehan put Wise Mind best when she says, “Wise Mind is like having a heart, everyone has one, whether they experience it or not.” I found, when learning about Wise Mind and becoming acquainted with it, it was best to start with breathing exercises. If you can imagine Wise Mind at the bottom of your stomach you can almost feel Wise Mind growing inside of you as you breathe. Sort of like the calm after the storm.

Try to recognize when your mind state is tipped in one direction or another. I great way to do this is practicing writing down what you are feeling when you are upset, feeling anxious, in crisis, or in my case, experiencing hallucinations. This way, once you have recognized your mind state Rational Mind or Emotional Mind, you will be able to take a step back and begin practicing breathing exercises. Imagining Wise Mind growing inside of your body and bringing with it a calm.

Try the 5-7-5 pattern (it’s a personal favorite). Which is inhaling on the 5, exhaling on the 7, and inhaling again on the 5. This exercise should be repeated for as long as you need it for and until you find yourself in a better place and you can think more clearly.



“This Pain IS Real”


Fast and Without Too Much Sadness

   Red curtains move in the wind of an open window. Warm wind then, on warm sunlight, peers through. Long sunlight fingers push aside the air. Dust floats. My cats like to lay in this type of sun and I like to sit with them, letting my socks get warm and warm my feet. Outside there are bugs and branches and leaves turning red. The play-dough scent of apple branches being pruned from their trunks evaporates around me even as I write. The smell of hardwood. The smell of sweet apple flesh and hazelnut candles. Pine trees at the top of the yard are green and settle their stout bodies against the cooling topsoil. People lean on one another in the face of gathering winter. For now, it’s still autumn. For now, we still have to use all our apples up and fix the snowblower and stitch our jeans and prepare the house for colder weather.

   The days grow shorter and darker and before we know it snow will arrive and we will be buried up to our necks in it. The cats will stop shedding and pack on some winter weight.

   The weather allows for hot showers now and I take ones that border on the cusp of being too hot. When I shower I do it at night with the lights off. Letting the water rinse the coffee grinds and chewed nails and dried skin away.

   Odd to think that I still don’t know myself. After all this time alone we never became acquainted. I am an introvert afraid of other people. This includes me.

   When I look in the mirror I don’t see myself anymore. I see a self made new by flesh. By antipsychotics and antidepressants. By new scars and new wrinkles and new stretch marks. I see a new body and a new brain. But I don’t see myself.

   It’s hard, having been so many things. Flashes of an aging young adult who never got to know herself. I was a kid once. A kid who always kept my hair cut short. A kid who needed braces but never got them. Once upon a time, I was a tomboy. An arm wrestler in the fifth grade who could beat the boys. For a while, I was a confused preteen. Baggy pants and tight shirts. A teen who didn’t want to have sex. An anorexic. A kid who, while good reading books, was poor at reading people. I obsessed over spirituality and religion. Questioning everything to the point of insanity.  I was homeless. I was a runaway. I was unhealthy. Underweight. Sick. Bedridden. Paralyzed. Non-Epileptic (PNES). Dependant. A smoker, god forbid. Someone buying drugs in the back seat of a station wagon that wasn’t my own. Having sex without enjoyment. An all A’s student attempting suicide in the middle of the night. A self-harmer. A frequent flyer at the hospital. Psychotic. Manic. Depressive. Confused. Boney. Absent. Schizophrenic. Bipolar. Schizoaffective. Catatonic. A nighttime-midnight-in the dark-showerer. A nighttime-walker. Empty. Lost. Someone who wished they were dead but ended up happy to be alive (well most of the time.) A college dropout. I used to be someone who listened to the voices. Someone who followed the hallucinations.

   And then came the antipsychotics and all the things I’d ever been came fullstop. Now I’m soft and bitter and my brain is full of Seroquel soup. I’m caught between meds having saved my life and having destroyed it. Of course, I should say that Schizoaffective Disorder did the destroying. Sluggish waves with no force behind them turning my psychotic wheels. Caught between wanting recovery and wanting destruction. For being happy for new my health and being spiteful of it. Between being accepting of antipsychotics and believing the benefits to be disingenuous.

   Out of all the things I’ve ever been I’ve never known any of them for very long.

  I want to see that change but I can’t say I know for sure that they will. Of course, this year went by faster than apples are falling from their branches this autumn. If I close my eyes and hold my breath and take my meds perhaps another year will move on like this one did. Fast and without too much sadness.




My “Nameless” Illness

I remember autumn upon autumn upon autumn that consisted in a dread of winter. Knowing my illnesses got worse as the days became as dark as they were quiet. Snow falling softly and coating the state in knee-deep sugar snow. It was these months (November-May) that I was the sickest. In one winter, at the height of my most ill, I was hospitalized three separate times, for a few weeks at a go. So it was, for this reason, I spent autumn, despite it’s what should have been, distracting beauty, dreading winter. Then spring would come and everything would melt. Snow turning to water and water to mud. Then summer, hot hot hot. Three months long in Maine. I often spent it lying naked in the river, my back pressed up against the rock bed in shallow water. The coolness of fresh water moving all around me. With my ears below the surface of the water, the world would grow muffled, but I craved the cotton ball silence. It seemed that even my voices dissipated in the water. Perhaps they were afraid of it, as most villains are.

June, July, and August are momentary. But this year, I am in recovery. Though it seems wrong to me. When you get diagnosed with something as life changing as Schizoaffective Disorder, you don’t expect to get better. In fact, very often, you’re told that you won’t. As another autumn begins. Another year passes when the only psych hospitalizations I have had to endure are in my nightmares. The weather grows cool and scattered amber and orange leaves are seen among the green. The apples on our apple trees are red now and the days to the first frost grow near. It feels wrong someone, to not dread winter. To function now. Guilt and shame frequent bedfellows. Depression growing smaller and smaller. “I get it now, you were always seductive. I see now how you made me feel misunderstood. An invisible number. A tiger behind a wall of glass.  I have felt like this for too long. So now, when I am happy, I miss the amenity that depression brings. I miss the song, that sadness sings.”


I often wonder if it were the voices the caused the seizures. Too much noise like so many sticky bumblebees on the inside of my head. The seizures a reaction to the overwhelming. Much related to catatonia. And the pain, which still stays even to this day, a hallmark of the constant stress I felt. A mark of trauma left like a brand from hot metal forced onto my skin.  And the paralysis? I still don’t understand it. I remember how it felt though, I’ll never forget. Waking up one morning to find my lower body weighed down by an invisible hand. My frame hot like boiling sap. It started with a cane and progressively I needed a wheelchair. My legs completely paralyzed, even part of my left hip no longer working. At my doctor’s visits, I’d have seizures, at school I had seizures, in the shower, with friends, by myself. And for half of that year, I dragged myself around (or had others do it). Rendered immobile by a sickness nobody understood. The hallucinations stayed too, just as they had for the two previous years. The delusions grew worse. The voices constant and aggravating.

I had an illness with no name. And to this nameless illness, I lost four good years of my life. Years I will never get back, lives I will never live, doors which, once open, were closed to me because of this.

And now, in recovery, I feel guilty to be getting better. I feel as if I don’t deserve to be happy and healthy. I feel lost of course. Confused. Distant. The pull of sickness like a dead weight in my gut. Voices, still within me, urging me back into their company. Reminding me that I am losing the sick part of myself which defined me for so so long.

I’m changing and it’s scary.



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