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 For example, finding yourself only existing in Rational Mind, you might be cold, withdrawn, and lacking empathy.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.



Antipsychotics Saved My Life.

I’ve lost my passion since starting Seroquel. The act of writing doesn’t fill me with energy like it used to. I’m not writing to free myself from that intangible thing. The intangible madness boiling over like a pot left on the stove unattended. The intangible Schizophrenia. The intangible Mania. The intangible Depression like a bundle of sheets, wet and heavy and cold, protecting me from the fire as it burned around me.

Or was it was another something that pushed me to write? Was it was writing itself? Either way, I’ve lost that fire now. I’m damp most days. Not depressed, not manic, not even happy sometimes.  Unfeeling, tamed. And while it’s a good thing, it scares me. Medication has felt a lot like a tree being pruned. I know it’s good but it feels wrong. Sometimes I miss being caught in the throes of psychosis. So bright and bold I ended up in the Er with doctors trying to hold me down. Sticking needles in my arms and slipping my wrists into restraints. I miss the enticing delirium. I miss the sugar taste of psychosis and how it made my brain feel like a honeycomb with bees buzzing inside. It’s hard to enjoy being well when being sick was the only thing I ever knew.

Antipsychotics turn you into a picture of what you used to be. A string of metaphors, tangled up like an old bundle of wires. You move from being yourself to being yourself on antipsychotics. Trying to leave your illness behind you like a fog which really never recedes. Remission always haunting you. A fear of getting sick again always at the back of your mind. Because mental illness isn’t like other illnesses, or it is but nobody thinks so.


psychotic disordersI remember what it was like to be in control, back before the voices started. Way back before the hallucinations. Before the menu of medications. Before these diagnoses and these labels that burn and burn and burn like hot coals on the soft soles of my feet. Schizoaffective Disorder is so stigmatized it feels like a death sentence. The awful combination of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder, two already highly stigmatized disorders, Schizoaffective Disorder is the diagnosis for the unlucky few.  And while antipsychotics are a necessary treatment for such aggressive illness, and while I often complain about the side effects, the truth is antipsychotics saved my life. It’s been scary, becoming someone else. Not the person before Schizoaffective, and not the same person I was during my darkest days. I’m a new a person now. Someone who can think again, and sleep again, and breathe, and concentrate, and most importantly I’m someone how who can deny my hallucinations and delusions the power to control me.

Psychotic disorders can feel like a death sentence, but they don’t have to be.

But I’m talking in circles here.


Will My Illnesses Ceasefire?

I did a stupid thing and I got a part time job. A basic 9-5 type of job. A cashier/bagger combination down at a local grocery store in the next town over. I haven’t held a job in over two years. Not since the wheelchair, the Schizoaffective Disorder, the seizures, and the chronic pain, and the suicide attempt. It’s only about fifteen hours a week, barely part time.

I did a stupid thing and I got a part time job.

I told my boss I have to take meds three times a day and can’t work past three in the afternoon. Because I still need time to go home and cry at how bad my body hurts. Time to come home and electrocute myself into numbness with my tens unit. Time to choke down too many ibuprofen. Time to spend too long in the shower. Time to do my therapy prescribed stretches. Time to come down off the high of hearing derogatory voices all day. Even after staying faithful to my antipsychotic for almost two years, I still hear voices constantly. A droning noise of voices. A sinister John Carpenter amalgam of sound. Every time I try to do something good for myself the voices are always right there. Always reminding me that I’m going to fail.

Can I even handle a job?

I’d much prefer to stay home and stare out the big bay window at the apple trees. 50/50 it will rain or shine but I can always feel the rain in my head regardless. Psychosis pulling my soft brain apart like sticky cobwebs.

You might ask what it’s like to live with chronic mental and physical illnesses. I’ll let you know what it’s like. It’s like your body and mind are fighting a war against the one thing meant to keep them alive. It feels like you were born to be destroyed.

I did a stupid thing and I got a part time job. Will my illnesses ceasefire? I doubt it. Chronic illness waits for no healing. A ravaging train with no breaks.  It’s an unwelcome guest in a body I didn’t even get a chance to learn to love.


The Long Wait for a Crisis Worker

Once I was in the back of a cop car. Hands cuffed at the wrists and my right elbow knocking against the car door like a brass doorknob. My hot faced pressed against the cool glass window, twelve miles between my college dorm and the emergency room of the local hospital. There is a metal gate in front of me, knitted together like a blanket, but harder. The gate separates me from the police officer.

By looking at the cop it’s hard to tell if he actually thinks I’m dangerous. His poor posture leaving him bent over the steering wheel. His, I’m sure, creaking back silent. In fact, the entire car is silent. Save perhaps my anxiety whistling like a tea pot inside my chest and the white noise of an inactive police scanner.

I hadn’t done anything wrong. (Well, expect being born Schizophrenic. That was a mistake for sure.) But certainly, of all the things done wrong in my life, none required handcuffing me like this.

After miles of wet pavement and passing cars, I’m escorted from the back seat to a triage nurse. The automatic sliding doors open like fat arms. My chest is tight under the bright lights of the ambulance car park.

The cop has one hand on my arm and the other on my backpack and all I can think to say is, “Please don’t lose it.”

“Lose what?” The cop asked, speaking over the whirring hospital sounds that met us as we moved through the double door. The murmuring concerned voices and hospital electricity sounded like the wings of insects beating together. 

I said, “My backpack,” as the nurse taped a little bracelet on my wrist, “It’s got all my stuff in it.” I allowed myself a glance at the overused bag. Zippers only able to come together tiredly now, worn fabric on the outside, straps tied off instead of adjusted. It certainly wasn’t overfull. I didn’t have much for a twenty-something-year-old kid. It made coming and going easier. It made unexpected removal less unexpected. I looked at the green piece of ribbed tied to one other zipper. The mental health awareness ribbon had, with time, become just a ribbon tied in a knot, formless.

The ribbon was where it belonged: tied to the backpack of the Schizophrenic who was handcuffed in the backseat of a cop car.

The cop looked at me as I was ushered through to a room, “You come here a lot.” He said.

“Yeah,” I said in a tiny voice at the back of my throat, louder than a whisper but just barely.

“Some advice,” he said as he moved to set the backpack on a blue chair by the hospital bed, “cut it out or they’re gonna lock you up.”

My heart stopped and there was a hitching my chest, like ebb of panic attack beginning, “what?” I asked smaller than I had intended.

“I was told last time you were here you tried to hang yourself with a curtain right in the hospital room.” A beat, a breath, angry eye contact between the two of us, “They’ll lock you up for good for stuff like that,” he said and the finished on his way out the door, “they did it to my cousin.” 

Sometime later, after being stripped of my clothes and shoes and all of my belongings checked, I laid as still as possible. Voices, like burned book pages, floated ashy at the back of my head. Hallucinations, of spiders pouring out from the corners of my room where the wall met the ceiling, troubled me. A shot of Haldol made its way through my veins like syrup. Longing and sweet and thick.

Tiredly I blinked through psychosis soup as I waited to be seen as by a crisis worker. It would be a long wait, there was a strong chance I wouldn’t even see one until morning.

I laid stiller, catatonia slithering its way across my body. Psychosis, like boa,  kept me tight and scared. Hardly breathing. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Somewhere a baby cried, sick with a fever. The trauma room down the hall was prepped for some horrible emergency. Further down an elderly person sputtered on the fence between living and dying, hands shaking too badly to lift a cup of ice water to their mouth. The emergency room was always a whirlwind of pain. I laid still, refused to eat, and moaned in my own pitiful way about the voices as they dripped on me like water.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.



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