Saturday, December 9, 2017

DoYo strikes again


Who is DoYo, you ask? DoYo is the nickname I gave to my ego last year. It was a practice of creating some distance and detachment from the part of myself that comes forth and acts from a place of fear. While doing a workshop, we were asked to name our egos with the first name that came to mind...and Dorothy popped up immediately. A few days later, when fear popped up again, and I acknowledged that Dorothy had stepped up, the part of me that feels the need to always be right, all the time, also came forward. I acknowledged that part of myself too, and named her Yolanda...Dorothy's ego twin. For me, when fear surfaces, so does the need to justify my thoughts, emotions, and actions. For the last year, I've practiced witnessing when DoYo is present...to the best of my ability.
I know when DoYo is showing up when I start to get willful. When my need to be right in any given situation, starts to pull me away from my core values. She shows up with arms crossed, nostrils flaring, and heels dug in. She holds onto the way things "should be" and rejects reality as it is. She's the part of me that "wants what she wants, when she wants it." She can be convincing, conniving, and controlling. Lately, she's been showing up before, during, and after my meditations. A couple weeks ago, when I felt like I wasn't doing the meditation "right," DoYo kept popping into my head saying things like "You have so much more to do than this Kate." and "Is this even working?" It sounded like my ego-mind was trying to convince me that this was a giant waste of time.
This week, almost every time I went into the living room to begin my practice, she'd show up telling me what a long day I had at work, how exhausted I was, and that I could skip out on my commitment. "No one will know you missed one day." I struggled with this inner dialogue silently all week. During my meditation, DoYo would show up again trying to convince me not to chant, to end the practice before it was completely over, and to "get off your ass and do something more productive." She'd show up after I'd pushed myself  through my practice and try to combat the part of me that felt fantastic, and centered, and calm. "You're still mad about X,Y and Z." and "Look at all you could have been doing instead of chanting." The one thing I have really learned about DoYo, is that she wants to be heard. If I try to push her away and ignore her, she grows...bigger, and stronger, and more persistent. However, if I witness her presence, and acknowledge her needs, she quiets down and allows me to return to my true, authentic self.
This week, when I was really struggling with her presence, I brought it to my meditation group and asked for feedback. Not only was I met with incredible support and validation, that they too were experiencing a similar struggle, but I was also given feedback that sometimes our ego-minds like to show up when we are on the brink of a breakthrough. Fear likes to shut us down.
So last night, I listened to what DoYo had to say, without judgment, and with complete acceptance. I allowed her to speak about the fears of the unknown, and validated her desire to have everything be "just so." I embraced her as part of me, and I thanked her for trying to protect me from the inevitable pain and discomfort that change brings. And then, I returned to my meditation practice and to the centered, calm, and peaceful place where my Wise Mind lives. And I repeated to myself the mantra that came to me weeks ago...

"You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be present."



Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Space Between

I speak a lot about Wise Mind in my blogs and I wanted to dedicate an entire post to this whole concept. In DBT, Wise Mind  is the integration of both our Emotional Minds and our Rational Minds. It is where these two seemingly opposite truths co-exist and integrate into a centered place. It is not either/or, but rather, it just is.
For a long time, I only understood the space between my Emotion Mind and Rational Mind to be accessed with mindfulness activities. It was a fleeting experience for a long time, because I had spent the first 20 some odd years of my life, mostly living and making decisions from my emotions. I was comfortable in the misery I perpetuated from this state. I was familiar with the ins and outs of sadness and anxiety and depression, even though I wanted so desperately to be in a different mindset. In the times I would access Wise Mind, and be present in the existing moment, the discomfort of practicing being in this new place of peace, drew me back to the familiar, and often destructive, extreme states of mind.
As I learned to listen and trust the voice of Wise Mind, I was able to spend more time there, and check in more frequently. I became able to find the balance of my extreme emotions or rigid "by the book" thinking, to acknowledging where my authentic truth resided. In the last ten years, getting to know the space between has allowed me to discover the part of myself that Emotion Mind often convinced me was "wrong" or "not acceptable." Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind would battle it out in fear and judgment, and keep me stuck in this limbo of seeking approval from others and being ashamed when I didn't receive it.
My recent meditation practice has led me to a deeper, more powerful understanding and connection to Wise Mind. I'm constantly checking in to the centered place where my intuition lives, on a more regular basis. For someone who has relied on my emotions to tell me what to do for the majority of my life, checking into Wise Mind has been pivotal in my recovery and continued growth and wellness. I've found that taking the time to non-judgmentally observe my thoughts and feelings without trying to change them, has given me the opportunity to question what is real and what is perceived. I've been able to witness how the life-long stories and beliefs  I've been telling myself, create huge barriers to my hopes and dreams.
Spending dedicated time honoring my Wise Mind has allowed me to witness how often I have told myself  "I can't do this." or "You're crazy." or "That's stupid." When Rational Mind gets a hold of those thoughts, it comes up with a long list of all the reasons to back it up. When Emotion Mind listens to it, it snowballs into self-loathing, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, and sadness. But when I allow those thoughts to come up in Wise Mind, and marinate in the acceptance and willingness to change it, I have the ability to either find the root of it's existence, or hold up the other side.
Let's take this post, for instance. The idea of writing about the Space Between came to me while I was meditating last week. Immediately, Emotion Mind got up front and center and started talking shit: "You are still an emotional person, Kate. Weren't you the one who was just crying over some silly frustration? Who are you to write about this? You think you're some Guru or something? You're so EXTRA!" Then Rational Mind stepped in and started going in: "Another blog about the states of mind and DBT. You are going to need time to write it. You're back at work this week. You are going to be exhausted. Remember, you also have to iron your clothes for tomorrow, make dinner, journal after this meditation is over, and you still haven't called your sister back. You aren't going to have time." This back and forth happened for quite some time while I sat chanting on my couch. And then Wise Mind stepped in: "Yes, you do have a lot to do, and it's possible some people might not enjoy your post. That's not why you write your blog though. You have to live your authentic truth. What is important in your soul?"
The answer to Wise Mind is this: I  DO love to write, in particular about how much DBT has changed my life, and my purpose is to shine a light on the observations of what has worked for me and what hasn't. We live in a world where our society sees things as black and white, good or bad, fair or unfair. My experience in finding the space in between the absolutes, has given me material to share my story so that others who are struggling can perhaps begin to seek their own peace.
It's taken me ten years of practicing DBT to identify what my Wise Mind really looks like, and to be able to not only hear what it has to say, but to listen and make decisions from it. I still falter. I still have moments and days where it is so much easier to go with the force of my emotions or my to-do list, than to take a second to check in and see if what I'm about to do or say is in line with my core values and authentic self. It's these moments that remind me that I am not defined by them...they are simply opportunities to return home...to the Space Between.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Work Inside

Yesterday I got the clearance from my surgeon that I get to return to work this week! It has been 7 long weeks since surgery, and I was starting to go a little stir crazy during the recovery process. This morning, as I was reflecting on the last 7 weeks, I found myself feeling extremely grateful. Not only was the surgery successful in diminishing the level of pain I experience, but it also gave me the opportunity to check back in on ME.
I've spent the last month meditating every single day, and becoming aware of thoughts and feelings and sensations that in my regular day-to-day life I had lost awareness of. I found myself going through a mental check list everyday of all the skills I've been using, not just to get through the hard part of recovery, but also to find the things that drive me directly into happiness. I've spent time with myself figuring out all the things I want to accomplish, and how I want to get there. I've witnessed subtle shifts in everything from my mood, to my physical state, to the energy I put out into the world.
All this from meditating, you ask? Yes. Thirty minutes every single day where I carve out time to sit with just me and everything going on with me.
Now let me be honest. I teach mindfulness on the regular. I tell my clients ALL THE TIME that mindfulness doesn't have to be sitting cross-legged with your hands in a pose, chanting. I teach them it can be anything from taking a shower, to listening to music, to washing dishes (that's one of my favorite mindfulness activities.) I tell them "Mindfulness isn't about getting to a place of Zen. It's about being present in the moment and noticing when you aren't in the moment, and then bringing yourself back." I believe this in the core of my soul. I practice it daily... AND...I've been meditating for the last 30 days...cross-legged, hands in a pose, and chanting. It's all the things I teach my clients. I'm in the moment, I'm constantly bringing myself back to the moment, AND...there have been more moments than not, where I actually feel like I am in a place of Zen.
The beauty of mindfulness/meditation, is that it's unique to every person. Each individual has the opportunity to find out what works for them. For some, it's hiking in the mountains. For others, it's playing an instrument. Some people are most mindful when they are doing a self-care activity like getting a massage or facial. Some find their most mindful moments in conversations with others, or while cooking. Others find it by just sitting in stillness and watching or counting their breath. I've done all of these things, and they have served as incredible practices in training my mind to stay present and aware in the moment I am in. The shift for me, that came from taking a leap of faith into the unknown of meditation, is that I have consistently felt connected to my inner self, in a way I haven't experienced in the ten years I have been practicing mindfulness.
I've been able to access emotions that I didn't want to face, with a sense of safety and comfort, and heal parts of myself that I was convinced were irreparable. I was able to shine light on beliefs, and fears, and uncertainties that had been lurking in the shadows, driving my actions or lack of action. I've found inspiration and motivation to pursue my passions. I've uncovered parts of my authentic self, that I didn't even know were there. I did this in 30 minutes for 30 days!
Believe me. I get it. It sounds like I just jumped off the woo-woo diving board. My judgmental self was questioning how meditating was going to change anything when I first started thinking about doing it. Thankfully, my non-judgmental self checked the facts and urged me to try something I hadn't. It told me "Kate, you've got all this time on your hands while you recover at home. What's the worst that can happen? You feel nothing? Nothing changes? At least you can say you tried it!"
So here I am, on the precipice of returning to work, after almost 2 months at home. Not only am I returning with less pain, but I'm returning in a rejuvenated state, with an experience that is going to allow me to do my job with more compassion and empathy. With more experience of both how frustrating and rewarding any kind of recovery can be. With more insight into how I want to teach DBT and model how effective the skills are. More than anything, I get to return with a stronger sense of self. I get to jump back into my life with my eyes wide open, a more open and receptive heart, and with the a renewed intention of changing people's lives, just by living mine.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Breaking Free

This morning I found a lot of guilt was coming up during my meditation. Guilt I have been stuffing down for quite some time. Specifically, guilt surrounding not reaching out to my best friend right before she died. My reasonable mind tells me all the time "But you didn't know she was going to die!" Yes, this is true. I didn't...and I knew that she was in an abusive relationship and I wasn't able to be there for her in that very scary last month of her life.
Part of the reason I wasn't able to, is because she didn't want to share with me what was going on, but I knew. I knew what she was going through and I chose to follow her lead and sweep the fear under the rug instead of shining a light on it and meeting it with my love and compassion for her. I got scared too. I got scared that if her husband found out that she was sharing anything with me, not only would he hurt her, and their baby, but he would come after me. And so, when I texted her and asked how she was doing, and she lied and told me everything was fine, I chose to go along with the illusion, even though in my heart I knew she was in danger.
In that text exchange, I told her to let me know when I should call so we could catch up. She gave me her hectic schedule as an emergency room doctor, and I promised to call her. But I didn't. I never picked up the phone the weekend before she died to tell her how much I love her. And when her mother called to tell me that she was gone...the guilt crept into my whole self, and it didn't let go.
Some of the guilt stems from wanting to be the friend that she always was for me. She was my "person." She drove four hours one way to sit by my side in the hospital and crack a smile on my face, only to turn around hours later and make the trek back, so that she could work her shift at the hospital where she was doing her residency. She was the person I knew I could call for absolutely anything...good, bad, or indifferent. She was the one who appreciated my sometimes kooky sense of humor, without judgement. She encouraged me to follow my passion and never once did she question any decision I made. She stood by me through everything. So when it came my time to be her "person," I feel like I failed. Being unable to hold my friend up when her world was crashing down around her has held me in a prison of guilt.
Fear and guilt are really powerful when it comes to keeping one stuck. They grip you with talons so sharp, you are unwilling to break free from their grasp. Their power seeps into your psyche, contaminating your thoughts with "what ifs and should haves," and they hold you hostage, attaching themselves to the parts of you that are unhealed, making you believe that if you are released from their power, you will no longer be protected. You will not survive. You will die.
But this isn't true. All Fear and Guilt do, when they are left unresolved, is keep us stuck. Up until this morning, when I would think of my last interactions with Lisa, I would beat myself up immediately. I would get sucked into the vortex of their power and believe every last thought that crept into my mind until I couldn't take it anymore, and I would do anything I could to push it away.
But here is the reality: The reason we were such good friends is because we never actually had to say anything to feel like the other was supporting us. She knew, and I believe she still knows, that I was her "person" and she was mine.
When I look deeper at the guilt, I've uncovered a tremendous amount of sadness that she is not here, and anger that someone who said he loved her so much, could take away her life. But I've also uncovered a great deal of love and respect. She had a light within her that lit up an entire room. She stood by her beliefs, even when they weren't popular or when people questioned her. She had the ability to set aside differences, and stand in her truth. She could capture your attention with her humor and her laugh, and she had an appreciation for obstacles that posed a challenge to her getting what she desired. She never gave up. She was brilliant and she was humble. She healed people. And in her absence, she continues to heal me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Use Your Voice

Prior to the brain surgery I underwent three and a half weeks ago, I spent everyday dealing with a non-stop headache. There were days that my pain level reached a 9 out of 10, and I often silently coped with the excruciating pain by attempting to focus my mind on other things. Very infrequently would I miss work, or cancel plans. Mostly, this was because distracting my mind with anything else other than how much my head hurt was the only way I could tolerate what was otherwise daily misery.
When people I worked with found out I was going to have surgery because of these headaches, they were shocked to find out I had been dealing with this for so long. "I never would have known!" or "How are you even smiling right now?" were just some of the comments I received. Many times, my answer to these comments were simply "I didn't have a choice" or "I use A LOT of skills!" The truth of the matter is that so much of the time, I just didn't want to complain. It felt like a burden to continuously talk about how much pain I was in, and it often made me more miserable. I chose to work through, day after day, the invisible ice pick that was stabbing into my skull and brain. I chose to have the lights removed above my desk, and some days would wear my sunglasses while I typed notes.  I chose to see clients and teach DBT, to attend outings and conferences and meetings as a way to take my mind off the incessant and sometimes unbearable pain. There were days I came home from work and my girlfriend would ask me what was wrong, and I would say "oh, you know..." because even naming the pain that I was experiencing made me feel miserable.
This morning during my meditation, these words came into my awareness: "You are supported. Use your voice." And in an instant, I felt compelled to share the struggle I have kept fairly quiet for two and a half years. The truth is, the past few years have been extremely painful. Not only physically, but also emotionally. In the midst of dealing with this ever present headache, my best friend was brutally murdered. There were times when I thought for certain her unexpected death was perpetuating my physical pain, and questioned whether I should continue to undergo procedure after procedure, or whether I should just go to therapy more often.
There is no doubt in my mind that her loss in this physical world exacerbated my physical pain. How could it not? She was my rock for 23 years. Losing her created a giant chasm in my heart and in my soul. But it also compelled me to strive for more. To live for more. To not allow any bumps in the road stop me from moving forward. And so that is what I did.  It is what I have continued to do. But often, I did it in silence. I worked through pain that felt blinding on some days. I smiled when I wanted to cry. I held back tears that I felt were undeserving of falling because someone, somewhere had bigger, stronger, more debilitating pain. This morning during my meditation, the tears fell. My throat burned and ached and all I could think of when I recognized my sadness was how much pain I have felt for so long. 
So I'm deciding to set it free. To let it out into the Universe because it isn't serving me anymore, and to transform it into something beautiful and positive. Holding onto it isn't helping my healing process and if there is one thing that needs to happen, both after brain surgery and losing your best friend, is healing. Whole-being healing. I know that pain has it's purpose, just the way all the skills I have used over the last few years have had their purpose. The pain alerted me that something was not right, and it persisted until they found out what was wrong and corrected it. And the pain of my beautiful friend's death has been a reminder of what an enormous presence she was in my life, but it's also a reminder that I need to honor her in other ways; like not keeping her murder a secret, and cherishing the time with those around me and appreciating their existence. If there is one thing that I have learned from all of this, it is that we can never fully experience the beauty and joy in this world if we haven't experienced the depths of pain and despair. I don't know that I fully understood that a few years ago... Not in the capacity that I do now.

Friday, September 1, 2017

"The Suck"

The past couple of days have proven to be more difficult than I had anticipated. For some reason, prior to brain surgery, I had envisioned this whole recovery process was going to be speedy, and thought that by day ten I'd be up and moving around with minimal discomfort. Reality has set in. Sitting up for more than ten minutes leaves me exhausted, and although the pain has subsided significantly, there are moments of discomfort that leave me in tears. More than anything, the reality of "the suck" of recovering, is starting to sink in.
Yesterday morning, I sat crying as my girlfriend was getting ready to leave for work and I sobbed over "wanting this to be over already." She hugged me and tried pointing out all the progress I have made in just one week, but I didn't want to hear it. I just wanted to cry and complain; in the hopes that my self-pity would create some sort of miracle. So she let me cry, and agreed that this does indeed suck. Later that morning, I got a text message from her reassuring me that "we will do whatever we need to, to make the suck more tolerable."
This is exactly what I needed to hear. It reminded me that in the moments we cannot change, there is a choice to use skills to make the moment less painful. In DBT, we call this Distress Tolerance. I quickly wrote down her quote and told her I would credit her for her brilliance...so here I am, writing a blog about it. And yesterday, I pulled out every single distress tolerance skill I could think of to just make it through the suckiness.
You know what happened? I stopped crying and I started laughing. Two of my best friends in the world came by and brought me food and funny stories. I received the greatest hugs on the planet. They pointed out how much better I sounded now that I'm off pain medication. They reminded me what incredible doctors I have who fought for me to get to this moment in time. I listened to guided meditations. I napped. I wrote Thank You cards and when I couldn't hold my head up any longer, I gazed at the gorgeous bouquets of flowers people have sent. I showered and put on new pajamas. I got another visit from a wonderful friend, who brought me a gorgeous Citrine crystal and told me all about her recent vacation and tourist stops she made along the way. I texted with people I love the most. I ate ice cream in bed with my girlfriend and held hands with her.
At the end of the day, "The Suck" didn't seem so bad, and I felt better.
Today is even more tolerable. My mood is more uplifted, and I have more patience with myself. I'm not judging all that I can't do, instead I'm focusing on all I am able to do. I'm focused less on how much discomfort I'm in, and more focused on how much better I feel. I'm looking forward to who I get to see today and this weekend, instead of wallowing in the misery. As my girlfriend reminded me this morning, "You'll soon come to see that this will all be a memory. Crazy to think of it like that, because we're in the midst of the suck."
But it turns out...things aren't as sucky as they seem.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Message for my DBTers

Six days ago, I had brain surgery for a chronic headache I have had for the last two and a half years. I made it through surgery with flying colors and was able to come home within 4 days!  It feels really good to say that now, because yesterday morning I had a little pity party all by myself. While I lay in bed recovering, I struggled with this extreme dialectic of physically feeling like absolute hell, and being so grateful for having this pain because it means healing, and in the future, likely no pain.
On one hand, I wanted to crawl into a little ball of misery, and cry, and scream, all at the same time.  On the other hand,  I wanted to feel better and at peace. Not very far into this back and forth struggle, I realized it was Monday: the day I co-lead my DBT group. I was flooded with the images of group members who have shared their own dialectical struggles, and who continue to come each week to find the skills necessary to overcome life's obstacles. Then I was struck with just how human we all are. In the challenges life throws at us, regardless of how they manifest for us individually, we are all still human. And with that, I sent an email to my co-leader with a message for my DBTers...

Tell the DBTers that I'm practicing every skill I can today...Radical Acceptance, PLEASE skills,  EVERY mindfulness skill, over and over and over. I thought about the pros and cons of even practicing skills because I was feeling so cranky and vulnerable.
And then I remembered how everyone in our group has at some point motivated me in their own moments, that seem too challenging to be skillful, or to be effective, or it just feels overwhelming and like too much effort to even try. And that somehow,  in the midst of all that turmoil,  each one of our group members  (and staff too!) have been able to access Wise Mind, make a choice to move towards Wise Mind, and move toward their Life Worth Living Goals. 
I'm taking mindful baby steps. Tell everyone they are motivating me from afar... even if they don't know it! (...and that's a Skill!😉)